Dictionary of Revolutionary Marxism

—   Ro - Rt   —

ROBESPIERRE, Maximilien François Marie Isidore de   (1758-1794)
Jacobin leader during the great French Revolution. He opposed the war with Austria that led to defeats for France, and this helped gain him influence. With both the King and the moderate Girondins discredited, Robespierre and the Jacobins were able to lead in carrying out the republican revolution of 1792. He and other Jacobins were then elected to the National Convention, and in June 1793 was elected by that body to the Committee for Public Safety. At this point, in 1793-94, Robespierre with the Jacobin Club constituted the revolutionary government of France. This was the period of the so-called “Reign of Terror”, in which the King and hundreds of others were guillotined. But then, after a series of French war victories, the more moderate (and less revolutionary) forces regained the upper hand. Robespierre was arrested in the coup d’état of July 27, 1794 and was executed.

“Most of his speeches survive, if at all, in short newspaper reports. When you read those that were printed at the time, and have been preserved whole, what you find is a pervasive sentimentality, a strong self-referential tendency, a structure of iron logic. The Incorruptible was also the unpredictable. He was a fissiparous bundle of contradictions. He idealised ‘the people’ and profoundly distrusted anyone who claimed to speak for them. He distrusted the very structures of representation that he helped to put in place. He sought power, and he despised it. He was a pacifist, and helped run a war. In the middle of the most detailed and quotidian debate, he was thinking about posterity; and while he was planning for success he was hymning the purity of failure. He was blessed or cursed with foresight.” —Hilary Mantel, “If You’d Seen His Green Eyes”, London Review of Books, Vol. 28, #8, 20 April 2006, in a review of Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution (2006), by Ruth Scurr.

ROBINSON, Joan   (1903-1983)
A leading, gradually more radical, bourgeois economist during the middle part of the 20th century, who taught at Cambridge University for 40 years. She was an associate, defender, and extender of
Keynes, and was also influenced by Marx. In her later years she was even impressed by the Cultural Revolution in China and by the Maoist political economy of socialism. But she never fully left her earlier bourgeois Keynesian outlook when it came to the analysis of capitalist political economy.
        Joan Robinson is someone who moved further to the left as she aged—as opposed to the tired old dogma that people always move to the right as they get older and more comfortable with the status quo. She was originally indoctrinated into the standard neoclassical bourgeois economic ideology as represented by Alfred Marshall. But she was working with Keynes as he wrote his magnum opus, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936), and became for some time perhaps the greatest defender of his theory. But Robinson did not stop thinking, and gradually began to more seriously investigate Marx. This led her to attempt to blend the views of Marx and Keynes together, though in a somewhat different sort of way than what Paul Sweezy and the Monthly Review School have attempted to do. Like Sweezy, she also found a kindred spirit in the Polish economist Michal Kalecki, who was up to sort of the same thing. Robinson once thought that Keynes had solved the problem of restoring effective demand and ending depressions, but later on she was not so sure. Thus at the hands of people such as Robinson and Kalecki, one part of “Keynesianism” became transformed into what has been called “post-Keynesianism”. But this was moving Keynesianism at least a little bit in the direction of Marxism, rather than the dominant trend within bourgeois economics which has moved Keynesianism back toward neoclassical economics. (See: NEOCLASSICAL SYNTHESIS)
        Robinson had a huge hang-up when it came to Marxist philosophy, and never really understood it. In her 1953 letter to Ronald Meek, she wrote: “But I want you to think about me dialectically. The first principle of the dialectic is that the meaning of a proposition depends on what it denies. Thus the very same proposition has two opposite meanings according to whether you come at it from above or from below.” This sounds quite confused. Much better to talk about opposing forces within things.
        More generally, Robinson had little patience for Marxists discussing either economics or philosophy. She liked Marx, but seemed to have a closed mind when it came to self-proclaimed followers of Marx. It is true, of course, that the followers of Marx in the sphere of political economy (as in politics or philosophy) sometimes do present a rather sorry example—especially in academia! But there are exceptions, starting with Engels, Lenin and Mao themselves! And it seems that Robinson did at least like a lot of what Mao had to say.
        Most of Robinson’s many writings are from a fully or at least largely Keynesian perspective. Items of special interest to readers of this Dictionary are:
        •   An Essay on Marxian Economics, (NY: Macmillan, 1966), 2nd ed., 104 pages. [First edition was in 1942.]
        •   On Re-reading Marx, (Cambridge, England: 1953). Available online at: https://www.bannedthought.net/MLM-Theory/PoliticalEconomyOfCapitalism/ValidityOfMarxistPE/OnReReadingMarx-JoanRobinson-1953.pdf
        •   The Cultural Revolution in China, (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1969), 151 pages. An interesting and sympathetic report on the earliest years of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China.
        •   Economic Management in China, (1975; 3rd ed. 1976). In this work Robinson praises the Cultural Revolution. The 2nd edition (1975) is available online at: https://www.bannedthought.net/China/MaoEra/ContemporaryCommentary/Anglo-ChineseEdInst/Pubs/EconomicManagementInChina-JoanRobinson-1975.pdf

“Robinson identified two distinctions between Marx and neoclassical economics, and sympathized with Marx. First, there was Marx’s historical approach versus the ahistoricism of orthodox theory. Secondly, ‘the orthodox economists argue in terms of the harmony of interests between various sections of the community, while Marx conceives of economic life in terms of a conflict of interest’ between the classes [Robinson: ‘An Essay on Marxian Economics’ (1942)]. Theoretically, what was of particular interest to her in Marx was his long period employment analysis, his emphasis on effective demand, and his schema of expanded reproduction. Following her interest in structures of reproduction, in [her book] Accumulation of Capital she explored the dynamic long-run consequences of capital accumulation brought about by short-run investment. She attempted to discover and explore the ‘principles of coherence’ embedded in the fundamental confusion of the capitalist system. But she rejected Marx’s labor theory of value as a theory incapable of providing an analysis of prices, and found his explanation of the falling rate of profit tendency confused. She reserved, however, her most piercing critique not for Marx but for ‘Marxists.’ She found Marxists’ dogmatic and uncritical idolization of Marx as anathema to Marx’s historical vision, since, for her, a historical perspective requires the theorist to adapt the method and tools of analysis to changing circumstances.” —Zohreh Emami, “Robinson’s contribution to political economy”, in Phillip Anthony O’Hara, Encyclopedia of Political Economy (1999), vol. 2, p. 1002.
         [Robinson was in fact trying to do a bourgeois empiricist re-write of Marx. But, even so, she sounds pretty good when compared to most bourgeois economists. As, for example, when she wrote in her 2nd edition of An Essay on Marxian Economics (1966) that “All the pother about value and prices permitted the academics to evade the penetrating analysis of exploitation that Marx had derived from Ricardo.” The reference here is to the so-called transformation problem (i.e., specifying with mathematical precision how exactly values, based on socially necessary labor times, get transformed into prices), which has so obsessed many Marxist-influenced economists. —S.H.]

“In her book An Essay on Marxian Economics, Joan Robinson declares her intention to translate Marx from the unfortunate metaphysical (Hegelian) language of the nineteenth century to ‘language that an academic could understand’. In other words, she will remove the rational kernel from the metaphysical shell, thus preserving the essential fruit of Marx’s labours. For, in her view, there is much that economists have to learn from Marx. Robinson [p. 92] faults static equilibrium analysis as the main cause that has prevented economic theory from connecting to the real world, and suggests that it is time for Marx’s economic thinking to enter the field of vision of academic economics because he offers a more dynamic and historically oriented approach. Though there is much in Marx that she criticizes, she is yet more critical of mainstream academic economics for its ‘elegant elaborations of minor problems, which distract the attention of pupils from the uncongenial realities of the modern world’ [p. 2]. In comparison, ‘Marx’s intellectual tools are far cruder, but his sense of reality is far stronger, and his argument towers above their intricate constructions in rough and gloomy grandeur.’ Indeed, she ends her book [p. 95] with the call for a new theory of the ‘laws of motion of capitalism’.
        “I can wholeheartedly agree with her about the immense superiority of Marx’s ‘sense of reality’, and with some other important points that she makes. For example, she recognizes that the most fundamental difference between Marx and orthodox economists like Smith and Ricardo is his conceptualization of surplus-value (but we are diametrically opposed in assessing the importance of the concept surplus-value) [p. 52]. Also, along with Marx, she recognizes that to a very large extent mainstream economics has always projected petty-bourgeois individualism on to capitalism, thus fundamentally distorting its true character. Further, she recognizes that ‘once the overall rate of exploitation is given, relative prices are not particularly interesting’ [p. x], and that if there is any transformation in Capital, it is from more quantitatively determined prices into less quantitatively determined values and not the other way around [p. xi]. With these points, I strongly agree....
        “Robinson argues that Marx’s ‘value’ is a metaphysical concept and that volume one [of Capital] is dogmatic, while she much prefers the more empirically-oriented volume three. But what apparently makes volume one dogmatic for her is her inability to appreciate the dialectical reasoning employed by Marx in which the sequence of categories unfold from the simplest and most abstract by gradually adding layers of complexity and concreteness. Thus what appears as a certain unreality is Marx’s effort to show in the simplest possible terms how class exploitation can occur through the commodity-form with systematic realiance on extra-economic force. It is only after this relationship is clarified that he turns to address the heterogeneity of capital and forms of profit as well as dynamic considerations concerning the historical limitedness of capital and its propensity towards periodic crises. Volumes one and two clarify the reified character of basic social relations as the basis for the more fully quantitatively determined economic variables of volume three.
        “In Marx’s quasi-dialectical reasoning, it is critical to present the theory of surplus-value prior to the theory of profit, which is a more concrete, complex and quantitatively specified category. Robinson can’t understand this at all, as is clear when she claims ‘... there is no reason why the rate of exploitation should be treated as either logically or historically prior to the rate of profit’ [p. 16]. And indeed, in accord with a strictly empiricist mode of analysis where our only concern is the relation between two purely quantitative ratios, Robinson is correct. But in Marx’s dialectical mode of reasoning where the sequence of categories is crucial, the rate of exploitation must be theorized logically prior to the rate of profit. Why? Because the rate of profit is the rate of exploitation made more complex, concrete and quantitatively determinant.”
         —Robert Albritton, Economics Transformed: Discovering the Brilliance of Marx (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Pluto Press, 2007), pp. 184-6.

ROBOT (Industrial)
An automatic machine which replaces, in part or in full, human labor in some production process. In the sardonic illustration at the right, an industrial robot even operates the soup kitchen that dishes out the bleak meal for unemployed human workers.
        See also:

“By 2012 the global sales of industrial robots was a $28 billion annual market, and the fastest-growing market is China, where robot installations have been increasing at a 25 percent annual rate since 2005. China still has a long way to go, as it has just thirty robots per 10,000 manufacturing employees compared to South Korea (437), Japan (323), Germany (282), and the United States (152), according to the International Federation of Robotics, a trade group. The research firm IHS Technology projects that robot sales in China will increase from 55,000 units in 2014, to 211,000 units in 2019.” —Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols, People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy (2016), p. 100.

“We could be looking at a society that grows ever richer, but in which all the gains in wealth accrue to whoever owns the robots.” —Paul Krugman, a liberal bourgeois economist, pondering current trends in American society. Quoted in Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols, ibid., pp. 105-6.

ROBOTS — Effect on Unemployment
The whole reason that corporations invest in and use industrial robots is obviously so that they need to hire fewer human workers. However, the capitalists argue that—nevertheless—the use of robots increases overall production and along with it the total number of jobs in the economy. And up until around 1987 that may actually have been true, to a degree, in the U.S. economy. (See:
Automation—The Claim that Automation Creates More Jobs than It Displaces) And while it is true that a corporation which starts to use more robots may thereby also be able to expand its overall business, and thus even expand its own total workforce, the net result is still usually a reduction in the number of jobs in the overall economy once the layoffs in other less successful competing companies are accounted for. (See quote below.)

“Using several sources, we construct a data set of robot purchases by French manufacturing firms and study the firm-level implications of robot adoption. Out of 55,390 firms in our sample, 598 have adopted robots between 2010 and 2015, but these firms account for 20% of manufacturing employment and value added. Consistent with theory, robot adopters experience significant declines in labor share and the share of production workers in employment, and increases in value added and productivity. They expand their overall employment as well. However, this expansion comes at the expense of their competitors (as automation reduces their relative costs). We show that the overall impact of robot adoption on industry employment is negative. We further document that the impact of robots on overall labor share is greater than their firm-level effects because robot adopters are larger and grow faster than their competitors.” —Summary of the study by Daron Acemoglu, Claire LeLarge, and Pascual Restrepo, “Competing with Robots: Firm-Level Evidence from France”, NBER Working Paper No. 26738, Feb. 2020.

RODBERTUS, Johann [Johann Karl Rodbertus-Jagetzow]   (1805-1875)
Prussian landowner, economist, leader of the “Center Left” in the Prussian National Assembly, and theoretician of Prussian Junker “state socialism”.

[Kurdish: “the west”, or western region (of Kurdistan). Pronounced: RO-zha-VA, with the zh sound like the z in ‘azure’.]
        The region of northeastern Syria made up mostly of Kurdish people, and controlled for a half decade during the Syrian civil war by local Kurdish self-defense military forces, the largest of which was originally called the “People’s Protection Units” (or YPG from the Kurdish initials). Later, partly under U.S. pressure, the YPG became a somewhat broader military force including some none-Kurdish ethnic soldiers, and changed its name to the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF). These forces made the serious mistake of allying themselves with U.S. imperialism, and depending on the U.S. for their continued existence. In October 2019 the Trump regime double-crossed them in a deal with Turkey which allowed the Turkish invasion of the region. The Kurdish forces then came to a deal with the reactionary Syrian government which will almost certainly soon mean the end of any independent Kurdish region in Syria.

        See also:

“In an 1832 encyclical, Pope Gregory XVI said freedom of conscience was likely to ‘spread ruin,’ and freedom of the press seemed ‘monstrous.’” —New York Times, Book Review section, “Catholic School”, October 2, 2022.

Russian Tsarist dynasty founded in 1613 by Michael Romanov, the grandfather of Peter the Great. This dynasty ruled Russia and its empire until they were overthrown in the “February Revolution” (in March 1917 on the Western calendar).

A term which means related things in different spheres: in the arts generally; in music; in architecture; and in philosophy. Overall, Romanticism was a cultural movement which swept across western Europe (and to some degree the early United States) during the period of roughly 1775 to 1840 or so. It was in part a nostalgic and semi-religious reaction against the
Enlightenment. In place of the ideas of reason, rationality and a scientific approach to the world that the Enlightenment championed, Romanticism favored the imaginative, the emotional, the inspired, the heroic, the nihilistic, the subjective, the self-centered focus on the “pleasure principle”, the psychological, and often the religious in various idealistic forms. While there are some positive aspects to this whole temperament, there are obviously also many negative aspects to it as well.
        Romantic art and literature emphasizes sweeping movement, allegory, imagination, fantasy, romance, mythic tales, and pilgrimages returning to a lost home or Eden. Romanticism in modern architecture means a flowing, open style, often based on natural materials and blending into the environment. (As with Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright in American architecture, for example.)
        Romanticism in music refers primarily to European classical music of the first half of the 19th century, and particularly the compositions of Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Berlioz, Liszt, Verdi and Wagner. It has its inspiration both in literary Romanticism and also (somewhat in conflict with that) with the new ways of thinking opened up by the great French Revolution. It is characterized by the expression of the emotions and outlook of the composers together with the somewhat opposed notion that music can and must express the spirit of the age.
        There are many admirable examples of Romanticism in art, architecture and music; however, in philosophy the situation is quite different. In this sphere Romanticism is virtually always intellectualized religion (philosophical idealism) and reactionary in its essence. Not too surprisingly, Kant is a major figure or influence here, such as with his idealistic distortion of the concept of free will, but more centrally with his conception of reality as fundamentally “unknowable” and ultimately spiritual. Other philosophers or thinkers more commonly referred to as Romantics, such as Schelling, are even more blatant: With him nature is a creative spirit aspiring to an ever more complete self-realization. Supposedly human knowledge of this “spirit” (or “the Absolute”!) cannot be acquired by rational or scientific means, but only through “intuition” (and even then only by a select few). This is the sort of incoherent nonsense that characterizes Romanticism in philosophy.
        Politically, the Romantic movement was a rather mixed bag. One current within it was reactionary; it viewed the triumph of capitalism with disdain, but constructed an imaginary historic ideal of what Medieval (feudal) society was like, and longed for a return to it. But another, probably larger current within Romanticism, also reacting negatively to the new capitalist world, longed to transform it into something better. Among the more progressive Romantics were Byron, Victor Hugo, Chopin, Berlioz and Liszt. While their political activities were generally limited and often merely vaguely radical or utopian, they did strongly sympathize with the masses and their miseries in capitalist society.

ROOSEVELT, Theodore   (1858-1919)
Notorious American imperialist and warmonger who was a “war hero” during the Spanish-American War and then became president of the U.S. from 1901-1909. Although viewed as a “progressive” by some (then and now), for favoring some reforms and showing some opposition to giant U.S. monopolies, he was nevertheless basically and essentially just a leader and promoter of rising American capitalist-imperialism.

“[Although] Roosevelt was a progressive, he was not a particularly liberal one, especially by today’s standards. He had little patience for pluralism—he derided what he deemed ‘hyphenated Americans’—and he believed that America’s future depended on constructing a unified, common culture, a call that echoes strongly among those pushing for a new conservative nationalism today.
        “... Roosevelt, like many of today’s conservative nationalists, endorsed restrictions on immigration. In his 1905 message to Congress, he said: ‘It will be a great deal better to have fewer immigrants, but all of the right kind, than a great number of immigrants, many of whom are necessarily of the wrong kind.’
        “Especially in his later years, Roosevelt’s nationalism, already problematic, became overtly racist. He proposed subsidies for white Americans to have more children and endorsed sterilizing the poor and mentally handicapped—a eugenic natalism that Senator [Josh] Hawley writes in his book, Theodore Roosevelt: Preacher of Righteousness, was ‘not entirely dissimilar to that pursued by the German Third Reich.’
        “In the book, Mr. Hawley takes pains to criticize Roosevelt for his racism, which he concedes was central to Roosevelt’s vision for America, and not just an artifact of his time and place.... [Roosevelt] even refers to white people as the ‘forward race’”.
         —Clay Risen, “Who Owns Theodore Roosevelt?”, New York Times, July 28, 2019. [In this article, this bourgeois writer doesn’t even think about criticizing Roosevelt for being an imperialist and warmonger! —Ed.]

ROTE FAHNE, Die   [“The Red Flag”]
A German-language daily revolutionary newspaper founded originally by
Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg as the Central Organ (most important publication) of the Spartacus League. Later it became the Central Organ of the Communist Party of Germany. It began publication on November 9, 1918 in Berlin. It was constantly persecuted by the Social-Democratic governments in the pre-Hitler period and then was officially closed down completely when Hitler came to power. However, it continued to be published and distributed illegally. In 1935 its publication office was transferred to Prague. From October 1936 to the autumn of 1939 it was published in Brussels.

ROUSSEAU, Jean-Jacques   (1712-1778)
French philosopher, and democrat, who was one of the great figures of the
Enlightenment. He was an ideologist of the Petty Bourgeoisie.
        See also: GENERAL WILL,   CONTRAT SOCIAL,   SOCIAL CONTRACT,   and philosophical doggerel about Rousseau.

The famous scientific society formally organized and chartered in London in 1662. It is no doubt the most important scientific organization in human history.

“In 1665 the Society’s secretary, Henry Oldenburg, launched Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, one of the first scientific journals, and certainly the longest-running in the world. Philosophical Transactions reported not only the investigations of the Society’s fellows but also studies conducted by others, making the Society a world center for scientific research.” —Amir Alexander, Infinitesimal (2014), p. 248.

Nullius in verba.” [Motto of the Royal Society. Loosely translated it means: “Take nobody’s word for it.” In other words, scientific investigation and experiment is more important than anybody’s opinion about something. —Ed.]

ROYCE, Josiah   (1855-1916)
Reactionary American philosopher, who was an objective
idealist and neo-Hegelian.

RSS (Rashtryiya Swayamsevar Sangh)

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