Fetishization and Reification, Human Constants or the Particular Products of Capitalism?
Grappling with Marx's theoretical dilemma on whether class struggle is the product of capitalism, coterminus with it or its condition, Zizek suggests that this same dilemma illuminates the difference between Lukác's History and Class Consciousness and Adorno & Horkheimer's Dialectic of Enlightenment, wherein he latter authors "cut [the] link" (that Lukác maintains) between fetichization and reification on one hand and captitalism on the other, considering them products of "instrumental reason" (e.g. using people as a means to an ends), "...which functions as a kind of a priori of thewhole of human history but no longer rooted in any concrete historical formations. The over-arching totality is thus no longer that of capitalism, or commodity production : capitalism itself becomes one of the manifestations of instrumental reason." (p. 204)
This problem is resolved if we merely extend our notion of "human history" to go back to Pleistocene (hunter-gatherer) times and follow it through the agricultural revolution and the dawn of civilization, viz. citification, the creation of cities. Hunter-gatherer cultures are dominated by scarcity of the means of survival. There is a social hierarchy, but it is not based on possessions, because most daytime activity is devoted to the search for food. Once agriculture is discovered, however, a few milenia after the last glacial maximum around 12,000 years ago, there is surplus production, permitting substantial population grown and eventually leading to the establishment of cities, around six or seven thousand years ago. With surplus production comes the accumulation of wealth, the creation of classes (workers, owners, priests, etc.), the establishment of chiefdoms and then city-states, and finally conquest, as some city-states covet the resources of their neighbors, devote a certain amount of their surplus to military materiel, and gobble up their neighbors.
It is an abstract nicety to call the motivations for these appropriations "instrumental reason." They could also be called greed, covetousness, or imperial arrogance. In any case, they only arise when there is surplus, and the first sustained surpluses in human history (starting at least 40,000 years ago and not 5,000 years ago) come with the invention of agriculture.
Capitalism from this perspective is merely a concentration, institutionalization, mechanization, and acceleration of organizations based on technological advances and greatly expanded populations, to produce exponentially more surplus value and its resultant accumulation, and finally engendering the inequality and suffering that we are so familiar with, and which motivated Marx to deconstruct it.
So Adorno & Horkheimer had the right intuition; they simply lacked the expanded perspective in pre-history to concretize it.
In response to Living in the End Times
by Slavoj Žižek