a centennial update with additions from long wave theory and Karl Polanyi’s Great Transformation – Published on Linke Zeitung (left journal), by Ingo Schmidt, August 15, 2013.

The period of economic and political crises that began with the Wall Street crash in 2007 in many ways resembles the conditions of global capitalism at the time Rosa Luxemburg published her Accumulation of Capital. This article argues that Luxemburg’s political economy entails the theoretical tools necessary to understand capitalist development since the early 20th century and that capitalism indeed faces as great a crisis as it did at that time.  

Amended by ideas from long wave theory and Polanyi’s concept of a great transformation, the article analyzes the subsequent Keynesian and neoliberal waves of accumulation and the crises that led from on to the other. It concludes that no further capitalist expansion is readily possible at this time.

Reading Accumulation of Capital today:

Rosa Luxemburg’s Accumulation of Capital (AC),1   published in 1913, speaks to different audiences. Economists will look at her discussion of Marx’s schemes of reproduction in part 1 of AC. They may be surprised about Luxemburg’s use of mathematics*Joseph Schumpeter had published his Theory of Economic Devel- opment2 two years earlier without using any formulas*and find similarities between Marx’s and Luxemburg’s analyses of capital accumulation and the two-sector growth models that were discussed in the 1960s and 1970s. Economic historians should be fascinated by the way Luxemburg discusses the interrelated developments of economic theories and their policy implications against the background of the industrialization of England, Germany and Russia in the second part of the book. Unless they are specialists in the history of economic thought, they may actually be surprised that Luxemburg presents a whole series of demand-side theorists* Malthus, Sismondi, Rodbertus, Nikolayon and Vorontsov*who can be, in one way or another, considered as forerunners of John Maynard Keynes. They may be even more surprised that the family tree of supply-side economists from Say and Ricardo to today’s neoclassical economists contains the Russian Marxists Struve, Bulgakov and Tugan-Baranovski. In the last part of AC, Luxemburg looks at the capitalist penetration of, and imperialist expansion into, non-capitalist economies and concludes that, once all of the latter are integrated into the circuits of capital accumulation, a period of recurrent economic crises and social and political conflict will begin. Reading this part of AC, sociologists may wonder whether Luxemburg was an early theorist of modernization, whereas anthropologists may be impressed with her sensitivity to the plight of traditional societies when they were confronted by the powers of modernization. Finally, progressive activists may have de´ ja` vu moments from Luxemburg’s analyses of international finance, militarism and crises. What she wrote about these issues a century ago reads like speeches given at anti-International Monetary Fund or anti-war rallies today.

From contemplative academics to zealous activists, people reading AC a century: … //

… Getting the Theories Ready: Luxemburg, Kondratiev, Trotsky and Polanyi Luxemburg’s Accumulation of Capital: … //

… Kondratiev and Trotsky on Long Waves of Capital Accumulation: … //

… Polanyi and the Great Transformation: … //

… Understanding Capitalism from the Publication of Accumulation of Capital until Today:

  • The Keynesian Wave of Accumulation: … //
  • … The Neoliberal Wave of accumulation: … //

… However, this did not mean that the contradictions inherent in the neoliberal mode of accumulation were overcome. Financial markets continued to boost profit expectations far and above the profits that a continuous wage-squeeze and the privatization of public services and enterprises generated. The series of financial crises that, since the original debt crisis of the early 1980s, had seized the South and the former Soviet East eventually produced a ‘crisis in the heartland’.80 The Wall Street crash in 2008 ushered a cyclical downturn into the Great Recession of 2008 2009 and led to a raiding of public coffers so that the crisis of private finances was transformed into a fiscal crisis of the state. With this, the neoliberal wave of accumulation had gone full circle and ended exactly where it had started. Yet, unlike in the early 1980s when public austerity proved to be a lever for capitalist expansion into the de- commodified territories of welfare and developmental states, no measure of austerity taken since the Great Recession could open new markets for further expansion. Capitalist accumulation has reached its limits*again, Luxemburg’s conclusion in AC rings as true today as it did in 1913: ‘accumulation can go on no longer’ and capitalist history, therefore, ‘becomes a string of political and social disasters and convulsions’.81

(full long, long text, notes 1-81 and a graph).

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