Hello libcom! Been away a while, good to be back.
Today I watched some videos by this guy who is attempting to explain Marxist theory for layfolk such as myself. (http://kapitalism101.wordpress.com/) I just watched his video "The Law of Value 2: The Fetishism of Commodities." (http://kapitalism101.wordpress.com/2010/05/05/the-law-of-value-2-the-fetishism-of-commodities/)
After hearing his explanation of what commodity fetishism means, I wondered if commodity fetishism will still exist in a libertarian-communist society... even if not to the extent it exists now.
First, let me quote his explanation from the video:
Let’s take a look inside a workplace. It could be any workplace- a capitalist factory, a peasant commune, a family farm, whatever. Here the relations between different workers are direct. I make a widget and I hand it to the next person. If something needs to change about the labor process a manager brings the workers together and says, “Now we will organize things differently.” Whether it is a democratic or hierarchical form of organization it is an organization that happens directly between people.
Now let’s look outside the workplace at the market. In the market things are different. The organization of work, the division of labor, doesn’t happen through direct social relations between people. In the market the products of labor confront each other as commodities with values. These interactions between things act back upon production. They are what send signals to producers to change their labor, to produce more, produce less, go out of business, expand business, etc.
Coal miners, bakers, carpenters and chefs don’t directly relate to each other as workers. Instead the products of their labor, coal, bread, cabinets and pasta, meet in the market and are exchanged with one another. The material relations between people become social relations between things. When we look at coal, bread, cabinets and pasta we don’t see the work that created them. We just see commodities standing in relation of value to each other. A pile of coal’s value is worth so many loaves of bread. A cabinet’s value is worth so much pasta. The value, the social power of the object, appears to be a property of the object itself, not a result of the relation between workers.
We are atomized individuals wandering through a world of objects that we consume. When we buy a commodity we are just having an experience between ourselves and the commodity. We are blind to the social relations behind these interactions. Even if we consciously know that there is a network of social relations being coordinated through this world of commodities, we have no way of experiencing these relations directly because… they are not direct relations. We can only have an isolated intellectual knowledge of these social relations, not a direct relation. Every economic relation is mediated by an object called a commodity.
From what I've read on these forums of people's visions of what a lib-com society will function like, people usually say that we will consume goods by going to distribution centers and taking what we need/want. In this way, aren't we still relating to objects? And isn't the labor that is embodied in those objects still abstract?
I've also often heard it said that production collectives will know how much to produce based on stock levels and flows, which indicate the community's demand for what they're producing. Stock levels and flows will also tell them how much of the necessary materials and inputs to order from other production collectives.
So even with no profit, no prices, no buying and no selling, isn't there still the persistence of human relations mediated by objects?
I'm not bringing this up to criticize libertarian-communism. I actually don't really see how a certain degree of commodity fetishism (if that is defined as human relations being mediated by objects) is avoidable and I also don't see why it would be undesirable.
When I go to a distribution center to get my groceries or some curtains or a teddy-bear or whatever, I don't see how I could do so while fully encountering the labor process behind it or why this would be at all necessary.
Thoughts? Maybe my understanding of commodity fetishism is just wrong.