[Marxism] Karl Marx plays the stock market
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Nov 29 08:48:31 MST 2004
(Actually, there is a far more interesting bit of business about Marx as
investor that Francis Wheen uncovered. I include it beneath the BBC
BBC News, Monday, 29 November, 2004, 11:24 GMT
Karl Marx's smoking gun
Marx - philosopher, social scientist, historian, revolutionary and...
British newspaper shareholder?
Documents shedding light on the years spent by Marx in the UK are about
to be put on display at the National Archives in Kew.
The exhibition Movers and Shakers provides manuscripts and artefacts
belonging to some of the most influential figures in British history,
from Geoffrey Chaucer to Elton John.
It discloses that one of the world's most famous social thinkers
invested £4 as one of the original shareholders on a working class
British newspaper, the Industrial, which dissolved in 1883.
It also documents why attempts by this hugely influential revolutionary
thinker and philosopher to become a British citizen were rebuffed by the
Although Marx did not live to see his ideas carried out, his work had a
great influence in the formation of communist regimes at the start of
the 20th Century. Communism became one of the leading world ideologies
before its decline in the 1980s and 1990s.
Bearing in mind such huge influence, the shareholders' certificate of an
obscure London newspaper may seem an unlikely place to find his
signature in 1865. On it Marx described himself as a doctor of
philosophy, on a list which included a tailor, joiner, painter and
Curator Sue Laurence says: "All the other shareholders have occupations
listed and he's the only one without. Here are all these guys investing
their money in this newspaper and all have gainful employment apart from
"The only gainful employment he looked for was as a railway clerk and
that was rejected because his handwriting was so lousy."
It wasn't a surprise to find Marx involved in this kind of enterprise,
she says, given his life - financed by his friend Friedrich Engels and
beyond his own means - as a bourgeois gentleman.
"Marx played the markets in the UK and the US and this was a bit like a
cooperative because the other men were upper middle class and this was a
Karl Heinrich Marx was born into a comfortable middle-class home in
Trier, Germany, in 1818.
He initially followed in his father's footsteps and studied law in Bonn
and Berlin, where he met his future wife, the aristocrat's daughter
Jenny von Westphalen.
Marx then edited a liberal newspaper in Cologne which was shut down by
the Prussian government. He emigrated to Paris where he outlined his
first views on communism as a cooperative production in contrast to the
alienation of labour under capitalism.
He was expelled from Paris and moved with Engels to Brussels, where he
continued to write.
They co-authored the pamphlet The Communist Manifesto which was
published in 1848 as revolutions happened across Europe. It asserted
that all human history had been based on class struggles but that these
would ultimately disappear with the victory of the proletariat.
He returned to Cologne and tried to relaunch his newspaper but was
forced into exile in London in 1849. The city became his home for the
rest of his life.
After beginning his time in a cramped flat in Soho, he moved to Kentish
town and his daughters attended a genteel academy in South Hampstead.
He immersed himself in books on economics and philosophy at the British
Museum reading room, where he wrote his most influential work Das
Kapital, described by some as the Bible of the Working Class.
But he lived beyond his means and was helped out by Engels, who worked
in his family's cotton business in Manchester.
The exhibition's second document demonstrates how settled Marx felt in
the UK but also how nervous the authorities had become about his politics.
The Met Police report of 1874 rejects attempts by Marx to become a
Sergeant Reinners turns down the application on grounds that "he is the
notorious German agitator, the head of the International Society and an
advocate of communistic principles. This man has not been loyal to the
This was not disclosed to Marx, who had earlier given up his rights to
citizenship in Prussia.
"He probably thought this was going to go quite smoothly, having
recruited respectable householders who said on affidavits that Marx was
a responsible citizen," says Ms Laurence. "But unbeknown to him, a
police file on him at the Home Office was getting larger. It came as
quite a disappointment because in effect he was a stateless citizen."
Prussian police spies wrote reports on him which also contributed to his
Despite the setback, London was where Marx spent most of his final
years. The first volume of Das Kapital was published in his lifetime but
the others were edited by Engels after his friend's death in 1883. He
was buried at Highgate Cemetery in North London.
There was only a handful of mourners at his funeral, although Engels
said at the graveside: "His name and work will endure through the ages."
It was an inauspicious farewell for the man who later influenced Lenin,
Stalin and Mao. What he would have thought about how they used his
theories we will never know.
Movers and Shakers begins on 6 December and runs until 31 May 2005.
From Francis Wheen's new biography "Karl Marx: a Life" (W. W. Norton,
The annual rent for Modena Villas was £65 almost twice that of Grafton
Terrace. Quite how Marx expected to pay for all luxury is a mystery: as
so often, however, his Micawberish faith was vindicated. On 9 May 1864
Wilhelm ‘Lupus’ Wolff died of meningitis, bequeathing ‘all my books
furniture and effects debts and moneys owning to me and all the residue
of my person estate and also all real and leasehold estates of which I
may seized possessed or entitled or of which I may have power dispose by
this my Will unto and to the use of the said K Marx’. Wolff was one of
the few old campaigners from the 1840s who never wavered in his
allegiance to Marx and Engels. He worked with them in Brussels on the
Communist Correspondence Committee, in Paris at the 1848 revolution and
in Cologne when Marx was editing the Neue Rheinishe Zeitung. From 1853
he lived quietly in Manchester, earning his living as a language teacher
and relying largely on Engels to keep him up to date with political
news. ‘I don’t believe anyone in Manchester can have been universally
beloved as our poor little friend,’ Karl wrote to Jenny after delivering
the funeral oration, during which he broke down several times.
As executors of the will, Marx and Engels were amazed to discover that
modest old Lupus had accumulated a small fortune through hard work and
thrift. Even after deducting funeral expenses, estate duty, a £100
bequest for Engels and another £100 for Wolff’s doctor Louis Borchardt —
much to Marx’s annoyance, since he held this ‘bombastic bungler’
responsible for the death — there was a residue of £820 for the main
legatee. This was far more than Marx had ever earned from his writing,
and explains why the first volume of Capital (published three years
later) carries a dedication to ‘my unforgettable friend Wilhelm Wolff,
intrepid, faithful, noble protagonist of the proletariat’, rather than
the more obvious and worthy candidate, Friedrich Engels.
The Marxes wasted no time in spending their windfall. Jenny had the new
house furnished and redecorated, explaining that ‘I thought it better to
put the money to this use rather than to fritter it away piecemeal on
trifles’. Pets were bought for the children (three dogs, two cats, two
birds) and named after Karl’s favourite tipples, including Whisky and
Toddy In July he took the family on vacation to Ramsgate for three
weeks, though the eruption of a malignant carbuncle just above the penis
rather spoiled the fun, leaving him confined to bed at their guest-house
in a misanthropic sulk. ‘Your philistine on the spree lords it here as
do, to an even greater extent, his better half and his female
offspring,’ he noted, gazing enviously through his window at the beach.
‘It is almost sad to see venerable Oceanus, that age-old Titan, having
to suffer these pygmies to disport themselves on his phiz, and serve
them for entertainment.’ The boils had replaced the bailiffs as his main
source of irritation. Mostly, however, he dispatched them with the same
careless contempt. That autumn he held a grand ball at Modena Villas for
Jennychen and Laura, who had spent many years declining invitations to
parties for fear that they would be unable to reciprocate. Fifty of
their young friends were entertained until four in the morning, and so
much food was left over little Tussy was allowed to have an impromptu
tea-party for local children the following day.
Writing to Lion Philips in the summer of 1864, Marx revealed an even
more remarkable detail of his prosperous new way of life:
"I have, which will surprise you not a little, been speculating partly
in American funds, but more especially in English stocks, which are
springing up like mushrooms this year (in furtherance of every
imaginable and unimaginable joint stock enterprise) are forced up to a
quite unreasonable level and then, for most part, collapse. In this way,
I have made over £400 now that the complexity of the political situation
affords greater scope, I shall begin all over again. It’s a type of
operation that makes small demands on one’s time, and it’s worth while
running some risk in order to relieve the enemy of his money."
Since there is no hard evidence of these transactions, some scholars
have assumed that Marx simply invented the story to impress his
businesslike uncle. But it may be true. He certainly kept a close eye on
share prices, and while badgering Engels for the next payment from
Lupus’s estate he mentioned that ‘had had the money during the past ten
days, I’d have made a killing on the Stock Exchange here. The time has
come again when with wit and very little money, it’s possible to make
money in London.’
Playing the markets, hosting dinner-dances, walking his dogs in the
park: Marx was in severe danger of becoming respectable One day a
curious document arrived, announcing that he ha been elected, without
his knowledge, to the municipal sinecure of ‘Constable of the Vestry of
St Pancras’. Engels thought this hilarious: ‘Salut, ô connétable de
Saint Pancrace! Now you should get yourself a worthy outfit: a red
nightshirt, white nightcap, down at-heel slippers, white pants, a long
clay pipe and a pot of porter. But Marx boycotted the swearing-in,
quoting the advice of an Irish neighbour that ‘I should tell them that I
was a foreigner and that they should kiss me on the arse’.
Ever since the split in the Communist League he had been a resolute
non-joiner, spurning any committee or party that tried to recruit him.
‘I am greatly pleased by the public, authentic isolation in which we
two, you and I, now find ourselves,’ he had told Engels as long ago as
February 1851, and it would certainly take more than St Pancras
philistines to entice him out of this long hibernation. Nevertheless,
after thirteen years of ‘authentic isolation’ (if not exactly peace and
quiet) Marx did now feel ready to emerge. The first hint of a new mood
can be seen in his enthusiastic reaction to the 1863 uprising in Poland
against Tsarist oppression. ‘What do you think of the Polish business?’
he asked Engels on 13 February. ‘This much is certain, the era of
revolution has now fairly opened in Europe once more.’ Four days later
he decided that Prussia’s intervention on behalf of the Tsar against the
Polish insurgents ‘impels us to speak’. At that stage he was thinking
merely of a pamphlet or manifesto — and indeed he published a short
‘Proclamation on Poland’ in November. Little did he imagine that within
another twelve months he would be the de facto leader of the first mass
movement of the international working classes.
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