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Commodity Fetishism: Karl Marx

Subtitle here

Karl Marx

Marx: a critic of capitalism

A German thinker of the 19th century A philosopher and political economist The founder of communism


Industrial revolution Factory system

Private ownership of means of production Expropriation of labor power Technical division of labor

Capitalist mode of production

Capitalist Mode of Production

Commodification of labor

Commodific ation of Money


M (M+

Commodification of land

Commodity Value-Form


An object An object in relations Objects-in-relations are shaping our social relations

Satisfying our need and desire (use value) Satisfying the need of exchange (exchange value)

Capitalism: a world of commodities

Capitalism, like other social systems, are a system of value realization. Value (without qualification) as an intrinsic worth of things and activities. Capitalism is a system of value realization primarily through commodity production, circulation and exchange. The value of commodity is the socially necessary labor.

Commodity Value-Form
Commodity is important
not because of the quantity of its value. but because of the rules regulating commodity value

Value-FORM of commodity
Form: the way is taken by the society Value form: the ways of value realization

Value-form as the core/ ontological basis of capitalism


Value realization

Value to be perceived Value to be conceived Value to be measured and compared


Use Value and Exchange Value

Two Aspects of Commodity Value

Use Value Qualitative Individual Objects Subjective/ Collective Sensory

Exchange Value Quantitative Objects Objects Objective Beyond Sensuousness


Banana: Use Value and Exchange Value


Commodity production

Use Value is made available by Exchange Value


Labour as Commodity

Labor and commodity

Labor takes the form of Labor Power
The variety of private labour is reduced to quantitative units Labor Time and Labor Intensity

Wage Commodity Exchange Exchange of Product of Labour


Commodity is produced by laborer


Product B

Product A


Social relations of production

Class relation
C: people who own means of production L: people who sell labor time/power

Exploitative relation
W < value of labor Profit comes from squeezing labor power/time and repressing wage Surplus:


Alienated labor

Laborer is alienated from

Means of Production Production process Product (commodity)


Alienated labor and creative labor

Alienated labor
Loss of control over production Reward: wage Reproduction of labor power

Creative labor
Control over production Reward: labor product Self-actualization


Social relations the nature of commodity

LaborLabor time/power sold to capitalist Labor productwage (equivalent to other labor products)

Concrete labor Abstract labor


Reducing labor to things

The mysterious character of the commodity-form (is that) Commodity reflects the social characteristics of mens own labour as objective characteristics of the products of labour themselves, as the socio-natural properties of these things.


The division of use value and exchange value

Commodity as labor product
Satisfying individual or social needs (use value) Seen as equivalent to other labor products


Reducing quality difference to equivalence

Each commodity is the product of different labor and labor process. Each commodity is seen as the same but only different in quantity.
The basic logic of market/ price mechanism

Social relationsrelations between objects



The commodity world characterized by the logic of equivalence conceals

Social character of labor Social relations


Fetishism is a mystical and fantasy-like belief

It is a distortion or concealment of reality. It works as the reality of our everyday life.
Objects are seen as embodied with inherent values not relevant to producers. We live in the the mystical power of objects-inrelations.


Comparison to other modes of production

Independent producer

His/her labor is not measured by labor power/time. He/she works independently. His/her labor product is his/her selfcreated wealth and work. The social relations are simple and transparent

A serf contributes labor in the form of corve specific to a lord. In return, he/she is granted protection and land. The personal dependence of a serf on his/her lord is not equivalent to that of another serf. No commodity is needed.



Labor is measured in quantity (labor time) He/she is subject to production management and technical division of labor. He/she receives wage in return. His/her labor product does not belong to him/her. The relations between labor and labor process/labor product are concealed.


Some observations

Abundance of market information

Exchange value overwhelms other values. Exchange value is embodied in:
Price system Advertisement

It encourages people to make comparison between exchange values


Considerations of utility are played down

The value of a mobile phone is always measured by its functions (utilities are formalized into functions) and prices rather than what we need (use value).


Lack of information about production/ labor process

The reality of production and labor process is always covered up and concealed. Most people dont care about or even think of it. Sometimes information about production is further consumed as special kind of commodities.


Social character and relation of labor

Who are the workers? Where did they come from? How is their working condition? How are the relations between workers and factory owners. How is their factory life? How much do they earn monthly?


Place fetishism
Made in China
Fake Cheap Outdated

Made in Japan
Authentic Expensive State-of-the-art


Example: iPhone factory girl


A sudden intrusion

A small part of the working condition suddenly came out of the circulation of exchange value. The intrusion of social character of labor on exchange value


After a Foxconn factory worker had adorable snapshots of her discovered in a brand new iPhone and posted all over the internet, many worried that she would be fired or you know, worse. A Foxconn rep told a Chinese newspaper that "she is definitely not fired," and that the pictures were test photos "accidentally" left on the iPhone. He didn't comment on the number of lashings she received. I'm glad that all worked out, I wouldn't want Adam's conscience burdened by the fact he ruined some girl's life while he's vacationing on the Cape.
An internet message


Who cares?
iPhone factory girl is consumed as any model for iPhone. Most consumers are only concerned about her cuteness (or whether she would be fired by boss). Few would care about her working conditions in reality.


Foxconn suicides

Since January 2010, many workers of Foxconn in Shenzhen committed suicides. The inhuman management was revealed. Some labor organizations launched campaign against Foxconn and Apple Now the news about iPhone 5 and Apple store overwhelm the news about the working conditions of iPhone workers 44

Concluding Remarks

Ontological analysis of commodity

Marxs theory of commodity value-form is not a historical explanation It is an ontological analysis of the existence of commodity He anticipated the spread of commodity value-form as the dominant form of value


Fetishism is about thing, but also about symbols and even use values
How to analyze commodity fetishism from a semiotic approach? How could we explain why people are obsessed with some use values?
Speed, Function, Convenience, Comfort, Communication ... ... Sensuousness is intertwined with ultra-sensuousness