Picture Book: Demystifying Commodity Fetishism

When I was in South Africa this fall for a conference at Unisa (sponsored by the Department of New Testament and Early Christian Studies), the conference organizers took several of us international visitors to the Apartheid Museum. It was an intense but incredibly rewarding experience.

One of the elements on display that really stood out to me was this propaganda poster:

The poster recommends boycotting fruit exported from South Africa because, as the main text reads, “EVERY BITE BUYS A BULLET.” The implication? Buying exported fruit generates profits for an apartheid government that uses those profits to buy weapons to kill people.

This poster stood out to me particularly because I was teaching Marx and Engels in my Religion and Capitalism course at the time—we were discussing both the material in The German Ideology and the bit about “commodity fetishism” in Capital.

In Capital  Marx says that commodity fetishism presents relations between men as relations between things—and this poster is a powerful example of an attempt to demystify commodities and reveal that they are in fact relations between human beings.

When I shared it with students, they immediately grasped Marx’s point.

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