It is imperative to remember that Lukacs is the first 20th century Marxist philosopher to seriously articulate in depth the commodification of the world. This is his starting point in the reification essay and points to the commodity as the universal character of society as a whole. Again, the problem of reification grows out of the fetish character of commodities and it is my view that Lukacs is the first great commentator on Capital, Part I, Chapters 1, the commodity and 2, the process of Exchange.
What permeates everyday life in capitalist society is the principle of rational mechanization and calculability – this embraces us and totalizes us and no longer are goods and services the product of an organic process within a community but a fragment of rational calculation. Lukacs is both arguing here against bourgeois economists who do not see this and also the mechanical, i.e. vulgar Marxist tradition. Remember Gramsci’s attack on the spontaneous philosophy that only is mechanically and externally driven and leads to a fragmented and episodic empty life. Thinking is not only fragmented the commodification of life creates isolation within social relations. The whole of society under capitalism is subjected to a “unified” economic process and the fate of every member is determined by unified laws. This, for Lukas, is the law of appearance operative in capitalist society but this rational objectification conceals the dialectical relations that bring this phenomenon into being, We begin to unmask terms such as the rational “laws” of the market, chances of exploitation- these laws are to be rationally organized through and through. To understate the case, this opens the discourse of the irrationality of the systematization of the whole by regulating the parts (often artificially isolated and apparently autonomous) to be performed by specialists of every kind. Herein lies the nature of the division of labor that is never articulated under the concept of the totality (i.e. the forces of production are not analyzed alongside and dialectically with the relations of production- force, innovation, practice are fragmented from the societal relations and hide real relations between human beings). The true movement of economy cannot be explained without the understanding of reified relations and the general problem of reification.
In section 3 of the problem of reification. Lukacs gives a poignant description of the specialization of skills and how this leads to the destruction of the whole. We will see this also analyzed by Adorno in “Why Still Philosophy.”
We will return to the concept of totality when reading Sartre and Althusser and hopefully see the differences between the Hegelian totality in Lukacs and Sartre and Althusser’s severing of the concept into two, the structural and expressive.
For next week, we will engage Korsch’s schema (written in 1923) of the three stages of the development of Marxist theory:
- 1843–1848- theory of societal development until the manifesto of 1848
- 1848–1868- brutal suppression of the proletariat
- The present 20th century – 1900–1923- vulgar and mechanical materialism, Lenin’s presence and attack on the idealist and vulgar traditions in Philosophy.