Isaak Rubin

Marx and “Wertkritik”

A video and panel description 

Image: Photograph of Isaak
Rubin with his wife


A panel held on April 6, 2013, at the 2013 Platypus International Convention at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Originally posted on Platypus’ media website.



Perhaps one of the most influential developments in Marxist thought coming from Germany in the last decades has been the emergence of value critique. Building on Marx’s later economical works, value critics stress the importance of abolishing value (the abstract side of the commodity), pointing out problems in traditional Marxism’s emphasis on the “dictatorship of the proletariat”. The German value critical journal Krisis has famously attacked what they believed was a social democratic fetishization of labor in their 1999 Manifesto Against Labor. Such notions have drawn criticism from more “orthodox” Marxists who miss the role of the political in value critique and the possibility of immanent transformation through engaging the realities of capitalist societies. Did the later Marx abandon his political convictions that he expressed in the “Manifesto”? What about his later political writings, such as his “Critique of the Gotha Program” in which he outlines the different phases of early communism? Is Marxism a scientific project as claims from value critics indicate? Was Marx trying to develop of a “science of value” in his later works? What can value critique teach us after the defeat of the Left in 20th century? Did traditional Marxism necessarily have to lead to the defeat of the Left?

PLEASE NOTE: Due to technical errors, the last fifteen minutes of the video are cut off. The audio version is complete, however.


  • Elmar Flatschart (EXIT)
  • Jamie Merchant (Permanent Crisis)
  • Alan Milchman (Internationalist Perspective)

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4 thoughts on “Marx and “Wertkritik”

  1. That panel confuses “Neue Marx Lektüre”, which is the broad value-form theoretical attempt at a reconstruction of Marx’s work begun by Backhaus and Reichelt in the 70s, with “Wertkritik”, which is the narrow self-description of two journals from Nuremberg with a very particular set of theoretical claims. I warned you ahead of time that you were creating real mischief by conflating the two, but nobody listened to me. It’s ironic that Ross Wolfe uses a picture of Rubin; the Wertkritiker actually don’t considered themselves in the tradition of Rubin at all and accuse him of being a “circulationist.”

    • Perhaps I should change the picture, because I’m admittedly not an expert on Wertkritik. Though Alan Milichman has been leading a reading group here in New York on Rubin’s Essays on Marx’s Theory of Value, so I thought it was appropriate.

  2. Yeah, Alan Milchman also seems to be into Heinrich and some of the “state debate” figures like Agnoli, too.

    “Wertkritik” basically refers to the journals Exit and Krisis, and the writers grouped around them. It’s not a catch-all term for value theory in the German-speaking space.

    Backhaus and Reichelt are not figures in Wertkritik, nor is Heinrich, or Ingo Elbe.

    The journal “Mediations” of the MLG is coming out with a special issue on “Wertkritik”, and they use it in the proper sense: the special issue only includes Exit and Krisis authors.

    I think the issue is a bit nebulous when considering a figure like Postone, who is definitely influenced by the NML circa the 1970s in Frankfurt, but whom the Wertkritik people like to claim as something of a co-thinker. But I think this was more due to TL&SD not being available in German until 2003 and thus being something of a theoretical rumor. Once it came out, Robert Kurz took major issue with how Postone conceives of abstract labor in a non-substantialist way, accusing him of proximity to…Heinrich and Rubin.

    (FWIW I think Kurz is wrong, and I don’t find Wertkritik very insightful these days, but for the same of accuracy it’s important to distinguish these things)

    • Thanks for the clarification. These distinctions can be somewhat opaque for readers who don’t know German or the specific context of these various journals and debates. Originally I’d advanced the suggestion that we include one of the guys from Endnotes, because of their emphasis on “value-form theory” and Postone, but Gregor wisely advised against it given the already somewhat loose application of the term Wertkritik.

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