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The Origin of Capitalism

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Originally published  1 March 1999
4.2/5 Goodreads

Author  Ellen Meiksins Wood
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Similar  Ellen Meiksins Wood books, Capitalism books

The Origin of Capitalism is a 1999 book on history and political economy by scholar Ellen Meiksins Wood. It was reviewed as an "Outstanding Academic Book" by Michael Perelman.



One of the major points discussed by Wood is a critique of the position of the Commercialization School. The Commercialization School argues that capitalism is an "inevitable product of human nature and technology", that arises when people start engaging in profit-seeking activities. Wood instead "focuses on conditions that allowed the market to compel people to follow its dictates or perish." Wood claims that "capitalists can appropriate workers' surplus labor without coercion" by the following means:

  1. dispossess the legally free direct producers
  2. control access to the means of production
  3. exchange labor for a wage

Wood notes that both producers and appropriators use the market to set rates of compensation both for wages and for appropriation.

The distinctive Marxist approach originates from Karl Marx's critique of political economy in his works Das Kapital and Grundrisse.

In the capitalist form of society, human labor power is for sale in the market as one of many commodities. Goods and services, including those regarding the most basic necessities of life, are produced for profitable exchange. All the actors in a such system are driven by competition and profit-maximization.

In her obituary, it was noted that Wood identified the Enclosure movement in Britain (1450-1800), which displaced people from the land, as having forced people on the labor market. Wood notes that these displaced people were forced to labor for a wage in order to survive. Thus a new form of bondage arose.


The book was originally published in 1999 by Monthly Review Press, and then a revised edition was published in 2002 by Verso, with the subtitle "A Longer View". A reprint appeared in 2013.

  • Wood, Ellen Meiksins (1999) The Origin of Capitalism, Monthly Review Press, 1999. ISBN 1-58367-000-9, 120 pp.
  • Wood, Ellen Meiksins (2002) The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View, Verso, 2002. ISBN 978-1-85984-392-5, 213 pp.
  • Wood, Ellen Meiksins (2013) The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View, Aakar Books, 2013. ISBN 978-93-5002-241-2, 224 pp.
  • References

    The Origin of Capitalism Wikipedia