Graphic Witness: Hugo Gellert
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Hugo Gellert: Karl Marx' 'Capital' in Lithographs

secret of primary accumulation [3/3]

PRIMARY ACCUMULATION: secret of primary accumulation

The economic structure of capitalist society rose out of the economic structure of feudal society. The break-up of feudal society set free the elements for the formation of capitalist society.

The immediate producer, the worker, could not dispose of his own person until he had ceased to be bound to the soil, had ceased to be the slave, serf, or bondman of another person. To become a free seller of labor power, a person able to carry his wares to any market, he must, furthermore, have escaped from the dominion of the guilds, have emancipated himself from the rules and regulations whereby the guilds restricted the working activities of their apprentices and journeymen. From this aspect, the historical movement which transforms the producers into wage workers, is seen to be, on the one hand, a movement for the liberation of these producers from serfdom and from the restrictions of the guilds. That is the only side of the matter which exists for bourgeois historians. But, on the other hand, these newly liberated persons do not come to market to sell themselves before they have been robbed of all the means of production and of all the safeguards of existence which the old feudal institutions provided for them. The history of this expropriation is written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire. . . .

The starting-point of the development which gave rise both to the wage worker and to the capitalist was the servitude of the worker; the advance consisting in a change in the form of this servitude, in the transformation of feudalist exploitation into capitalist exploitation. . . .

In the history of primary accumulation we must regard as epoch-making all revolutions which act as stepping-stones for the capitalist class in the course of formation. This applies above all to those moments when great masses of human beings were suddenly and forcibly torn away from the means of subsistence and hurled into the labor market as masterless proletarians. The expropriation of the agricultural producers, the peasants, their severance from the soil, was the basis of the whole process.

In different countries this expropriation assumes different forms, running through its various phases in different orders of succession and at different historical periods. Only in England may it be said to have had a typical development; that is why we take England as our example.