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In OPE-L 2560, 2565, and 2575, Paul Zarembka has denied that Marx's
theory of fetishism is central to _Capital_. Paul at first tried to
justify this denial by counting the number of pages devoted explicitly to
the explication of the theory. Yet as he recognizes in OPE-L 2575, the
real issue is whether the theory is integral to and influences the whole
or whether, as he thinks, "'fetishism' was a very specific concept as
discussed in the relevant 12-page section."
In defense of the latter proposition, he continues that "If it were meant
to illuminate EVERYTHING its status would have been MUCH MORE obvious by
a much more greater discussion by Marx." I do not agree.
First, I think the centrality of the theory of fetishism IS obvious.
Second, I just don't think it is true that an author will always directly
discuss something at great length if it is central. I would argue, for
instance, that "becoming" is central to Hegel's _Science of Logic_. Yet
there is only a bit of direct discussion of becoming, at the beginning.
Nonetheless, the forward movement from category to category is in every
case a matter of becoming.
Paul has also responded to the following argument of mine:
"what is Marx's analysis of the development of capitalist production,
especially machine production, all about if not that the worker is
dominated by the product of her on hands, just as in religion the thinker
is dominated by the product of his own brain? Coming to the section on
Wages that Paul mentions, it is one *transformation* after another,
various 'irrational' forms of the value of labor-power that actually
exist in the real world -- again, it is not a matter of illusion.
"And then there's Vol. III. It would be easy to point to the Trinity
Formula, or to the crucial discussion of relations of production and
relations of distribution. But really, this whole volume is again one
*transformation* after another. The whole thing is about how the
inversion of subject and object -- worker and machine -- that occurs in
the production process necessarily gives rise to fetishistic forms of
appearance in which capital has powers."
Paul writes: "No, *Capital* is about the exploitation and domination by
one social class over another in the specific form of the capitalist
mode of production. It is NOT principally about workers being
'dominated by the product of her/his own hand'.
But Paul did not justify his rejection of my interpretation. Nor did he
confront the evidence I provided.
For the record, this is how Marx ends the first section of the chapter on
the General Law of Capitalist Accumulation: "Just as man is governed, in
religion, by the products of his own brain, so, in capitalist production,
he is governed by the products of his own hand" (_Capital_ I, Vintage, p.
And in Volume III (Vintage, p. 136), as I noted, he writes that "the way
that surplus-value is transformed into the form of profit ... is only a
further extension of that inversion of subject and object which already
occurs in the course of the production process itself. ... value, i.e.
the past labour that dominates living labour, is personified into the
capitalist; on the other hand, the worker conversely appears as mere
objectified labour-power, as a commodity. This inverted relationship
necessarily gives rise ... to a correspondingly inverted conception of
the situation ... which is further developed by the transformations and
modifications of the circulation process proper."
Perhaps Paul could argue that _Capital_ is not "principally" about this.
But what criterion does he have for deciding whether something is
"principal" or not? I do not know. Are we going to go back to page
counting? If so, I'd just note that what Paul considers central --
classes -- gets even less explicit treatment and less prominent treatment
than the theory of fetishism. It is not developed explicitly at all in
Volume I, and in Vol. III there is only a two-page fragment at the end
that Marx didn't bother to complete!
But I think the real issue is whether Paul is justified in making the
SEPARATIONS he makes. It is these separations, above all, that enable
him to say that fetishism is confined to 12 pages of the text.
The first separation is that he writes as if "exploitation and domination
... in the specific form of the capitalist mode of production" is one
thing, while "workers being 'dominated by the product of her/his own
hand'" is something entirely different. But the latter IS the capitalist
mode of production:
"in the valorization process ... it is not the worker who makes use of
the means of production, but the means of production that make use of the
worker. ... The means of production ... now manifest themselves moreover
as the rule of past, dead labour over the living" (Marx, _Capital_ I,
Vintage, p. 988 ["Results of the Immediate Process of Production"]).
Paul also tries to separate "the exploitation and domination by one
social class over another" from "workers being 'dominated by the product
of her/his own hand'." But for Marx they were not separate at all. On
the very next page, Marx (ibid., p. 989) writes that
"In fact the rule of the capitalist over the worker is nothing but the
rule of the independent *conditions of labour* over the *worker*,
conditions that have made themselves independent of him. ... And this is
the case even though this relationship comes into existence only in the
course of the actual process of production ...."
Thus, for Marx, the domination of workers by capitalists is *IN FACT*
NOTHING BUT the rule of the independent means of production over the
worker. The latter relationship, moreover, was the primary one. As he
says again and again (e.g. in the passage from Vol. III) and as he
repeats here, the capitalist is only the personification of the dead
labor that dominates living labor:
"The *functions* fulfilled by the capitalist are no more than the
functions of capital -- viz. the valorization of value by absorbing
living labour -- executed *consciously* and *willingly*. The capitalist
functions only as *personified* capital, capital as a person .... Hence
the rule of the capitalist over the worker is the rule of things over
man, of dead labour over the living, of the product over the producer.
... Thus at the level of material production ... we find the *same*
situation that we find in *religion* at the ideological level, namely the
invesion of subject into object and *vice versa*" (ibid., pp. 989-90).
I'd be interested in knowing Paul's response to this evidence.
Another possible separation is between fetishism and value. In reply
to John Holloway, Paul writes: "If you are using 'value' and 'fetishism'
synonymously, there is no reponse I can give." This seems to recognize
that, if fetishism is "synonymous" with value, fetishism is central to
_Capital_ because value is. But they need not be "synonymous"; fetishism
is still central if, as I suggest, it is *closely and internally related*
What gives rise to the fetish, after all? The *material* characteristics
of a commodity do not give rise to the fetish -- material things have
always existed without there being a commodity fetish. What gives rise
to fetishism is rather that commodities aren't only material things, but
also something *immaterial*, values. The fetish arises from the fact
that the value character of the commodity is inseparable from its
material nature and appears as something material.
Moreover, value is a social power. The commodity in its dual character
is thus a thing that has un-thingly power. That makes it a fetish.
Hence, when Marx explores the workings of value production and
accumulation, he is exploring the social power that value has in this
society, the fetish in action.
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