It’s David Harvey’s term for primitive accumulation, which he says, in his book Spaces of Global Capitalism, Harvey should be thought of “as a necessary condition for capitalism’s survival.” He refers to this idea as “a generalization of Luxmburg’s argument” in The Accumulation of Capital “that continuous imperial expansion is a necessary condition for the survival of capitalism.” (91.) He lists a number of types of surpluses which can be accumulated in this way: natural resources and land, money, labor power, elements and objects of culture, and social networks. With all of these “the creativity embedded in the web of life [can be] appropriated by capital and circulated back to us in commodity form so as to allow the extraction of surplus value.” When this occurs it is “appropriation of creativity and affective cultural forms by capital and not direct creation by capital itself.” (92. One wonders, when does capital create anything?)

Harvey identifies a few modes of dispossession.

1. External, by “merchants, states, colonial powers, multinationals” and other instantiation of “superior power” (92)

2. Internal, in which “subordinate groups” succumb to the temptation to “collaborate with external capitalist power” in a bid for position. “States and factional class powers in non-capitalist social formations can mobilize surpluses internally (sometimes by force) and circulate them as capital through world trade.”

3. Combined, wherein external and internal factors work together. “Ambitious factions, often working at the local level, can extract surpluses (sometimes through vicious means) at the expense of fellow citizens as part of a strategy of self-insertion into the world market.”

Among these modes “there is a great deal of contingency in the when, where, and how of accumulation through dispossession” and presumably also as to whether. Across this contingency “the general proposition still stands: that there is an aggregate degree of accumulation through dispossession that must be maintained if the capitalist system is to achieve any semblance of stability.” (93.)

The spatial metaphor is interesting – internal and external – as is the use of the term ‘citizen’. In an interview (note to self, look that up again) Harvey refers to dispossession as loss of rights. All of Angela’s comments on that kind of talk stand in regard to this. One gets the distinct sense of these being national or nation-like bodies. Leaving that aside, the Luxemburg reference is interesting. If capitalism needs an outside to persist and capitalism is persisting then there must still be an outside, for Harvey. Harvey’s talks about non-capitalist social formations having states also suggests he sees these as real places, presumably in the present. He doesn’t elaborate on this.

The role of the state is interesting here, as it’s a key actor in many accumulations by dispossession. Harvey rights that capital “seized hold of political-administrative structures and adapted, transformed and in some instances totally revolutionized them [??] as it came to dominate as a political-economic system. If states had not existed, in short, capitalism would have had to invent them.” (105.) No self-regulating market here.