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Ideology, Commodity Fetishism, and the NLRA: Part I

Friday, August 10, 2007

I came to a slight realization today about a few clauses within the National Labor Relations Act, specifically Section 8(b) on unfair labor practices and unions. First a very quick overview on commodity fetishism and ideology for those who don’t know:

Commodity fetishism is a term Marx made popular that refers to people’s outlook towards commodities. Capitalism masks many aspects in our society, especially our social relations and our relations towards commodities. Fetish isn’t a term that’s sexual (that wasn’t until Freud), fetish was a term, in Marx’s time, that was religious. In ancient times people would carve idols out of wood and then worship them. Marx stated that humans made commodities and then worshiped them. An example would be that a person really want to buy a Playstation 3 and that’s the thing that would bring that person “happiness.” So a person goes to a store and buys it. Within that transaction, without the buyer knowing it, that person was involved in a vast array of social relations that brought that person to the PS3. The relationship between the buyer and the clerk, the clerk and the manager, the manager and the district boss of the store, than the district boss of the store and the CEO of the company, than the people who shipped it (maybe UPS), the CEO of the shipping company, the federal regulators who oversaw the airports, the shipping company that brought it over by plane, the workers who created certain parts of the PS3 and all of the different companies involved in creating those parts, than the workers who assembled the PS3s all together, than the Sony executives and the Sony CEO, etc., etc. All of this in one transaction. However, they buyer doesn’t not know this, or isn’t full conscious of this. All the buyer knows is that the buyer bought a PS3 and for all she or he cares is that the PS3 basically came from that store and that’s it. The entire capitalist system is set up to masks these social relations, according to Marx, and because of this we imbue commodities with a certain special status when in reality all they are is just simple products made by human beings.

Ideology, in the Marxist sense, means the systems and social structures that are set up to mask certain things such as what I’ve state above along with masking the inequalities in the capitalist system and the worker/capitalist relationship. Essentially the capitalists and the elite class in America (whether they be liberal or conservative) help promote ideologies that mask inequality and the exploitation of the worker in the capitalist system. Such ideologies can be considered religious systems, law, philosophy, literature, etc. These ideologies are set up to mask the contradictions in capitalism and if these contradictions are exposed in a revolutionary atmosphere these ideologies are used to appeal to people to further pull the wool over their eyes by using law or religion to justify certain contradictions or by using the argument that such contradictions are contradictions in human nature and can’t be changed by a change in the system or that these contradictions are confined to certain individuals or social groups.

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One Comment
  1. Tuesday, April 8, 2008 2:41 am

    I enjoyed your post about commodity fetishism. The problem is, in 2008, the situation is more complicated than even you try to illuminate. You are recycling the ideas of Marx from The Communist Manifesto – a beautiful piece of literature, but too rusty a weapon for today. To suppose that the system is built around ‘the duped workers’ versus ‘the evil bosses’ doesn’t cut any ice. No-one controls anything. By the time Marx wrote Capital he realised that capital was the self-moving subject. For the Marx of Capital (and not The Manifesto) the self moving subject is value. In 2008, we have to point out that all classes are enmeshed in the system. It is more urgent than ever to abolish work in all it’s forms. Someone who has tried hard to update Marx’s ideas for the new century is Moishe Postone in ‘Time, Labor and Social Domination’ and well worth reading.

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