Primitive Accumulation: From Adam Smith to Angela Merkel

I am going to present this paper in Slovenia.  Any comments would be appreciated.

The choice of Adam Smith as an introduction to a discussion of primitive accumulation might seem curious even though he inadvertently began the discussion of the concept.  Like a modern astrophysicist trying to understand the Big Bang, he asserted that “the accumulation of stock must, in the nature of things, be previous to the division of labour” (Smith 1976, 2.3, p. 277).  Smith, who often unintentionally raised important questions in the course of his confusion, was asking, what was the original accumulation that set off the ongoing process of capital accumulation.

I link the history of classical primitive accumulation to the contemporary ravages of neoliberalism.



5 comments so far

  1. political economist on

    do you have this is doc file?

  2. Phil on

    I read this and along with your Invention of Capitalism found both very useful for my study of agriculture in the eighteenth century as it pertains to Robert Burns.
    You seem to cover a lot of the same ground in both. I like the emphasis on Steuart. Have you ever read Andrew Fletcher fl.late 1690s, early 1700s? I think it was Knud Haakonssen who suugested that many Scottish Enlightenment figures were writing in his wake…that might explain Steuart’s reference to slavery as part of an ongoing discussion with Fletcher’s work where the latter advocates a form of tied labour (which may have something to do with the recent famines Scotland had suffered in the 1690s).
    The link between the C18 and today is well made…I wonder if a better way to frame this is ‘primitive accumulation’ becomes ‘modern confiscation’ because there seems to be a pretty shameless and naked grab by modern finance of pension funds, ‘life savings’, national companies by bigger global players without a whimper coming from national govts. I think calling it modern primitive accumulation makes the Marxist approach (which I share as far as a non-economist can) seem backward looking. I know this ‘confiscation’ is nothing new really but I wonder if we need new terms now in our hyper-financialised death spiral. Just a thought anyway.
    Recently bought your ‘Perverse Economy’ as well. Very helpful and full of interesting material as always.

  3. What Revolution? (Part 2) on

    […] The war between the imperialists at one end and those who they have colonized or wish to colonize is an inescapable global contradiction which cuts across, without cancelling out, all other contradictions. Overcoming this global division is the sine non quo for the ultimate success of all other subaltern struggles. For imperialism, with its embargos, occupations, paramilitary goons and drones is not some sideshow to the capitalist system, nor is it an epiphenomenon that can be dealt with by simply focusing on class struggle. It is an essential component of the system itself, which creates the conditions for accumulation by continually refashioning the asymmetry between the dominated center and the periphery. By means of its imperialist rent, the world’s laboring classes are kept divided, as the workers of the core are given a material stake in the perpetuation of the system, which is in turn supplemented with ideologies of racism and chauvinism that justify their privileged position as being natural. Without the underdevelopment and pauperization caused by the imperialist division of global labor, capitalism would not have been able to develop – nor would it long survive without the foundation created by the recurrence of such processes at every stage of its history. […]

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