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The Accumulation of Capital

Narrated by: Louise Barrett
Length: 17 hrs and 27 mins
Categories: History, Political

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Summary

Rosa Luxemburg (1870-1919) was one of the most able and remarkable female figures in the fight for socialism and the demolition of capitalism from the last decade of the 19th century to her death just after World War One. 

Born in Zamosc, a small town in Russian Poland, she rose to become a highly educated and highly principled economist and activist, working with leading figures of the left, including Lenin. And she died for her principles. After spending most of the war in prison for her activism and uncompromising left-wing views, she became, on release, active in the political turmoil in Germany, her country of adoption, working fearlessly for her cause. 

Following her involvement in the abortive Berlin uprising in January 1919, she was on her way to incarceration again when she was beaten to death by soldiers belonging to the extreme right. Her body was thrown into a canal. But her writings - and in particular her important critique of Marxist economics, The Accumulation of Capital - have ensured the survival of her memory and influence into the 21st century. 

The Accumulation of Capital was published in 1913. In it, she set out to take the views of Karl Marx further by arguing that capitalism can only exist when there are non-capitalist economies to exploit. She postulates that capitalism would stagnate were there no non-capitalist countries with economic resources to assimilate by a cruel exploitative process of destabilising natural and peasant economies. 

Her aim was to overcome the status quo which allowed such exploitation. Luxemburg wrote the book in a fever of excitement, but her academic training - she won a doctorate in law and economics in Zurich - encouraged her, in fact enabled her, not just to produce a polemic but to step back and survey the wide field of economics. 

In pursuing this undertaking, she considers the writings of Karl Marx in a respectful, even admiring manner but criticises the flaws and limitations as she saw them. Interestingly, after critically appraising analyses of the problem of reproduction by the key figures of Adam Smith and François Quesnay, she considers succeeding writers, positioning them in terms of sides, for example Sismondi and Malthus versus Say, Ricardo and McCulloch. Luxemburg does the same with her contemporaries: Struve, Bulgakov, Baranovski versus Vorontov and Nikolayen. 

She concludes the book with Section III, 'The Historical Conditions of Accumulation', finally focusing on the role of militarism as a province of accumulation, which could not be more relevant as the third decade of the 21st century approaches. 

Though Luxemburg has been criticised as presenting arguments that are in danger of becoming circular, she remains a respected figure in post-Marxist economics. And her role as a champion for the cause, especially in view of her tragically early demise, and her authorship of The Accumulation of Capital, a post-Marxist stepping stone, ensure her place in economic history. 

Agnes Schwarzchild’s translation of The Accumulation of Capital is fluently read for Ukemi Audiobooks by Louise Barrett.

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