[Marxism] Commodity fetishism and reification

Charles Brown cbrown at michiganlegal.org
Thu Jun 3 12:21:21 MDT 2004

"Alienation" is usually part of this thought, I think, as in workers
alienated from the fruits of their labor. I believe Marx uses "alienation".
This seems to explode into alienation from themselves, from each other and
many other separations. It would seem that reification and commodity
fetishism are part of the theory of alienation.


From: Philip Ferguson <plf13 at student.canterbury.ac.nz>

Marx never used the term reification, as far as I am aware.

The concept of reification was developed by Lukacs, building on Marx's

analysis of commodity fetishism.

About five years ago, I wrote an article on the two things for

'revolution' magazine. If you go to www.revolution.org.nz
<outbind://8/www.revolution.org.nz>  and click on

past issues, then go to 1999 you should be able to find and open a pdf

for issue no. 10, August/September 1999.

Among other things, the article says, "Commodity fetishism is the

analysis of how relations between people (social relations) are

expressed in the 'fantastic form' of relations between things

(commodities) in capitalist society."


"Reification refers to the process by which social relations are

reproduced in people's minds in the form of things which stand outside,

separate and alienated from and above us and our own activities."


The best place to read about reification and see how Lukacs develops it

from Marx's concept of commodity fetishism is in Lukacs' brilliant

"History and Class Consciousness". He writes about it at length.

Since Lukacs the concept of reification has been used by lots of people,

including plenty of non-Marxists. This has been useful in some cases -

for instance in analysing how 'race' is a reification - and not so

useful in others (it's became a bit of a plaything/fad for radical

academics in the 60s and 70s, with the revolutionary heart of the

concept being replaced by the usual academic rubbish).

Commodity fetishism is central to Marx's whole analysis of capitalist

society. It is also the key to how bourgeois ideology works.

The left often promotes the quite vulgar (and not specifically Marxist)

idea that bourgeois ideology is simply dreamed up by the capitalists and

then beamed to people in the media. This actually suggests that workers

are stupid and passive, that their minds are empty vessels which simply

become filled up with capitalist propaganda.

Commodity fetishism explains, however, how the inner workings of the

capitalist system, in the production process, appear at the surface of

society in a very distorted way. People's perceptions are based on

these surface appearances, since this is what they see and experience


This is true of both the capitalists and the workers. The ideology that

spontaneously emerges from this situation is bourgeois ideology and it

'works' because it does actually coincide to the appearance of reality.

Capitalists, of course, can and do invent lying propaganda, but this is

more usually to do with wars and particular single issues. 

Commodity fetishism and reification are also crucial in understanding

how specific forms of bourgeois ideology - conservative and liberal -

arise and operate, including how academic disciplines such as history,

economics, sociology and political science are all based on surface

appearances. Economics is probably the crudest variant, but the

postmodernist wing of sociology is running it pretty close when it comes

to developing 'theories' based on the surface appearances of capitalism.

Philip Ferguson

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