Marx: The Primitive Accumulation of Capital

Table of Contents

Main Argument

The main argument put forward by Marx is that primitive accumulation of capital has come to play a relatively the same role in political economy as the story of original sin plays in theology. When it comes to the history of capital accumulation from its primitive form, any revolution has played an epoch-making role and represented the guiding principle for the existence of the capitalist class throughout the times of its development. This is true in regards to all moments when people tear themselves from their sources of subsidence and enter the labor market as unprotected and right-less proletarians, albeit free. The exploitation of the agricultural producer, or peasant, in the formation of the capital is the basis of the entire process. The history of such a process assumes different components in different regions and shifts from one phase to another in different succession orders and at different periods in history.

Support of the Argument

Marx explores the primitive accumulation of capital (original or previous accumulation) from the standpoint that the origin of wealth and the distinction between possessors and non-possessors are interconnected. In themselves, commodities and money are represented no more than are the methods of production and subsistence, and they want to transform into capital. The formation of the capitalist society when it comes to its economic structure has transformed out of the financial structure of the feudal society.

The examples that Marx gives to support the argument are linked to the feudal society that initiated capitalist exploitation. The capitalist beginnings date back to the Mediterranean in the 15th century and became more prominent in the 16th century. The advances in society were associated with the changing forms of servitude, and the feudalist exploitation transformed into capitalist exploitation.


In order to explore the way in which the accumulation of capital began, Marx makes connections to the subject of original sin in theology. As Adam bit the forbidden apple, sin fell upon the human race. The reference to theology is understandable to a broad audience because of its universal application. As some time passed, emerged two kinds of people: the diligent and the frugal, who adhere to the original sin theory, and the lazy and riotous who will disregard original sin. The importance of this example is that it explains how people came to be condemned “to eat their bread in the sweat of their brow” (Marx 1887, 275). However, the example also tells the audience that there are also people to whom it may have no relevance. Indeed, the problem is still relevant beyond Marx’s narrative as there are people who will earn capital diligently while others would use deceit to expand their economic influence.


The importance of Marx’s exploration of primitive capital accumulation refers to its overall reflection of society and its evolvement over time. Also, the idea that the capitalist system presupposes the separation of laborers from the property is greatly relevant for the understanding of society. As capitalist giants get more prominent at the expense of laborers, the separation becomes more prominent and more persistent, reproducing itself on a continually expanding scale. The process of primitive capital accumulation, therefore, should be considered as a historical transformation of society that separates the means of production from the producer. Today, the contribution of the laborer is rarely considered because of the emphasis on the power of capitalistic giants, even though laborers have been instrumental in expanding the wealth and the influence of the former.


Marx, Karl. 1887. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume I. Hamburg: Verlag von Otto Meisner.

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