For Karl Marx, the capitalist system conceals not only the connection between social labour and the surplus value produced by labour but also the social character of commodity production. In this way, capitalism alienates the labourers from their products, their self-representations, and it establishes the “fetishism of commodities” in which “the social character of labour appears to us to be an objective character of the products themselves” (Capital, vol.1).
For Marx, commodities are products of social labour, of vital labourers who are interlinked. Commodity fetishism occurs when the perception that commodities are extensively exchangeable, barely refers to the personalities and interrelations of the actual producers in a particular mode of production. Instead, there arises the perception that commodities are exchangeable by nature, just as the law of supply and demand appears to be a natural law of trade.
Commodities and money are exchangeable because they seem to possess innately the capacity to substitute for one another in objective and calculable proportions. Such a general belief is a fetishism that conceals and supports capitalist exploitation and the alienation of labour.
Using Marx’s protest against alienated labour and commodity fetishism, Jose Miguez Bonino reinterprets the Pauline-Lutheran principle of “justification not by works.”
For Marx, labour both expresses and transforms the following: the integral person of the labourer, his or her relations with fellow labourers, and their interaction with nature. Alienated labour is objectified as money and commodities, which appear to be utterly exchangeable and to possess capabilities and values on their own. The apparently self-exchangeable nature of commodities conceals, homogenizes and deforms the particular personalities and interrelations of the labourers who produce them.
In justification through works, the religious practices become valuable in themselves, and they conceal from their performers the real status of their relationships with God and neighbour.
Self-justifying works are like commodities, they become calculable and impersonal objects. These works earn calculable merits that oblige God to render in return the equivalent grace or justification. The interaction of the votary with God is depersonalized and deformed into an exchange relationship.
Those justified by objective “works of the law” boast of their own worth or of their grasp of God’s will (cf Romans 2:17-20; 3:27-28). They are like buyers who boast of the bargains they are able to buy, or like moneyed and mighty exploiters who boast of their money and might.
A true work of faith is done apart from the care over calculation and reward. It is a genuine good work, whose value is inalienable from the personality and fidelity of the doer. And the true work of faith necessarily personalizes the doer into a divine work of love for the neighbour.
For Miguez, justification is not an inward but an integral reality, just as faith, as both gift and response, is not merely psychical or intellectual but integral, a unity of belief and practice. Justification is God’s gift through the mediation of Christ.