Marxist Economics

The Crucial Concept of Marx Theory

At the end of the first chapter of Karl Marx's most famous book The Capital, Marx draws the reader's attention to the issues related to the fetishism of the world of commodities. This concept is crucial for the entire theory of Marx.

In order to explain the nature of the fetishism of commodities, Marx offers an analogy with the religious world and its mist enveloped regions. In such a world, people’s inventions exist independently, and human creations are believed to communicate with the fantastic things that have been created by them as if they indeed existed absolutely separately and independently from humans and other things. Marx states that the same applies to the fetishism of commodities. According to him, all items that surround humans belong to the total amount of things produced in the society as a result of the exploitation of human labor. Thousands of new commodities are created every minute, and in the traditional perspective, all of them have certain value. However, the commodities, according to Marx, become precious only when people trade or exchange them. At the same time, Marx raises a question regarding the price of objects as not all of them cost the same. He states that certain products are more expansive and that they have a greater value than others. Marx considers that it is mainly influenced by tension between demand and supply, though, he still emphasizes that the price has to fluctuate around value.

The fetishism of commodities, according to Marx, arises from the particular nature of social labor. The latter has a few key characteristics which, in turn, let one infer that the given type of labor is actually social and the one leading to the establishment of the fetishism of commodities. First of all, a human or a group of individuals usually perform such labor activities. These activities, as well as those who conduct them, are completely independent from one another. As a result, Marx claims that the producers of this kind of labor do not communicate between themselves before the moment of exchanging their products. In other words, the social character of labor emerges only when producers exchange their products (commodities). Additionally, this kind of labor causes the appearance of two types of relations. The first one is called material relations. They exist only among humans who exchange things. The second type refers to the social relations existing among things. An object becomes a commodity only when it is exchanged as it becomes distinct from different forms of existing as simply an object of utility.

Therefore, Marx considers individual labor to be two-fold. On the one hand, it should be sufficient enough to satisfy the needs that might arise in the society. In such a way, it becomes a part of the total sum of social labor within the society. From the other perspective, this labor can lead to the satisfaction of the needs of a producer in case the mutual exchangeability in the society is perceived as a proved act.

Another peculiarity of social labor arises from its equivalent character. Concrete labor of a specific individual manifests the concept of abstract human labor in general. However, due to the fact that Marx considers concrete labor, for example, the creation of wood tables, to be undifferentiated human labor, he states that it is equal to any other type of labor. And although a concrete individual performs this labor, Marx still perceives it as social one. That is the reason why it leads to the creation of the goods that one could exchange for other commodities. All of them are equal as all of them come from the same undifferentiated but still equal sources called human labor.

To sum up, Marx’s fetishism of commodities is closely related to the particular social character of labor that produces them. The latter should meet certain requirements in order to be sufficient enough to be considered as capable to create commodities that people then exchange.

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