The 'Art' of Colonization: Capitalizing sovereign power and the Ongoing Nature of Primitive Accumulation



Publication Details

DiMuzio, T, 'The 'Art' of Colonization: Capitalizing sovereign power and the Ongoing Nature of Primitive Accumulation', New Political Economy, 12(4), 2007, pp 517-539.


In order to dispel Adam Smith’s liberal narrative of original accumulation, Karl Marx offered his own historical account of the rise of capitalism in England. He also pointed to the English colonies, where the conditions for capitalist development were being created by government intervention in his own era.1 Playing on the discussion of the ‘art of colonisation’ in Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s comparative study of England and America, Marx argued that Wakefield’s candid advice on colonial policy and prosperity revealed the shaky foundations upon which Adam Smith’s concept of original accumulation was built. According to Marx, the value of Wakefield’s work rested in his recognition that the social property relations of capital did not evolve naturally and spontaneously as liberal speculative history might imply, but had to be enforced by state power. In this case, ‘wasteland’ in America had to be sufficiently priced so as to render it difficult for most immigrants to obtain land.2 Without access to affordable land, newcomers to America would have little choice outside starvation but to work for someone else upon arrival. In this way, state policy featured as a prominent lever of primitive accumulation insofar as it blocked people from gaining the means by which they could work for themselves and their families. Thus, even a cursory consideration of state policy in the colonies made a mockery of Adam’s Smith’s claim that capital was ‘silently and gradually accumulated by the private frugality and good conduct of individuals, by their universal, continual and uninterrupted effort to better their own condition’.3

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