Primitive Accumulation: The Main Source of Capitalist Production

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The philosophy presented by Karl Marx in his work Capital assumes that the development of contemporary capitalist economy was triggered by the permanent class struggle, which constantly stimulated the changes in economic system.

The philosophy presented by Karl Marx in his work Capital assumes that the development of contemporary capitalist economy was triggered by the permanent class struggle, which constantly stimulated the changes in economic system. One of the main resources of the economic struggle is capital – the means of production, the accumulation of which allows to establish and maintain capitalist relations. Marx argues that primitive accumulation was the basis of capitalist production, and without it capitalism would not emerge. Thus, primitive accumulation presumably existed before the capitalistic accumulation as from college coursework help

The philosopher explains that it is clear that money can be transformed into capital, that any capital surplus value can be created through this capital, and that it is possible to make more capital from the surplus value. However, according to this logic, to accumulate the capital, the surplus value must be present; for the surplus value to be present, the capitalistic production must occur; and for the capitalistic production to occur, some considerable mass of capital and labor power must be concentrated in the hands of the manufacturers of the product. Therefore, it becomes clear that before the uprising of capitalism, some great amount of capital had to be accumulated so the capitalists could buy both labor power and the means of production. Exactly this capital was gained not as a result of capitalistic mode of production but through primitive accumulation that allowed the capitalism to emerge.

Primitive accumulation of capital was made by those who already possessed it and had no need to work at all, while the poorer part of the population lost almost everything Thus, the only way to earn money for them was to sell their own labor and to constantly increase the wealth of the affluent few. Marx stressed that the ways of primitive accumulation are very simple, since similarly to money or products, the means of production themselves are capital, and thus they were meant to be transformed into capital someday. Nonetheless, this transformation could be achieved only under appropriate circumstances: the owners of the two different types of commodities had to start working together. These two types of possessors are the owners of means of production, money, and the means of existence. These are people who want to increase their wealth through buying the labor power of other people and the free workers themselves, who need to sell their labor power. These free workers do not constitute the means of production like slaves, and they do not possess any means of production like farmers and peasants. Such division of the ownership of commodities forms the basis of the capitalist production.

According to Marx, the capitalist system of production assumes the absolute separation of the workers from any property, with which they could have realized their labor (Marx 360). After the capitalist form of economy comes into force, it both maintains this division and extensively reproduces it. Therefore, the capitalist production can emerge only after elimination of the means of work and production from the laborer and after the development of the separation between the capitalists and wage workers. Moreover, this process enables to transform the common means of existence and production into capital and the direct producers into wage workers. Thus, it may be concluded that the process of primitive accumulation is actually a process of separating the producer from his/her means of manufacturing.

Marx claimed that the capitalist system has appeared in the result of the feudal social and economic structure, since the decay of the feudalism allowed the capitalists to gain power. Due to this process, the direct producers were deprived of their lands as they stopped being slaves and had no opportunity to earn their living. Moreover, to become a free worker and to be able to sell the labor power, these liberated peasants had to escape the rules of guilds and their labor regulations. Thus, it may be assumed that the process of changing the producers into wage workers is actually a process of liberation of these people from slavery and limitations of the guild system. On the other hand, the author emphasizes that these free people had no other choice but to sell their labor, since all the means of production, which guaranteed them some earnings and means to existence, were confiscated. At the same time, the industrial capitalists displaced both the guild masters and the feudal lords by becoming the only possessors of wealth.

Marx assumed that the process of development of both the wage labor and capitalist production started with the enslavement of the free worker. The only change that this enslavement underwent was transformation of the feudal exploitation to the capitalist one. This process occurred approximately at the beginning of the sixteenth century in Europe, when the serfdom and the system of sovereign towns were decaying. According to the philosopher, all significant social changes contributed to the development of the class of capitalists, especially the process of forceful separation of the great masses of people from their means of existence and expropriation of lands from the peasants, which turned them into free proletarians.

Marx believed that the classic example of this process could be traced in the history of England. He stated that after the Norman Conquest, the English lands were divided into enormous baronies that could include around 900 old Anglo-Saxon lordships. These lands consisted of small properties of peasants, which very frequently included large seigniorial territories. Under such conditions, until the end of the fifteenth century, when the cities were also prospering, all people could allow themselves be rather wealthy. At the same time, the possibility of capitalism was excluded. However, at the end of the fifteenth and at the beginning of the sixteenth century, significant social changes triggered the emergence of the capitalist mode of production and economy. During this period, a great number of free proletarians were forced into the labor market, since feudal system was destroyed due to political and social conflicts within the country.

The powerful feudal lords united and became a very influential social force. Consequently, they could easily drive peasantry from their lands, although these peasants had the same right for these territories, and usurp the common lands. The rapid development of the wool production that eventually caused an increase in the price for wool contributed to such evictions even more. Thus, the old nobility was replaced by the new one – which regarded money as the main source of power and influence. Farm lands and large flocks of sheep now belonged to a very small number of people who destroyed both houses and churches on their territories. In contrast, a great number of people were deprived of the means to provide for themselves and for their families. Marx claimed that the goal of the newly emerged type of entrepreneurs – capitalists, was to transform the main part of the population into mercenaries and to turn their means of labor into capital. That meant keeping those means in the hands of the owner, not the hireling.

Hence, according to Marx, a new powerful class of landlords and capitalists, who simply stole the state lands and transformed them into private property, had emerged. Later, during the eighteenth century, a number of laws were introduced. These legislations allowed to confiscate people’s lands on the legal basis. The Act for enclosures of Commons was the most prominent; it permitted the landlords to transform the national land into their own private property, and thus expropriate people’s living territories. In this way, four or five rich farmers seized one big lordship which previously belonged to twenty or thirty peasants and their tenants. All these people and their families were forced to leave the lands on which they greatly depended. Thus, they turned from small farmers into hirelings and day-laborers. The division of the common lands and the agricultural revolution inflicted serious harm on the peasants, since their wages by the end of the eighteenth century had fallen below the minimum. The amount of their profit was not enough to afford a normal living.

As a result, the capitalist mode of production was created by dishonest seizure of the state domains, feudal and clan property, and stealing the common lands and transformation of them into private property. This is an example of the method of primitive accumulation, which later allowed the capitalists to completely separate the workers from the conditions of their work, to transform the social means of production and existence into capital, and to turn the greater part of population into wage laborers. Thus, according to Marx, the contemporary situation can be described as a process of exploitation of the laborers by the capitalists. Moreover, later capitalism has acquired the international character, which includes centralization of the capital in the hands of the few, economization of all methods and techniques of production, and involvement of all peoples into the world market. The problem is that it might bring misery to the working masses and spread oppression, slavery, and degradation.

In conclusion, the capitalist system of production and economy could not exist without some primordial resources and capital. This starting capital, which initiated the emergence and development of capitalism, was gained through primitive accumulation. This process included the forceful separation of the direct producers of the commodities from the means of production, expropriation of the peasants from their territories, enclosure of national and common lands, and their transformation into private property. Consequently, the significant part of the population turned into wage workers, whose only chance to survive was to sell their labor power. Those who managed to get rich and wealthy due to the primitive accumulation and to become the owners of both money and the means of production could afford hiring free laborers to multiply their capital. Thus, the capitalist accumulation and production has emerged from the primitive accumulation, which remains the dominating economic model even today.