Fetish Character in 1861-63.

I think the following passage is of interest because it highlights how Marx utilizes the idea of fetishism qua the capitalist form of social production. Whilst some argue that it is done simply in terms of a detournment in which Marx draws parallels between savage culture and capitalism, both of which are fetishistic because they ascribe false powers to objects. Part of the purpose of my reading of all the existent Capital manuscripts is to find passages that offer a more complex parallel. If my hunch is right I want to eventually write an article that shows how Marx uses fetishism in parallel with his monetary theory of value in which capitalism is fetishistic, because like the fetishism analyzed by de brosses, is it a society constituted by particularly absurd relations that make objects possess the powers fetishes were thought to hold warding off death, misery etc. What follows goes somewhat towards this by demonstrating the parallel between the domination of consciousness that occurs in religious inversion and the social domination that occurs in capitalist social production (I’ve italicized what i see as the parallels in the text)

“Since the economists identify past labour with capital — past labour being understood in this case not only in the sense of concrete labour embodied in the product, but also in the sense of social labour, materialised labour time — it is understandable that they, the Pindars of capital, emphasise the objective elements of production and overestimate their importance as against the subjective element, living, immediate labour. For them, labour only becomes efficacious when it becomes capital and confronts itself, the passive element confronting its active counterpart. The producer is therefore controlled by the product, the subject by the object, labour which is being embodied by labour embodied in an object, etc. In all these conceptions, past labour appears not merely as an objective factor of living labour, subsumed by it, but vice versa; not as an element of the power of living labour, but as a power over this labour. The economists ascribe a false importance to the objective factor of labour compared with labour itself in order to have also a technological justification for the specific social form, i.e. the capitalist form, in which the relationship of labour to the conditions of labour is turned upside-down, so that it is not the worker who makes use of the conditions of labour, but the conditions of labour which make use of the worker. It is for this reason that Hodgskin asserts on the contrary that this objective factor, that is, the entire material wealth, is quite unimportant compared with the living process of production and that, in fact, this wealth has no value in itself, but only in so far as it is a factor in the living production process. In doing so, he underestimates somewhat the value which the labour of the past has for the labour of the present, but in opposing economic fetishism this is quite all right. If in capitalist production — HENCE in political economy, ITS THEORETICAL EXPRESSION — past labour were met with only as a pedestal, etc., created for labour by labour itself, then such a controversial issue would not have arisen. It only exists because in the real life of capitalist production, as well as in its theory, materialised labour appears as a contradiction to itself, to living labour. In exactly the same way in religiously constrained reasoning, the product of thought not only claims but exercises domination over thought itself. mecw 32 410



About HR

Deep in the adjunct crackhole.
This entry was posted in fetish character of money, Marx and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Fetish Character in 1861-63.

  1. Kambing says:

    Yes, I agree that Marx’s use of fetishism cannot be reduced to a simple analogy or gesture of detournement, though I’d probably position it more directly as a continuation of his earlier theory of alienation.

    For some critical insight into the concept of ‘the fetish’ in its anthropological-historical context, you might want to check out William Pietz’s three part historical analysis of ‘The problem of the fetish’. Pietz argues that ‘the fetish, as an idea and a problem, and as a novel object not proper to any prior discrete society, originated in the cross-cultural spaces of the coast of West Africa during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries’ i.e. through increasingly colonial relations with Europeans during the emergence of capitalism. He also explicitly connects this to its later use by Marx and others within 19th Century European intellectual discourse.

    • HR says:

      I read the Pietz a few years ago and found it interesting but my memory of it has been obliterated by the ensuing years of research. Perhaps it is now time that I revisit it.

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