Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users, please click the view more button below to purchase a copy of this dissertation from Proquest.

(Some titles may also be available free of charge in our Open Access Dissertation Collection, so please check there first.)

Capitalism in post-colonial India: Primitive accumulation under dirigiste and laissez faire regimes

Rajesh Bhattacharya, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In this dissertation, I try to understand processes of dispossession and exclusion within a class-focused Marxian framework grounded in the epistemological position of overdetermination. The Marxian concept of primitive accumulation has become increasingly prominent in contemporary discussions on these issues. The dominant reading of “primitive accumulation” in the Marxian tradition is historicist, and consequently the notion itself remains outside the field of Marxian political economy. The contemporary literature has de-historicized the concept, but at the same time missed Marx’s unique class-perspective. Based on a non-historicist reading of Marx, I argue that primitive accumulation—i.e. separation of direct producers from means of production in non-capitalist class processes—is constitutive of capitalism and not a historical process confined to the period of transition from pre-capitalism to capitalism. I understand primitive accumulation as one aspect of a more complex (contradictory) relation between capitalist and non-capitalist class structure which is subject to uneven development and which admit no teleological universalization of any one class structure. Thus, this dissertation claims to present a notion of primitive accumulation theoretically grounded in the Marxian political economy. In particular, the dissertation problematizes the dominance of capital over a heterogeneous social formation and understands primitive accumulation as a process which simultaneously supports and undermines such dominance. At a more concrete level, I apply this new understanding of primitive accumulation to a social formation—consisting of “ancient” and capitalist enterprises—and consider a particular conjuncture where capitalist accumulation is accompanied by emergence and even expansion of a “surplus population” primarily located in the “ancient” economy. Using these theoretical arguments, I offer an account of postcolonial capitalism in India, distinguishing between two different regimes—(1) the dirigiste planning regime and (2) the laissez-faire regime. I argue that both regimes had to grapple with the problem of surplus population, as the capitalist expansion under both regimes involved primitive accumulation. I show how small peasant agriculture, traditional non-capitalist industry and informal “ancient” enterprises (both rural and urban) have acted as “sinks” for surplus population throughout the period of postcolonial capitalist development in India. Keywords: primitive accumulation, surplus population, postcolonial capitalism

Subject Area

Economic history|Labor economics|Economic theory|South Asian Studies

Recommended Citation

Bhattacharya, Rajesh, "Capitalism in post-colonial India: Primitive accumulation under dirigiste and laissez faire regimes" (2010). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3409540.