commodity fetishism and markets

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Sat Feb 3 13:06:15 MST 1996

Some time ago I posed the following questions:

1) Does Marx's analysis of CF in Capital I apply to all market economies
or just to capitalist ecoomies?

For all market economies: the analysis doesn't refer to wage labor and is
last at the level of a feature of any commodity exchange.

Moreover, if the underlying idea is that the market means the products of
the producer's labor escape their control and exert a power over the
producers that they cannot escape without abolishing commodity exchnage
per se, it's not clear why commodities in simple (noncapitalist) commodity
productiojmn or market socialism would be different in this respect.

For just capitalist economies: the analysis of all of Capital I, Chap. I
is an account of capitalism, with some specifically capitalist features
abstracted for purposes of simplicity. (You can put this in the terms of
Hegel's Logic if you like.)

2. What's the fetishism in CF?

The analogy is with the products of the believer's minds' in religion,
to which they impute powers that the fetishes do not have. But in market
or capitalist economies (whichever is the object of the analysis), the
commodities really do have powers over the exchangers. It's not an error
to perceive them that way, as Marx indeed remarks. So where's the
fetishistic error or mystification on which Marx dwells so heavily?

3. What's the role of valur theory in CF?

Marx thinks that the law of value explains the workings of the market
and so the behavior of commodities. It's the nontransparency of value that
has something to do (it's not clear what) with the mystification. But now,
post Ricardo, or anyway post-Marx, we know the relevant laws, so agin,
where's the mystification?

In addition, is it crucual to the idea of CF that it is the law of value
that explains the working of markets? Marx thinks it is true, at least at
first approximation, so he uses that theory. But suppose the LTV were
false or not very useful, anyway dispensible, and the market was to be
explained in other says, say using a subjective value theory and a
neoclassical model (just for the sake of argument). Would the rest of the
analysis go through? That is, is value theory necessary for having and
using a theory of CF, or is it exogeneous to the theory as Marx presents it?

Help would be appreciated here.



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