The Stock-Exchange, Wealth, and Communism

F. Engels, Supplement to Capital, Volume III,'(2) The Stock-Exchange'.

1. [...]But since 1865[...]a change has occurred that gives the stock-exchange of today a significantly increased role, and a constantly growing one at that, which, as it develops further, has the tendency to concentrate the whole of production, industrial as well as agricultural, together with the whole of commerce—the means of communication as well as the exchange function—in the hands of stock-exchange speculators, so that the stock-exchange becomes the pre-eminent representative of capitalist production as such.

2. In 1865 the stock exchange was still a secondary element in the capitalist system. Government bonds made up the major part of stock-exchange values, and even these were still relatively small in amount. The joint-stock banks, on the other hand, which were already predominant on the Continent and in America, were in England just beginning to swallow up the aristocratic private banks. Quantitatively, they were still relatively unimportant. Even railway shares were relatively weak compared with their present position. Directly productive establishments in the joint-stock form were rare—at that time, the "master's eye" was still an unconquered superstition—and, like the banks, they operated mostly in the poorer countries: Germany, Austria, America, etc.

At that time, then, the stock-exchange was still just a place where the capitalists plundered one another of their accumulated capitals, and it concerned the workers only as a new piece of evidence of the demoralizing general effect of the capitalist economy, confirming the Calvinist principle that divine election, alias accident, is already decisive in this life as far as bliss and damnation, wealth (pleasure and power) and poverty (renunciation and servitude) are concerned.

3. Now it is different. Since the crisis of 1866, accumulation has increased at an ever growing pace, and in such a way moreover that in no industrial country, least of all England, can the extension of production keep step with that of accumulation, or the accumulation of the individual capitalist be fully employed in the expansion of his own business: the English cotton industry in 1845; the railway bubble. With this accumulation there is also a growth in the number of rentiers, people who have tired of routine exertion in business and who simply want to amuse themselves or pursue only a light occupation as directors of companies. And thirdly, in order to aid the investment of the mass of money capital thus afloat, new legal forms of company with limited liability were devised wherever they did not yet exist, the obligation of the shareholders, which was formerly unrestricted, being also more or less reduced. (For joint-stock companies in Germany in 1890, to 40 per cent of the subscription!)

4. Accordingly a gradual transformation of industry to joint-stock undertakings. One branch after another experiences this fate. First of all iron, where gigantic investments are now needed (this was already true of mining before, where this was not already organised in shares). Then the chemical industry, ditto. Engineering. On the Continent the textile industry, though in England still only in a few districts of Lancashire (spinning, Oldham; weaving, Burnley, etc.; co-operation in tailoring, but only as a preliminary step, and to fall back again to the 'master' in the next crisis), breweries (a few years ago the American breweries sold off to English capitalists, then Guinness, Bass, Allsopp). Then the trusts, which set up giant enterprises with a common management (e.g. United Alkali). The ordinary individual firm more and more simply a preliminary step, in order to bring the business into a position where it is big enough to be "promoted."

The same goes for trade. Leafs, Parsons, Morleys, Morrison, Dillon, all promoted. Similarly now already with retailers, and moreover not only in the guise of co-operation à la C.W.S.

The same for banks and other credit institutions, even in England. Immense numbers of new institutions, all limited liability. Even old banks such as Glyns, etc. transformed into limited companies with seven private shareholders.

5. The same thing in the realm of agriculture. The enormous extension of the banks, which particularly in Germany, (under all kinds of bureaucratic names) are more and more the holders of mortgages, ultimate ownership of the land falling into the hands of the stock-exchange, and this still more so when estates fall to their creditors. Here the agricultural revolution in prairie cultivation is impressive in its effect; if this continues, we can look forward to the time when land in England and France too will be in the hands of the stock-exchange.

6. Then there are foreign investments, all in joint-stock form. Just to take England: American railways, North and South (look up the stock list), gold mines, etc.

7. Then colonisation. Today this is a pure appendage of the stock-exchange, in whose interest the European powers divided up Africa a few years ago, and the French conquered Tunis and Tonkin. Africa directly leased out to companies (Niger, South Africa, German South-West and East Africa), and Mashonaland and Natal taken possession of for the stock exchange by Rhodes.

H. Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, vol. I

There is a sentimental rhetoric, corresponding to the 'spiritual state' of the petty bourgeois who hates and envies people who are richer than he is, which readily waxes emotional about deserving paupers and unhappy millionaires alike, and which rails against money. [...] These melodramatic and moral motifs are part of the everyday lives of poor people. Verbal propaganda of the rich, they make up the greater part of the average person's ideological baggage. Disguised as an indictment of money, they justify wealth by reducing it to a mere accident of the human condition (in itself moral or metaphysical). [...] Their aim is to consolidate, to crystallize those absurd concepts 'wealth' and 'poverty', to present them as opposites, to incarnate them in individuals, enclosing them so effectively within these sentimental and moral categories that the most violent statement against 'the rich' will in no respect go beyond the parameters of capitalist ideology.

The result is a curious one. Today, for the Marxist, the first task in this area must be a rehabilitation of wealth. Wealth is neither an evil nor a curse. Wealth, like power, is part of man's greatness and of the beauty of life. The solution to man's problems is to be found not by sharing out weakness, poverty and mediocrity—but by seeking power and wealth; they alone have permitted and conditioned everything magnificent and brilliant that has ever been in culture, in civilization, in life—from palaces and stately homes and cathedrals to those slowly matured works of art whose creation used to demand and still demands long periods of leisure, silence, peace of mind and physical security.

And yet (and this is the essential point) the parameters of power and wealth are in the process of changing. It is impossible to go any further towards individual wealth. Today, wealth is becoming social; in fact, it has always been social; and within the framework of capitalist economy, under the guise of the individual acquisition of wealth, it was indeed society as a whole which was developing and to a certain extent progressing. Today this social wealth can develop no further within the framework of individual appropriation (of capitalist private property); it clearly needs reorganizing. But the aim is not to combat wealth with a view to achieving a general mediocrity, an 'equality' of mediocrity. The aim is still wealth: wealth that becomes progressively universalized, socialized wealth.

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