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Commodity fetishism

Related: commodity - false consciousness - fetishism - cult objects - Marxism

[In] the religious world[,] the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and enter into relation both with one another and the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men's hands. This I call the Fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour, so soon as they are produced as commodities[.] --Das Kapital, 1867, Karl Marx

'World exhibitions were places of pilgrimage to the fetish commodity'. --Walter Benjamin, Arcades Project

If the commodity was a fetish, then Grandville was the tribal sorcerer. --Walter Benjamin, Arcades Project (1927 - 1940)


Commodity fetishism is the inauthentic state of social relations, said to arise in complex capitalist market systems, where people mistake social relationships for things. The term is introduced in the opening chapter of Karl Marx's main work of political economy, Capital, (1867).

Marx's use of the term fetish can be interpreted as an ironic comment on the 'rational', 'scientific' mindset of industrial capitalist societies. In Marx's day, the word was primarily used in the study of primitive religions - Marx's Fetishism of Commodities might be seen as identifying just such primitive belief systems at the heart of modern society.

In most subsequent Marxist thought, commodity fetishism is defined as an illusion arising from the central role that private property plays in capitalism's social processes. It is a central component of the dominant ideology in capitalist societies. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commodity_fetishism [Jun 2005]

The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof

The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof is a section of Karl Marx's Das Kapital (1867). Its original title was Der Fetischcharakter der Ware und sein Geheimnis.


A commodity appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing, and easily understood. Its analysis shows that it is, in reality, a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties. So far as it is a value in use, there is nothing mysterious about it, whether we consider it from the point of view that by its properties it is capable of satisfying human wants, or from the point that those properties are the product of human labour. It is as clear as noon-day, that man, by his industry, changes the forms of the materials furnished by Nature, in such a way as to make them useful to him. The form of wood, for instance, is altered, by making a table out of it. Yet, for all that, the table continues to be that common, every-day thing, wood. But, so soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something transcendent. It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than "table-turning" ever was. [27]

The mystical character of commodities does not originate, therefore, in their use-value. Just as little does it proceed from the nature of the determining factors of value. For, in the first place, however varied the useful kinds of labour, or productive activities, may be, it is a physiological fact, that they are functions of the human organism, and that each such function, whatever may be its nature or form, is essentially the expenditure of human brain, nerves, muscles, &c. Secondly, with regard to that which forms the ground-work for the quantitative determination of value, namely, the duration of that expenditure, or the quantity of labour, it is quite clear that there is a palpable difference between its quantity and quality. In all states of society, the labour-time that it costs to produce the means of subsistence, must necessarily be an object of interest to mankind, though not of equal interest in different stages of development.[27] And lastly, from the moment that men in any way work for one another, their labour assumes a social form.


Transcribed by Bert Schultz (1993)

Html Markup by Brian Basgen & Andy Blunden (1999)


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