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Robert Kurz: a Theorist Now Making his Mark in the English-Speaking World?

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Reading Marx in the 21st century-Robert Kurz


In the latest Historical Materialism there are two articles on Robert Kurz (24 December 1943 – 18 July 2012) was a German Marxist philosopher, social criticism publicist, journalist and editor of the journal Exit!. He was one of Germany’s most prominent theorists of value criticism.  His works have yet to be translated into, and published in, English.

They are worth signaling.

The late Robert Kurz was one of the principal theorists of ‘the critique of value’ in Germany. This paper uses the recent release of a collection of his essays in French translation and his posthumously published Geld ohne Wert [Money without Value] (2012) as a starting point for a discussion of the critical project that Kurz undertook over a period of 25 years. Kurz was exemplary in returning to the most radical insights of Marx, even when these went against some of the other ideas of the master. He was an ardent proponent of a crisis theory of capitalism: that the categories of the capitalist mode of production have reached their ‘historical limit’ as society no longer produces enough value. On this basis Kurz argued that none of the proposals for dealing with this crisis within the framework of capitalism are feasible. Kurz demonstrated that the basic categories of the capitalist mode of production, such as money, are not universal but that they developed at the same time, towards the end of the Middle Ages, with the invention of firearms and the states’ need for money that this fuelled. In Geld ohne Wert, Kurz asserts that money in pre-capitalist societies was not a bearer of value but a representation of social ties. He wonders whether, with the current crisis, we are seeing a return to a form of money without value, but now within the framework of a social sacrifice to the fetishistic form of mediation. The paper concludes by suggesting that Kurz has not yet reached a wider public outside Germany because for many his ideas still prove too radical to face.


Satanic Mills: On Robert Kurz  Author: Esther Leslie

A critical overview of the contribution of German Marxist Robert Kurz (1943–2012), focussing in particular on The Black Book of Capitalism: A Farewell to the Market Economy (first ed. 1999) and War for World Order: The End of Sovereignty and the Transformations of Imperialism in the Age of Globalisation (2003). This review explores the genesis and the main tenets of Kurz’s theory – especially his concept of value, the automatic subject, crisis and anti-Semitism – and tracks how they are mobilised in his writings over time. It also touches on the legacy of these ideas in political groups such as the Anti-Germans.

Both articles are of great interest and importance.

Kurz seems, to put it mildly, a tosser.

He seemed to think that anybody that didn’t hold to his idea that the critique of the ‘value form’ revealed  an incipient crisis was wrong.

But then I am an Althusserian who has always loathed ‘Wertkritik’.

Mind you Esther, an ex-SWP loyalist, seems to think he was also wrong because he was opposed to Islamism.

So he couldn’t have been all bad.

There is one minor point.

Can I be, no doubt not the first, to mention that apart from what Esther thinks is his unique contribution to the topic, there is another Black Book of Capitalism: the title of a French book, Le Livre Noir du Capitalisme (The Black Book of Capitalism) a French (collectively edited) book published in 1998 which has an entry in the English language Wikipedia. It was a major media event with an impact in the Hispanic speaking world.

Kurz’s Schwarzbuch Kapitalismus: ein Abgesang auf die Marktwirtschaft (The Black Book of Capitalism: A farewell to the market economy) published in 1999 passed almost unnoticed outside of the German speaking sphere.

One can read one of his articles here:  Reading Marx in the 21st century-Robert Kurz


Written by Andrew Coates

December 31, 2014 at 1:08 pm

8 Responses

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  1. Wish I hadn’t given up on German,

    The money/firearms point is I think valid – the availability of relatively cheap firearms from Renaissance onwards made the heavily armoured knight (and over a much longer period of time the not quite so heavily armoured pikeman) obsolete and mass standing armies comprising ever larger proportions of cheaply armed and trained musketeers or arquebusiers possible.

    And to pay and feed these new armies did require new forms of credit with major financial innovations in the early-mid C16 (when the new military technologies took off funded by international banking houses like the wonderfully named Fuggers and Welsers ) and the late C17/early C18 (when the invention of the bayonet made all weapons other than the musket and the cavalryman’s sword redundant and led to truly mass armies and the invention of the National Debt to pay for them).

    Pity is that while Marx and particularly Engels were interested in military history the primary research establishing the real extent and socio-economic implications of the Military Revolution was mostly done in the C20 and by non-Marxists.

    Roger McCarthy

    January 2, 2015 at 3:34 pm

  2. I think the point Roger is that People like Kurz think that everyone who does not agree with their ‘Wertkritik’ is either a fool or a knave.

    It is a quite incredible attitude and certainly nothing to do with Marxism.

    Andrew Coates

    January 2, 2015 at 5:03 pm

  3. Surprising amount of stuff in English by and on Kurz here courtesy of those Stakhanovite scanners and cutters and pasters at libcom:


    May come back on this when I’ve actually read some of it,

    Roger McCarthy

    January 3, 2015 at 4:51 pm

  4. Did a couple of long comments just before the one with the libcom link which are missing.

    As I intend to actually read some Kurz before commenting further I don’t mind if these disappear altogether if they’ve dropped into some moderation queue.

    And if they have just disappeared completely and you can see no sign of them anywhere let me know as I’ll avoid wasting time on long comments in future…..

    Roger McCarthy

    January 3, 2015 at 5:27 pm

  5. They are incredibly abstract and personally I have better things to do with my time.

    Andrew Coates

    January 4, 2015 at 11:30 am

  6. What happened to my comment?

    Sue R

    January 5, 2015 at 8:25 pm

  7. No record – checked.

    Andrew Coates

    January 6, 2015 at 3:12 pm

  8. Was the incredibly abstract waste of time reply aimed at Kurz (if so fair enough) or at my disappeared comments?

    If the latter then I suppose it will be au revoir from me.

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