Primitive accumulation of capital

economical concept

Primitive accumulation of capital is the process in which a ruling class takes possession of land and thereby converts the resident population into a landless proletariat.


  • The stinking puddle from which usury, thievery and robbery arises is our lords and princes. They make all creatures their property—the fish in the water, the birds in the air, the plant in the earth must all be theirs. Then they proclaim God's commandments among the poor and say, "You shall not steal."
    • Thomas Müntzer, Letter to the Princes, as cited in Transforming Faith Communities: A Comparative Study of Radical Christianity, p. 173
  • Land monopoly—in the hands of individuals, corporations or syndicates—is at bottom the prime cause of the inequalities which obtain; which desolate fertile acres turned over to vast ranches and into bonanza farms of a thousand acres, where not one family finds a habitation, where muscle and brain are supplanted by machinery, and the small farmer is swallowed up and turned into a tenant or slave. While in large cities thousands upon thousands of human beings are crowded into narrow quarters where vice festers, where crime flourishes undeterred, and where death is the most welcome of all visitors.
  • Alongside their work on pure economic theory, the classical political economists engaged in a parallel project: to promote the forcible reconstruction of society into a purely market-oriented system. ... Most people in Britain did not enthusiastically engage in wage labor—at least so long as they had an alternative. To make sure that people accepted wage labor, the classical political economists actively advocated measures to deprive people of their traditional means of support. ... Perhaps because so much of what the classical economists wrote about traditional systems of agricultural production was divorced from the seemingly more timeless remarks about pure theory, later readers have passed over such portions of their works in haste. ... I argue that these interventionist recommendations were a significant element in the overall thrust of their works. Specifically, classical political economy advocated restricting the viability of traditional occupations in the countryside to coerce people to work for wages.
    • Michael Perelman, The Invention of Capitalism: Classical Political Economy and the Secret History of Primitive Accumulation (2000), pp. 2-3

See also