Make this a very merry Marxmas
December 17, 2009 12:43 PM   Subscribe

Help me find a brief quote by Karl Marx suitable for use on a holiday ornament! Extra points for being commodities-fetish related!

Background: my husband and I have ambivalent feelings about the icky consumerism of Christmas. We jokingly decided one year that we should celebrate Marxmas instead -- particularly since Marx has such a striking resemblance to Santa Claus.

For the last two years, in lieu of Christmas ornaments, I have made Marxmas ornaments for my husband and a couple of friends. The first year this consisted of a picture of Marx glued to some construction paper and decorated with glitter.

The second year, I painted some cardboard ornaments, decoupaged on a picture of Marx and then added a quote to the back. That quote was "A commodity appears at first sight an extremely obvious, trivial thing. But its analysis brings out that it is a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties." I love that, and it seemed to have a nice relevance to the Marxmas experience.

I'm getting ready for this year's Marxmas ornament crafting night, and have a great picture of Marx ready to go. But I'm having a tough time deciding on what quote to use. So I turn to the hivemind for help. What Marx quote should go on the Marxmas 2009 keepsake ornament?

It needs to be brief and preferably capitalism/commodities related. But I'm willing to go for something else if it's really good. I was thinking of using "Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks." But that just seems a little too real and bleak.
posted by luazinha to Writing & Language (14 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I approve of your plan heartily! How about any of these (all from Capital, vol. 1)?

"The whole mystery of commodities, all the magic and necromancy that surrounds the products of labour as long as they take the form of commodities, vanishes [as] soon as we come to other forms of production."

"Modern society, which, soon after its birth, pulled Plutus by the hair of his head from the bowels of the earth, greets gold as its Holy Grail, as the glittering incarnation of the very principle of its own life."

"So far no chemist has ever discovered exchange value either in a pearl or a diamond. "
posted by scody at 12:54 PM on December 17, 2009

“The production of too many useful things results in too many useless people.”

“Sell a man a fish, he eats for a day, teach a man how to fish, you ruin a wonderful business opportunity.”

And this is fricking AWESOME. I wish I had folks with which is celebrate Marxmas.
posted by youcancallmeal at 1:04 PM on December 17, 2009

Another one:

"Capital is money, capital is commodities. By virtue of it being value, it has acquired the occult ability to add value to itself. It brings forth living offspring, or, at the least, lays golden eggs."
posted by scody at 1:10 PM on December 17, 2009

It's been years, but I do remember a quote from Walter Benjamin - something along the lines of: the commodity wishes to be worshiped. I'm almost certain it's from " Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century." That, on a really sparkly ornament?
posted by kitcat at 1:32 PM on December 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

These are all great! And I could totally go for a non-Marx quote, like kitcat's Benjamin reference!
posted by luazinha at 1:42 PM on December 17, 2009

This isn't the one I was thinking of, but nevertheless...

It's found on this page in google books:

"If the soul of the commodity which Marx occasionally mentioned in jest existed, it would be the most empathetic every encountered in the realm of souls, for it would have to see in everyone the buyer in whose hand and house it wants to nestle."
posted by kitcat at 1:44 PM on December 17, 2009

"Money is the estranged essence of man’s work and man’s existence, and this alien essence dominates him, and he worships it." From On the Jewish Question.
posted by wheat at 1:58 PM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Well if you'll accept Marxists, you could go with Debord on commodity:
36. This is the principle of commodity fetishism, the domination of society by “intangible as well as tangible things,” which reaches its absolute fulfillment in the spectacle, where the tangible world is replaced by a selection of images which exist above it, and which simultaneously impose themselves as the tangible par excellence.
50. At the moment of economic abundance, the concentrated result of social labor becomes visible and subjugates all reality to appearance, which is now its product.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 2:12 PM on December 17, 2009

Marxmas! What a great idea! I came here to cite the capital = commodities quote about laying golden eggs, but was beat by scody. It's double awesome because it already uses semi-Christmasy imagery.

I always loved how he used the table to illustrate use-value of wood. For this, a little dancing table ornament is in order.

"The form of wood, for instance, is altered by making a table out of it. Yet, for all that the table continues to be that common, every-day thing, wood. But, so soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something transcendent. 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 dance of its own accord."
posted by Juicy Avenger at 3:06 PM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I found the full Walter Benjamin quote: "Fashion prescribes the ritual according to which the commodity fetish wishes to be worshiped."

I wish I had my copy of Benjamin's Arcades Project in front of me, as I suspect you could pretty much open it to any page and find a wonderful quote about commodities, consumption, and capitalism.
posted by scody at 3:15 PM on December 17, 2009

There's the bit in the Grundrisse where he compares the roles of Jesus and exchange value:
It is important to note that wealth as such, i.e. bourgeois wealth, is always expressed to the highest power as exchange value, where it is posited as mediator, as the mediation of the extremes of exchange value and use value themselves. This intermediary situation always appears as the economic relation in its completeness, because it comprises the opposed poles, and ultimately always appears as a one-sidedly higher power vis-à-vis the extremes themselves; because the movement, or the relation, which originally appears as mediatory between the extremes necessarily develops dialectically to where it appears as mediation with itself, as the subject for whom the extremes are merely its moments, whose autonomous presupposition it suspends in order to posit itself, through their suspension, as that which alone is autonomous. Thus, in the religious sphere, Christ, the mediator between God and humanity—a mere instrument of circulation between the two—becomes their unity, God-man, and, as such, becomes more important than God; the saints more important than Christ; the popes more important than the saints.
posted by Abiezer at 5:43 PM on December 17, 2009

How about "I am no Marxist." or some variant thereof?
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 10:18 PM on December 17, 2009

Thanks everyone. I think I have material here for many Marxmases to come! Next year: dancing tables, golden eggs, or pearls? This year, I've decided to go Benjamin.
posted by luazinha at 7:58 AM on December 18, 2009

Yay! Happy Marxmas!
posted by kitcat at 10:13 AM on December 18, 2009

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