Marx’s “The Fetishism of The Commodity And Its Secret”
“The Fetishism of The Commodity And Its Secret” is the final section of the first chapter of Marx’s Capital. The mystery of the commodity, as the product of capitalism, lies in the source and the nature of its value — its price. Against his contemporaries, who — just like economists nowadays — tended to tie the value of a commodity to the dynamics of supply and demand, Marx emphasized that the value of a commodity originates from its mode of production. The way capitalism organizes labor is that it is seemingly realized by private producers who then enter the social sphere through exchange, so that it seems like labor is a free and ‘pre-social’ category, where each worker decides on his own, what and how he wants to produce, only limited by the laws of supply and demand. In contrast, as Marx emphasizes, capitalism — just like all other economic systems — fundamentally shapes the way labor is realized. Specifically, it necessitates that labor becomes an abstract and quantitative category that is measured in time and that can be remunerated with a salary. It is in that sense that the value of the commodity consists not only of the costs of the materials, but also of labor-time. Labor, therefore, is the decisive factor for the value of the commodity.
The interest in the value of the commodity has nevertheless a deeper sense. By Marx’s time, it has become obvious that capitalism has the capacity to unleash an incredible amount of forces and a rapid technological and scientific progress. It was able to create an enormous amount of profit. But where do these profits come from? Seemingly out of nowhere. While the feudal lord extracted the serf’s wheat through violence and subjugation, the capitalist seemed to pay his workers a fair salary, namely the market value of labor. He also — given an ‘ideal’ image of capitalism that Marx heuristically accepts in Capital—sells the commodities at the market price, and he still makes a profit from it. It seems, therefore, that nobody is exploited and that, at the same time, an incredible surplus is generated. The value of the commodity, therefore, indeed becomes mysterious, as its surplus seems to appear out of nowhere. To uncover its “fetishism” becomes, therefore, a matter of utmost importance.