Archive for November, 2008

Wal-Mart Employee Trampled to Death

November 29, 2008

In New York State a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death today by shoppers rushing to buy “Samsung 50-inch plasma high-definition televisions for $798, Bissel Compact upright vacuums for $28, Samsung 10.2 megapixel digital cameras for $69 and DVDs like “The Incredible Hulk” for $9.”[1] When shoppers were were told that the employee was killed, they protested: “I’ve been in line since yesterday morning.”

According to the New York Times, both the state detective and the union boss blamed the death on a lack of “security.” Marx, however, taught that security – capitalism’s “supreme social concept”[2] – is only the flip-side of the fetishization of commodities. The ‘fetish of the commodity’ was a concept introduced early in Capital in order to name the process by which commodities are abstracted from the wage labor relationship, the “secret of our social products.”[3]  In the absence of the legibility of real-world relations of inequality, production, and exploitation, objects become obscure and we lose our orientation. When objects are no longer thought of as products of labor and capital, all that is left is a mystified fetishism; commodities come to appear  as autonomous objects and “social action takes the form of the action of objects.”[4]

For an exchange object to become an object of fetish, therefore, its social basis in wage labor must be negated or somehow disavowed. Did the Wal-Mart customers not take commodity fetishism to its absolute logical extreme by literally negating labour, by killing the wage employee? Is that how capitalism must end? If capitalism is to collapse under its own barbaric weight, it can only do so by undermining the material basis of the “social hieroglyphic” itself: the commodity. “What is it about the particular mode of human practice that requires it to exist against itself in the mode of the object?” More importantly, “what sort of praxis is needed to fight against Barbarism?”[5]

[1] “Wal-Mart Employee Trampled to Death” New York Times 11/28/2008

[2] Marx, Early Writings, ed. Bottomore (1964) p.25

[3] Marx, Capital Vol. 1 (International Publishers, 1967) p.74

[4] Ibid. p.75

[5] Werner Bonefeld, “Emancipatory Praxis and Conceptuality in Adorno,”in Negativity and Revolution: Adorno and Political Activism (2009) p.129, p. 123