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2021, vol. 55, br. 3, str. 833-865
Sto pedeset godina posle rođenja Roze Luksemburg - aktuelnost njene društvene reforme ili revolucije
Univerzitet u Beogradu, Filozofski fakultet, Odeljenje za sociologiju
Ključne reči: reforma; revolucija; kapitalizam; utopijski socijalizam; naučni socijalizam; varvarstvo
Rad istražuje aktuelnost Reforme i revolucije Roze Luksemburg 150 godina nakon njenog rođenja. Osnovni korišćeni metod je analiza sadržaja ovog značajnog političkog pamfleta, smeštena u kontekst vremena/prostora kada i gde je napisan, s jedne strane, i danas, s druge. Osnovni nalaz jeste da je Rozino delo ostalo relevantno do naših dana s obzirom na to da kapitalistički način proizvodnje i dalje odlikuju unutrašnje protivrečnosti koje proizvode varvarske posledice izrabljivanja i imperijalističkih ratova. Ove posledice kapitalističkog sistema osiguravaju trajnu aktuelnost dileme socijalizam ili varvarstvo s kojom se Roza Luksemburg suočavala tokom celokupnog svojeg života.


The second and the beginning of the third decade of the 21st century characterizes the new period of relative stabilization of the capitalist mode of production since the financial 2007/2008 crisis subsided, especially in the center of the world capitalist economy (Wallerstein, I, 1974). So far, even the current world recession brought about by the economic effects of the COVID-19 world pandemic (cf. Thematic Issue оf Sociological Review/Sociološki pregled Society & COVID-19, 2020), has not disturbed this stabilization substantially. Current apparent political stabilization of capitalism has brought to power mostly center right oriented ideological representatives of the financial bourgeoisie, in contrast to the global political struggles that seemed to be favorable to the Global Left in a first decade of the 21st century.

The members of the movements who, in spite of the mentioned social circumstances have nevertheless remained consistently and strategically oriented towards a structural change of exploitative capitalist social relationships, and have not given in to pessimism and inactivity, tend to search for the inspiration and lessons for anti-capitalist revolutionary theory and practice in the life and work of consistent Marxist revolutionaries such as Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919). Contemporary reexamination of Rosa's work Reform or Revolution (RoR in further text, 1900) is a good starting point for drawing the abovementioned lessons in the circumstances of relative stabilization of capitalism. Rosa namely wrote the first five chapters of RoR in similar circumstances at the end of the 19th century – of the apparent absence of the open class fight between the working masses and financial oligarchy in Germany and beyond. RoR is a polemical reaction to and Marxist critique of the theory presented by Eduard Bernstein (1850–1932) his book The Pre-Conditions of Socialism and the Tasks for Social Democracy (Die Voraussetzungen des Sozialismus und die Aufgaben der Sozialdemokratie, translated to English as Evolutionary Socialism (1899/ s.a.)).

Rosa was born in a family of Jews in Russian-occupied Poland. The disadvantages like gender, physical disability, Jewish origin, did not stop her from gaining a doctorate at the University of Zurich, becoming a respected academic theorist, journalist, anti-war activist and uncompromising socialist revolutionary who tirelessly questioned those in power (Evans, 2015).

Reform vs. revolution and petite bourgeoisie vs proletariat

In spite of the title of her work, Rosa Luxemburg insists that she does not contrapose the daily trade union economic struggles and agitation for social reforms and democratization of existing political institutions, which ameliorate the living conditions of the workers, on the one hand, and the final aim – the conquest of political power and the suppression of wage labor, on the other. Rosa agrees that trade union and parliamentary practice are important for raising socialist awareness and consciousness of the proletariat and helping it to organize as a class.

Rosa clarifies that she criticizes Bernstein's proposal to the workers to renounce the social transformation process and to make social reforms the final aim of the class struggle.

Bernstein locates the realization of socialism in the possibility of making the poor rich, in the attenuation of class antagonisms and capitalist crises. Since there can be no socialist movement without a socialist aim, Bernstein ends by renouncing the movement.

In so doing, Bernstein, according to Rosa, reduces the entire labor movement against the capitalist order to a mere effort to repair it. In such proposition Rosa detects Bernstein attempt to ensure predominance of the petty-bourgeois elements within the movement of the working masses that contain its proletarian character. She considers believes that it is of paramount importance that the great mass of workers takes the keen interest in theoretical debates on socialism and gains in such a way "dependable weapons of scientific socialism in their own hands, so that all the petty-bourgeois opportunistic currents, would come to naught" (

Rosa insists that the difference between herself and revisionists in SDPG is not in what but in how trade union and parliamentary activity is politically oriented (

In the following chapters Rosa elaborates mutually interlinked basic topics announced in the Introduction. In the analysis of their content, therefore, it is sometimes not possible to avoid certain repetitiveness that also characterizes Rosa's text, no matter how much as the author of this paper tried to divide different, mutually interlinked topics, into separate sections. An important source of this repetition is of pedagogical nature, keeping in mind that Rosa addresses workers as the reading public, so that the repetition has the function of getting main ideas on socialism and the fight for its realization into the minds of the readers.

Scientific socialism and dialectical method and utopian socialism and opportunist method

According to Rosa, the basic element of scientific socialism is, first of all, a growing anarchy of capitalist economy, inevitably leading to its ruin. The second element of scientific socialism is the progressive socialization of the production process, which creates the germs of the future social order. The third basic element is the increased organization and consciousness of the proletarian class, which constitutes the active factor in the social revolution.

Bernstein ignores or negates all three mentioned basic elements of scientific socialism. Rosa starts her critique of Evolutionary Socialism by the analysis of the "opportunist method" employed by Bernstein while developing his revisionist theory. The main characteristic of Bernstein's opportunist method is his negation of the very possibility of a transformation to socialism due to general internal contradictions between production and exchange on the capitalist base, ultimately leading to a collapse of capitalism. Since capitalist development does not move, according to Bernstein, in the direction of its own ruin, socialism ceases to be an objectively necessary result of the material development of the society. In this way, Bernstein lifts the program of the socialist movement off its material base and tries to place it on an idealist, utopian base (

Opportunism is characterized by hostility to "theory". By theory Rosa means the principles of scientific socialism, which imposes the limitations to aims, means and methods employed in practical activity of the labor movement. Bernstein therefore tried to elaborate a new theory, legitimizing opportunistic currents of action, uniting all opportunist elements at the 1907 Stuttgart Congress of the Second International, pushing the labor movement into bourgeois paths.

Rosa insists that the opportunistic theory that relies on basing socialism on the moral notion of justice, on a struggle against the mode of distribution, instead of basing it on a struggle against the mode of production, the concept of class antagonism as antagonism between the poor and the rich, the effort to graft the "co-operative principle" on capitalist economy, already existed before Bernstein. She adds that after the development of the class struggle and its reflex in social conditions, had led to the abandonment of opportunistic theories and to the elaboration of the principles of scientific socialism. Rosa underlines that there can be no socialism – at least in Germany – outside of Marxist (scientific) socialism. The return to pre-Marxist socialist theories signifies a return to the puny worn-out slippers of the bourgeoisie (

By rejecting Marx's economic doctrine and dialectical method, Bernstein exchanged the scientific base of the working class emancipation for the apologetics of the bourgeoisie, depriving the socialist movement of it class character. Attacking dialectical method Bernstein, according to Rosa, attempts to shatter the intellectual arm with the aid of which the proletariat is enabled to pierce the transitory nature of capitalist yoke, realizing a revolution in the domain of thought (

To Rosa's mind, the main contradiction of capitalism, аs we have seen, exists between the boundless possibilities of the growth of capitalist production, on the one side, and insufficient buying capable demand for produced merchandises on the market, or the crisis of hyper production, on the other ( Due to this contradiction, capital wages imperialist wars to annex heretofore non-capitalist societies into the world capitalist market. According to Rosa, the breakdown of capitalism will eventually come, when imperialist bourgeoisie overtakes the last still non-capitalist markets.2

Critique of Bernstein's arguments on the capitalism's capacity of "adaptation"

The capitalist society, according to Bernstein, has no inner inclination to downfall but, on the contrary, it has the capacity of "adaptation" so that general collapse of the capitalist system of production becomes more and more improbable. Rosa examines these alleged "adaptation" mechanisms of capitalism to the needs of society one by one (credit system3; employers' organizations, cartels and trusts4; continuous survival of a "steadfast phalanx" of small and medium-sized enterprises5; intensified trade-union and parliamentary activity6; social protection labor legislation7; "co-operative principle"8), and demonstrates that they in fact deepen the contradictions of capitalism.

Rosa concludes that there cannot be any expropriation of the means of production by stages on the basis of progressively more extensive control over the conditions of production through trade union struggle and political reforms, which would, according to Bernstein, gradually reduce the rights of proprietors to the role of their simple administrators. The big capitalists, according to Rosa, on the contrary, became big shareholders separated from any personal relation with administration of production (

The capitalist state, parliamentarism and the conquest of democratic political power

Rosa elaborates her views on the state as a class organization of capital, underlining that capitalist development makes state intervention and control in the society more and more necessary. But the state in capitalism remains an organization of the ruling class implementing the policy of tariffs, militarism and colonial imperialism. Parliamentarism thus expresses a society in which capitalist interests predominate. It is therefore an illusion of reformists that the contradiction between the class state and society is to be liquidated through increased state control and the progress of democracy. Rosa is certain that only the conquest of political power by the proletariat can realize democracy necessary and indispensible to the working class for autonomous administration in the task of transforming the bourgeois society (

Bernstein presents socialism not as a consequence of economic compulsion but as a result of the feeling of justice and will, as well as of the growth of democracy. Rosa demonstrates that no absolute and general relation can be constructed between capitalist development and democracy. Democratic institutions have completely exhausted their function as aids in the development of bourgeois society. Liberalism has even begun to be an impediment to capitalism due to world politics and the aggravation of competition on the world market and the strengthening of the labor movement. The fate of democracy is bound up with the fate of the labor movement. Realization of democracy requires a conquest of political power by the working masses (

In her important political pamphlet Russian Revolution (1918/1999) Rosa simultaneously notices the limits of representative democracy, but also demands that the revolution promotes representative democracy. In chapter four she criticizes Lenin (1870–1924) and Trotsky (1879–1940) for having abolished the elected Constituent Assembly immediately after the October Revolution9. Rosa concludes in a famous slogan that freedom is always the freedom for those who think differently. Her critique of representative democracy prevents us from interpreting this slogan as the demand for indiscriminate general tolerance.

From the revisionist standpoint, Rosa demonstrates, the conquest of power is simultaneously impossible and useless. Socialism allegedly can be introduced only as a result of the trade union and parliamentary activity. According to revisionists, these activities have a socialist character because they supposedly exercise a progressively socializing influence on capitalist economy.

In contrast, Rosa argues that such socializing influence is purely imaginary, since trade union and parliamentary activities are in practice carried out only for their immediate results of instantly improving the present situation of the workers. In Bernstein's revisionist theory and practice they lose all connection with political work for socialism, since they exclude the preparation of the proletariat, subjective factor of the socialist transformation, for the task of realizing socialism (

Marginalist, vulgar and mechanical bourgeois economic theory

Bernstein's marginalist and mechanical economic theory constitutes the second point for which Rosa criticizes Bernstein's theory and method. According to this theory, the capitalist is seen as an isolated entrepreneur who reflects in his mind the economic facts around him just as they appear when refracted by the laws of competition. The isolated capitalist sees each organic part of the whole of capitalist economy (credit, money, market, cartels, small and medium enterprises...) as an independent entity. He sees them as they act on him, the single capitalist especially during crises. For the isolated capitalist, crises are really simple derangements while the cessation of crises accords him a longer existence. As far as the single capitalist is concerned, a credit, for instance, is only a means of "adapting" his insufficient productive forces to the needs of the market. Therefore, it seems to him that the cartel of which he becomes a member really suppresses industrial anarchy (

Marginalism ends up in a utopia and a program of reaction. Rosa defines the theory of revisionism as a theory of standing still in the socialist movement, built on a theory of capitalist standstill (

In contrast to Bernstein's marginalist economic theory, according to which "capitalist" is not an economic unit, or a factor of production, but a fiscal unit, a certain quantity of money, Rosa insists that the industrial capitalist represents a collective person composed of hundreds and even thousands of individuals.

Rosa sums up that revisionism is nothing else than a theoretic generalization made from the angle of the isolated capitalist, that is from the viewpoint of vulgar bourgeois economics. All the errors of bourgeois economics rest precisely on the conception that mistakes the phenomena of competition, as seen from the angle of the isolated capitalist, for the phenomena of the whole of capitalist economy. This vulgar economics tries to find the antidote against the ills of capitalism in the phenomena of capitalism. The vulgar economist believes that it is possible to regulate capitalist economy and to palliate the contradictions of capitalism.

Attenuation of class antagonisms, crises and the petty bourgeois renunciation of a socialist aim

In accordance with his claim concerning the adaptability of the capitalist mode of production and exchange, Bernstein interprets capitalist crises as simple derangements of the economic mechanism. Namely, he believes that with cessation of crises, the capitalist mechanism could function well. On the contrary, Rosa underlines that crises are not "derangements" in the usual sense of the word: crises are "derangements" without which capitalist economy could not develop at all. In fact, crises constitute the only normal method possible in capitalism of solving periodically the conflict existing between the unlimited extension of production and the narrow limits of the world market. Crises are therefore an organic manifestation inseparable from capitalist economy. Due to a periodic depreciation of capital, crises bring a fall in the prices of means of production, a paralysis of a part of the active capital. In time there comes an increase in profits, which thus create the possibility of the renewed advance of rekindling the fire of capitalist development.

In the chapters of RoR which she edited after the experiences of revolution in Russia in 1905 and later, Rosa also points out that hardly had Bernstein developed his argument of the "adaptation" of the capitalism through the credit system, cartels and trusts, when a profound general commercial crisis broke out in 1907/8, exactly in the countries which had the greatest development of credits and trusts (

Rosa concludes that the anarchic capitalist production cannot "adapt" itself to exchange and thus become a durable production system since the world market cannot spread unlimitedly ( htm). Sooner or later the world market will be extended to its limit and become exhausted through the competition of the capitalist countries ( (cf. FN ii).

Rosa claims that socialism will be the consequence of 1) the growing inner contradictions of capitalist economy becoming ever sharper instead of disappearing and 2) of the comprehension by the working class of the unavoidability of the suppression of these contradictions through a social transformation. Since revisionism denies the first contradiction and rejects the second, it reduces the labor movement to a simple reformist movement which abandoned the class viewpoint оf the working class and becomes the standpoint of the capitalist apologist.

Utopianism and reactionarity

Rosa reveals Bernstein's theory as both utopian and reactionary. Rosa reiterates in the first place that a defective, crisis-ridden capitalist development cannot lead to a socialist transformation since neither the credit system nor cartels and survival of the middle class can be regarded as "means of adaptation" of capitalist economy, in spite of the temporary cessation of crises, which always erupt again in an ever sharper form.

According to Rosa, Bernstein renounces the struggle against the capitalist mode of production and attempts to direct the socialist movement to struggle toward more just "distribution". Since the mode of production is the cause of the mode of distribution, Social Democracy should struggle for the suppression of the capitalist production itself.

Bernstein sees the legislative course of historical development as the action of methodical "intelligence" while for him the revolutionary course of historical development is the action of a spontaneous "feeling". In the history of bourgeois society, according to Rosa, legislative reform served to strengthen progressively the rising class till the latter was sufficiently strong to seize political power, to suppress the existing judicial system and to construct a new one itself.

Rosa summarizes RoR in the famous slogan: "Legislative reform and revolution are not different methods of historical development that can be picked out at pleasure from the counter of history, just as one chooses hot or cold sausages. Legislative reform and revolution are different factors in the development of class society. They condition and complement each other, and are at the same time reciprocally exclusive, as are the north and south poles, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat". People who pronounce themselves in favor of the method of legislative reform in place and in contradiction to the conquest of political power and social revolution, do not really choose a more tranquil, calmer and slower road to the same goal, but a different goal. Instead of taking a stand for the establishment of a new society they take a stand for surface modifications of the old society, suppression of the abuses of capitalism instead of suppression of capitalism itself" (https://www.marxists. org/archive/luxemburg/1900/reform-revolution/ch08.htm).

Rosa stresses that legislative reform of capitalism is not possible since the class domination within it does not rest on "acquired rights" but on real economic relations of domination of capital over labor understood as merchandise possessing the quality of producing surplus value, greater than the value it consumes. Therefore wage slavery cannot be suppressed in the "legislative way".

Bernstein warns the proletariat against the danger of acquiring political power too early. Behind this stance Rosa detects the belief that the socialist program is unrealizable and expresses general opposition to the aspiration of the proletariat to possess itself State power10.

Rosa claims that the seizure of power presupposes a definite degree of maturity of economic and political relations and a large conscious popular class as the product of the decomposition of bourgeois society. The socialist transformation presupposes a long and stubborn struggle, in the course of which, the proletariat will be probably repulsed more than once. These "premature" attacks of the proletariat constitute a very important factor creating political conditions to maintain the political power for good.

Opportunism in Theory and Practice

Rosa demonstrates that opportunism appeared as a clearly defined current in the German labor movement with the suppression of the anti-Socialist laws in 1887 (which authorities introduced in 1881 in fear of the rapid increase in numbers and organization of workers movement) (

The Social-Democratic movement, Rosa emphasizes, must grope on its road of development between the following two rocks: abandoning the mass character of the party or abandoning its final aim falling into bourgeois reformism or into sectarianism, anarchism or opportunism. Because social democratic movement is a mass movement and because the dangers menacing it are not derived from the human brain but from social conditions, Marxist doctrine could not insure us, in advance and once for all, against the anarchist and opportunist tendencies.

Rosa underlines that the surprising thing is not the appearance of an opportunist current in the last decade of the 19th century, but rather its feebleness, since in it there is not a shadow of the original thought: "Not a single idea that was not refuted, crushed, reduced into dust by Marxism several decades ago! Only dialectics and the materialist conception of history … could make Bernstein appear as an unconscious predestined instrument, by means of which the rising working class expresses its momentary weakness but which, upon closer inspection, it throws aside contemptuously and with pride (https://www.marxists. org/archive/luxemburg/1900/reform-revolution/ch10.htm).


With her RoR pamphlet, Rosa's achievement in the first decade of the 20 th century was that Karl Kautsky (1854-1938), the most authoritative Marxist theoretical figure in the Second International, at the least paid lip service to the socialist goal during SPD and Second International conferences. However, when all parliamentarians, including SPD members, оn voted for war credits on 4 th August 1914, they betrayed the working class and the final aim of transition to socialism, enabling and even encouraging the entrance of Germany into the barbaric imperialist World War11.

The defeat in the Great War in 1918 sparked off revolutionary turmoil among workers in Germany. Rosa and Karl Liebknecht hailed the revolutionary tactics for extra-parliamentary mass action, semi-spontaneous mass strikes which broke out in revolutionary situations of extreme oppression and/or imperialist war exhausting efforts (Rosa, 1905), until the first successes strengthened and raised self-confidence of the workers. Historical events overcame Rosa's suggestions from the time of stabilization of capitalism that trade union fights should have a revolutionary component (like the demand for ownership of enterprises and decision making by the workers what, where, how and how much to produce and distribute, for instance), since the capitalist system can undo each partial reform at any time, as it happened with Roosevelt's "New Deal" or Tony Blair's (1953-) "Third Way".

The foundation of the German Communist Party in 1918, however, was too late to win over the majority of the working class to a revolutionary Marxist orientation during the revolutionary rebellion in Germany. During this period of revolutionary turmoil in Germany, social democrats headed by Friedrich Ebert (1871-1925) came to power without any intent to proceed towards the transition to socialism. Instead, they ordered the summary execution of Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht and other communists. They accused the communists of endangering the constitutional order during the Spartacist uprising in Berlin in January 1919. Rosa and Karl considered this uprising a blunder (Hettman, 1980:308), but did not hesitate to support the attempted overthrow of the government. As a matter of fact, they were aware that the critical mass of workers in other parts of Germany had not rebelled.

The opportunistic leaders of one of the most numerous social democratic parties crushed the communist uprising by sending in the Freikorps, government-sponsored paramilitary troops consisting mostly of World War 1 veterans. These death squads12 captured and summarily executed Rosa, Karl and other communists, confirming the existence of deep cleavages between the revolutionary and reformist wings of the widely understood left-oriented movements.

In her last text, Order Prevails in Berlin (January 1919/1999), in spite of the failure of the November 1918 revolution, Rosa as a true revolutionary exclaims: "You foolish lackeys! Your 'order' is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will rise up again, clashing its weapons, and to your horror it will proclaim with trumpets blazing: I was, I am, I shall be!" (

Rosa was right that the SDP leadership, insisting on election victories and participation in a bourgeois parliament, obviously did not find a peaceful route to socialism. Оn the contrary, it paved the way for the most reactionary counterrevolution ever seen two decades later – national socialism. We should not delude ourselves that such events from the past are no longer possible due to contemporary constitutions defending democratic institutions (Gürgen: 25/01/2019).

Оn the inevitability of the final crisis of capitalism once again

Rosa Luxemburg's insists on the inevitability of the final crisis of capitalism in accordance with Marxist theory as she interpreted it, in contrast to Bernstein and revisionists, who claim that capitalism has adapted enough to be able to avoid crises. We have seen that some commentators criticize Rosa Luxemburg for economic determinism and political fatalism when she writes about the inevitability of the breakdown of capitalism. Тhis is, however, rather one-sided criticism. Namely, Rosa repeatedly insists that social democrats should not wait for the antagonisms of capitalism to develop into a final crisis, but should constantly agitate among working masses, helping long term orientation of the spontaneously arising mass strikes with new modalities of self-organization like assemblies and soviets. Thus, left parties are not an end in themselves and if reformist parties without revolutionary commitments become an obstacle to revolutionary activity of the masses, they must be replaced with revolutionary ones.

Rosa's apparent fatalism can be explained as the need of revolutionaries to endure and persevere in their aim to throw off the capitalist mode of production by revolutionary means of mass strike and armed takeover of political power, in the conditions of stabilization of capitalism under the reactionary military, conservative or reformist social democratic governments.

The absence of insistence of opportunist social democrats on the tendency of capitalism to go through ever more devastating crises comes down to Bernstein's argument that capitalism has adapted enough to avoid the final crisis and therefore that it presents an eternal mode of production. It is exactly when reformists like Bernstein conclude on the basis of a longer period of quasi absence of crises and class fight that capitalism is no longer prone to crises, crises erupt again and again, due to the resistance of the oppressed classes to the profit-seeking accumulation by dispossession policies of the ruling classes, ever since the so-called primitive accumulation (Marx, K. 1977:t.21, 630-682; Harvey, 2004).

The present period of apparent stabilization of capitalism at the same time is fraught with the contradictions and imperialist war threats within the epoch of the historical succession of the hegemonic power in the world system of capitalist economy (Wallerstein, 1974). The new hegemonic order seems to be shifting over to Asia, especially focused on China13 (Naughton: 2014; Vratuša, 2018b).

Let us remember that Marx and Engels stressed that the result of the permanent class struggle between the exploited and exploiting class ended each time either in a revolutionary reconstitution of the society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes (Marx, Engels. 1848/2010:32; Vratuša, 2018b).

More than a hundred years after Rosa wrote RoR and the Junius Pamphlet, there no longer exist the revolutionary social context and substantial global labor movement, profoundly influenced by the theory of historical materialism, with an influential left wing infused with the sense of the actuality of revolution. Rosa Luxemburg is right in underlying that "we can only grow through struggle, and it is in the middle of struggle where we learn how to fight" in the actual struggles of today and tomorrow14.

.James Peron (June 1, 2000) claims that there is no reason to think that if we follow the advice of today's reformist socialists, which led to self-destruction in Greece, France and Spain, we will end up with anything much different to the kind of barbaric carnage that overtook Europe from 1914 onwards. Nothing fundamental has changed about capitalism in the intervening period. Like Rosa, Peron claims that capitalism's tendency to fall into crises remains. In fact, the crises are deepening and proliferating. If imperialist tensions between China and the USA were, at some point in the coming decades, to break out into a direct military conflict, the consequences for humanity would be even more devastating than in the case of World War One. And today it is not only the threats of economic devastation and war we need to worry about, but also the potentially existential threat posed by climate change.

The choice we are facing today is no less stark than that which Luxemburg saw confronting humanity at the height of World War One. Will we allow the continuation of the system that is propelling humanity into one catastrophe after another? Or will we unite against this system and its defenders (even those supposedly "on our side"), and set a course for a revolution? Do we want merely to win a somewhat friendlier version of capitalism, or will we fight for a society and economy democratically and collectively controlled by workers, in which the vast capacities and resources of humanity are no longer sacrificed on the altar of the market, but can be turned to restoring our damaged relationship with nature, and to providing the things we need to live a decent life?

If we want to overcome the barbarism of capitalism, then the need for the kind of clear, intransigent revolutionary politics exemplified by Rosa Luxemburg's life and thought is more urgent today than ever.

The arguments of today's reformists bear a striking resemblance to Bernstein's. As such, Rosa Luxemburg's critique retains its relevance to the debates taking place in the left wing аt present.

The turn to the center right political parties in power has resulted in pessimism within the global justice movement, which leads to withdrawal from activism and bitter inner fighting between those who insist either on the policy of seeking state power or cultural transformation instead of simultaneously insisting on both (Wallerstein, February 15, 2019). An important lesson we can draw from Rosa's RoR is to insist on the socialist-oriented political content of economic and socio-cultural reforms.


1In the chapter Economic Development and Socialism ( Rosa underlines again that the discovery of grounds of support for the realization of socialism in the economic conditions of capitalist society changed socialism from a utopian ideal into a historical necessity. On the contrary, Bernstein denies the existence of the economic conditions for socialism in the contradictions of capitalism. For Bernstein, socialism has become only a survival of utopianism. He is a former socialist, who has renounced his aim and has decided to find one and immutable goal of human development in the bourgeois society. Bernstein denies the anarchy in capitalist economy and the great general crises due to the contradiction between production and exchange. For Bernstein, Marx’s social labor is pure abstraction. He does not acknowledge that abstract human labor, the law of value, the falling rate of profit discovered by Marx as a result of the contradiction between production and exchange and the growth of the productivity of labor have a real social existence in the form of the transitory character of capitalist economy. Exactly because Marx took the socialist viewpoint as a point of departure for his analysis of bourgeois society, he was in the position to give a scientific base to the socialist movement through the dualism of the class antagonism of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, according to Rosa.
2The critics of Rosa’s book in which she elaborates the main inner contradiction of capitalism leading to its eventual breakdown, The Accumulation of capital (Luxemburg, 1913/online version s.a.), criticize Rosa’s main arguments expressed in it due to her overemphasizing the contradictions of the capitalist crisis of hyperproduction in the sphere of exchange and downplaying the capital hyperaccumulation crisis in the production process. The critics claim that the main motive for imperialist expansion is the need not only to open new markets in the still non-capitalist periphery necessary for the realization of produced merchandises, but also to exploit cheaper raw materials and cheaper labor (Bottomore, Harris, Kiernan, Miliband.1983: 293–4). These critics undervalue Rosa’s contribution to understanding that imperialist wars present a globalized extension of capitalist exploitation and not just yet another government policy. In his text “Rosa Luxemburg and the actuality or revolution” Paul LeBlanc (Nov. 17, 2019) therefore points out that even when Rosa is partly or largely wrong, her writings are worth comprehending, actively considering, and testing out, as long as determined socialists try to understand and change the world.
3A credit system, according to Rosa, constitutes the means of temporary surmounting of private property limits, in order to extend capitalist production through combining a large number of individual capitals in the form of industrial or commercial credit. Far from being a form of adaptation of capitalism, credit at the first symptom of the crisis abandons exchange and reduces to a minimum the consumption capacity of the market. It is thus a mighty instrument for the formation of crises due to the internal contradiction between the almost boundless capacity of production extension, on the one hand, and the restricted consumption capacity of the market, on the other. Credit puts immense productive forces into a small number of hands, thus expropriating large number of small capitalists and leading to speculation with the property of millions of small holders of shares ( Credit therefore constitutes an indispensable gear in the mechanism of contradictory capitalist economy like money or the market. It is simultaneously an instrument of capitalist economy’s destruction, since it aggravates the internal contradictions of capitalism (
4Employers’ organizations, cartels and trusts, according to Rosa, are not capable either of ending the anarchy of capitalist production through regulation, as Bernstein suggests, since they are not and cannot be the dominant form of entire capitalist production. They present the social character of capitalist production and tend to increase the rate of profit in one branch of industry at the expense of another, but cartels cannot be generalized. By keeping inactive a part of the accumulated capital, they sharpen the crisis and competition for consumers on the foreign markets which will sooner or later become exhausted. Cartels also aggravate the exploitation of labor and augment antagonism between capital and labor to the extreme (
5Continuous existence of a “steadfast phalanx” of small and medium-sized enterprises constitutes, according to Rosa, the pioneers of technical change who find themselves under the influence of two antagonistic tendencies: the periodic depreciation of the existing capital, on the one hand, and continued rise of the scale of production and increase of the minimum amount of capital necessary for the functioning of the enterprises in the old branches of production, on the other ( Bernstein forgets the necessity of new placements of small and medium-sized capital during circular crises. Because of that small capital constantly reappears which seems to Bernstein to be the sign of the cessation of capitalist development, even though it is the symptom of normal capitalist development through cyclic crises ( Bernstein fails to notice that average foundation capital of shareholder societies has diminished, indicating socialization not only of large but also of medium-sized and small production. Shareholding stands for the separation of production from capitalist ownership on a capitalist base.
6Trade unions, according to Rosa, cannot give the workers a determining influence over production, neither its dimensions nor technical progress. The law of wages is not shattered but applied by trade union activity. Trade unions are nothing more than the organized defense of labor power against the attacks of profit. The share of the social wealth going to the working class is reduced with the fatality of a natural process by the growth of the productivity of labor and the situation of the labor-power market due to proletarization of the middle strata of the society ( The function of trade unions consists in providing the workers with a means of realizing the capitalist law of wages, the sale of their labor power at current market prices, depending on the conjuncture of labor demand and supply and the degree of productivity of labor. Trade unions, however, cannot suppress the law of wages, exploitation and influence the process of production itself. Since the reduction of wages is one of the principal means of retarding the tendency of the profit to fall, trade union action is reduced to the simple defense of already realized gains. Rosa concludes that therefore the political side of the class struggle must be developed. According to Rosa, Bernstein directs the entire activity of trade unions toward the further amelioration of the economic and political situation of the proletariat through wages bargaining, co-operation and parliamentary elections. Rosa sums up that due to Bernstein’s considering trade union and parliamentary activity as tools of the direct socialization of capitalist economy, this activity in fact loses its effectiveness reduced to an end in itself. It does not lead to the final goal of socialism, but moves in an exactly opposite direction. This activity thus ceases being instrument of preparing the working class for the conquest of power. Socialist democrats should on the contrary encourage the workers to realize the impossibility of accomplishing a fundamental social change just through trade union and parliamentary activity and that the conquest of power is unavoidable.
7Unlike Bernstein, Rosa does not see social protection labor legislation, as a piece of “social control” and socialism. Namely, the state is not a “society” representing the “rising working class”, but a class organization representative of capital (
8According to Rosa, Bernstein transforms socialism from a definite historical phase of social development into an abstract “co-operative principle”. Economic democracy and co-operatives ( will allegedly suppress industrial progressively profit and commercial profit in the field of production, suggesting that there are no antagonistic classes in capitalist society, recognizing the bourgeoisie as the champion of the general interest of humanity, preaching to the working class the quintessence of the morality of the bourgeoisie, that is, reconciliation with the existing social order. Rosa reminds readers that pitiless exploitation in capitalist economy becomes a condition for the survival of each enterprise. The workers forming a co-operative are obliged to take toward themselves the role of an exploiting capitalist entrepreneur so that cooperatives either become pure capitalist enterprises competing on the market, or end by dissolving, if they are not backed by consumers’ organizations. They are excluded from the most important branches of capital production. The establishment of producers’ cooperatives on a wide scale would suppose the suppression of the world market.
9“To be sure, every democratic institution has its limits and shortcomings, things which it doubtless shares with all other human institutions. But the remedy which Trotsky and Lenin have found, the elimination of democracy as such, is worse than the disease it is supposed to cure; for it stops up the very living source from which alone can come correction of all the innate shortcomings of social institutions. That source is the active, untrammeled, energetic political life of the broadest masses of the people” (
10In Rosa’s book RoR, so-called “state-centered” political culture can be detected when she insists, like Lenin and Trotsky, in contrast to Bernstein, on the necessity of workers seizing state power. Some indigenous peoples, like Zapatistas in Mexico, react with non-violent and non-armed self-defense, building the areas of health and education, infrastructures, Indigenous Guard without arms. This is grounded presence of the community where people rely on one another and only have their bodies to defend themselves in their autonomous zones with barter fairs. They choose to be non-violent because they do not want to replicate the violence of the state (1Zibechi, R. 2021, May 2). The problem is in the fact that governments of respective countries often do not allow the indigenous people to build peacefully their own autonomous common social infrastructure, encroaching into the indigenous people’s communities with their extractive and urbanization projects that dispossess local communities from their land.
11In the first chapter of her Junius Pamphlet (Luxemburg: 1915b/1996) Rosa Luxemburg attributes the famous dilemma “socialism or barbarism” to Friedrich Engels (1820–1895; cofounder of the “scientific socialism” with Karl Marx (1818–1883); Vratuša, 2020b). Rosa did not cite the precise source, since she wrote this pamphlet in prison: “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism.” Rosa continues by elaborating the meaning of this dilemma in then actual historical context: “What does ‘regression into barbarism’ mean to our lofty European civilization? … This world war is a regression into barbarism. The triumph of imperialism leads to the annihilation of civilization. At first, this happens sporadically for the duration of a modern war, but then when the period of unlimited wars begins, it progresses toward its inevitable consequences. Today, we face the choice exactly as Friedrich Engels foresaw it a generation ago: either the triumph of imperialism and the collapse of all civilization, as in ancient Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration – a great cemetery, or the victory of socialism, which means the conscious active struggle of the international proletariat against imperialism and its method of war. This is a dilemma of world history, an either/or; the scales are wavering before the decision of the class-conscious proletariat. The future of civilization and humanity depends on whether or not the proletariat resolves manfully to throw its revolutionary broadsword into the scales. In this war imperialism has won. Its bloody sword of genocide has brutally tilted the scale toward the abyss of misery. The only compensation for all the misery and all the shame would be if we learn from the war how the proletariat can seize mastery of its own destiny and escape the role of the lackey to the ruling classes” (Luxemburg, 1915b/1996, In 1918 Rosa sharpens her conclusion from RoR about the Second International, claiming that it was already inherently a decaying corpse and that the success of reformist gradualism in transforming capitalism in an evolutionary manner is impossible. In the face of the bourgeois opportunism and betrayal of German SDP, during WW1 Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht (1871–1919), Clara Zetkin (1857–1933) and others co-founded the anti-war and anti capitalist Spartacus League (Spartakusbund) which they transformed into the Communist Party of Germany and joined the Third Communist International (COMINTERN) in 1919.
12Today n many countries, especially in Latin America, state violence still coexists with paramilitaries, very much resembling the Freikorps in Germany after WW1, which killed Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht and other communists. In Columbia, for instance, state and paramilitary violence led by the militarist criminal government of Iván Duque Márquez, provoked a general strike on 29th April 2021. On May Day, hundreds of thousands of indigenous and black peoples took to the streets, mostly young who had conquered fear. The government responded to protests with an unprecedented use of violence, killing dozens of demonstrators, as if their lives did not matter, like the lives of people in quasi-apartheid countries, Palestinians in Israel and Gaza, indigenous peoples in Columbia, black people in the USA, or the Maghreb people in France, whenever capital exercises its crime against the peoples and environment (Zibechi, R. 2021, May 21).
13So far the rise of China has not relied on a massive war economy but the present ruling classes of the declining hegemonic power, the USA, will probably refuse to step down from this position without resistance. In the context of the actuality of Rosa’s RoR and her preoccupation with the transition from capitalism to socialism, many commentators point out that China is not a socialist country but a version of interventionist state capitalism (in contrast to neoliberal and militarized state capitalism in the USA), having intricate social control and digital surveillance systems. The potential rise of China’s version of state capitalism to the position of the new hegemonic power, will not, according to the critics, improve substantially the perspectives of socialist transformation of the present world system. There is, however, a recent study by the Harvard University, which, after thirteen years of exploration, detected the growing support among the Chinese population to the government in Beijing from 86% in 2003 to 93% in 2016. The researchers conclude that the Communist Party of China is in power because it has improved the existence of Chinese people. It therefore continues to enjoy the people’s active consent to the rule of the Communist Party, which has pulled 800 million inhabitants out of poverty, while the middle class has risen to include over 400 million inhabitants (Korkodelović, 5. jul 2021: 23; Vratuša, 2018b).
14A logical conclusion of policies of the reformist and opportunistic wing within the GSDP is the Godesberg Program (1959), in which the German SPD dropped its commitment to Marxism and turned to appeal to middle-class voters, becoming a big tent party of the centre-left. This change of course from the “party of the working class to a party of the people” – the SPD explicitly ceases to stand for socialism of the Marxist variety like Rosa did. Private property and free market principles were acknowledged, and the role of the state was limited to general tasks involving planning and guidance. The program was rounded out by the affirmation of the importance of national defense and socio-political demands, such as co-determination in the workplace, equality for women, and improved educational opportunities.


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O članku

jezik rada: engleski, srpski
vrsta rada: izvorni naučni članak
DOI: 10.5937/socpreg55-33383
primljen: 01.08.2021.
prihvaćen: 20.08.2021.
objavljen u SCIndeksu: 29.10.2021.
metod recenzije: dvostruko anoniman
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