Primitive Accumulation: The Process That Keeps Giving, and Giving…

Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations, listed the appropriation of most land and the “original accumulation of capital” as the two main things that altered the primitive state of affairs where the price of goods reflected the labor involved in production. Instead, returns on capital and land became major components of price alongside the wages of labor. Marx later included a section in Capital showing that this process of original, or “primitive,” accumulation didn’t take place through simple abstention from production, but involved massive acts of robbery and enslavement. These included the enclosure of land in Britain, the use of state repression against the dispossessed peasantry and emergent working class, the expropriation of peasant land throughout the colonial world, and the African slave trade. But it was important to remember, he and subsequent Marxists have stressed, that this “primitive accumulation” wasn’t a one-time process in the past. Under historic capitalism the state has continually intervened, right up to the present, to redistribute wealth upward and repress popular movements of resistance against this robbery. We need only look at recent news about fracking, tar sands and pipelines to know this is true.

Those three things just mentioned are examples of the long-term pattern of capitalist development in America, by which the state has enclosed land and the natural resource commons, given corporate interests favored access to them, and promoted a model of inefficient growth based on cheap, subsidized resource inputs. And as with most cases of state-enforced enclosure of the commons, the state must intervene to deal with popular resentment over the robbery.

In mid-May, an FBI document was published by the Guardian revealing that the FBI has been monitoring the Tar Sands Blockade as a national security threat, given that “Keystone pipeline, as part of the oil and natural gas industry, is vital to the security and economy of the United States.” You might think that a model of economic growth based on corporate-state collusion might be a matter for legitimate political debate. But not to the U.S. government, which operates as executive committee for that corporate system of power; for them the structure of the system is a done deal, and anyone who takes the wrong side on the political debate is a potential threat to “national security.”

Meanwhile, Kinder Morgan, the largest pipeline construction company in North America, hired off-duty cops from the Eastern Pike Regional Police Department in Pennsylvania to patrol pipeline construction areas. This was done with the full cooperation of the police chief, in his official capacity, based on the political imperative of deterring protests and civil disobedience. This is just the latest in a long history of “off-duty” police being used as forces of paramilitary repression, in groups like the Red Squads, American Legion and KKK.

Please note that at a time where one of the two major political parties in the United States claims to celebrate “free markets” and promote smaller government, the overwhelming majority of that party — along with the mainstream of a libertarian movement devoted to “free markets” — supports full-scale development of oil and natural gas pipelines. These pipelines are obviously inconsistent with free markets on the most fundamental level, since they depend on both government seizure of land along their routes through eminent domain, and government caps on liability from spills.

In short, the main political actors in America who claim to support economic freedom and oppose government intervention in the economy are 100% in favor of a model of economic development based on government robbery on behalf of the rich — every bit as much as in the previous 500 years of capitalist development.

The “free market,” for these people, is nothing but a political smokescreen for massive collusion between big business and the state. Genuine free market libertarianism won’t be found among the parties and think tanks funded by wealthy business interests. It will be found at war with them.

Translations for this article:

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory