I restarted reading the non-main stream economics' groups, that is to say, as you may well easily guess Marxian stream.

Since the age of 20, when I read their works, the focal point has not changed at all.

Is Thingification-Reification conquarable?

Austrlian group sees only the object outside and analyze it completely forgetting the value (whatever that means) put into the items produced and their basic idea is price setting between A and B by their preference.

Whereas, Marxians, some (or many) still persist in only the labor theory of value

To me, personally, since according to the Thingification-Reification, the relationship between men appears as a state of exchange of things-commodities. So that to me, connecting the labor theory of value to the thingfied objects, which is namely the price, is mandatory and nobody was able to succeed in this.

Now I started reading Lukacs, who took this problem one of the most important philosophical issues.

Then I hit upon an another problem again. As well as Marx, Lukacs follows the same idea, that is, from the above,

Before tackling the problem itself we must be quite clear in our minds that commodity fetishism is a specific problem of our age, the age of modern capitalism.

Marx says same thing. Is this fetishsm, to the commodities, a truly peculiar characteristic, only after the industrial revolution?

I always had the same question in my mind since the age of 20. If I take the origin of the industrial revolution back to the John Key's flying shuttle, then, are we not able to say people prior to him, people in common, under the feudal system or not, did not have any fetishism to commodites?

Even in The Merchant Of Venice, Shylock or Bassanio or Antonio whoever, are almost always talking about money and valuables???

Can somebody refute this their (Marxians') idea that the fetishism to commodities started only especially after the industrial revolution?

I've been always (for more than 10 years) doubtful about it.

2 Answers 2


I will lift a key quote from Marx, as included on Wikipedia:

As against this, the commodity-form, and the value-relation of the products of labour within which it appears, have absolutely no connection with the physical nature of the commodity and the material relations arising out of this. It is nothing but the definite social relation between men themselves which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy we must take flight into the misty realm of religion. There the products of the human brain appear as autonomous figures endowed with a life of their own, which enter into relations both with each other and with the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men's hands. I call this the fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour as soon as they are produced as commodities, and is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities.

Marx is writing a critique of political economy here, so he is primarily concerned with the theory of value, not "things" in general. Fetishism in general (as opposed to the fetishism of commodities in particular) is an ancient way of thinking, not something new, and Marx clearly recognizes that. Similarly, Marx never suggests that greed and avarice were invented by capitalism. It is a mistake in my opinion (although a common one) to generalize or extrapolate too much from Marx's ideas into the realms of culture, psychology, etc.

When we "take an origin of the industrial revolution back to the John Key's flying shuttle" we focus on the material forces of production, rather than the social relations of property and production. That precisely misses Marx's point here. For him, technological improvement is the result rather than the origin of modern capital. What, then is its origin? It's the seperation of direct producers from the means of production, which Marx discusses in the chapter on "so-called primitive accumulation". Land became a commodity, peasants were dispossesed of their livlihood. They now had to purchase commodities in order to survive. This was a pre-condition, already taking place in England before what we think of as the Industrial Revolution. The very essence of commodity fetishism is to forget that the unique "freedom" afforded by commodity exchange is premised on the underlying relations of coercion and exploitation.

Forms of commodity exchange have existed for thousands of years if not longer. But before modern capitalism, there has never been a society in which commodity exchange was the central principle of social reproduction. Venice was an exceptional and early case of city-state ruled by a powerful merchant elite, with a high level of autonomy from the church and the aristocracy. In that sense, it was a society characterized by commodity exchange. In some sense, you could certainly extend Marx's concept of commodity fetishism to that context. But today, the fetishism of commodities is much more pervasive and deeply-rooted then in any previous human society. Marx sees the Industrial Revolution as the turning point because it was then that labor-power in general was commodified to such an extent that capitalism became a "mode of production" in its own right, fully independent of feudalism.

  • Thank you for your answer. Very well sohisicately summraized. While, give me some time to think and analyze before I can decide yours the nicest. Thank you very much anyway. ( Am I missing something.......( just talking to myself :-))
    – user13955
    Jun 6, 2015 at 3:35
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    What I found and started to rememer about fatal point of Marxian analysis is he and the near successors only vaguly "studied?" the history of the production of the use-value and exchange-value and pursuit of money as if they had been primitive only on its scale and such. Yes, without doubt under the today's gigantic mode of production it would be correct without so much suspicion, but their insight into the the way how they dealt with commodities and money before industrial revolution is soooo poor. Sorry to say this but thank you.
    – user13955
    Jun 6, 2015 at 15:36
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    "The outstanding discovery of recent historical and anthropological research is that man's economy, as a rule, is submerged in his social relationships. He does not act so as to safeguard his individual interest in the possession of material goods; he acts so as to safeguard his social standing, his social claims, his social assets. He values material goods only in so far as they serve this end." (Karl Polanyi, via understandingsociety.blogspot.com/2009/07/…).
    – Brian Z
    Jun 7, 2015 at 1:48
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    Koji Karatani's work is very interesting on this point (and if Japanese is your preferred language, you can read it in the original!). (dukeupress.edu/The-Structure-of-World-History)
    – Brian Z
    Jun 7, 2015 at 1:53
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    I said garbage and I must thank you to introduce me the polanyie's statement ( at the link ) --> No society could, naturally, live for any length of time unless it possessed an economy of some sort; but previously to our time no economy has ever existed that, even in principle, was controlled by markets. . . . Gain and profit made on exchange never before played an important part in human economy. Completely agreeable. Great.
    – user13955
    Jun 7, 2015 at 5:26

The labour theory of value is not just Marxist; it's also classical - Adam Smith for example uses it.

Fetishism of commodities, in a way, could only have occurred after the Industrial Revolution, this is when the concept of the commodity was understood; and it's concrete manufacture seen.

This is still an ongoing situation; securitisation in the financial markets for example is broadly speaking a commodification of bundles securities.

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