Graphic Witness: Hugo Gellert
Graphic Witness home page

Hugo Gellert: Karl Marx' 'Capital' in Lithographs

page 18. PRIMARY ACCUMULATION
Origin of the industrial capitalist [5/5]


PRIMARY ACCUMULATION: origin of the industrial capitalist

The colonial system, national debt, and heavy burden of taxation, protection, commercial wars, and so on--these offspring of the manufacturing period properly so-called--grew luxuriantly during the childhood of large-scale industry. The birth of the latter was celebrated by a massacre of the innocents; or by its counterpart, a systematic kidnapping of children. . . .

"In the counties of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, and more particularly in Lancashire, the newly invented machinery was used in large factories built on the sides of streams capable of turning the water-wheel. Thousands of hands were suddenly required in these places, remote from towns, and Lancashire, in particular, being, till then, comparatively thinly populated and barren, a population was all that she now wanted. The small and nimble fingers of little children being by very far the most in request, the custom instantly sprang up of procuring apprentices from the different parish workhouses of London, Birmingham, and elsewhere. Many, many thousands of these little, hapless creatures were sent down into the north, being from the age of seven to the age of thirteen or fourteen years old. . . . Cruelties the most heart-rending were practiced upon the unoffending and friendless creatures who were thus consigned to the charge of master manufacturers; they were harassed to the brink of death by excess of labor, . . . were flogged, fettered, and tortured in the most exquisite refinement of cruelty; . . . they were in many cases starved to the bone while flogged to their work and . . . in some instances. . . were even driven to commit suicide. . . . The beautiful romantic valleys of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, and Lancashire, secluded from the public eye, became the dismal solitudes of torture and of many a murder.

The profits of manufacturers were enormous; but this only whetted the appetite that it should have satisfied, and therefore the manufacturers had recourse to an expedient that seemed to secure to them those profits without any possibility of limit; they began the practice of what is termed 'night-working', that is, having tired one set of hands, by working them throughout the day, they had another set ready to go on working throughout the night. . . ."

With the development of capitalist production in the manufacturing period, the public opinion of Europe had lost the last vestiges of shame and conscience. The nations bragged cynically of every infamy which could serve as a means for the accumulation of capital. Read, for instance, the native commercial annals of the worthy A. Anderson. Here we find trumpeted forth as a triumph of English statecraft that, when the peace of Utrecht was sign, England, by the Asiento treaty, extorted from the Spaniards the privilege of carrying on the slave trade, [which had] hitherto [been] confined, as far as the English were concerned, to a traffic between the African coast and the English West Indies, [and which now could be carried on] between Africa and Spanish America as well. England acquired the monopoly right of supplying Spanish America with 4800 negroes every year until 1743. Simultaneously, this served as an official cover for British smuggling.

It was upon the foundation of the slave trade that Liverpool became a great city, for there the slave trade was the method of primary accumulation.


Almost down to our own day, there have been "respectable" citizens of Liverpool ready to write enthusiastically about the slave trade. See, for instance, Dr. Aikin's already quoted work, written in 1795, where he speaks of "that spirit of bold adventure which has characterized the trade of Liverpool, and rapidly carried it to its present state of prosperity; has occasioned vast employment for shipping and sailors, and greatly augmented the demand for the manufactures of the country." In the year 1730, Liverpool had 15 bottoms [ships] employed in the slave trade; in 1751, there were 53; in 1760, there were 74; in 1770, there were 96; and in 1792, there were 132.

The cotton industry, while introducing child slavery into England, gave at the same time an impetus towards the transformation of the slave system of the United States, which had hitherto been a more or less patriarchal one, into a commercial system of exploitation. Speaking generally, the veiled slavery of the European wage earners became the pedestal of unqualified slavery in the New World.

So much pains did it cost to establish the "eternal natural laws" of the capitalist method of production, to complete the divorce of the workers from the means of labor, to transform at one pole the social means of production and the social means of subsistence into capital, while transforming at the other pole the masses of the population into wage workers, into free "laboring poor", that artificial product of modern history.

As Augier said, money "comes into the world with a birthmark on the cheek;" it is no less true that capital comes into the world soiled with mire from top to toe, and oozing blood from every pore.