Towards a Global History of Primitive Accumulation

Conference, 9-11 May 2019, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

A conference co-sponsored by the International Institute of Social History, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Houston. 


This conference aims for a historically grounded rethinking of the concept of “primitive” or “original” accumulation of capital. With this phrase, Karl Marx tried to capture the dual process by which wealth was accumulated in the hands of capitalists on the one hand, and labor power was commodified and made available for exploitation on the other. Recalling the often neglected violence of the centuries-long process that transformed peasant producers into industrial workers, Marx famously raged that its history was “written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire.” More than 150 years later, the same processes he described have continued to unfold all over the world, including in ostensibly socialist countries like the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, and many postcolonial states throughout the global south. Given the current wave of interest in the role of violence and forced labor in the history of the global economy, we think the time has come to critically re-examine these processes, focusing in particular on the ways in which primitive accumulation has been a critical feature of economic development on a world scale.

Attendance and registration
The two Keynote lectures on Friday evening 10 May and Saturday morning 11 May will be open to the public. During the conference, there will be room for a limited number of visitors. If you want to attend, please send an e-mail containing your name, affiliation, and days you want to attend to sends e-mail) by 2 April 2019 at the latest. Attendance is free of charge, but visitors will be asked a contribution in the cost of participating in conference lunches and dinners. 

Organizing committee:
Pepijn Brandon (VU Amsterdam / International Institute of Social History) 
Niklas Frykman (University of Pittsburgh)
Wendy Goldman (Carnegie Mellon University) 
Marcus Rediker (University of Pittsburgh)
Marcel van der Linden (International Institute of Social History)

May 9-11, 2019

Day 1: Thursday, May 9, 2019

14:30-14:45 Welcome
Leo Lucassen

14:45-15:30 Panel 1: Goals of the conference
Pepijn Brandon
Niklas Frykman
Chair: Marcus Rediker

15:30-16:00 Break

16:00-18:00 Panel 2: Legacies and new directions
Heide Gerstenberger, “Violence and the history of capitalism”
Mustapha Abdul-Karim, “Fugitive Lands/Pirate Properties: Race and Primitive Accumulations in WEB DuBois’ Black Reconstruction (1935)”

David Mayer, “Different names for the same idea – Marxist Debates about history in Latin America in the ‘long 1960s’ and their (non‐)use of the idea of a ‘permanent primitive accumulation’”
Ed Baptist, “Dark Capital”
Chair: Marjolein ‘t Hart

Evening Conference dinner 1

Day 2: Friday, May 10, 2019

9:00-10:30 Panel 3: Household, gender, and accumulation
Nicole Ulrich, “Imperial reproduction, state power, and accumulation: indenture and the making of an imperial ‘refreshment station’ at the Cape of Good Hope, c. 1652-1840”
Adam Fabry and Velia Luparello, “Primitive accumulation and women’s oppression: An analysis of early – socialist Hungary economy (1948 – 1956)”
Tithi Bhattacharya, “Social reproduction and primitive accumulation”
Chair: Filipa Ribeiro da Silva

10:30-10:45 Break

10:45-12:45 Panel 4: Forced labor, circulation, and finance
Dale Tomich, “The Genoese Cycle of Accumulation and Atlantic Slavery: Original Accumulation and the Formation of the World-Market”
Rosanna Barragán, Forrest Hylton, and Aaron Tauss, “Making Metals Precious: Silver and Gold Mining in Colonial Spanish America”
Leonardo Marques and Rafael Marquese, “Gold, Coffee, and Slaves: Brazil and World Accumulation, 1693-1888”
Kelvin Santiago-Valles, “Ongoing “Primitive” Accumulation and the Harsh Social Regulation of Most of the Global Labor Force under Historical Capitalism”
Chair: Sven Beckert

12:45-13:45 Lunch

13:45-15:15 Panel 5: Slavery
Thierry Drapeau, “The Graft and the Pivot: Exploring Slavery’s Capitalism from Within the Labour Process”
David McNally, “The Slave Plantation as Agrarian Capitalism: Slavery, Commodity Production, and Global Primitive Accumulation”
Michael Zeuske, “Setting the Stage: The Slavery Atlantic and Primitive Accumulation”
Chair: Tamira Combrink

15:15-15:30 Break

15:30-17:00 Panel 6: The state, conquest, and racism
Justin Paulson and Julia Tomiak, “Original and Ongoing Dispossessions: Settler Capitalism and Indigenous Resistance in British Columbia”
Noeleen McIlvenna, “Settler colonialism, white supremacy, and primitive accumulation”
Peter Way, “Leviathan, Mammon, and Behemoth: The Fiscal-Military State and Primitive Accumulation in the 18th Century”
Chair: Lex Heerma van Voss

17:00-17:30 Break

17:30-19:00 Keynote 1: Jairus Banaji
Chair: Tithi Bhattacharya

Evening Conference dinner 2

Day 3: Saturday, May 11, 2019

9:00-10:00 Keynote 2: Wendy Goldman
Chair: Marcel van der Linden

10:00-10:15 Break

10:15-12:15 Panel 7: Primitive accumulation and state socialism
Donald Filtzer, “E. A. Preobrazhenskii’s Theory of ‘Primitive Socialist Accumulation’ as Immanent Critique of Stalinist Industrialization”
Alina-Sandra Cucu, “Cheap labour in the logic of the Romanian primitive socialist accumulation”
Jacob Eyferth, “State Accumulation and the Rural Household: Gender, Unpaid Domestic Work, and Underconsumption in Mao-Era Rural North China”
Shuxuan Zhou, “Gendering Primitive Accumulation in the People’s Republic of China”
Chair: Wendy Goldman

12:15-13:15 Lunch

13:15-14:45 Panel 8: Land
Hillary Taylor, “Extracted Speech: Reassessing the Role of Agricultural Labourers in ‘Classical’ Primitive Accumulation”
Navyug Gill, “Accumulation by Attachment: Caste and the Politics of Land Ownership in Colonial Panjab”
Alexia Yates, “The Financial Life of Land in Imperial France, 1873-1914”
Chair: Eric Vanhaute

14:45-15:00 Break

15:00-16:30 Panel 9: Resistance
Terence Dunne, “The limitation of primitive accumulation and the limitation of resistance to it: The Irish experience over the long nineteenth century”
Wendy Matsumara, “Primitive Accumulation, Mining Capital and So-called Outcaste Community Struggle in 1930s Japan”
Nisrin Elamin, “Contemporary land grabbing and the history of racial capitalism in central Sudan”
Chair: Jeannette Kamp

16:30-17:00 Break

17:00-19:00 Panel 10: Results and prospects
Peter Linebaugh
Sylvia Federici
Marcel van der Linden
Chair: Rossana Barragán