LU Dingyi [Old style: LU Ting-yi] (1906-1996)
A long-term member of the Communist Party of China who became one of the first targets of the Cultural Revolution. He was the second most prominent individual in the rightist clique led by Peng Zhen (the mayor of Beijing), and displayed various other rightist tendencies at various times in relation to ideology, education and culture.
Lu Dingyi joined the CCP in 1925 when he was a college student in Shanghai. In 1945 he was elected to the Central Committee and became the head of the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the Party where he reported to Liu Shaoqi. In 1959 he also became a deputy premier and an alternate member of the Politburo, and retained all these positions until his downfall in May 1966.
In 1956 Lu gave a speech “Let a Hundred Flowers Blossom, a Hundred Schools of Thought Contend!” which seemed at the time to support that slogan of Mao’s. However, during the Cultural Revolution this speech was criticized as a distortion of Mao’s line. [Whether it really was a distortion of Mao’s line at that time has been disputed by the sinologist Roderick MacFarquhar in his book The Origins of the Cultural Revolution, Vol. 1.] In any case it did become quite clear later on that rightists were perverting this slogan to enable revisionist criticism of Mao and socialism.
In 1964 a five-person “Cultural Revolution Small Group” (CRSG) was formed at Mao’s urging to lead the criticism of revisionist and bourgeois works in the cultural sphere. [This was before the GPCR, properly speaking, got underway.] Beijing mayor Peng Zhen was the director of this group, and Lu Dingyi the deputy director. In 1961 a vice-mayor of Beijing, the non-Marxist, non-Party member Wu Han, reissued a play he had written earlier, Hai Rui Dismissed from Office, whose real target at this point was Mao for dismissing Peng Dehuai as Minister of Defense of the PRC (because he was a rightist). This is just the sort of thing that the Cultural Revolution Small Group (CRSG) was supposed to be on the lookout for and criticize; but they did nothing even though it took place right under their very noses. Worse yet, when Yao Wenyuan issued a revolutionary critique of Wu Han’s allegorical play in Shanghai in 1965, this CRSG suppressed Yao’s critique in Beijing—just the opposite of what they were commissioned to do! For reasons like this Mao condemned the CRSG and called the Propaganda Department of the CCP a “palace of the King of Hell”. And Lu Dingyi’s fate was thus sealed.
Lu Dingyi was removed from office because he was a rightist and in cahoots with other rightists. However, there was some strange secondary conniving going on as well. Apparently Lu’s wife, who it seems was mentally unbalanced, spread the rumor that Lin Biao’s wife (Ye Qun) engaged in loose sexual behavior both before and after her marriage to Lin. This outraged Lin, and Lu Dingyi denied he had anything to do with his wife’s rumor-mongering. It has also been alleged (in at least one bourgeois source) that Lu Dingyi himself directly criticized Lin Biao for “simplifing” and “vulgarizing” Mao’s ideas, something which was in fact often true of Lin. These things have raised suspicions in some quarters about Lin Biao’s real motives when after the charges of rightism were leveled against Peng Zhen and Lu Dingyi, Lin claimed (apparently without any good evidence) that this group was planning a coup d’etat! This is the sort of messiness that abounds in the history of the GPCR and which confuses the central issues. Regardless of the personal squabbles, and regardless of whether Lin Biao’s charges were true or not, it is clear that the Lu Dingyi and his cohorts did in fact deserve to be replaced.
In 1979, after the capitalist-roaders seized power following Mao’s death, Lu Dingyi was rehabilitated and was given high ceremonial positions. He died on May 9, 1996, unlamented by Maoist revolutionaries.
A few of Lu Dingyi’s writings are available at: https://www.bannedthought.net/China/Individuals/index.htm#LuDingyi
LU Xun [Old style: LU Hsun] (1881-1936)
A great Chinese writer, probably the greatest of the Twentieth Century, and also a firm and very influential revolutionary. He is widely viewed as the most prominent individual in modern Chinese literature.
Lu Xun was the pen name of Zhou Shuren [or Chou Shu-jen in the older Wade-Giles transliteration]. He wrote in baihua (the vernacular) as well as in classical Chinese, and seems to have been the very first serious writer to do so. Lu Xun wrote short stories, essays and poetry and was an editor, translator and critic. He also led the important Chinese League of Left-Wing Writers in Shanghai during the 1930s.
While not himself a member of the Chinese Communist Party, Lu Xun strongly sympathized and cooperated with the Party and supported its revolutionary struggle. Mao Zedong and the CCP always very much appreciated his writing and political work, and after the liberation of China in 1949 the revolutionary government published and strongly promoted his works.
Lu Xun’s fictional works are now easily available in English, as with the 2009 anthology, The Real Story of Ah-Q and Other Tales of China: The Complete Fiction of Lu Xun, which the scholar Jeffrey Wasserstrom said “could be considered the most significant Penguin Classic ever published.” However, perhaps even more interesting for revolutionaries is the Selected Works of Lu Hsun in 4 volumes (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1960), and other volumes from China, which include many of his political essays, articles and letters. These volumes are available online at: https://www.bannedthought.net/China/MaoEra/index.htm, in the Art and Literature section.
See also: “For Your Reference: Lu Hsun: Brief Biographical Notes”
LU Xun — Censorship and Removal of His Works in Contemporary Capitalist China
‘Recent changes to China’s teaching curriculum have made the news: an essay
by the father of modern Chinese literature, Lu Xun (1881–1936), has gone missing from new
editions of middle school textbooks. Citing the need for more “age-appropriate” material,
the People’s Education Press has removed Lu Xun’s essay “The Kite” from its most recent
edition, replacing it with an essay entitled “Autumn Nostalgia” by Shi Tiesheng.
‘In recent years, Lu Xun’s writings have been disappearing gradually from official language and literature textbooks, sparking some concern among parents of school-aged children. In surveys conducted by Sina News, a popular news website, and Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, an overwhelming majority of respondents expressed displeasure with the changes, noting that “Lu Xun’s works are classics, and represent the ‘spirit of the Chinese people.”
‘Why, given both Lu Xun’s popularity and his accepted status as one of China’s top modern authors, would his works be disappearing from the educational curriculum? An article analyzing the changes published by Xinhua News Agency, China’s state-run media, noted that, “Middle school students should not be reading anything too deep.” Zhao Yu, an author quoted in the article, voiced his agreement with the decision, stating that, “We shouldn’t make students undertake reflection and critical thinking too soon; instead, we should let them gradually accumulate knowledge.”’ —Liz Carter, quoted on https://chinadigitaltimes.net/2013/09/textbooks-modified-curb-deep-thinking/
LUDWIG FEUERBACH AND THE END OF CLASSICAL GERMAN PHILOSOPHY [Book]
An important philosophical work by Engels, first published in 1886. This work is available online in several places, including: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1886/ludwig-feuerbach/index.htm
“In Ludwig Feuerbach (the full title is Ludwig Feuerbach and
the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy) Engels shows how the advance was made from
Hegelian idealist dialectics to materialist dialectics, and from mechanical to dialectical
“Feuerbach was a German philosopher of the mid-19th Century who turned from Hegelian idealism to materialism, and whose work had a big influence on Marx and Engels. This book by Engels, published in 1888, was originally written as a review article on a book on Feuerbach by C. N. Starke.
“The following are its principal contents.
“1. Engels explains the basic difference between materialism and idealism. It arises from the question—which is prior, spirit or nature? Idealism says that spirit is prior to nature. Materialism says that nature is prior to spirit. Material being is prior to mind and ideas.
“Modern idealism has been specially concerned with the question whether we can gain reliable knowledge of material things, of the external world, and concludes that such knowledge is impossible. Engels refutes this view, and shows that practice demonstrates that our ideas can and do constitute a true reflection of external material reality.
“2. He shows that the materialism of the past was mechanical materialism. Its great limitations were
(a) that it conceived of the motion of matter as exclusively mechanical motion, and could not grasp other forms of motion of matter, such as chemical or living processes;
(b) that it could give no account of development and evolution, either in nature or, still less, in history and human society.
“3. He explains the essence of Hegel’s philosophy and of the advance from Hegel to dialectical materialism. Hegel considered every process of change and development as being a mere reflection of the self-development of the ‘Absolute Idea,’ which ‘does not only exist, where unknown, from eternity, but is also the actual living soul of the whole existing world.’ Marxism threw over such ‘idealist fancies’ and ‘resolved to comprehend the real world, nature and history, just as it presents itself to everyone who approaches it free from preconceived idealist fancies.’
“Engels shows that dialectical materialism regards the world as a complex of processes, not as a collection of ‘ready-made things.’ Dialectics is ‘the science of the general laws of motion both of the external world and of human thought.’
“4. He discusses the essential ideas of historical materialism, as the application of dialectical materialism to the sphere of human society. He shows that the driving force of history is the class struggle, and that classes and class struggles are rooted in economic conditions. He goes on to discuss the economic foundations of the development of the state and of law, and then of political and social ideology, of religion, philosophy, etc.
“In criticising Feuerbach’s ‘philosophy of religion and ethics,’ Engels attacks the approach which deals with abstractions such as ‘humanity,’ instead of with ‘real living men as participants of history.’
“As appendix are added Marx’s eleven Theses on Feuerbach, notes by Marx in 1845 in which he summarized his own ideas as opposed to mechanical materialism.” —Maurice Cornforth, ed., Readers’ Guide to the Marxist Classics (1952), pp. 25-26.
LUKÁCS, Georg [György] [Family name pronounced roughly: loo-kawch] (1885-1971)
Lukács was a Hungarian revisionist philosopher and literary critic. His best known work was History and Class Consciousness, published in German in 1923 and in English in 1971. He himself denounced this work after it received strong criticism from many Marxist-Leninists including the leaders of the Comintern. In that book Lukács rejected the Marxist base/superstructure analysis of society, a rejection that has found favor with a number of other academic “Marxists” who focus mostly on literary criticism. Lukács put forward a Hegelianized version of Marxism which also emphasized the topics of reification and alienation, somewhat along the lines of the earliest writings of Marx, and which is sometimes called “Marxist humanism”. He was, however, a strong defender of realism in literature and art.
Lukács’s books and ideas have mostly been of interest to various groups of Academic revisionists, including the Frankfurt School and the diverse revisionist trends going by the general name of “Western Marxism”.
The lowest social class consisting primarily of those pushed down and out from other social classes, including especially from the working class (proletariat) but also from the petty bourgeoisie, from the peasantry (in countries where that class still exists), and even from the bourgeoisie itself in some cases. Thus, the declassed individuals from other classes, who have fallen upon severely hard times, and who try to survive as best they can by hand-to-mouth methods, as beggars, vagrants, living on the streets, or as prostitutes and pimps, through petty thievery or other small-scale crime, as drug addicts or as street level drug dealers, by sponging off of relatives or others, and through help from individual or small-scale charities and soup kitchens, and from the very inadequate government welfare programs where such programs actually exist.
The word ‘lumpenproletariat’ was coined by Marx and Engels in their early work, The German Ideology (1845-46). ‘Lumpen’, in German, originally meant “rags”, and later evolved to refer to those dressed in rags, beggars and scoundrels. The modern lumpenproletariat, whether dressed in rags or not, often amounts to those who are the dregs of society and in many cases the most extreme victims of capitalist society. Are they therefore potentially revolutionary? In some cases, certainly. But their conditions of life (which Marx & Engels refer to in the first quotation below), which leads them into an isolated, individual struggle for existence and thus often into a bitter and extreme individualist perspective (“I have no choice but to look out for myself, so to hell with everyone else”), generally prevents them from seriously engaging in real revolutionary struggle—unless they come under strong, organized and disciplined revolutionary proletarian leadership. The lumpenproletariat is overall characterized by a lack of class consciousness and solidarity.
There have been a few attempts to build a revolutionary movement with the lumpenproletariat as a major part of its core, but these have not been at all successful. One such abortive attempt was made in the U.S. during the early 1970s by a split-off from the Revolutionary Union led by the Stanford University professor Bruce Franklin. That effort, which hoped to base itself on the revolutionary student movement in combination with lumpen elements which it considered were leading the Black, Chicano and other national liberation movements in the U.S., fell apart before it could hardly even get seriously underway. (See Venceremos Organization.) Before that futile attempt, though, Franklin did write an interesting article, “The Lumpenproletariat and the Revolutionary Youth Movement” (1969), which appeared in the RU’s Red Papers 2 and is also available separately online at: https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-1/red-papers-2/franklin.htm In that 1960s-1970s era the Black Panther Party also had a strong pro-lumpenproletariat focus (see Huey Newton quote below), which—along with vicious attacks on the Panthers by U.S. government agencies—were an important reason for its collapse. At the present time, though, it is mostly just a few isolated anarchists who still favor a revolutionary strategy centered on the lumpenproletariat.
It is true, however, that as the current social and economic crisis of the U.S. and world capitalist system continues to worsen, and as more and more jobs disappear because of automation and the rapid development of artificial intelligence, the size and importance of the lumpenproletariat in modern society is bound to increase, perhaps very rapidly at some points. For this reason, any rational strategy of social revolution will have to take this into consideration and find ways to involve the best sections of the lumpenproletariat in mass struggle under the leadership of the revolutionary proletariat. (See LUMPENPROLETARIANIZATION entry below.)
“The ‘dangerous class’, [lumpenproletariat] the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of the old society, may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution; its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue.” —Marx & Engels, Communist Manifesto (1848), ch. 1.
“On the pretext of founding a benevolent society, the lumpen proletariat of Paris had been organized into secret sections, each section led by Bonapartist agents, with a Bonapartist general at the head of the whole. Alongside decayed roués with dubious means of subsistence and of dubious origin, alongside ruined and adventurous offshoots of the bourgeoisie, were vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, escaped galley slaves, swindlers, mountebanks, lazzaroni [street people in Naples], pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, maquereaux [pimps], brothel keepers, porters, literati, organ grinders, ragpickers, knife grinders, tinkers, beggars — in short, the whole indefinite, disintegrated mass, thrown hither and thither, which the French call la bohème; from this kindred element Bonaparte formed the core of the Society of December 10. A ‘benevolent society’ — insofar as, like Bonaparte, all its members felt the need of benefiting themselves at the expense of the laboring nation. This Bonaparte, who constitutes himself chief of the lumpenproletariat, who here alone rediscovers in mass form the interests which he personally pursues, who recognizes in this scum, offal, refuse of all classes the only class upon which he can base himself unconditionally, is the real Bonaparte, the Bonaparte sans phrase.” —Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852), ch. 5.
“Why the future upswing should be ‘characterised’ by a sharp conflict of pauperised petty bourgeois is not evident at all. Nor does there appear to be any reason why the pauperised town petty bourgeoisie should be brought in just at this moment. Lumpen-proletarians are sometimes distinguished for their sharp conflicts, and sometimes for their amazing instability and inability to fight.” —Lenin, “A Caricature of Bolshevism” (April 4 (17), 1909), LCW 15:383.
“Apart from all these [other classes], there is the fairly large lumpen-proletariat, made up of peasants who have lost their land and handicraftsmen who cannot get work. They lead the most precarious existence of all. ... One of China’s difficult problems is how to handle these people. Brave fighters but apt to be destructive, they can become a revolutionary force if given proper guidance.” —Mao, “Analysis of the Classes in Chinese Society” (March 1926), SW1:19.
“China’s status as a colony and semi-colony has given rise to a multitude of rural and urban unemployed. Denied proper means of making a living, many of them are forced to resort to illegitimate ones, hence the robbers, gangsters, beggars and prostitutes and the numerous people who live on superstitious practices. This social stratum is unstable; while some are apt to be bought over by the reactionary forces, others may join the revolution. These people lack constructive qualities and are given to destruction rather than construction; after joining the revolution, they become a source of roving-rebel and anarchist ideology in the revolutionary ranks. Therefore, we should know how to remold them and guard against their destructiveness.” —Mao, “The Chinese Revolution and the Chinese Communist Party” (December 1939), SW2:325-6.
“As the ruling circle continue to build their technocracy, more and more of
the proletariat will become unemployable, become lumpen, until they have become the popular
class, the revolutionary class.” –Huey Newton, “Supreme Commander” of the Black Panther Party,
quoted in: Garrett Epps, “Huey Newton Speaks at Boston College, Presents Theory of
‘Intercommunalism’”, The Harvard Crimson, November 19, 1970, online at:
[Epps also reported: “The Panthers seek to organize the ‘unemployable’ elements of society, or ‘lumpenproletariat,’ Newton said, because they form the only revolutionary class in technological society.” The Black Panther Party was internally torn between proletarian tendencies and lumpen tendencies. Leaders such as Fred Hampton represented the best of the proletarian revolutionary tendencies, while–unfortunately–Party co-founder and top leader Huey Newton, represented some of the destructive lumpen tendencies which were a major part of the reason for the eventual disintegration of the BPP. –Ed.]
LUMPENPROLETARIAT AND FASCISM
It has sometimes been argued that the lumpenproletariat is the social base for fascism. It is more correct to say that part of the lumpenproletariat may become a part of fascism’s social base, and be used as a violent tool by the ruling class against the working class. Most of the actual social base for fascism, however, is located in the increasingly desperate petty bourgeoisie in times of economic crisis and social breakdown. Even sections of the working class itself, i.e., the least class conscious sections, and the most easily fooled and bamboozled sections, may become part of the social base of fascism. Demagogues can easily fool severely victimized and desperate people from all social classes into supporting fascism, even though that form of capitalist society is always instituted and directed by the bourgeoisie itself for its own purposes (i.e., to keep the masses down and under tight control).
“Fascism is not a form of state power ‘standing above both classes—the
proletariat and the bourgeoisie,’ as Otto Bauer, for instance, has asserted. It is not ‘the
revolt of the petty bourgeoisie which has captured the machinery of the state,’ as the British
Socialist Brailsford declares. No, fascism is not a power standing above class, nor government
of the petty bourgeoisie or the lumpen-proletariat over finance capital. Fascism is the power
of finance capital itself. It is the organization of terrorist vengeance against the working
class and the revolutionary section of the peasantry and intelligentsia. In foreign policy,
fascism is jingoism in its most brutal form, fomenting bestial hatred of other nations.
“This, the true character of fascism, must be particularly stressed because in a number of countries, under cover of social demagogy, fascism has managed to gain the following of the mass of the petty bourgeoisie that has been dislocated by the crisis, and even of certain sections of the most backward strata of the proletariat. These would never have supported fascism if they had understood its real character and its true nature.”
—Georgi Dimitrov, “The Fascist Offensive and the Tasks of the Communist International in the Struggle of the Working Class against Fascism”, Main Report delivered at the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International (Aug. 2, 1935), online at: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/dimitrov/works/1935/08_02.htm
[Dimitrov’s point is that fascism is still the rule of the capitalist class even though it may have a “social base” of support in the petty bourgeoisie, the lumpenproletariat, and even sections of the working class itself. —Ed.]
The transformation of part of the working class (proletariat), and part of the petty bourgeoisie as well, into an expanded lumpenproletariat (see above). This is especially apt to occur on a large scale during times of prolonged economic crisis such as the present, and will certainly hugely intensify if and when the present crisis develops into outright severe and intractable depression.
It must be recognized that there is a slow but steady trend in modern capitalist society toward the lumpenproletarianization of growing sections of the working class. As jobs disappear (because of both the continuing capitalist overproduction crisis and, what perhaps is the even more serious problem over the long run, of intensifying automation), it is inevitable that the size of the lumpenproletariat will continually increase. There will be more and more chronically unemployed people, and more and more who become essentially unemployable under this system. In addition, many youth born into working class families are now finding it harder than ever to find good-paying and secure jobs—if they can find any work at all. They are being lumpenproletarianized even faster than their parent’s generation. The present “precariat”, as it is being called, the lower strata of the working class consisting of mostly young people who work temporary or part time jobs with very poor pay and few if any benefits, and who have little prospect of finding good and stable jobs, is one type of half-way station for those being driven down and out of the working class entirely and eventually into the lumpenproletariat. It is probably this lower strata of the working class, which is being pushed down toward the lumpenproletariat but is not yet there, which will have to form an important part of any powerful revolutionary movement in countries like the United States. However, it may also be true that their precarious conditions of existence are already starting to change the ideology of many in this strata into something approaching the more traditional lumpenprolarian individualist outlook. This, at least, is the concern.
There is no solution to this problem under the capitalist system. Even schemes like “guaranteed basic income” payments (a generalized form of welfare), to the extent that they are implemented, will in effect only promote the growth of the lumpenproletariat in a way that is less dangerous to the continued rule of the capitalist class.
There are two choices for the working class today: 1) accept meekly being driven down into the lumpenproletariat; or 2) make social revolution and destroy the evil capitalist-imperialist system once and for all. (And even that first, “easy” choice may not actually be real, if the bourgeoisie ends up destroying humanity through nuclear war or environmental catastrophe before we can stop them.)
LUNACHARSKY, Anatoly (1875-1933)
Russian revolutionary and the first Soviet People’s Commissar of Enlightenment (Minister of Culture and Education), continuing in that position until 1929. He led major campaigns for literacy and cultural education. He was also a prominent art and literary critic and journalist specializing in cultural matters.
Lunacharsky sided with the Bolsheviks at the time of the split with the Mensheviks in 1903, but in 1908 a faction of the Bolsheviks infatuated with idealist philosophy, and led by Lunacharsky’s brother-in-law Alexander Bogdanov, split away from the Leninist core. Lunacharsky went with them, but rejoined the Bolsheviks in 1917. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the rather dubious Proletkult movement in the early years of the Soviet Union.
See also: GOD-BUILDING
LURIA, Alexander Romanovich (1902-1977)
Russian psychologist and one of the founders of neuropsychology. He carried out extensive research into the effects of brain injuries among people during World War II, and made especially important advances in our understanding of the function of the frontal lobes of the brain, and of those regions of the left hemisphere related to language.
LUTHER, Martin (1483-1546)
German church reformer, founder of Protestantism (and Lutheranism specifically) in Germany. He strongly supported the wealthy burghers (“middle class” citizens), noblemen and princes against the peasants and poor townspeople during the Peasant War of 1524-25.
“As the Reformation spread, it soon became clear that religious truth was far from the only thing at stake. With the Pope denounced, the [Holy Roman] emperor ignored, and all the established authorities questioned and ridiculed, the entire social order came under scrutiny, and the threat of revolution hung in the air. Respectable reformers such as Luther and Calvin, and the conservative kings and princes who backed them, struggled mightily to contain the revolutionary passions set loose by the Reformation, but not always successfully. As early as 1524 the peasants of southern Germany rose in revolt against their princes, demanding greater freedoms and a greater say in the rule of the land. They declared themselves followers of Luther, believing that his overthrow of the spiritual authority of the Roman Church was but a prelude to the overthrow of the social and political order it supported. The socially conservative Luther, however, was horrified at what he saw as a profound misunderstanding and misuse of his doctrines and fiercely denounced the uprising in a tract, Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of the Peasants. Though the uprising was crushed within the year by the combined forces of Catholic and Protestant princes, the fear that religious reformation might spell social revolution had already taken root.” —Amir Alexander, Infinitesimal (2014), pp. 27-28.
LUXEMBURG, Rosa (1871-1919)
Outstanding revolutionary Marxist who participated in the Polish, German and international proletarian movements. She was a prominent Left-wing leader of the Second International, and one of the founders of the Communist Party of Germany. Luxemburg was what every communist should be: an independent thinker, even while being guided by a deep study of the Marxist classics and a determined participation in mass struggles. However, sometimes this independence of mind did mean that she was wrong about some particular issues. Often, however, she was right when others were wrong, especially with regard to upholding a strong class perspective, and a solid revolutionary firmness and dedication.
Rosa Luxemburg was born into a Jewish family in Tsarist Russian-controlled Poland. Although multi-lingual, at home the family spoke Polish and viewed themselves as Polish nationals. At the age of five Luxemburg was bed-bound with a hip problem which left her with a permanent limp. She once described herself physically as “a heap of rags”. But as a human being she was a giant. She began taking part in revolutionary activities very early in life. In 1886 she joined the Polish left-wing Proletariat Party (which was founded in 1882), and interestingly enough, soon took part in organizing a general strike. But the authorities cracked down hard, executed four of the Party leaders, and officially disbanded the Party. (However, some of the remaining members, including Luxemburg, kept meeting in secret, according to the Wikipedia, where some of the information here comes from.)
In 1889, at about the age of 18, Rosa Luxemburg fled to Switzerland to both escape political detention and to continue her education. There, financially supported by her businessman father, she attended the University of Zurich and studed history, economics, philosophy, and mathematics, while specializing in political science, and economic and financial crises. Her dissertation, “Die Industrielle Entwicklung Polens” [“The Industrial Development of Poland”] was presented in 1897 and published the next year, and she was awarded a Doctor of Law degree. As the Wikipedia notes, it was exceedingly rare for a woman to obtain a doctoral degree in Zurich (or anywhere else!) at that time.
Luxemburg then immediately immersed herself in international revolutionary politics, often following the line and path of George Plekhanov and Pavel Axelrod. In 1893, together with Leo Jogiches and Julian Marchlewski (alias Julius Karski), she founded the Polish-language newspaper Sprawa Robotnicza [The Workers’ Cause] that disagreed with the line of the Polish Socialist Party (which focused most centrally on Polish national liberation). Luxemburg thought that goal was virtually impossible to achieve until the surrounding imperialist countries of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia were all toppled by socialist revolutions. Moreover, even after such revolutions might become successful, she strongly favored the unity of the proletariat in a single new socialist state. She even denied that oppressed nations, such as Poland, should have a national right of self-determination! This led to a strong criticism by Lenin, who, however, did certainly agree that the continued unity of the different nations and nationalities within a single socialist state would be the very best outcome.
In 1899 Luxemburg, along with Felix Dzerzhinsky and Leo Jogiches, led in merging what were then called the social-democratic (i.e., Marxist) organizations in Poland and Lithuania, and then in founding the new revolutionary party, the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL). Although all three of these revolutionaries favored a united revolutionary movement and single revolutionary party, ultimately throughout the entire Russian Empire and beyond, the situation at that time was unfavorable for this in Poland and some other areas. Dzerzhinsky, though, and after a series of prison terms, did end up as an important leader of the Bolsheviks. However, Luxemburg, because of her exile in the West, ended up as an important revolutionary leader in Germany, as well as (from exile) in Poland. She was in fact the leading theoretician for the SDKPiL. But she always kept her internationalist perspective.
Luxemberg entered a “marriage of convenience” which allowed her to become a German citizen and live in Germany, and moved to Berlin in May 1898. She immediately took up the struggle against Eduard Bernstein’s revisionist corruption of Marxism, which had become so rampant. Her pamphlet “Social Reform or Revolution?” came out that autumn, and was a major statement of the developing Left-wing opposition to Bernsteinism and revisionism in general. She and the Left were unable to force Bernstein and his followers out of the Social-Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), though at least for the time being they were not in total control of it.
Luxemburg wrote many articles for the socialist press, and was in particular quite prescient in her strong and sustained opposition to the growing war pressures which eventually led to World War I. She was especially alarmed by the intensifying militarism of Germany, in part because that was where she was located and thus had a particular obligation to struggle against such developments there, and in part because Germany—as a rising capitalist-imperialist power—was destabilizing the existing international situation and leading it towards a major inter-imperialist war. Luxemburg strongly pushed for a general strike of workers in Germany to force the government to end its war preparations. It is highly doubtful that this would have actually prevented the looming war, even if it had been tried, though it might have at least increased proletarian political class consciousness and helped prepare the working class for some more substantial opposition to the war once it did begin. In any case, Karl Kautsky and the other top SPD leaders, who themselves were moving in a revisionist and more bourgeois nationalist direction, opposed the general strike idea and kept it from happening. Luxemburg broke with Kautsky politically in 1910.
However, even before that, in the 1904 to 1906 period, she was imprisoned because of her political and anti-war activities on three different occasions. In 1907, after her third release, Luxemburg traveled to London to attend the Russian Social Democrats’ Fifth Party Day conference, where she met Lenin. Later that year, at the socialist Second International Congress in Stuttgart, she and Lenin participated in further improving Bebel’s draft resolution on ‘Militarism and International Conflicts’ by adding the amendment that it was the duty of socialists to use the crisis created by a war to revolutionize the masses and to overthrow capitalism. This very important amendment was then approved by the 1907 Congress, and reaffirmed by the Second International conferences in 1910 and 1912.
In 1912, Luxemburg represented the SPD at the congresses of European socialists. Together with the French socialist Jean Jaurès, she once-again argued that European workers’ parties should organize a general strike if and when war broke out. (Jaurès was not actually a revolutionary, but he was strongly opposed to militarism.) In 1913, she told a large meeting: “If they think we are going to lift the weapons of murder against our French and other brethren, then we shall shout: ‘We will not do it!’” However, when the assassination in the Balkins of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary triggered a series of events leading to the beginning of World War I in 1914, the opportunists like Kautsky who controlled the socialist parties of the Second International, failed to act as they had promised to try to stop the War, and even came out in open support of it! There was no serious attempt at a general strike in Germany, France or elsewhere, or any other major mass actions. Instead the Reichstag (German parliament) unanimously agreed to finance the war, including even the SPD delegates. Instead of opposing the war in any way, the SPD agreed to the Burgfrieden truce with the capitalist ruling class, which “suspended” the class struggle for the duration of the war, and promised not to even engage in any economic strikes.
This terrible result deeply depressed Luxemburg, and it is said that she even briefly contemplated suicide. But she soon rallied her resolve to keep struggling against the opportunist and revisionist traitors to the working class and against the capitalist enemy. She led in organizing anti-war demonstrations in Frankfurt, and called for conscientious objection to military conscription and for the refusal by drafted soldiers to obey orders. Of course the ruling class was outraged by this, and sentenced her to prison again for “inciting to disobedience against the authorities’ law and order”.
In August 1914, the best of the prominent revolutionary leftists from the SPD, led by Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, Clara Zetkin and Franz Mehring, founded Die Gruppe Internationale (“The International Group”). They wrote and distributed a number of illegal anti-war pamphlets signed with the name “Spartacus”, after the great slave revolt leader in Roman times. For this reason they soon became known as the “Spartacists” and in January 1916 changed their name to the “Spartakusbund” [Spartacus League]. At this time Luxemburg had her own nom de guerre, “Junius”, after the founder of the Roman Republic, Lucius Junius Brutus. Under this name she wrote the powerful “Junius Pamphlet” against the war.
Luxemburg spent most of World War I in prison, where she did a lot of study and a lot of writing, including on political economy. (See the separate entries below about her views on economics and capitalist imperialism.) But finally, in November 1918, the German war effort collapsed and the first stage of a social revolution broke out in Germany. The Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, was overthrown and exiled, and a German republic was declared. All the political prisoners were released from prison, including Rosa Luxemburg. The Social-Democratic Party of Germany [SPD] had split in 1917, with the anti-war faction now forming a new party, the Independent Social-Democratic Party of Germany [USPD]. However, this party too, was still basically reformist and not revolutionary. The Spartacus League, led primarily by Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, now operated as a revolutionary faction within the USPD.
The German government was now in the hands of the opportunist, slightly reformist bourgeois nationalists of the SPD and the USPD, and was headed by Friedrich Ebert (who was, ironically, a former student of Luxemburg’s). This government had taken the credit for ending the war after four bloody years, and for having gotten rid of the Kaiser and establishing a republic, had signed the Armistice, and promised more reforms and a much better life for the German people. (All bourgeois parties make such promises, of course.) For these reasons Ebert initially had widespread support, not only from the rather discredited military and ruling-class establishment which was looking for a government that could calm things down, but also from a great many German workers, including it is said, a majority of those in the new workers’ and soldiers’ councils which were being set up all around the country (and which of course were inspired by the soviets in revolutionary Russia). The Ebert government also initially had the support of most ordinary USPD members, with the exception of the small Spartacus League within it.
Given this widespread initial support for the reformist SPD/USPD government at that time, in retrospect the obvious strategy of the revolutionary forces should have been to bide their time, engage in exposures about the inactions and failures of the government, find out from the people their most urgent unmet needs and try to lead them in struggle around those issues, and wait briefly for the workers and masses to see for themselves that the SPD/USPD goverment needed to be overthrown and replaced by a government of the new workers’ councils. This is what Lenin correctly insisted that the Bolsheviks do in Russia during the summer of 1917. The other argument at the time, however, may have been that in some areas (especially Berlin) the revolutionary-minded workers were already on the move, and simply had to be joined up with and led to victory. “Strike while the iron is hot!”, as the saying goes. Anyway, from the historical perspective it does appear that the German revolutionary movement of the time, and its small core of leaders, were not in sufficient control of the situation, and/or may have moved too precipitously, in what came close to being merely a putsch attempt.
Luxemburg and the Spartacists called for a wider and deeper revolution, called for the immediate nationalization of industry, the arming of the workers, the removal of all the old government civil servants and military leaders, and for strong support for Soviet Russia. On New Years Eve, 1918, they formally split away from the USPD and established the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). The top two leaders of the KPD were, of course, once again Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. So far, perhaps, so good! However, less than one week later armed fighting broke out in Berlin, which it seems definitely was premature from the revolutionary perspective. The Spartacist/KPD newspaper, Die Rote Fahne [“The Red Flag”] called on the rebels to occupy the offices of the bourgeois newspapers, and then all the positions of political power. On January 8, 1919, Rote Fahne printed a public statement by Luxemburg calling for revolutionary violence and no negotiations with the revolution’s “mortal enemies”, the Friedrich Ebert-Philipp Scheidemann government. Supporting the government were the divisions of soldiers loyal to it, known as the Freikorps [“Free Corps”]. The revolutionary side consisted of the KPD, demonstrators supporting various other left organizations (including anarchists and some supporters of the USPD), and the revolutionary shop stewards in the region. Alas, the pro-government troops were greater numbers, were better armed and organized, and after several days of heavy fighting they were able to crush the uprising. The government and the press called this the “Spartacist Uprising” though perhaps it was more of a semi-spontaneous event. Even so, it appears that the Spartacists/KPD forces should have tried to avoid this premature uprising, and should in fact have told the masses to wait a bit for a better time when conditions would be more certain of success.
On January 15, 1919, both Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were arrested and interrogated by the government. And then they were brutally murdered. Luxemburg’s body was dumped in a canal, and was only recovered six months later. The anniversary of her murder remains a revolutionary holiday to this day, with annual mass demonstrations to mark it.
The loss of the KPD’s top two leaders, was a huge blow to the new Communist movement in Germany. And it was accompanied by a much broader vicious crackdown which included the cold-blooded extrajudicial murder of many other Communists and revolutionary workers. One can only wonder how different the world might be today if circumstances had been just a little different at the time. If, for example, the Communist movement had been just a little more developed and prepared. Possibly a second revolution, a genuinely socialist revolution, might have actually occurred in Germany following World War I. Quite possibly most of Europe might then have had a socialist revolution. And, for such reasons, the world might have been spared from the rise of Hitler and the Nazis.
Should we blame Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht and their comrades for not making this better result happen back then? No, we really cannot, despite some errors they made. They did their very best under extremely difficult and dangerous conditions. They were real heroes who we should always remember as such. The real blame for the failed German and European revolutions in the aftermath of the First World War, should land on the heads of the traitorous revisionists like Karl Kautsky and his fellow phony “socialists”. And, of course, on the murderous enemy bourgeoisie as a whole.
See also the entries below.
“In response to the uprising [in early January 1919], German Chancellor and SPD leader Friedrich Ebert ordered the Freikorps to destroy the left-wing revolution, which was crushed by 11 January 1919. Luxemburg’s Red Flag falsely claimed that the rebellion was spreading across Germany. On 10 January, Luxemburg called for the murder of Scheidemann’s supporters and said they had earned their fate. The uprising was small-scale, had limited support and consisted of the occupation of a few newspaper buildings and the construction of street barricades. Luxemburg and Liebknecht were captured in Berlin on 15 January 1919 by the Rifle Division of the Cavalry Guards of the Freikorps (Garde-Kavallerie-Schützendivision). Its commander Captain Waldemar Pabst, with Lieutenant Horst von Pflugk-Harttung, questioned them under torture and then gave the order to summarily execute them. Luxemburg was knocked down with a rifle butt by the soldier Otto Runge, then shot in the head, either by Lieutenant Kurt Vogel or by Lieutenant Hermann Souchon. Her body was flung into Berlin’s Landwehr Canal. In the Tiergarten [zoo], Liebknecht was shot and his body, without a name, brought to a morgue.” —From the Wikipedia article on Rosa Luxemburg, downloaded February, 2022.
LUXEMBURG, Rosa — Disputes with Lenin
Over a period of more than two decades Rosa Luxemburg and V. I. Lenin were international Marxist comrades, and were involved in common struggles against German and international revisionism, against imperialist war, and for proletarian revolution everywhere. But they also had quite a few secondary differences between them, which arose at different times, including during some periods when Luxemburg was in prison and was somewhat cut off from extensive knowledge of outside and foreign events. These disputes may have also been aggravated in part because of the fact that both of them wrote extensively in the revolutionary press, which led to their differences usually being very public. In most cases it now seems to us, in light of the further development of MLM theory and in light of historical developments, that Lenin was generally correct in these disputes, especially with regard to political issues. However, with regard to certain more theoretical questions in the political economy of capitalism Luxemburg was sometimes right while Lenin was at least partly wrong.
In particular, Marxist-Leninist-Maoists now usually conclude that Luxemburg was basically wrong in her promotion of the revolutionary strategy in advanced capitalist countries centered on the general strike, as opposed to organized mass insurrection at the appropriate time after a long period of mass agitation and organizational work, and in the context of some major crisis for the ruling class such as a depression or mass opposition to some horrible war. It now seems to revolutionary Marxists that her views on this important issue leaned in the direction of relying too much on trade unionism and mass spontaneity. And, partially in connection with this, we now think that Luxemburg was unjustly critical of the supposed “un-democratic” nature of the Bolsheviks and the October Revolution. (However, as Lenin notes in the quotation below, she did in fact change her position on many of these political issues once she was released from prison and got a better grasp of the situations in both Germany and Russia.)
With regard to the disputes between Lenin and Luxemburg over political economy, the situation was more mixed. He was certainly right to criticize the central theme of her book The Accumulation of Capital (1913), that capitalism can only exist while there are external markets in non-capitalist countries for the excess production under capitalism. (This same argument had been used by the Russian Norodniks to argue that capitalism could not possibly fully develop in Russia, which led Lenin to write a whole book explaining how and why capitalism had actually been developing, and was in fact still further developing, in Tsarist Russia.)
On the other hand, there were also some serious weaknesses in Lenin’s own understanding of Marx’s theory, especially with regard to the nature of capitalist economic crises. Partly because Lenin did not have access to Marx’s massive work Theories of Surplus Value [TSV], he actually accepted the validity of Say’s “Law” in some of his early essays, and never corrected himself on that point. Say’s so-called “Law” is the thesis that capitalist production invariably and automatically produces its own entire market for the commodities produced, and thus that there can be no capitalist overproduction (or “gluts”) resulting from the normal everyday operation of the capitalist system of production. This is completely mistaken. In TSV Marx ridicules “Say’s Law”, and all the bourgeois defenders of it (including Ricardo). But Lenin, in his 1897 article “A Characterization of Economic Romanticism”, wrote that the classical bourgeois economists “advanced the perfectly correct idea that production creates a market for itself and itself determines consumption.” [LCW 2:148] This is a clear (and quite erroneous) affirmation by Lenin of what is now called Say’s “Law”. In the next paragraph, Lenin adds: “Further, the failure to understand that production creates a market for itself leads to the doctrine that surplus-value cannot be realized.” Again, this is a rather clear affirmation of what we now call “Say’s Law”. What this meant was that Lenin’s understanding of the basic cause of capitalist economic crises was wrong. He attributed such crises to the anarchy of production under capitalism, and not to the overproduction of commodities and of the means of production themselves. (Unfortunately, many who have learned political economy more from Lenin than from Marx himself have made this same error. Thus the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, also upholds the “anarchy” theory of crises, rather than the far more fundamental overproduction/overaccumulation theory. See for example their 1984 book, America in Decline.)
So Lenin failed to fully appreciate the centrality of the overproduction of capital itself in capitalist society, a point on which Luxemburg was clear and insistent. In his pamphlet and writings on imperialism, Lenin did come to appreciate the need for the capitalists in the imperialist countries to both increase foreign sales of commodities, and even more so, the need to export capital. But it seems he never drew the explicit conclusion that these increased needs were the direct result of overproduction of both commodities and of productive capital within the home country. If he had, he might have been forced to reconsider his earlier rejection of the overaccumulation theory championed by Rosa Luxemburg.
In addition to this central dispute in political economy between Lenin and Luxemburg, there were a number of more minor issues where she was right and he was wrong, such as Lenin’s total dismissal of the contributions of Sismondi in the development of political economy. (See Luxemburg’s comments on that on pages 188-189 of The Accumulation of Capital [MR edition], and in light of Marx’s relative praise of Sismondi in camparison with Ricardo in TSV.)
Any two thinking Marxist revolutionaries will of course have some differences between them, despite their general unity and extensive shared understanding. We see this in the case of Rosa Luxemburg and V. I. Lenin, and it should in no way bother us that this is the case! It is from the dialectical struggle among excellent individual thinkers, and especially those with good connections to the masses, that the full truth arises.
“[Speaking of the renegade, Menshevik-like, German ‘Communist’ Paul Levi:] Paul Levi now wants to get into the good graces of the bourgeoisie—and, consequently, of its agents, the Second and the Two-and-a-Half Internationals—by republishing precisely those writings of Rosa Luxemburg in which she was wrong. We shall reply to this by quoting two lines from a good old Russian fable, ‘Eagles may at times fly lower than hens, but hens can never rise to the height of eagles.’ Rosa Luxemburg was mistaken on the question of the independence of Poland; she was mistaken in 1903 in her appraisal of Menshevism; she was mistaken on the theory of the accumulation of capital; she was mistaken in July 1914, when, together with Plekhanov, Vandervelde, Kautsky and others, she advocated unity between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks; she was mistaken in what she wrote in prison in 1918 [about the Bolsheviks and the Russian Revolution] (she corrected most of these mistakes at the end of 1918 and the beginning of 1919 after she was released). But in spite of her mistakes she was—and remains for us—an eagle. And not only will Communists all over the world cherish her memory, but her biography and her complete works (the publication of which the German Communists are inordinately delaying, which can only be partly excused by the tremendous losses they are suffering in their severe struggle) will serve as useful manuals for training many generations of Communists all over the world. ‘Since August 4, 1914, German social-democracy has been a stinking corpse’—this statement will make Rosa Luxemburg’s name famous in the history of the international working-class movement. And, of course, in the backyard of the working-class movement, among the dung heaps, hens like Paul Levi, Scheidemann, Kautsky and all that fraternity will cackle over the mistakes committed by the great Communist.” —Lenin, “Notes of a Publicist” (February 1922), LCW 33:210-211. [The date “August 4, 1914” Luxemburg mentioned above refers to the date the Social-Democratic faction in the Reichstag (German parliament) voted with the bourgeois representatives to provide 5 billion marks for World War I, thereby supporting Wilhelm II’s imperialist war.]
[In the last years of Lenin’s life, when his focus was naturally on the political
struggles occurring within the great Russian Revolution, he in effect turned over theoretical
disputes on political economy to other comrades, especially Nikolai Bukharin. And thus it was
Bukharin, in 1924 and shortly after Lenin’s death, who published the major Bolshevik critique of
Luxemburg’s 1913 book The Accumulation of Capital. Bukharin’s short book was entitled
Imperialism and the Accumulation of Capital. But it has to be said that Bukharin was not at
all a very good Marxist theoretician, in political economy, philosophy, or any other area. His book
focuses on technical issues, relating mostly to the question of whether Luxemburg was right or
wrong in the details of the dispute over Marx’s examples of expanded reproduction from Volume 2 of
Capital (which Marx himself never even finished). But far more important than any of that
is, once again, the issue of how one understands the basic cause and nature of major capitalist
economic crises. And in this regard, Bukharin follows Lenin in arguing that these crises are due to
the anarchy of production under both classical and monopoly capitalism. Thus Bukharin actually
makes the argument in his book that a hypothetical state capitalism (where the anarchy of
production is removed) will no longer suffer major economic crises! The severe and ever-growing
economic problems of the state-capitalist Soviet Union from at least the 1960s until the collapse
of the USSR in 1991 sure proved that idea wrong!
[See Chapter 3, section 4, of Bukharin’s book, especially p. 226 in the 1972 MR joint edition with Luxemburg’s “Anti-Critique”.
[It may in fact be quite possible for the revolutionary proletariat to use state capitalism without major crises in a brief transition period from capitalism to socialism (as was done in both the Soviet Union in its first decade and in the People’s Republic of China in its first few years). But state capitalism, like all other forms of capitalism, will simply not work without very serious and growing crises over the long run. —S.H.]
LUXEMBURG, Rosa — Political Economy Of
Rosa Luxemburg seriously studied not only Marxist political theory and revolutionary strategy, but also the political economy of capitalism, and particularly crisis theory and capitalist imperialism. She also taught political economy classes to SPD members in Berlin. Even earlier, while a student herself at the University of Zurich, she was especially concerned with capitalist economic and financial crises, which are discussed in her doctoral thesis on The Industrial Development of Poland [in German, 1898]. In later years, as a well-known Marxist political writer, she published a widely read (and also widely criticized!) book, The Accumulation of Capital (1913). Other than her doctoral thesis, this was her only economics book published in her lifetime. But she also wrote additional works on political economy, including her short book, The Accumulation of Capital—An Anti-critique, which was a reply to the critics of her earlier volume, as well as providing a good summary of that earlier work. This reply was written in 1915 while she was in prison because of her strenuous anti-war efforts. And she wrote yet another book, Introduction to Economics, while she was still in prison in 1916, which was only partially published (in German) in 1925, and even then mostly only in rough draft form.
In her 1913 book, The Accumulation of Capital, Luxemburg argued that modern capitalism requires imperialism in order to continue to exist, because capitalist production produces more than it can possibly sell in its home market. There is some very considerable truth to this general thesis! However, there were some serious errors in precisely how and why she thought this must be the case. In particular, her view that only the acquisition of markets in non-capitalist economies (such as pre-capitalist feudal economies in imperialist colonies) would provide an outlet for the overproduction inherent in capitalism, was incorrect. The basic problem in her analysis was that she didn’t see that continuing overproduction is in fact possible within capitalist countries, and indeed that it might even proceed for fairly long periods of time, not only between crises but even continuing through many of them. (The implicit view of many Marxists that each recession, or depression, wipes out absolutely all of the overproduction in the earlier period is not true; this only occurs, or nearly occurs, in the very worst overproduction crises. Thus the level of overproduction in the U.S. economy has overall been increasing—by fits and starts—ever since World War II, though there have been temporary partial declines during recessions.)
Luxemburg did not sufficiently appreciate that modern capitalism was in the process of developing and extending other very powerful ways to artificially and temporarily expand its markets, both in its home countries and abroad. These ways primarily involve the great expansion of credit and debt. There are places in Marx where he talks about various aspects of this, as in Chapter XXVII in volume III of Capital, on “The Role of Credit in Capitalist Production”, where he even states that “the credit system appears as the main lever of over-production...” and that “the credit system accelerates the material development of the productive forces and the establishment of the world market”. [International ed. (1972), Vol. III, p. 441.] And this is why Luxemburg was wrong to think that Marx had made a mistake in his system which implied that capitalism really could not work at all. In reality it “works” for a long time, though in a very dialectically contradictory fashion.
However, even Marx did not forsee how immensely more important the expansion of credit and debt would become for the continuation of capitalism in what we now refer to as its imperialist (or monopoly capitalist) stage, and most especially in its current late period. So perhaps we can pardon Rosa Luxemburg (along with virtually everyone else at the time, including Lenin) for also not sufficiently recognizing the possibility that the future vast expansion of credit and debt, along with the new imperialist form of capitalism, which among other things involves the partial merger of the state with capitalist corporations, might enable capitalism to last about one additional century beyond what we might otherwise view as its “natural life span”! All this is now becoming much clearer, as the colossal debt expansion over the past 80 years approaches its final extreme limits.
Luxemburg really was correct in claiming that Marx’s theory implies that capitalism just can’t work in the very long run, and specifically because of the fact that the growth of capitalist markets cannot keep up with the expansion of production (as Marx put it, and as Engels also stated in Anti-Dühring). But what she didn’t understand is that there is this artificial way of making it seem to be working for quite a long while—namely, the ever-greater, ever-faster expansion of credit and debt, for as long as that continues to be possible.
Other Marxists, especially Hilferding in 1910, and following him, Lenin, emphasized that a new essential feature of capitalist-imperialism was the increasing need to export capital to other countries as well as to further increase manufactured exports. But while Luxemburg saw that trend too, she focused more on the logical flaw in the theory if we are really going to be talking about overproduction. Obviously, if all capitalist countries are overproducing, then they can’t really ease the problem by exporting excess capital to each other’s countries and thereby further increasing production there as well! However, neither Hilferding nor Lenin wanted to talk very much about overproduction, despite the fact that that was Marx’s name for capitalist crises. Instead, Hilferding subscribed to the falling rate of profit theory of capitalist crises, and even claimed that with the growing “organization of capital” capitalist crises would soon be a thing of the past! Lenin, instead, argued that capitalist economic crises were due to the anarchy of production, which also implies (though Lenin never explicitly said so) that capitalism should be able to eliminate crises if it could only get rid of its anarchy of “many capitals”. [However, Bukharin did make this argument explicitly; see the quotation following the entry above: LUXEMBURG, Rosa—Disputes with Lenin.] Marx himself put forward all three theories, overproduction (or overaccumulation), the anarchy of capitalist production, and the falling rate of profit theory. (In short, Marx left the theory of capitalist economic crises in something of a disorganized mess, and failed to at least make it totally clear that the overproduction/overaccumulation theory was the most essential thing.) Luxemburg followed Marx in discussing and emphasizing overproduction, and thus in this respect, at least, was closer to Marx’s central theory than either Hilferding or Lenin.
However, the many Left critics of Luxemburg’s political economy, most of whom are themselves opposed to Marx’s central overproduction/overaccumulation theory, prefer to focus on Luxemburg’s secondary error, of claiming that capitalism can only function if it finds substantial markets in non-capitalist areas. So we need to discuss that some more, and talk about the source of that erroneous view—namely, none other than Karl Kautsky.
It must be remembered that in the period after Engels’s death in 1895, and pretty much up until World War I, the most prominent and influential Marxist in the world was Karl Kautsky. He was the leading Marxist theoretician of that period; though, in retrospect, of course, and looking back at what he wrote and had to say then, and with especial thanks to Lenin’s many criticisms, we now see all sorts of serious problems and errors even in that early period. It should also be stated that Kautsky was very flaky and inconsistent in his writings, frequently changing the thrust of his ideas in subsequent works. This makes it difficult to concisely sum up his ever-shifting views. One academic history of Marxist economic thought says:
“As early as 1884 Kautsky argued that colonies were a prerequisite for capitalist expansion, and that Germany’s lack of them was one of the main reasons why she had failed to industrialize at the same time as Britain. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries colonial possessions had been essential both for the primitive accumulation of capital and as a source of markets. The latter function (realization) was now much the more important, Kautsky maintained. Workers received in wages less than the value of their product, and capitalist consumption was insufficient to fill the gap. Hence capitalists must find ‘a market outside the sphere of their own production’ which could offer the prospect of continuous growth. Their first target was the domestic peasantry, but its purchasing power was restricted by its steady impoverishment. Accordingly, ‘as a sales market the colonies have become a condition of existence for capitalism’.” [M. C. Howard & J. E. King, A History of Marxian Economics: Vol. I, 1883-1929, (1989), p. 92.]
On the next page Howard & King note that “There are echoes of this essentially Luxemburgist analysis of imperialism” in Kautsky’s book The Class Struggle (1892). But they go on to show how many of Kautsky’s views changed in various directions later on (and then returned to this original theme once again in 1901). In their chapter on Luxemburg, Howard & King state:
“Luxemburg’s central theme reasserts the position taken by Kautsky in 1884 and 1901: capitalist growth is possible only if customers are available outside the system to realize the increasing quantity of surplus value produced within it. The compulsive quest for non-capitalist markets transforms the economies of the backward areas, overwhelming traditional pre-capitalist modes of subsistence and thereby destroying the very outlets which the advanced nations so desperately need. Thus capitalism is both fundamentally contradictory and increasingly aggressive, because of the growing intensity of the struggle for economic territory. Cobdenism is dead and buried. Socialism or the barbarism of modern warfare: this is the choice which capitalism offers to humanity.” [Ibid., p. 107. “Cobdenism” refers to the promotion of international free trade and opposition to wars and interference in foreign countries. —Ed.]
Perhaps we should blame Luxemburg for not breaking away from this erroneous view of Kautsky’s in political
economy, just as she had already started to do with respect to many of Kautsky’s erroneous political views
which were obstructing the goal of making proletarian revolution. But it is difficult to recognize and break
away from the errors our teachers instill within us. And we do have to remember that Marxist political
economy (like MLM in general) is a science which needs to develop over time, in part by correcting earlier
misconceptions and mistakes, even sometimes those by the greatest developers and representatives of that
Rosa Luxemburg was an important Marxist theoretician in not only the political sphere, but also in political economy. A completely balanced appraisal of her work in political economy will probably not be widely agreed upon until MLM theory has finally settled on a more coherent, unified and finalized capitalist crisis theory, which itself is probably not likely until the long-developing current overproduction crisis has reached its terminal stage—and, therefore, theory can completely catch up with reality. In my own opinion the “Marxist Left” has been excessively critical of Rosa Luxemburg’s writings on capitalist economics. Yes, there are some errors in these works, but also plenty of things of value and essential correctness that are often improperly denied or ignored. The inappropriate criticism of our great predecessors should itself be criticized. And that goes for the case of Rosa Luxemburg, too. —S.H. (05/30/22)
Acronym commonly used in bourgeois publications in India to refer to what the government considers to be “Left-Wing Extremism”. According to the fascist or semi-fascist government of India this term applies to all the parties on the left who are actually serious about social revolution and/or are already engaged in revolutionary struggle. The most important of these parties is the Communist Party of India (Maoist), which the government has been unsuccessfully attempting to destroy since its foundation in 2004.
LYELL, Charles (1797-1875)
Scottish scientist, whose two textbooks Principles of Geology (1830) and Elements of Geology (1838) established the modern foundation of the science of geology. Lyell was also a major influence on Charles Darwin.
To make a false statement with the intent to deceive, or to purposely mislead someone into believing a falsehood. Most of the time, and in most circumstances, this is not a good thing, of course. And we revolutionaries should specifically make it a general principle not to lie to either our comrades or to the masses. However, there are times when lying is both necessary and completely moral, as when lying to the enemies of the people prevents the occurrence of some serious harm. Amazingly enough, there have been some idealist philosophers (especially Kant) who have not been able to understand this elementary truth!
See also: CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE
“I would not break my word even to save humanity.” —Johann Gottlieb Fichte, quoted in Raymond Smullyan, The Tao is Silent (1977), p. 126. [Fichte was a disciple of Kant, and this quote is a great example of how fantastically stupid Kantians and others who think in terms of absolute moral maxims can be! —S.H.]
“One ought always to lie when one can do good by it.” —Mark Twain, “On the Decay of the Art of Lying” (1882). [Expressing a much more sensible point of view! —S.H.]
“The [bourgeois] philosopher Stuart Hampshire served in British military
intelligence during the Second World War. When we were colleagues at Princeton he told
me about the following incident, which must have taken place shortly after the Normandy
landings. The French Resistance had captured an important collaborator, who was thought
to have information that would be useful to the Allies. Hampshire was sent to interrogate
him. When he arrived, the head of the Resistance unit told Hampshire he could question the
man, but that when he was through they were going to shoot him: that’s what they always
did with these people. He then left Hampshire alone with the prisoner. The man said
immediately that he would tell Hampshire nothing unless Hampshire guaranteed he would be
turned over to the British. Hampshire replied that he could not give such a guarantee. So
the man told him nothing before he was shot by the French.
“Another philosopher, when I told him this story, commented drily that what it showed was that Hampshire was a very poor choice for the assignment.” —Thomas Nagel (another bourgeois philosopher), “Types of Intuition”, London Review of Books, Vol. 43, #11, June 3, 2021, p. 3.
[Assuming that it was correct to work for the defeat of Nazi Germany at that time (a very reasonable assumpion!), this story does show that Hampshire was an idiot. By just lying to the French collaborator he could probably have gotten some potentially important information to aid the Allied war effort. But apparently this bourgeois philosopher (or philosopher-to-be) was already indoctrinated with something like the Kantian moral perspective into believing that all moral maxims are total absolutes, never to be violated, including “Thou shalt not lie.” Even to the enemy! People who are obsessed with subordinate principles like “don’t lie” forget the greater principles, including the most basic moral principle of all, that what is good and right is that which is in the real overall interests of the people. (Such as for example, winning a world war against fascism.) These greater principles help us to determine whether subordinate principles should be honored in that situation. —S.H.]
LYNCHINGS — Political
“On the night of April 4, 1918, nearly a year to the day that the
United States entered World War I, Robert Paul Prager, a 30-year-old German immigrant,
and by some accounts a radical socialist, was lynched by a mob of ‘patriots’ outside
Collinsville, Ill., a small market center and coal-mining town of 4,000, located 12
miles across the river from St. Louis.
“Prager was a sacrificial lamb, a casualty of the wartime madness. His lynching was an extreme case, but it was not an aberration. In the months leading up to America’s entry into the war and during the year and a half that the nation was an active participant, the federal government whipped the American public into a superpatriotic froth with a calculated program of propaganda, and attacks on German aliens and German Americans were all too common.” —Jay Feldman, “U.S. government has long history of whipping up fears and repression”, Sacramento Bee, Aug. 21, 2011, p. E3. This article was adapted from Feldman’s book, Manufacturing Hysteria: A History of Scapegoating, Surveillance, and Secrecy in Modern America (2011).
“A Missouri lawmaker has called for the lynching of whoever threw paint on a Confederate statue. State Rep. Warren Love called for the unknown vandals to be ‘hung from a tall tree with a long rope.’ He later denied he was referencing the hanging murders of blacks in the South. ‘That’s just a Western term,’ he said, ‘and I’m very much a Western man.’” —“Only in America”, The Week, Sept. 15, 2017, p. 6. [The impulse to lynch people, for both political and racist reasons, is by no means ended in this horribly vicious and reactionary capitalist-imperialist country. —Ed.]
LYNCHINGS — Racist
“A lynch mob stopped a car carrying two black couples and their white
employer on July 25th 1946. One of the black men, Roger Malcolm, had just been given bail
after stabbing a white farmer. The mob tied up all four African-Americans and shot them
60 times. Their white boss, who was not harmed, said he could not identify any of the
“The lynching that took place near Moore’s Ford Bridge in Walton County, Georgia, is still unsolved. A marker was erected 2.4 miles west of the spot in 1999. But few other such signs exist at similar sites in the South.
“Between 1877 and 1950 almost 4,000 black southerners were lynched, according to a new report by the Equal Justice Iniative (EJI), a human-rights group. That is 700 more than previously reported. During the days of Jim Crow, a black man could be murdered for speaking ‘disrepectfully’ or for knocking on the door of a white woman’s house. In 1904 a crowd in Mississippi sipped lemonade and nibbled devilled eggs as they watched a black couple being mutilated and burned....
“Georgia saw more such murders (586) than any other state, followed by Mississippi.”
—“Lynching in the South: Marking Murder”, The Economist, Feb. 21, 2015, p. 32.
LYSENKO, Trofim Denisovich (1898-1976)
Soviet agronomist, and later the top government official for the genetic sciences in the Soviet Union. During the agricultural crisis of the early 1930s (due to the mishandling of agricultural collectivization by Stalin), he came to prominence for spreading good crop management techniques among the peasants. He borrowed and promoted the discovery that the phases of plant growth can be accelerated via short doses of low temperatures and moisture controls applied to the seeds and young plants. But he went on to claim, without good scientific evidence, that these benefits also became “acquired characteristics” which were then passed on to future plant generations. In this he was applying the erroneous genetic theories of the early French naturalist Jean Lamarck (1744-1829) and the Russian horticulturalist Ivan Michurin.
Thereafter Lysenko rapidly rose in the ranks of Soviet agricultural management because he was saying things that the Soviet government wanted to hear—that there were some easy technical ways to drastically improve agricultural production. (See LYSENKOISM entry below.) Lysenko was the director of the Institute of Genetics of the Soviet Academy of Sciences from 1940 to 1965, where he formally denounced Mendelian genetics. In 1948 Stalin’s backing ended virtually all opposition to Lysenko and his theories. After Stalin’s death in 1953 Lysenko’s power fell, but increased again under Khrushchev until both of them were removed from power in 1965.
There is a telling little story about Lysenko; it is said that he posed the following question on several occasions to the scientific workers at what was later called the Englehardt Institute of Molecular Biology in the Soviet Union: “What is DNA?” (That was indeed a question he sorely needed the answer to!)
This is a term that has come to mean something like letting political wishful thinking triumph over scientific fact, or even letting politics dominate and determine what scientific truth “actually is”.
In the Soviet Union under Stalin and Khrushchev, the agronomist Trofim Lysenko (see above) propagated a quack theory of genetics based on the supposed inheritance of acquired characteristics. However, even before the discovery of the central role of DNA in inheritance, the science of biology (and genetics specifically) had determined that (at least normally) there is no such thing as the inheritance of acquired characteristics. The giraffe’s neck is long not because its ancestors stretched theirs during their lifetimes, but because the ancestors with naturally longer necks survived, while those with shorter necks died before they could reproduce. (Counterpoint: Recent research seems to show that there really are some exceptional circumstances where there can be some inheritance of acquired characteristics, as with certain bacteria, but the fact remains that even if this is so it is only in highly atypical situations.) There were prominent geneticists in the Soviet Union who knew this full well, such as Nikolai Vavilov, and who were persecuted and sometimes imprisoned for their Mendelian views by Lysenko and the Soviet government. (Vavilov himself was arrested in 1940 and is said to have died of starvation in a Siberian labor camp around 1943.) Lysenko was welcome to his own opinions about genetics, but the persecution of those who disagreed with him was the crime, which was made much worse by the support of Stalin (and later Khrushchev) and the force of the state.
It is not entirely clear, however, how much direct damage Lysenko and his theories actually did to Soviet agriculture, though certainly there was some significant damage over the long run due to his disruption of genetic research. There were many other problems in agriculture, some of them probably much more important. For example, the brutal “top-down” method of agricultural collectivization carried out by Stalin in the 1930s led to the death of many peasants, the destruction of much of the livestock and to serious crop shortages. The continuing failure to use the mass line to mobilize the peasants to work in their own collective interests remained a major obstacle to the expansion of agricultural production. And insufficient industrial support was also given to agriculture over a period of decades.
Unfortunately the Lysenko episode has led to some widespread invalid conclusions, even among some Marxists, such as that any “government interference” in science is unjustified, and that scientists and other experts should be basically unrestricted in their activities. Of course any government will appropriately promote and fund those scientists and those theories which it has confidence in. And any government would be within its rights to restrict certain kinds of experiments or technologies for which there is good reason to believe that there are serious potential dangers for the people. Moreover, a socialist government in particular, will certainly find it necessary to criticize bourgeois ideas that scientists, just as any other segment of society, may still promote.
However, it is true that socialist society should also allow, especially in the natural sciences, “a hundred flowers to bloom, and a hundred schools of thought to content” (as Mao poetically put it). In looking at the experience of socialism in both the Soviet Union and China it seems clear that overall there was not enough freedom of thought and expression in the sciences, nor was there sufficient allowance (and even encouragement!) of new and minority ideas and views. On the other hand it, it was certainly necessary and correct to strongly criticize views and theories insofar as they had a bourgeois ideological component, and sometimes this was also insufficient! Of course this will generally be much more central and important in the social sciences than in the natural sciences.
See also: INSTRUMENTALISM
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