Marx and primitive accumulation: The continuous character of capital’s “enclosures”

AuthorMassimo De Angelis
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In the last twenty years the neoliberal orthodoxy become predominant in all major levels of government and shaped the policy recommendations of the major think tanks all around the world. Countries have witnessed continuous massive attacks on those functions of the state which were designed to compensate for the inadequacies and injustices of the market. Cuts in social spending have taken of course many forms and shapes. This depended on what was the historical and socioeconomic context in which they were implemented, either the “rich” countries of the North, the “poor” countries of the South or the “transitional” countries of the East. Yet, upon a cursory reading of the enormous literature on this subject, one is left with the strong sensation that there is something common between, say, the cut in unemployment benefits in Britain brought about by the need to balance the budget; the wave of privatisation in Poland, brought about by the need to dismantle state socialism; and the cuts in food subsidies in Tanzania, brought about by the need to repay foreign debt. This paper suggests that a reinterpretation of Marx’s theory of primitive accumulation may give us some important insights on the common social character of what prima facie appears to be different policies brought about by different circumstances…