Deville - The People's Marx (1893)
Primitive accumulation is accomplished by force. —The colonial regime, public debts and the protectionist system.
There is no doubt that many guild-masters, independent artisans and even wage-laborers first became embryonic capitalists, and then gradually, by means of a constantly expanding exploitation of wage-labor accompanied by a corresponding accumulation, metamorphosed themselves into fully developed capitalists.
Yet, this gradual formation of capital was far from meeting the commercial requirements of the new world-market created by the great discoveries of the end of the fifteenth century. But the middle ages had handed down two forms of capital which develop under the most diverse economic regimes, and which, before the modern era, were the only forms of capital. These are usurer's capital and merchant's capital. Now, the feudal system in the country and the guild organization in the towns were barriers which prevented the money-capital, formed by usury and commerce, from turning into industrial capital, but these barriers were at last overthrown.
The discovery of gold and silver mines in America, the entombment in the mines of the enslaved natives or their extermination, the beginning of the conquest and pillage of the East Indies, the conversion of Africa into a hunting-ground for the kidnapping of negroes—these were the benevolent processes of primitive accumulation which signalized the rosy dawn of the capitalist era. Immediately afterward the mercantile war broke out with the entire globe for its theatre. Beginning with the revolt of the Netherlands against Spain, it assumes gigantic proportions in the crusade of England against the French Revolution and in our own times is still going on in a series of piratical onslaughts such as the notorious opium wars against China and the "benevolent assimilation" of the Philippine Islands by the United States.
Of the different methods of primitive accumulation, such as the colonial system, public debts, modern fiscal methods, the protectionist system, etc., some are based on the employment of brute force; but all, without exception, make use of the powers of the State—the concentrated and organized force of society—in order to violently accelerate the passage from the feudal economic order to the capitalist economic order, and to curtail the transition period. In fact, force is the midwife of every old society in the throes of child-birth. Force is an economic agency.
The colonial system developed navigation and commerce. It called into existence mercantile companies to which governments granted monopolies and privileges, and these companies became powerful instrumentalities for the concentration of capital. It secured markets for the nascent manufactures, and the monopoly of the colonial market doubled the ease of accumulation in manufacture. The treasures extorted by plain force, outside Europe, by the forced labor of aborigines reduced to slavery, by pillage and murder, were brought back to the mother country, to function there as capital. In our days, industrial supremacy implies commercial supremacy; but, in the manufacturing period, properly so-called, it is commercial supremacy which gives industrial supremacy. This explains why the colonial regime played such an important part in those days.
The system of public debts, which Venice and Genoa began to introduce in the middle ages, came into general use throughout Europe during the period of manufacture. National debt—in other words, the sale or hypothecation of the State, whether it be despotic, constitutional or republican—placed its stamp upon the capitalist era. The only part of the so-called national wealth, that is actually in the collective possession of modern peoples, is their national debt.
The public debt acts as one of the most powerful instruments of primitive accumulation. By a stroke of its magic wand, it endows barren money with reproductive powers, and thus transforms it into capital—expanding capital, but free from the risks inseparable from its employment as industrial capital or even as the capital of a money-loaner dealing with individuals.
Those who loan to the State, in truth, give up nothing, for their principal, transformed into easily negotiable public securities, continues to function in their hands like so much legal-tender money. But, besides the class of idle bondholders thus created, besides the suddenly arisen fortunes of the financiers who act as middlemen between the government and the nation, the public debt has given rise to stock companies, to commerce in negotiable paper of every kind, to gambling operations, to stock-broking—in a word, to the speculation of Lombard Street and Wall Street, and to the supremacy of the modern Money Power.
At their birth, the great banks, adorned with sonorous national titles, were merely associations of private speculators who established themselves alongside of the respective governments and, thanks to the privileges they secured from them, were able to lend them the money of the public—i.e., the money of their depositors.
As the national debt rests upon the public revenue, from which the annual interest must be paid, the modern system of taxation was the necessary consequence of national loans. These loans, which enable governments to meet extraordinary expenses, without making the taxpayer immediately conscious of the added burden, lead afterward to a rise in the tax-rate. On the other hand, the raising of taxes caused by the accumulation of debts successively contracted, compels governments, in the event of new extraordinary expenditures, to resort to new loans. The modern fiscal system which rests, in the beginning, on the taxation of articles of primary necessity, and involves, consequently, the raising of their prices, must in virtue of the nature of its own mechanism, therefore, become more and more oppressive. Over-taxation is not an incident, but is of the essence of the system, and it constantly tends to expropriate the peasants, the artisans, and the other elements of the lower middle-class.
The great part, which the public debt, and the correspondent fiscal system, have played in the capitalization of wealth and the expropriation of the masses, has led many writers to fall into the mistake of seeking to find in this debt system the fundamental cause of the misery of modern peoples.
The protectionist system, with its protective duties, its bounties on exportation, its monopolies in the home market, etc., was an artificial means of manufacturing* manufacturers, of expropriating independent laborers, of transforming the instruments and material conditions of labor into capital, and of forcibly curtailing the period of transition from the mediaeval to the modern mode of production. The process of manufacturing manufacturers was still further simplified in certain countries which had profited by Colbert's object-lessons. Here, the enchanted source from which the industrial exploiters directly drew their primitive capital—under the form of a loan or even of a gratuitous grant—was often the public treasury.
The colonial system, public debts, squandering of the public revenue, industrial protection, commercial wars, etc., developed tremendously during the infancy of modern industry.
In short, that is how the divorce of the laborer from the means of realizing his labor was accomplished, that is how the latter were transformed into capital and the mass of the people into wage-laborers. Capital comes into the world sweating blood and dirt from every pore.
* Translator's Note. Heretofore in this work the word manufacture, and its derivatives, have been used in the strict sense of manufacture before the introduction of modern machinery. Here, they are used in their popular meaning.