The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof
Listening to the sound of the underground - Androids of Mu and now Good Missionaries live off the Kill Your Pet Puppy (KYPP) ‘Links n Downloads’.
Also been looking for reviews of The Mob “May Inspire Revolutionary Acts” and found one which made a good point about how the roughness and rawness of it contrasted favourably with the ultra clean (germfree) music of today. A point lost on another reviewer who couldn’t get past the lo-fi warts n all sound. [Waiting for the words of wisdom says Mark P in my ear]
But that was punk. Punk was do it yourself. If you didn’t do it yourself, then you weren’t punk. If you never found your clothes at a jumble sale (you had to get in quick before the grannies beat you to it), never tried to make a collage of graphic images, scribbled the words to a song, at least thought about forming a group with your mates, or write a fanzine or swopped badly recorded tapes. Or… at least made some kind of effort to create rather than consume - then it wasn’t punk. That is what the ’may inspire revolutionary acts’ line came from (in the notes I wrote for the Mob cd) - thinking of it as a Parental Advisory sticker to go on the front “Warning : this record may inspire revolutionary acts”.
Revolutionary as in DIY… seizing the means of production and distribution ? That is a bit ‘Fordist’ as they use to say, at that Marxist level the best that could be achieved a network of co-operatives which is anarcho-syndicalism I think. Which was a bit of a challenge for a bunch of kids (most punks really were bored teenagers).
Revolutionary as in taking Situationist theory and practicing it on the streets of London in 1981 rather than Paris 1968. Different city, different psycho-geography. It is easier to see now, now that the great consumer led economy has just about used itself up. Now that the fetishism of commodities has become the bland face of spectacular capitalism. Consumer fetishism. Consumer fascism (a Pop Group line? We are all Prostitutes) How about a bit of Marx?
A commodity appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing, and easily understood. Its analysis shows that it is, in reality, a very queer ting, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties. So far as it’s a value in use, there is nothing mysterious about it… It is as clear as noon-day that man [ or woman] by his [or her] industry changes the forms of the materials furnished by nature, in such a way as to make them useful to him. The form of wood, for instance, is altered by making a table out of it. Yet, for all that, the table continues to be that common, every-day thing, wood. But as soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something transcendent. It not only stands with its feet on the ground , but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of a wooden brain grotesque ideas far more wonderful than “table turning” ever was. [table-turning = spiritualism]
Apparently, this bit of Marx was too weird for Marxists… they couldn’t understand how people could become possessed by their possessions, could imbue them with power and autonomy, could never imagine in their darkest dreams the future as a shopping mall - and what would Lenin or Mao have made of the way things are now? Still notionally Communist China has become the coal powered industrial workshop of the world, churning out cheap goods for a ‘West’ where nearly all of us are capitalists, living off the interest on our inflatable houses. Until the wheel stops turning and all that is solid melts to air.
The mystical character of commodities does not therefore originate in their use value…A commodity is a mysterious thing simply because in it the social [ subjective] character of men’s [and women’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… In the same way the light [reflected] from an object is perceived by us not as the subjective excitation of our optic nerve, but as the objective form of something outside the eye itself….
More Marx, you can see he is struggling to get a materialist grasp on the mystifying commodities which we create but then fail to recognise as our creations, believing they exist ‘magically’ as separate, objective entities. As Facts. As Things. Things we then desire to possess (re-possess) - to buy back in our free-time what we produce in our work-time. So strong is this will to possess these mystical subject/objects we voluntarily give up our free-time to earn more to buy more - but in so doing, produce more so can never ever catch the rainbow coloured commodities which even haunt our dreams, dreams we daren’t remember. The day the world turned day glo, you know?
There is a definite social relationship between men [and women], that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relationship 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 relationships with one another and the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s [and women’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. This Fetishism of commodities has its origin .. In the peculiar social [ subjective] character of the labour that produces them.
Independent beings endowed with life, arising out of a mist-enveloped world. Strange games they would play then, wondrous beings chained to life, in solemn perverse serenity. If the Marxists had taken Marx’s mystical musings on The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof where would the magical mystery tour have taken them? Closer to Debord, closer to the Golden Dawn (immersed in Crowley’s uniform of dream reality). Closer to punk.
What do I mean by that? Not sure. Something like - we are alienated from our creativity. If we are, then no economic re-structuring is going to help - junk in, garbage out (oh by jingo)
The categories of bourgeoisie economy consist of such like forms. They are forms of thought… The whole mystery of commodities , all the magic and necromancy that surrounds the product of labour as long as they take the form of commodities, vanishes therefore so soon as we come to other forms of production. [ Marx then gives an example of such an other form of production - “ a community of free individuals, carrying on their work with the means of production in common, in which the labour-power of all the different individuals is consciously applied as the combined labour power of the community”. And “ The life-process of society, which is based on the process of material production, does not strip off the mystical veil until it is treated as production by freely associated men [and women], and is consciously regulated by them in accordance with a settled plan.”.
Marx again. In which he seems to be saying that a revolution which is just the existing world turned upside down is not enough. The only ‘real’ revolution is one which would completely change our social as well as (which are the same as) our economic relationships - only then could we see the futility/ stupidity of our existing ‘forms of thought’. Which is a bit of ‘ you can’t get there from here’.
Or maybe…. Perhaps through some form of prolonged and intense derangement of the senses, the dizzying swirl of fetishised commodities could be stayed on its course long enough to glimpse behind the wall of sleep, rouse us from our spectacular trance -spectacle as hypnotising flickering sequence in which unmemorable moment replaces unmemorable moment in seemingly seamless perfection. The spectacle of commodities like a groundhog day, a time loop which has replaced the actual movement of history - the history of our everyday lives, the history we make everyday but forget each night slumped before the computer screen (television for our new age)
Break. Stop. Cut the time loop. Punk.
Ha. Not the only way to do it. But it was there. Here. Memorable. Punk was a sufficiently intensely lived experience to be memorable, not to be forgotten as swiftly as it happened. We were not alienated from our creative construction of our lives. Lives, not commodities. The word magick keeps trying to creep into - but magick as in Marx’s usage rather than - for example - Crowley’s. I bring my hands together to illustrate my point. It is a jump - it is a reverse reading of Marx - he is saying commodities are like mystical entities, I am saying mystical entities are like commodities. Am I? Too neat a reversal (On the philosophy of poverty -becomes- On the poverty of philosophy - it is a rhetorical trick)
It’s the ‘forms of thought’ bit in the above Marx quote - how real are the many £ billions summoned up to combat the current banking crisis? How real is the crisis? A lot of it is do with ‘confidence’ - that what seemed like money earning mortgages, what was believed to be real one day, now are no longer. The solid has melted into air and panic is setting in. So out of thin air magically, mysteriously, mystically £10, 20, 30 billion (UK alone, similar figures in US, EU) are showered on a bunch of bankers. But how real is this money? It is only real so long as we believe it is - and if ‘market confidence’ is not restored it will vanish like fairy gold, leaving only ashes / dry leaves in the vaults.
In a parallel universe (the Barbelith Temple, google it) the reality or otherwise of ‘post-modern magic’ is fiercely debated. To invent an example, the question is asked “If I set up an altar to My Little Pony and make dedications, offerings, evocations to said plastic toy, will it become a ‘real goddess’ in the way that Epona was/ is a real horse goddess?”
This creates much argument. The po-mo mages can’t see (using an iffy interpretation of chaos magic theory) why not. The more ‘traditional’ or serious mages think its daft -if not down right stupid. The gods/ goddesses/ magical entities they work with have been around for thousands of years and have an apparently independent existence/ identity - are autonomous. Now yer average materialist (Marxist or otherwise) will snort at this kind of ‘mystical nonsense’. Spot the problem? Enki, or Thor, or Isis or Papa Legba aren’t really real - but the £10 billion of three-month funds the Bank of England released at 2 pm on Wednesday 12th December 2007 is real really money. [See Guardian front paged blogged below Fortean Times/ Crowley cover].
But Enki, Thor, Isis and Papa Legba have been about long before money ( and fetishised commodities like My Little Pony ) was invented. They are no less / no more immaterial than money. Weird, huh?
It is getting late so I will try and wind this up. Money may not be really real, but in this world as it is, it is difficult to get by without any. On the other hand, about 90% of the commodity fetishes which flow through this world as it is (as made by our alienated selves) are junk. JINGO Deadly junk, since their production is destroying the complex pre-existing physical/ biological environment upon which we all depend for our survival.
Part of the ‘mystification’ the construction and consumption of commodities creates is a denial or refusal of this fact. Take the expansion of Heathrow airport. Utter madness, but economic logic dictates it MUST BE BUILT. The economic logic is not even coherent - if rail travel was encouraged, demand for flights to Europe and within UK would be cut so there would be no need for expansion - and carbon emissions would be less. Extend this principle - cut out all the crap, the junk in garbage out, all the magic and necromancy of fetishised commodities…and the world economy would collapse…but then it is collapsing anyway… whatever. Think punk, think DIY and do it. Remember minimalism?
The other part of the mystification of the ‘world as it is’ is the mystification magick. I am going on experience here, but in wandering around here trying to peel back the layers of history, I reckon the goddesses, gods, spirits, entities etc are part of the deep structure of reality - the forms they take are culturally constructed, but behind the myths lies a non-human reality. Think of the way a river shapes the land through which it flows - gives life to the land through accumulation of silt on flood plains, takes life through the floods which carry the silt, wears the rock away, endlessly cycles and re-cycles water into oceans, clouds, rain, snow, ice, thunder, lightning… Or the usually slow but sometimes explosive processes of geology. The ebb and flow of plant and animal life.
These are intensely physical forms, they existed before ay human ever walked the earth and will continue long after we are become fossils. Then beyond - the life and death of planets, stars, galaxies, the constant creation and destruction existence and non-existence of sub-atomic entities, the quantum ocean, the great sea of space and time.
Non-duality. Find it when I go for a walk around the fields I know, the sense of individual self fades away, the ‘I’ is absent, only a ‘0’ is. It is a clarity of perceiving, timeless.
But then the self and its world/ this world returns - having melted into air the I becomes solid again. No longer mystified by commodities…