Lefebvre on fetishism I.

Here’s a lengthy passage from Dialectical Materialism, which Lefebvre wrote in 1938. I think it demonstrates that two things: (1) he grasps how social labour is perverted into a autonomous and inverted fetish form (2) his generally baggy style and proclivity for producing numerous suggestive texts, rather than detailed studies, prevent him from the  in depth philological investigations of Marxology. In the future I will show this is likewise the cause with the value-form and perhaps the systematic dialectic.

It would seem that between starting work on The Critique of Political Economy (1857-9) and Capital (1867) Marx worked out his conception of the dialec- tic still more thoroughly. The categories are abstract, inasmuch as they are elements obtained by the ana- lysis of the actual given content, and inasmuch as they are simple general relations involved in the complex reality. But there can be no pure abstraction. The abstract is also concrete, and the concrete, from a certain point of view, is also abstract. All that exists for us is the concrete abstract. There are two ways in which the economic categories have a concrete, ob- jective reality: historically (as moments of the social reality) and actually (as elements of the social objec- tivity). And it is with this double reality that the categories are linked together and return dialectically into the total movement of the world. 75-76

The object enters into new social relations, which it helps to create. This second social existence is abstract yet real. The material object alone exists, yet its value is dupli- cated, into a use-value and an exchange-value. These two aspects of value are never completely separate, yet they are distinct and contrary. In and through exchange, producers cease to be isolated; they form a new social whole. The exchange of commodities tends to put an end to a natural, patriarchal economy. In relation to individuals this new social whole func- tions as a superior organism. In particular, it imposes on them a division and distribution of labour in conformity with the sum of the forces of production and the requirements of society. 77

Society therefore distributes its total labour-power amongst the different branches of production with a certain blind and brutal inevitability. The law of equilibrium of this market society emerges brutally from the general contradiction between producers – their competition. 78

The labour of individuals returns into the social mean by virtue of the labour-time it represents, the objective and measurable period of time it requires. The labour-times of individuals are added up and the total time a society devotes to production is compared with the sum of its products. In this way a social mean is established, which determines the average productivity of the society in question. Then, by a sort of reversal, each individual’s labour- time and each product is evaluated – as being an exchange-value – as a fraction of the mean social labour-time (social labour-time, which is abstract and homogeneous, is not to be confused with the unqualified labour of the individual; many critics have made this mistake). Nobody works out this social mean, which arises objectively, spontaneously and automatically from the comparison (equalization) of the individual labour of competing producers. The exchange-value of a product (and the currency is one of these products) is measured by the quantity of social labour it represents.79

Exchange-value, the first and simplest of all the economic categories, obtained from the analysis of the actual economic content, and a starting-point for that movement of thought which seeks to reconstitute the concrete totality, is an ab- straction. Yet it is also concrete. 79

Once launched on its existence the Commodity involves and envelops the social relations between living men. It develops, however, with its own laws and imposes its own consequences, and then men can enter into relations with one another only by way of products, through commodities and the market, through the currency and money. Human relations seem to be nothing more than relations between things. But this is far from being the case, or rather it is only partly true. In actual fact the living relations between in- dividuals in the different groups and between these groups themselves are made manifest by these rela- tions between things: in money relations and the exchange of products. Conversely, these relations between things and abstract quantities are only the appearance and expression of human relations in a determinate mode of production, in which individuals (competitors) and groups (classes) are in conflict or contradiction. The direct and immediate relations of human individuals are enveloped and supplanted by mediate and abstract relations which mask them. The objectivity of the commodity, of the market and of money is both an appearance and a reality. It tends to function as an objectivity independent of men; men (and more especially economists) tend to believe in a reality independent of the relations objectified in the abstractions, commodity and money. 80

Fetishism is both a mode of existence of the social reality, an actual mode of consciousness and human life, and an appearance or illusion of human activity. Primitive fetishism and magic expressed Nature’s dominance over man and the illusory sway of man over Nature. Economic Fetishism expresses the dominance over man of his own products and the illusory sway of man over his own organization and artefacts. Instead of stemming from an ethnographic description, the new Fetishism and fetishized life stems from a dialectical theory of objectivity and the creative activity, of appearance and reality, of concrete and abstract. 81

The bit on abstract labour is especially baggy, but still pretty damn good for 1938, I reckon. It also shows that Lefebvre has a better grasp of the beginning of Capital than someone whose work has been influenced by Lefebvre: David Harvey, whose absurd interpretation of fetishism is exemplified in his discussion of shopping at the supermarket. Its goes something like: there are so many products at the supermarket who don’t know who made them, so we fetishize them.


About HR

Deep in the adjunct crackhole.
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