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Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Historical Women - Rosa Luxemburg

Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) was an active socialist theorist and agitator from her school days until her murder following the unsuccessful Spartacist insurrection of 1919. Her theoretical work includes Die Akkumulation des Kapitals (The Accumulation of Capital) (1913), in which she analyses the role of surplus value in capitalist economies, and Die russische Revolution (The Russian Revolution) (1922), in which she critiques Lenin’s style of leadership, arguing for a revolution controlled by the masses.

In Die Akkumulation des Kapitals, Luxemburg observes that, in order to accumulate capital by the selling of surplus goods, capitalist countries rely upon those which are pre-capitalist as purchasers. (Capitalists themselves would gain nothing by buying their own surplus product, and workers could not afford to, due to the surplus value added above the cost of production and/or wages.) The reliance of capitalist economies upon these other economies results in a struggle for political control of them – imperialism. However, once everywhere has been absorbed by the capitalist economy, it will not be able to function as it will no longer be able to acquire capital.

Henry Tudor, in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, summarises the implications of this analysis  as follows:

First, it vindicated the claim that the terminal crisis of capitalism was inevitable. Second, it meant that imperialism was, not (as Lenin, for instance, would have it) the ‘final stage of capitalism’, but a structural feature of capitalism as such. Finally, it meant that war on a worldwide scale between capitalist states was unavoidable.

1 comment:

  1. 'arguing for a revolution controlled by the masses.' - I would not counterpose that to Lenin and the Bolsheviks! The difference is that Lenin believed that people must consciously be aware of their need for revolutionary politics - which would therefore render the need for a systematic program (involving education, agitation & organisation) to convince people of those politics: the revolutionary party. This is contrasted to Luxembourg's belief in spontaneity. If people could spontaneously come to these ideas, why hasn't global revolution happened? Why are so many people convinced by reactionary ideas in the face of such evidence?

    I count Luxemburg as an anti-authoritarian, anti-Stalinist (her criticisms for example of banning factions is entirely correct), but her mistake in analysing the start of the Russian Revolution and the emerging bureaucracy of the USSR which could later be called Stalinism, is to see the two periods of Russian history as explicitly casual rather than contingent. This post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy is something as a Trotskyist I would strongly dispute, and my comrades of the past in the Left Opposition died in Stalin's death camps fighting to prove.

    Luxemburg certainly had a point when she argued against Marxism being a “pedantic conception which would unfold great popular movements according to plan and recipe” - but the legacy of Trotskyism is to consistently assess and reassess politics and strategies as new events emerge. Her criticisms should be directed at the scientific socialists of the time who claimed to have an infallible blueprint for the future, something no Trotskyist would claim to hold.

    Many of her other writings are fascinating though. All the left groups who immediately shouted 'GENERAL STRIKE!' over the public sector pensions dispute with no actual awareness of the impossibility of such a slogan given the state of the British labour movement - and therefore it's posturing, and alienating affect - would have done well to read 'The Mass Strike'. And Luxemburg was an inspiring anti-war and socialist activist, and an important figure in anti-capitalist history.


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