100th Anniversary of “The Accumulation of Capital: A Contribution to an Economic Explanation of Imperialism”: A Century-Old Work Remains Current, Provocative and Seminal

Rosa19.5.A hundred years since the first Berlin edition of “The Accumulation of Capital: A Contribution to an Economic Explanation of Imperialism,” no one needs a commemorative address to introduce the work. The work is still being referenced by scholars, writers and people all around the world who fight for democracy and justice; for a life of dignity, solidarity and ecological responsibility; and for socialism. Its continued prominence is a tribute to its author, her academic methodology and the topicality of the questions she posed, yet also demonstrates a corresponding weakness in the modern Left, particularly among socialists.

Rosa Luxemburg, one of the most fascinating characters in the struggle for freedom in equality, radically criticised capitalism’s social relations and capital accumulation, and fought equally radically against the resulting outcomes of human oppression and natural destruction. After her murder on 15 January 1919 by her political enemies, her legacy lived on, as it still does today: both her writings and the political, scholarly and cultural interest she inspires. It continues to educate, to motivate political engagement and to foment communication and collaboration.

As a player among the institutions of the Democratic Left, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation takes responsibility for promoting political education, networking those critical of capitalism, and uniting strengths between and across national boundaries for the sake of emancipation and solidarity. The foundation sees the centennial of its namesake’s publication first of all as an opportunity to use Luxemburg’s work to initiate discussion about today’s globalised (financial) capital accumulation, the economy’s increasing financialisation and the main players involved – modern oligarchies of capital. Second, it is relevant to examine how the debate on land grabbing has been or may be used to support efforts for a social and ecological transformation by local and regional EU, European and global movements/alliances against social and ecological destruction. Third, we ask what lessons can be learned from the fact that a concept subject to critique is promoted as theoretical, political insight. In this connection methodical and methodological questions are of highest interest, especially the work using mathematic models.  


The five theses below endeavour to explain the questions more clearly and invite a continued exchange of ideas:


       Rosa Luxemburg saw the rise and development of capitalist production methods as a production of violence; as expansion, conquering, annihilation and violent upheaval of social milieus; and as a form of socialisation that ostracises people socially and destroys progressive, natural and social living conditions.

Her concept of “land grabbing,” which ties the complete implementation of newly created added value to the existence and conquering of precapitalist socio-economic milieus, must be viewed critically and can be adjusted. Such critique is necessary to explain the accumulation of capital in view of the capital relationships that have since arisen. It is possible to adjust the theory because Luxemburg studied the basic relationships of capitalist production methods in their historical development, revealing the players in the accumulation process along with their interests and behaviour. Thus she demonstrated why members of society who produce and circulate added value can also be interested in the development of productive forces under freedom in equality.


       Luxemburg’s “land grabbing” can be interpreted as resource procurement, exploitation of new opportunities such as spaces for utilising tangible capital and as the securing of societal or socio-political preconditions for capital accumulation, for capitalist production methods.

Adopting her understanding of socialist policy, theoretical work must constantly interrogate and search for courses of action for players promoting emancipation and solidarity, while considering their consequences.

The concept of land grabbing is helpful in two ways. First, it aids the communication and collaboration of scholars studying (financial) capital accumulation, financialisation, and critiques of modern growth and capitalism. Second, it is a practical working concept for social and political alliances. “End the land grab!” can be a lasting offensive battle cry, helping create solidarity among those attacked and oppressed socially and globally in matching, similar and widely divergent ways.


       Financialisation can be explained as a specific form of land grabbing and thus as a response to (financial) capital’s need to reproduce itself. It proceeds as follows: a) Financial relationships expand with the growth of the societal distribution of labour/socialisation and capital accumulation or capitalist forms of production. b) Liquid money or monetary capital is transformed into interest-bearing capital, a.k.a. “fictitious capital”. This is concentrated, centralised, and transported by financial institutions. c) Money is circulated by financial market players and financial markets, and the entire society’s production and reproduction process is permeated by financial market players and financial operations. This changes production, distribution, circulation and consumption, and increases problems in reproduction and implicit contradictions. d) Financial market players and operations permeate society. e) Financial market players and operations have a consistent or growing determining effect on the socialisation of production, the economic sphere and both private and social life.

On the one hand, the enactment of the forms of financialisation reflects their development, the transformation of capital relationships, the capitalist production methods and the social lifestyle. On the other hand, it also reflects varying uses of the term.

If financialisation is placed in the context of the socialisation of work, the economic sphere and both individual and collective daily life, we must analyse the full complexity of the development of capital relationships, i.e. the private and collective appropriation of work products created by society. 


       Transnational Corporations (TNCs) are leading players in globalisation, financialisation and land grabbing. This is not “merely” because they mobilise, concentrate, circulate, redistribute, expropriate and centralise interest-bearing a.k.a. fictional capital around the world. At the same time, they have intellectual property and organisational strength, as they influence and exploit the WTO, other international organisations and governments in the regulation of world trade and investment protection. To those ends, and in so doing, they create and reproduce informal networks with the most powerful global players.


       The modern capital oligarchy is the alliance or identity of relatives of financial institutions, owners and managers of TNCs, corporations of key economic importance (especially manufacturers in the energy, transportation, agribusiness, “security” and high-tech sectors) and umbrella organisations of the hegemony or social preconditions this requires (“government/security/military”, “law”, “culture and intellectual life”, “media”), acting together to promote the best possible exploitation of financial capital. This oligarchy is a result of social development, a prerequisite of financial capital accumulation, of globalised socialisation of work, production and reproduction in the destructive capitalist shell.


As an intellectual exchange on these questions and theses, those interested are asked to submit texts of up to 10,000 words written in German or English by 1. December 2013. These texts will be used as the basis for an international workshop to be held on 7.- 9. March 2014, in Berlin. From the point of view of content the workshop will give impulses to the Rosa Luxemburg Study Days. In 2014 they will be focused on the war.

The workshop will also acknowledge the academic and political work of Frieder Otto Wolf, who has been a close partner of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation for many years and celebrated his 70th birthday in February 2013.


Contact: Judith Dellheim, dellheim@rosalux.de

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