So what is the ultimate fetish?

July 16th, 2012


7 Responses to “So what is the ultimate fetish?”

  1. Ellen Leinwand Says:

    This is not a use of the term “fetish” in the Marxian sense.

    When Marx talks about the fetish, he refers to social relationships between persons being mediated by objects, where the social character of labor inheres to commodities as an objective property (as their value).

    This has nothing to do with the word “fetish” as its used in everyday language, or in the Freudian sense.

    Why confuse readers who might be new to the critique of political economy by posting something like this?

  2. misterdopopopollis Says:

    In a short article in 1898 “the Instinct of Workmanship and the Irksomeness of Labor” Veblen carried on one of his many social analyses and observations linking their functioning to the comlplex nature of human life. Adam smith had used the term “irksome” to characterise “labor” (sic); for Marx it was much more than that: “Labour” in being exploited, was responsible for the “alienation”, the dehumanisation, of the working class.

    Agreeing with Marx (though using different vocabulary) Veblen attempted to show why “labour is irksome” and moved him on to show how the historical process transformed work into labour, and in doing so, suppressed the best and brought out the worst in us.

    For both Marx and Veblen labour is a dirty word, whereas work is not only life-saving but can be life enhancing. In English we have allowed the two words to become interchangeable, and they have lost their distinct meanings from their latin origins. In the ancient world labour was the function of slaves, something done at the bidding of another to that other’s gain; work, however arduous, is done at one’s own bidding, whether to merely survive or to fulfill oneself, or something between the two. For Veblen, the “instinct” of workmanship is what requires and brings out the best in us as a species.

    On a related note: is it not something of interest that most of what ‘we’ come up with as reference points/nodes is 19th and early 20th century stuff. I think that it was such a rich period and much of what passes for political thought these days is just variations on the themes laid down then (or sometimes disastrous misinterpretations of them).

  3. athemita Says:
    by Reiser

  4. Says:

    @ misterdopolopolis:
    Note – we refer to labour as the ulimate fetish here, not work. You are right in making the distinction.

    @ Ellen Leinwand:
    We refer her to the fetish in the Marxian sense, not the freudian or any other anthropological category. We posit that the fault-line in today’s unprecedented world wide crisis is not brought about because of some kind of teleological event horizon caused by the labour/capital relationship, but rather that part of the problem involves ‘labour’ in as much as it is now an integrated part of the system, in a way unheralded when Marx was alive. What does remain true -indeed, what Marx’s Capital makes perfectly clear – is that behind all the myriad everyday fetishes stands labour. When Marx was writing the concept ‘embedded labour’ really meant something. Today, the relationship between ‘socially necessary labour time’ and value creation is dead – it is instead a corpse propped up by the state, and supported by many other interested parties, all with varying degrees of reactionary or reformist hues. Adorno got this, but the trad marxists like to seize on the one line in 1966 where he says ‘we need a Leninist manifesto today’ as proof that the ideas he was developing as early as 1944 in Dialectic of Enlightenment can be simply co-opted to their dogma today about organised labour – a position that makes no accounting for the changes the system has undergone since Marx’s time.

    People look for scapegoats to the crisis in the oddest of places – lazy Greeks, duplicitious Chinese, thieving immigrants. Of course people will fight to defend their living standards – and inasmuch as these fights are ‘progressive’ we are with them every step of the way, but since when has it been a crime to point out that any increments we can win from the system today won’t be taken back by the automatic subject tomorrow? (in the form of machines making workers redundant)

    Environmental activists were in the news today for shutting down Shell garages in the UK. These people get the urgency of the crisis, and the need to act. But the greens fetishize labour as well, inasmuch as it is the Bogeyman they can’t look in the face – instead greedy people of doubtful morals with sociopathic tendencies get blamed (CEOs of polluting companies) or the lazy avaricious consumer, thoughtlessly treading out their carbon footprints. Value, as constituted by labour and capital isn’t discussed. That’s a step too far, although it happens to be the real root of the crisis.

    But maybe Robert Kurz is correct in saying that we have already passed beyond the event horizon, and the levels of accumulation reached during the Fordist era is what the system has to measure itself against today, and this will prove to be an impossible task. It appears that our fragile ecosystem itself is proving to be the canary in the coalmine set with the task of proving or disproving such a thesis.

  5. Jules Guesde Says:

    My assumption is that you think your using fetishism in a Hegelian-Marxist sense, where following Lukacs, a fetish is something that is given special properties when it is removed from totality. The problem is that this would make your account of labour’s integration into capitalism an account of de-fetishization. This would mean that labour is not the ultimate fetish unless you are using it in a Freudian sense to describe something that possesses erroneous power.

    So what is a fetish? and what is Marx’s conception of the fetish and the Marxian one? and why is labour the ultimate type of one of these fetishes?
    You’ve confused me and i’m writing a phd on the idea.

  6. Ellen Leinwand Says:

    “Today, the relationship between ‘socially necessary labour time’ and value creation is dead”

    Commodities are no longer produced and exchanged? That’s basically what you’re saying, since socially necessary labor time is a relationship of social validation established through the system of commodity production and exchange.

    To say that “the relationship between ‘socially necessary labour time’ and value creation is dead” is basically to assert that you think there is no more commodity production happening in the world today.

  7. Ellen Leinwand Says:

    “But maybe Robert Kurz is correct in saying that we have already passed beyond the event horizon, and the levels of accumulation reached during the Fordist era is what the system has to measure itself against today”

    Kurz never really provides an argument as to why that’s the case. Industrial accumulation is expanding on a world scale.

    Kurz is just an old idealist at heart. He thinks that if capitalism plunges the majority of the world’s population into misery and desperation, it must be on the brink of collapse. His bitter disappointment in capitalism’s inability to serve human needs is almost touching. I think he should read a book by Karl Marx called _Capital_, it might disabuse him of such notions.

Leave a Reply