Political Theory 46 (6):885-914 (2018)

This essay attempts to elaborate a political theory of capital’s violence. Recent analyses have adopted Karl Marx’s notion of the “primitive accumulation of capital” for investigating the forcible methods by which the conditions of capital accumulation are reproduced in the present. I argue that the current scholarship is limited by a certain functionalism in its theorization of ongoing primitive accumulation. The analytic function accorded to primitive accumulation, I contend, can be better performed by the concepts of “capital-positing violence” and “capital-preserving violence.” In coining these new concepts, I first refine the conceptual core of primitive accumulation as the coercive capitalization of social relations of reproduction, which falls into sharpest relief in the violent history of colonial capitalism. I then elucidate this conceptual core with reference to Carl Schmitt’s account of European colonial expansion and Walter Benjamin’s reflections on law-making and law-preserving violence. The resultant concepts of capital-positing and capital-preserving violence, I conclude, can illuminate both the historical and the quotidian operations of the politico-juridical force that has been constitutive of capitalism down to our present moment.
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DOI 10.1177/0090591717748420
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