April 2010

Phd research does make you see the world in a slanted fucking way. That’s nothing compared to some academics who are allowed to write in ways Phd students would never be able to, as the following demonstrates:

“In Marx’s work it was the notion of commodity fetishism, not a developed concept of alienation, that enabled Lukacs to see that the problematic of reification lies at the center of the Marxian critique. From commodity fetishism, Lukacs deduced a concept that, as a student of Simmel, he had been utilizing since at least 1910: the concept of the alienation of labour.”

The conflations ! the unsubstantiated assertions ! the anachronisisms ! BLARG.

Not as good as Herzog’s own work  or  his appearances in Werner Herzog eats his Shoe or Julien Donkey Boy. But just like what any student– or even pixar– film would end up like if you were lucky enough to get Herzog to do the voice over. Still, the voice is pretty fucking sublime. Hell, I’d listen to him read Ayn Rand.

I also have the notion that reassembling every instance of reification through the cut up method would make a smashing avant garde poem or something like a John Cooper Clark or PIL song. Check out the beginning:

Immediate and reified laws. Reified to the ultimate extreme. Reified and determinate. Antinomies of reification. external reified world. The basic Phenomenon of Reification.

I’ve gone and done it. In order to try to understand the elastic pervasive nature of the ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ aspects of reification, I found and copied each instance that Lukacs uses the term in the Reification essay. It turns out he does it 109 times in 140 pages.

I also found out that following this process–not abandoning revolutionary politics  and setting yourself up in the ‘grand abyss hotel’– turns Lukacs into Adorno. Sure I’m exaggerating for effect, but if you read the fragments as aphorisms many of them do sound like Adorno. (Well at least the ones you can imagine divorced from revolutionary politics and written in the ‘grand abyss hotel.) If you don’t believe me have a look for yourself:

Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat

I: The Phenomenon of Reification

the reifying effects of the dominant commodity form.

the veil of reification.

The commodity can only he understood in its undistorted essence when it becomes the universal category of society as a whole. Only in this context does the reificiation produced by commodity relations assume decisive importance both for the objective evolution of society and for the stance adopted by men towards it. Only then does the commodity become crucial for the subjugation of men’s consciousness to the forms in which this reification finds expression and for their attempts to comprehend the process or to rebel against its disastrous effects and liberate th e, from servitude to the ‘second nature’ so created.

Marx describes the basic phenomenon of reification as follows:

“A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social character of men’s labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labour; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labour is presented to them as a social relation existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labour. This is the reason the products of labour become commodities, social things whose qualities are at the same time perceptible and imperceptible by the senses … It is only a definite social relation between men that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things.

Thus time sheds its qualitative, variable, flowing nature; it freezes into an exactly delimited, quantifiable continuum filled with quantifiable ‘things’ (the reified, mechanically objectified ‘performance’ of the worker, wholly separated from his total short, it becomes space.

While this process is still incomplete the methods used to extract surplus labour are, it is true, more obviously brutal than in the later, more highly developed phase, but the process of reification of work and hence also of the consciousness of the worker is much less advanced. Reification requires that a society should learn to satisfy all its needs in terms of commodity exchange. The separation of the producer from his means of production, the dissolution and destruction of all ‘natural’ production units, etc., and all the social and economic conditions necessary for the emergence of modern capitalism tend to replace ‘natural’ relations which exhibit human relations more plainly by rationally reified relations.

For that very reason the reified mind has come to regard them as the true representatives of his societal existence. The commodity character of the commodity, the abstract, quantitative mode of calculability shows itself here in its purest form: the reified mind necessarily sees it as the form in which its own authentic immediacy becomes manifest and – as reified consciousness – does not even attempt to transcend it. On the contrary, it is concerned to make it permanent by ‘scientifically deepening’ the laws at work. Just as the capitalist system continuously produces and reproduces itself economically on higher and higher levels, the structure of reification progressively sinks more deeply, more fatefully and more definitively into the consciousness of man. Marx often describes this potentiation of reification in incisive fashion (this before the interest fetish quote)

Just as the economic theory of capitalism remains stuck fast in its self-created immediacy, the same thing happens to bourgeois attempts to comprehend the ideological phenomenon of reification. Even thinkers who have no desire to deny or obscure its existence and who are more or less clear in their own minds about its humanly destructive consequences remain on the surface and make no attempt to advance beyond its objectively most derivative forms, the forms furthest from the real life-process of capitalism,, i.e. the most external and vacuous forms, to the basic phenomenon of reification itself.

But they do not go further than a description and their ‘deepening’ of the problem runs in circles around the eternal manifestations of reification.

The divorce of the phenomena of reification from their economic bases and from the vantage point from which alone they can be understood, is facilitated by the fact that the [capitalist] process of transformation must embrace every manifestation of the life of society if the preconditions for the complete self-realisation of capitalist production are to be fulfilled.

In terms of bureau

Far from weakening the reified structure of consciousness, this actually strengthens it. The specialised ‘virtuoso’, the vendor of his objectified and reified faculties does not just become the [passive] observer of society; he also lapses into a contemplative attitude vis-à-vis the workings of his own objectified and reified faculties.

The journalist’s ‘lack of convictions’, the prostitution of his experiences and beliefs is comprehensible only as the of capitalist reification.

And there is no natural form in which human relations can be cast, no way in which man can bring his physical and psychic ‘qualities’ into play without their being subjected increasingly to this reifying process.

Even though this criticism deserves refutation in its naive form it becomes comprehensible when we look for a moment from the outside, i.e. from a vantage point other than that of a reified consciousness, at the activity of modern science which is bot sociologically and methodologically necessary and for that reason ‘comprehensible’.

Problem of form and content

But this simply shifts the question from the main issue to more and more derivative and reified stages without ,,negating the formalism of the method and the elimination from the outset of the concrete material underlying it.

Thus the subject of the exchange is just as abstract, formal and reified as its object.

(Suddenly, that is, for reified, rational thought.) Or rather: these ‘laws’ fail to function and the reified mind is unable to perceive a pattern in this ‘chaos’

In jurisprudence this situation emerges with even greater clarity and simplicity – because there is a more conscious reification at work.

The formalistic conceptualisation of the special sciences become for philosophy an immutably given substratum and this signals the final and despairing renunciation of every attempt to cast light on the reification that lies at the root of this formalism. The reified world appears henceforth quite definitively-and in philosophy, under the spotlight of ‘criticism’ it is potentiated still further-as the only possible world, the only conceptually accessible, comprehensible world vouchsafed to us humans.

7 This whole process is described systematically and historically in Capital I. The facts themselves can also be found in the writings of bourgeois economists like Bücher, Sombart, A. Weber and Gottl among others – although for the most part they are not seen in connection with the problem of reification.

16 This refers above all to capitalist private property. Der heilige Max. Dokumente des Sozialismus 1II, 363. Marx goes on to make a number of very fine observations about the effects of reification upon language. A philological study from the standpoint of historical materialism could profitably begin here.

22 If we do not emphasise the class character of the state in this context, this is because our aim is to understand reification as a general  phenomenon constitutive of the whole of bourgeois society. But for this the question of class would have to begin with the machine. On this point see Section Ill.

Section two

Modern critical philosophy springs from the reified structure of consciousness.

for reification did play a part in Greek society

But also further explanation lies in the fact that Greek philosophy was no stranger to certain aspects of reification, without having experienced them, however, as universal forms of existence; it had one foot in the world of reification while the other remained in a ‘natural’ society.

32 Die Differenz des Fichteschen und Schellingschen Systems, Werke I, p. 242. Every such ‘atomic’ theory of society only represents the ideological reflection of the purely bourgeois point of view; this was shown conclusively by Marx in his critique of Bruno Bauer, Nachlass II, p. 227. But this is not to deny the ‘objectivity’ of such views: they are in fact the necessary forms of consciousness that reified man has of his attitude towards society.

At the same time if one thinks of Rousseau, there are echoes of a quite different meaning wholly incompatible with this one. It concentrates increasingly on the feeling that social institutions (reification) strip man of his human essence and that the more culture and civilisation (i.e. capitalism and reification) take possession of him, the less able he is to be a human being. And with a reversal of meanings that never becomes apparent, nature becomes the repository of all these inner tendencies opposing the growth of mechanisation, dehumanisation and reification.

But here, unexpectedly and indissolubly bound up with the other meanings, we discover a third conception of nature, one in which we can clearly discern the ideal and the tendency to overcome the problems of a reified existence.

Schiller defines the aesthetic principle as the play-instinct (in contrast to the form-instinct and the content-instinct) and his analysis of this contains very valuable insights into the question of reification, as is indeed true of all his aesthetic writings)

For while earlier thinkers remained naïvely entangled in the modes of thought of reification, or at best (as in the cases cited by Plekhanov) were driven into objective contradictions, here the problematic nature of social life for capitalist man becomes fully conscious.

And in the aesthetic mode, conceived as broadly as possible, they may be salvaged from the deadening effects of the mechanism of reification.

Its cultural and philosophical tendency, namely the impulse to overcome the reified disintegration of the subject and the – likewise reified – rigidity and impenetrability of its objects, emerges here with unmistakable clarity.

But this semblance is enough to dissipate wholly the attempt of the classical philosophers to break out of the limits imposed on formal and rationalistic (bourgeois, reified) thought and thereby to restore a humanity destroyed by that reification. Thought relapses into the contemplative duality of subject and object


The forms in which it exists are – as we demonstrated in Section I – the repositories of reification in its acutest and direst form and they issue in the most extreme dehumanisation. Thus the proletariat shares with the bourgeoisie the reification of every aspect of its life.

Thus Simmel has this to say about the ideological structure of reification in consciousness.

Thus for the worker the reified character of the immediate manifestations of capitalist society receives the most extreme definition possible.

Above all, as far as labour-time is concerned, it becomes abundantly clear that quantification is a reified and reifying cloak spread over the true essence of the objects and can only be regarded as an objective form of reality inasmuch as the subject is uninterested in the essence of the object to which it stands in a contemplative or (seemingly) practical relationship.

It is true that in the problem of labour-time, just because it shows reification at its zenith, we can see how proletarian thought is necessarily driven to surpass this immediacy.

This enables us to understand why it is only in the proletariat that the process by which a man’s achievement is split off from his total personality and becomes a commodity leads to a revolutionary consciousness. It is true, as we demonstrated in Section I, that the basic structure of reification can be found in all the social forms of modern capitalism (e.g. bureaucracy.) But this structure can only be made fully conscious in the work-situation of the proletarian. For his work as he experiences it directly possesses the naked and abstract form of the commodity, while in other forms of work this is hidden behind the façade of ‘mental labour’, of ‘responsibility’, etc. (and sometimes it even lies concealed behind ‘patriarchal’ forms). The more deeply reification penetrates into the soul of the man who sells his achievement as a commodity the more deceptive appearances are (as in the case of journalism). Corresponding to the objective concealment of the commodity form, there is the subjective element. This is the fact that while the process by which the worker is reified and becomes a commodity dehumanises him and cripples and atrophies his ‘soul’ – as long as he does not consciously rebel against it – it remains true that precisely his humanity and his soul are not changed into commodities. He is able therefore to objectify himself completely against his existence while the man reified in the bureaucracy, for instance, is turned into a commodity, mechanised and reified in the only faculties that might enable him to rebel against reification. Even his thoughts and feelings become reified. As Hegel says: “It is much harder to bring movement into fixed ideas than into sensuous existence.

Thus the purely abstract negativity in the life of the worker is objectively the most typical manifestation of reification, it is the constitutive type of capitalist socialisation.

It is just in this objectification, in this rationalisation and reification of all social forms that we see clearly for the first time how society is constructed from the relations of men with each other.

From this it follows, firstly, that man, who is the foundation and the core of all reified relations, can only be discovered by abolishing the immediacy of those relations. It is always necessary, therefore, to begin from this immediacy and from these reified laws.

The great advance over Hegel made by the scientific standpoint of the proletariat as embodied in Marxism lay in its refusal to see in the categories of reflection a ‘permanent’ stage of human knowledge and in its insistence that they were the necessary mould both of thought and of life in bourgeois society, in the reification of thought and life.

This in turn presupposes that the rigidly reified existence of the objects of the social process will dissolve into mere illusion, that the dialectic, which is self-contradictory, a logical absurdity as long as there is talk of the change of one ‘thing’ into another ‘thing’ (or of one thing-like concept into another), should test itself on every object.

But if the reification of capital is dissolved into an unbroken process of its production and reproduction, it is possible for the proletariat to discover that it is itself the subject of this process even though it is in chains and is for the time being unconscious of the fact.

Moreover, the ‘laws’ of the reified reality of capitalism in which the bourgeoisie is compelled to live are only able to prevail over the heads of those who seem to be its active embodiments and agents. The average profit rate is the paradigm of this situation.

Moreover, the situation is not attenuated by the fact that we are not confronted here by a unique event, a catastrophe, but by the unbroken production and reproduction of the same relation whose elements are converted into empirical facts and incorporated in reified form in the web of rational calculation.

For the ossifying quality of reified thought with its tendency to oust the process is exemplified even more clearly in the ‘facts’ than in the ‘laws’ that would order them. In the latter it is still possible to detect a trace of human activity even though it often appears in a reified and false subjectivity.

This also explains why the total process which is uncontaminated by any trace of reification and which allows the process-like essence to prevail in all its purity should represent the authentic, higher reality. Of course, it also becomes clear why in the reified thought of the bourgeoisie the ‘facts’ have to play the part of its highest fetish in both theory and practice. This petrified factuality in which everything is frozen into a ‘fixed magnitude.

This takes reification to its ultimate extreme: it no longer points dialectically to anything beyond itself: its dialectic is mediated only by the reification of the immediate forms of production.

Whereas for the proletariat the way is opened to a complete penetration of the forms of reification.

It could even be maintained that the equally revolutionary Calvinist union of an ethics in which man has to prove himself (interiorised asceticism) with a thorough-going transcendentalism with regard to the objective forces that move the world and control the fate of man (deus absconditus and predestination) contain the bourgeois reified consciousness with its things-in-themselves in a mythologised but yet quite pure stat

And the class, too, can only manage it when it can see through the reified objectivity of the given world to the process that is also its own fate. For the individual, reification and hence determinism (determinism being the idea that things are necessarily connected) are irremovable.

Thus for reified man a robust causal determinism is more accessible than those mediations that could lead him out of his reified existence. But to posit the individual man as the measure of all things is to lead thought into the labyrinths of mythology.

The indeterminism of the modern pragmatists was in origin nothing but the acquisition of that margin of ‘freedom’ that the conflicting claims and irrationality of the reified laws can offer the individual in capitalist society. It ultimately turns into a mystique of intuition which leaves the fatalism of the external reified world even more intact than before.

We have only to consider it in the light of our systematic analysis of reification in order to establish that such a posture conceals a total capitulation before the bourgeoisie – and this notwithstanding the apparent ‘socialism’ of its policies.

It is doubtless true that these ‘laws’ are part of an objective dialectic inaccessible to the reified consciousness and as such lead to the downfall of capitalism

But social democracy must concede defeat on every particular issue also. For when confronted by the overwhelming resources of knowledge, culture and routine which the bourgeoisie undoubtedly possesses and will continue to possess as long as it remains the ruling class, the only effective superiority of the proletariat, its only decisive weapon is its ability to see the social totality as a concrete historical totality; to see the reified forms as processes between men; to see the immanent meaning of history that only appears negatively in the contradictions of abstract forms, to raise its positive side to consciousness and to put it into practice. With the ideology of social democracy the proletariat falls victim to all the antinomics of reification that we have hitherto analysed in such detail. The important role increasingly played in this ideology by ‘man’ as a value, an ideal, an imperative, accompanied, of course, by a growing ‘insight’ into the necessity and logic of the actual economic process, is only one symptom of this relapse into the reified immediacy of the bourgeoisie. For the unmediated juxtaposition of natural laws and imperatives is the logical expression of immediate societal existence in bourgeois society.

Reification is, then, the necessary, immediate reality of every person living in capitalist society. It can be overcome only by constant and constantly renewed efforts to disrupt the reified structure of existence by concretely relating to the concretely manifested contradictions of the total development, by becoming conscious of the immanent meanings of these contradictions for the total development.

This insight alone puts us in a position to see through the last vestiges of the reification of consciousness and its intellectual form, the problem of the thing-in-itself.

In the theory of ‘reflection’ we find the theoretical embodiment of the duality of thought and existence, consciousness and reality, that is so intractable to the reified consciousness.

Historical thought perceives the correspondence of thought and existence in their – immediate. but no more than immediate – rigid, reified structure.

That is to say, in the view that the movements of history represent the true reality; not indeed a transcendental one, but at all events a higher one than that of the rigid, reified facts of the empirical world, from which they arise.

For it is evident that however clearly we may have grasped the fact that society consists of processes, however thoroughly we may have unmasked the fiction of its rigid reification, this does not mean that we are able to annul the ‘reality’ of this fiction in capitalist society in practice.

Even the proletariat can only overcome reification as long as it is oriented towards practice. And this means that there can be no single act that will eliminate reification in all its forms at one blow; it means that there will be a whole host of objects that at least in appearance remain more or less unaffected by the process. This is true in the first instance of nature. But it is also illuminating to observe how a whole set of social phenomena become dialecticised by a different path than the one we have traced out to show the nature of the dialectics of history and the process by which the barriers of reification can be shattered.

Still more important than these systematic distinctions is the fact that even the objects in the very centre of the dialectical process can only slough off their reified form after a laborious process.

And it even appears as if the decisive crisis-period of capitalism may be characterised by the tendency to intensify reification, to bring it to a head.

For the contradiction has two aspects: on the one hand, there is the increasing undermining of the forms of reification – one might describe it as the cracking of the crust because of the inner emptiness – their growing inability to do justice to the phenomena, even as isolated phenomena, even as the objects of reflection and calculation. On the other hand, we find the quantitative increase of the forms of reification, their empty extension to cover the whole surface of manifest phenomena. And the fact that these two aspects together are in conflict provides the key signature to the decline of bourgeois society.

aaaarg.org and the .pdf find search are handy research tools. Instead of taking ages to look through my notes on History and Class Consciousness, I can find out how many times Lukacs uses different variations of fetishism and where he uses it in a matter of minutes. For the record he uses variations of fetishism 22 times in HCC: 6 times in What is Orthodox Marxism?, 4 times in The Changing Function of Historical Materialism and 12 times in Reification. (I guess I left two out in yesterdays post in a rush to get out of work.)

I could stop here if I were still in the mandatory political science research methods course I took back in the mediocre cesspit that is ALB. All I would need to do is draw up a graph and stipulate some rules for content analysis. I’m way past that shit now.  But I’m not past getting analytical on L.

As I see it Lukacs’ uses of fetishism– what he terms  fetish forms, fetish categories, fetishistic exchage-value, fetishistic processes, the fetish-character, fetishes and commodity fetishism- fall into several different groups that for the most part overlap in characterization of the fetishism’s of commodities as objectively generated illusions. However, Lukacs also provides different stances on how knowledge affects these illusions. In the following I will provide an overview of how I see these groups. Please bear in mind this is just a starting point and I ain’t got no fancy or clever names for my groups yet.

Foundational Fetishism.

Foundational fetishism entails the first two and the fifth use of fetishism in Reification. It is also partly responsible for the difficulty in understanding the difference between reification and fetishism for Lukacs. (Which is not helped by Lukacs’s use of quotations from Marx where Marx is talking about the fetish character of commodities, fetishism, the fetish character of interest-bearing capital to define reification. But that’s for another time. )

The instances of foundational fetishism are as follows, In introduction the phenomenon of reificaition;

Our intention here is to base ourselves on Marx’s economic analyses and to proceed from there to a discussion of the problems growing out of the fetish character of commodities, both as an objective form and also as a subjective stance corresponding to it. Only by understanding this can we obtain a clear insight into the ideological problems of capitalism and its downfall.


Before tackling the problem itself we must be quite clear in our minds that commodity fetishism is a specific problem of our age, the age of modern capitalism

The third instance relates to the first two, even if Lukacs inserts it all the way in the third section;

It has often been claimed – and not without a certain justification – that the famous chapter in Hegel’s Logic treating of Being, Non-Being and Becoming contains the whole of his philosophy. It might be claimed with perhaps equal justification that the chapter dealing with the fetish character of the commodity contains within itself the whole of historical materialism and the whole self-knowledge of the proletariat seen as the knowledge of capitalist society (and of the societies that preceded it). [Capital I, Chapter 1, Section 4].

So we see my justification for calling these instances of fetishism foundational fetishism, simply because they are what Lukacs uses for his methodological, historical and phenomenological foundations. We are told that the fetish-character section contains all of historical materialism, which Lukacs characterizes in What is Orthodox Marxism? as ‘method’ (an important influence on the development I am tracing) i.e. the use of totality, dialectics and Marxist categories, the same method he uses in Reification. We are also told that it is an objective, subjective and ideological phenomenon that is qualitatively unique to capitalism (although Lukacs does fudge this distinction several times) and which serves as the foundation for the elastic phenomenon of reification he is about to catalog.

Classic Commodity Fetishism

Classic commodity fetishism consists in what has to be the most widespread assessment of the fetishism of commodities. We can also say it consists in aspects, fragments or specific examples of how foundational fetishism is instantiated; as fetish forms, fetish categories, commodity fetishism, fetishistic processes or fetishes these types of classic commodity fetishism are socially necessary epistemological illusions generated by the capitalist mode of production that veil, cloak or block its underlying dynamic and which can be seen through and dispelled by either the Marxist method or the conscious proletarian. (In my mind Lukacs is never clear about how these two relate). This characterization of commodity fetishism is usually attributed to Marx but it is Lukacs, not Marx, who conceived and popularized it.

As this type of fetishism is the most common in Lukacs, I will include the most prominent examples of it.

The first comes in What is Orthodox Marxism? where Lukacs characterizes fetish forms as socially necessary, ideological,  mere illusions that can be seen through and dispelled by the Marxist method of totality and dialectics;

The intelligibility of objects develops in proportion as we grasp their function in the totality to which they belong. This is why only the dialectical conception of totality can enable us to understand reality as a social process. For only this conception dissolves the fetishistic forms necessarily produced by the capitalist mode of production and enables us to see them as mere illusions which are not less illusory for being seen to be necessary. These unmediated concepts, these ‘laws’ sprout just as inevitably from the soil of capitalism and veil the real relations between objects. They can all be seen as ideas necessarily held by the agents of the capitalist system of production. They are, therefore, objects of knowledge, but the object which is known through them is not the capitalist system of production itself, but the ideology of its ruling class. 13

The second comes from Standpoint section of Reification, where when the proletarian becomes conscious of their standpoint as commodity they awaken to dialectical awareness:

We can already see here more clearly and concretely the factors that create a dialectic between the social existence of the worker and the forms of his consciousness and force them out of their pure immediacy. Above all the worker can only become conscious of his existence in society when he becomes aware of himself as a commodity. As we have seen, his immediate existence integrates him as a pure, naked object into the production process. Once this immediacy turns out to be the consequence of a multiplicity of mediations, once it becomes evident how much it presupposes, then the fetishistic forms of the commodity system begin to dissolve: in the commodity the worker recognises himself and his own relations with capital. Inasmuch as he is incapable in practice of raising himself above the role of object his consciousness is the self-consciousness of the commodity; or in other words it is the self-knowledge, the self-revelation of the capitalist society founded upon the production and exchange of commodities.

So as we see here the classic conception of commodity fetishism is that it is an objectively generated illusion that cloaks or veils the real underlying processes of fetishism. An illusion that can be dispelled via the Marxist method or proletarian consciousness.

An ‘illusion’ of a Different Sort

In several places Lukacs also posits fetishism as possessing an illusory quality different then classic commodity fetishism, this type of fetishism follows more directly from Marx in contending that fetishism creates the illusion that the fetishized, reified, commodified etc.  conditions of capital are transhistorical components of any form of economic organization. Logically speaking, discovering that something is social rather then natural and thus ‘illusory’ should not dispell the efficacy of how this social construct functions.  This would seem to follow from the case of the transhistorical illusion of fetishism, which is created by the objectifying conditions of capital, otherwise what would the big problem with fetishism or reification be? Yet, at various points Lukacs says the opposite seeming to put two different aspects; the transhistorical illusion of the fetish and what Marx terms the fetish-character of the commodity together, so that knowledge of one affects the other, again dispelling the illusion;

Again, the most explicit example of this is from What is Orthodox Marxism:

Only when this veil is torn aside does historical knowledge become possible. For the function of these unmediated concepts that have been derived from the fetishistic forms of objectivity is to make the phenomena of capitalist society appear as supra-historical essences. The knowledge of the real, objective nature of a phenomenon, the knowledge of its historical character and the knowledge of its actual function in the totality of society form, therefore, a single, undivided act of cognition.

The fetishistic illusions enveloping all phenomena in capitalist society succeed in concealing reality, but more is concealed than the historical, i.e. transitory, ephemeral nature of phenomena. This concealment is made possible by the fact that in capitalist society man’s environment, and especially the categories of economics, appear to him immediately and necessarily in forms of objectivity which conceal the fact that they are the categories of the relations of men with each other. Instead they appear as things and the relations of things with each other. Therefore, when the dialectical method destroys the fiction of the immortality of the categories it also destroys their reified character and clears the way to a knowledge of reality.

An Unclear Type of Illusion.

Yet at another point in Reification Lukacs is somewhat more logical. He goes against the above to some degree. Here, knowledge doesn’t entirely change the material conditions of commodities in capitalism, only changing capitalism does. Thus fetish forms are suddenly ‘indisoluble’ (which goes against what he said about fetish forms earlier) but maddeningly fetishistic objects are dissolved into processes by knowledge. Finally, in the concluding paragraph of Reification, he agrees with Bukharin that  “in the age of the dissolution of capitalism (i wish), the fetishistic categories collapse and it becomes necessary  to have recourse to the ‘natural form’ underlying them.’ But directly after that he absorbs this stance into a contradiction of qualitative increasing undermining of reification and quantitative increasing of it, going on to say  this is  a ‘key signature of the decline of bourgeois society’ implying that fetishism and reification can only become undone with capitalism, contradicting what he has said everywhere else.

Fetishism as a critical Category

This type of fetishim corresponds to two points in HCC where Lukacs uses fetishism as an adjective to describe how the bourgeoisie fetishism of facts and the fetishism of legal forms. These throwaway uses, combined with Lukacs positing of fetishism and reification as insidious pervasive aspects of everyday life seem to be the model for how later exponents will use the terms to describe and criticize cultural, social phenomena.

At any rate those are my groupings and characterizations now. Tomorrow I try to tackle reification.

I’m working on my Lukacs chapter now. I’ve been working on it off and an for a while and I have to admit I now find him perplexing and infuriating. The chapter deals with Lukacs’s concept of the fetishism of the commodities. So the reason I find him perplexing and infuriating is that he doesn’t have a concept of the fetishism of the commodities, instead he has several splintered throughout: (a) his already entirely elastic concept of reification (b) aspects of Marx’s idea of fetishism and the fetish character of commodities that he uses in terms of eternalizing etc. (c) his own inconsistent use of fetishism in 8 instances in the Reification essay.

Suprisingly– or perhaps wisely– what I am struggling with doesn’t seem to have been looked at in other literature on Lukacs. I will look at this literature again before I get around to writing the chapter, but from what I remember most people treat Lukasian fetishism as synonous with reification. Furthermore, many compound this problem by treating Lukasian reification as synomous with Marx’s ideas of reification and fetishism. My thesis is in part concerned with problematizing these conflations and showing how the concept changed through three sucessive generations of Marxist theory, growing into a ubitquitous tool of critical theory. I’m also concerned with investigating whether the concept of fetishism has any use or meaning at this point of ubiquity.

Right now i’ll sketch how Lukacs uses fetishism in the Reification essay. In future posts I hope to go into this issue– and the related issues of reification etc.– in greater depth.

The first two instances of fetishism come in section 1  where Lukacs is describing the phenomena of reification. In the first instance he uses the fetishism of commodities in terms of its basis for reification. Here we already see the problem of overlap. If we wanted to give Lukacs the benefite of the doubt we could say he is refered to the fetish character of commodities section as the basis for reification. Unfortunately, he doesn’t say this. The second use is in terms of commodity fetishism– a term Marx never uses and which seems to have been invented by Lukacs. Here Lukacs uses commodity fetishism in terms of a objective/subjective phenomena that is qualitatively unique to capitalism. Shortly after he describes commodity fetishism as ideological and illusory. It is here that the most popular reading of commodity fetishism is founded, which is different then Marx or some of Lukacs later uses of it.

Interestingly, there is no mention of fetishism in section two: the antinomies of bourgeois thought. I’ll have to think about why this may be the case.

Section III has the most uses of fetishism, 8. Here Lukacs is trying to demonstrate how the standpoint of the proliteriate and the Marxist method demystify capitalism revealing the true nature of reification. (It seems to me that Lukacs is also problematic here in not discussing the relationship between the Marxist method he advocates and the structural position of the proliteriat.) At any rate the uses of fetishism are as follows:

1) fetish forms of the commodity system.  Here they are dissolved by proleteriat consciousness, i.e. Lukacs treats these forms as illusions that are seen through via the standpoint and method.

2) the fetish-character of commodities. This comes in elaborating 1 where knowledge leads to what Lukacs calls a structural change. Here quality is liberated from underneath the cloak of quantity. The proliteriat self-consciousness of itself as a commodity leads to its ability to see ‘the fetish-character of every commodity.”

3) His description of the fetish character section as holding all of historical materialism. No discernable reason why he calls it the fetish character section here and the fetishism of commodities section in section I

4) fetishistic exchange-value. Which to me seems a gross simplification of Marx. Again fetishism is tied to extensive, insidious nature of capitalism with quant and rationalization over quality.  Fetish here seems to be something of consciousness not capitalist ontology.

5) fetishistic categories.  Here again the illusion reading. it seems that subjective consciousness imposes the category of value on the commodity as a quantity. I think its awkward and simplistic to treat value only quantitatively.

6) facts as fetishes for the bourgeosie. This use seems to be indicative of how fetishism will be used in Theory, which flows from Lukacs’ other readings of fetishism. i.e. it is epistemological.

7) fetish objects and indisoluble forms. This usage seems to contradict his previous. Here he argues capitalism must be destroyed for fetishism to be, which would seem in contradiction with the above.

8) fetishistic categories. Here he talks of fetishistic categories collapsing, but this is after capitalism/ reification is ovethrown.

Should go into more depth. But im writing this at work and have to finish. More later.

Shortly after starting my PhD I got in the habit of watching tv online before going to bed. One and a half years later I think I’ve run out of all the good tv shows. But now I’m perfectly happy to watch just about anything because I’ve realized that watching tv before going to bed helps me wind down and fall asleep. This whole preamble is an explanation, and perhaps a justification, for why I’ve recently been watching the HBO drama Big Love, which I currently watch with ambivalence and growing annoyance.

I’m ambivalent because the first season of the show has good and bad aspects. To begin with I find the subject of fundamentalist Mormons and polygamy interesting in a fucked up and potentially subversive way. I also like Harry Dean Stanton and find some of the characters like Bill, Barb and Chloe Sevingy somewhat complex and interesting. I also like how they combine the fact that Bill is a ruthless, greedy businessman with his religious ideals. It always makes me think of Mitt Romney and the republican marriage of neoliberalism and fundamentalism.  I  felt like the show began by dealing with these ideas of fundamentalist Mormonism, polygamy and business with some sense of complexity, albeit on a personal level.

What I don’t like, however, is the increasing turn in season 2 towards the show playing like a normal family soap opera where the polygamous family is treated as a good, decent, typical tv family: Bill is the bread winner and his wives are all happy in their marriage and love each other as sisters and their kids have teenage problems. In fact, its sorta making me hate them, especially Bill, who deserves some sort of comeuppance. This isn’t because I’m anti-religious, but because I feel like its taking the sachcryne convention of tv drama and liberal tolerance to the extreme and turning what could be a good show about how weird the institutions of religion and the family are into a message that all religions and families no matter how unconventional can and deserve to be conventionally happy. (Of course, this reading might be challenged by others who think I am being naive and by following such narrative conventions the show is showing how constructed they are and thus resisting them, but I don’t see it). Also, they totally haven’t answered my bigesst question about Mormon’s– what’s the whole magic underwear thing?

Reviewed by me at The Bumpidee Reader.

In hope that this might be helpful to others who are frustrated and confounded by the structure of  Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat, I post my rough index/outline of Lukacs’s argument. This shorter version focuses on the broader concerns of the argument, only alluding to the secondary ones. Please excuse the abbreviations, lacks of grammar etc. They are notes.

Phenomenon of R


Section one discusses basis of phen in capitalism its totalizing and insidious effects. As ideological, socially necess illusion that is objective and subject Its basis in marx, and its effect of rational/fragmentation, as well as objectivized.


Section two is not as coherent. Begins by intro qual/quant distinction—is this first mention of it? It conceals qualt and is thus ideological. People view it as natural so do not try to transcend it .  Thinkers like simmel cannot grasp whole so describe world and make it timeless this embraces all of soc. as reified inst that are fragmented and rationalized they are divorced from their economic bases.  Ie. They fetishize it which is even in quote he uses tho he calls it reif.  But for this to be the case all of soc must be like this. So weber Here he catalogs obj forms. Returns to thought and Sets up paradox of irrat rationality. Rat is formal can’t grasp whole/underlying. (of course here question is why is this quality its absurd. Discussed in terms of economics and Crisis. And also in v other bureaucracies and professions.


Section three enumerates on formalism form/content distinction. Rat/fragmented disciplines can’t grasp. Something needs to do this. Phil should but can’t cuz it stems from same grounds. This a failure of methodology and class standpoint.


Mod crit phil from r structure of consc. Its specific problems are rooted in this structure. Conceivably still need phil cuz of its unified vision.


Sketchs out problematic v notion of phil as discipline which gives vision of whole in terms  of form v content of rat and irrat and incapability of bourg to create system that can account for and comprehend irrat. (i.e. partial v whole)  Leads to ger phil as best ex of this. Prob of seeing world as self created but by thought so unable to account for problem of given or irrat.


Intro antinomy of freedom v necessity. Contemplation. Why contemplation can’t solve this antinomy as mediated by form/content and thing problem Freedom of subj neither able to overcome the sensuous necessity of sys of know and soulessness of fatalistically conceived laws of nature, nor is it able to give them any meaning. And likewise the contents produced by reason, and the world acknowledged by reason are just as little able to fill the purely formal determinants of free with a truly living life. The imps of comprehending and creating the union of  form and content concretely instead of as the basis for a purely formal calculus leads to the insoluble dilemma of freedo and necessity of voluntarism and fatalism.  Again outward nature v inward free in k. 134


Moves to how these antinomies affect indiv in soc. View of isolated indiv as prey to laws of nature. Distinction between 3 bourg views of nature. Art and intuitive understanding overcome these problems in some ways but not totally.

So art seems important cuz like intuition bridges form content problem. Allows phil to bypass form to orient self around proper task despite fact still fails.


Dialectic/totality is better, real way of overcoming antinomies. Then prob of dialectics abol of anti of subj/obj though and exist freedon and necessity solved. Hegel as highest bourg form of dialectics but fucks it up by not properly grounding it hist and consequently mythologizing the spirit.

Standpoint of the Proleteriat.

Proleteriat is the subj/obj of hist. its self-understanding is self-understanding of society. its aims therefore are societies.


The importance of history, totality and mediation for understanding immediacy of capitalist society. Proletariat can see this cuz of view point. Bourgeois are incapable of it.


Again difference of position, this time in terms of quantity/quality distinction.  Use of

fetishistic ev shows doesn’t get fc  and usage indistinct.  Bourgeois on

quantitive side held in.  Prol on side of quality. Shows how this prol position and hist as genesis combine with totality/immediacy to make prol subj/obj that see thru r and f forms.  This standpoint leads dev as conscious class and rev consciousness because the commodity nature is not hidden for prol as in other reified professions in achievement mental labour etc.


Importance of praxis in standpoint of proleteriat. This praxial interaction and Marxist method allows vision to see thru which not possible with bourg or contemplative attitude.


Why ingredients he has outlined offer superior know/ true vision v other limited and partial forms such as facts, soc democ etc.


Imp of  Marxist dialectical method to understand relationship between indiv and soc.


Here sort of draws together. Prol as embodiment of category and approaches he has substantiated in section, overcomes the antinomies  and prob of thing in itself. But its action must meet further conditions in order to change reality. (first time openly states that dereif a long drawn out process of rev. seems at odds with majority of other writing in essay). But to change reality has to meet criteria outlines then.