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.

Advertisements 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.