Reading Capital, continued (thread #4) Fetishism...

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Reading Capital, continued (thread #4) Fetishism...

Post by blindpig » Tue Jan 07, 2020 3:46 pm

anaxarchos
01-12-2010, 11:44 PM

Capital Volume One
Part I: Commodities and Money
Chapter One: Commodities

Section 4.The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof
http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/wo ... h01.htm#S4

We conclude our reading of Chapter One with Fetishism. The section is significant for many reasons, not least of which is that Marx himself reworked it several times in later editions of Capital. The section is meant to be a summary of what came before in the chapter, but also, it is intended to use what we have derived to address the mystery and confusion surrounding the commodity and its circulation. As this form is the very foundation of the society which we take for granted, there is little that this discussion does not touch... at least in its potential.

Instead of a "line-by-line" reading, we can start "paragraph-by-paragraph", beginning with the first two:


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. [26a]

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.


The notes to the two paragraphs, which are quite important in this section, are here:


26a. In the German edition, there is the following footnote here: “One may recall that China and the tables began to dance when the rest of the world appeared to be standing still – pour encourager les autres [to encourage the others].” The deafeat of the 1848-49 revolutions was followed by a period of dismal political reaction in Europe. At that time, spiritualism, especially table-turning, became the rage among the European aristocracy. In 1850-64, China was swept by an anti-feudal liberation movement in the form of a large-scale peasant war, the Taiping Revolt. – Note by editors of MECW.

27. Among the ancient Germans the unit for measuring land was what could be harvested in a day, and was called Tagwerk, Tagwanne (jurnale, or terra jurnalis, or diornalis), Mannsmaad, &c. (See G. L. von Maurer, “Einleitung zur Geschichte der Mark, &c. Verfassung,” Munchen, 1854, p. 129 sq.)


Marx begins with a variation on the summary he has repeated many times throughout the Chapter: Products of labor are common to all epochs of human history and undergo no strange metamorphosis as such. So soon as they become commodities, however... so soon as they are explicitly produced for exchange, "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. [26a]"

What "grotesque ideas" are these? That the commodity "has" Value and that it "engages" (or "exchanges") with other commodities... no, the world of commodities... wherein each commodity shares that very same notion. It is not just that commodities become stamped with the social relationships of their producers but that those relationships appear to be aspects of the bodily form of commodities themselves.

Not only is Marx playfully repeating what we have already acknowledged, but he goes a step further: "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."

Obviously, something even greater than either the natural interest in the labor time it takes to produce the various products of labor, or the social form of that labor is at work.

Consider this for a second... All of the traits of commodity production exist previously, without ever producing "grotesque ideas" from the "wooden brains" of inanimate objects. This fetishism is something unique to commodity production.

Where does it come from?

Why do we call it fetishism?
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Re: Reading Capital, continued (thread #4) Fetishism...

Post by blindpig » Tue Jan 07, 2020 3:49 pm

Dhalgren
01-13-2010, 07:28 AM

"It is not just that commodities become stamped with the social relationships of their producers but that those relationships appear to be aspects of the bodily form of commodities themselves." I realize that I am thick about this stuff, but could you offer an example of how commodities are "stamped with the social relationships of their producers"; and how they "appear to be aspects of the bodily form of commodities themselves."

I have a feeling that, at least in part, this is why we call it "fetishism"...
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Re: Reading Capital, continued (thread #4) Fetishism...

Post by blindpig » Tue Jan 07, 2020 3:49 pm

Kid of the Black Hole
01-13-2010, 07:52 AM

we were hashing out "value" around here, and it kept coming back to the fact that we felt that Value should function as an honorific of sorts -- ie the more useful/necessary the work, the more we should esteem it. Especially manual labor since it seems the most primary type of labor.

As it turns out this line of reasoning is entirely beside the point, because value is simply a measure of how many "average hours" is invested as considered from the perspective of the commodity. And there again we see the perils of language with words like "invested".

This is why what is really being traded is the labor time of human beings, with commodities in truth serving as tokens of "shares" of the collective labor pool of human beings.

That is also why I think Anax says this Section functions partly as a recap of the previous section. Because once you've calibrated yourself to this understanding of value, the rest more or less falls into place by itself.
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Re: Reading Capital, continued (thread #4) Fetishism...

Post by blindpig » Tue Jan 07, 2020 3:50 pm

PinkoCommie
01-13-2010, 08:01 AM

about the relative invisibility of the labor (and war and environmental costs) of the commodities we buy. Memorably, one of these discussions was a thread Chlamor put up some time ago here about Coltan and our electronic gadgetry.

As I recall,the conclusion of that discussion, such that there ever is one, concerned the harsh fact that the opacity of the production behind the commodities we buy means that we really are powerless to make "good choices" as we consume.

I think many of us, completely aside from anything to do with Marx, have though about buying items that are "green" or "fair trade" or "local," etc. And all of this in some effort to inject some sort of do-gooder morality into the logic of our role in the economy.

Stepping back from this matter of making "good choices," what we can come to see is that there is a clear view of the items we have to choose from. There is however no clear view at all of their origins, whether it be the labor that went into their final production, the "dead labor" that precedes that final productive process, or the concerns related to raw materials and the environment that are related. We turn on our lights and somehow are not thinking too much about the missing mountaintops in W VA. ...

It is this, the separation of commodities from production and from the social relations of production that I understand to be the source of what Marx coins as Fetishism.

The commodities and the swirling markets of and around them are as an inscrutable apparition entirely disconnected from, well, US. This is of course just the opposite of reality. However, in this case, we do not tend to see reality. We see the alternate reality of exchange values arisen from the ether and walking among us, the 'reality' of commodity fetishism, one especially apparent when things crash and the flood of ghost hunters theorize about what caused the crash while, "as the hart pants after fresh water" they pile up cash, the only commodity that seems to make any sense all of the sudden.

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Re: Reading Capital, continued (thread #4) Fetishism...

Post by blindpig » Tue Jan 07, 2020 3:51 pm

Kid of the Black Hole
01-13-2010, 08:19 AM

the nature of the capitalist system is occluded in many ways (BY the nature of the capitalist system, no less), and you've introduced several more here. I do think at some point we are less talking about fetishism and more about "their morals and ours" though.
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Re: Reading Capital, continued (thread #4) Fetishism...

Post by blindpig » Tue Jan 07, 2020 3:51 pm

Kid of the Black Hole
01-13-2010, 08:25 AM

but I was thinking that after we finished Chapter 1 it might make sense to do a thread about Marx's method, the Abstract and the Concrete, the meaning of "scientific" investigation, the "rich totality" and unity in diversity (which surprisingly or maybe not is cast off as a catchphrase for things like "dialectical unity/interpenetration of opposites")

And of course, another angle for wrapping this up would be the exposition vs inquiry distinction Marx is at pains to relate to us.

The reason I'm thinking about this is because I've often that a final summary serves not just to reinforce the previous material but also to help organize it mentally so it falls into place. For me at least.

And, as a side bit of philosophy for Dhal and myself, we could talk about "Hegel's Ladder" which has quite a bit to do with all of the above.
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Re: Reading Capital, continued (thread #4) Fetishism...

Post by blindpig » Tue Jan 07, 2020 3:52 pm

Two Americas
01-13-2010, 09:53 AM

Maybe a Cadillac is seen to intrinsically "say" something - that you are a superior person, or discerning, or successful if you have one. But the observer does not look at the person who owns it and say "you are a superior person" they look at the Cadillac and think those things, as though the Cadillac itself had the qualities we are "seeing." Our notions about social relationships have been transferred to the object.

BP and I were talking about this is regards to others things, musical instruments for example. Old instruments were just laying about and inexpensive to buy, until speculators and investors started trading in them. Soon the $5 fiddle became a $500 fiddle. This changed the way that people looked at the object, the instrument. They now looked at the instrument and "saw" qualities that "explained" its value. But the object didn't change. New uses were not found for it. Something changed in the realm of social relationships, not anything about the object.
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Re: Reading Capital, continued (thread #4) Fetishism...

Post by blindpig » Tue Jan 07, 2020 3:52 pm

Kid of the Black Hole
01-13-2010, 10:21 AM

while I suppose it depends on how "macro" you want to look at things, this seems like more of a derivative effect than anything terribly fundamental.

Also, its not quite correct to think that properties of the object are sacrosanct. Maybe they are and maybe they're not, but outside of the requisite need to possess some utility, those properties are irrelevant.

I think its entirely a different conversation if we want to talk about if/why use values SHOULD be considered relevant.
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Re: Reading Capital, continued (thread #4) Fetishism...

Post by blindpig » Tue Jan 07, 2020 3:53 pm

"There is great chaos under heaven; the situation is excellent."

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Re: Reading Capital, continued (thread #4) Fetishism...

Post by blindpig » Tue Jan 07, 2020 3:54 pm

blindpig
01-13-2010, 01:09 PM

You might recall a conversation we had about Cuba, how the government was having a hard time filling management positions for the same pay as regular workers. So Cuba gave the managers better pay as an expedient. Goes back to the revolution being executed in phases, as conditions allow. It is I think a real reason for the resistance of the middle class liberals, their pay rate, their stuff, is them, that is their fetish.
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