The Reality behind Commodity Fetishism  


 by Mario Wenning



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(c) Sic et Non - Forum for Philosophy and Culture (2002) -

In the development of Marxist philosophy one can realize a decisive shift with regard to the amount of attention writers have paid to the notion of commodity fetishism. While neomarxist philosophers of the first half of the twentieth century have made abundant efforts to apply the concept to modern Capitalist societies (1), more recent commentators, mainly associating themselves with what has been called analytical Marxism, either seem to neglect it totally or deal with it only marginally. While the former regarded the notion of commodity fetishism as pertinent to analyze forms of alienation and reification in late modernist societies as they became more pressing than  issues of mass-pauperization, the latter often look at it as an ancillary artifact that is not central to Marx’s overall analysis of political economy. The fact that the label "commodity fetish" has been applied rather generously by various recent studies on a variety of phenomena ranging from Mickey Mouse to rare stamps without paying close attention to the detailed structural analysis Marx himself used to introduce the term into his overall theory might explain why the more analytically oriented philosophers turned there back on it. The central place Marx has reserved for his explicit discussion on commodity fetishism, although the idea is prevalent throughout his writings, at the end of the significant opening chapter of Capital shows at least, that personally he  placed enormous importance on its role and connection to the commodity form as such. We know that especially in the first chapter of Capital, Marx spent an enormous amount of time writing and rewriting because he regarded it most important to introduce the basics of his theory in a precise manner. For this reason one should take him seriously and try to make sense of these sections. In this paper I want to show why his analysis of the commodity fetish is extremely important not just in understanding the commodity form but also to get a grasp of  what the structural components that enable its persistence are. In doing so I will argue in favor of an interpretation that looks at fetishism as, in an important sense, a real phenomenon. In order to do so it is essential to throw some light on Marx’s notion of "false consciousness".



It is helpful to look at Marx’s notion of scientific methodology before we can turn to reconstruct the role he attributes to commodity fetishism. Marx, in this sense an heir to Plato, regards as a minimum necessary condition of any science, that it uncovers the reality behind the veil of appearance that conceals it. He claims that without this basic criterion science would be stripped of its legitimacy, because it would be useless to want to get to know something which is already obvious and known prescientifically. If scientists did not lift any veils to show what is concealed behind them, they would do something absolutely different than what science requires. They might engage in what Marx calls with reference to some forms of economics: vulgar science. If we follow Marx in taking astrology as a typical representative of such a "science" this idea becomes more feasible.

            The basic criterion of separating appearance from reality is fulfilled with regard to most of the noteworthy scientific discoveries made in this field. Our senses perceive the sun as moving around the earth, our brain is just able to imagine the universe as being three dimensional and yet it is widely regarded as reasonable to think of the earth as in reality rotating around the sun and the universe as in reality being four dimensional. A central part of the scientificity of these discoveries seems to be- besides the way in which the investigations were carried out-  that they present knowledge which goes beyond everyday appearance. The connection between scientific discoveries and resulting changes in belief systems, which is implied in the previous statements, namely that we accept a scientific theory as showing how things really are and thus attribute an objectivity to it which many of our everyday perceptions seem to lack, is important to keep in mind although it is obviously oversimplified for the present purpose. We will return to it at a later stage in discussing what I want to call the emancipatory applicability of Marx’s analysis of commodity fetishism.

            One might object to the above mentioned analogy of astrology, that it is impertinent to abstractly attribute a methodological requirement to a diverse field of enterprises, which we  for reasons of convenience put under the category of “sciences”, but which in reality do not share one fixed set of methodological rules. Doesn’t today’s compartmentalization of universities into natural sciences, social sciences and humanities suggest that the term science refers to absolutely distinct enterprises, not to talk about the methodological distinctions within each discipline? Shouldn’t one rather focus more on the particularity of a certain science with regard to the nature of it’s object of investigation, and then discuss adequate modes of how research in this certain field should be carried out?     

            This is exactly what Marx is doing with regard to political economy in order to fill this abstract procedural rule with some content and show why the comparison to astrology is fitting. (2) The general object of his investigation seems to be broadly speaking the connection between forms of production and corresponding socio-political forms. The specific object of investigation of Marx’s analysis in Capital is capitalist society. His aim is to discover the origin and development that led to this socio-political form. In Marx’s argumentation it becomes clear why an analysis of this historically distinct form of society can not stop at putting into systematic order, what is most obviously observable, but has to proceed by way of something similar to what Hegel had in mind with his speculative method and what Peirce called abduction in order to lift the veils of appearance of capitalist societies. Abduction in contrast to induction and deduction does construct a hypothesis to subsequently show that it explains the facts.

            The whole architecture of Capital mirrors this principle. Marx introduces a hypothetical thesis after being faced by a huge number of apparent economic data and later on shows how the postulated hypothesis is able to account for the data. His hypothesis as he lays it out in the first chapter of Capital consists of two different ideas. First the notion of the commodity form is introduced. Following Adam Smith, Marx formally distinguishes a commodity’s ’use value’ (its natural capacity to satisfy certain human wants) and its ’exchange value’ (its social capacity to be exchangeable for other commodities in certain ratios). Then he goes on to introduce what is usually referred to as ‘law of value’ or ‘labor theory of value’ which states that “the exchange value of a commodity is proportional to what Marx calls its ‘value’ (Wert), that is, the total quantity of labor time which is socially necessary for producing use values of its determinate kind“ (3) at the time when it is being sold. The value of a commodity is totally separate from the physical or intrinsic qualities it posesses. In applying this theory to everyday phenomena, Marx adds modifications to it in order to grasp details that could not be understood by the abstract hypothesis alone. This has not been noted or misinterpreted by many recent commentators. (4) We shall not further analyze the adequacy of the labor theory of value here, since one can defend the argument concerning commodity fetishism well without it. In spite of that, there are other theories that ground value in material conditions of production that could be adopted independently without modifying the architecture of Marx‘s overall line of argument. Marx does not claim that the law of value is able to account for all prices at all times in a Capitalist society. He just offered a complexity reducing principle that opens up the possibility to look at economical facts from a vantage point of a preliminary analysis: “If one wanted to explain from the start all the phenomena which apparently contradict the law of value, one would have to supply the science before the science.” (5) Later on he modifies his preliminary hypothesis by making conceptual distinctions that allow him to give a more detailed analysis of the genesis of value.

            Marx shows how his hypothesis is suitable to account for the development of the market and historical changes in the way that an economic system is ‘organized‘. He uses his model to explain the factors which produced it. Capitalist society is marked by an internal rupture between the social relations as they in reality are and the way in which they are experienced immediately. A scientist that investigates into the structures of that society, be they economical, religious, sociological, political or cultural (to name just a few) is confronted with the need to reconstruct a reality beyond the apparent phenomena.       

            The minimum condition, to separate appearance from reality, and analogously content from form, Marx does not believe to be satisfied in classical economics. Ricardo and Smith, the main thinkers Marx has in mind, have taken the phenomena they were studying at face value. This has to be modified to a certain extent. Adam Smith’s theory of the necessity to introduce the division of labor in order to increase production as well as his idea that an invisible hand that transforms or drives the efforts of egoistically oriented attempts of individuals to maximize profits, as the metaphor of the invisible hand suggests, explains phenomena by reference to more fundamental hidden structures. Marx's point, if one looks for the argument behind the polemical rhetoric, seems to be that they have taken the form of economic production which they were facing, that is market oriented capitalism, at face value. They thought to be able to explain the genesis of exchange value by direct reference to aspects of use value. By rejecting the clear distinction of use value and exchange value they committed a fundamental mistake. Use value is an intrinsically rooted property of a product with regard to it’s physical qualities to satisfy determinate human needs, while exchange value is an expression of a social relation. "The mystical character of commodities does not originate in their use-value, no matter if I look at it in its relation to gratify human needs by way of its qualities, or if these qualities are a result of human work." (6) Classical economists, although they realized the historical necessity of the capitalist system with it’s ever increasing division of labor, were blind to the imagining of future alternatives to the capitalist mode of production as well as the  commodity form. “The economists proceed in a strange manner. For them there are only two kinds of systems, artificial and natural ones. The feudal systems are artificial while the bourgeois system is natural.” (7) Marx critical program consists in correcting these mistakes.



After having clarified Marx’s methodological point of departure I shall now carefully discuss his laying out of what the "mystical character", the "metaphysical subtleties", "the sensory supernatural character” and the "theological manners" (8) of the commodity specifically consist in.

            The term fetish or to fetishize which originally derives from religious discourse means to invest something with powers it does not intrinsically possess. But while the religious fetish, if my picture of the world is not totally mistaken, does not through an act of being thought about or believed in acquire powers which previously were foreign to it, the situation is different in the case of the kind of fetish Marx is concerned with. (9) The commodity fetish is being realized, not created by the minds of the individual actors and thus needs to be sharply distinguished from allusions to hallucinations, false illusions and the like. The kind of fetishism Marx is describing, can neither be understood as a mere individual misrepresentation nor as an abstract phenomenon of social consciousness. It has to be seen in light of the society as a whole. Fetishism is not merely an ideological category. While ideology in Marx understanding of it as "necessary false consciousness" is not confined to capitalist societies, but is closely linked to all societies that are divided into classes, the notion of commodity fetishism is a historical distinct phenomenon of capitalism. Marx goes as far as claiming that commodity fetishism is inseparably linked to Capitalist modes of production. He writes:


[In capitalist societies] it is only the definite social relationships of men themselves, which in their eyes takes on the phantasmagorial form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy, we must have recourse to the mist-enveloped regions of the religious world. In that world, the products of the human mind appear as independent beings endowed with life, as entering into independent relations both with one another and the human race. The same way are in the world of commodities the products of men’s hands. This I call the fetishism which is attached to the products of labor, as soon as they are produced as commodities, and which therefore is inseparable from the production of commodities. (10) 


This section shows how similar the structure of Marx’s diagnosis of commodity fetishism is to Feuerbach’s critique of religious belief as outlined in The Essence of Christianity (11). There Feuerbach argues that religious convictions merely represent unfulfilled human desires. We create idols in order to bestow them with powers, we do not possess. The subsequent religious belief is an expression of the powers one has attributed to the idols.  Marx picks up on this motif and constructs his description along the lines of a form of naturalizing anthropology. (12) The important difference between the religious and the commodity oriented model seems to be, that in the latter the appearance is a result of a process of production rather than a thought process. Marx links it closely to the division of private labor on the one side and social exchange (as part of the Capitalist ideology) on the other side that dominates capitalist production. The process of commodity production itself yields a market that clearly divides processes of labor and processes of commodity exchange. “Tools only turn into commodities, because they are products of private acts of work, that happened independently [emphasis added] of one another. The  whole of this private acts of work makes up the total of the labor of a society” (13). The producers actively engage in equating their qualitatively different labor as abstract labor by equating their qualitatively different products according to abstract value without knowing what they are doing: “They don’t know that, but they are doing it”. (14) If Marx is right this cognitive failing of the workers to grasp what really happens, while at the same time being part of the machinery, is an important feature in capitalist modes of production. Arthur Ripstein points out that the “parallel with religious fetishism would be complete if the fetishism of commodities were the precondition, both genetically and logically, of the origin and continued existence of capitalism”. (15) Ripstein’s distinction between genetical and logical preconditions seems to me unfortunate since it remains rather vaque what he means by "logical preconditions". The question seems to be, whether it would be possible to change the prevalent mode of capitalist production without previously changing the erroneous or at least incomplete knowledge of the producers about their social position and the real economical relationships that are based on profit maximization of the owners of the means of production by way of exploitation of the proletariat. The distinction between necessary and sufficient conditions helps us more to concretize the tension. If the fetishism of commodities would be ‘only’ a necessary condition, the answer to the above question would be negative, in case of being a sufficient condition one would have to infer that there is no possibility of changing the economical basis without changing the form of commodity fetishism, which is part of the superstructure. For Marx it is clear that the objective misconceptions of the proletariat connected with market economics will disappear if a new mode of production [eventually the communist one] would come into existence. Commodity fetishism is confined to commodity production: “All mysticism of the world of commodities, all magic and spook, which lies at the basis of commodity production, disappears immediately if we move on to different forms of production.” (16) 

            One clearly has to distinguish between (a) those appearances which are false, in the sense that they are what we normally mean by the term "illusion", that they correspond to no objective reality and (b) those appearances, in which social relations present themselves and are not false as such, but correspond to an objective reality. Marx is, in spite of some efforts to link him to the contrary subjectivist position, clearly concerned with the second sort of appearance. These appearances become mystified only by being regarded as being part of nature independent of social formations, or also as depending totally on the subjective intentions of men.

            We should follow Marx’s analysis further and distinguish that, what is true from that, which is not in the process of commodity production. As we have seen in Marx’s critique of the tendency of traditional economists to take historically specific forms of production relations as god given or natural, the commodity production leads the producers to look at only socially constituted phenomena of exchange ratios as product inherent properties, and to regard the capitalist mode of production as law like, in the sense that a future alternative to it, even though there might have been past alternatives, could not even be imagined. Especially the second component of their ‘false consciousness‘, which can be expressed as the view that history finally came to a developmental end with the dominance of the capitalist mode of production, sounds almost like a prophecy of Fukuyama’s position in the debate on whether capitalism has proved any alternative to itself as being impossible by outliving the demise of the quasi-socialist experiment in the Soviet Union. (17)

            While the mechanisms of exploitation of those who have to sell their labor power on a deregulated market through acquisition of the surplus value of their accomplished work by the people who have effective control over most of the means of production remain concealed, commodity fetishism is partially responsible for keeping the system intact. Commodities are imagined as possessing exchange value inherently. In fact, however, exchange value is mainly determined by the amount of labor spent on it. (18)  The commodity really possesses exchange value, but it does so only in terms of the labor which produced it. Labor is turned into just another commodity exchanged on the market.

            Cohen sums up the “doctrine of commodity fetishism” in the following way:


1. The labor of persons takes the form of the exchange-value of things.

2. Things do have exchange-value.

3. They do not have it autonomously.

4. They appear to have it autonomously.

5. Exchange-value, and the illusion accompanying it, are not permanent, but peculiar to a determinate form of society. (19)


The classical economists did not understand the fifth point and failed to ask the question to which number four is an answer. Cohen’s reading suggests that the mystery that is linked to the commodity arises at the level of thought or interpretation of social actors that look at some property, namely exchange value, as being a natural property of a thing while in reality being constituted by interaction of subjects. Admittedly Marx choice of metaphors, like the ’phantasmagorial’ or ’appear as’ in the passage I quoted earlier seem to imply such a reading. This interpretation overlooks, however, that in an important aspect people under commodity production do take on the relation between things. The way  workers have to face capitalists and consumers in order to sell themselves on the market takes on the form they deal with things. The fact that the capitalists and the consumers are social objects does not make a big difference. Social relations under conditions of commodity production are not reducible to relations between persons.

            The medium through which commodities are measured and compared is the universal equivalent money, which is according to the producers’ point of view taken as just another entity that exists autonomously of the material conditions of socially measured labor power as the precondition of purchase and sale. Fetishism can be interpreted as a structurally rooted epistemic problem. Agents take something which is socially constituted, the exchange value, for something inherently connected to things (commodities) because of their position within the economic process. This is what Marx meant by the component of necessity in ‘necessarily false conscious‘. As mentioned earlier a post-capitalist society would be freed of this form of illusion. In it, as Ripstein put it, “the red flag and the owl of Minerva fly together“ (20):


Lets now imagine a community of free people, that work with collectively owned means of production and make conscious (emphasis added) use of their individual forces of labor as social forms of labor. […] The social relations of the individual producers, with regard to both their labor and to its products, are in this case perfectly simple and intelligible, and that with regard  not only to production but also to distribution. (21)


 The capitalist mode of production and the structurally inherent false consciousness of the producers is a historically specific phenomenon. Marx exemplifies not just with the traditional sketchbook example of Robinson Crusoe, who “in spite of the diversity of his work, knows that his labor, is the result of exactly the same Robinson, and consequently that it exists of nothing but different modes of human labor” (22) but also in the case of slave and feudal societies that the specific form of false consciousness we have worked out is limited to capitalist or market oriented forms of production. In these societies the social relation between individuals in their way of performing labor was apparent and not covered up under the illusion of objective exchange value between things. One has to make sure not to misunderstand this claim as justifying these modes of productions or looking back to them in a nostalgic fashion. Here Marx tends to be rather descriptive in making a claim about the correspondence or misrepresentation of a certain belief systems to objective social relations. Domination in the middle ages was undisguised, while under capitalist societies it is concealed. 

            The mystery that sticks to the commodity arises out of a certain form of production relations. Because the social character of production is only expressed in exchange, not apparent in the production process itself, it makes sense to apply the term “mysticism”. We have, however, seen that this notion of “mysticism” can not be separated from an analysis of forms of domination without doing violence to Marx original intention. The worker, in contrast to the slave or serf, recognizes the division of income between the capitalist and himself falsely as expressing the value of what each sells at the market. To him it appears like he is selling only relatively cheap labor power, while the capitalist gets a much greater share or return for really producing the valuable commodities because he owns them. The resulting prices of commodities are regarded as expressing a non-social, objective relationship. But this is not the only impact. The worker also alienates herself from her own labor power. She regards it as something foreign, that one can be seen abstractly on a free market. She is stupefied by the ever increasing division of labor. She, as a human being, is alienated from her labor power and the products that she produced and therefore lives under conditions of regarding herself as ultimately exchangeable. The production process itself gains an independence vis-à-vis the worker. This is the reality behind the veil of which commodity fetishism is a central part. The products of labor confront her as something coercive and this is real coercion. 

            Whether one can attribute this analysis without some sophistication to contemporary workers remains rather questionable. In absence of any form of class-consciousness and the pseudo-individualizing powers of the culture industry most workers are not even aware of their social, not to talk about their economical, role at all anymore. The form of stratification we are facing today is a very different one than one hundred fifty years ago. But one could easily incorporate Marx’s model of necessarily false consciousness in analyzing these shifts. If it makes sense to regard the notion of class as being reduced to economic relations without corresponding to a unified form of class consciousness is a topic that would require another paper.

            But let’s return to the question whether one should imagine the relationship between Capitalism and false consciousness as a necessary one and what this necessity would mean in light of the question of transformation. Is it possible at all for the proletariat to escape the necessity of engaging in commodity fetichization and false beliefs about the relation of their labor, capital and resulting prices? Or is their consciousness mechanically bound to the market oriented mode of production they live in? If the proletariat necessarily has this set of mechanically caused beliefs, do the capitalists share it or do we have to construct a theory that accounts for a largely deliberately organized conspiracy of capitalists against workers? How does Marx in the midst of this complicated net of ideological beliefs navigate to uncover the verisimilitude of his critical remarks, which purport to look behind the veil of commodity fetishism. Wouldn’t he have to share the set of false beliefs, or are critical critics able to transcend the determining power of their socio-economical basis at a certain stage of historical development?



If we go back to Marx’s skeptical adoption of Feuerbach’s critique of religion, as Cohen suggests, we can shed some light on these open questions. In the case of religion, Feuerbach argued, as soon as one looks behind the mechanisms that brought about religious beliefs, they would vanish. Marx disagrees strongly in the case of religion (“opium for the people“) as well as in the case of commodity fetishism. His Fourth Thesis on Feuerbach runs as follows:


Feuerbach starts out from the fact of religious self-alienation, of the duplication of the world into a religious world and a secular one. His work consists in resolving the religious world into its secular basis. But that the secular basis detaches itself from itself and establishes itself as an independent realm in the clouds can only be explained by the cleavages and self-contradictions within this secular basis. (23)


            These self-contradictions in capitalist societies take on the form of opposing interests. In turn one can say that these forms of illusions exist only as long as there is a real need for them, that is as long as the aspects of self-contradictions which are the root of the delusion continue to exist. As long as one can make out classes with divergent interests there is ground for objective illusions.

            The analogy to religion is also pertinent to shed some light on the connection between theory and practice in Marx at this point. How is the deluded class supposed to shake off it’s false beliefs if the necessary condition would be to overcome the objective contradictions in society, and this overcoming is hindered to a large extend exactly because of the existence of the closed net of false beliefs.  If a revolution of the modes of production would only be possible by a collective seizing of power of the proletariat it seems to be highly unlikely, that it would ever come about. Unable to look through the curtain to make out the structures of exploitation, there is no reason to believe that the workers should ever show solidarity and overcome commodity production. Indeed one could even argue that a recognition of the exploited social strata would not be enough to abolish the deeply rooted contradictions of commodity production. But what would be the aim of the composition of Capital and Marx’s own political engagement in favor of developing the recognition of the proletariat of it’s own interests? (24)    

            The highly prescriptive tone of much of Marx’s analysis should make us curious as to whether he was just trying to engage in descriptive analysis. Marx regards capitalism to be exploitative. (25) The very choice of his vocabulary suggests that he was morally condemning  capitalism. First, of course he was trying to uncover reality in the most objective scientific way in order to then go on and use his findings to promote critical political action. This latter point suggests (1) that the replacement of capitalism depends on human actions and accordingly on their belief systems and (2) that it is somehow possible to alter those belief systems in the necessary direction through widening an understanding of the structures that lie at the basis of a society.

             In my opinion the emphasis Marx puts on morally appealing to the working classes to engage in revolutionary activity to promote the gratification of their justified interests against unjust exploitation has to be regarded as an appeal to the free will of those suppressed, even though this free will often only rudimentary existent. This reading seems to be far more charitable to Marx’s theory than a strong deterministic reading, that presupposes a law-like historical inevitability. Marx’s theory does attribute a role to free human action and thinking. This goes together with the materialistic understanding of the concept of commodity fetishism I have developed in the second part of this paper. Marxist theory is, besides its descriptive aspect, an instrument to enlarge the self understanding of deluded people. In this sense it has a strong emancipatory potential to it. This squares with a notion of necessary preconditions, most central the notion that capitalism is a necessary precondition for socialism. The fundamental difference between Marx and Adorno, for example, seems to be that Marx’s theory should be read as an invitation to praxis as much as to understanding. The analogy we used in the beginning to characterize Marx’s attempt to discover the reality behind a net of apparent phenomena is important here to emphasize the irreducible practical aspects of Marx‘s theory. Let us look at the connection between the discovery of astrology and people‘s behavior again. We said that people are willing to believe that the earth rotates around the sun and that the universe is three dimensional. But while this change of belief does not alter the actions of the believers with regard to convictions about celestial bodies and the number of dimensions of the universe, in the case of Marx’s analysis of commodity fetishism, an understanding seems to imply practical revolutionary activity.

            This reading, to get back to the question we raised earlier, whether one should look at commodity fetishism as inevitably insurmountable within capitalist societies, seems to suggest a negative answer. It might be extremely hard to overcome it. It might even be impossible to overcome it totally as long as the material conditions that form its basis are not altered, but the process of overcoming the material conditions seems to go hand in hand with starting to see through the veils of commodity production. Otherwise it would be hard to make sense of Marx’s critical activity. His numerous avowals against moralizing should be read as appeals to the utopian thinkers to engage in serious and honest scrutiny into the conditions of delusion, but that does not make it impossible to incorporate an emancipatory (moral) interest into a theory.

            Marx presents a moral criticism of the state of illusion that is connected to the form of fetishism of the commodity that we have analyzed. It is bad (1) because it is a manipulation of people’s minds and it functions (2) in order to stabilize the structures that allow other people to enlarge profits. Even if these other people did not set the illusion in place deliberately (which I believe to be the case fairly often), they have a responsibility to do something against it. Or if they really purport not to know about it, they have a responsibility to find out about it. On the other hand the latter responsibility also, maybe even more so, applies to those who are deluded. Although there are certain practical constrains to the knowledge one can acquire about one’s owns own situation in a society, complete transparence nevertheless remains an important regulative ideal. 


 (1) See for example: Georg Lukacs: History and Class Consciousness, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press 1971 p.297ff. Also: Theodor W. Adorno: Über den Fetischcharakter der Musik und die Regression des Hörens, Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, 7/3 1928, pp. 321-56. (back)

 (2) On Marx’s concept of science and his methodological distinction of appearance and reality see especially: Norman Geras: Marx and the Critique of Political Ecconomy, in Robin Blackburn (ed.): Ideology in social Science/ Readings in Critical Social Theory, Glasgow, William Collins Sons 1972, pp.284-305. (back)

 (3) See Allan W. Wood: Karl Marx, Routledge London 1981, p. 220. (back)

 (4) See for example G.A. Cohen: Karl Marx’s Theory of History: a Defense, Princeton: Princeton University Press 1978, p. 116. Or John Elster: Making sense of Marx, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press 1985, pp. 127-41. (back)

 (5) Quoted in Allan W. Wood: Karl Marx, Routledge London 1981, p. 220. (back)

 (6) Marx: Capital, p. 85. The page numbers refer to the pagination of the German version of Karl Marx: Kapital, Werke volume 23, Dietz Verlag Berlin 1972. If not indicated differently the translations are my own. (back)

 (7) Ibid. p. 96. (back)

 (8) Ibid. p. 85. (back)

 (9) Because Marx does limit himself in this context to discuss the notion of the commodity fetish, we shall focus on this aspect. In different places, however he also discusses fetishism of capital. For a lucid analysis see, ia: G.A. Cohen: Karl Marx’s Theory of History: a Defense, Princeton: Princeton University Press 1978, p. 122-124. (back)

 (10) Marx: Capital, p. 86f. (back)

 (11) Marx: Capital, p. 86f. (back)

 (12) For a detailed account on the influence of Feuerbach’s genetically oriented critique of religion on Marx see Daniel Brudney: Marx attempt to leave  Philosophy, Cambridge MA, Harvard University Press 1998, pp. -25-108. (back)

 (13) For a detailed account on the influence of Feuerbach’s genetically oriented critique of religion on Marx see Daniel Brudney: Marx attempt to leave  Philosophy, Cambridge MA, Harvard University Press 1998, pp. -25-108. (back)

 (14) Marx: Capital, p. 88. (back)

 (15) Arthur Ripstein: Commodity Fetishism, in: Canadian Journal of Philosophy vol.17, no 4, 1987, pp. 733-748. (back)

 (16) Marx: Capital, p. 90. (back)

 (17) See Francis Fukuyama: The End of History and the last Man, New York, Free Press 1992. (back)

 (18) Here it is important to note the central distinction between actual and relative labor. While actual labor is accomplished by the worker, abstract labor is the laboring energy that is used up from the means of production. That means abstract labor characterizes the time that would be necessary to bring the state of the means of production to the condition it was before the act of producing a certain commodity. (back)

 (19) G.A. Cohen: Karl Marx’s Theory of History: a Defense, Princeton: Princeton University Press 1978, p. 116f. (back)

 (20) Arthur Ripstein: "Commodity Fetishism", in: Canadian Journal of Philosophy, vol.17, no 4, 1987  p.737.  (back)

 (21) Marx: Capital p. 92f. (back)

 (22) Ibid. p. 90. (back)

 (23) Karl Marx: ‘Theses on Feuerbach’ p. 646. (back)

 (24) See for example Karl Marx: Communist Manifesto , in: Collected Works, New York, International Publishers 1975. “Working men of all countries, unite” p.98. (back)

 (25) See also Jeffrey Reiman: Moral philosophy: The critique of capitalism and the problem of ideology, in: Terrell Carver (ed.): The Cambridge Companion to Marx, Cambridge Ma, Cambridge University Press 1991,  pp. 143-167. (back)




Adorno, Theodor W.: Über den Fetischcharakter der Musik und die Regression des Hörens, Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, 7/3 1928.

Brudney, Daniel: Marx attempt to leave Philosopphy, Cambridge MA, Harvard University Press 1998.

Cohen, G.A.: Karl Marx’s Theory of History A Defense (expended edition), New York,             Clarendon Press 2000.

Elster, John: Making sense of Marx, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press 1985.

Feuerbach, Ludwig: The Essence of Christianity, New York: Harper and Row 1957.

Fukuyama, Francis: The End of History and the last Man, New York, Free Press 1992.

Geras, Norman: "Marx and the Critique of Political Ecconomy", in: Robin Blackburn (ed.): Ideology in social Science/ Readings in Critical Social Theory, Glasgow, William Collins Sons 1972, pp.284-305. 

Lukacs, Georg: History and Class Consciousness, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press 1971.

Marx, Karl: Kapital, Werke volume 23, Dietz Verlag Berlin 1972.

Marx, Karl: Communist Manifesto, in: Collected Works, New York, International Publishers 1975.

Pilling, Geoffrey: Marx’s Capital Philosophy and political economy, London, Routledge 1980.     

Reiman, Jeffrey: "Moral philosophy: The critique of capitalism and the problem of ideology", in: Terrell Carver (ed.): The Cambridge Companion to Marx, Cambridge Ma, Cambridge University Press 1991. 

Ripstein, Arthur: "Commodity Fetishism", in: Canadian Journal of Philosophy vol.17, no. 4, 1987.

Wood, Allan W.: Karl Marx, Routledge London 1981. 


About the author

Mario Wenning is graduate student at the Concordia University in Montreal. He was born in Duisburg, Germany; M.A. (University of Muenster) in Philosophy and History.