Capital and Historical Materialism

  • George C. Comninel
Part of the Marx, Engels, and Marxisms book series (MAENMA)


This chapter focuses on how the class relations of capitalist society are based on the specific character of the commodity form. The commodity is the logical starting point of Marx’s Capital, and the basis for the global networks of social relationships mediated through exchange that he described as “the fetishism of commodities”. It is through the consequences of market imperatives founded upon the commodity form—owners of capitalist means of production engaging in market competition that is grounded in their ability to gain advantages through management of workers and innovation in production—that capitalism realizes its systemic form. Such a system of abstract relations, in which real outcomes that ostensibly meet social needs are achieved in principle solely through the “invisible hand” of the market, differs radically from all prior forms of social reproduction. Not only is this form of society uniquely “economic” in the abstract principles of its organization, it is equally unique in the abstract economic relations by which the majority class of actual producers is exploited by the owners of capital. Where prior class relations of exploitation required the appropriation of surplus from producers through extra-economic coercion, after the fact, capitalist economic exploitation is not apparent.

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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • George C. Comninel
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PoliticsYork UniversityTorontoCanada

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