This Fetishism of commodities has its origin, as the foregoing analysis has already shown, in the peculiar social character of the labour that produces them.
Does this explain why John Oliver keeps making cringey jokes about fucking inanimate objects
it is no accident that Marx should have begun with an analysis of commodities when, in the two great works of his mature period, he set out to portray capitalist society in its totality and to lay bare its fundamental nature. For at this stage in the history of mankind there is no problem that does not ultimately lead back to that question and there is no solution that could not be found in the solution to the riddle of commodity-structure
the truest symptom of moribund capitalism, a man with an undiagnosed developmental condition burning his dick off in a tailpipe
First, the fact that labor is external to the worker, i.e., it does not belong to his intrinsic nature; that in his work, therefore, he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind. The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He feels at home when he is not working, and when he is working he does not feel at home. His labor is therefore not voluntary, but coerced; it is forced labor. It is therefore not the satisfaction of a need; it is merely a means to satisfy needs external to it. Its alien character emerges clearly in the fact that as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, labor is shunned like the plague. External labor, labor in which man alienates himself, is a labor of self-sacrifice, of mortification. Lastly, the external character of labor for the worker appears in the fact that it is not his own, but someone else’s, that it does not belong to him, that in it he belongs, not to himself, but to another.
The double alienation nature of the capitalist school.
There is a two-fold proccess of alienation in school. I call this double alienation.
First, the alienation of the human from the products of their labour under the capitalist system is mirrored in the school. Under capitalism, the worker engages in the production of commodities for their exchange-value only, at the direction of the capitalist. What they produce is what they are told to produce. The worker has no investment in the use-value of the commodity - it is only valuable to them in terms of it's exchange-value. Coats or coffee, it doesn't matter. The worker produces what they are told to, with no personal investment in the use of that product. This is the dominance of the commodity-form. For this expenditure of labour-power the worker receives a fraction of the exchange-value of the commodity in the form of wages, the rest accrues to the capitalist. This divorcement of the labourer from the products of their labour is Alienation.
In school the student is likewise alienated from the product of their labour. First it is essential to state that the student is engaged in labour. This is evident both through the actions of the student, and through the way in which work is referred to. "Have you finished your work?" "Get on with your work", "I will be setting homework at the end of class", "how are you getting on with the work?" "You need to work harder". But the student does not work for themselves, they work for the teacher, for the school. They do what they are told to do. The produce what they are told to produce. The work is assigned by the teacher, who sets the students labour-power in motion. In the alienation of the school student the use-value of the product, "their work," falls away; work is work after all. All that matters is the exchange-value of that work. What is it exchanged for in the school system? Not wages, but marks and grades. In the end all that matters in school is the mark. The formal stamp of approval: useful worker. The student is alienated in the same way the wage-laborer is alienated: they have no say in what they expend their labour-power on, and the product is only of interest in as much as it can be exchanged for
Thus the student is pre-primed to enter a world of alienated labour because they have for many years been engaged in a pastiche of wage-labour - alienated labour - in the form of school work. This is almost inevitable - State education, as part of the capitalist superstructure, will in its organisation mirror the base: the organization and relations of production. this is by dint of its necessary role in maintaining the organizational form which production takes - capitalism. It could be theorised that in some circumstances many years of alienating students from their labour in a disciplinary pseudo-production setting is a capitalist requirement. School is not just about sorting and classification, skills, training but about work in the abstract.
That is all very well but not a particularly novel idea, so here comes the second alienation, and why I refer to schooling as a double-alienation. The ultimate purpose of production, beneath all the mysticism of exchange-value, is to satisfy human needs and wants; the product of wage-labour is, in general, socially useful - it has a use-value even if the labourer is alienated from that use-value - for someone out there it fulfills a want or need of human organic life. But what is the use-value of the students work in school? Where is the useful product of all those hundreds of hours in the classroom. All those so called "science experiements" where at the end of the day its poured down the sink. School is a mockery, a mock up, a pastiche of wage-labour, it does not produce commodities, and while it produces exchange-values, these exist in a pseudo-isolated state from the circulation of commodities: you cannot exchange 7 out of 10 on your test in the realm of commodity circulation any more than you can use monopoly money. It will buy you nothing at the store. The work the student does is a proving in its enaction, in its carrying out, a demonstration of ability to discipline oneself to a process and methodology where, humiliation of humiliations you are not even given the dignity of producing anything of use.
Thus the student is alienated not once but twice - they have no control over the work they do, and the products they are told to produce have no use-value. They come face-to-face, implicitly, internally, on a deep psychological level, with the fact that if they are working, but not producing anything of value, then they themselves are the commodity, and the use-value produced in school is their own labour-power, ready-alienated for someone else to use.
Edited by tears ()
anyone heard of this guy karl marx?
point 1 & 2 - I like the standardization theme, and this is something Lukacs touches on with his bits of Weber iirc; as well as there being a host of work on the role of schools in class transmission. It is something I have been thinking about, but is not my primary interest (which is how science education represents a site of particular interest for investigating reification) - though, having been reading a lot of research papers on attitude to science in education it is clear that a "standardized class route" underpins so much of what is being measured, without ever being recognized by the deluge of research.
point 2 and 3 - yes, its a weakness of the argument and something i will have to think about. essentially i am building on my previous work on polytechnicism, Makarenko and soviet education to put forward some "new" ideas of the particular alienation which occurs in school, but it should not hinge on the lack of specific production of physical commodities with use-values in school, since its the "first" alienation (i.e. the alination of the worker from their labour) that is primary, the 2nd is just an nice extra piece of crap. A lot of it hinges on experience of personal and student dissatisfaction with the "demonstration" model of practical science in the classroom, and students wanting tangible usefulness etc etc i could go on forever
point 4 - wow same
Have you read learning to labour, tears? I originally came across it because the ethnographic portion, where he directly quotes group discussions with the working class kids, was cited in one of Laing's books and it seemed interesting, but it ended up being one of the best books I've read about education in general. The ethnographic part in itself already merits a reading, but the contextualization of school in the labour market (following the kids who already have one foot in factory production while still in school) and the focus on the material way schools operate as a locus of cultural reproduction make it an extremely insightful document imo. There's also quite a few ancillary arguments he develops, like institutions as a point of intersection between formal and informal social structures, which are also compelling, and it also has some of the most concrete and practical expositions of marxism/materialism I've personally come across, all of which gives it a currency past its explicit scope as well (highly recommended to anyone even if they're not interested in education in particular)
i am reading it again, properly this time. it is an excellent book.
you can see the correspondence principle, in my own terms in my main post, though i am trying to add to it in a general sense by looking at not simply replicating the workplace, but replicating the alienation of the commodity-form. i guess its closer to the hidden curriculum - effectively i am saying that yes, the hidden curriculum, but get this, what about the ur-hidden curriculum? Not in an instrumentalised form (i.e. some theory of enforced bourgeoisie control, "false consciousness" etc etc - the school is not actually a prison), but in a "natural" form, in Lukacs's terms that would be reification,
For that very reason the reified mind has come to regard them as the true representatives of his societal existence. The commodity character of the commodity, the abstract, quantitative mode of calculability shows itself here in its purest form: the reified mind necessarily sees it as the form in which its own authentic immediacy becomes manifest and - as reified consciousness - does not even attempt to transcend it. On the contrary, it is concerned to make it permanent by ‘scientifically deepening’ the laws at work. Just as the capitalist system continuously produces and reproduces itself economically on higher and higher levels, the structure of reification progressively sinks more deeply, more fatefully and more definitively into the consciousness of man.
im having big brain thoughts