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Chapter 1. "Marx's Theory of Commodity Fetishism" - Synopsis

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Chapter 1. "Marx's Theory of Commodity Fetishism" - Synopsis

Proponents and opponents of Marx have mainly dealt the theory of commodity fetishism as a separate entity hardly related to Marx's main body of economic theory. However the theory of fetishism is the basis of the whole system and the theory of value in particular.

What is in reality a relationship amongst people appears as a relationship between things – this is what is meant by “commodity fetishism”. Marx shows not only that relationships between people are veiled by a relationship between things but that also in a society based on commodity exchange social production relations can only be expressed through things.

The distinctive feature of a commodity economy is that production takes place between independent producers of commodities. “Production is managed directly by separate commodity producers and not by society.” The independent producers are bought together by exchange. It is through the market that the working activity of people is indirectly regulated. The rise and fall of the prices of commodities leads to changes in the allocation of working activity, the entry and exit from branches of production and the redistribution of the productive forces.

The interaction of individual commodity producers takes place through things, through the products of labour as they appear on the market.

The commodity economy has the following three elements.

  1. Production is split into independent productive units

  2. The productive units are materially related to each other due to the division of labour

  3. All productive units are directly linked through indirect exchange. This mediates their respective productive activities.

Producers are not free to determine the proportions that their commodity exchanges with other commodities, they must submit to conditions of the market and it's ups and downs.

“The capitalist process of production taken as a whole represents a synthesis of the processes of production and circulation” Marx – Capital Vol. III

Exchange becomes part of the process of reproduction, the ratios of exchange is the subject of our enquiry.

“When we bring the products of our labour into relation with each other as values, it is not because we see in these articles the material receptacles of homogeneous human labour. Quite the contrary: whenever by an exchange we equate as values our different products, by that very act we also equate, as human labour, the different kinds of labour expanded upon them. We are not aware of this, nevertheless we do it.” Marx – Capital Vol. I

“We consider it necessary to mention that by "things" we mean only the products of labor, just as Marx did. This qualification of the concept of "thing" is not only permissible, but indispensable, since we are analyzing the circulation of things on the market as they are connected with the working activity of people.We are interested in those things whose market regulation influences the working activity of commodity producers in a particular way. And the products of labor are such things. (On the price of land, see below, Chapter Five.)”

“The thing acquires the property of value, money, capital, etc., not because of its natural properties but because of those social production relations with which it is connected in the commodity economy. Thus social production relations are not only "symbolized" by things, but are realized through things.”

[Note: Unattributed quotes are directly taken from the text]