I’m going to block quote Sismondi and Bolden Luxemburg and my commentary will look like this 1st paragraph. Sismondi as quoted by in Accumulation of Capital:
Our eyes are so accustomed to this new organisation of society, this universal competition, degenerating into hostility between the rich and the working class, that we no longer conceive of any mode of existence other than that whose ruins surround us on all sides. They believe to prove me absurd by confronting me with the vices of preceding systems. Indeed, as regards the organisation of the lower classes, two or three systems have succeeded one another; after first doing some good, they then imposed terrible disasters on mankind, may we conclude from this that we have now entered the true one? May we conclude that we shall not discover the besetting vice of the system of wage labour as we have discovered that of slavery, of vassalage, and of the guilds? A time will come, no doubt, when our descendants will condemn us as barbarians because we have left the working classes without security, just as we already condemn, as they also will, as barbarian the nations who have reduced those same classes to slavery.
Just because capitalism is the latest form of social organization doesn’t mean it’s the ultimate one. Sismondi destroys the 2 apologists for capitalism, in this and other quotes, whether they are (1) optimists preaching economic harmony through free trade like Bastiat who’ll say “it’ll eventually balance out, supply and demand blablabla; oh what do you want the government to intervene? that’ll only make matters worse” and then go on to use examples of governments failing to prevent the disasters of capitalism, and interpreting them as evidence that government action caused the disaster. Yep, the Ron Paul explanation of the Great Depression is older than the Great Depression itself and dates back to the early apologist literature following the recessions of the early 1800s; and (2) the apologetics that take the form of pessimism and utter assholery: “it’s a natural law and if it means misery for the workers so be it”.
The mere thought that the present status may not necessarily be the final and ultimate status, undermines any attempts to defend and justify the status quo.
Luxemburg gives Sismondi kudos for his superiority to both Ricardo (free trade asshat) and his followers and to the self styled heir to the mantles of Adam Smith. She excuses him for not getting it quite right from all perspectives and goes on to point out the vulnerable moral strain in his petty-bourgeois approach when saying this in the face of Ricardo:
What? is wealth to be all? And Man to be nothing?
Sismondi’s criticism sounds the first alarm of economic theory at the domination of capital, and for this reason its historical importance is both great and lasting. It paves the way for the disintegration of a classical economics unable to cope with the problem of its own making. But for all Sismondi’s terror of the consequences attendant upon capitalism triumphant, he was certainly no reactionary in the sense of yearning for pre-capitalistic conditions, even if on occasion he delights in extolling the patriarchal forms of production in agriculture and handicrafts in comparison with the domination of capital.
I can already hear the outcry that I jib at improvements in agriculture and craftsmanship and at every progress man could make; that I doubtless prefer a state of barbarism to a state of civilisation, since the plough is a tool, the spade an even older one, and that, according to my system, man ought no doubt to work the soil with his bare hands.
I never said anything of the kind. Neither those who attack me nor those who defend me have really understood me, and more than once I have been put to shame by my allies as much as by my opponents. I beg you to realise that it is not the machine, new discoveries and inventions, not civilisation to which I object, but the modern organisation of society, an organisation which despoils the man who works of all property other than his arms, and denies him the least security in a reckless over-bidding that makes for his harm and to which he is bound to fall a prey.
2 points here: (1) “How are you using a Macbook to protest capitalism?” fuck off. (2) The observation that the worker is despoiled of all property other than his arm, prompts me to jump to the easy conclusion that “hey, maybe if we somehow come up with a situation where workers get a little piece of property, that’ll function as their security that capitalism otherwise denies them, and that’ll solve it” I must admit that I’m prone to believe that. And it’s very easy to fall for the proposition that “the difference between the 19th and the 20th century and the reason,let’s say in England, that the lower classes enjoy a higher standard of life and have finally escaped the horrors of the early days of capitalism, is specifically because they now own a little bit of property.” Not only is this not accurate on so many levels, but it’s also dangerous. It’s inaccurate because contrary to what a Thatcherite might have you believe, it is not a slow and small accumulation of property that set the English worker free of the basic wants and needs, but it’s in fact the legislated “rights” that did. And no not by means of enabling the worker to save up and be his own little capitalist, but rather those rights in and of themselves are the only true cause of ‘prosperity’ among the working classes of the 20th century. And this brings me to a striking point a French Leftist stand-up comedian makes: He talks about the Ouvriers* (workers, or rather, hired-hands) he tells the story of a professor who asks his students to take a guess “what percentage of the French are ouvriers?” He invites them to consult amongst each other to produce a single answer: They settle on 5%. In fact the Classe Ouvrières makes up 20% of the French workforce, and Frank LePage's anecdote is there to illustrate how superficial the following idea can be “if we want to get rid of misery, let’s get rid of the lowest subclass among the working classes, let’s all join the middle classes” and the French managed to get rid of the Classes Ouvrières, it was completely wiped out of the media and popular culture. France found itself in a position where the working class itself is much more concerned with escaping its condition rather than improving it; escaping towards the middle class. LePage’s critique is concerned with how education is the most deceiving aspect of this escape (but that’s a different subject). Sismondi looks with horror at the commodification of labour, and accuses classical economists of equating human labour to other means of production, and yet in the 21st century many still talk of self-ownership *tears*)
I only wish to secure the fruits of labour to those who do the work, to make the machine benefit the man who puts it in motion.
I should like to convince the economists as completely as I am convinced myself that their science is going off on a wrong track. But I cannot trust myself to be able to show them the true course; it is a supreme effort – the most my mind will run to – to form a conception even of the actual organisation of society. Yet who would have the power to conceive of an organisation that does not even exist so far, to see the future, since we are already hard put to it to see the present?
Surely it was no disgrace to admit oneself frankly powerless to envisage a future beyond capitalism in the year 1820 – at a time when capitalism had only just begun to establish its domination over the big industries, and when the idea of socialism was only possible in a most Utopian form. But as Sismondi could neither advance beyond capitalism nor go back to a previous stage, the only course open to his criticism was a petty-bourgeois compromise. Sceptical of the possibility of developing fully both capitalism and the productive forces, he found himself under necessity to clamour for some moderation of accumulation, for some slowing down of the triumphant march of capitalism. That is the reactionary aspect of his criticism.
That is the reactionary aspect of his criticism Rosa? Slowing down the triumphant march of capitalism is not good enough? I must admit that I skipped over all the chapters in which she discusses Marx because they’re so fucking technical and incomprehensible. So maybe my answer is there. One part of me wants to go back and read Marx before I proceed, and another part of me wants to just keep going because I know that what’s coming up is my favourite side of Rosa Luxemburg; her anthropological analysis. She is the only author I’ve read from that era, that speaks of the world’s cultures without a hint of racism. I’ve read passages from her on pre-capitalist societies and she is the living proof that telling it like it is and conducting a materialist analysis is the complete opposite of prejudice, and that in fact racism and idealist political correctness are two sides of one coin. The former being the uglier of course; the side of the coin with the Queen on it.
*Ouvrier is a little different than Worker or Trabajador, the French for that is Travailleur, which means literally 'those who work’. Travailleur and Ouvrier have Arabic equivalents 'Aamel and Shagheel. You will see that titles for worker unions and federations will use the words Labour and Worker which have a noble character to them. Ouvrier has negative connotations it seems, but not just the word but the reality of the condition as well. There’s a minor political movement in Lebanon called the Assembly of Shagheelee which always struck me as such a bold and radical title. Ouvrier is a riff on Ouvrage, a Project. So it’s typically a worker hired on a daily or even an hourly basis, given the needs of the project.