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New Left Review I/65, January-February 1971

Norman Geras

Essence and Appearance: Aspects of Fetishism in Marx’s ‘Capital’

‘Vulgar economy . . . everywhere sticks to appearances in opposition to the law which regulates and explains them. In opposition to Spinoza, it believes that “ignorance is a sufficient reason” ’ (I, 307). [1] References of Capital give the volume number (Roman) and the page number (Arabic of the edition published by Lawrence and Wishart, London 1961–2. The letters of Marx and Engels can be found in the Selected Correspondence (Moscow n.d.). ‘ . . . Vulgar economy feels particularly at home in the estranged outward appearances of economic relations . . . these relations seem the more self-evident the more their internal relationships are concealed from it’ (III, 797). ‘ . . . The philistine’s and vulgar economist’s way of looking at things stems . . . from the fact that it is only the direct form of manifestation of relations that is reflected in their brains and not their inner connection’ (Marx to Engels, 27/6/1867). ‘Once for all I may here state, that by classical Political Economy, I understand that economy which, since the time of W. Petty, has investigated the real relations of production in bourgeois society, in contradistinction to vulgar economy, which deals with appearances only’ (I, 81). ‘It is the great merit of classical economy to have destroyed this false appearance and illusion . . . this personification of things and conversion of production relations into entities, this religion of everyday life . . . nevertheless even the best spokesmen of classical economy remain more or less in the grip of the world of illusion which their criticism had dissolved, as cannot be otherwise from a bourgeois standpoint, and thus they all fall more or less into inconsistencies, half-truths and unsolved contradictions’ (III, 809).

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Norman Geras, ‘Essence and Appearance: Aspects of Fetishism in Marx’s 'Capital'’, NLR I/65: £3

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