[OPE-L] 'primitive' or 'original'; "so-called" or not; expropriation and accumulation

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Sat Sep 09 2006 - 10:22:20 EDT

"Ursprünglich" can be translated as original, primordial, pristine, or
primary. In some respects I think using the term "primitive" is misleading,
since not infrequently the original accumulation process involved quite
sophisticated financial and legal techniques. The substantive point however
is that even when Marx lived, the capitalist mode of production did not
exist in large parts of the world. Now it does. What you then have to
explain is how that could happen without some form of original accumulation,
i.e. how the direct producers became separated from the means of production
they previously owned (or hired/rented/leased). Clearly some kind of
expropriation/separation process occurred. If it wasn't some kind of
original accumulation process, how did it *differ* in substance from the
process that Marx described? I can think of course of China and the USSR,
where the process occurred by state diktat, without substantial private
ownership of means of production. But what about other parts of the world?

Marx himself says "The so-called primitive accumulation, therefore, is
nothing else than the historical process of divorcing the producer from the
means of production. It appears as primitive, because it forms the
pre-historic stage of capital and of the mode of production corresponding
with it." He emphasizes that primitive accumulation means the expropriation
of the direct producers, but more specifically "the dissolution of private
property based on the labor of its owner... Self-earned private property,
that is based, so to say, on the fusing together of the isolated,
independent laboring-individual with the conditions of his labor, is
supplanted by capitalistic private property, which rests on exploitation of
the nominally free labor of others, i.e., on wage-labor." (Cap. 1, chapter

And further:

"The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement
and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the
conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren
for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalled the rosy dawn of the
era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief
moments of primitive accumulation. On their heels treads the commercial war
of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre. It begins with the
revolt of the Netherlands from Spain, assumes giant dimensions in England's
Anti-Jacobin War, and is still going on in the opium wars against China, &c.
The different moments of primitive accumulation distribute themselves now,
more or less in chronological order, particularly over Spain, Portugal,
Holland, France, and England. In England at the end of the 17th century,
they arrive at a systematical combination, embracing the colonies, the
national debt, the modern mode of taxation, and the protectionist system.
These methods depend in part on brute force, e.g., the colonial system. But,
they all employ the power of the State, the concentrated and organised force
of society, to hasten, hot-house fashion, the process of transformation of
the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode, and to shorten the
transition. Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new
one. It is itself an economic power. (chapter 31).

Did that process stop when the ink dried on the last page of his book?
Clearly Marx conceived of the process of original accumulation as a
world-historical process, not limited to English peasants being booted off
the land; he considered that the origin of the capitalist mode of production
was bound up with the formation of the world market. So I think it is
reasonable to interpret the original accumulation process as a continuous,
world-historical one. At the same time, however, one could also reasonably
argue that Marx's illustrations of the process do not capture all the
different forms it can take.


This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Sat Sep 30 2006 - 00:00:06 EDT