In the article ‘Socialism: Utopian and Scientific’, capital was defined as money meant to generate profit through the production of commodities. This happens when the capitalist (owner of the money) goes to the market and buys two types of commodities: labour power and means of production (raw material, machines, energy, fixed capital). He then puts the labour to work with means of production to produce a fresh commodity and the fresh commodity is sold in the market for the original money plus profit and surplus labour. Due to the law of competition, the capitalist is forced to reinvest part of the profit and surplus value in order to increase his original capital with the sole aim of outdoing his competitor for a bigger profit. This is a process that keeps repeating itself. This article will, therefore, dwell on the origin of capital (Primitive accumulation of capital), i.e., where did the original capital originate or come from. The origin of capital was captured by classical economists among them Adam Smith whose explanation is the one widely known as it is used by the bourgeoisie’s economists of today. According to Adam Smith, individuals are driven by an invisible hand that incentivises them to act in their own self-interest, to produce what society needs. It, therefore, means that individuals who were industrious and thrifty accumulated wealth over time and became richer than other people and started to employ others. Those who remained poor were said to have been lazy and wasteful, thus condemned to poverty with only labour to sell. Bourgeoisie economist argument is that capital arose from the people who were industrious and thrifty. On his part, Karl Marx, whose analysis was scientific, termed this explanation as insipid childishness preached to (individuals) every day in the defence of property; he equated the explanation to the religious version of the origin of the sin where it is said God banished Adam from the Garden of Eden and condemned him to work in order to get what he needs to live. In order to get to know where capital came from, we need to dig and unearth everything by scrutinising what has been unearthed. By this, I mean we have to be scientific, it is based on this fact that Karl Marx’s writings on the subject are important. Marx’s writings are scientific as opposed to most bourgeois economists, among them Adam Smith, who are idealists and, in some instances, invoke imaginary or fairy tales to explain complexities. This does not mean that one cannot learn from bourgeoisie economists, rather science principles help individuals to discern what does not conform to reality and embrace what does. For example, Marx, being very critical of classical economists, also learnt a lot from them, he relied a lot on the works of classical economists — among them David Ricardo and Adam Smith in writing Capital: A Critique of Political Economy.
Capital has not always existed; it emerged during a certain time in history. It came out of the womb of feudalism, which relied on natural economy and simple commodity production (production based on the personal labour of small commodity producers who owned simple means of production). The fall of feudalism resulted from the development of productive forces that broke limits set by the system itself as the social division of labour grew and technology improved, undermining the natural economy thus eroding its foundations. This development, together with resistance of the oppressed, i.e., serfs, peasants and the merchants who had become tired of paying exorbitant taxes to the kings, hastened the downfall of feudalism, which was replaced by the capitalist system. A concrete example of resistance was that of Oliver Cromwell who led the capitalists, the poor peasants and craftsmen in overthrowing the feudalist regime (the monarchy, the old feudal landowning aristocracy and the Anglican Church) in England in the 17th century.
Having emerged as victors, capitalists aligned themselves with the church, lords and monarchy with the sole purpose of enriching themselves. They worked together in violently forcing serfs and peasants out of land by enacting punitive laws such as the 1572 Vagabonds Act to punish displaced peasants. Many became a reserve army of labour while others were forced by the situation to become thieves and beggars. These laws were meant, among other things, to force peasants who had lost their means of survival to sell their labour power to the capitalists for their daily subsistence and also criminalise beggars as Karl Marx wrote: Legislation treated them (beggars) as ‘voluntary’ criminals, and assumed that it was entirely within their powers to go on working under the old conditions, which in fact no longer existed.” For example under the reign of Elizabeth I in 1572, beggars and vagabonds were sentenced to flogging and, in case of a repetition of the offence, if they were over 18, they were executed, unless someone took them into service for two years.
The capitalists, having solidified their position as the ruling class, and also facing the challenge of the growing demand for gold and silver, which by then had become the means of exchange and which could not be produced in plenty by European mines, started to venture in other continents to amass wealth. It is during their expedition/ escapade in the 15th century that they discovered America– actually, the discovery of America was by accident, it happened that during the time the route to India was blocked by Arab Muslims who had become hostile to Christian the culture of Western Europe. The European governments sponsored people like Christopher Columbus to look for an easy route to India. It is no wonder that they named Native American as Red India. The discovery, as Karl Marx noted, was the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. The capitalists having the military prowess conquered the natives and began stealing their wealth and putting them to hard labour, which they were not used to; many succumbed to death while others were maimed — not forgetting millions who died from the smallpox virus brought by the conquerors. It is a pity that some were deliberately infected with the virus, for example, according to a blog, Notes from the Frontier, “In 1764 British military leaders Colonel Henry Bouquet and General Jeffrey Amherst devised a plan to destroy Native tribes in the area of Fort Pitt (present-day Pittsburgh) after peace talks by distributing blankets infected with smallpox. Their plan was stunningly successful. It resulted in a genocide that killed about 500,000 Native Americans. The natives could not cope with the extraction of wealth, especially mining, as they were not used to such hardship, and this made the European invaders to import workers (prisoners) from their continent. The labour of European workers turned out to be expensive since the said workers were entitled to some fee. In a desire to maximise their returns the conquerors collaborated with some chiefs in Africa in taking by force the most productive men and women to work in the mines and farms as slaves. It is believed that more than 12 million Africans were forcibly shipped to America, with many dying on transit while others succumbed to extreme exploitative conditions. African slaves had come from tropical environments, which are somehow like those of the Caribbean and thus made them accustomed to heat and humidity. Slavery during this time was done according to the dictates of capitalism and was different from the earlier slavery epoch.
The Europeans benefited a lot from African free labour for centuries up to the introduction of machines, which led to the expansion of industries. The said machines and industries rendered slave labour redundant, thus making it uneconomical; the slaves had also made a spirited resistance, which contributed to the end of slavery. The southern part of the USA was not as developed as the North and relied heavily on slave labour: this was the reason the South was against the abolition of slavery. On the other side, North America saw slavery as hampering the progress of capitalism. The two sides had a conflict leading to a civil war in which, the northern part won, contributing to the ultimate end of slavery in 1865. Capitalists and slave owners used the Bible to justify their evil actions, in both the Old and the New Testament, e.g., Ephesians 6:5, which says: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ”. The bible was written when slavery was the mode of production and writers did not see anything wrong with slavery. Society for the Propagation of the Foreign Part (a missionary organization of the Church of England) had a slave plantation in Barbados from 1710 to 1834 and its slaves were branded with S for the society. Just like today, the church does not see any wrong with the capitalist system. The church uses the system to acquire wealth and it is one of the richest institutions in the country and in the world. Queen Elizabeth had in 1564 rented a huge 700-tonne ship called Jesus of Lubeck (the good ship Jesus) to a religious man called Sir John Hawkins, the ship was meant to be used to ferry Africans leaving from Sierra Leone to the West Indies. Ironically, the captured slaves were made to serve God by holding services twice a day. The capitalists also used fake scientific ideologies of racism that claimed that Africans and Native Americans (Indians) were inherently inferior. The British Empire abolished slavery in 1833; the funny thing is that its government paid out £20m to compensate some 3,000 families that owned slaves for the loss of their ‘property’. Some £10m went to slave-owning families in the Caribbean and Africa, while the other half went to absentee owners living in Britain.10 But one thing that is not doubtful is that were it not for slavery the USA, Britain, and other Western European countries would not have acquired massive wealth, which they enjoy, as it was created by the slaves through free labour.
Wealth obtained from slave labour was used to establish some of the big banks and universities in Britain, among them Barclays, Oriel College Oxford, HSBC and Lloyds. According to the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery, 10 per cent to 20 per cent of Britain’s wealth can be linked to slavery.The former slave owners together with the merchants became the real capitalists and used their wealth to build factories where they employed men, women and even children as young as 5 years old. The working conditions during the period were very harsh, workers and children were forced to work for long hours (12 to 16-hour shifts) with low wages that could barely cover their daily subsistence. During this period, (industrial revolution) laissez-faire capitalism (no government interference in economy/market) was being practised, meaning that the capitalists could act in any way they wanted, as the government could not protect workers. Laissez-faire was Adam Smith’s idea to fight principles of mercantilism (government control of the economy).
The capitalists continued to accumulate capital and reinvest it with the sole aim of acquiring big profits to the detriment of the workers. In the US, the freed slaves became workers, and in an effort to divide workers along racial lines, the ruling class devised a mechanism of enacting Jim Crow laws. The state, being under the capitalist’s class, used its machineries to enforce those laws and also failed to tame racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, which were killing Black Americans. Jim Crow laws were to be done away with in 1965 after a protracted resistance by the blacks in America. The white workers, though being exploited, felt/feel they were/are better off than the blacks due to the unfair advantages (paid a little higher than blacks at every education level12 ) that the system conferred on them.
Primitive Accumulation of Capital during Colonial Period in Kenya
Competition among the capitalists became vicious to an extent that they started to devise ways of outdoing one another. They realised that competition was limiting them from getting the maximum profit and, therefore, some began merging. This facilitated the emergence of monopoly capitalism where the economy was controlled by a few gigantic monopolies. These monopolies, with the help of their respective governments, ventured in other territories to compete for resources. Their countries could not agree on territory to grab, especially in Africa, and in an effort to avoid conflict, a conference was called in Berlin, Germany. The conference ran from November 15, 1884 to February 26, 1885 where Africa was divided among European imperialists.
After the conference Kenya became a protectorate of Britain. Britain then gave the Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEAC), under the leadership of Sir William Mackinnon, the right to administer and develop Kenya on its behalf. The first major task of the company was to construct a railway from the Mombasa seaport to Kisumu and then on to Uganda, and this railway line was designed to help ensure the flow of the stolen wealth from Kenya and Uganda to Britain. Since most of the natives lacked skills for railway construction and others resisted conscription, about 32,000 skilled and semi-skilled Indian workers were brought to execute the job. More than half of these Indian workers returned upon the completion of the railway while about 6,700 settled in Kenya and Uganda13. The company’s mandate was cancelled and transferred to the British foreign office on July 1, 1895. The illegal occupation was resisted by the Africans but due to Britain’s superior weapons, they were defeated. It is upon this that the British imperialist government encouraged their citizens both in their country as well as in South Africa to come and settle in Kenya. Most of these citizens were poor and were happy to settle as they saw it as an opportunity for them to get rich like other capitalists. Many Africans lost land and became squatters to pave way for the settlers. Some settlers allowed the displaced Africans to squat on their land in order for the former to secure a continuous supply of cheap labour, and it is in this way that squatters in Kenya emerged. Since settlers needed labour, the imperialists designed laws similar to the one used to force peasants out of land in Britain. Some of these included poll tax and hut tax laws meant to force Africans to leave their homes to work on settler’s farms. Furthermore, the Natives Ordinance law was specifically designed to keep the worker with his employer and prevent him from deserting duty. Every time an African left employment, the employer had to sign the worker’s kipande (identification card), which was always hung around the neck, as evidence that the African was not a labour deserter. The kipande had to be produced on demand for the police or the administration. These laws helped the poor settlers to accumulate capital thus becoming the richest capitalists in Kenya. They continued amassing wealth and when Kenya’s flag independence was imminent, the British government copy pasted the same thing it did to slave-owners though doing it differently by giving the Kenyan government funds to be used to buy lands from the settlers to settle Africans squatters who had been dispossessed of their land.
Primitive Accumulation of Capital during Post-Colonial Period
The people who were handed power by the colonialists were those who all along had collaborated with colonialists in the exploitation of Kenyans. These people had been schooled in the tenets of capitalism and were ready to pursue the dictates of capitalism to amass capital at the expense of other ordinary Kenyans. Having controlled the state, they grabbed land and also designed a law that could allow them to buy stolen land cheaply. For example, by December 1966, Jomo Kenyatta bought more than 3,895 acres in Nairobi and Ruiru at a total cost of Sh472,740. The land was registered in either Mr Kenyatta’s or his wife Mama Ngina’s names, or in the names of his two eldest sons — Peter Magana, and Peter Muigai.14 Kenya being an agricultural economy, land is a major asset of production and the accumulation of wealth no wonder the said families e.g., Jomo Kenyatta are the richest capitalists in the country. Therefore, it is important to know that capital does not fall like biblical manna, rather it has a bloody source and as Karl Marx said, capital comes into the world dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.
The other thing that we need to realise is that the primitive accumulation of today has taken another form different from that of the early days of capitalism. According to David Harvey, a geographer and Marxist scholar but not a revolutionary Marxist who has borrowed both Karl Marx and Rosa Luxemburg’s writings on the subject, came up with a concept of “accumulation by dispossession”, in which he describes the ways capitalism uses force and theft to rob the world of value-both human beings and naturein its insatiable quest for profit.16 Accumulation by dispossession can take place in many different ways, i.e.,
- Big capitals take over small capitals e.g., Brookside Dairy buying out its competitors Buzeki Dairy Ltd, Ilara, Delamare, Spin Knit etc.
- Good profitable businesses/corporations especially in the Third World denied liquidity thus going into bankruptcy leading to a crisis like the one that happened in Asia in 2007. When this happens capital from imperialist countries comes in and purchases these corporations very cheaply. When the dust settles, these imperialists and corporates may decide to retain or sell them again at abnormal profits.
- Gentrification, which is done legally, or illegally, evicting people from their houses in order to bring in capital to build modern houses, which the former evictees cannot afford. This is happening in the Nairobi areas of Ziwani, Pangani, etc.
- Refusing to pay workers who create value or honour their benefit or pension rights when a company goes bankrupt and instead focusing on repaying debts to the creditors (fellow capitalists) for example in December 2022 the judge of Labour court in Nairobi dismissed a case filed by former Dubai Bank employees, seeking more than Sh44 million from the bank. This was after the bank was placed under receivership and subsequent liquidation.
- Grabbing public land, especially by politically influential people who invest capital obtained corruptly. The same politicians even have the audacity to deceive Kenyans that they got their wealth by doing small-scale business such as selling chickens on the roadside. Yet there is a proven fact that initial capital came from grabbed land given to them19 and the money gotten through corrupt deals with the government.
From the foregoing analysis, we have seen that capital is a recent term. In fact, according to Marxists Internet Archive Encyclopedia, it was first used in England around 1611, being derived from “capital grant,” meaning a grant of land from the King. One therefore wonders whether there is a way money can cease to operate as capital, i.e. only to be used as a medium to buy something; Commodity-MoneyCommodity (C – M – C) or, as opposed to being used to buy something only in order to sell it again; M – C – M’ or transformation of Money into Commodities and the exchange of commodities back again into Money (M’) of altered value (sum of money larger than that started the process), which happens within this capitalist system. Based on the system we operate in this is impossible. However, it is possible within a socialist system. Under a socialist state, money will cease to be capital and only act as a means of exchange, not necessarily as a valourisation tool. This, however, will not come by automatically but there will be a transition period where it will wither slowly
1 Waweru, K. 2020 ‘Socialism: Utopian and Scientific How Capitalism and Socialism Meet the Needs of People’, The Kenya Socialist, (2) Jul 24,
[online]. Available at: https://thekenyasocialist.org/socialism-utopian-and-scientifichow-capitalism-and-socialism-meet-the-needs-of-people/
(Accessed: 3rd March 2023).
2 Harvey, D. (2008) Reading Marx’s Capital Vol 1 – Class 13, Conclusion [Online]. Available at: http://davidharvey.org/2008/09/capital-class-13/
(Accessed: 3rd March 2023).
3 It is a word that appears in Adam Smith famous a 1,000-page book, The Wealth of the Nations, first published in 1776. It generally means the
unseen forces of self-interest that impact the free market.
4 Marx, K. 1976, Chap 26, Capital Vol 1 A Critique of Political Economy, Penguin Books, Middlesex, England, pg. 873-874
5 A process of investigating, understanding and transforming material reality to correspond with objective reality that requires proof and evidence
that something exists, i.e. It is an evidence-based process.
6 Marx, K. 1976, Chap 28, Capital Vol 1– A Critique of Political Economy, Penguin Books, Middlesex, England, pg. 896
7 Marx, K. 1976, Chap 28, Capital Vol 1 — A Critique of Political Economy, Penguin Books, Middlesex, England, pg. 896-7
8 Marx, K. 1976, Chap 31, Capital Vol 1 — A Critique of Political Economy, Penguin Books, Middlesex, England, pg. 915
9 Notes from the Frontier [Online]. Available at: https://www.notesfromthefrontier.com/post/smallpox-the-deadliest-killer-of-native-americans, 3rd
May 2020 (Accessed: 3rd March 2023)
12 Wilson, V. & Rodgers III, W.M (2016) Black-White Wage Gaps Expand with Rising Wage Inequality. Washington DC, Economic Policy Institute [Online]. Available at: https://www.epi.org/publication/black-white-wage-gaps-expand-with-rising-wage-inequality/#epi-toc-7 (Accessed: 3rd March
14 Durrani, S. 2022, Two Path Ahead – The Ideological Struggle between Capitalism and Socialism in Kenya, 1960-1970, Vita Books, Nairobi, pg. 124
15 Marx, K. 1976, Chap 31, Capital Vol 1 – A Critique of Political Economy, Penguin Books, Middlesex, England, pg. 926
16 Bailey, B. 2014, ‘Accumulation by dispossession – A Critical Assessment’, International Socialist Review, (95) Winter 2014-15, [online]. Available
at: https://isreview.org/issue/95/accumulation-dispossession/ (Accessed: 3rd March 2023)
17 Food, Beverage Africa. 2013, ‘Brookside Dairy acquires majority stake in Molo Milk’, [online]. Available at: https://www.foodbusinessafrica.com/
brookside-dairy-acquires-majority-stake-in-molo-milk/ (Accessed: 3rd March 2023)
18 Muthoni, K. 2022, ‘Court Dashes Hope for Former Dubai Bank Employees, 31st December 2022, [online]. Available at: https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/health/business/article/2001464181/court-dashes-hope-for-former-dubai-bank-employees (Accessed: 3rd March 2023).
19 Citizen News Live (2020) Citizen, 6th February [Online]. Available at https://nairobinews.nation.africa/moi-gave-me-land-when-i-visited-himfrom-university-dp-ruto/ (Accessed: 4th March 2023).
20 Ondieki, E. 2019, ‘Ruto to Pay for Airport Land: NLC, 19th February 2019, [online]. Available at https://nation.africa/kenya/news/Ruto-to-pay-forairport-land–NLC/1056-4990070-vy67j1/index.html?platform=hootsuite (Accessed: 4th March 2023)