Rosa Luxemburg pp 103-111 | Cite as

The Historic Conditions of Capital Accumulation

  • Tadeusz Kowalik
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Economic Thought book series (PHET)


We recall Rosa Luxemburg’s critical remarks on the Marxian analysis of capitalism: the accusation of ignoring the role of money in the reproduction of total capital; assuming identity between production and conditions of realization as well as between realization and accumulation of surplus value; the omission of growth of the organic composition of capital, etc. Her criticisms concerned either exclusively the expanded reproduction scheme or the form of analysis that we find in the last part of the second volume of Capital. Her frequent argument was that the Marxian analysis of reproduction and of the circular movement of aggregate social capital contained in the II volume of Capital contradicts the analysis found in other parts of Marx’s work.


Capital Accumulation Capitalist Production Natural Economy Capitalist Country Commodity Exchange 
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  1. 1.
    P.M. Sweezy wrote: ‘Rosa Luxemburg’s theory is open to criticism from several different angles; one error in particular, however, overshadows the rest: in discussing expanded reproduction she implicitly retains the assumptions of simple reproduction. The dogma, which she never questions for a moment, that the consumption of workers can realize no surplus value implies that the total amount of variable capital, and hence also the consumption of workers, must always remain fixed and constant as in simple reproduction. Actually accumulation typically involves adding to variable capital, and when this additional variable capital is spent by workers it realizes a part of the surplus value which has the physical form of consumption goods. Since Rosa Luxemburg did not understand this, it seemed to her that consumption could not increase within the framework of capitalism ... Since, however, the constancy of consumption rests on nothing more substantial than Rosa Luxemburg’s own logical inflexibility, the whole theory collapses like a house of cards. Bukharin’s witty remark is still the most telling criticism of her theoretical structure: “If one excludes expanded reproduction at the beginning of a logical proof”, he wrote, “it is naturally easy to make it disappear at the end; it is simply a question of the simple reproduction of a simple logical error”’ (Sweezy, P.M. (1962) The Theory of Capitalist Development, 4th edition, London: Dobson Books Ltd, pp. 204–5).Google Scholar
  2. The same argumentation, along with Bukharin’s witty remark, is repeated by Sweezy in the foreword to a recent Italian edition of R. Luxemburg’s work (Sweezy, P.M. (1960) ‘Introduzione’, in: Luxemburg, Rosa (1960) L’accumulazione del capitale, Turin, p. XXVIII),Google Scholar
  3. as well as in his recent article (Sweezy, P.M. (1967) ‘Rosa Luxemburg’s The Accumulation of Capital’, Science and Society, 31(4), p. 482).Google Scholar
  4. It was precisely this criticism which Joan Robinson had in mind when she wrote that Rosa Luxemburg’s theory was often depicted as ‘irredeemable nonsense’ (Robinson, J. (1951) ‘Introduction’. In: Luxemburg, R. (2003) The Accumulation of Capital, London: Routledge Classics, p. xxix).Google Scholar
  5. 2.
    For example, Michał Kalecki wrote: ‘Capturing of new foreign markets is frequently mentioned as a way out of depression. But it is usually not added that what is essential in this context is an increase in the export surplus rather than in absolute export’ (Kalecki M. (1969) ‘On Foreign Trade and “Domestic Exports”’. In: Studies in the Theory of Business Cycles 1933–1939, Basil Blackwell, p. 16).Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2014

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  • Tadeusz Kowalik

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