Money and commodities are no more capital from the first than are the means of production and the means of subsistence. They have to be transformed into capital. But this transformation can take place only under definite conditions, of which the following are the essentials. Two very different kinds of commodity owners must confront each other and enter into a mutual relationship. On the one hand, there must be the owners of money, of the means of production and of the means of subsistence, who desire by the purchase of others' labor power to increase the sum of the values they own. On the other hand, there must be free workers, the sellers of their own labor power, and therefore the sellers of labor. They must be "free" workers in a double sense. First of all, they must not themselves form a direct part of the means of production, must not belong to the means of production, as do slaves, serfs, etc. Secondly, the means of production must not belong to them, as the means of production belong to peasant proprietors. Free workers are free from, unencumbered by, any means of production of their own.
With this polarization of the commodity market the fundamental conditions requisite for capitalist production exist. The capitalist system presupposes a divorce between the workers and the ownership of the property through which alone their labor can become effective. As soon as capitalist production is able to stand on its own feet, it does not merely receive this divorce between labor and the means of labor as a legacy from the past, but reproduces it upon a continually increasing scale. The process which clears the way for the capitalist system, therefore, can be nothing else than the process whereby the worker is divorced from ownership of the means of labor; a process which, on the one hand, transforms the social means of subsistence and the social means of production into capital; and, on the other, transforms the actual producers into wage workers.
The so-called primary accumulation, therefore, is nothing other than the historical process whereby the producer is divorced from the means of production.
It assumes a "primary" aspect because it belongs to the primary phase that is traversed immediately before the history of capitalism begins, immediately before the establishment of the method of production proper to capitalism.