Marx


Over the course of watching some Buster Keaton 2 reelers, the following question came to me: are silent films better at representing humans and their social relations with things? Furthermore do the genius of  Chaplin, Keaton, Harpo etc. inventive physical relations with things demonstrate the possibility of different relations?

In this scene in The Haunted House, Buster Keaton gives a twist to the sticking part of the fetishcharacter of commodities and its place in the dialectic of the value form. He inverts the inversion. Here Value doesn’t stick to commodities or the money that logically expressing them. It sticks to social labour.  Hilarity ensues in the course of which we see money de-abstracted to what it is: paper expressing human social relations.

First in a series of post on Deadwood as multi-layered allegory for Capital and its conjunction with other forms of domination. Future posts should cover: original accumulation, formal and real subsumption, the state derivation problem, the American political imagination, and how these play out in relation to forms of imperialism and commodification. Making Deadwood both the most compelling representation of American history on television, and an allegory for today.

But first an overt reference to these themes with the Traeger figure of Francis Wolcott called out. To quote Charlie Udder: ‎”It’s all fucking amalgamation and capital to you, ain’t it Wolcott?”

My Draft Review of Kevin Anderson’s Marx at the Margins. Final version to be published in Hegel Bulletin of SSPT.

It is one of history’s ironies that in some ways it took the death of Marxism as an orthodox political movement for scholars to undertake serious philological study of all of Marx’s work. There are, of course, notable exceptions to this characterization. But in many ways, the work on Marx that has taken place since the 60s has been marked by the first attempts to provide an understanding of Marx based on a scrupulous philological attention to his writings. The ongoing Mega2 Project- started as a follow up to the MEGA1 project which was aborted following Stalin’s purge of the editor-  will eventually publish every known piece of writing by Marx including all of the notes for, drafts of, and editions of his published works, has been an invaluable aid in this enterprise, providing sources previous scholars did not have access to. Such work has already cleared up a number of myths and legends and given new insight into Marx’s thought.

The Marxist humanist scholar Kevin Anderson’s newest work, Marx at the Margins, utilizes this Marxological approach to tackle the nature of Marx’s thought on nationalism, ethnicity and non-western societies. In doing so Anderson utilizes a host of neglected sources to call into question the popular perception that Marx was a deeply ethnocentric thinker who held a Eurocentric and uni-linear model of historical development. Instead Anderson aims to show that Marx’s thought evolved into a multi-linear theory of history with a complex global critique of political economy.

To prove this thesis Anderson provides a diligent exegesis of Marx’s writings on nationalism, ethnicity and non-western societies from The Communist Manifesto to copious as yet unpublished notes Marx took on writings on non-western societies at the end of his life. Anderson then tries to relate these varied sources, which also include Marx’s journalism and other under utilized and unpublished materials, to Marx’s theoretical writings on political economy—The Grundrisse and Capital.

In the course of this exegesis Anderson covers some very interesting ground. He unpacks Marx’s writing on a host of non-western areas like India, China, Algeria, Poland, Ireland and Russia as well as Marx’s article on the American Civil War, demonstrating that there was a development in Marx’s thinking following the Manifesto.

Since the particular development that Anderson traces in each of these topics is too detailed to give a short recap, I will focus on the ones I found most interesting. In the case of India Anderson shows– that in contrast to Edward W. Said’s portrayal of Marx in Orientalism– Marx’s later writings on India, Algeria and Latin America possess a “harsh and unremitting condemnation of colonialism” that appreciates how “communal forms of property were directly tied into anti-colonial resistance.”

In the case of Marx’s writings on The Civil War and Ireland Anderson also shows how Marx attributed racism as a divisive and retarding factor for the Labour movement. In the case of the USA this caused Marx to presciently predict that the failures of reconstruction would “drown the country in blood.” In the case of Ireland it led the English workers nationalism to side with the English Ruling class leading Marx to argue that revolution in Ireland was a necessary lever for revolution in Britain.

Anderson relates these writings to Marx’s theoretical works by arguing that they informed important changes in Marx’s critique of political economy. Anderson argues that this can be seen in the multi-linear history that Marx provides in the Grundrisse. He also argues that “almost all of these considerations” found their way into the French edition of Capital, which Anderson argues is Marx (not Engel’s) definitive edition of Capital as subthemes. ( This is because it was the last edition Marx edited from which Engels excised 70 printed pages worth of material for later editions of Capital.) Here Anderson argues the multi-linear model of history can be seen in Marx’s statement that primitive accumulation only applies to Western Europe as well as highlighted how Marx’s example of India and Ireland portray the heinous affects of capitalist development.

Finally, Anderson closes by emphasizing Marx’s late interest in Russia, whose communal villages, led Marx to argue that Russia might transform into communism provided it had technological assistance from the West.

In all, by it diligent examination of what Marx actually wrote, Anderson’s work successfully revokes the popular conception of Marx’s ethnocentric and uni-linear idea of historical development. This puts beside other recent and important works that provide serious studies of Marx

There are, however, a number of potential criticisms of the work that might be raised.

The first has to do with the status of sources that Anderson uses, particularly the later notebooks, which were taken by Marx in his later years, which many Marxists discount as a time of intellectual decline. While Anderson acknowledges this belief he dismisses it rather then refuting it. This may be because Anderson believes the notes will speak for themselves, but if this is the case he doesn’t tie them back in to refuting this perception, which becomes problematic when Anderson speculates that these notes might form the basis of an even later and more open development of Marx’s thought.

The second has to do with Anderson’s interpretation of the nature of Marx’s critique of political economy, which outside of a few references and footnotes is largely absent. Although Anderson designates the orientation a dialectical form of a universal critique of political economy with particular examples, this omission leaves the question of how Anderson views the theoretical orientation of Capital—which many read as Marx’s attempt to depict capital in an ideal abstract form- and how it relates to the historical examples Marx somewhat unresolved. On this question a discussion of Michael Heinrich’s argument that MEGA shows that “The different drafts” of Capital “ have to be recognized as different layers of an ongoing and unfinished research process” might also prove interesting and fruitful.

Never the less, Anderson’s work does much to refute many of the leading misperception about Marx’s supposed ethnocentric uni-linear social theory. His closing argument that what he has uncovered provides a diverse truly universal critique of capital which realizes difference that  can be used in three potentially fruitful ways- as (a) a multi-linear dialectic of social development (b) a heuristic example that offers indications about the theorizing of today’s indigenous movements in the fact of global capitalism (c) theorization of class in relation to race, ethnicity and nationalism—also provides grounds for an interesting and important project that I hope he will continue to develop.

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.

and

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.

This must have been done. Animism in Totem and Taboo as fetishism. Not Freudian fetishism, but Marxian, or Freudo-Marxian fetishism. ( Suddenly aware of how indicative this thought is of my standing as an academic in training where thoughts are not only valued by their merit but are given extra value if they haven’t been thought before. If such a thing is possible is it desirable? fodder for another post).

First. one of Freud’s several definitions of animism is the ‘living character of what appear to be inanimate objects’ (this essentially is one of traditional meaning of the fetish according my computer dictionary which says a fetish can either be an object with magical powers or alive ) Of course Freud being Freud, doesn’t address this or make a distinction between animism as traditional fetishism and sexual fetish as abnormal perversion etc.

2 Freud describes animism as the most complete weltanschung. Obvious parallels here with capitalist totality.

3 the Practical aspect of animism is described as ‘including body of instructions how to obtain mastery over men, beasts and things or over their spirits.78 Capital, of course is described as this seemingly magical fetishzed world that has mastery over men. we are our own gravediggers day after day But the appearance is otherwise  an enchanted, perverted, topsy-turvy world, in which Monsieur le Capital and Madame la Terre do their ghost-walking as social characters and at the same time directly as things.

4 According to Freud, animism is ‘ the first weltangschung. But It would go beyond our present purpose to show how much of it still persists in modern life, either as the debased form of superstition or as the living basis of our speech our beliefs our philosophy.

Its tempting to say here, in the confluence of Marxian fetishism and Freudian animism, is where the Dialectic of Enlightenment steps in.

Rather sketchy, I know, but more to come.

Freud:

‘it seems likely that what are known as materialistic views of history sin in under estimating this factor. (the super egos conforming influence passed down through generations) They brush it aside with the remarks that human ideologies are nothing other then the product and superstructure of their economic conditions. That is true, but very probably not the whole truth. Mankind never lives entirely in the present. The past, the tradition of the race and of the people live on in the ideology of the super-ego, and yields only slowly to the influence of the present and to new changes and so long as it operates thru the super ego it plays a powerful role in human life indie of economic conditions.” (New Introductory Lectures)

But, of course, Freud did not have an extensive knowledge of Marx

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.

The social revolution of the nineteenth century cannot take its poetry from the past but only from the future. It cannot begin with itself before it has stripped away all superstition about the past. The former revolutions required recollections of past world history in order to smother their own content. The revolution of the nineteenth century must let the dead bury their dead in order to arrive at its own content. There the phrase went beyond the content – here the content goes beyond the phrase. (The 18th Brumaire)

They seem to complement each other well.

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