A brilliant passage on value and fetish worshiping. In my interpretation I think it shows the implicit distinction he later makes in Capital between the fetish characteristic forms of value, as the social properties things possess by virtue of the perverted process of capitalist social labour and the fetish worshiping of political economists who transhistoricize and hypostatise these historically specific conditions.
So in my reading what he later describes as the fetish character of commodities is here:
“In the first part of my book,†a I mentioned that it is characteristic of labour based on private exchange that the social character of labour “manifests itself” in a pervertedform — as the “PROPERTY” of things; that a social relation appears as a relation between things (between PRODUCTS, VALUES IN USE, COMMODITIES).” MECW 32 P. 317
Whilst the fetish worshiping of political economists is here. (Note he uses a very similar example to the one used towards the end of the fetish character of commodities section in the second edition of volume 1. But by using fetish worshiper I think he makes a better distinction between the fetish object which really does possess the power of protecting yourself from pecarious misfortune in capitalism and his dig at political economists for worshiping these objects rather than investigating their genesis. Incidentally the fact that he is referring exclusively to political economists can be seen in the fact that previous to this passage he has just used the term wiseacre to critique political economy’s analysis of value.)
“This appearance is accepted as something real by our fetish-worshipper, and he actually believes that the exchange value of things is determined by their PROPERTIES AS THINGS, and is altogether A NATURAL PROPERTY of things. No scientist to date has yet discovered what natural qualities make definite proportions of snuff tobacco and paintings “equivalents” for one another. Thus he, the WISEACRE, transforms value into something absolute, “A PROPERTY OF THINGS”, instead of seeing in it only something relative, the relation of things to social labour, social labour based on private exchange, a relation in which things are defined not as independent entities, but as mere expressions of social production.” MECW 32 p 317
This can be seen further by the continuation of the passage where he establishes the historically specific social characteristic of these fetish characteristic objects via his monetary theory of value:
“But to say that “VALUE” is not an absolute, is not conceived as AN ENTITY, isquite different from saying that commodities must impart to their VALUE OF EXCHANGE a separate expression which is different from and independent of their use VALUE and of their existence as real products, in other words, that commodity circulation is bound to evolve money. Commodities express their exchange value in money, first of all in the price, in which they all present themselves as materialised forms of the same labour, as only quantitatively different expressions of the same substance. The fact that the exchange value of the commodity assumes an independent existence in money is itself the result of the process of exchange, the development of the contradiction of use value and exchange value embodied in the commodity, and of another no less important contradiction embodied in it, namely, that the definite, particular labour of the private individual must manifest itself as its opposite, as equal, necessary, general labour and, in this form, social labour. The representation of the commodity as money implies not only that the different magnitudes of commodity values are measured by expressing the values in the use value of one exclusive commodity, but at the same time that they are all expressed in a form in which they exist as the embodiment of social labour and are therefore exchangeable for every other commodity, that they are translatable at will into any use value desired. Their representation as money — in the price — therefore appears first only as something nominal, a representation which is realised only through actual sale.” MECW 32 p 318