[Marxism] Karl Marx plays the stock market

Louis Proyect 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 
small-scale enterprise."


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.

Das Kapital

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 
naturalised Briton.

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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