Hard to swallow: Michael Heinrich recently presented a lecture, Karl Marx’s Monetary Theory of Value. Here is an extract from Esben Bøgh Sørensen’s The Ontology of Capitalism which outlines some of Robert Kurz’s criticisms of Heinrich’position.
‘A circulation that starts and ends with money only makes sense if the initial value in the form of money is increased. Thus, only in the form or movement of M-C-M’ in which M’ includes surplus value does money, and therefore value, acquire its adequate form, and this form is what Marx calls capital, which is essentially self-valorising value. Capital is the most fundamental determination of capitalism.
In Heinrich’s monetary theory of value, substance refers to the specific capitalist social relation between private producers and not to something that is common to all societies. However, the view that abstract labour is primarily a category of exchange is not shared by all value-form theories. The question of abstract labour and production is crucial. Postone and Kurz present two versions of a more production-oriented concept of the substance of value.
Kurz highlights several problems with Heinrich’s interpretation.
First, Heinrich separates production and circulation. Second, this leads to a separation between concrete and abstract labour and their products. This separation is caused by a one-sided focus on appearance or form without any consideration of the relation to substance or content. Consequently, according to Kurz, the real abstraction of abstract labour and value cannot only be constituted in exchange but must necessarily be constituted already in production. Kurz defines abstract labour as “die Verausgabung abstrakt menschlicher Energie überhaupt”, which is exactly the definition to which Heinrich objects. According to Kurz, what remains of the products of labour once their use value is abstracted via exchange is their commonality as products of abstract human energy. Notably, however, this commonality is both an abstraction and real in the sense that “diese Energie muss ja wirklich in der Produktion verbrannt worden sein.
The concrete and abstract sides of labour and its products are not two separate sides, but rather “zwei Aspekte derselben Logik, die alle Sphären übergreift”. Consequently, Kurz rejects what he sees as Heinrich’s separation of production and market. These two “spheres” are only moments of the movement of capital. Capital as the automatic subject is the “übergreifende transzendentale Apriori des Gesamtsummanhangs” that arises in production through abstract labour (in Kurz’s definition) and realises itself on the market, or, what Kurz terms “Sphäre der >>Realisation<<”: “Produktion und Markt oder Realisationssphäre des Kapitals sind beide gleichermassen blosse Funktionssphären oder Momente in der Metamorphose des Kapitals als seines apriorischen gesellschaftlichen Ganzen”.
Kurz’s concept of totality is crucial. The abstract human energy expended in production is only a moment of the total movement of capital and needs to be realised on the market or the sphere of realisation. This energy does not pertain to individual commodities, but aggregates behind the backs of individual agents to a “gesellschaftlichen Gesamtmasse des Werts.”
Reference: Kurz, Robert (2012): Geld ohne Wert – Grundrisse zu einer Transformation der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, Horlemann Verlag, Berlin