The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America

The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America

The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America

The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America

Excerpt

My aim in this book is to elicit the social significance of the devil in the folklore of contemporary plantation workers and miners in South America. The devil is a stunningly apt symbol of the alienation experienced by peasants as they enter the ranks of the proletariat, and it is largely in terms of that experience that I have cast my interpretation. The historical and ethnographic context lead me to ask: What is the relationship between the image of the devil and capitalist development? What contradictions in social experience does the fetish of the spirit of evil mediate? Is there a structure of connections between the redeeming power of the antichrist and the analytic power of Marxism?

To answer these questions I have tried to unearth the social history of the devil since the Spanish conquest in two areas of intensive capitalist development: the sugar plantations of western Colombia, and the Bolivian tin mines. One result of this inquiry (emerging more clearly in the mines but equally pertinent to the plantations) is that the devil symbolizes important features of political and economic history. It is virtually impossible to separate the social history of this symbol from the symbolic codification of the history which creates the symbol.

The devil was brought by European imperialism to the New World, where he blended with pagan deities and the metaphysical systems represented by those deities. Yet those systems were as unlike the European as were the indigenous socioeconomic systems. Under these circumstances, the image of the devil and the mythology of redemption came to mediate the dialectical tensions embodied in conquest and the history of imperialism.

In both the plantations and the mines, the role of the devil in the . . .

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