Review of Thier’s Book “A People’s Guide to Capitalism,” Part One

I recently participated in a group called No One Is Illegal here in Toronto. The group decided to provide a zoom reading meeting every week to discuss the book A People’s Guide to Capitalism, by Hadas Thier, with many participants not belonging to the group but interested in understanding more about capitalism. We read the book in parts, with each participant taking turns to read out loud a section, with questions to be asked and discussed after each section or difficult part. The group did not finish the book–the number of participants dwindled; it is unlikely that there was much emotional attachment to understanding–despite the participants’ apparent interest in understanding the nature of capitalism. 

I sent along some comments to the group (but not to the other partcipants) in order to provide the group with my understanding of the nature of capitalism–which does not always coincide with Thier’s view. 

The following is what I wrote before the first session: 

Question 1: So far, Ms. Thier, as far as I can tell, has provided a purely negative characterization of capitalism. Is this politically useful, though? If capitalism is so negative, why does it continue to persist and why does it seem so difficult to change into a humane society? Are there no redeeming qualities of capitalism? For example, is there still not innovation and increases in productivity? A cheapening of the prices of certain commodities (despite inflation)? For example, when I worked at a brewery (Carling O’Keefte, which then was bougtht by Molson) in Calgary for around four years, we workers could produce a maximum of 550 bottles of beer per minute, but when I quit we could produce a maximum of 1,400 bottles per minute. What of Marx’s and Engels’ reference to how China was beaten? From the Communist Manifesto: “The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it [the bourgeoisie] batters down all Chinese walls….”

Why do people buy at Walmart (despite leftist misgivings and critiques)?

If we fail to recognize some redeeming features of capitalism, are we not likely to underestimate the difficulty of overcoming its negative features? Alternatively put, are we not to overestimate the ease with which we can overcome capitalism?

The purely negative characterization of capitalism is related to the next question that I have:

Question 2: Does Ms. Thier provide an adequate characterization of Marx’s theory of labour, commodities and money?

To answer that question will require reading at least until the end of chapter three (Money), but my preliminary answer would be: no. I have particular concerns from the section beginning “The Dual Character of a Commodity” I did not say anything at the time since I wanted others to speak. I prefer to provide a written form of my concerns since they are involved and because the written form provided the opportunity to supply a more coherent form for my concerns (and it also may reflect my own limited understanding of the material).

Historical Materialism and the Indirect Production of Human Life

Before I refer to Thier’s text, I will make a preliminary point through a couple of points. From Marcelo Badaro Mattos (2022), The Working Class from Marx to Our Times, page 4:

The author of this work is among those who see these current uses of the term class, as well as efforts to conceptualize class exclusively from phenomena associated with consumption, income, and market, as reductionist, for they limit the class situation to a strictly economic dimension (and circumscribe economic phenomena to the competition of individuals and groups of individuals for income and consumption in the market). Such reductionism prevents the comprehension of social classes in their articulation to the totality of social dynamics.

For this reason, this book privileges another perspective, which identifies classes based on the relationships that men and women, living in society, establish with each other to produce and reproduce themselves socially. These relationships establish limits and pressure the collective behaviour of the class, which raises the need to understand other dimensions of these fundamental social groups, such as their collective conscience and political action. In this way, one can perceive classes, and the conflicts among them, as historically situated processes and relationships, which are decisive for understanding the broader dynamics of social transformation. The theoretical starting point for such a perspective is historical materialism.

There is undoubtedly room for debate about what historical materialism is, but the following is relevant to the discussion of the nature of abstract labour and value. From The German Ideology (Marx-Engels Collected Works, volume 5), page 31:

Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or anything else you like. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step which is conditioned by their physical organisation. By producing their means of subsistence men are indirectly producing their material life.

Human beings, unlike other animal species, produce their lives indirectly. This is what practically makes human life different from other animal species. Other animal species may rely on occasion on tools to consume (such as chimpanzees, when they use a stick to eat termites), but other animal species do not rely on indirectly producing their lives as do the human species.

Human beings are both animals and more than animals because they produce indirectly their lives. Think of the issue of climate change. What other species could have such impact? Why only the human species? The quick answer would be the use of fossil fuels. However, could any other species use them? Why only the human species? Obviously, the indirect production of their lives hardly explains climate change—and yet it is a necessary condition for such change to occur. No other species, which much more directly produces its own life or lives, could do so.

This indirect production of their lives is not dependent directly on their wills; in order to live, they must indirectly produce their lives, and this indirect production of their lives involves the production of tools (and much later machines).

This indirect production of their lives is what concerns Marx’s theory of commodities and his so-called labour theory of value. It is a question of a relation among the producers rather than a relation among producer and final consumer (and hence a consumer society), at least for much of Marx’s analysis in Capital.

The Substance and the Magnitude of Value Must Be Distinguished: Thier’s “The Dual Character of a Commodity” Section

Turning now to Thier’s text, in the section entitled “The Dual Character of a Commodity,” we read the following (page 37):

The one property that all commodities have in common, and through which their “value” can be determined, is that each is a product of human labor. In Marx’s words: “Despite their motley appearance,” commodities have a common denominator.” Commodities can exchange according to the relative amount of labor-time that it takes to produce them. This basic idea is the core concept behind what’s known as the LABOR THEORY OF VALUE—explained further below.”

I have some issues with this formulation. Firstly, the reference to “relative amount of labor-time” confuses the magnitude of value with the common denominator of value (what Marx called the substance of value). If we want to compare the sizes of things, we assume that they share the same property of being in space. This common property is prior to talking about “the relative amount of” anything. We do not compare the size of apples and the size of their colour.

The same amount of labour time is irrelevant if the social space is different. Thus, when I and my daughter made supper, our labour produced no value despite being labour.

On page 131 of the Penguin edition of Capital, volume 1, we read the following (which was included in only the first German edition):

(Now we know the substance of value. It is labour. We know the measure of its magnitude. It is labour-time. The form, which stamps value as exchange-value, remains to be analysed.)

Value for Marx thus has three aspects: substance, magnitude and form. These should not be confused. The form of value is particular relevant for the quotation on page 32 of Thier’s book, which reads in part:

It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than if it were to begin dancing of its own free will.

The following quote from Marx substantiates this interpretation of the need to distinguish at least the substance of value (abstract or general labour) from its magnitude. From Marx-Engels Collected Works, volume 32, page 330:

If a thing is distant from another, the distance is in fact a relation between the one thing and the other; but at the same time, the distance is something different from this relation between the two things. It is a dimension of space, it is some length which may as well express the distance of two other things besides those compared. But this is not all. If we speak of the distance as a relation between two things, we suppose something “intrinsic”, some “property” of the things themselves, which enables them to be distant from each other. What is the distance between the syllable A and a table? The question would be nonsensical. In speaking of the distance of two things, we speak of their difference in space. Thus we suppose both of them to be contained in space, to be points of space. Thus we equalise them as being both existences of space, and only after having them equalised as aspects of space we distinguish them as different points of space. To belong to space is their unity.

The Substance of Value is Not Just Labour in General, but a Specific Kind of General Labour that Requires an Exchange Process to Be Social Labour

Secondly, it is true that on page 34 Thier writes: “If the defining aspect of commodities is that they are produced for exchange…,” but she does not incorporate the need to exchange in her characterization of the common property of all commodities being products of labour.

Hence, on the one hand, she confuses the determination of the magnitude of the value of commodities with the question of the nature of value as such and, on the other, she fails to incorporate the need for exchange into her characterization of the common property of being labour.

Thier’s Section “Not by Gold or by Silver, but by Labor”

Her quote of David McNally in the section Not by Gold or by Silver, But by Labor on pages 41-42 also is inadequate:

expenditures of the general human capacity to exert muscles, energies and brain cells to create or produce something. Even if all commodities come into being through different acts of concrete labor, they nonetheless all share the property of being products of the generic act of human labor, or what Marx calls abstract labor, i.e., labor as a general power abstracted from all its specific forms.”[emphasis added]

The common property makes it seem as if it was mere human labour that produces value, but this is an inadequate way of putting it.

General or universal labour can be interpreted in a number of ways. One way relates, as we will see, to the nature of money. Human labour as the production of the human species, has the capacity to assume many different forms and is not tied to one particular kind of environment)–unlike other animal species, which lack the general capacity to live in diverse environments. Thomas Hodgskin noted this quality of human laobur in his book (1825) Labour Defended against the Claims of Capital , pages 65-66:

Naturally and individually man is one of the most feeble and destitute of all created animals. His intelligence, however, compensates for his physical inferiority. After he has inherited the knowledge of several generations, and when he lives congregated into great masses, he is enabled by his mental faculties to complete, as it were, the work of nature, and add to his intelligence the physical powers of the lower animals. He directs his course on the waters, he floats in the air, he dives into the bowels of the earth, and all which its surface bears he makes tributary to his use. The gales which threaten at first to blow him from the earth, grind his corn, and waft to him a share in the treasures of the whole world. He creates at his pleasure the devouring element of fire, and checks its progress, so that it destroys only what he has no wish to preserve. He directs the course of the stream, and he sets bounds to the ocean ; in short, he presses all the elements into his service, and makes Nature herself the handmaid to his will. The instruments he uses to do all this, which have been invented by his intelligence to aid his feeble powers, and which are employed by his skill and his hands, ….

A second way of looking at labour at general labour is in terms of the relation of process and product. When we look at the products of human production, all the products are products of human labour, obviously. The products of human labour have the common property of being produced by human beings.

Although abstract labour in some ways captures or includes both of these senses, it is not identical with them, by any means. In other words, even if they both apply or exist, they do not necessarily result in the production of value.

On page 165 of Capital, volume 1, we read the following:

Objects of utility become commodities only because they are the products of the labour of private individuals who work independently of each other.

Labour that operates “independently of each other” is not yet social labour in its operation. Abstract labour is therefore not just general labour or the capacity of the species to produce in various forms and ways, or the common property that simply lies hidden in the beer and other commodities. Rather, abstract labour is labour which is not yet social labour while it is being performed (there are limitations or perhaps complications to this way of putting it, but I leave those aside). Since it is not yet social labour, a further process is required to make it social labour—the exchange process. The exchange process is both internal to the process of producing our lives and external to it. It is internal to it in that labour that is not yet social labour while it is being performed requires as its complement a further process to prove that the labour expended is indeed social labour. This further process, however, occurs outside the production process proper and in that sense is external to the production process.

By the way, at the brewery where I worked in Calgary, the brewery owned the beer store across the street. It was more evident that a further exchange process was required if the beer was to be social labour. (And a further point: some money went missing from the beer store. Two workers were accused of stealing it; they took a lie detector, which they apparently failed. They confessed to having taken the money. They were fired, and the union, despite being a fairly radical union, did nothing about it.)

A Major Omission by Thier: The Double Nature of Labour that Produces Commodities and Its Relevance for the Dynamics of Capitalism

As far as I have read so far, nowhere does Thier mention in a clear way what for Marx was a vital distinction and relation: concrete labour (which produces use values) and abstract labour (which produces value).

I quote from part of one of my published articles (which I also quote on my blog in a post criticizing Jim Stanford’s theory of money as mere purchasing power, in his book Economics for Everyone:

Marx evidently considered that a dual theory of the use of things or a dual theory of labour was central for a critical understanding of capitalist society:

[London], August 24, 1867
The best points in my book are: 1) the two-fold character of labour, according to whether it is expressed in use value or exchange value. (All understanding of the facts depends upon this.) It is emphasised immediately, in the first chapter.

Marx reiterated the importance of the two-fold character of labour for his critique of capitalist society a few months later:

[London], January 8, 1868

It is strange that the fellow [Eugen Duhring] does not sense the three fundamentally
new elements of the book:
. . . 2) That the economists, without exception, have missed the simple point that if the commodity has a double character—use value and exchange value—then the labour represented by the commodity must also have a two-fold character, while the mere analysis of labour as such, as in Smith, Ricardo, etc., is bound to come up everywhere against inexplicable problems. This is, in fact, the whole secret of the critical conception.

It is Marx’s argument that social labour, in the form of abstract human labour, has distinctive characteristics which oppose it to human labour as concrete labour. It is only through being connected to other labours indirectly that it becomes social labour. The concrete labour that is performed has no direct connection to the labour of other people. To put it another way, the material process of life and the social process of life, which form a unity in the case of human beings, since human beings are both material and social beings, is sundered in capitalist society.

This situation can also be expressed in terms of parts and wholes. Each capitalist unit is a part of the total division of labour. However, this part is quite curious. It is a part that does not function as a part qualitatively while human labour is being expended. The labour being performed is not social labour, connected to other human labour and determinate needs. It needs to become a part only after the micro-production process is at an end, if it is to count as a part of the whole.

Since concrete labour is not social labour as it is being performed, and since the latter is not expressed immediately in concrete use-values, the possibility arises that the amount of concrete labour does not translate into the same amount of social labour. This possible non-identity has major implications for the structure of human life: a dynamic quantitative process is built into production. The quantity of labour required to produce output becomes a concern because the mere expenditure of concrete human labour does not necessarily suffice to meet standards set by the general level of productivity in a particular industry. If those standards are not met, the capitalist firm cannot in the long run reproduce itself. For the capitalist firm to survive, an external pressure is brought to bear on producers to meet that standard. The peculiar character of the part of a whole in capitalist production is thus that the quality of functioning as part of total social labour is transformed into a purely quantitative form. The specific quality of social labour in capitalist society is the priority of its quantity over its concrete quality, or abstract labour over concrete labour.

The difference between concrete labour and social labour via the emergence of abstract labour as the substance of value is similar to the splitting of the atom; it releases a lot of energy. When there is a possible divergence between the amount of concrete labour and the amount of social labour expended, then there is a possible pressure to make the concrete labour conform to at least the social average or even be less than the social average—to increase the productivity of labour. Each unit of a commodity produced therefore will have less value (even if the price remains the same due, for example, to higher taxes).

The Form of Value

One of the problems with understanding Marx’s theory is to see that he does one thing in one section of Capital and does something else in another section of Capital, but they are different ways of understanding the same phenomenon.

On page 141 of Capital, volume 1, Marx writes:

If we say that, as values, commodities are simply congealed quantities of human labour, our analysis reduces them, it is true, to the level of abstract value, but does not give them a form of value distinct from their natural forms. It is otherwise in the value relation of one commodity to another.

The idea that produced commodities are “congealed” or objectified general labour relates to the substance of value, or the what or the nature of value without regard to the way in which it is expressed or appears. The form of appearance of value, which forms the third section of the first chapter of Capital, however, analyses how value is expressed or appears, and it is the way value is expressed or appears that constitutes the “grotesque” nature of commodities, at least initially.

That Marx considers it necessary to distinguish the nature or content of value from its form comes out in the following quote from note 17 on the same page, where Marx criticizes the political economist Samuel Bailey:

  1. The few economists, such as S. Bailey, who have concerned themselves with the analysis of the form of value have been unable to arrive at any result, firstly because they confuse the form of value with value itself….

I will not go into too much detail concerning the form of value, partly because it is complicated, and partly for the purposes of the reading, it is unnecessary. I will merely quote from a post on my blog:

Since the concrete labour performed is not social labour directly but only indirectly, its social nature can only be expressed indirectly–through another, different commodity, in the use value of another commodity. However, merely expressing one commodity, say beer, in another commodity, say in steel, would not express the general social nature of the labour that produces value. To express adequately abstract labour and value, it is necessary that the internal opposition of the commodity between the concrete labour and concrete use value, on the one hand, be completely contrasted with abstract labour and value on the other in an external form–ultimately in money as the unique commodity that has the monopoly power of being able to purchase any commodity. This monopoly power of money necessarily excludes such power attaching to the other commodities.

From Capital, Volume 1, page 161: 

Finally, the last form, C [practically, the money form], gives to the world of commodities a general social relative form of value, because, and in so far as, all commodities except one are thereby excluded from the equivalent form. A single commodity … therefore has the form of direct exchangeability with all other commodities, in other words it has a directly social form because, and in so far as, no other commodity is in this situation. 26

26. It is by no means self-evident that the form of direct and universal exchangeability is an antagonistic form, as inseparable from its opposite, the form of non-direct exchangeability, as the positivity of one pole of a magnet is from the negativity of the other pole. This has allowed the illusion to arise that all commodities can simultaneously be imprinted with the stamp of direct exchangeability, in the same way that it might be imagined that all Catholics can be popes.

This opposition between value and its form can lead to economic crises since commodities that are produced may not be able to be sold, or may only be able to be sold below their value.

Thier’s section “Socially Necessary Labor Time”

We read, on page 44:

The labor theory of value—that a commodity’s value in relation to other commodities is determined by how much labor has gone into producing it—was not a controversial point during Marx’s day. For this reason, he actually spent very little time explaining or defining the concept.

Although Thier points out some differences between Smith’s and Ricardo’s labour theory of value and Marx’s theory, her assertion that Marx “spent very little time explaining or defining the concept” is false as I pointed out above. Marx took pains to distinguish his dual theory of labour from Smith’s and Ricardo’s singular—and ahistorical–labour theory of value, which treated labour throughout history as producing value.

Thier’s section “Generations of Labor”

Since Thier fails to refer to Marx’s distinction between concrete and abstract labour, her references in this section fail to capture one aspect of the significance of the distinction for Marx. This section allegedgly deals with the transfer of previously produced commodities to the value of a commodity. For example, in the brewery where I worked, there was, among other machines, a filler, which filled the bottles with beer. It had a value. But note that Thier, in her characterization of the relation between the value of such machinery and the value of the resulting commodity beer, is formulated in the passive voice and never in the active voice. She writes, on page 46:

But these raw materials and machinery are themselves commodities created by labor. As such, theyall carry their own labor-determined value into the production of a new commodity. Essentially, their value simply gets passed into the value of the table, jetliner, or iPhone. [my emphasis]

Again, on page 47:

The raw materials simply pass on their value into a new product—the table.

Again, on the same page:

That means that each year, the machine transfers about a quarter of its value to the tables that it sands. During its lifespan it will (the capitalists hope) pass its full value into the goods it’s used to produce.

By the time we add in the labor passed on from all the other machinery and rent paid for the factory in which it’s manufactured, its value will be greater still. [my emphases]

The importance of the preservation of the value of already produced commodities (such as the filler) in further produced commodities (such as beer) is important because, if there is to be a surplus of value, the value of already produced commodities must be preserved; otherwise, there may well be no surplus value at all.

Let us now read what Marx wrote. From Capital, volume 1, pages 307-309:

The worker adds fresh value to the material of his labour by expending on it a given amount of additional labour, no matter what the specific content, purpose and technical character of that labour may be. On the other hand, the values of the means of production used up in the process are preserved, and present themselves afresh as constituent parts of the value of the product; the values of the cotton and the spindle, for instance, re-appear again in the value of the yarn. The value of the means of production is therefore preserved by being transferred to the product. This transfer takes place during the conversion of those means into a product, in other words during the labour process. It is mediated through labour. But how is this done?

The worker does not perform two pieces of work simultaneously, one in order to add value to the cotton, the other in order to preserve the value of the means of production, or, what amounts to the same thing, to transfer to the yarn, as product, the value of the cotton on which he works, and part of the value of the spindle with which he works. But by the very act of adding new value he preserves their former values. Since however the addition of new value to the material of his labour, and the preservation of its former value, are two entirely distinct results, it is plain that this twofold nature of the result can be explained only by the twofold nature of his labour; it must at the same time create value through one of its properties and preserve or transfer value through another.

Now how does every worker add fresh labour-time and therefore fresh value? Evidently, only by working productively in a particular way. The spinner adds labour-time by spinning, the weaver by weaving, the smith by forging. But although these operations add labour as such, and therefore new values, it is only through the agency of labour directed to a particular purpose, by means of the spinning, the weaving and the forging respectively, that the means of production, the cotton and the spindle, the yam and the loom, and the iron and the anvil, become constituent elements of the product, of a new use-value.1 The old form of the use-value disappears, but it is taken up again in a new form of use value. We saw, when we were considering the process of creating value, that if a use-value is effectively consumed in the production of a new use-value, the quantity of labour expended to produce the article which has been consumed forms a part of the quantity of labour necessary to produce the new use-value; this portion is therefore labour transferred from the means of production to the new product. Hence the worker preserves the values of the already consumed means of production or transfers them to the product as portions of its value, not by virtue of his additional labour as such, but by virtue of the particular useful character of that labour, by virtue of its specific productive form. Therefore, in so far as labour is productive activity directed to a particular purpose, in so far as it is spinning, weaving or forging, etc., it raises the means of production from the dead merely by entering into contact with them, infuses them with life so that they become factors of the labour process, and combines with them to form new products.

the specific productive labour of the worker were not spinning, he could not convert the cotton into yam, and therefore he could not transfer the values of the cotton and spindle to the yarn. Suppose the same worker were to change his trade to that of a joiner, he would still by a day’s labour add value to the material he worked on. We see therefore that the addition of new value takes place not by virtue of his labour being spinning in particular, or joinery in particular, but because it is labour in general, abstract social labour; and we see also that the value added is of a certain definite amount, not because his labour has a particular useful content, but because it lasts for a definite length of time. On the one hand, it is by virtue of its general character as expenditure of human labour power in the abstract that spinning adds new value to the values of the cotton and the spindle; and on the other hand, it is by virtue of its special character as a concrete, useful process that the same labour of spinning both transfers the values of the means of production to the product and preserves them in the product. Hence a twofold result emerges within the same period of time.

By the simple addition of a certain quantity of labour, new value is added, and by the quality of this added labour, the original values of the means of production are preserved in the product. This twofold effect, resulting from the twofold character of labour, appears quite plainly in numerous phenomena.

The transfer of value of already produced value arises through the specific concrete labour and actions of specific, concrete workers. It is they who do this—and not the machinery, and certainly not some passive entity.

Thier’s Section “Money and Fetishism”

Is Thier’s characterization of money and fetishism adequate? I think not.

On page 48,she writes:

If we start from this understanding of value, rather than with a surface appearance of prices, the real character of money loses its mystique. Value—which is just a crystallization of abstract labor—is represented by money.

This tells us nothing about the necessary relationship between the nature of abstract labour and the nature of money. Indeed, she then repeats what many economists who believe in the capitalist system state. She states on the same page:

Thus by being a portable and universal embodiment of value, money simplifies and mediates the process of trading goods.

This presents money as a simple convenient way of engaging in exchange. She repeats the same idea again on the same page:

With money, a producer of bread doesn’t have to go to the marketplace with ten loaves of bread in order to buy a chair. At the same time, a chair maker doesn’t need to exchange her chair for ten loaves of bread if she only wants one today and another loaf later in the week. Money conveniently stores value over time, which its owner can dispense of as he or she sees fit.

She then characterizes money more accurately, but not for the right reason:

Money also conceals the true nature of value, so that when you go to the supermarket, you don’t think you’re trading an equivalent amount of your congealed mass of labor” with someone else’s.

Money does indeed conceal the true nature of value, but this concealment can hardly be reduced only to the lack of understanding that in exchange there is an equivalent amount of congealed labour being exchanged. As I wrote on my blog,

On pages 48 and 49, Thier quotes David Harvey, who presents the relation in exchange between producer and consumer. Why? Is not Marx concerned in the first instance with the relation of producers to each other and only secondarily with the relation between producers and consumers?

On page 49, we read the following:

The process of producing commodities, Marx wrote, “has mastery over man, instead of the opposite.

This is the essence of what Marx dubbed COMMODITY FETISHISM. What other way can you describe the modern worship of every new generation of Apple products than fetishism? We idolize these things that we consider to be outside and external to us, but in fact are our own creations.

Thier confuses two different issues here. Idolization of differnt versions of a specific commodity hardly expresses the essence of commodity fetishism.; this has to do with consumerism (relation of production to consumption) and not a relation of producers to each other. The relation of producers to consumption is a consequence of the kind of relation between producers, but the relation between producers is prior to this logically.

What characterizes more accurately commodity fetishism is, rather, the first sentence .Marx thought that commodity fetishism was linked necessarily to the form of value. From Capital, volume 1, pages 164-165:

Whence, then, arises the enigmatic character of the product of labour, as soon as it assumes the form of a commodity? Clearly, it arises from this form itself. The equality of the kinds of human labour takes on a physical form in the equal objectivity of the products of labour as values; the measure of the expenditure of human labour-power by its duration takes on the form of the magnitude of the value of the products of labour; and finally the relationships between the producers, within which the social characteristics of their labours are manifested, take on the form of a social relation between the products of labour. The mysterious character of the commodity-form consists therefore simply in the fact that the commodity reflects the social characteristics of men’s own labour as objective characteristics of the products of labour themselves, as the socio-natural properties of these things. Hence it also reflects the social relation of the producers to the sum total of labour as a social relation between objects, a relation which exists apart from and outside the producers. … I call this the fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour as soon as they are produced as commodities, and is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities. As the foregoing analysis has already demonstrated, this fetishism of the world of commodities arises from the peculiar social character of the labour which produces them.

Relations between producers assumes the form of a relation between things. A specific kind of human relation—a specific kind of producing our lives—appears as a relation between things, and such a relation appears as something natural, and in that form exceeds our capacities to control it. Commodity fetishism goes way beyond idolizing specific kinds of commodities. By introducing such an idea here, Thier does not capture the very strange way in which our way of producing our lives is organized and the more profound consequences of human relations assuming the form of a relation between things.

Furthermore, she does not link the nature of abstract labour and the production of value, on the one hand, and the power of money (and the power of the owner of money) on the other. If abstract labour is labour that is not social labour as it is being performed, then the exchange process as the complimentary process that is required to complete the social process of producing our lives leads to the emergence of one commodity that is immediately exchangeable (convertible) into any other commodity. The power of money to be convertible into any other commodity has as its complement the opposite of a lack of power in all other commodities in being convertible into other forms immediately. This power of money to be immediately convertible into other commodities arises from the nature of abstract labour as labour that is not social as it is being performed. The lack of labours being connected consciously and socially to each other leads to the emergence of money as possessing this power as if by nature. This is the fetishism of money. From Capital, volume 1, pages 168-169:

It is however precisely this finished form of the world of commodities–the money form – which conceals the social character of private labour and the social relations between the individual workers, by making those relations appear as relations between material objects, instead of revealing them plainly.

Marx elaborates on this further on, on page 187 of Capital, volume 1:

…the thing in which the magnitude of the value of another thing is represented appears to have the equivalent form [the equivalent form is, ultimately, money] independently of this relation, as a social property inherent in its nature. We followed the process by which this false semblance became firmly established, a process which was completed when the universal equivalent form became identified with the natural form of a particular commodity, and thus crystallized into the money-form. What appears to happen is not that a particular commodity becomes money because all other commodities express their values in it, but, on the contrary, that all other commodities universally express their values in a particular commodity because it is money. The movement through which this process has been mediated vanishes in its own result, leaving no trace behind. Without any initiative on their part, the commodities find their own value-configuration ready to hand, in the form of a physical commodity existing outside but also alongside them. This physical object, gold or silver in its crude state, becomes, immediately on its emergence from the bowels of the earth [earlier, as gold or silver and later, immediately as coming from banks or the government], the direct incarnation of all human labour. Hence the magic of money. Men are henceforth related to each other in their social process of production in a purely atomistic way. Their own relations of production therefore assume a material shape which is independent of their control and their conscious individual action. This situation is manifested first by the fact that the products of men’s labour universally take on the form of commodities. The riddle of the money fetish is therefore the riddle of the commodity fetish, now become visible and dazzling to our eyes.

Earlier, on page 161, note 26, as I pointed out above, Marx warned that the power of immediate exchangeability of the universal equivalent (ultimately, money) should not be separated from the lack of that power by all other commodities:

26. It is by no means self-evident that the form of direct and universal exchangeability is an antagonistic form, as inseparable from its opposite, the form of non-direct exchangeability, as the positivity of one pole of a magnet is from the negativity of the other pole. This has allowed the illusion to arise that all commodities can simultaneously be imprinted with the stamp of direct exchangeability, in the same way that it might be imagined that all Catholics can be popes.

By the way, this general power of exchangeability of money has a parallel in the general capacity or power of the human species to engage in various forms of human labour. This species capacity is objectified in a thing—money–and this thing appears to possess this power by nature rather than by the way the production of our lives is organized. Politically, that makes it difficult to conceive of alternative ways of organizing our lives since, on the one hand, the fetishistic way in which we organize our lives in capitalist society appears to be natural and, on the other hand, our own species powers appear and really are not under our control.

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