“One morning, I shot a capitalist in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I will never know.”-Marx
The fetishism of commodities was a concept given by Karl Marx in his critique of the political economy. In colonial times, fetishism was a term used to describe inanimate objects that possessed fantastical powers in indigenous cultures. Marx understands commodities in a contradictory dual state of the term. It refers to the peculiar nature of the term as both, a physical object that is tangible and as a generator of social material relations. Social relations in society are in a constant change of flux and we would expect people to be agents of this change of flux because people are what constitutes a society. But Marx contends that this is not so. In capitalistic societies, social material relations get defined by commodities i.e. by objects and not by people.
A commodity gets defined by its use-value in the market. When we think of a shoe, we usually think of the type of shoe it is (sports shoe, high heeled, sneakers and so on), its color, the material it is made of and the brand that the shoe belongs to. We do not think about the people who were involved in the making of that shoe in the shoe factory. But they were an important part of the production too. When the shoe was created or brought into existence it renewed social relations- those between the people working in the shoemaking factory, the owner and the labor, the distributor and the producer of shoes and even the buyer and the seller. The commodity possesses the mysterious ability to create to forge social relations and hence is a ‘fetish’(an inanimate object with magical powers). Marx goes a step further and elucidates that goods are made privately in the factory but the have zero use-value until they are sent to the market for exchange. And when the latter happens i.e. private labor becomes public, they become social. But the result isn’t an interaction of people in society but that of commodities. It is the exchange of money and commodities and no former interaction between the consumer and the actual producer takes place. This perception of social relationships, not as interaction between people but as economic relationships among the money and commodities exchanged in market trade and the mysterious power of commodities to hide the exploitation of labor through the relations of commodities to themselves is commodity fetishism. In our capitalistic societies, therefore, people live under systemic forces and are enslaved to them.
A world is in which social relations are defined by commodities and not people is a world that is doomed. As sociologists are task is to provide an objective analysis of every phenomenon without making a value judgment. But Marx’s idea should make us think what is the society that we all are turning into and to quote Marx,
“There is something very rotten in the very core of a social system which increases its wealth without diminishing its misery.”
Also, read “Everything you have to know about Orientalism“