Dossier: Marxism and the Critique of Value
For Robert Kurz (1943-2012)
Norbert Trenkle tackles fundamental questions posed by the critique of value. How does it differ from other Marxisms? What are the consequences of the critique of value for the category of labor and for the labor theory of value? What is its relationship to socialism as an economic project? What is the relationship between the value-form and capitalist crisis? Can the critique of capitalism still be undertaken from the standpoint of labor?
Robert Kurz : The Crisis of Exchange Value: Science as Productive Force; Productive Labor; and Capitalist Reproduction (1986)
As long as value is allowed to hold sway as an element of second nature, the Left will not be able adequately to understand the developments in the productive forces that characterized the twentieth century. Robert Kurz lays out the fundamental coordinates that tie the critique of value to the theory of crisis.
Claus Peter Ortlieb:
A Contradiction between Matter and Form:
On the Significance of the Production of Relative Surplus Value in the Dynamic of Terminal Crisis (2008)
Building on the insights of Capital I, and dispatching common liberal misunderstandings of those insights, Claus Peter Ortlieb makes the case for what mainstream economists euphemistically call “secular stagnation”: that is, an economic crisis that cannot be resolved by economic means.
Can there be a feminist materialism that does not rely on the fundamentally anti-Marxist materialism of the body? What is the relationship between capitalism, patriarchy, and feminist deconstruction? Roswitha Scholz introduces the concept of “value-dissociation,” under which capitalist societies necessarily consign labor that does not valorize capital — but that is nonetheless essential to its production and reproduction — to a subordinate, feminized zone.
Norbert Trenkle :
The Rise and Fall of the Working Man:
Toward a Critique of Modern Masculinity (2008)
In order to be able to understand the current economic crisis in particular and the emergence and development of capitalism in general, Norbert Trenkle argues, it is necessary to account for capitalism’s gendered social dimension. What can the connection between modern masculinity and the logic of modern labor tell us about the current crisis and the relation between capitalist form and its corresponding social structures?
Ernst Lohoff : Off Limits, Out of Control: Commodity Society and Resistance in the Age of Deregulation and Denationalization (2009)
Despite all violent disagreements, mainstream Left and Right agree that what is at stake is the role of the state: is it “off limits” or “out of control”? But what if the role of the state — as with the flight to finance — is epiphenomenal to an underlying crisis-process? What are the possible political responses? Ernst Lohoff argues that rather than a rearguard defense of the state, the slogan of free access could organize a plausible Left project.
Robert Kurz :
World Power and World Money:
The Economic Function of the U.S. Military Machine within Global Capitalism and the Background of the New Financial Crisis (2008)
In an article written in the initial stages of the 2007-8 financial crisis, Robert Kurz traces its origins to the Reaganite policy of “weaponized Kenyesianism” that stabilized the world dollar economy and established the dominant flows of debt and goods that would persist until the onset of the crisis: phenomena that are generally recognized on the Left as well as on the Right only in inverted form.
Norbert Trenkle : Struggle without Classes: Why There Is No Resurgence of the Proletariat in the Currently Unfolding Capitalist Crisis (2006)
Class struggle played a historically indispensable role in the constitution of the working class as a subject conscious of its pursuit of a social mission. But can a class subject point to a future beyond capitalist social relations today? Is “declassing” a mere appearance? Or, on the contrary, do contemporary attempts to think struggle in class terms, no matter how sublimated, diguised, misrecognized, or sophisticated, lead up a blind alley?
How, after the end of the Cold War and the universalization of a supposedly pacifying market logic, are we to understand contemporary violence? The answer, suggests Ernst Lohoff, lies in the emergence of modern subjectivity and its origins in the Englightemnent: origins deeply bound up in the emergence of the value-form.
Robert Kurz: The Nightmare of Freedom: The Foundations of “Western Values” and the Helplessness of Critique (2005)
Are freedom and equality Left values? Certainly they inform historical Marxism and anarchism as much as liberalism. But what if the concepts themselves are bound up with the logic of the market? What if freedom is only a naked function of the valorization process — a moment in capital’s self-mediation — that is, of universal unfreedom? Utopias of circulation, of markets without money, suddenly look wildly implausible.
Karl-Heinz Lewed: Curtains for Universalism: Islamism as Fundamentalism in Modern Social Form (2008)
In most writing about political Islam — even from the Left — it is understood, even where a vulgar “clash of civilizations” thesis is rejected, to be fundamentally other to Western social and political forms. Karl-Heinz Lewed argues that political Islam is nothing other than a form of appearance of a general world crisis, one which makes its first appearance in the failed modernizations of the Third World. Political Islam is one attempt to resolve an impasse central to the Enlightenment mobilization of the dialectic of universal and particular: a dialectic which itself owes its historical resonance to the emergence of the value form.
How can we understand the current global economic crisis? What can we expect to happen in the next few years? How will this crisis force us to rethink critique, the nature of global social movements, and concepts such as revolution? For Robert Kurz, the critique of value is at the same time an analysis of the crisis, and the analysis of the crisis is of necessity a critique of value.
The debate over globalization seems to have reached a moment of exhaustion. Why? The process underlying globalization is, if anything, still in its initial stages. The endpoint we have reached is rather a categorical one: the exhaustion of an entire universe of historical concepts, which, argues Robert Kurz, we now have to learn to do without.
Roberto Schwarz reviews Robert Kurz's The Collapse of Modernization.
Josh Robinson reviews Ernst Lohoff's and Norbert Trenkle's The Great Devaluation.
Barbara Foley and Kanishka Chowdhury review Kevin B. Anderson's Marx at the Margins.
Matthew Moraghan reviews Arundhati Roy's Walking with the Comrades.