Capital accumulation and debt colonialism after Rosa Luxemburg (New Formations 94, Autumn 2018)



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Publication date: October 1, 2018

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Stephen Morton

In The Accumulation of Capital (1913), Rosa Luxemburg offers a sophisticated account of the foundational  role of colonialism in the development and expansion of the capitalist world system. By interrogating the  blind spots in Marx’s account of capitalist political economy, Luxemburg emphasises the importance of  ‘non-capitalist strata and countries’ in the production of surplus value. Crucial to Luxemburg’s re-thinking  of capitalist political economy, in other words, was the accumulation and dispossession of non-capitalist  societies on the periphery of the world economy. Beginning with an assessment of Luxemburg’s central thesis  in The Accumulation of Capital, this article proceeds to suggest that Luxemburg’s analysis of imperialism  has important and far-reaching consequences for understanding contemporary formations of capital  accumulation  and  debt  colonialism  in  the  postcolonial world.  What’s  more,  Luxemburg’s  reflections on primitive communism and the challenge this posed to the universalising historical narrative  of bourgeois political economy offer an important counterpoint to the predominant conceptualisation of the  world as an abstract space for the uneven and unequal circulation of capital and commodities. By reading  Luxemburg’s writings on primitive communism against the grain of her writings on imperialism and debt colonialism in The Accumulation of Capital, I suggest in conclusion that Luxemburg’s writing offers a  valuable contribution to contemporary accounts of the commons.

DOI : 10.3898/NEWF:94.06.2018