The Heinrich Manoeuvre

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

Review: Kurz’s The Substance of Value

Published in Capital & Class (42) 2:

Reviewed by Daniel Hinze,
Independent Scholar
The Substance of Capital is part of The Life and Death of Capitalism series by Chronos Publications. The content of the book was originally published in 2004 and 2005 as articles in the first two issues of the journal Exit!. Robert Kurz, who died in 2012, was the editor of the journal and the central founding member of the Exit! group which dedicates itself to the critique of commodity society through value (dissociation) critique. The Substance of Capital critiques different conceptualisations of labour and breakdown in Marxist discourse from this perspective. Kurz first of all sets out a detailed critique of the concept ‘labour’ – the substance of value. In Part II, he then moves on to debate different theories of crisis and the breakdown of capitalism. Through these discussions, the author sets out the key themes of the Exit!-specific critique of capitalism and its critique of other critical (Marxist) approaches.
In his 2012 book, Geld ohne Wert (Money without Value – Outline of a Transformation of the Critique of Political Economy), Kurz refers to the articles that constitute this volume
as a preliminary ‘attempt at a polemic’ – in particular against the ‘circulation ideological
and exchange idealising’ views of Michael Heinrich.
Kurz directs his critique at ‘traditional’, ‘labour-movement’ Marxist, on the one hand, and at ‘postmodern’ neo-Marxists on the other. According to the author, neither perceives the substance of value and capital accurately, each essentially remaining stuck in a system-immanent critique, unable to step outside its blinkered boundaries and therefore failing to perceive the capitalist trajectory as a whole. While traditional Marxism clings to an ‘ontology’ of labour, which makes labour a transhistorical category, constitutive of the metabolism between man and nature in any society, postmodern Marxism goes in the opposite direction, desubstantialising value by perceiving it to be generated in the circulation sphere rather than acknowledging the objective basis of value in labour, expended in production.
These different misconceptions of labour, proposes Kurz, then translate into an inability to apprehend the trajectory of capitalist breakdown. Traditional Marxism is too wedded to the centrality of labour and the worker to admit the possibility of breakdown due to the de-substantialisation of value – that is, the removal of labour and the revolutionary subject from the production process. Postmodern analysis – by permitting subjective  value determination in market exchange – has shed any pretence of value determination in production and is therefore unable to even explore crisis and breakdown as consequence of the absolute limits to valorisation.
Kurz derives these stark criticisms from his own analytical platform of value dissociation critique. He does not admit labour as a transhistorical human condition but views it as a specifically capitalist mode of the social and natural metabolism. Concrete labour is a real abstraction in capitalism which dissociates value-generating activities from all other human, social reproduction. These other, ‘lesser’ activities are gendered as female, while the capitalist actor is necessarily the (white) male. Conjoined with this conceptualisation of labour – which objectively creates value in production through the expenditure of human effort – is the view that scientific progress in microelectronics leads to the obsolescence of labour in the third industrial revolution. The ‘substance’ of capital is removed from capitalism, leading to its demise.
Kurz is apodictic about the ‘de-substantialisation’ of capital. If we approach the problem less dogmatically than Kurz would wish us to, the approach gives us a more complete
understanding of crisis. Using it, we can devise a simple threefold classification of crisis
and breakdown theories. The first position is that there is per se no logical ground to
anticipate the relative or absolute reduction of surplus value over the course of capitalist
development and accumulation. From the second perspective, there is a reduction in surplus value relative to the value of capital which leads to a fall in the rate of profit, and, as a third position, there is an absolute reduction and even the disappearance of surplus through the ‘de-substantialisation’ of, that is, removal of labour from, production
through automation. Kurz propounds the third view while Heinrich falls into the first
Despite its outward appearance, the text is not a fair-minded, philosophical appraisal
of different Marxist lines of thought. Rather, it is polemical in both intent and character.
Michael Heinrich in particular, as a contemporary and supposed representative of postmodern neo-Marxism, is in the crosshairs of this polemic. It is quite unclear how Kurz manages to misconstrue Heinrich’s views on the generation of value and surplus value so badly and to characterise them as circulation and exchange-based, but in essence, Kurz proposes that value is generated absolutely in production while Heinrich, quite rightly, insists with Marx that this value needs to be realised in circulation. Circulation, by mediating competition, determines ‘socially necessary’ labour times and ‘average’ production conditions for all commodities without which value determination in production would be impossible.
Nonetheless, there are generally interesting points in the polemic. In the critique of the categories of labour, Kurz speaks of Marx’s aporia with respect to concrete labour – which cannot, at the same time, be both concrete and an abstract category (‘labour’ as such). Kurz wants us to understand concrete labour to be a real abstraction in capitalism
which has been split off/dissociated from all other necessary reproductive social activities. ‘Labour’ as an abstract, separate category is a social a priori for capitalism. To a considerable extent, this is pre-figured by Marx in the differentiation between labour in general and wage labour in capitalism.
Problematically, Kurz insists that the dissociation of roles is gendered in capitalism by necessity rather than being a result of historical continuity. While sexism and racism have a useful function in capitalism by lowering income, job and career expectations and supporting social acceptability of the lower status of the non-white/non-male worker it is difficult to see why this would be a necessary condition of capitalism. Indeed, as women are integrated into the labour force, previously dissociated, caring ‘female’ activities are in turn being integrated into the capitalist market – not, of course, without being made ‘productive’ and emptied of their caring character where profitable.

In conclusion, this book is probably most useful for scholars steeped in value critique who can use it to develop an understanding of the evolution of Kurz’s thought and the dogmatic differentiation between the Krisis and Exit! groups – Kurz was a member of Krisis until he split from it and founded Exit!. For an overview of different contributions of value critique, I would recommend instead Marxism and the Critique of Value edited by Larsen et al. (MCM’ Publishing, 2014). Separately, it is definitely worthwhile looking
at Michael Heinrich’s profound and sober analysis.
Author biography
Daniel Hinze earned a PhD in economics from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. He has worked at the World Bank, the Deutsche Bundesbank and is now a civil servant in the United Kingdom.

Neo-folk is fascist folk

Breivik is a fascist, not in the unthinking pejorative sense which deploys the word ‘fascist’ as a generic insult but in the very real, totalitarian sense that fascism operated as an authoritarian system of government in Franco’s Spain, Mussolini’s Italy and, yes, before it succumbed to the collective madness of its political leadership, as it did in Nazi Germany.

So where did Breivik come from? Is fascism just rooted in the violent racism of the EDL and the overt bigotry of Melanie Philips? Or, are there broader ideas which give it a broader base?

As recently discussed on PD (here), much neo-folk music contains fascist imagery and references but its fans often claim that it is simply ‘esoteric art’ etc.

For instance, take the blogger Lord Bassington Bassington, a neo-folk fan, who is also another anglophillic norwegian. He doesn’t espouse any overt nationalism. However, although it never deals with any substantial subjects, the blog persistently furthers the idea of a better ideal, and that ideal is never multi-cultural. Further, if one digs around at the poster’s other blogs, there are far more references to esoterica and European myth.

So does being a a euro-centric fantasist and neo-folk fan, make someone a fascist? Possibly. Fascism isn’t just about attacking others, it is centred around a establishing an better order, with the contaminating elements removed. For fascism to develop, as well as attacking the contaminating elements, the central ideals also have to be perpetuated.

The ukrainian academic Anton Shekhovtsov makes a strong case for neo-folk being part of an effort to perpetuate fascism’s central ideas, without them becoming overly associated with political activity. A process he describes as apoliteic.

He writes:

“Military imagery is unsurprisingly one of the most widely employed stylistic elements of apoliteic music. When such acts and artists as Death in June, Boyd Rice, Dernière Volonté, Les Joyaux de la Princesse and Krepulec dress in military or quasi-military uniforms for performances or promotional photographs, they emphasize their musical and lyrical image as ‘cultural soldiers’ who keep the flag flying in the fight against ‘the age of decay and democrazy [sic]’, as the title of one of Von Thronstahl’s songs has it. (…) The question, however, remains as to whether apoliteic bands can function as instruments for popularizing and promoting genuine fascist ideas, the adoption of which can eventually lead their listeners to contribute to the political cause, even if such bands—perhaps honestly—do not mean to. The answer, beyond any doubt, is ‘yes’. Music is a powerful instrument of (mis)education: the idealization of fascism, while over-emphasizing its ‘values’ and deliberately concealing (and even normalizing) its crimes and genocidal practices throughout the interwar period and the Second World War, effectively contributes to a misreading of modern history, especially by conscientious fans. We can only conjecture as to whether an individual will be satisfied with just ‘drifting in dreams of other lives and greater times’ or will eventually become involved in attempts at the practical implementation of those ‘dreams’.”

Full article here:
Apoliteic music: Neo-Folk, Martial Industrial and ‘metapolitical fascism’
(opens in new tab/window)

What is not in doubt, is that neo-folk sets out to normalise fascist ideas, and thus recruit sympathisers. For fans of this music, the burden of proof is on them to demonstrate that they are not fascists. As Breivik has shown, this has to go beyond simply stating a pro-Jew, mildly Christian outlook. It requires an explanation of how the ‘dark’, ‘esoteric’ etc. is not simply promoting cultural superiority. And, if one enjoys music that clearly steeped in fascism, why isn’t that in itself abhorrent?

But clearly, many neo-folk fans are fascists, and while kids are getting knifed by neo-Nazi thugs in the streets, these cultural aesthetes are laughing like drains, as they get away with dressing up in uniforms, and glorifying murder.

The Welsh Bureau/Y Biwro Cymreig
(Thanks to DB & SF)

Yom Kippur: Never forget

Yom Kippur began in the evening of Tuesday, 25 September 2012, and ended in the evening of Wednesday, 26 September 2012.

Between 1948 and 1997, 20,093 Israeli soldiers were killed in combat, 75,000 Israelis were wounded, and nearly 100,000 Israelis were considered disabled army veterans.

Fuck the pinko leftist idiots (SWP, ‘Counterfire’, etc. etc.) who think the destruction of Israel is something to help organise, support and campaign for. Meanwhile, Socialist Unity is celebrating the launch of the new Chinese aircraft carrier, and the Morning Star supports the South African cops who massacred the miners and supports the jailing of Free Pussy Riot.

We leave you with this nauseating roll call of the idiot left – incontinent ‘Marxist’ fuckwits who know nothing of Hegelian Marxism, but remain entranced with defence of state building projects, of the past or of an imaginary future kind. Oh, and don’t forget that favourite retarded ‘Marxist’ insult dressed up as a compliment: ‘Fight for the right to work.’

Thank you and goodnight. This is the last communique ever from Principia Dialectica – probably.

What is the Leviathan, and how can we overcome it? A meeting at the Anarchist bookfair, 2012

Value is a social relation constituted by humans, but out of their control. It dominates humanity in every corner of the globe – there is nowhere to hide. It oversees a society on the very edge of the precipice. In order to challenge this state of affairs, we need to know exactly what it is we are fighting.

What is at the root of today’s crisis?

The very single act of purchasing a commodity in this society implies the existence of generalised commodity production by means of private labours. Value is like a sort of invisible spider’s web, connecting every act of production and exchange in society, but always operating in the background, expressing itself through the phenomenal forms of economic categories that seem to inhere in the nature of things themselves.

Value, although brought into being by human actions, takes on a life of its own and comes to dominate its creators. In order to overcome the beast, we have to follow its self-development, in all its destructive monstrousness, but we can never get away from the fact that it always expresses itself through these economic forms.

We never get to see the beast itself.

It also expresses itself through other forms, through religion, science, art and ideology, but first we need to understand the primary mode of expression, and that is why we have to start with Marx’s Capital.

The forms of thought, feeling and self-expression engendered by value, above and beyond the economic categories again presupposes an understanding of the self-unfolding of value as laid out in Marx’s Capital.

A talk will be held on these themes at the London anarchist bookfair in October 2012, and a pamphlet with articles by Robert Kurz will be distributed there at the same time. All those who were involved in Principia Dialectica look forward to helping a new radical project develop in the future, one theoretically robust enough to rise to the challenge of confronting a depraved economic system that is inadequate to human needs today.

News from Somewhere

News from Somewhere

E. P. Thompson’s study of William Morris is rightly considered to be a standard work on the man, though in some respects it remains incomplete. Hence the value of the current exhibition at Tate Britain called “Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Gardes” that concentrates on the circle of people around Morris and their socially-aware activities, rather than Morris himself. An article in “TATE ETC.” Issue 26, Autumn 2012 indicates that something new may also be learned about Morris and the Socialist League – Hammersmith.

George Lichtheim’s quote from Pelling suggests that the author of “A Short History of Socialism” (London: Penguin, 1970) did not think much of Morris’s background knowledge of socialist philosophy despite his huge amount of activity in so many spheres of practice related to a critique of capitalism. He wrote that “…William Morris, when asked by an earnest questioner: “Does Comrade Morris accept Marx’s Theory of Value?” characteristically replied:” To speak frankly, I do not know what Marx’s Theory of Value is, and I’m damned if I want to know”. As an employer at the time, and being part of a family that owned tin mining concerns that financed Morris, this was an understandable position for Morris to have taken but it was not consistent with his overall, publicly-declared objectives in life.
George continues with a criticism of the Fabians, “…(they) did know, or thought they knew (about the labour theory of value), and they had concluded that in economics J.S. Mill and Stanley Jevons were more relevant for their purpose. But this particular issue arose after the group had come together on the basis of what it conceived to be a socialist philosophy.”

In this respect E. P. Thompson was less pedantic yet more cautious than Lichtheim in his criticism of Morris and made it clear that “…while Morris remained always an avowed amateur in economic theory, in his historical and utopian thought he filled in certain silences of Marx and proposed certain qualifications to the already-hardening doctrines of the Marxists of the 1880s…” (“William Morris From Romantic to Revolutionary” London: Merlin, 1977, second edition)

One of the experiments in arts and crafts and a social theory of art conducted by Morris and his associates was the construction of Red House (1860), in Bexleyheath. This place has often been difficult to get into but it will be open to the public free of charge during London Open House on Sunday 23rd September. A visit to this listed building repays the effort involved (and children are welcome). It also affords the visitor the chance to discover how in the staff quarters on the top floor the windows were intentionally set so high that the servants could not see out into the garden where Morris and, or, his guests used to gather together. A socially aware designer of his calibre was therefore able to produce something as functional as windows in their most dysfunctional form.

It would take about another 100 years before Asger Jorn, an artist in the International Situationists, who wanted to supersede art and not carry on painting as usual, became embroiled in a critique of the capitalist system. Jorn attempted to grapple with the theory of value and in 1961 he published his “Critique of Political Economy” in which he tried to elaborate on the subject, although the result it not thought to be good. (“New Left Review” includes an article on the writings of Asger Jorn.)

Today a critique of the system is still on the menu but questions remain: Whose viewpoint? Whose theory? “…keeping oneself in a pure state, like a crystal.” (purported to be from Henri Lefevbre) may be close to the impossible but millions of fatalities are the outcome of previous conflicts supported by theory and ideology. Privately there is a widespread but misplaced mistrust of theory.