Untitled work by Barbara Kruger (1987). Source

In his work consisted his collection of notes, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Karl Marx explains how labour estranged in capitalist system, how that effects people dramatically, and how this alienation can be annulled (or abolished). In my essay, I would like to clarify what kind of relationship exists between concept of alienation and commodity fetishism.

First, I would like to explain the concept of alienation. In capitalist economic system, worker became a commodity. When worker labour more, misery of the labour will be increased, and worker’s capacity will be decreased. Worker became propertyless and its property, the labour, is exploited by capitalists and they became property owners. In that point, worker’s labour became objectified, and externalised from the worker and became non-acquired by the worker. This kind of objectification requires an appropriation process: when worker objectify his labour, it became an exchangeable commodity and this labour begins to carry independent life from the worker. In the chapter called Estranged Labour, Karl Marx (1978) explains four main kinds of alienation: from labouring process, from the product, from natural resources and from species-being. First, alienation of worker from labouring process means that the labouring process in capitalism does not give joy to worker. It is not a type of labouring which gives happiness, joy, encouragement directly; it is done for the wage. As Marx says:

“…labour does not belong to his essential being; that in his work, therefore, he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind.

(1978, p. 74)

Second, alienation of worker from the product means that the result of the labouring process, the product, became more/less valuable than the labour itself, not the equal. It became independent from our labour and alienated from the worker. Third, the worker became alienated from the nature. It became alien to his surroundings and natural resources which became more/less valuable than worker. Finally, the alienation of worker from species-being means that man became alien to his/her nature, his human beingness and other humans. It causes a process of estrangement of man from man.

Secondly, I would like to explain the concept of commodity fetishism. Lasky (2018) defines that Commodity fetishism is a phenomenon occurs in capitalistic societies. According to that phenomenon, people valued things not things can do for them, they valued how these things mean for them. It can be called a magical quality that given to products by consumers, when these people lose to understand essential connection between the people who produced it and processes related to the production of that commodity. In his book, Das Kapital, Marx clarifies that:

As against this, the commodity-form, and the value-relation of the products of labour within which it appears, have absolutely no connection with the physical nature of the commodity and the material relations arising out of this. It is nothing but the definite social relation between men themselves which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy we must take flight into the misty realm of religion. There the products of the human brain appear as autonomous figures endowed with a life of their own, which enter into relations both with each other and with the human race. So, it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. I call this the fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour as soon as they are produced as commodities and is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities.

(1990, p. 165)

Lastly, I would like to explain what sort of relationship between alienation and commodity fetishism. In a certain extent, commodity fetishism can be called as an outcome of the alienation of worker. When worker alienated from its labour and the product which he/she produced, this product became independent from the worker itself. People give fantastic, magical, ideal quality to that product and they do not think or understand materialistic production relationships behind the production of that commodity. In capitalistic economy, people are blinded to see what really happens behind doors and they are manipulated, to see realities behind the production of the product. The most explicit example of that kind of that can be seen when we watch commercials on the television. The main aim of that kind of things is manipulating and enhancing candidate consumers to establish intimate, magical relationship with the commodity. In that commercials, it is impossible to see what happens during the production of that product. As a result, capitalism alienates workers and people, and as a result of the capitalistic alienation, commodity fetishism occurs.

References

Lasky, J. (2018). Commodity fetishism. Salem Press Encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip&db=ers&AN=129815303&site=eds-live&authtype=ip,uid

Marx, K., Engels, F., Fowkes, B., Mandel, E., & Fernbach, D. (1990). Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Penguin Books Limited.

Tucker, R. C., Marx, K., & Engels, F. (1978). The Marx-Engels reader.