Volume 2, Number 3 (2009)

The Contemporary Significance of Primitive Accumulation

Rohit Negi

University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

Marc Auerbach

The Ohio State University

We introduce this discussion on the contemporary significance of primitive accumulation with an attempt to clarify the relation between Marx’s concept of  primitive accumulation and David Harvey’s notion of  accumulation by dispossession. Marx defnes primitive accumulation as the “process…which creates the capital relation…”  (Marx 1977: p. 874). His historical account emphasizes the centuries-long process by which English peasants were forced of the land, corralled into wage-labor, and disciplined by state repression to the requirements of capital accumulation. In our view, some commentators have misinterpreted Marx’s emphasis on the violent or coercive moments of primitive accumulation. Marx does not  define primitive accumulation in such terms. Rather, his historical account “leave[s] on one side…the purely economic driving forces behind the agricultural revolution” that eliminated the independent peasantry (Marx 1977: p. 883). However, as Marx contended with the creation myths of classical political economy, he was keen to demonstrate that “conquest, enslavement, robbery, murder, in short force, play the greatest part” in this process (Marx 1977: p. 874).