A Guide to Value-Form Theory

It’s winter in the middle of a global pandemic. You have time on your hands and you like to read. Maybe you’ve stumbled across Heinrich twitter and want to know what the hell is going on? Maybe you’ve read Michael Heinrich’s Introduction to all 3 volumes of Capital or you listen to (and patronize) Reel Abstractions, but you still want to read more value-form theory (at least until Science of Value comes out?)

This blog post will introduce you to other important contributions and contributors to value-form theory. I have tried my best to include free links to all of the readings. If the reading does not have a link, you may be able to find it somewhere else for free online. I am also happy to take suggestions for what to add. I wrote this quick and off the top of my head. 

What’s the Deal with Value form theory?

Value-form theory is a clumsy way of designating a way that people from all over the world, from the early 20th century until today, have interpreted and expanded on Capital. Although one of the hallmarks of value-form theory is to distinguish its interpretation of Capital from the standard interpretation, this does not mean that people working in value-form theory have similar theoretical social or political orientations. Some are Althusserians, some are influenced by Adorno and Horkheimer, some are Trots, some are Maoists, some are left communists, some are communizers, some were elected to representative governments, and indeed some probably have little to no political commitments at all (although I can’t think of any).

Overviews of Value-Form Theory

There are a number of useful overviews of these approaches to value-form theory and how they distinguish themselves from other interpretations of Marx.

Sean O’Brien, Marx After Growth

Anders Ramsay, Marx? Which Marx?

Ingo Elbe, Between Marx, Marxism and Marxisms

Further reading: Jan Hoff, Marx Worldwide. 

Schools and Thinkers

Riccardo Bellofiore and Tomasso Redolfi Riva, The Neue Marx Lekture Putting the Critique of Political Economy Back into the Critical Theory of Society 

Frank Engster on Wertkritik

Chris O’Kane, Moishe Postone’s New Reading of Marx 

Christos Memos, Open Marxism

Further reading: Friedrich Harry Pitts, New Ways of Reading Marx. 

Since I have written this post for those who are familiar with Heinrich, in the rest of the post I will focus on readings or talks that overlap with Heinrich’s approach: Althusserian Marxism, Frankfurt School Critical Theory, Open Marxism, Communization, and the marxological work of figures who were affiliated with the International Symposium on Marxist Theory

Classic Texts

II Rubin, Marx’s Theory of Value

Lucio Colletti, Bernstein and The Marxism of the Second International

Alfred Schmidt, On The Concept of Knowledge in The Critique of Political Economy

Hans-Georg Backhaus, On the Dialectics of the Value-Form, Thesis Elven, volume 1, issue 1.

Helmut Reichelt, “Why Did Marx Conceal His Dialectical Method?” in Open Marxism Volume 3.

Diane Elson (ed) Value: The Representation of Labor in Capitalism

Reading Capital

Heinrich’s introduction to Capital is a great overview of a value-theoretic interpretation of the Critique of Political Economy. The two following guides complemented Heinrich’s interpretation. I also found them helpful as guides to reading Capital.

Simon Clarke’s Guide to all Three Volumes of Capital

Polylux Marx – A Capital Workbook

Interpreting Capital and the critique of political economy

There are also a number of important interpretations of Capital as a Critique of Political Economy in the value form tradition that opposes itself to 

Moishe Postone, Time, Labor and Social Domination

John Milios et al. Karl Marx and the Classics

Chris Arthur, The New Dialectic and Marx’s Capital

Larsen (ed.) Marxism and the Critique of Value

Patrick Murray, The Mismeasure of Wealth

Paul Mattick Jr, Theory as Critique

Werner Bonefeld, Critical Theory and the Critique of Political Economy

Debating the critique of political Economy

As Heinrich’s argument about the ambivalence of the critique of political economics indicates, there are many different interpretations of the approach of the critique of political economy and the core categories. This has led to debates between value-theorists and between value-theorists and traditional Marxists.

See Simon Mohun (ed) Debates in Value Theory for debates between value theorists and other Marxists on the this issue

See the several edited collections from the ISMT for debates on these issues between value-form theorists. (such as Bellofiore and Taylor, The Constitution of Capital)

I would also recommend the following on topics that are central to value-form theory:

Critique

Werner Bonefeld, Kapital and its Subtitle: a Note on the Meaning of Critique

John Holloway, Read Capital: The First Sentence, Historical Materialism vol 23:issue 11.

Social Form 

Diane Elson, The Value Theory of Labor

Value

Simon Clarke (available here)

Riccardo Bellofiore, The Multiple Meanings of Marx’s Value Theory

Abstract Labor

Werner Bonefeld, Abstract Labor and Laboring

Riccardo Bellofiore, The Adventures of Vergesellschaftung

Crisis

Simon Clarke, Marx’s Theory of Crisis

Ideology

Beverly Best, Distilling a Value Theory of Ideology from Volume 3 of Capital, Historical Materialism, 23:1

Expanding on capital

As Heinrich also points out, Marx did not finish the critique of political economy. A number of thinkers have provided their own value-theoretical critics of disciplinary thinking that parallels Marx’s critique of the discipline of Political economy. 

Economics and Sociology

Simon Clarke, Marx, Marginalism and Modern Sociology

Chris O’Kane, Capital, The State and Economic Policy

Jack Copley & Alexis Moraitis, Beyond the Mutual Constitution of States and Markets: On the Governance of Alienation, New Political Economy

Literature

Joshua Clover and Christopher Nealon, Literary and Economic Value, Oxford Research Encyclopedias.

Political Science

Tony Smith, Beyond Liberal Egalitarianism

Werner Bonefeld, Capitalist State: Illusion and Critique

A number of other thinkers have developed value-theoretical accounts of areas of capitalist society that Marx did not include in his unfinished critique.  

Ecology

A. Stoner, A. Melathopoulos, Freedom in the Anthropocene: Twentieth Century Helplesness in the Face of Climate Change.

Labor and Class

Dinerstein and Neary (ed) The Labor Debate: An Investigation into the Theory and Reality of Capitalist Work

Real Abstraction

Alfred Sohn Rethel, Intellectual and Manual Labor

Christian Lotz, The Capitalist Schema

Brenna Bhandar and Alberto Toscano, Race, Real Estate and Real Abstraction

Olivia et al. (ed). Marx and Contemporary Critical Theory: The Philosophy of Real Abstraction

Finance

Milios et al. A Political Economy of Contemporary Capitalism: Demystifying Finance

Beverly Best, Political Economy Through The Looking Glass: Imagining Six Impossible Things About Finance Before Breakfast, Historical Materialism, 25(3)

Ilias Alami, Money Power and Financial Capital in Emerging Markets: Facing the Liquidity Tsunami

The Law

Evgeny Pashukanis, The General Theory of Law and Marxism

The State

Holloway and Picciotto (ed). The state and Capital: a Marxist Debate

Simon Clarke (ed.)  The State Debate 

Suzanne De Brunhoff, The State and Economic Policy

Geert Reuten, The Unity of the Capitalist Economy and The State.

Imperialism

Milios et al., Rethinking Imperialism

Tony Smith, Beyond Liberal Egalitarianism

Marcel Stoetzler, Critical Theory and the Critique of Anti-Imperialism

Reproductive labor

Lise Vogel, Marxism and the Oppression of Women

Kirstin Munro, Social Reproduction Theory, Social Reproduction, and Household Production. 

Gender

Roswitha Scholz, Patriarchy and Commodity Society

Endnotes, The Logic of Gender

Mark Fisher and Marina Vishmidt, Counter (Re)productive Labor

Amy D’eath, Gender and Social Reproduction Theory in The SAGE Handbook of Frankfurt School Critical Theory

Zoe Sutherland and Marina Vishmidt, The Soft Disappointment of Prefiguration: a Critique of Social Reproduction Theories

Race

Chris Chen, The Limit Point of Capitalist Equality

Hylton White, How is Capitalism Racial?

Antisemitism

Werner Bonefeld, Critical Theory and the Critique of Antisemitism

Antisemitism and Transmisogyny

Joni Alizah Cohen, The Eradication of “Talmudic Abstractions”: Anti-Semitism, Transmisogyny and the National Socialist Project

The Present Moment

Simon Clarke, Keynesianism, Monetarism and The Crisis of the State

Aaron Benanav and John Clegg, Crisis and Immiseration, Critical Theory Today. 

Moishe Postone, The Current Crisis and the Anachronism of Value

Fabian Arzuaga, Socially Necessary Superfluity: Adorno and Marx on the Crisis of Labor and the Individual

Chris O’Kane, Society Maintains Itself Despite the Catastrophes that May Eventuate

Riccardo Bellofiore, “Crisis Theory and the Great Recession: a Personal Journey, from Marx to Minsky” Research in Political Economy, 27

Heinrich and Kurz Debate

Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen &Dominique Routhier, Critical Theory as Radical Crisis Theory: Kurz, Krisis, and Exit! on Value Theory, the Crisis, and the Breakdown of Capitalism, Rethinking Marxism 31:2.

Revolution

Endnotes, Communisation and Value-Form Theory

Werner Bonefeld and Sergio Tischler (ed) What is to Be Done? 

Holloway, Dinerstein, Bonefeld, For a Practice of Commoning

Interlocutors

Fred Moseley, Money and Totality

James Furner, Marx on Capitalism: the Interaction-Recognition-Antinomy Thesis

William Clare Roberts, Marx’s Inferno

Martin Hägglund, This Life

About HR

Deep in the adjunct crackhole.
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5 Responses to A Guide to Value-Form Theory

  1. Thanks for this. It would be useful though to list the many critiques of value-form theorists throughout the years, for example: Isaak Dashkovskij (early critic of Rubin’s work), Fred Moseley, Andrew Kliman, Alan Freeman, Guglielmo Carchedi, Paul Cockshott, Juan Iñigo Carrera, Guido Starosta, etc. The recently re-published “Invisible Leviathan” by Murray E.G. Smith, chapters 4, 5 and 6, provide a useful overview of the value controversy.

    • HR says:

      I thought about this but then I decided it wouldn’t be useful for the post and its intended audience, which was simply aimed at pointing to more works in value-form theory that avid readers of Heinrich might find of more interest. However, the post ended up being way more popular than I imagined, so I start putting together a proper bibliography, which would certainly include criticisms of particular thinkers and the approach. In the meantime, those interested in reading up on criticism can use your comment as a jumping off point.

  2. Pingback: A Guide to Value-Form Theory | communists in situ

  3. James says:

    Perhaps you would consider adding my book: James Furner, Marx on Capitalism: the Interaction-Recognition-Antinomy Thesis, to this list? It explicitly defends commodity form philosophy, engages with many of the above works/authors, and adds something to them in its account of antinomy.

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