primitive accumulation - a short point of view

Waistline2 at aol.com Waistline2 at aol.com
Mon Sep 1 05:03:51 MDT 2003



"The inquiry into this question would be an inquiry into what the economists
call "previous or original accumulation," but which ought to be called
original expropriation. We should find that this so-called original accumulation
means nothing but a series of historical processes, resulting in a decomposition
of the original union existing between the labouring Man and his Instruments of
Labour. Such an inquiry, however, lies beyond the pale of my present subject.
The separation between the Man of Labour and the Instruments of Labour once
established, such a state of things will maintain itself and reproduce itself
upon a constantly increasing scale, until a new and fundamental revolution in
the mode of production should again overturn it, and restore the original union
in a new historical form. (Karl Marx Value, Price and Profit.)

"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."

"In the history of primitive accumulation, all revolutions are epoch-making
that act as levers for the capital class in course of formation; but, above
all, those moments when great masses of men are suddenly and forcibly torn from
their means of subsistence, and hurled as free and "unattached" proletarians on
the labor market. The expropriation of the agricultural producer, of the
peasant, from the soil, is the basis of the whole process. The history of this
expropriation, in different countries, assumes different aspects, and runs
through its various phases in different orders of succession, and at different
periods." (Capital Volume 1)

"(O) riginal expropriation. . . .means nothing but . . .decomposition of the
original union existing between the labouring Man and his Instruments of
Labour. "It appears as primitive, because it forms the pre-historic stage of
capital and of the mode of production corresponding with it."

Comment

"Primitive accumulation" or "Original expropriation" are basic concepts some
refer to as "original accumulation" and "new territories for original
accumulation." My use of the concept primitive accumulation means the pre-historical
stage of capital as the social power that reconfigures society according to its
own unique laws of operation. The reason I use this definition is because it
establishes boundaries in the development of commodity production, the value
form, the rise and fall of classes and why property relations of all kinds face
dissolution with the unraveling of the commodity form.

I do not understand the primitive accumulation of capital to imply a system
of reproduction spanning from the changes in the form of wealth - that sets the
stage for the break up of economic feudalism, through manufacture into
industrial society all the way through the beginning break up of industrial society
and the emergence of electro-computerized production process - post industrial
society. Thus, for me, the primitive accumulation of capital is a description
of a historical period that brings something new into existence.

I understand the primitive accumulation of capital as the transition period -
the evolutionary leap, linking one distinct mode of production or way of life
to another mode of production and way of life. In this sense when Marx
states, "In the history of primitive accumulation, all revolutions are epoch-making
that act as levers for the capital class in course of formation;" one of those
levers was the transition in the form of wealth and the increasing use of
money, which would later serve as universal means of exchange.

Primitive accumulation of capital is understood as a transition phase - the
actual leap, in which the basis of a new society begins emerging within the old
society.

The expropriation of the agricultural producer and formation of the
capitalist class is not the logic of capital accumulation although for some there is no
qualitative difference. Capital accumulation expropriates the agricultural
producers. The distinction for me, is that capital accumulation does not cause
the formation of the capitalist class but causes its decay as a capitalist
class, along with the proletariat as a class. This process takes place with the
spread of bourgeois property relations and as the industrial system transforms
agricultural society.

The accumulation of capital is not a transition phase but a historical
process operating on the basis of its own law system.  The primitive accumulation of
capital does not operate "within capital accumulation" so to speak. The
reason this understanding is relevant to me is because it explains why the
capitalist class decays during the latter process along with the law of value and the
commodity form.

Marx explains the process logic of the decay of the capitalist class and the
proletariat in discussing the role of credit in capitalist production in
Volume 3 Chapter 27 of Capital. For me the above definition and distinction between
primitive accumulation and capital accumulation helps to understand Marx
meaning of the negative resolution of antagonism - (what some call the "negative
dialectic) in the Chapter sited, and the difference between a transition to
socialism and why in America we are at another stage of history.

Melvin P.




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