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It is nothing but the definite social relation between men themselves which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things

Das Kapital.

I remember that fetishism obscures the nature of the economy and it being out of our control. Is every way of thinking and behaving that is not militantly opposed to capitalism fetishistic. Or only when we work and spend money?

  • Would you have a more specific location in the book where the source was cited? Welcome to this SE! – Frank Hubeny Nov 10 '18 at 15:52
  • i believe it's in the first chapter – confused Nov 10 '18 at 18:57
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The value-form is the basis of the relations of production in capitalist societies. Commodities, contracts, wages, profits all appear time and again in the relations between people. Where they appear these things stand in the way of the real relationship. My wage is a fetish for the man at the other end of an email who tells me what to do with my life, and who threatens to starve me to control me. Where these fetishes appear, so too is the value form present. Where aren’t these relationships present?

The value-form reproduces itself. Famously as M—C…P…C’—M’. But infamously through enclosure: by expanding the variety of human relationships subject to its forces. Capital encloses land: men with horses hang the men, rape the women, and bring cattle. Capital encloses labour power: good livings become sweated wage labour and the bosses seek out the littlest fingers to polish inside shell casings. Capital encloses the working day: a man is paid to knock on doors at 3am to wake the next shift of machine subjected weavers. Capital encloses human play: knacks and thoughts are enclosed into Jennies and Siris to weave faster and summarise faster. In order to expand the value-form makes newly economic social relations which were previously not economic. All of our ways of being are enclosed into being work and spending money. You are a profit centre of human capital.

Is every way of thinking and behaving that is not militantly opposed to capitalism fetishistic?

You’re an optimist! The history of proletarian struggle over the last century suggests that militant struggle against capitalism is blind to its own commodity fetishism, and central to reproducing the value-form. (The KAPD critique of the German revolution is rather good here.) Given the depths to which the “dominant ideology” “hegemonises” the consciousness of social struggle almost all “left” ideology is focused on either selling labour power for a dearer price, or some how turning workers into a collective capitalist without dismantling the wage, commodity or reproduction of value. “Bigger cages, longer chains,” indeed! If the best and brightest bourgeois intellectual idealists of the Marxist movement couldn’t free their thinking from commodity fetishism, what hope is there for the ordinary worker?

A lot. A hell of a lot more. The learning by doing in work and unemployment of being turned into a commodity; and the lack of a material interest in enslaving others; these are the bases for proletarian self-liberation. We confront the material world at work as unpossessed and alienated things to manipulate: we are freed from treating objects as the standers in for human relationships because we treat them as use-values to be manipulated for an external purpose. Instead we are confronted by the central mysteries of time, effort, skill and command. The day to day human relationships of why billions are enslaved for thousands. And we resist. We slack off. We work wrong. We work better than they pay us to see someone smile. We generate reasons for working other than wage. We make mysterious art works or answer philosophy questions on company time for no pay. We strike or occupy. Through these new relationships we purport the possibility of new ways of thinking. A good discussion of this is at the end of Miklás Haraszti’s A worker in a workers state where he produces a theory of proletarian self-liberation through making useless art objects on company time. The point being that these productions are not in the value-form and don’t reproduce it. This differs from “the google day” in that these products escape the circuit of the expanded reproduction of capital.


A useful bibliography on alienation is at the marxists internet archive: https://www.marxists.org/subject/alienation/index.htm

  • does fetishism amount to all alienation and vice versa? – confused Nov 11 '18 at 1:33
  • Yes. But remember that alienation in Marx is a social-material phenomena. Alienation is that I don’t control (own) my workplace, and that I don’t control (own) my labour power. It isn’t that I feel distant from other people, it is that I do not own the control my economic life. – Samuel Russell Nov 11 '18 at 1:42
  • However a bourgeois may be involved in commodity fetishism while not being alienated. He controls the factory, but sees “his machines producing a great profit,” while really it is his control over me that does that. He sees the commodity not the relationship, even though he owns my labour power. – Samuel Russell Nov 11 '18 at 1:46
  • coudn't alienation include or be experienced as being unable to really etc. relate to other workers, for the individual? – confused Nov 11 '18 at 1:52
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    Yes, the capitalists labour process organises workers as objects to each other, both in the assembly line and products confronting a worker, and as other workers being objects. Foremen and supervisors treat me as a tool, coworkers complain that others labour power exertions are useless, etc. Solidarity is an achievement in negating those negations – Samuel Russell Nov 11 '18 at 2:10

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