«Rosa Luxemburg: A Permanent Challenge for Political Economy»
Judith Dellheim in an interview with Frieder Otto Wolf, Hanna Szymborska, Jan Toporowski and Michael Brie about the new book
In autumn 2016 the British publishing house Palgrave Macmillan has released the book Rosa Luxemburg: A Permanent Challenge for Political Economy. On the History and the Present of Luxemburg's 'Accumulation of Capital'. At the same time, this publication is the first volume of the new series “Luxemburg International Studies on Political Economy”. Its story starts with a Call for papers by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in 2013. The strong echo has entered into an international workshop, at the beginning of March 2014, at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Berlin.
In the following talk with the authors Michael Brie, Hanna Szymborska, Jan Toporowski and with the co-editor Frieder Otto Wolf, the author and co-editor Judith Dellheim represents the publication.
Frieder and Jan, you have started a new book series, the "Luxemburg International Studies on Political Economy". What is the central idea behind this series? What is the major difference to other series on Political Economy which are being in these very days?
Jan Toporowski: Political Economy has become very fashionable now, for example, among political scientists and heterodox economists. However, much of this literature, and the series and journals in which the literature is published, is eclectic in its inspiration, ranging from libertarian Austrian ideas, to rather free interpretations of Marxian concepts. This series is distinctive in taking forward the systematic work in political economy from the discussions following Marx's death in 1883, to which Rosa Luxemburg contributed, and showing the relevance of those discussions to problems of capitalism today. For me the key here is the systematic methodology that derives from these discussions, rather than imaginative, but loose, thinking inspired by concepts used in nineteenth century discussions before the emergence of mature capitalism.
Frieder Otto Wolf: To my mind, the central idea of our series is that Marx has opened the way towards the emergence of the critical theory of modern societies and their material reproduction as a truly scientific endeavour; and that Luxemburg has been foremost in carrying on and renewing its critical impetus - but that this work has to be carried on and kept alive. The contemporary work in this area is (and has to be) truly international, reaching across national and linguistic communities - therefore international studies are essential for real progress in this important field. There seems to exist a narrowness of scope and of participation in other series which we try to overcome - by reaching beyond the traditional field of Marxist political economy, as well as by making sure that the authors participating do not only come from the long-established debates and circles, without excluding authors capable of taking them up in a critical and productive way.
You both have started the series by a volume on Luxemburg's "Accumulation of Capital" - just for opening the series conveniently or for any more important reason?
Jan Toporowski: Luxemburg's Accumulation of Capital is our opening title precisely because it epitomises the systematic approach to the analysis of capitalism and imperialism. Luxemburg's logic in places may be faulted. But not her project of comprehensive analysis.
Frieder Otto Wolf: Luxemburg's "Accumulation of Capital" marks a high point of the development of critical theory of modern economics and society by directly posing the theoretical problem of reproduction, which had not been fully taken up by the earlier reception of Marx's Capital - and, at the same time, it does so by really elaborating a strong theoretical groundwork based on careful historical studies, thereby avoiding the pitfalls of empiricism and theoreticism.
What are you planning to publish next in this series?
Jan Toporowski: There is planned a book on Capital Volume III. I would also like to see a book re-examining Hilferding's Finance Capital, which contains elements of the business cycle theory that have been almost completely neglected but identified issues later taken up by Kalecki and Keynes. I would also like to have published in this series more work by the Polish political economist Tadeusz Kowalik, who was greatly influenced by Luxemburg and who recognised the link between Luxemburg and the Keynesian Revolution in economic theory and policy.
Frieder Otto Wolf: Together with Judith Dellheim again, I hope to publish another collection of essays on "The Concluding Volume of Capital as a Challenge for Our Times " which would unite a comprehensive group of authors in trying to look with Luxemburg's radically critical eyes at the difficult issue of what is clearly articulated and what is missing in the concluding volume of Capital, as Engels has constructed it - at once making use of the manuscripts which have now been published completely and looking at recent theoretical developments as tools for reconstructing and prolonging Marx's theoretical arguments on the comprehensive reproduction process of capital as the dominant societal relation.
Hanna, Micha and Jan, you have contributed to the book by your own specific chapters. What has been your motivation to write this book chapter?
Hanna Szymborska: Over the past decades, high-income economies have experienced an unprecedented transformation in the nature and operations of financial sectors. Financial deregulation and securitisation on the one hand and labour market liberalisation and privatisation of public spending on the other have undermined the power of workers. The motivation for my chapter on the balance of power within capitalist economies at the turn of the century is to understand how Rosa Luxemburg’s work can help us understand and alleviate the emergent disparities.
Jan Toporowski: My motivation in writing this book chapter has been to extend international understanding of the work of Tadeusz Kowalik, who did so much to recover the Polish discussions that were set off by Luxemburg's Accumulation.
Michael Brie: Rosa Luxemburg’s “Accumulation of Capital” has opened a completely new horizon for the understanding of capitalism and its development. This is a horizon which was closed by a narrow reading of the “Capital” by Karl Marx. Under this horizon, the urgent overcoming of capitalist civilization can also be understood in a completely new manner.
What has been and still is the most significant interest you have taken and still take in this book project?
Hanna Szymborska: Due to the above-mentioned changes in financial sector operations and in policy, owners of productive and financial capital have been accumulating high-yielding assets while working and middle classes have suffered due to unsustainable debt accumulation. My interest is to understand what parallels can be drawn from Rosa Luxemburg’s theory to understand the massive disparities in wealth and income present in today’s societies.
Jan Toporowski: In terms of my own intellectual and political interests and development, the most significant interest I have in this book project is in how it reflects on my work on the Polish economist Michal Kalecki and his place in linking the Keynesian Revolution in economic theory and policy to the systematic work in Marxist political economy at the start of the twentieth century.
What has been, according to you, the specific difference between this book and the many texts which have been published so far on the famous book by Luxemburg?
Hanna Szymborska: The present book is unique in that in presents a concise and comprehensive overview of Luxemburg’s “The Accumulation of Capital” by leading experts in the field, explaining not only the intricacies of her theory but also its lasting importance and relevance for the problems of today’s capitalism.
Michael Brie: Starting from the analyses of the debates which were triggered off by Rosa Luxemburg, more than hundred years ago, I am interested in understanding the urgently needed socio-ecological transformation as a complex process that fundamentally changes the mode of production, the ways of life and the system of property and power relations. Such a transformation process must start under capitalism, but must go beyond it.
Jan Toporowski: The specific difference between this book and other books published on Luxemburg's Accumulation is that this book goes beyond historical archive work, which is important but for details rather than for systematic knowledge, and as well for a sound criticism of Luxemburg's logic, as for a historical reconstruction of past events. There is a necessary discussion around the role of money, trade, distribution and aggregate demand in today's crisis of capitalism that can be most effectively approached from studying the work of Rosa Luxemburg.
To Hanna, to Jan, to Frieder: What do you expect from the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation with regard to the book and to the series?
Hanna Szymborska: To continue drawing lessons from Rosa Luxemburg’s work for dealing with the challenges of capitalism today and to disseminate and revive the interest in Luxemburg among economists, politicians and intellectuals.
Jan Toporowski: The key contribution of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation is in facilitating these discussions, bringing together policy-makers and activists with experts and younger researchers, to bring a clear contemporary focus on the book and on the series. The Foundation can promote the book and the series in its international activities. Finally, and this comes out of the experience with the first book in the series, the Foundation can ease publication with editorial assistance.
Frieder Otto Wolf: Before everything else, I also expect that the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation will create a space for exchange between committed researchers and political activists on the left - and that it will ever and again make an effort to sharpen these debates to be politically relevant, making their points in a perspective of liberation. And if it did everything that was needed to spread the news about this on-going work, I should be happy indeed!