Session 6

We have decided to run a further session on  Chapter I.

What a treat!

Thursday May 29, 6p.m.

Meet at Lipman Building,  Northumbria University.


Next meeting:

Tomorrow (Thursday 22 May) 1PM. Meet at the Lipman Building foyer, Nothumbria University.

This will be the final session discussing the themes of Chapter I. 

Sorry for the short notice!

On the Fetishism of the Commodity


Another text that should be helpful with understanding the nature of the fetish of the commodity. This is an excerpt from Michael Heinrich’s book, An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx’s Capital (Monthly Review Press, 2004).

3.8 The Secret of the Fetishism of Commodities and Money

The final section of the first chapter of Capital is titled “The Fetishism of the Commodity and Its Secret.” The term “commodity fetish” has enjoyed a certain amount of propagation since Marx’s time, but is not always used and understood in a way referring to phenomena dealt with by Marx. Marx did not use the term “commodity fetish” to describe how people in capitalism place an undue importance upon the consumption of commodities, or that they make a fetish out of particular commodities that serve as status symbols. The term also does not refer to making a fetish of brand names. There is no “secret” behind possessing expensive commodities as status symbols that needs to be deciphered.

It is often the case that the commodity fetish is characterized solely as a state of affairs in which the social relationships between people appear as social relationships between things (the relationships of those engaged in exchange appear as a value relationship between the products being exchanged), so that social relationships become the property of things. But if we leave it at that, then fetishism appears to be merely a mistake: people ascribe false properties to the products of their labor and fail to see that “in reality” a social relationship between people lies behind the relationship between things. Fetishism would therefore be a form of “false consciousness” that merely conceals the “real conditions.” If that were the case, then this false consciousness must disappear once the real conditions have been explained. In this reductionist conception of the commodity fetish, important points of Marx’s analysis are lost. We will therefore deal with Marx’s argumentation in great detail. To offer a better overview, the following is divided into lettered sections. Continue reading

Questions and concepts for session 4 (Friday 16th, 18:00).

Questions to consider when reading sections 3 and 4 of Chapter I.

– What are the three peculiarities of the equivalent form of value?

– What is the defect in the total or expanded form of value?

– Explain: “Gold confronts the other commodities as money only because it previously confronted them as a commodity.” (p.162)  What determines the value of gold?

– Where does the mystical character of commodities arise from?

– Is exchange-value a physical attribute of a commodity? What about value?

– How does the law of value assert itself?

– Explain: “Pre-bourgeois forms of the social organisation of production are treated by political economy in much the same way as the Fathers of the Church treated pre-Christian religions.” (p.175) Did value exist in pre-bourgeois economies?

Marx in Jargon


“The fetish-character of commodities described by Marx is truly an intellectual dead end. It does cramp the reader into a gesture of abstract repentance that cannot be other than sanctimonious. This compression is its satire, the literary thinking that declares that its standard of truth is irreconcilable with the expectation that astonishment will be disciplined into recollection of the natural and manifest. Das Kapital détourns not just the jargon of Du Culte des Dieux Fétiches, but its whole satiric drama of sympathetic mutuality and rescue; and it blocks the reductive processing of its détournement into an array of concepts to be held at the disposal of theory by anticipating that this is what bourgeois readers will want to do with it. Any interpretation of Marx that forgets the dramatis persona of the bourgeois reader, who is of course living and real, that passes over him in silence, or conjures some elaborate theoretical periphrasis to take his place, is a complacent misinterpretation to the full extent that it discounts the expense of Marx’s satire. That expense is not a concept in Das Kapital, it is the lived infliction of the text on intelligent readers who may reject the jargon of “transubstantiation” in its Catholic use just as they will reject its “joking” use in Marx’s analysis of the commodity, but who nonetheless continue, “unthinkingly” or not, to eat human beings transubstantiated by industrial reduction into the base of Gallerte in every commodity on the market.” – Keston Sutherland, ‘Marx in Jargon’, available here:
I have found this essay very helpful for thinking about the fetish character of commodities – Ed.

Session 3

The third session of the Capital reading group will take place this Friday, May 9, at 1 p.m. 

Read pages 138-178, section 3 and 4 of Chapter I. Room tbc, but it will be in the Lipman Building, Northumbria University as usual.

Questions and concepts for session I.

General questions:

– Why do you think it is important to read Capital?

– What do you want to get out of these discussions?

And some things to consider when doing the reading (Ch. I Sections 1 & 2):

– What is a commodity?

– Why does Marx start a book on capital with the commodity?

– What can the contents of these first two sections tell us about Marx’s methodology (historical materialism)?

– What is value? Where does it come from?

– What is use-value? 

– What is exchange-value? When does exchange value historically occur?

– What are the dual characteristics of labour? In what ways do they differ?

– What does Marx mean by “socially necessary labour-time”? 


First session: Friday 25th April 2014.

The reading group will be meeting for the first time this Friday, April 25 at 12noon in room 334 of the Lipman Building at Northumbria University. 

We shall be discussing Sections 1 and 2 of Chapter I, ‘The Commodity’. In the edition we are encouraging participants to use where possible (Penguin Classics, translated by Ben Fowkes), these sections are on pp. 125-138. 

Try and read those two sections, even if you are struggling to understand the text. It isn’t a straightforward book – hence the study group – but do not let that put you off.