Rosa Luxemburg
The Accumulation of Capital

Translator’s Note

THIS is an original translation not only of the main body of the work but also of a number of quotations from foreign authors. Page references thus usually indicate the original foreign sources.

In so far as possible, however, I have availed myself of existing translations and have referred to the following standard works: Karl Marx: Capital, vol.i (transl. by Moore-Aveling, London, 1920); vol.ii (transl. by E. Untermann, Chicago, 1907); vol.iii (transl. by E. Untermann, Chicago, 1909) The Poverty of Philosophy (translator’s name not given, London, 1936).

Sismondi’s introduction to the second edition of Nouveaux Principes is quoted from M. Mignet’s translation of selected passages by Sismondi, entitled Political Economy and the Philosophy of Government, London, 1847. No English translation exists of Marx’s Theorien über den Mehrwert. [The Marxists Internet Archive has now published the English translation of this work.]

Unfortunately, not all the West European texts, and none of the Russian – except Engels’ correspondence with Nikolayon – were accessible to me, and I regret having been unable to trace some quotations and check up on others. In such cases, the English version follows the German text and will at least bring out the point the author wanted to make.

To save the reader grappling with unfamiliar concepts, I have converted foreign currencies and measures into their English equivalents, at the following rates:

20 marks – 25 francs – $5 – £1 (gold standard);
1 hectare – (roughly) 2.5 acres;
I kilometre5/8 mile.

I am glad of this opportunity to express my gratitude to Dr. W. Stark and Mrs. J. Robinson for the helpful criticism and appreciation with which my work has met.

Agnes Schwarzschild

A Note on Rosa Luxemburg

Rosa Luxemburg was born on 5 March 1870, at Zamosc, a little town of Russian Poland, not far from he city of Lublin. She came from a fairly well-to-do family of Jewish merchants, and soon showed the two outstanding traits which were to characterise all her life and work: a high degree of intelligence, and a burning thirst for social justice which led her, while still a schoolgirl, into the revolutionary camp. Partly to escape the Russian police, partly to complete her education, she went to Zurich and studied there the sciences of law and economics. Her doctoral dissertation dealt with the industrial development of Poland and showed up the vital integration of Polish industry with the wider economic system of metropolitan Russia. It was a work not only of considerable promise, but already of solid and substantial achievement.

Her doctorate won, Rosa Luxemburg looked around for a promising field of work and decided to go to Germany, whose working-class movement seemed destined to play a leading part in the future history of international socialism. She settled there in 1896, and two years later contracted a formal marriage with a German subject which secured her against the danger of forcible deportation to Russia. Now, at that moment the German Social-Democratic Party was in the throes of a serious crisis. In 1899, Eduard Bernstein published his well-known work Die Voraussetzungen des Sozialismus und die Aufgaben der Sozialdemokratie, which urged the party to drop its revolutionary jargon and to work henceforth for tangible social reforms within the given economic set-up, instead of trying to bring about its final and forcible overthrow. This ‘reformism’ or ‘revisionism’ seemed to Rosa Luxemburg a base as well as a foolish doctrine, and she published in the same year a pamphlet Sozialreform oder Revolution? [English translation] which dealt with Bernstein’s ideas in no uncertain fashion. From this moment onward, she was and remained one of the acknowledged leaders of the left wing within the German working-class movement.

The events of the year 1905 gave Rosa Luxemburg a welcome opportunity to demonstrate that revolution was to her more than a subject of purely academic interest. As soon as the Russian masses began to move, she hurried to Warsaw and threw herself into the fray. There followed a short span of feverish activity, half a year’s imprisonment, and, finally, a return journey to Berlin. The experiences of the Warsaw rising are reflected in a book entitled Massenstreik, Partei und Gewerkschaften [English translation], which was published in 1906. It recommends the general strike as the most effective weapon in the struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie.

The International Socialist Congress which met at Stuttgart in 1907 prepared and foreshadowed the sorry history of Rosa Luxemburg’s later life. On that occasion she drafted, together with Lenin, a resolution which demanded that the workers of the world should make any future war an opportunity for the destruction of the capitalist system. Unlike so many others, she stuck to her resolution when, seven years later, the time of testing came. The result was that she had to spend nearly the whole of the first World War in jail, either under punishment or in, protective custody. But imprisonment did not mean inactivity. In 1916, there appeared in Switzerland her book Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie [English translation], which assailed the leaders of the German labour party for their patriotic attitude and called the masses to revolutionary action. The foundation of the Spartacus League in 1917, the germ cell out of which the Communist Party of Germany was soon to develop, was vitally connected with the dissemination of Rosa Luxemburg’s aggressive sentiments.

The collapse of the Kaiserreich on is November 1918, gave Rosa Luxemburg her freedom and an undreamt-of range of opportunities. The two months that followed must have been more crowded and more colourful than all her previous life taken together. But the end of her career was imminent. The fatal Spartacus week, an abortive rising of the Berlin workers, led on 15 January 1919, to her arrest by a government composed of former party comrades. During her removal to prison she was attacked and severely beaten by soldiers belonging to the extreme right, a treatment which she did not survive. Her body was recovered days later from a canal.

A type not unlike Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg had her tender and sentimental side, which comes to the surface in her correspondence, especially in the Briefe aus dem Gefängnis printed in 1922. As a thinker she showed considerable honesty and independence of mind. The Accumulation of Capital, first published in 1913, which is undoubtedly her finest achievement, reveals her as that rarest of all rare phenomena – a Marxist critical of Karl Marx.

W. Stark

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Last updated on: 11.12.2008