Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wobbly times number 139

 Commodification is the process whereby our lives become synonymous with the production of cheapness dedicated to achieving market share. The essence of the concept of commodification lies in the process of turning the living into the dead, a 'thing'. A commodified Earth is a thing to be owned and exploited. A commodified worker is appears as a thing whose productive power is to be bought for wages in exchange for the product of work, soon to become a commodity for sale on the market in order to make profit. A commodified world is an upside-down world of bought and sold private property. Overturning the commodification of the world is turning the world right-side up; at the same time, it is the social revolution.

Zappa's vision didn't go beyond the rule of Capital. He was definitely opposed to what he saw as a leitmotif of modernity, 'cheapnis'. His was a kind of sardonic cry for quality in the age of mechanical reproduction.Unfortunately, Frank couldn't see that commodification and capitalism were joined at the hip.

We start with the commodity, this specific social form of the product, as the foundation and prerequisite of capitalist production.  We take individual products and analyse those distinctions of form which they have as commodities, which stamp them as commodities.  In earlier modes of production—preceding the capitalist mode of production—a large part of the output never enters into circulation, is never placed on the market, is not produced as commodities, and does not become commodities.  On the other hand, at that time a large part of the products which enter into production are not commodities and do not enter into the process as commodities.  The transformation of products into commodities only occurs in individual cases, is limited only to the surplus of products, etc., or only to individual spheres of production (manufactured products), etc.  A whole range of products neither enter into the process as articles to be sold, nor arise from it as such.  Nevertheless, the prerequisite, the starting-point, of the formation of capital and of capitalist production is the development of the product into a commodity, commodity circulation and consequently money circulation within certain limits, and consequently trade developed to a certain degree.  It is as such a prerequisite that we treat the commodity, since we proceed from it as the simplest element in capitalist production.  On the other hand, the product, the result of capitalist production, is the commodity.  What appears as its element is later revealed to be its own product.  Only on the basis of capitalist production does the commodity become the general form of the product and the more this production develops, the more do the products in the form of commodities enter into the process as ingredients.  The commodity, as it emerges in capitalist production, is different from the commodity taken as the element, the starting-point of capitalist production.  We are no longer faced with the individual commodity, the individual product.  The individual commodity, the individual product, manifests itself not only as a real product but also as a commodity, as a part both really and conceptually of production as a whole.  Each individual commodity represents a definite portion of capital and of the surplus-value created by it.

Karl Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Marx 1861-3, Chapter 20

"At the origin of industrial society, based on the primacy and autonomy of commodities, of things, we find a contrary impulse to place what is essential - what causes one to tremble with fear and delight- outside the world of activity, the world of things.  But however this is shown it does not controvert the fact that in general a capitalist society reduces what is human to the conditions of a thing (of a commodity)."  

Georges Bataille, ACCURSED SHARE vol.I page 129

The reign of commodities is allowed because the subject becomes mystified as to the origin of the object : Wage-labour is not aware that it creates Capital.  Quite the contrary: it is generally believed that Capital creates wealth and provides jobs to wage-labour.  This is what Marx was writing about in the section in CAPITAL volume I on 'the fetishism of commodities' , the sort of 'camera obscura' world view taken as the norm under the rule of Capital and what Georg Lukacs was referring to when he used the term 'reification' and identified it as the mind trick whereby the subject>object relation was reversed.


  1. The irony is that Zappa was more a right libertarian than anything...

  2. Frank Zappa was a supporter of registration drives directed at getting people to vote for the Democratic Party. I'd say he was more a left, libertarian social liberal. In other words, Zappa would not be a Ron Paul supporter; but he didn't have the vision to go beyond the rule of Capital.