Saturday, January 2, 2010

Commodity fetishism

In Marxist theory, commodity fetishism is a state of social relations, said to arise in capitalist market based societies, in which social relationships are transformed into apparently objective relationships between commodities or money. The term is introduced in the opening chapter of Karl Marx's main work of political economy, Capital, of 1867.

As it relates to commodities specifically, commodity fetishism is the belief that value inheres in commodities instead of being added to them through labor. This is the root of Marx's critique relating to conditions surrounding fetishism—that capitalists "fetishize" commodities, believing that they contain value, and the effects of labor are misunderstood.

Marx's use of the term fetish can be interpreted as an ironic comment on the "rational", "scientific" mindset of industrial capitalist societies. In Marx's day, the word was primarily used in the study of primitive religions; Marx's "fetishism of commodities" might be seen as proposing that just such primitive belief systems exist at the heart of modern society. In most subsequent Marxist thought, commodity fetishism is defined as an illusion arising from the central role that private property plays in capitalism's social processes. It is a central component of the dominant ideology in capitalist societies.

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