After a series of successful conferences in recent years, transform! europe member organisation Center for Marxist Studies (CMS) hosted the international conference Marx22, which focused on primitive accumulation and took place in Stockholm from 28-30 October. A report by Per-Anders Svärd and Anna Nygård.
“Dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.” No, it’s not the human body after a 14-hour shift as a Foodora delivery boy in the snow mud, or after an endless night as a cleaner in the overcrowded emergency department. The words are Karl Marx’s description of “primitive accumulation”, that is, the historical and still ongoing process that produced the capitalist class.
In capitalism, private ownership is celebrated, but in reality most people must be propertyless for the system to work. Capitalism cannot exist without a working class that is forced to sell its labour power for wages. But such a class did not arise by itself. On the contrary, it took centuries of violence and repression to strip people of their means of livelihood and reduce them to wage labourers.
Through the centuries, globalised capital has continued its exploitation of workers and its extraction of vital natural resources. With colonialisation, accumulation expanded into a global system. In the era of neoliberalism, common resources have been sold off and more and more people work under precarious conditions.
The violence of capital accumulation is experienced in our bodies. It feels like gastritis, herniated disc and exhaustion. It is consistently present, but becomes more and more acute when indigenous communities and habitats are destroyed while capital continues to burn out our overheated planet.
We find accumulation processes in the financial market and in welfare, where profit is made on people’s basic needs for housing, healthcare and education. We are also looking at a military accumulation of weapons of mass destruction and a digital accumulation that capitalizes on people’s desire to feel together and be seen. The fossil fuel industry’s accumulated resources are currently being converted into political leverage.
In an age when everything – from health care and water, to our emotions and the resources of outer space – is rapidly being turned into commodities, it is more important than ever to understand the processes of capital accumulation. The climate crisis, the war in Ukraine, the genocide in Tigray, the revolutionary uprisings in Iran, the price crises, fascism in Europe, the concentration of wealth and the growing segregation – all of this invites us to think about how a radical socialist future can take shape.
We believe in resistance and organisation. It may look different in different contexts, but regardless of whether we gather in the streets or in universities, whether we raise our voices in the workplace or with the help of the written word, it is absolutely necessary that we meet each other and that we share and equalize the knowledge that exists.
By organising the Marx22 conference with the theme Primitive Accumulation, we aimed to put capital’s accumulation process in focus and raise awareness of the forces that steal our time, and ultimately our lives. It was our intention to offer tools to better understand capitalism and the world we live in, in order to be able to work towards change.
What visions can we design beyond the destructive accumulation, and focus on expansion and economic growth? By creating a physical meeting place for people, old theories can gain new value and lead to conversations about political strategies to create new forms for community and the common.
We have invited researchers and activists to participate in these talks. Different perspectives and experiences are needed to explore the rise and development of capitalism. Among the many topics that the conference deals with are therefore the privatisation of public land in Sweden, modern forms of racism, digital surveillance capitalism, the incipient profit hunt in space, as well as the relationship between capitalism and the climate crisis.
The Marx22 conference took place at the ABF building at Sveavägen 41 in Stockholm, October 28-30 2022. The conference was free and open to the public.
- Centre for Marxist Social Studies – CMS in cooperation with
- Brand magazine
- ABF Stockholm
- Clarté magazine
- transform! europe