The Neue Marx-Lektüre and the ‘Monetary Theory of Value’ in the East German Labour-Value Measurement Debate

In: Historical Materialism
Paula Maria Rauhala PhD Student, Tampere University Tampere Finland

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Proponents of a monetary interpretation of Marx’s theory of value (monetäre Werttheorie) argue that one cannot estimate the amounts of socially necessary labour time that lie behind the prices, an interpretation usually ascribed to the West German Neue Marx‑Lektüre. As Hans-Georg Backhaus began fleshing out his monetary interpretation in the early 1970s, he referred explicitly to debate among economists in early‑1960s East Germany about the possibility of estimating quantities of labour value in terms of commodities’ labour content. In fact, scholars who articulated a powerful position in the latter discussion closely approximated the Neue Marx-Lektüre’s ‘monetary interpretation’. They held that expressing labour value in terms of labour time is impossible: the substance of value is not a measurable quantity of labour time but, rather, a social relation. Hence, it is problematic that Neue Marx-Lektüre adherents today should maintain an inaccurate contrast between their reading of Capital and that of ‘traditional Marxism’.

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