capitalist fraud

Jackson Pollock Bird c. 1938-41


Introduction to Rosa Luxemburg's newly edited book

In 1898, Rosa Luxemburg, PhD in Political Science from the University of Zurich and founder of SDKPiL (Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania), arrived in Germany determined to join the largest social democratic party of the time, the SPD (German Social Democratic Party). It is important to say that, at the end of the XNUMXth century, the social democratic movement was synonymous with socialism. It was only after the First World War that social democracy became synonymous with reformism and the term was used, often pejoratively, to refer to people who did not belong to the revolutionary left.

The parenthesis above has everything to do with the discussion that the texts translated here for the first time in Brazil bring, as they are part of this moment of transformation.

Germany was unified in 1871 under the leadership of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, forming the II Empire, under Prussian rule. The 1871 Constitution instituted direct and secret voting for parliament for men over 25 years of age, born and residing in Germany, and established a federative union of Germanic states (kingdoms, duchies, principalities, city-states). Each of these states had its own electoral system, generally less comprehensive than that of parliament, but united under this national institution, the Reichstag (German Imperial Parliament).

The SPD was founded in 1875 as the Socialist Workers' Party of Germany, but made illegal between 1878 and 1890 with Bismarck's Antisocialist Laws. With the abolition of these laws in 1890, it was allowed its own parliamentary role, with advertising and participation in elections, presenting its own legend. The party progressed in the number of deputies (from 35, in 1890, to 56, in 1898), which, added to a period of economic prosperity in Europe, led to great debates in the socialist camp about the direction of capitalism and the tasks of social democracy.

Rosa Luxemburgo presented herself at the SPD in the midst of this debate and the electoral process of 1898. As a newcomer, she wanted to participate in the campaign in the Ruhr, the largest mining region in Germany, but the party sent her to the Polish region occupied by the Reich, to Oberschlesien. Luxemburg was not as thrilled with the designation, but along with August Winter, who was born in the Silesian region, she managed a large number of votes for the party in that area. With this activity, she earned her place as a speaker and agitator for the organization.

At that same moment, Luxemburgo began his battle within the party's borders, engaging in debate with one of its great theorists, Eduard Bernstein, considered almost as an heir of Friedrich Engels, with whom he came to live in London.

O bernstein debate became intense at the end of the XNUMXth century with the publication of a series of articles written by him in the theoretical magazine of the party Die Neue Zeit, between 1896 and 1898. In the series entitled problems of socialism, published between 1896 and 1897, he defended that the development of capitalism had generated the expansion of the middle classes and not of the working class and that the world market would expropriate a part of the rentiers’ profits, because it would no longer be possible to reduce workers’ wages given the development and accumulation of forces in the labor movement. For this reason, according to Bernstein, social democracy should have as its objective the creation of production cooperatives.

These ideas, among others published in 1898, aroused great controversy in the socialist milieu. Several articles were published with counter-arguments, one of them by Plekhanov, also in Die Neue Zeit. Rosa Luxemburg thought Plekhanov's text was very bad and published a hundred pages of criticism in the newspaper Leipziger Volkszeitung, pages that would form the first part of the future brochure Social Reform or Revolution. The text was highly praised by social democratic leaders such as August Bebel, Clara Zetkin and Franz Mehring.

While this debate was taking place in the press, the newspaper Sächsische Arbeiter-Zeitung it was being dismantled and the chief editors, Parvus and Julian Marchlewski, had to withdraw from Saxony because of political persecution by the government. The two felt that Rosa Luxemburg would be a good choice for the post of Editor-in-Chief, which she assumed in September 1898, shortly before the party congress.

At the congress, held in Stuttgart between October 3 and 8, 1898, the revisionist polemic was at the center of the debates and in a heated way. The initial discussion was about the result of the elections of that same year. The SPD had increased its number of parliamentarians by 21 deputies, but a series of questions remained in the air: what did this represent? Could they have gotten more chairs? Had the decision of the previous congress that the party not ally itself with liberals in cases of second round been respected? What would be the right form of agitation? What was the political impact of this victory for the construction of the revolution?

The question of the tactics adopted in the 1898 election is, in fact, the question of what were the objectives of the party and what was its strategy, because as Rosa Luxemburgo pointed out in one of her speeches at that congress, it was only the final socialist objective that made revolutionary strikes, unionism and electoral agitation; otherwise, these instruments could even turn against the workers. This is how reform and revolution should unite: fighting for improvements within the capitalist State without losing the perspective of the class struggle and the fight against this same State and the status quo.

The result of the discussions was that Bebel postponed any resolution on the issue until the following year, including it on the agenda of the 1899 congress, under the title “The attacks on the fundamental ideas and the tactical position of the party”.

In addition to the controversies at the congress, Luxemburgo also faced problems as editor-in-chief of the Sächsischen Arbeiter-Zeitung, in Dresden (city for which she was a delegate at the 1898 congress), where she stayed from September 25, 1898 to November 5, 1898. During this period she faced Gradnauer, who sent a reply to the newspaper defending himself against criticisms made of him at the Stuttgart congress. This first text was published by Luxemburgo, but not the second, taking the case to the party's Press Commission, after being denounced by his colleagues. Rosa used the vehicle itself to defend himself, publishing in an article that Gradnauer's type of policy, aimed at reconciling and erasing the differences that leapt to the eyes in Stuttgart, should be vehemently opposed. Bernstein and his group should not be tolerated in the party, as they defended ideas that went against the program and Marxism.

Editorial companions did not like her posture, labeling her a tyrant, and the Press Commission agreed with them; according to critics, Luxemburgo would have been seduced by the leadership position. In the end, she withdrew from the role, but her successor, Georg Ledebour, made her idea of ​​a column with news from different parts of the world a reality, the Economic and Sociopolitical Outlook.

This is the origin of the writings that follow translated. Prevented from running the newspaper the way she thought best, having been criticized in large part for being a woman, Luxemburgo turns to work as a journalist and writer, which helped to pay part of her bills. At this point, she turns to events in the political economy of the time. And in each of the articles the debate on revisionism and the transformations of capitalism in the “Age of Empires” are present. Remembering that, according to Michael Krätke, these articles are also part of a moment of suspension of the debate: everyone was waiting for the announced book by Eduard Bernstein, published in early 1899: Assumptions of Socialism and the Tasks of Social Democracy.

Os panoramas were published between December 1898 and March 1899 and cover a great diversity of themes and regions of the world. This in itself demonstrates how well Luxemburg was informed about world events and how she related them to workers' politics. According to Laschitza, in these articles Rosa Luxemburgo focuses on three points: 1) current economic events; 2) important innovations related to the technique that concerned the development of capitalism; 3) social policies that spoke about advances in social reforms or class struggle. For Michael Krätke, what stands out in this sequence of articles is the sharp way in which Luxemburg perceives the development of the United States and the centrality it gained in the world economy, transforming itself into its center, overcoming the hegemony of England.

But, in addition, these articles give materiality to the arguments raised by Rosa Luxemburgo to combat the revisionist ideas of Bernstein and other members of the SPD. By focusing on these three points cited by Laschitza, the author seeks to emphasize, based on reality, that the development of capitalism can only have socialism as its end, the result of the struggle of the working class. That's what Luxembourg is all about. Even when she only seems to ramble on about the moral issues of the time, such as alcoholism, the central point is that bourgeois society tends to degenerate due to its hypocrisy, including behavioral issues, such as the relationship with alcohol and family. The salvation of humanity can therefore only lie in the working class.

It is clear that the text is the child of an era, a debate, a situation and a specific person. It is seen how Luxembourg deals with the question of customs tariffs, defending freedom of trade and the positive impacts that this would have on workers, a reading that will undergo changes over the decades.

It is therefore necessary to place the text in its context. At that moment, socialist organizations were growing in central Europe, the labor movement was expanding, the Second International seemed to unify the entire proletariat in a single movement above nationalities. At least that was the policy that Luxemburgo defended and lived by. On the other hand, the labor movement was focused on electoral campaigns, on the search for more political rights, believing that this would be an important step towards social transformation. The time of the barricades seemed to be in the past. So much so that in these texts, Luxemburgo emphasizes the need to strengthen the organization. Very different from what she will defend after the Russian Revolution of 1905 and the struggles that took place in Europe at that time.

It can also be seen in these texts that the same argument that justified the revisionist reading of Bernstein and others serves to defend the need for socialism and, therefore, show that many disagreements are problems related to the size of the lens. When getting too close to an object, the notion of totality is lost. This happens with the analysis of revisionism about the impoverishment of the masses and the expansion of the middle classes, arguments refuted here by Luxemburgo. She also presents the technological innovations of the Second Industrial Revolution, mainly the development of transport, as factors for the expansion of capitalism that must be incorporated by workers, since socialism “should not turn the wheel of history backwards”, but incorporate the advances of that history. society in a social formation without labor exploitation. It is clear that a utopian reading of progress is also perceived here, problematized by militants at the time, especially after World War I.

In these conjuncture analyses, she points out the impact of taxes, global competition and the financial system on the living conditions of the working class. These themes will be better arranged in the book The Accumulation of Capital, but here she analyzes them when writing about tax reform in Russia and emphasizing the importance of peasants, who are indeed the main source of state resources. Likewise, global competition is a factor that constantly appears in these analyses, presenting itself as a central element in the cartelization process and business organization.

Later, Luxemburgo understood that competition was the central element in the capitalism of his time, since the cartel was just a consequence of that mechanism. In this sense, in Accumulation, Luxemburgo characterizes imperialism as the moment of dispute between capitalist countries on the world stage. In the context of the articles, tariffs, loans and militarism are instruments of special value. It is possible to see in this series of texts translated here, the beginning of the author's observation that will later serve for the elaboration of her economic theory. Not that they developed linearly to the grand theory.

But they were the beginning of a reflection. Through them, it is possible to see that she did not ignore the existence of cartels, but abandoned them in her theoretical formulation, understanding that they were not the essence of the system, but a result.

The economic analysis texts presented here, in many moments, are very current: the relative impoverishment of workers, technological development as a means of expanding capitalism, tax issues, displacement of the world economy (are we turning to the East?), academic ideology of the bourgeoisie on economic processes, the autonomous entrepreneur. These texts, very dated, reveal to us that many of the mechanisms of capitalism at the end of the XNUMXth century are still active, making its systemic character clear.

Perhaps, even a reading with a more academic bias, for the historian, is still an economic portrait of a time that persists in telling us that we still live under capitalism, that exploited work will not end just because of the internal contradictions of the system and that capitalism will not restore human beings to their dignity.

*Rosa Rosa Gomes Master in Economic History from USP. Author of Rosa Luxemburg: Crisis and Revolution (Editorial Studio).


Rosa Luxemburg. Capitalist fraud and other writings. São Paulo, Maria Antonia Editions, 2021.


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