File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1999/bhaskar.9907, message 36


Date: Fri, 23 Jul 1999 12:44:18 -0600 (MDT)
Subject: BHA: Misleading Marx translations



Charles asked:


> Isn't the fetishism of commodities critical in creating
> this reality and activity and subjectivity of commodities?
> This is how an idea gripping the masses becomes a material
> force.

Commodity fetishism is one of the most difficult questions,
but since I am on the subject of misleading translations,
I'd like to say here that Marx uses two quite different terms
which are both usually translated with "commodity fetishism":
One is "Fetischcharakter der Ware" (fetish-like character of
the commodity), and the other is Warenfetischismus.
The fetish-like character of the commodity is a social fact:
in capitalism, things are the carriers of social relations
and therefore have a fetish-like character.  Fetishism is then
the ideology generated by this fetish-like character, it is
the inability to see that the social properties of commodities
have a social origin.

I think the question Marx addresses in his commodity
fetishism section of chapter 1 of Capital is: how come that
humans, who historically have expanded their powers, i.e.,
they have emerged higher and higher over nature, are in
capitalism an element through which emergence passes, i.e.,
the emergence of value and capital, rather than the authors
of this emergence.  I think the difference between
alienation and objecteification, which RB points out on the
bottom of p. 94, is important here.  Objectification is
necessary, mankind has to relate to nature in order to be
able to emerge over it.  Mankind harnesses the natural
powers of things to serve human needs and goals, and this
indeed enriches them.  But in a commodity society, in which
things not only have natural powers, but also social powers,
the temptation is great to try to subordinate the social
powers of things to human goals as well.  The capitalist
uses the market power of his products to improve his own
life.  This is an alienated attempt since these social
powers come from the social context in which he lives, i.e.,
ultimately it comes from himself.  He is not aware of this,
and therefore does something that can be compared to the
attempt to quench his thirst by drinking his own blood.  Due
to this unawareness, the attempts to impose his will fail
and the capitalist becomes the unwitting instrument of
powers which he has not invented and does not control.  The
dogged persistence in the attempts to subordinate to his
will the social powers of things as if they were natural
powers, is one of the conditions of existence of capitalism.


Hans.



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