Robert Kurz: The Substance of Capital.

AuthorHinze, Daniel
PositionBook review

Robert Kurz

The Substance of Capital, London: Chronos Publications, 2016; 230 pp.: ISBN 9780995609501, 9.99 [pounds sterling]

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 Exiri-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...

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