A Tasteless Stew

✑ ROSA LUXEMBURG` ╱ ± 22 minutes
Made from the leftovers of a hodgepodge of scientific notions.


If it is the task of economics to elucidate the laws regulating the rise of capitalism, then, to be consistent, economics must also discover the laws of the decline of capitalism. Instead, bourgeois professors of economics serve up a tasteless stew ― not intending to explore the real tendencies of capitalism, at all.


From: Rosa Luxemburg Speaks. ╱ About the author(+)
Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) was a Polish-German marxist economist, revolutionary socialist and active in several political organizations and political parties. She wrote a number of books among which The Accumulation of Capital (1913) on economics. She was captured and killed by the German Freikorps in 1919 during the German Revolution of 1918-19.
Editor’s note: Originally published as the chapter "What is Economics?" in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, based on lectures given at the party school of the SPD between 1907-12.

Large transformations in the economic life of the European peoples took place at the close of the Middle Ages, inaugurating the new mode of production.

After the discovery of America and the circumnavigation of Africa, i.e., after the discovery of the maritime route to India, had brought an undreamed-of flowering and also a relocation of the trade routes, the breakup of feudalism and of the domination of the towns by the guilds made rapid strides. The tremendous discoveries, conquests, plundering forays into the newly discovered countries, the sudden large influx of precious metals from the new continent, the extensive spice trade with India, the voluminous slave trade which supplied African Negroes to American plantations: all of these factors created new riches and new desires in Western Europe, in a very short period of time. The small workshop of the guild artisan, with its thousand-and-one restrictions, became a brake on the necessary increase of production and on its rapid progress. The big merchants overcame this obstacle by assembling the craftsmen in large manufactures beyond the jurisdiction of the cities; under the supervision of the merchants, relieved of the restrictive regulations of the guilds, the mechanics produced quicker and better.

In England, the new mode of production was introduced by a revolution in agriculture. The flowering of the wool manufactures in Flanders and the concomitant large demand for wool gave the English rural nobility the impulse for transforming large areas of previously tilled land into sheep walks; during this process the English peasantry was driven from its homes and fields on the most extensive scale imaginable. The Reformation worked in a similar manner. After the confiscation of church property in land ― either given away as presents or dissipated by the court nobility and by speculators ― the peasants living on this land were also driven from it, to a large extent. Thus, the manufacturers and the capitalist farmers found an abundant supply of impoverished proletarians who stood outside any feudal or guild regulations. After an extended period of martyrdom, as vagabonds or as laborers in the public workhouses, having been cruelly persecuted by law and by the police, these poor wretches found refuge in the harbor of wage slavery toiling for a new class of exploiters. Soon thereafter, the great technological revolutions took place which permitted the increased utilization of unskilled wage workers who worked alongside the highly skilled artisans, if they did not replace them entirely.

On every side, the budding and ripening of the new relations encountered feudal encumbrances and the misery of wretched conditions. The natural economy, on which feudalism was based and which flowed from its very essence, and the pauperization of the great masses of the people, caused by the unchecked pressure of serfdom, restricted the internal outlets of manufactured commodities. The guilds, in the meanwhile, hamstrung and fettered the most important condition of production: labor power. The state apparatus, split into an infinite number of political fragments, incapable of guaranteeing public safety, and the welter of tariff and commercial regulations curbed and molested the new commerce and the new mode of production at every step.

It was evident that, in one way or another, the rising bourgeoisie of Western Europe, as the representative of free world trade and of manufacturing, had to abolish these hindrances ― unless it wanted to renounce its world-historic mission completely. Before smashing feudalism to smithereens in the Great French Revolution, the bourgeoisie settled accounts with feudalism intellectually, and the new science of economics thus originates as one of the most important ideological weapons of the bourgeoisie as it struggles with the medieval state and for a modern capitalist class state. The developing economic order appeared first under the guise of new, rapidly-acquired riches which flooded society in Western Europe and which stemmed from sources much more lucrative and seemingly inexhaustible and quite different from the patriarchal methods of feudal exploitation-which, moreover, had seen its best day. At first, the most propitious source of the new affluence was, not the new mode of production itself, but its pacemaker: the great upswing in commerce. It is for this reason that in the most important centers of world trade in the opulent Italian commercial republics and in Spain, the first questions of economics are posed and the first attempts at their solution are made.
The new science of economics thus originates as one of the most important ideological weapons of the bourgeoisie as it struggles with the medieval state and for a modern capitalist class state.
What is wealth? What makes a state poor, what makes it rich? This was the new problem ― after the old concepts of feudal society had lost their traditional validity in the maelstrom of new relations. Wealth is gold with which one can buy anything. It is commerce which creates wealth. Those states will become wealthy which are able to import great quantities of gold and which permit none of it to leave the country. World trade, colonial conquests in the New World, manufactures which produce for export-these are the undertakings which must be fostered; the import of foreign products which lure gold out of the country must be prohibited. These were the first teachings of economics, which appear in Italy as early as the end of the sixteenth century and which gain popularity in England and in France in the seventeenth century. And crude as this doctrine still was, it represented the first open break with the ideas of the feudal natural economy and its first bold criticism ― the first idealization of trade, of commodity production, and therewith of ― capital; the first political program to the liking of the ascendant young bourgeoisie.

Soon, rather than the merchant, it is the commodity producing capitalist who steps to the fore ― as yet quite cautiously, under the guise of the seedy servant waiting in the antechamber of the feudal prince. Wealth is not gold, at all, the French enlighteners of the eighteenth century proclaim, gold is merely a medium of exchange for commodities. What an infantile delusion to perceive in the shining metal the magic wand for peoples and for states! Is the metal able to feed me when I am hungry; can it protect me from the cold when I am freezing? Did not the Persian king Darius suffer the hellish torments of thirst while holding golden treasures in his arms, and would he not gladly have exchanged them for a drink of water? No, wealth is the bounty of nature in food and in those substances with which everyone, king and beggar, gratifies his wants. The more luxuriously the populace satisfies its needs, the richer will be the state ― because the more taxes can then be pocketed by the state.

And who procures the wheat for the bread, the fibers with which we weave our clothes, the wood and the ores with which we build our houses and our tools? ― Agriculture! Agriculture, not trade, constitutes the real source of riches! The mass of the agricultural population, the peasantry, the people who create the wealth of everyone else must be rescued from feudal exploitation and elevated to prosperity! (So that I might find buyers for my commodities, the manufacturing capitalist would add softly under his breath.) The great landed lords, the feudal barons, should be the only ones to pay taxes and to support the state, since all the wealth produced by agriculture flows through their hands! (So that I, who ostensibly do not create any wealth, do not have to pay taxes, the capitalist would slyly murmur to himself!) Agriculture, labor on the farm needs only to be freed from all the restraints of feudalism in order that the fountain of riches may gush in all its natural bounteousness for state and nation. And then will come the greatest happiness of all the people, the harmony of nature will have been reestablished in the world.

The approaching thunderclouds, heralding the storming of the Bastille, were already clearly visible in these teachings of the enlighteners. Soon, the capitalist bourgeoisie felt itself powerful enough to take off its mask of submissiveness and to put itself squarely in the foreground demanding point-blank the remodeling of the entire state in its own image. Agriculture is not the sole source of wealth, at all, Adam Smith proclaims in England, at the close of the eighteenth century. Any wage labor which is engaged in commodity production creates wealth! (Any labor, Adam Smith said ― and thereby he shows to what degree he and his disciples had turned into mere mouthpieces for the bourgeoisie; for him and his successors the laboring man was already by nature a wage worker for the capitalist!) Because wage labor, on top of the necessary wages for the maintenance of the worker, also creates the rent for the maintenance of the landlord and a profit besides, for the enrichment of the owner of capital, for the boss. And wealth becomes increased, the more workers there are in the workshops under the thumb of capital; the more detailed and painstakingly the division of labor among them has been carried out.

This, then, was the real harmony of nature, the real wealth of nations; any labor resolves itself into a wage for the workers, which keeps them barely alive and obliges them to continuing wage labor; rent, which suffices to provide the landlords with a carefree existence; and a profit, which keeps the boss in good humor so that he will persevere in his business enterprise. In this fashion, everyone is provided for without having to utilize the crude methods of feudalism. "The wealth of nations," then, is fostered when the wealth of the capitalist entrepreneur is promoted ― the boss who keeps everything in operation, who taps the golden source of wealth: wage labor. Therefore: away with all the fetters and restrictions of the old good times and also with the recently instituted paternal protective measures of the state. Free competition, a free hand for private capital, the entire fiscal and state apparatus in the service of the capitalist employer ― and everything will turn out for the best, in the best of all possible worlds.
The young German economist Marwitz wrote in the year 1810 that next to Napoleon, Adam Smith was the mightiest ruler in Europe.
This, then, was the economic gospel of the bourgeoisie, divested of all its disguises ― and the science of economics had been stripped down to where it showed its real physiognomy. Of course, the practical reform proposals and the suggestions which the bourgeoisie offered the feudal states failed as miserably as all historic attempts to pour new wine into old bottles have always failed. The hammer of revolution achieved in twenty-four hours, what half a century of patchwork could not achieve. It was the conquest of political power which put the ways and means of its rule into the hands of the bourgeoisie. But economics like all the philosophical, legal, and social theories of the Age of Enlightenment, and first and foremost among them, was a method of gaining consciousness, a source of bourgeois class consciousness. As such it was a precondition and a spur to revolutionary action. Even in its remotest offshoots, the bourgeois task of remodelling the world was fed by the ideas of classical political economy. In England, during the storm and stress period of the struggle for free trade, the bourgeoisie received its arguments from the arsenal of Smith-Ricardo. And the reforms of the Stein-Hardenburg-Scharnhorst period (in post-Napoleonic Germany), which were an attempt to put the feudal rubbish of Prussia into some kind of viable shape after the blows it had received from Napoleon at Jena, likewise took their ideas from the teachings of the English classical economists ― the young German economist Marwitz wrote in the year 1810 that next to Napoleon, Adam Smith was the mightiest ruler in Europe.

If we understand at this point why the science of economics originated only about a century and a half ago, then, from the vantage point gained, we will also be able to construct its subsequent fate. If economics is a science dealing with the particular laws of the capitalist mode of production, then its reason for existence and its function are bound to the life span of the latter and economics will lose its base as soon as that mode of production will have ceased to exist. In other words, economics as a science will have accomplished its mission as soon as the anarchistic economy of capitalism has made way for a planful, organized economic order which will be systematically directed and managed by the entire working force of mankind. The victory of the modern working class and the realization of socialism will be the end of economics as a science. We see here the special bond between economics and the class struggle of the modern proletariat.

If it is the task and the subject matter of economics to elucidate the laws regulating the rise, growth, and extension of the capitalist mode of production, then it flows inexorably that, to be consistent, economics must also discover the laws of the decline of capitalism. Like previous modes of production, capitalism is not eternal, but a transitory historic phase, a rung in the never-ending ladder of social progress. The teachings about the rise of capitalism must logically transform themselves into the teachings about the fall of capitalism; the science of the capitalist mode of production becomes the scientific proof of socialism; the theoretical instrument of the inception of bourgeois class rule becomes a weapon in the revolutionary class struggle waged for the emancipation of the proletariat.
The teachings about the rise of capitalism must logically transform themselves into the teachings about the fall of capitalism; the science of the capitalist mode of production becomes the scientific proof of socialism.
This second portion of the general problem of economics, of course, was solved neither by the French nor by the English, nor much less by the German wise men of the bourgeois classes. The final conclusions of the science analyzing the capitalist mode of production were drawn by a man who, from the very beginning, stood on the watchtower of the revolutionary proletariat ― Karl Marx. For the first time, socialism and the modern labor movement were constructed on the indestructible rock of scientific insight.

As an ideal about a social order built on equality and fraternity for all men, as an ideal about a communist commonwealth, socialism was thousands of years old. Among the first apostles of Christianity, among the various religious sects of the Middle Ages, in the peasant wars, the socialist ideal had always flared up as the most radical expression of the revolt against contemporaneous society. But as an ideal which could be advocated at all times, in any historical milieu, socialism was only the beautiful vision of a few enthusiasts, a golden fantasy, always out of reach, like the airy image of the rainbow in the skies.

At the close of the eighteenth and in the beginning of the nineteenth centuries, the socialist idea, freed from all religious sectarian frenzy, as a reaction to the horrors and the devastations which ascendant capitalism perpetrated in society, appeared for the first time with real force behind it. But, even at that time, socialism basically was only a dream, the invention of a few bold minds. If we listen to the first vanguard fighter of the revolutionary upheavals set into motion by the proletariat, Gracchus Babeuf, who attempted a coup de main during the Great French Revolution for the purpose of introducing social equality forcibly, then we shall find that the sole argument on which he is able to base his communist aspirations is the crying injustice of the existing social order. In his impassioned articles, pamphlets, and also in his defense plea before the tribunal which sentenced him to death, he never tired of picking the contemporary social order to pieces. His gospel of socialism consists of an indictment of society, the denunciation of the sufferings and the torments, the wretchedness and the debasement of the working masses, on whose backs a handful of idlers grow wealthy and rule society. For Babeuf, it was enough that the existing social order well deserved to perish, i.e., it could have been overthrown a hundred years previous to his time, if only a group of determined men had been found who would seize the state power and who would introduce the regime of equality ― just as the Jacobins seized political power in 1793 and introduced the republic.

In the 1820s and 1830s, socialist ideas were represented with a great deal more genius and brilliance by three great thinkers: Saint-Simon and Fourier in France, Owen in England. They based themselves on altogether different methods and yet, in essence, on the same line of reasoning as Babeuf. Of course, not one of the above-mentioned men thought even remotely of any revolutionary seizure of power for the realization of socialism. On the contrary, like the entire generation which followed the Great Revolution, they were disappointed with social overthrows and with politics, becoming express adherents of purely pacifist means and propaganda. But the postulation of the socialist idea was the same in all of them; basically, it was only a scheme, the vision of an ingenious mind who prescribes its realization to suffering humanity, for the purpose of rescuing it from the hell of the bourgeois social order.

Thus, in spite of all the power of their criticism and the magic of their futuristic ideals, these socialist ideas remained without any noticeable influence on the real movements and struggles of the times. With a handful of friends, Babeuf perished in the counterrevolutionary tidal wave, without leaving a trace, other than a short, shining inscription on the pages of revolutionary history. Saint-Simon and Fourier succeeded in establishing sects of enthusiastic and talented followers who ― having sown rich and fertile seeds of social ideas, criticism and experiments ― went their separate ways, looking for greener pastures. Of them all, Owen gained the greatest hold on the proletarian masses, but, after having attracted an elite group of English workers in the 1830s and 1840s, his influence also vanishes with hardly a trace.

A new generation of socialist leaders emerged in the 1840s: Weitling in Germany, Proudhon, Louis Blanc, Blanqui in France. The working class itself had begun to take up the struggle against the clutches of capital; the class struggle had been initiated by the revolts of the silk weavers of Lyons in France, by the Chartist movement in England. However, there existed no direct link between the spontaneous movements of the exploited masses and the various socialist theories. The proletarian masses in revolt did not have a socialist goal in view, nor did the socialist theoreticians attempt to base their ideas on the political struggle of the working class. Their socialism was to be instituted by certain cunningly devised artifices, like Proudhon's People's Bank or Louis Blanc's productive associations. The only socialist who looked on the political struggle as an end towards the realization of the social revolution was Blanqui; this made him the only real representative of the proletariat and of its revolutionary class interests at the time. But, basically, even his socialism was only a scheme ― attainable at will ― as the fruition of the iron determination of a revolutionary minority and the outcome of a sudden coup d'etat carried through by the same minority.

The year 1848 was to be the high point and also the critical moment for the older socialism of all varieties. The Parisian proletariat, influenced by the traditions of preceding revolutionary struggles, agitated by the various socialist systems, passionately espoused some nebulous notions about a just social order. As soon as the bourgeois kingdom of Louis Philippe had been overthrown, the Parisian workers utilized the favorable relationship of forces to demand the realization of the "social republic" and a new "division of labor" from the terrified bourgeoisie. The provisional government was granted the famous three months period of grace for complying with these demands; and for three months the workers starved and waited, while the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie secretly armed themselves and prepared to crush the workers. The period of grace ended with the memorable June massacre in which the ideal of a "social republic," attainable at will at any time, was drowned in the blood of the Parisian proletariat. The revolution of 1848 did not institute the reign of social equality, but rather the political domination of the bourgeoisie and an unforeseen growth of capitalist exploitation under the Second Empire.

But, at the same time, while socialism of the old stripe seemed to be buried forever under the smashed barricades of the June insurrection, the socialist idea was placed on a completely new foundation by Marx and Engels. Neither of the latter two looked for arguments in favor of socialism in the moral depravity of the existing social order nor did they try to smuggle social equality into the country by means of inventing new and tempting schemes. They turned to the examination of the economic relations of society. There, in the very laws of capitalist anarchy, Marx discovered the real substantiation of socialist aspirations. While the French and English classicists of economics had discovered the laws according to which capitalist economy lives and grows, Marx continued their work a half century later, starting where they had left off. He discovered how these same laws regulating the present economy work towards its collapse, by the increasing anarchy which more and more endangers the very existence of society itself, by assembling a chain of devastating economic and political catastrophes. As Marx demonstrated, the inherent tendencies of capitalist development, at a certain point of their maturity, necessitate the transition to a planful mode of production consciously organized by the entire working force of society ― in order that all of society and human civilization might not perish in the convulsions of uncontrolled anarchy. And this fateful hour is hastened by capital, at an ever-increasing rate, by mobilizing its future gravediggers, the proletarians, in ever greater numbers, by extending its domination to all countries of the globe, by establishing a chaotic world economy, and by laying the foundation for the solidarity of the proletariat of all countries into one revolutionary world power which shall sweep aside the class rule of capital. Socialism ceased being a scheme, a pretty fancy, or an experiment carried out in each country by isolated groups of workers, each on its own hook. As the common political program of action for the entire international proletariat, socialism becomes a historic necessity, because it is a result of the operation of the very laws of capitalist development.
The Marxian doctrine is a child of bourgeois economics, but its birth cost the mother's life.
It should be apparent by now, why Marx put his own economic teachings outside the pale of official economics, and named them A Critique of Political Economy. The laws of capitalist anarchy and of its future collapse which were developed by Marx are only the logical continuation of the science of economics as it had been created by the bourgeois scholars, but a continuation which, in its final conclusions, is in polar opposition to the point of departure of the wise men of the bourgeoisie. The Marxian doctrine is a child of bourgeois economics, but its birth cost the mother's life. In Marxist theory, economics found its perfection, but also its end as a science. What will follow ― apart from the elaboration of Marxist theory in details ― is only the metamorphosis of this theory into action, i.e., the struggle of the international proletariat for the institution of the socialist economic order. The consummation of economics as a science constitutes a world-historic task: its application in organizing a planful world economy. The last chapter of economics will be the social revolution of the world proletariat.

The special bond between economics and the modern working class is shown to be a reciprocal relation. If, on the one hand, the science of economics, as it was perfected by Marx, is, more than any other science, the indispensable basis of proletarian enlightenment, then, on the other hand, the class conscious proletariat is the only receptive audience these days capable of understanding the teachings of scientific economics. With the crumbling ruins of the old feudal society still before their eyes, the Quesnays and Boisguilleherts of France, the Adam Smiths and Ricardos of England surveyed the young bourgeois order with pride and enthusiasm, and with faith in the coming millenium of the bourgeoisie and its "natural" social harmony, without trepidation, they permitted their eagle eyes to scan the depths of the economic laws of capitalism.

But the growing impact of the proletarian class struggle, and especially the June insurrection of the Parisian proletariat, has long since destroyed the faith of bourgeois society in its own godlikeness. Since it has eaten of the tree of knowledge and learned about modern class contradictions, the bourgeoisie abhors the classic nakedness in which the creators of its own classical political economy once depicted it, for all the world to see. The bourgeoisie became conscious of the fact that the spokesmen of the modern proletariat had forged their deadly weapons from the arsenal of classical political economy.
The bourgeois professors serve up a tasteless stew made from the leftovers of a hodgepodge of scientific notions and intentional circumlocutions ― not intending to explore the real tendencies of capitalism, at all.
Thus, it has come about that for decades not only has socialist economics preached to the deaf ears of the propertied classes, but bourgeois economics, to the extent that it once was a real science, has done the same. Unable to comprehend the teachings of their own great forebears, and even less able to accept Marxist teachings which flowed from them and which, moreover, sound the deathknell for bourgeois society, the bourgeois professors serve up a tasteless stew made from the leftovers of a hodgepodge of scientific notions and intentional circumlocutions ― not intending to explore the real tendencies of capitalism, at all. On the contrary, they try only to send up a smoke screen for the purpose of defending capitalism as the best of all economic orders, and the only possible one.

Forgotten and forsaken by bourgeois society, scientific economics can find its listeners only among class-conscious proletarians, to find among them not only theoretical understanding but also concomitant action. The famous saying of Lassalle is applicable first and foremost to economics: "When science and the workers, these two opposite poles of society, shall embrace, they shall crush in their arms all social obstacles."


Top image: Alfred Marshall (1842 - 1942), known as one of the founders of neoclassical economics. From: Wikimedia

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