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Rosa Luxemburg on Czarist Russia

After reading her contemporary Alfred Marshall, reading Rosa Luxemburg (born in Poland, 1871-1919) is a joy. The clarity of the prose, the consistence of the arguments, the sheer knowledge of events and facts. She backed an anti-imperialist socialist agenda coupled with – no, based upon – differences of view and discussion in combination with cultural and linguistic diversity. In my view, she would have backed the growth of international food supply chains binding Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and Morocco, among other countries together. But she would have despized the cartelization of the inernational grain trade (five companies rule the roost) and the preponderance of financial and shareholder interests. One of the points where Putin had to back off is the agreement that he will not attack ships transporting Ukrainian grain.. Might Luxemburg have seen this as an annti-imperialist glimmer of hope and a token of the growing power of non-western countries? Or as a cynical proof of the power of international grain trade cartels? About this we can be clear: she would have been totally against the Russian cultural assimilation policies in the Donbas. Here an excerpt from the Junius pamphlet, written when she was, during world war I, in jail. For me, it t rings some bells, even when you have to change ‘Dardanelles’ into ‘Crimea’ and ‘Austria’ to ‘USA’.

Russian imperialism, like that of western nations, consists of widely diversified elements. Its strongest strain is not, however, as in Germany or England, the economic expansion of capital, hungry for territorial accumulation, but the political interests of the nation. To be sure, Russian industry can show a considerable export to the Orient, to China, Persia and Central Asia, and the Czarist Government seeks to encourage this export trade because it furnishes a desirable foundation for its sphere of interest. But national policies here play an active, not a passive, role. On the one hand, the traditional tendencies of a conquest-loving Czardom, ruling over a mighty nation whose population today consists of 172 millions of human beings, demand free access to the ocean, to the Pacific Ocean on the East, to the Mediterranean on the South, for industrial as well as for strategic reasons. On the other hand, the very existence of absolutism, and the necessity of holding a respected place in the world-political field, and finally the need of financial credit in foreign countries without which Czarism cannot exist, all play their important part. We must add to these, as in every other monarchy, the dynastic interest. Foreign prestige and temporary forgetfulness of inner problems and difficulties are well known family remedies in the art of ruling, when a conflict arises between the government and the great mass of the people.

But modern capitalist interests are becoming more and more a factor in the imperialist aims of the Czarist nation. Russian capitalism, still in its earliest youth, cannot hope to perfect its development under an absolutist regime. On the whole it has advanced little beyond the primitive stage of home industry. But it sees a gigantic future before its eyes in the exploitation of the nation’s natural resources. As soon as Russia’s absolutism is swept away, of this there can be no doubt, Russia will develop rapidly into the foremost capitalist nation, provided always that the international situation will give it the time necessary for such development. It is this hope, and the appetite for foreign markets that will mean increased capitalistic development even at the present time, that has filled the Russian bourgeoisie with imperialistic desires and led them to eagerly voice their demands in the coming division of the world’s resources. This historic desire is actively supported by very tangible immediate interests. There are, in the first place, the armament industry and its purveyors. In the second place the conflicts with the “enemy within,” the revolutionary proletariat, have given to the Russian bourgeoisie an increased appreciation of the powers of militarism and the distracting efforts of a world-political evangel. It has bound together the ,various capitalist groups and the nobility under one counterrevolutionary regime. The imperialism of bourgeois Russia, particularly among the liberals, has grown enormously in the stormy atmosphere of the revolutionary period, and has given to the traditional foreign policies of the Romanovs a modern stamp. Chief among the aims of the traditional policies of monarchic Russia, as well as of the more modern appetites of the Russian bourgeoisie, are the Dardanelles. they are, according to the famous remark made by Bismarck, the latchkey to the Russian possessions on the Black Sea. Since the eighteenth century, Russia has waged a number of bloody wars against Turkey, has undertaken its mission as the liberator of the Balkans, for the realization of this goal. For this ideal, Russia has piled up mountains of dead in Ismail, in Navarin, in Sinope, Silistria and Sevastopol, in Plevna and Shipka. To the Russian muzhik, the defence of his Slavic and Christian brothers from the horrors of Turkish oppression has become as potent a war legend as the defence of German culture and freedom against the horrors of Russia has become to the German Social Democracy

But the Russian bourgeoisie also was much more enthusiastic over the Mediterranean prospect than for its Manchurian and Mongolian “mission.” The liberal bourgeoisie of Russia criticised the Japanese war so severely as a senseless adventure, because it distracted the attention of Russian politics from the problem that was to them more important, the Balkans. And in another way, the unfortunate war with Japan had the same effect. The extension of Russian power into Eastern and Central Asia, to Tibet and down into Persia necessarily aroused a feeling of discomfort in the minds of English imperialists. England, fearing for its enormous Indian Empire, viewed the Asiatic movements of Russia with growing suspicion. In fact, at the beginning of the present century the English-Russian conflict in Asia was the strongest world-conflict in the international situation. Moreover this will be, in all probability, the most critical issue in future world-political developments when the present war is over. The crushing defeat of Russia in 1904[14] and the subsequent outbreak of the Russian revolution only temporarily changed the situation. The apparent weakening of the empire of the Czar brought about a relaxation of the tension between England and Russia. In 1907 a treaty was signed between the two nations providing for a mutual control of Persia[15] that established, for the time being, friendly neighbourly relations in Central Asia. This kept Russia from undertaking great projects in the East, and her energies reverted all the more vigorously to their old occupation, Balkan politics. Here the Russia of the Czar came for the first time into sharp conflict with German culture, after a century of faithful and well-founded friendship. The road to the Dardanelles leads over the corpse of Turkey. But for more than a decade Germany has regarded the “integrity” of this corpse as its most important world-political task. Russian methods in the Balkans had changed at various times. Embittered by the ingratitude of the liberated Balkan Slays who tried to escape from their position as vassals to the Czarist Government, Russia for a time supported the programme of Turkish integrity with the silent understanding that the division of that country should be postponed to some more auspicious time. But today the final liquidation of Turkey coincides with the plans of both Russian and English politics. The latter aims to unite Arabia and Mesopotamia and the Russian territories that lie between Egypt and India, under British rule, into a great Mohammedan empire, thus conserving its own position in India and Egypt. In this way Russian imperialism, as in earlier times English imperialism, came into opposition with that of Germany. For this privileged exploiter of Turkish disintegration had taken up her position as sentinel on the Bosphorus.

Russian interests came to a clash in the Balkans not only directly with Germany but with Austria as well. Austrian imperialism is the political complement of German imperialism, at the same time its Siamese twin brother and its fate.

  1. merijntknibbe
    August 29, 2022 at 10:27 am

    In this post, I’m dissing Alfred Marshall. To be more specific about this economist:

    A. The entire fifth part of ‘The wealth of nations’ (about 200 of 740 pges) is dedicated to the government, this in a time when the government was relatively smaller and Great Brittian wasn’t the prime imperialist nations.
    B. Rosa Luxemburg, a contemporary of Marshall, has a clear idea about the political economy of the government, even aforeshadowing the concepts and analytical boundaries of the modern national accounts (chapter 32 of the Accumulation of capital for this last point).

    Despite this, Marshall in his Principals of Economics contains no clear or even unclear idea of the political-economic role of the government (even when he does provide statistics that this role increased). I mean: the most lauded economist of the prime imperial state of his time…

    Aside: very old men like Chomsky and Kissinger, who when Luxemburg would not have been murdered would have been her contemporaries, would do well to read her.

  2. GEORGE KALLAS
    August 30, 2022 at 12:27 am

    “Anglo-American” ‘neoclassical cum neoliberal economics’ without evolutionary histories, politics, debates and struggles: is NOT ‘science’ but simple IDEOLOGY

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