Rosa Luxemburg
The Accumulation of Capital

Section Two
Historical Exposition of the Problem
Third Round
Struve-Bulgakov-Tugan Baranovski v. Vorontsov-Nikolayon

Chapter 24
The End of Russian ‘Legalist’ Marxism

THE Russian ‘legalist’ Marxists, and Tugan Baranovski above all, can claim the credit, in their struggle against the doubters of capitalist accumulation, of having enriched economic theory by an application of Marx’s analysis of the social reproductive process and it schematic representation in the second volume of Capital. But in view of the fact that this same Tugan Baranovski quite wrongly regarded said diagram as the solution to the problem instead of its formulation, his conclusions were bound to reverse the basic order of Marx’s doctrine.

Tugan Baranovski’s approach, according to which capitalist production can create unlimited markets and is independent of consumption, leads him straight on to the thesis of Say-Ricardo, i.e. a natural balance between production and consumption, between supply and demand. The difference is simply that those two only thought in terms of simple commodity circulation, whilst Tugan Baranovski applies the same doctrine to the circulation of capital. His theory of crises being caused by a ‘lack of proportion’ is in effect just a paraphrase of Say’s old trite absurdity: the over-production of any one commodity only goes to show under-production of another; and Tugan Baranovski simply translates this nonsense into the terminology used in Marx’s analysis of the reproductive process. Even though he declares that, Say notwithstanding, general over-production is quite possible in the light of the circulation of money which the former had entirely neglected, yet it is in fact this very same neglect, the besetting sin of Say and Ricardo in their dealings with the problem of crises which is the condition for his delightful manipulations with Marx’s diagram. As soon as it is applied to the circulation of money, ‘diagram No.2’ begins to bristle with spikes and barbs. Bulgakov was caught in these spikes when he attempted to follow up Marx’s interrupted analysis to a logical conclusion. This compound of forms of thought borrowed from Marx with contents derived from Say and Ricardo is what Tugan Baranovski modestly calls his ‘attempt at a synthesis between Marx’s theory and classical economics’.

After almost a century, the theory of optimism which holds, in the face of petty-bourgeois doubts, that capitalist production is capable of development, returns, by way of Marx’s doctrine and its ‘legalist’ champions, to its point of departure, to Say and Ricardo. The three ‘Marxists’ join forces with the bourgeois ‘harmonists’ of the Golden Age shortly before the Fall when bourgeois economics was expelled from the Garden of Innocence – the circle is closed.

There can be no doubt that the ‘legalist’ Russian Marxists achieved a victory over their opponents, the ‘populists’, but that victory was rather too thorough. In the heat of battle, all three – Struve, Bulgakov and Tugan Baranovski – overstated their case. The question was whether capitalism in general, and Russian capitalism in particular, is capable of development; these Marxists, however, proved this capacity to the extent of even offering theoretical proof that capitalism can go on for ever. Assuming the accumulation of capital to be without limits, one has obviously proved the unlimited capacity of capitalism to survive! Accumulation is the specifically capitalist method of expanding production, of furthering labour productivity, of developing the productive forces, of economic progress. If the capitalist mode of production can ensure boundless expansion of the productive forces, of economic progress, it is invincible indeed. The most important objective argument in support of socialist theory breaks down; socialist political action and the ideological import of the proletarian class struggle cease to reflect economic events, and socialism no longer appears an historical necessity. Setting out to show that capitalism is possible, this trend of reasoning ends up by showing that socialism is impossible.

The three Russian Marxists were fully aware that in the course of the dispute they had made an about-turn, though Struve, in his enthusiasm for the cultural mission of capitalism, does not worry about giving up a useful warrant.(1) Bulgakov tried to stop the gaps now made in socialist theory with another fragment of the same theory as best he could: he hoped that capitalist society might yet perish, in spite of the immanent balance between production and consumption, because of the declining profit rate. But it was he himself who finally cut away the ground from under this somewhat precarious comfort. Forgetting the straw he had offered for the salvation of socialism, he turned on Tugan Baranovski with the teaching that, in the case of large capitals, the relative decline in the profit rate is compensated by the absolute growth of capital.(2) More consistent than the others, Tugan Baranovski finally with the crude joy of a barbarian destroys all objective economic arguments in support of socialism, thus building in his own spirit ‘a more beautiful world’ on an ethical foundation. ‘The individual protests against an economic order which transforms the end (man) into a means (production) and the means (production) into an end.’(3)

Our three Marxists demonstrated in person that the new foundations of socialism had been frail and jerry-built. They had hardly laid down the new basis for socialism before they turned their backs on it. When the masses of Russia were staking their lives in the fight for the ideals of a social order to come, which would put the end (man) before the means (production), the ‘individual’ went into retreat, to find philosophical and ethical solace with Kant. In actual fact, the ‘legalist’ bourgeois Marxists ended up just where we should expect them to from their theoretical position – in the camp of bourgeois harmonies.

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(1) Struve says in the preface to the collection of his Russian essays (published in 1905): ‘In 1894, when the author published his Critical Comments on the Problem of Economic Development in Russia, he inclined in philosophy towards positivism, in sociology and economics towards outspoken, though by no means orthodox, Marxism. Since then, the author no longer sees the whole truth in positivism and Marxism which is grounded in it (!), they no longer fully determine his view of the world. Malignant dogmatism which not only browbeats those who think differently, but spies upon their morals and psychology, regards such work as a mere “Epicurean instability of mind”. It cannot understand that criticism in its own right is to the living and thinking individual one of the most valuable rights. The author does not intend to renounce this right, though he might constantly be in danger of being indicted for “instability”’ (Miscellany, St. Petersburg 1901).

(2) Bulgakov, op. cit., p.252.

(3) Tugan Baranovski, Studies on the Theory and History ..., p.229.

Last updated on: 11.12.2008