Reading Rosa Luxemburg: Global Capitalism and the Contemporary World

Instructor: Raphaële Chappe
Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung
275 Madison Avenue, Suite 2114
New York, NY 10016

Contemporary globalization marks an age where the “world is flat,” to quote an international best seller. A world of global competition and the ever-growing integration of economies through the free movement of goods, capital, technology, and labor. Yet nearly a century earlier, Rosa Luxemburg had already theorized and recorded a global form of capitalism, a massive augmentation of Karl Marx’s original critique of capital with an understanding of how imperialism and colonialism are fundamentally internal and necessary for the perpetuation of a capitalist economy. Sometimes better known for her political work and writings, Luxemburg’s actual scholarly specialization was in political economy, and The Accumulation of Capital is her magnum opus, one of the first major attempts at truly coming to terms with the functioning of global capital. In recent decades, the U.S. has favored political regimes and leaders that have privatized and deregulated their economies, allowing corporate multinationals access to foreign markets. Financial markets have also become fully globalized. How should we understand these recent developments in the light of Luxemburg’s observations from the early 20th century? What has changed between Luxemburg’s day and our own? What drives the expansion of capital and the conquest of foreign markets?

In this course we will consider these questions through a reading of Rosa Luxemburg’s classic The Accumulation of Capital. We will dedicate the class to a close reading of Luxemburg’s original contribution to Marx’s theory of capital reproduction and accumulation. We will discuss Luxemburg’s insights into the role played by external non-capitalist markets, relating her work to modern forms of imperialism and contemporary economic issues such as the global crisis of finance capitalism. In doing so, we will draw upon more recent research from economists as well as political and social scientists (both Marxist and non-). Do imperialism and colonialism underwrite the very survival of capitalistic economies? What is the link between capitalism, economic growth and the modern face of imperialism? What is the role played by the process of capital accumulation in the recent global financial crisis? How should we understand the accumulation of capital today?

Course Schedule

Wednesday, 6:30-9:30pm
November 13 — December 11, 2019
4 sessions over 5 weeks
Class will not meet Wednesday, November 27th.


Registration Open

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