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

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Sat Sep 09 2006 - 13:18:33 EDT

>Well, since you reproduced the following quote from Marx, I have
>a question which you -- or someone else on the list -- might be able to
>>  "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.
>In what sense did  it begin with the revolt of Netherlands from
>In solidarity, Jerry

The following is not a direct answer but illuminating, I think.
Acemoglu et al also speak to the role
of merchants in the 'transition'. Full citation below. In above
passage Marx seems to be emphasizing here the role of merchant
capitalists in the emergence of full scale capitalist society. I
think he would have found this paper congenial. I haven't yet read
Marcel van der Linden's paper on Dutch merchant capital; Jurriaan
translated that paper.

"3.2.2 The Dutch case
Turning to the Dutch case, it would be a fair characterization to
view the history of
the Netherlands during the 16th and early 17th centuries as the
history of the struggle
between merchants, especially the wealthy and politically powerful
Regents, and the
Habsburg monarchy. While the monarchy tried to increase its tax
revenues from the
Netherlands, the merchants tried to minimize taxes and fought for
security of property
and for independence from Spain.
An early milestone was the granting of the Grand Privilege of 1477 which gave
the States General of the Burgundian Netherlands the right to gather
on their own
initiative and curbed the right of the ruler to raise taxes. However,
by 1493 Maximilian of
Habsburg reversed the privileges. After 1552, war with France
increased the Habsburgs'
fiscal needs and led them to impose a large tax burden on
Netherlands. In 1556 when
Charles V abdicated in favor of his son Philip II, the Netherlands
rejected his first set
of fiscal demands, only grudgingly paying up in 1558 under their own terms.
Growing fiscal and religious resentment in 1572 led to a series of
uprisings against
the Habsburgs, mostly orchestrated by commercial interests (see
Israel, 1995). De Vries
and van der Woude (1997, p. 369) argue that "urban economic interests
believed it advantageous to escape the Habsburg imperial framework".
In the case
of Amsterdam, de Vries and van der Woude (1997, p. 365) note: "the
ruling faction
instinctively chose the cautious path of loyalty to Catholicism and
the Habsburg regime...
Their opponents included most of the city's international
merchants.....[I]n 1578 a new
Amsterdam city council threw the city's lot in with the Prince of
Orange... among the
merchants returning from... exile were [those whose families] and
several generations of
their decendents would long dominate the city."
Not only did commercial interests wish to escape the Habsburg regime, but they
were becoming rich enough to turn their wishes into action. Israel
(1995, pp. 241-
242) describes this as follows: "From 1590, there was a dramatic
improvement in the
Republic's economic circumstances. Commerce and shipping expanded
enormously, as
did the towns. As a result, the financial power of the states rapidly
grew, and it was
possible to improve the army vastly, both qualitatively, and
quantitatively, within a
short space of time. The army increased from 20,000 men in 1588 to
32,000 by 1595,
and its artillery, methods of transportation, and training were
transformed" (see also
Israel, 1989, Chapter 3). By 1629, the Dutch were able to field an
army of 77,000 men,
50% larger than the Spanish army of Flanders (Israel, 1995, p. 507).
After the Dutch revolt, it was the wealthy, predominantly Protestant
merchants, the
Regents, that dominated the city and state politics.36 De Vries and
van der Woude
(1997, p. 587) in their analysis of the relationship between
soico-economic position and
political influence note the that the richest people consisted of
those "6 to 8% of urban
households with incomes in excess of 1,000 guilders per year. This
was the grote burgerij
from whom was drawn the political and commercial leadership of the
country. Here
we find, first and foremost, the merchants."37 In fact, the Dutch
Revolt also served
to weaken the position of Dutch nobles in the two largest states,
Zeeland and Holland.
Again quoting de Vries and van der Woude (1997, pp. 507-508): "Many
nobles ... were
... excluded from the political system when the new Republican order
triumphed... Only
the Prince of Orange remained as a qualified representative of the
noble order, and three
attempts by other nobles (in 1615, 1616 and 1651) to be restored to
their ancient rights
were torpedoed by the cities in Zeeland. These cities, indeed, were
the great winners of
this process."
Full independence for the Dutch Republic was not secure until the war
against the
Habsburgs was completed with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. In this
process, the
role of merchants was central. Dutch bankers and trading companies
financed the inde-
pendence war and dictated policy. Adams (1994, p. 329) quotes Elias
in arguing that
"The leading edge of commercial expansion shifted to the colonial and
rich trades, and
the merchants engaged in colonial trades, proclaiming the need for
the states to help
merchants secure wider opportunities in the Indies, swept into power
in Amsterdam in
1601". De Vries and van der Woude (1997, p. 366) note that it was
"the traditional
pillars of the maritime economy ... that supported and strengthened
the young Republic
in its hour of need."

 From Sloan School of Management
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Working Paper No. 4269-02

Department of Economics
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Working Paper No. 02-43

The Rise of Europe: Atlantic Trade, Institutional
Change and Economic Growth

Daron Acemoglu

Simon H. Johnson

James A. Robinson
University of California, Berkeley; CEPR

This paper can be downloaded without charge from the
Social Science Research Network Electronic Paper Collection at:

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