So-called Primitive Accumulation
We begin with Part VIII of Capital instead of Part I for two reasons.
In the first place, Part VIII is a lot easier to read, being less abstract
and richer with historical detail. The chapters of Part I, which
deal with "value" and money, tend to be very abstract and terse.
In the second place, the study of Part VIII, which shows how the capitalist
system originated, i.e., how capital originally created the working class
and imposed its system on it, provides a very useful point of reference
for the careful dissection of value in Part I.
Once we have seen
how people were driven off the land and otherwise dispoiled of their means
of production and reproduction, how their existing social and cultural
relations were destroyed, how they were thus forced to sell their life-time
as the commodity labor-power, and found their lives subordinated to work,
then it is much easier to understand why Marx elaborated a "labor" theory
of value (because the substance of the social relations of capitalism is
imposed work) and why he pays so much attention to the "commodity form"
(the form of the imposition of work). At each step of his abstract
discussion of the substance, measure and form of value, we will find it
easier to explore the social and class meaning of their various aspects
thanks to our reading of Part VIII. If the imposition of work on
most members of society through the commodity form, i.e., through the process
of forcing them into the labor market, is the defining case of exchange
in society, then we can see how every aspect of exchange, including the
role of money, is an aspect of that central class relationship. To
remember this after stating it as an abstraction is difficult. To
remember it after having explored the historical period of the inception
of the commodity form is much easier.
When we examine the structure of Part VIII we see that the
material is organized in such a manner as to highlight the creation of
the classes as the central issue in primitive accumulation:
Introduction, one chapter:
Creation of the Working Class, two chapters:
Creation of the Capitalist Class, three chapters:
Conclusion of Book, one chapter:
Nota Bene: Chapter 32 is the logical end of the book, as it evokes the
overthrow of capital and the quotation of the Communist Manifesto
"Appendix" to Chapter 31, one chapter
Chap. 33: Modern Theory of Colonialism
In what follows, the commentaries on the chapters will not only
highlight those aspects of primitive accumulation emphasized by Marx but
will also draw attention to what I feel are two important aspects of primative
accumulation that are not dealt with adequately in his treatment: 1) the
social and cultural destruction caused by the spreading imposition of
capitalist social relations, and 2) the fierce resistance to that imposition
by those who did not want to be reduced to the status of "mere worker"
in a class of workers. Marx used the expression "mere worker" in the
Grundrisse (the manuscripts of 1857) when discussing the
possibilities of moving beyond capitalism to a situation where people
can become multidimensional. His negative view of the one-dimensionality
of a life of imposed work, however, permeates all of his writing.
Nota Bene: Chapter 33 logically goes after Chapter 28 or 31 in so far
as it discusses the creation of the working class in the colonies
and through immigration. Chapters 33 and 31 both deal with the international
aspects of the emergence of capitalism.