Objectification, Alienation, and Reification: Marx Meets Simmel in History and Class Consciousness

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 11:15
Oral Presentation
Mariana TEIXEIRA, Cebrap (Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning), Brazil
There are many affinities between Marx’s analysis of the capitalist mode of production and Simmel’s account of the modern monetary economy. Both authors underscore, for example, the significance of the division of labor and its nefarious consequences for the relation between subject (producer) and object (commodity) of production, or capitalism’s tendency to quantify and thereby erase the particular qualities of virtually everything (and everyone). Perhaps nowhere have these affinities been more productively (albeit not explicitly) articulated than in Georg Lukács’ 1923 History and Class Consciousness, a classic in 20th century Marxist theory. Although he there depreciatively labels Simmel "a bourgeois thinker", it is undeniable that Lukács was heavily influenced by The Philosophy of Money. He studied with Simmel in Berlin in 1906-07 and in 1909-10 but gradually distanced himself from the Simmelian framework, eventually turning to Marxism and disparaging his earlier, more romantic, writings. It is worth noting, however, that Lukács was drawn to Marxism not in spite of, but precisely because of his previous engagement with Simmel’s work and his account of objectification. Once one has that in mind, it is no longer so surprising that Lukács could recover the theme of reification almost a decade before the appearance of Marx’s most notorious writings on alienation, the Paris Manuscripts of 1844 (published for the first time in 1932). In this paper, I explore the connections between these three concepts – objectification (Simmel), alienation (Marx) and reification (Lukács) – and the possibilities of actualizing them as conceptual tools to grasp problematic features of contemporary capitalism.