Primitive accumulation and Chinese mirrors

Jack Barbalet*

*Corresponding author for this work

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A consensus holds that the structure of Capital I is problematic. In particular, the section ‘So-called Primitive Accumulation’ discusses the origins of capitalism but appears at the end of the volume rather than at the beginning. Even more anomalous, the forecast of the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist class is in the penultimate chapter. The final chapter, ‘The Modern Theory of Colonization’, is regarded by commentators as enigmatic, if they refer to it at all. This article, on the other hand, shows that Marx considered the structure of Capital over a number of years and that his discussion of Wakefield’s theory of colonization is part of an account of the continuing centrifugal regeneration of capitalist relations beyond the sites of mature capitalism. The article addresses the failure of commentators from Mehring to Harvey to appreciate the logic of Capital’s chapter structure. The contemporary resonance of Marx’s account of capitalist development at the periphery of the global capitalist system is indicated by considering primitive accumulation in two distinct phases of China’s history.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-42
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Classical Sociology
Issue number1
Early online date30 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

User-Defined Keywords

  • Capitalist accumulation
  • China’s capitalism
  • colonialism
  • globalization
  • imperial China
  • Karl Marx


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