This article focuses on Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s theory of colonization, on Karl Marx’s response to it, and on the role that settler colonialism as a global phenomenon played in shaping their thought. Marx’s rejoinder to Wakefield’s interpretation of an episode in the early colonization of Western Australia, when servants had deserted a wealthy colonist, was a foundational moment in the development of his general argument. Wakefield’s reaction to that episode was to develop the theory of ‘systematic colonization’, which he also proposed as an antidote to the prospect of impending revolution. Marx’s notion of primitive accumulation was entwined with his reading of Wakefield’s project. We argue that their different approaches to colonization, the prospect of settling ‘empty lands’ in other continents, can be seen as the starting points of two different political traditions. While revolutionary traditions are well known, this article outlines another global tradition, a political tradition that refuses reaction and revolution equally, and envisages displacement as the best method to produce social transformation.