Paul Lafargue

Capitalist Property

(June 1903)

From Justice, 13 June 1903, p.3.
Originally published in Droit du Peuple.
Translated by Hector Kirby.
Transcribed by Tex Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Individual property can only exist in a primitive stage of human life, because of its two attributes, it is the product of the owner's labour, and it is used by him.

These two qualities, regarded is indispensable to and inseparable from individual property, have left so strong an impression upon the human mind that the defenders of capitalism idiotically state that property is the reward of toil. Nevertheless, capitalist production can only exist when individual property is stripped of the two attributes which alone justify it.

Personal wealth is still, indeed, the result of labour, but it no longer belongs to the workers who produce it; the means of production (land, machinery, mines, &c.) are not owned by the wage-workers who use them, but by the capitalist who has not made them, and who does not work them. Capitalist property does not, consequently, possess the two attributes of individual property.

The economists, the moralists, the philosophers, and the politicians puzzle their brains to discover some attributes which can give it the appearance of being justifiable. Not being able to give the capitalist the character of a producer, they give him that of a thrifty man; his wealth is the result of his saving, they say. But, as he does not work, he must, then, save on the labour of others – in other words, he robs the workers of a part of the fruits of their labour, in order to make himself rich. The "thrift" argument having been recognised as being as silly as it is inconvenient, the leading politicians have generously endowed the capitalist with the qualities of organiser of labour and captain of industry, which by a genial co-operation with the labour of the wage-workers, beget his millions. But, reply the Socialists, as these qualities are not possessed by the capitalist, but by his managers and foremen, they cannot justify his ownership of wealth.

Then, arriving at the end of their inventive genius, they transform the transcendent virtues of the capitalist into a metaphysical entity. It is chance, it is blind fortune which makes him owner of property.

The existence of joint-stock companies demolishes these arguments, so laboriously maintained, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. The capitalist who possesses shares in them has not the least contact with production; he may be ignorant of the place where it is carried on, as of its nature; he receives his dividends, and that is all he cares about. The joint-stock company breaks the last bonds which unite the proprietor to his property; it has depersonalised property.

The shares of a joint-stock company can belong to Peter, Paul or Nicodemus, they can change hands every day at the Stock Exchange, and sometimes several times in one day; but the factories still go on producing as if the property had not changed hands. The joint-stock companies which create a kind of collectivist property possessed by shareholders, demonstrate the absolute uselessness of capitalist production and clearly show the parasitical nature of the capitalist class. It is not the possessors but the non-possessors who are useful in the field of the capitalist production; but the Social Revolution will sweep away these parasites.


Last updated on 7.4.2004