Sunday, February 12, 2012

Rosa Luxemburg & Marxist theory

Rosa Luxemburg: Barbarism and the Collapse of Capitalism

Norman Geras

‘Capitalism, by mightily furthering the development of the productive forces, and in virtue of its inherent contradictions, . . . provide(s) an excellent soil for the historical progress of society towards new economic and social forms.’ Rosa Luxemburg [1].

‘No medicinal herbs can grow in the dirt of capitalist society which can help cure capitalist anarchy.’ Rosa Luxemburg. [2]

‘In her work we see how the last flowering of capitalism is transformed into a ghastly dance of death.’ Georg Lukacs. [3]

Amongst the misconceptions by which Rosa Luxemburg’s thought has been deformed, the most widespread and tenacious is, without doubt, that which attributes to her a thesis going variously under the names of determinism, fatalism and spontaneism. [4] Any one of a number of her real or alleged views can be cited as the manifestation or consequence of this thesis: her emphasis on mass spontaneity; her underestimation of the importance of organization and of leadership; her belief that class consciousness is the simple and direct product of the class struggle of the masses. But what is generally regarded as its ultimate source and cited as definitive proof of its existence is her theory of capitalist breakdown, according to which the contradictions of capitalism must lead, eventually, but also automatically and inevitably, to its complete collapse. Now, there are problems about the very meaning of this notion of final collapse and these will be taken up later on. For the moment it suffices to record that its attribution to Luxemburg is perfectly well founded, for the notion is integral to her thought.

Thus, it is one of the major and recurring themes of her interventions in the great revisionist controversy at the turn of the century. During the ‘Bernstein debate’ which took place at the Hanover Congress of the spd in 1899, she argued that it was precisely ‘the concept of a breakdown, of a social catastrophe . . . a cataclysm’ that distinguished Marxism from reformist gradualism. [5] The same point was emphasized in her most important work of the period, Social Reform or Revolution, in which the theory of capita