The German language often provides us with some of the best words. Verstehen, Gemeinschaft and Gesselschaft are all words which become essential tools of any sociology student. I recently discovered the word Landnhame when reading the book Sociology, Capitalism, Critique by Klaus Dörre, Stephan Lessenich and Hartmut Rosa. This is the translators note from that book:

Literally translated, Landnahme means land grabbing, land appropriation, or territorial gain. It refers to internal as well as external capitalist expansion. The concept of Landnhame argues that in the long run capitalist societies cannot reproduce themselves on their own foundations. In order to reproduce themselves, they continuously have to occupy and commodify a non-capitalist ‘other’ (i.e., regions, milieus, groups, activities) in, so to speak, ceaseless repetition of the act of primitive accumulation.

This is similar to Rosa Luxemburg’s assertion that Capitalism requires new “virgin lands” in order to maintain itself. This is one of the things which makes capitalism distinctive over previous economic systems, it never stands still. This is characterised by Karl Marx in his famous assertion that

All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.

Capitalism is always finding new ways to make money. In the past this often used to mean literally finding new lands. Exploration occurred to find new natural resources which could be exploited. Today capitalists often seek to gain access to “public goods” by buying up state run services such as postal services or energy suppliers.

What less often discussed is how capitalists are able to create new “virgin lands” this often happens in ways which do not seem directly generative of profits but enable new areas of exploitation. This is what Marx called “primitive accumulation“.

This is happening right now through a literal expansion into new lands. After a long campaign Facebook successfully recruited half of the countries in Africa for their “Free Basics” initiative in which people are able to get access to internet “essentials” free of charge. Access to Facebook is amongst these “essentials”.  This opens up access to a potential 635 million new Facebook users who will no doubt have regularly interact with the service due to it being free. For many of these new uses the Internet and Facebook may well become effectively synonymous.

There will no doubt be some significant benefits for many users  (despite the limitations) and we can see this as a kind of “philanthrocapitalism” in which capitalistic and charitable intentions are entirely intermingled. But as I have previously suggested it is difficult to see this in any other way than as a form of “empire building”.