“The Central, Structural Problem of Capitalist Society in All its Aspects”: Commodity Fetishism and Social Theory in Georg Lukács , Theodor W. Adorno and Henri Lefebvre.

“The Central, Structural Problem of Capitalist Society in All its Aspects”: Commodity Fetishism and Social Theory in Georg Lukács , Theodor W. Adorno and Henri Lefebvre.

[This talk was given to undergraduate course on ideology at the University of Ljubljana on April 29, 2014. In many ways it attempts to provide an accessible précis of my thesis, Fetishism and Social Domination in Marx, Lukacs, Adorno and Lefebvre, whilst also covering the ideological dimensions of fetishism.]

From coffee, to Niketown to yoga, to a type of sexual perversion that Freud saw as a ‘substitute for …a particular and quite special penis that had been important in early childhood but had later been lost’, the idea of fetishism is employed in a number of different manners to criticise different types of consumption or consciousness. Although these uses often claim to use Marx’s theory of commodity fetishism, they all too often completely misunderstand it. This is similarly the case in a number of popular works that treat commodity fetishism as a subjective theory of illusory false consciousness.

The late Norman Geras provided a more perceptive analysis of Marx’s theory when he wrote that ’in capitalist society the phenomenon of fetishism imposes itself on men (a) as mystification and (b) as domination.’ In the following, I focus on how these aspects of Marx’s theory of fetishism were deployed on the objective and subjective level in the social theories of Georg Lukacs, Theodor W Adorno and Henri Lefebvre. Since these figures also had peculiar theoretical and methodological interpretations of Marx’s theory, and this talk will address the related issues of methodology and social theory by paying particular attention to how these thinkers interpreted Marx’s theory of fetishism and how such an interpretation was used as basis for, and reflected in, the corresponding objective and subjective aspects of their social theory, I begin by looking at Marx.




As I will show, there are several ways that Marx’s theory of fetishism distinguishes itself from the figures that follow. Most importantly, Marx’s theory of fetishism is inseparable from three of the most important aspects of his critique of political economy: its two-fold nature, Marx’s method of presentation and his monetary theory of value.

To understand these aspects of Marx’s critique it is first necessary to understand the object of Marx’s critique. While many held, and some still hold, that Capital was concerned with a trans-historical theory of social labour, as Marx makes clear in a letter to Kugelmann, he is interested in the historically-specific manner in which social labour functions in capitalism, particularly how its specific forms regulate the proportional distribution of labour. All three volumes of Capital are thus concerned with disclosing how this process occurs through ‘the inner organisation’ of the historically specific social form of capitalist production’ at its ‘ideal average’.

The method of presentation that Marx uses unfolds this inner organization by introducing these specific forms at an abstract level in Part One of Capital Volume 1 and concludes at the more concrete level of the Trinity Formula in Volume III.

Through out this presentation, Marx also criticises the discipline of political economy’s corresponding failure to grasp these historically specific social characters or their inner organization. The two-fold nature of the critique of political economy thus demonstrates on one-level how this mode of production was historically constituted and how it’s inner organisation reproduces itself and on another how the discipline of political economy fails to grasp these processes. Marx employs fetishism on both of these levels in tandem with the presentation of his monetary theory of value.

As Michael Heinrich argues Marx’s theory of value shows that money necessarily arises from several factors – including the double separation of producers from the production process, the abode of production from the realm of exchange, and the ensuing practice of production for exchange – which makes money necessary to facilitate the exchange of commodities, measure value, and serve as the means of circulation of value.Money thus serves to unify production and circulation providing the means of capitalist valorization thus serving to proportionally distribute labour.

As later chapters point out money also plays an essential role in interest and credit and the sources of revenue that make up the Trinity Formula.

Marx uses the term Fetishism at each stage of his presentation of value on both levels of hid two-fold critique of political economy. It first appears in the section on the fetish-character of commodities and its secret, a section that is as widely read almost as much as it is widely misunderstood. For as Hans-Georg Backhaus succinctly put it; what is often missed is that the fetish character’s ‘secret’ is first visible in the third section of Part One, on the value-form, which means that fetishism is only ‘comprehensible’ if you understand the fetish-character of the commodities and its secret in conjunction with this section.

From this perspective it becomes clear that the fetish-character of the commodities is not a subjective theory of false consciousness but an objective phenomenon that arises from the specificities of the capitalist social form, which as elucidated in the in the section on the value-form, makes social relations between labouring people occur through the relation between things ( commodities and money) that determine how social labour is proportionally distributed.

The fetish-character of commodities thus describes the socially-objective and autonomous properties and powers that commodities possess by virtue of these thingified social relations that occur ‘apart from and outside’ the individuals that collectively constitute them, inverting to dominate and compel them (Their own movement within society has for them the form of a movement made by things, and these things, far from being under their control, in fact control them). Moreover, the fetish-character’s secret is not that commodities do not possess these properties but that they are the perverted and necessary forms of appearance of the historically-specific social form of capitalist production. This then is the dominating aspect of Marx’s theory of fetishism.

The mystifying aspect of Fetishism describes perceptions that are generated by the exchange of commodities, which appear to naturally possess the properties they only possess in capitalism. According to Marx, although he is somewhat ambivalent on this point, this ‘post-festum’ appearance provides the basis for our phenomenological perception of commodities and money and the ‘fetishism peculiar to bourgeois economics, which transforms the social, economic character that things are stamped with in the process of social production into a natural character arising from the material nature of these things.’

As Marx’s presentation unfolds these dominating and mystifying aspects of fetishism are magnified with each more concrete account of value – ‘The riddle of the money fetish is therefore merely the riddle of the commodity fetish that has become visible and blinding to the eyes, in the general formula for capitalist valorization ( m-c-m1) ‘value is subject of the process’, later interest-bearing capital is the most external and fetishistic form, culminating in the Trinity Formula where the ‘mystification of the capitalist mode of production is completed, the reification of social relations, and the immediate coalescence of the material relations of production with their historical and social specificity: the bewitched, back-to-front and upside-down world haunted by Monsieur Le Capital and Madame La Terre, who are at the same time social characters and mere things.

Marx’s theory of fetishism is thus deployed through out the presentation of his critique of political economy to describe the autonomous and dominating properties things possess as bearers of value constituted and reproduced by the perverted and necessary appearance of the historically specific social relations of the capitalist mode of production and the corresponding naturalization of these properties. Yet since Capital was never completed Marx’s account of the way that the capitalist mode of production proportionally distributes social labour, let alone capitalist society was left incomplete. Initially this gap was filled by Worldview Marxism, which aligned a logico-historical reading of Capital with Engels’ dialectical conception of nature, so that Capital was taken to methodologically demonstrate the logico-historical iron of laws of history that would eventually lead to a revolution in which a worker’s state replaced the bourgeois state.




What is called Western Marxism arose in a period of existential crisis for this worldview due to a number of word-historical events – such as the First World War – that called these logico-historical dialectics and the inevitable revolution into question. This failure is reflected in what is considered the founding text of Western Marxism: Georg Lukács’ History and Class Consciousness, which in Ingo Elbe’s words, breaks with Traditional Marxism on the ‘level of social theory and methodology.’

In a bold theoretical move that revolutionized the Neo-Kantian social and cultural criticism of his time, as well as the ‘Worldview Marxism’ of the 2nd International, Lukacs’ theory of reification rooted the social and cultural dimensions of society in his peculiar interpretation of the commodity-form. For as Elbe notes, Lukács’ theory of reification ‘is the first to under­stand the char­ac­ter of cap­i­tal­ist rule the way Marx did – anony­mous, objec­tively medi­ated, and hav­ing a life of its own’. However, as Elbe also succinctly puts it, Lukács’ methodology ‘avoids a recon­struc­tion of Marx’s the­ory of cap­i­tal­ism’ instead using ‘an analo­giz­ing com­bi­na­tion of a value the­ory reduced to the “quan­ti­fy­ing” value-form (due to an ori­en­ta­tion towards Simmel’s cul­tural cri­tique of money) and a diag­no­sis, ori­ented towards Max Weber, of the formal-rational ten­dency of the objec­ti­fi­ca­tion of the labor process and mod­ern law’.

Lukacs’ theory of reification thus owes its distinctiveness and its influence due to the peculiar manner in which Lukacs interpreted commodity fetishism in order to fuse motiffs from Hegel, Marx, Weber and Simmel, which he then generalized to capitalist society, transforming Marx’s account of the dominating and mystifying fetishistic properties of bearers of value (commodities and money) into an objective and subjective theory of society as a whole.

Lukacs’ theory of reification is thus premised on his unique definition of the commodity-form – which he treats as interchangeable with Marx’s definition of the fetishism of the commodities — that incorporates the Hegelian, Simmelian and Weberian elements of Lukacs’ social and cultural theory into his Marxism:


The essence of commodity-form [translation amended] has often been pointed out. Its basis is that a relation between people takes on the character of a thing and thus acquires a ‘phantom objectivity’, an autonomy that seems so strictly rational and all- embracing as to conceal every trace of its fundamental nature: the relation between people.


Such a definition is subsequently reflected in the Reification essay in the ensuing (1) Hegelian- Marxian conception of reification as the autonomous thingified false objectivity of ‘phantom objectivity’; (2) the Simmelian and Weberian conception of reification as autonomy, which is premised on a formal rationality that cannot grasp its own content; (3) Lukacs’ account of the fundamental nature of reification as construed on understanding that a social relation between people takes on the character of a thing, which thereby veils the social relations that constitute it, rather than demonstrating how these social relations are reproduced by virtue of these thingified relations, as in Marx.

This definition of the commodity-form also serves as the categorical basis of Lukacs’ methodology, which Lukacs’ justifies with several bold methodological interpretations of Marx. For instance in the very first paragraph of the Reification essay Lukacs states that Marx’s mature work proceeds from an analysis of the commodity to ‘set out to portray capitalist society in its totality and to lay bare its fundamental nature.’[1]Later he writes that ‘the chapter dealing with the fetish-character of the commodity contains within itself the whole of historical materialism’ (170). Consequently, because the commodity-form ‘the central, structural problem of capitalist society in all its aspects’. Lukacs uses his definition of the commodity-form as the categorical mono-causal bases for his theory, ‘the structure of commodity-relations … yield a model of all the objective forms of bourgeois society together with all the subjective forms corresponding to them’ providing the grounds from which to generalize these properties.

Lukacs’ ensuing depiction of the objective and subjective aspects of reified socio-cultural totality unfold in three parts and can only be summarized here in a most schematic manner. Part One provides an account of the objective aspects of reification as domination pertaining to the objectified separation of the object from the subject in the factory, the state, bureaucracy, law, marriage, journalism etc and the corresponding subjectivities of instrumental reason, detachment, passivity and the inability of agents to grasp totality. Part Two provides an account of how Bourgeois reason is likewise mystified by the objectified separation of the subject from this object preventing even the foremost bourgeois philosophers such as Kant or Hegel from grasping the social relations that constitute the reified totality. Part Three discloses how the proletariat as the subject/object that creates the reified totality possesses a privileged epistemological standpoint that grasps that they constitute totality and in so doing recognize that their historical role is to seize this totality and thus reunite subject and object.

As can be seen Lukacs’ interpretation of fetishism is integral to this theory of reification. It serves as the basis of his definition of reification and the means through which he attributes dominating and mystifying properties to a wide array of objective and subjective phenomena. While such a theory certainly accounts for phenomena Marx did not, it also does so by different and shakier methodological means in order to theorise a larger object, social totality. While the proletariat failed to realize its historical task and abolish reified society, Lukacs’ theory would prove influential and would also be criticized by Adorno and Lukacs.



Theodor W. Adorno’s thought is often characterised as a monolithic whole that adapts Lukács’s conception of reification to a class consciousless society. I distinguish myself from this view in this section by substantiating my interpretation of how as Stefan Breuer puts it, Adorno ‘became the first Marxist theorist since Lukács to make use of the possibilities of commodity analysis,’ by developing ‘his own version of the critique of fetishism that Lukács had begun in History and Class Consciousness’.

As Bruer indicates, Adorno’s interpretation of fetishism is different from Lukács in several respects. He moves away from using the commodity as the basis of his theory in favour of using the socially synthetic act of exchange. Therefore, rather than Lukacs’ notion of fetishism as a social relation taking on the character of a thing, Adorno’s conception of the dominating properties of fetishism pertain to abstraction, autonomisation, personification and inversion generated by the act of exchange. Moreover, in contrast to Lukacs, Adorno contends that there is no epistemically privileged possession that allows us to see through the mystified veil of reification, instead, like Sohn-Rethel, knowledge is also generated by exchange and cannot see through the objective forms of thought that are a counterpart to the exchange abstraction. Consequently, totality is not something that needs to be demystified and seized by the class that constitutes it but is a false whole that must be negated.

This interpretation of fetishism can be most clearly identified in the comments that Adorno makes in a 1962 seminar where Adorno characterises fetishism in autonomous and personified terms:


On the face of it, these abstractions make what is exchanged a thing in itself. What is a social relation appears as if it was the sum of objective qualities of an object. The concept of commodity fetishism is nothing but this necessary process of abstraction. By performing the operation of abstraction, the commodity no longer appears as a social relation but it seems as if value was a thing in itself.


As Adorno contends, these autonomous and personified properties, which are

constituted in social production for exchange, also grant the commodity mystifying properties: so that ‘congealed social relations within commodities are regarded as if they were a natural quality, a being-in-itself of things.’


These characteristics are also the reason why Adorno states that the fetish form of the exchange abstraction ‘still is the key to society’ and is what ‘distinguishes’ the Frankfurt School from ‘all other traditions of sociology. They are mirrored in Adorno’s theory which presents the exchange abstraction as constituting and constitutive of the ‘negative universality’ of social totality due to the ‘reciprocal dependency’ in capitalist society that is ‘expressed in the constant necessity of exchange and in exchange-value as an all-round mediator. For Adorno this ‘mediating conceptuality is an alien form of ‘conceptuality which holds sway in reality’, and which is ‘the objectively valid model for all essential social events’, so that ‘society obeys this conceptuality tel quel.’ Thus, ‘the fetish character of commodities […] historically has become the prius of what according to its concept would have to be posterius.’

Adorno’s dialectical social theory of domination can be seen to utilize this theory of the fetish form of the exchange abstraction in social totality. According to the dialectical logic of his social theory, the subjects that collectively constitute capitalist society are reciprocally constituted by it.Since, as I have shown, Adorno holds that society is constituted and constitutive of exchange, exchange is thus conceived as constitutive of the objective and subjective aspects of society.

Adorno’s theory of the objective aspect of social domination is encapsulated in the theoretical statements that Adorno provides that describe the abstract, mystifying and inverted characteristics of the fetish form of the exchange abstraction, and which present them as constitutive of the social domination of totality:


In Hegel’s words the all-penetrating ether of society […] is anything but ethereal, but on the contrary an ens realissimum [Latin: that which is real, materially existent]. Insofar as it is abstractly veiled, the fault of its abstraction is not to be blamed on a solipsistic and reality-distant thinking, but on the exchange-relationships, the objective abstractions, which belong to the social life-process. The power of that abstraction over humanity is far more corporeal than that of any single institution, which silently constitutes itself in advance according to the scheme of things and beats itself into human beings. The powerlessness which the individual experiences in the face of the totality is the most drastic expression of this.

The result is a form of supra-individual domination and powerlessness that Adorno characterises as ‘free floating angst’, ‘fate’ or ‘doom’: ‘Individuals are subsumed under social production, which exists as a doom outside of them; but social production is not subsumed under individuals, who operate it as their capacity in common’

This means that individuals are compelled to carry out the functions of ‘character masks’. As a result, classes and the individuals in these classes are dominated by the ‘negative universality’ of late capitalist totality, so that: ‘economic processes continue to perpetuate domination over human beings, the objects of such are no longer merely the masses, but also the administrators and their hangers-on’ who as ‘appendages of machines’ have become ‘the function of their own apparatus.’ For Adorno, this indicates the general predicament of social inversion, where ‘while we imagine that we act as ourselves, in reality we act to a great extent as the agents of our own functions’.

The concept of the ‘bane’ marks the point in Adorno’s social theory in which the objective elements of his social theory pass over into the subjective element in the form of the objective and mystified type of thought that corresponds to the exchange abstraction as well as the inverted internalisation of subject formation:


In human experience, the bane is the equivalent of the fetish-character of the commodity.What is self-made becomes the In-itself, out of which the self can no longer escape; in the dominating faith in facts as such, in their positive acceptance, the subject worships its mirror-image.

The reified consciousness has become total as the bane


As whole these objective and subjective aspects of Adorno’s dialectical social theory can be seen in the following:

[T]he economic process, which reduces individual interests to the common denominator of a totality, which remains negative, because it distances itself by means of its constitutive abstraction from the individual interests, out of which it is nevertheless simultaneously composed. The universality, which reproduces the preservation of life, simultaneously endangers it, on constantly more threatening levels. The violence of the self-realizing universal is not, as Hegel thought, identical to the essence of individuals, but always also contrary. They are not merely character-masks, agents of value, in some presumed special sphere of the economy. Even where they think they have escaped the primacy of the economy, all the way down to their psychology, the maison tolère, [French: universal home] of what is unknowably individual, they react under the compulsion of the generality; the more identical they are with it, the more un-identical they are with it in turn as defenceless followers. What is expressed in the individuals themselves, is that the whole preserves itself along with them only by and through the antagonism .


Adorno’s interpretation of fetishism thus follows Lukacs in conceiving of fetishism as indicative of domination and mystifiying properties of capitalist society. Yet unlike Lukacs he does not provide such a theory by generalizing the objective and subjective aspects of the commodity to society. Rather he endevors to show how the objective and subjective aspects of society are internally related and generated by the socially synthetic properties of exchange which constitute an inverted negative totality. However, despite many passage like the above that offer descriptive insight into these pervasive properties and a notion of exchange that sounds potentially more credible, Adorno only offers such a theory in fragments, ultimately falling back on a notion of totality for causality without an explication of how or why this totality is causal. Finally, his notion that totality is a negative universality and that the individual is also identical with domination have been often criticized for offering a one-dimensional social theory by figures such as Henri Lefebvre.




What I will term Lefebvre’s non-systematic interpretation of Marx is the basis for a voluminous and wide array of subjects that Lefebvre covered in the more than 60 books that he authored. In these works, Marx‘s theory is ‘not a system or dogma’ for Lefebvre, but rather a ‘reference’ and a ‘starting point that is indispensable for understanding the present-day world.’ This is indicative of Lefebvre’s treatment of Marxism in which the ‘basic concepts have to be elaborated, refined, and complemented by other concepts where necessary.’ One strand of Lefebvre’s work concerns how these basic concepts are conceived, refined and complemented in his conception of fetishism and its role in his attempts to articulate how domination and mystification are socially instantiated and internally resisted.

The theories of praxis and alienation are central to this non-systematic interpretation of fetishism. Praxis serves as a broad category which Lefebvre defines as the ‘dialectical relation between man and nature, consciousness and thing’ by which society is constituted.

Alienation complements the category of praxis by articulating the constituent properties of all previous societies constituted by social praxis and interpreting fetishism as a ‘concrete abstraction’ Lefebvre fuses these theories of praxis and alienation, and thereby develops an account of Marx’s theory. Lefebvre’s conception of fetishism entails this fusion because in his view, ‘[t]he economic theory of Fetishism takes up again, raises to a higher level and makes explicit the philosophical theory of alienation and the ‘reification’ of the individual.’ Fetishism is thus conceived as a concrete abstraction that is constituted by social praxis and that is constitutive of social domination and mystification:


Once launched into 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 individuals in the different groups and between these groups themselves are made manifest by these relations 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, the market and money is both an appearance and a reality. It tends to function as an objectivity independent of men.


Consequently, fetishism is treated by Lefebvre as being constitutive of social domination and mystification, as its abstract, autonomous, quantitative and alienated properties invert and thereby intervene in society:


Fetishism properly so called only appeared when abstractions escaped the control of the thought and will of man. Thus commercial value and money are only in themselves quantitative abstractions: abstract expressions of social, human relations; but these abstractions materialize, intervene as entities in social life and in history, and end by dominating instead of being dominated


However, Lefebvre also posits limits to the extent of domination, and through doing so he distinguishes himself from Lukács and critical theory. Lefebvre was quite critical about the systemisation and pervasiveness of Lukács’ theory of reification. This can be seen on a theoretical level where Lefebvre argues that the ‘very important observations by Marx are not to be systematized as a single theory of reification, which according to some constitutes the essence of Capital and of Marxism generally. Consequently, Lefebvre asserts that ‘the thesis of reification misinterprets the essential meaning of the socio-economic theory expounded in Capital. This is due to the fact that Lefebvre held that Lukács’ systematic theory of reification was too determinate. For although Lukács, in Lefebvre’s analysis, was cognisant of the dominant and mystifying properties of fetishism, he did not realise that this process of inversion, determination and mystification has a limit:


‘The logic of commodities, however, for all its encroachments upon praxis and its complex interactions with other forms of society and consciousness does not succeed in forming a permanent, closed system. With its complex determinations human labour is not entirely taken over by this form, does not become an inherent element of its content.’


These different theoretical interpretations of Marx have repercussions for the way in which Lefebvre contrasts Lukács’ Marxian theory of reification with his own.

On the one hand, Lefebvre charges that ‘the school of Lukács has overestimated the theory of reification to the point of making it the foundation of a philosophy and sociology (the two are regarded as identical in this systematization).’ Lukács’ social theory is thus a purely speculative construction on the part of a philosopher ‘unacquainted with the working class’, entailing that ‘the proletariat’s class consciousness replaces classical philosophy.’ This is likewise the case for the critical theory, which, like Lukács’ theory, is held by Lefebvre to work only at the level of words and ideas.

On the other hand, in opposition to Lukács and the critical theory, Lefebvre’s theory accounts for the problems Lefebvre identifies in Lukács and in the critical theory by conceiving of an internal opposition between these abstract and autonomous fetishistic social forms and the content they cannot entirely determine.

This conception of fetishism, social domination and mystification runs through Lefebvre’s work, where it serves as a basis for his attempts to ‘elaborate, refine and complement’ Marx’s analysis by conceiving how domination and mystification are constituted, embedded and resisted in social life. This occurs in roughly three phases in Lefebvre’s work. In the first — The classic Marxist humanist phase of the critique of everyday life — Lefebvre conceived of his Hegelian-Marxian theory of objective and subjective alienation in tandem with his interpretation of fetishism and the total man. In the 60s, Lefebvre revised the critique of everyday life by reformulating the central categories of his social theory in his analysis of the forced bureaucratic consumption of the 1960s capitalism. Such an analysis used fetishism as a basis for Lefebvre’s supplementary theory of terrorist social forms that were embodied in myriad different types of alienation, all of which were no longer based on a conception of human essence. In his final phase, Lefebvre transposed these theoretical interests in his writings on cities and space. These writings jettisoned the theory of alienation as an explanation of domination, but they still used a conception of fetishism as a form of concrete abstraction and as the basis of a theory that sought to construe how the social constitution of domination and mystification was embedded in cities and space. In all of these phases, Lefebvre’s theory of fetishism as a concrete abstraction was deployed to conceive the composition and properties of social domination and mystification, which was viewed as being instantiated in social life in terms of the internal opposition between quantity and quality.

Lefebvre’s interpretation is certainly admirable in stressing a non-dogmatic treatment of Marx. It is also forthright about how the gaps in Marx’s theory make it necessary to supplement Marx with other theories or other theorists. Unfortunately, the non-systematic manner in which Marx is interpreted and supplemented is problematic.

In the first place, Lefebvre’s account of the genesis of the forms that underlies his analysis relies on a vague and unsubstantiated terminology, such as praxis, social labour or socio-economic form which are treated as constitutive of theories of social constitution. This is likewise the case for different theories that he uses to supplement these Marxian categories. For while they are sometime admirable and potentially illuminating – particularly his idea of abstract space – they are also somewhat questionable – as when he argues that the terroristic form of mathematic are analogous to fetishism – and are simply posited as related to capitalism and not substantiated. Again as with Lukacs and Adorno, Lefebvre does not present how and why these forms of social domination are integral to capitalism. Finally, although it is admirable for Lefebvre to insist on some type of internal opposition to the dominating and mystifying properties of concrete abstraction, the internal opposition that he develops is all too often reductive and questionable leading Lefebvre to bundle together disparate phenomena due to his reductive assessment of whether they are quantitative or qualitative. thus logic and the logic of the commodity-form are treated as equivalent. Conversely, on the qualitative side, phenomena as disparate as consumption, festivals, artistic creativity, grass roots democracy and urban living are seen as equivalent and inherently oppositional to social domination. This means that Lefebvre’s admirable attempt to provide an account of how fetishism is socially embodied and internally resisted is all too often unsubstantiated and questionable.




In today’s lecture I provided an overview of how Marx, Lukacs, Adorno and Lefebvre used the theory of fetishism to articulate dominating and mystifying elements of modern society. In Marx’s case I noted that his theory of fetishism is a part of his two-fold critique of political economy, which provides an incomplete account of how the inner organization of the capitalist mode production proportionally distributes labour through thing-like social relations. I argued that Marx used fetishism during the courses of his unfolding method of presentation across all three volumes of Capital to describe the autonomous and inverted properties things possess as bearers of value, their mystified appearance and corresponding naturalization by the discipline of political economy. I then turned to examine how three important Western Marxists attempted to extend Marx’s critique of political economy to capitalist society on the basis of their distinct interpretations of fetishism. I showed how Lukacs’ theory of fetishism as reification generalized his distinctive properties of the commodity form to the objective and subjective aspects of capitalist totality, Adorno’s notion of the fetish form of the exchange abstraction articulated the dominating and mystifying properties of negative totality and how Lefebvre used concrete abstraction in several attempts to embody mystification and domination in an internally resistance society. I also signaled how by drawing on Marx’s theory and extending it to society each figure offered a more ambitious social theory that was unfortunately less rigorous than Marx. Yet it seems to me that our current crisis has once again demonstrated that we indeed live in ‘society, in which the process of production has the mastery over man, instead of being controlled by him’. This means that it is more important than ever to show how a definite social relation between men .. assumes .. the fantastic form of a relation between things’. In order to do so it seems not only that the insights of Marx but of Lukacs, Adorno and Lefebvre should be drawn on in order to understanding the heinous social dimensions of the capitalist social form.











About HR

Deep in the adjunct crackhole.
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