I spent a chunk of this afternoon looking through bits of Marx in German. It takes forever because my German isn’t very good. I was looking up what the term “power” is in Marx’s original.

In the section of Capital primitive accumulation, Marx writes “that in 17th century England “the colonies, the national debt, the modern mode of taxation, and the protectionist system” form different “momenta” or methods of primitive accumulation. These “depend in part on brute force (…) [b]ut, they all employ the power of the State, the concentrated and organised force of society, to hasten, hot-house fashion, the process of transformation of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode, and to shorten the transition.” I don’t quite understand the relationship between state and force suggested here. In any case, what’s most interesting is this: “Force is (…) itself an economic power.”

“Force” is a translation of “Gewalt.” Elsewhere the term is rendered as “power.” For instance, in manuscript 2 of the 1844 manuscript, the power possessed by the capitalist is “Gewalt”. “Power to purchase” is “kaufende Gewalt” and “power to command” (or, in another translation, “governing power”) is “Regierungsgewalt.”

In the primitive accumulation section, “economic power” is a translation of “√∂konomische Potenz.” A systematic survey of the uses of the various terms connected here (macht, kraft, gewalt, and potenz for sure, perhaps others), is beyond me. From the look through I’ve been able to do, though, I think “Potenz” means power in the sense of potential, capacity, or precondition. If I’m right on that then “economic power” here does not mean “power in motion” – in the sense that drawing a gun can be an act of power – but rather a condition for the economy.In other words, there is not a force vs economy distinction. Rather, there is a set of distinctions between brute force (direct physical force exerted by some people on others), state power (a set of forces one of which is brute force), and economic force. All are subsets of force or power, in the sense of coercion. Determinations other than brute force rely upon brute force for their preservation. Force or power (in the sense of Gewalt), whether brute force or the other forms exercised by the state, secure the potential (Potenz) for the economy to exist as a place where economic force (in the sense of Gewalt) can exist.

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