The process of primitive accumulation – the robbing and looting that precedes industrial development and the emergence of a large class of waged-laborers, according to Marxist development theory – is heating up in Cambodia. I’ve written about primitive accumulation in Cambodia previously, and have been working on applying the theory of primitive accumulation (especially through the influences of David Harvey and Silvia Federici) to the contemporary Cambodian situation for several years.
Extremely clear in the Cambodian situation (though the logic appears universal and non-particular) is that indigenous groups are often the first to experience the depredations of primitive accumulation. Look at the American example: first, Native peoples were forced off of the land deemed most valuable at the time – agricultural lands. They were forced onto lands agriculturally non-productive. Those lands, tragically, were agriculturally nonproductive partly because they hold the world’s majority of valuable, industrial economy inputs – things like uranium, oil, and metals. So now, in the American Southwest, Native groups experience exposure to uranium mining and what some have called radioactive genocide.
In Cambodia, the relationship between upland indigenous groups and lowland peasants is significantly different. But much of the logic remains intact – it is in the agriculturally improductive lands of the highlands that much of today’s industrial wealth is created – mining, logging, and rubber plantations. As those lands are expropriated from indigenous groups by government-offered concessions, indigenous groups become profoundly ‘modern.’ My sense – I do not have the statistics (anyone?) – is that upland groups are now more proletarianized, proportionally (that is, they subsist primarily on wages from wage labor) than lowland Khmer.
Upland primitive accumulation in Cambodia has been going on for decades (centuries, depending on how you want to conceive of the term, and whether you want it to apply to pre-industrial, non-capitalist situations), and it’s therefore not surprising that scholars focusing on indigenous groups have been on the cutting edge of such themes. Check out especially Professor Ian Baird‘s (University of Wisconsin, Madison) recent article, “Turning land into capital, turning people into labor: Primitive accumulation and the arrival of large-scale economic land concessions in Lao People’s Democratic Republic,” in the journal New Proposals: Journal of Marxism and Interdisciplinary Inquiry. Baird convincingly link the process of economic land concessions, so important to contemporary Cambodian economic policies, to the process of primitive accumulation.
To sum up: primitive accumulation is about the enclosure and seizure (expropriation) of lands and resources needed for traditional subsistence forms by capitalists and their allies in the state, the effect of which is to garner capital to the capitalists, and force people into wage-labor situations.
People tend to resist the traumas of primitive accumulation; with that, check out these headlines from Cambodia in the last week, presented without comment.
Attacks on Striking Workers in Svay Rieng:
Gunfire hits at least 3 striking workers outside garment factory in eastern Cambodia
Bloody day in Svay Rieng
Svay Rieng gunman identified
Child labour drains Kingdom
Apparently the Town Governor of Bavet murdered a striker
Fear, rumours in wake of shooting
Workers attack factory