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Alienation And Commodity Fetishism

Summary:
Marx, in Theories of Surplus Value, quotes James Stuart writing about 'profit upon alienation'. When one sells a good one owns, one has alienated it from oneself. In the typical work relation under capitalism, the managers of firms, that is, the representatives of capitalists, sell the product or services that workers produce. Workers do not own the goods they produce, for they have previously sold their labor-power. That is, they have agreed that their product is not owned by themselves, and neither is their labor. But alienation means something more in Marx's Paris Manuscripts. The work of Ludwig Feuerbach is important background here. (By the way, this post is based mostly on secondary and tertiary literature, I forget which. I have not read most of the Marx and Engels' works cited

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Marx, in Theories of Surplus Value, quotes James Stuart writing about 'profit upon alienation'. When one sells a good one owns, one has alienated it from oneself. In the typical work relation under capitalism, the managers of firms, that is, the representatives of capitalists, sell the product or services that workers produce. Workers do not own the goods they produce, for they have previously sold their labor-power. That is, they have agreed that their product is not owned by themselves, and neither is their labor.

But alienation means something more in Marx's Paris Manuscripts. The work of Ludwig Feuerbach is important background here. (By the way, this post is based mostly on secondary and tertiary literature, I forget which. I have not read most of the Marx and Engels' works cited here in some time.)

Feuerbach's criticism of Christianity is of some importance for Marx's concept of alienation. According to Feurbach, God's human-like qualities of knowledge, wisdom, and power are projections of extensions of human qualities. We impose them on God. This result of the projection of human qualities is then taken as ruling over us.

Capital goods are themselves the result of human labor. But, in capitalism, the alienated worker is then ruled by these products of human labor. In both cases, human do not usually understand that they are ruled by an entity created collectively by themselves.

The word 'alienation' never appears in the three volumes of Capital as I understand it. Instead, Marx writes about commodity fetishism. I guess the continuity I am claiming is debated among scholars of Marx. But the following sounds like alienation, as developed from the ideas of Feuerbach, to me:

"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 why the products of labour become commodities, social things whose qualities are at the same time perceptible and imperceptible by the senses... with commodities... existence of the things qua commodities, and the value relation between the products of labour whic stamps them as commodities, have absolutely no connection with their physical properties and with the material relations arising therefrom. There it is a definite social relation between men, that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy, we must have recourse to the mist-enveloped regions of the religious world. In that world the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men's hands. This I call the Fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour, so soon as they are produced as commodities, and which is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities.

The religious analogy suggests, perhaps, that this supposed relation between things appears as a independent being. That is, capital is an entity with seeming agency and its own logic. Marx uses such metaphors as zombies, vampires, and table-turning for this spectral creature. "Capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt." In a longer exposition, I would also want to go the formal and real subsumption to capital.

It may seem odd to talk about capital as a creature with agency. Many human beings, following certain protocols, can implement a Turing machine, unbeknowest to themselves. The analogy of markets to a computer is harly novel. More prosaically, every manager or firm owner who justifies layoffs; the closure of factories, stores, and offices; or the abandoment of one line of business and the start up of another is appealing to some such logics of capital. Whatever you may think of such people, they are not wrong in claiming to be ruled by an overarching entity.

Capital is not the only supra-personel entity, discussed among Marxists that seems to have agency. Hardt and Negri's Empire also seems to be such an entity.

I think that Marx condemns capitalism, inasmuch as he does, because he objects to the rule of capital as a supra-personel entity. This creature is a constructed human beings, and we should be able to rule ourselves without such illusions. The rule of this creature hardly seems consistent with a society in which "the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all."

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