Hermann Duncker 1925

Book Review

Rosa Luxemburg: "Introduction to National Economy"[1]

Source: International Press Correspondence, Vol 5, No. 33, April 16, 1925, p. 442.
Online Version: Marxists Internet Archive 2021
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Rosa Luxemburg's textbook on national economy, awaited with intense interest for years, has at last been published. But unfortunately in a form which only serves to further intensify the tragedy surrounding Rosa Luxemburg's life work. For the book, published from posthumus papers, is unfinished. The murderers, aided, by the Ebert Republic, struck the pen out of Rosa Luxemburg's hand, and probably carried away or destroyed parts of her manuscripts. And the work is published by Paul Levi, a man from whom Rosa Luxemburg would have turned in contempt after he had fled, beneath a cloak of abuse and denunciation, from the Communist Party which Rosa Luxemburg helped to found, to the party of those who profitted by the murder of Rosa Luxemburg. A man who has already made use of the publication of other posthumus works of Rosa Luxemburg with the deliberate intention of playing off Rosa Luxemburg against Bolshevism.

The present work comprises about 300 pages, and furnishes an introduction to the idea of national economy, an exposition of the stages of economic development, and a theoretical discussion on commodities, value, money, and wages. The questions of surplus values and of the tendency of capitalist economics are then touched upon in a few words only. It is to be regretted that the problems of average rates of profit, of the accumulation of capital, and of the specific questions involved in imperialism, are not dealt with at all. Would it not be possible to obtain valuable supplementary material on these questions from the notes made by the students who attended Rosa Luxemburg's Party courses of instruction - since the present work originates from the material which she employed for the Party school?

What is national economy and what is political economy? The reply to these questions takes up almost one third of the whole work. The definitions supplied by the bourgeois savants Roscher, Schmoller, Bucher, Sombart, etc. are plucked to pieces with masterly sarcasm.[2] Rosa Luxemburg opposes these definitions by demonstrating that national economy is the science dealing with the laws of anarchist capitalist methods of production.

"In the Marxian theory national economy finds not only its completion, but at the same time its consummation as a science. All that can now follow - apart from the further development of Marxian teachings - is the conversion of these teachings into action, that is, into the struggle carried on by the international proletariat for the realisation of the socialist system of economics" (page 77).

The importance of Rosa Luxemburg's introduction to national economy lies however less in the theoretical conclusions - these are the fundamental ideas of Marxian economics - than in the manner in which these ideas are developed and rendered accessible to all. And how efficiently this is done! This easily comprehensible and yet intellectual and admirably worded representation, this plenitude of economic-historical data, unfolding before us in dramatic mobility the evolution of mankind! The result is the creation of a unique piece of work, possessing its equal in the German language in Marx's writings only. Where do we possess, among the many popularisations of Marx's theory of value, one which renders the theoretical principles so clear to the reader that it seems to him as if he were only realising things which are really a matter of course, and at the same time maintains a literary style so classic, as this work of Rosa Luxemburg's?

Rosa Luxemburg takes the utmost care to avoid confusing her readers with unnecessary subtleties and with scientific ballast. She aims at giving the reader a clear and graphic idea of theoretical conceptions by means of a masterly command of the widest spheres of the history of cultures and economics, and possesses the gift of bringing even the remotest periods of history so humanly near to the reader that he is enabled to make a comprehensive survey of their actualities, and to observe the economic laws which have ruled them. As Rosa Luxemburg herself writes in one passage:

"He who thinks clearly, and has himself thoroughly mastered the matter of which he speaks, expresses himself clearly and comprehensibly." (page 3.)

Rosa Luxemburg criticises with severest irony the vague and confusing language affected by the bourgeois national economists. Scientific mystification of this description is not only a product of incapacity, but of resentment at the threatened victory of communism. As early as 1844 Engels remarked:

"The nearer the economists approach to the present, the further do they retreat from honesty."

We might almost be of the opinion that Rosa Luxemburg devoted too much pains to the critical refutation of the monstrous foolishnesses of bourgeois scientists. Today - ten years since this work was written - but few of the rostrum heroes so severely dealt with here are still alive. But Rosa did not criticise merely for the sake of criticism, but made use of the occasion to simultaneously uproot the erroneous opinions which have found their way into the minds of the naive proletarian readers. She thus dialectically develops the truth out of the refutation of the error. In this sense it is even possible to learn something from the quotations from Schmoller, Bucher, Sombart, and others.

In the second third of the book Rosa Luxemburg gives a survey of primitive agrarian communism and its disintegration, drawing her material from the data supplied by German, Greek, Russian, Indian, Arabian, and Peruvian history. In this part we find the prestige of the sociologist Morgan defended against the attacks of Ernst Grosse, Lippert, and Starke. This defence is the more appropriate in this place as the lasting achievements gained for scientific socialism by Morgan have been wrongly buried beneath the erroneous conclusions and mistakes of his detailed delineations. The editor has however comprised this whole section under the insufficiently concrete title of: "History of Economics I and II".

The last third of the book is chiefly devoted to the theory of value, the discussion of which Levi, strangely enough, mentions in his preface as being lacking in Rosa Luxemburg's book. The development of the simple production of goods and of money economy, as also the essential character of the value of goods, are dealt with unsurpassable dearness. The capitalist law of wages follows, the confrontation of absolute and relative wages. Unfortunately the delineation breaks off in the chapter dealing with origin of the proletariat. The last section on "The tendencies of capitalist economics" also appears to be a preliminary draft, and though it merges directly into Rosa Luxemburg's "Accumulation of Capital", still it entirely omits all mention of the essentially economic phenomena of monopolism and imperialism.

The extent of the loss involved by the absence of the missing parts can only be realised when we appreciate the skill with which Rosa Luxemburg made the theoretical sections of the book clearly comprehensible. For instance, we see that she did not deal with the theory of value in the customary manner of starting with the separate goods, but dealt with the subject at once in its social connection, thus permitting the social nature of exchange values to evolve before our minds as self-evident phenomenal form.

How much we could have learnt from an exposition from the pen of Rosa Luxemburg on the problem of the rate of profits! We only find a slight compensation for the loss in the chapter written by Rosa Luxemburg on the 2. and 3. volumes of Marx's capital, in Mehring's biography of Marx.

Taken all in all, this book of Rosa Luxemburg's is a work which we may hope will contribute to the energetic revival of the theoretical study of Marxian economics in our ranks, and which will form an unequalled basis for such a study.


[1] Rosa Luxemburg: "Einführung in die Nationalökonomie." Published by Paul Levi. Berlin. E. Laubsche Verlagsbuchhandlung. 1925.

[2] In the correspondence between Rosa Luxemburg and Luise Kautsky it may be seen that on 14. May 1909 Rosa Luxemburg asked for copies to be sent her of the definitions criticised by her in the present book (Roscher and Schmoller) "for her work". According to this, we must assume that the beginning of the work must have been drafted at that time. The later sections of the book make reference to the great war of 1914.