| The essence of Marx’s critique of ‘the so-called primitive accumulation’ (and people too often miss the signiﬁcance of the phrase ‘so-called’) is that no amount of accumulation, whether from outright theft, from imperialism, from commercial proﬁt, or even from the exploitation of labour for commercial proﬁt, by itself constitutes capital, nor will it produce capitalism. The speciﬁc precondition of capitalism is a transformation of social property relations that generates capitalist ‘laws of motion’ : the imperatives of competition and proﬁt-maximization, a compulsion to reinvest surpluses, and a systematic and relentless need to improve labour-productivity and develop the forces of production.
The critical transformation of social property relations, in Marx’s account, took place in the English countryside, with the expropriation of direct producers. In the new agrarian relations, landlords increasingly derived rents from the commercial proﬁts of capitalist tenants, while many small producers were dispossessed and became wage labourers. Marx regards this rural tramfomation as the real ‘primitive accumulation’ not because it created a critical mass of wealth but because these social property relations generated new economic imperatives, especially the compulsions of competition, a systematic need to develop the productive forces, leading to new laws of motion such as the world had never seen before.