Rosa Luxemburg – how wheelchairs indicate that she was right

Sure, there are good reasons for privatisation of elements of economic processes – at least if we trust the advocates of the respective measures.

Now, leaving the serious central debate and its macro-perspective aside one came to my mind when I went to the grocer’s shop. But what do I say, really ‘grocer’s shop’? In actual fact, there are few real grocer’s shops left. What we may find is highly specialised shops: the ones of butchers, bakers or also those selling fruit …; and the others are not really selling foodstuff as the original term suggests. They are selling nearly everything. So I went to one of them – by the way it may be of some interest (or interest to some) that the owner had been recently crowned as one of the ten richest people in Germany – ah, no its is not the one of which every little helps. It is the one who ALl DIstributes well into the own pocket.

Anyway, most of these grocer’s shops have now a wide range of products which can be bought without showing the immediate link to groceries. The most recent offer:


Now, it surely would be unfair to say that the foodstuff they sell is such crap that eating it causes such health deterioration that it leads to its use.

It is more concerned with another dimension of the term grocer’s shop. Originally – looking at the so-called good old times – the term named shops where one could buy items that had came to these European countries from the colonies. Sure, Ireland had been itself a colony – but the Irish people had been forced to forget their language, adopt the language of the colonialiser and with this the hegemonic thinking as for instance carried about with maintaining names like the one of these shops.

But stop, what has a wheelchair to do with a product brought over from the colonies. And, of course, colonialism is by and large a thing of the past, isn’t it?

Sure, by and large it is. But now we can turn to Rosa, and in particular her writing on ‘The Accumulation of Capital’. She emphasises that capitalism depends on the exploitation of non-capitalist resources. Her approach is fundamentally different if compared with the Habermasian thesis of colonialisation of life world by system world. Whereas Habermas remains methodologically unclear between institutionalist analysis and proposing a ‘voluntarist opt-out’, emerging – in a quasi-institutionalist manner – from the logic of language, Luxemburg starts from a perspective of actors, emphasising the different interests as they emerge from the requirement of the capital accumulation itself. She draws attention on the work of Karl Marx, highlighting

the dialectical conflict that capitalism needs non-capitalist social organisations as the setting for development, that it proceeds by assimilating the very conditions which alone can ensure its own existence.

(Luxemburg, Rosa, 1913: The Accumulation of Capital. Translated from the German by Agnes Schwarzschild. With an Introduction by Joan Robinson; London: Routledge and Kegan Paul,1951: 366 – see also the contribution Peter Herrmann/Hurriyet Babacan, forthcoming: The State as Mechanism of Exclusion – Nationhood, Citizenship, Ethnicity [working title]; in: Babacan/Herrmann [eds.], forthcoming: Nation State and Enthic Diversity; New York: Nova)

This had been frequently also termed ‘inner colonialisation’ – and there we are with our grocer’s shop. This goes, obviously, much beyond or better: a different way than being a matter of concentration and centralisation of capital. Luxemburg had been looking on a different level at things. Namely she had been concerned with the very process of accumulation of capital; and as such it had not least been a matter of sucking an increasing number of areas into this process: capitalisation as a core moment already outlined in depth by Karl Marx, gains in Rosa Luxemburg’s work an additional component. The capturing of ‘the entire life’ as matter that is not simply subordinated under the laws of capitalist production. Of course, All DIhese wheelchairs are not really showing anything new. They only make so very obvious the fact that everything …., no, not commodified. As true and important as this is, we are now talking about a different stance: everything is part of the productive process, here the production and reproduction of the workforce. Admittedly this is in someway an oversimplification – as may wheelchair users will not be part of or return into the productive system. Sure, many could but we won’t look at this now. Of interest is another point. The normality and centrality of health issues, treatment and remedies of different kind. Let us be honest, there is nothing wrong with it at first instance: We live longer. And we live a liveable, reasonably comfortable life even under conditions which did not allow anything like that in ‘the good old times’. However, there is another dimension to it: the technological and commodity dimension taking over and the social side being only and at most accompanying. As much as this allows professional help, it allows something else – and this is the central point here: the inclusion of the reproductive sphere – and the production of the labour power as immediate concern of the process of production. It is not a matter of ‘delivering’ the workforce but the production of workforce itself is immediate and increasingly central to the process of accumulation of capital. This difference seems to be small, at first glance even difficult to comprehend. Nevertheless, it is an important one.

Much could and should be said – but working in education, i.e. a university that claims proudly to be ‘modern’ – there is one area of special interest – especially as this sector of production is in an awful state. And apologies are hopefully accepted for my cynicism. I propose to exploit the possibilities of bringing social work education even closer into the accumulation process. Tiny measures may have huge effects. Imagine, every social worker gets with his/her MA-certification …, let us say 5 “social work cases” for the first three years after the training. This should be a sufficient number to allow the social worker to develop his/her own ‘workshop’ where a pool of new raw material for permanent and enhanced accumulation can take place. Of course, the attentive reader will be well aware: raw material that is needed for social workers for ongoing accumulation are for instance poor people, drug addicts, battered and raped women as well as abused children, criminals (imagine, the latter two are produced in one act: the victims and the perpetrators) … – and aren’t all these and many more produced in an increasing number?

There seems one problem left unresolved so far: times of crisis lead to an increased number of ‘cases’ for social workers. At the same time, as much of the social work is financed by the state there develops a bottleneck as the state, due to unemployment and decreasing tax intake (logically, due to further decreasing tax income due to a lower sum of wages and firms that run bust, and increasing tax evasion*) is not in a position to answer the need. But an answer exists: making social work again more explicitly what it once had been: part of the system that produces and maintains capitalist work force. I know that this is not and had never been the full story. But we can now make it the full story. As said, give social workers with the MA-certificate some raw material to build up thair own business

– Let us face it, seriously: for many, the way out of the miserable state of Third Sector Education is a kind of prostitution, worse than it had ever been before. Worse, as it is now a mass-phenomenon and a matter of institutional prostitution rather than a matter of individual prostitutes.

I may add an additional business idea – for those social workers who are advanced then: enter an arrangement with Al DIese shops: they may even produce the raw material for you … –

You don’t believe it? Coming back to the shopping experience of the Sunday (I only arrived back the other evening, being welcomed by an empty fridge): the cashier seemed to be a nice person, to be honest I had been at some stages caught by her friendliness. May be that the slight Polish accent contributed to it …, but be it as it is, the way she greeted the guy in front of me, the way she said the amount to pay, looking up to him, the way of taking the money, returning the change … . When he left I had been busy get my stuff ready and getting myself ready for the high-speed scan and pack game. Now, my turn: I politely answered the kind

“How are you?”

I replied

– “Great day, isn’t it – even if people like us are working.”

I didn’t say that I just left the office, and would have to continue working at home. Instead I had been busy to get the stuff packed. “19.43” she smiled at me. I had been wondering how she could be so consistently friendly even if I had been …, well there had been something in the undertone. After finishing business, after I heard her saying “Have a nice evening”, I wanted to say something nice too, just like: “Have a nice evening too – it is nearly closing time.” But I couldn’t. She turned already to the next customer:

“How are you?”

she said it with the slight tiredness, the plaintiveness that allowed to carry on …, for some time, until she would not be able anymore to sell, until she would finally be sold … – or sell herself to a Social Worker Ltd.


I recently read an interview, somebody mentioning that Rosa Luxemburg had been killed on grounds of her ideas, her critical judgment. And the interviewer, comparing the interviewee with her, said: Today there are still fights, serious disputes – but nobody would be killed for not following the mainstream ideas. Let’s hope that it is true. At least it is true that critical thinking, thinking that is aiming on really questioning the foundations of the world we live in, will not arrive in such a comfort who believe in the good rather than analyse the bad. It is the captivating silencing of a creeping process, killing us softly.


* other factors could be added


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