Excerpts from

IMPERIALISM - The Highest Stage of Capitalism

by V. I. LENIN


        The enormous growth of industry and the remarkably rapid process of concentration of production in ever-larger enterprises are one of the most characteristic features of capitalism. Modern censuses of production give most complete and most exact data on this process.

        In Germany, for example, out of every 1,000 industrial enterprises, large enterprises, i.e., those employing more than 50 workers, numbered three in 1882, six in 1895 and nine in 1907; and out of every 100 workers employed, this group of enterprises employed 22, 30 and 37, respectively. Concentration of production, however, is much more intense than the concentration of workers, since labour in the large enterprises is much more productive. This is shown by the figures on steam engines and electric motors. If we take what in Germany is called industry in the broad sense of the term, that is, including commerce, transport, etc., we get the following picture. Large-scale enterprises 30,588 out of a total of 3,265,623, that is to say, 0.9 per cent. These enterprises employ 5,700,000 workers out of a total of 14,400,000, i.e., 39.4 per cent; they use 6,600,000 steam horsepower out of a total of 8,800,000, i.e., 75.3 per cent, and 1,200,000 kilowatts of electricity out of a total of 1,500,000, i.e., 77.2 per cent.

        Less than one-hundredth of the total enterprises utilize more than three-fourths of the total steam and electric power! Two million nine hundred and seventy thousand small enterprises (employing up to five workers), constituting 91 per cent of the total, utilize only 7 per cent of the total steam and electric power! Tens of thousands of huge enterprises are everything; millions of small ones are nothing.

        In 1907, there were in Germany 586 establishments employing one thousand and more workers, nearly one-tenth (1,380,000) of the total number of workers employed in industry, and they utilized almost one-third (32 per cent) of the total steam and electric power. As we shall see, money capital and the banks make this superiority of a handful of the largest enterprises still more overwhelming, in the most literal sense of the word, i.e., millions of small, medium and even some big "masters" are in fact in complete subjection to some hundreds of millionaire financiers.

        In another advanced country of modern capitalism, the United States of America, the growth of the concentration of production is still greater. Here statistics single out industry in the narrow sense of the word and group enterprises according to the value of their annual output. In 1904 large-scale enterprises with an output of one million dollars and over numbered 1,900 (out of 216,180, i.e., 0.9 per cent). These employed 1,400,000 workers (out of 5,500,000, i.e., 25.6 per cent) and their output amounted to $5,600,000,000 (out of $14,800,000,000, i.e., 38 per cent). Five years later, in 1909, the corresponding figures were: 3,060 enterprises (out of 268,491, i.e., 1.1 per cent) employing 2,000,000 workers (out of 6,600,000, i.e., 30.5 per cent) with an output of $9,000,000,000 (out of $20,700,000,000, i.e., 43.8 per cent).

        Almost half the total production of all the enterprises of the country was carried on by one-hundredth part of these enterprises! These 3,000 giant enterprises embrace 258 branches of industry. From this it can be seen that, at a certain stage of its development, concentration itself, as it were, leads right up to monopoly; for a score or so of giant enterprises can easily arrive at an agreement, while on the other hand, the hindrance to competition, the tendency towards monopoly, arises from the very dimensions of the enterprises. This transformation of competition into monopoly is one of the most important -- if not the most important -- phenomena of modern capitalist economy, and we must deal with it in greater detail. But first we must clear up one possible misunderstanding.

        Half a century ago, when Marx was writing Capital, free competition appeared to the overwhelming majority of economists to be a "natural law." Official science tried, by a conspiracy of silence, to kill the works of Marx, who by a theoretical and historical analysis of capitalism proved that free competition gives rise to the concentration of production, which, in turn, at a certain stage of development, leads to monopoly. Today, monopoly has become a fact. The economists are writing mountains of books in which they describe the diverse manifestations of monopoly, and continue to declare in chorus that "Marxism is refuted." But facts are stubborn things, as the English proverb says, and they have to be reckoned with, whether we like it or not. The facts show that differences between capitalist countries, e.g., in the matter of protection or free trade, only give rise to insignificant variations in the form of monopolies or in the moment of their appearance; and that the rise of monopolies, as the result of the concentration of production, is a general and fundamental law of the present stage of development of capitalism.

        For Europe, the time when the new capitalism definitely superseded the old can be established with fair precision: it was the beginning of the twentieth century.   

        Thus, the principal stages in the history of monopolies are the following: 1) 1860-70, the highest stage, the apex of development of free competition; monopoly is in the barely discernible, embryonic stage. 2) After the crisis of 1873, a lengthy period of development of cartels; but they are still the exception. They are not yet durable. They are still a transitory phenomenon. 3) The boom at the end of the nineteenth century and the crisis of 1900-03. Cartels become one of the foundations of the whole of economic life. Capitalism has been transformed into imperialism.

        Cartels come to an agreement on the conditions of sale, terms of payment, etc. They divide the markets among themselves. They fix the quantity of goods among themselves to be produced. They fix prices. They divide the profits among the various enterprises, etc.

        The number of cartels in Germany was estimated at about 250 in 1896 and at 385 in 1905, with about 12,000 firms participating. But it is generally recognized that these figures are underestimations. From the statistics of German industry for 1907 we quoted above, it is evident that even these 12,000 very big enterprises concentrate certainly more than half the steam and electric power used in the country. In the United States of America, the number of trusts in 1900 was 185 and in 1907, 250. American statistics divide all industrial enterprises into those belonging to individuals, to private firms or to corporations. The latter in 1904 comprised 23.6 per cent, and in 1909, 25.9 per cent, i.e., more than one-fourth of the total industrial enterprises in the country. These employed in 1904, 70.6 per cent, and in 1909, 75.6 per cent, i.e., more than three-fourths of the total wage earners. Their output amounted at these two dates to $10,900,000,000 and to $16,300,000,000, i.e., to 73.7 per cent and 79.0 per cent of the total, respectively.

        Not infrequently cartels and trusts concentrate in their hands seven- or eight-tenths of the total output of a given branch of industry. The Rhine-Westphalian Coal Syndicate, at its' foundation in 1893, concentrated 86.7 per cent of the total coal output of the area, and in 1910 it already concentrated 95.4 per cent. The monopoly so created assures enormous profits, and leads to the formation of technical productive units of formidable magnitude. The famous Standard Oil Company in the United States was founded in 1900: "It has an authorized capital of $150,000,000. It issued $100,000,000 common and $106,000,000 preferred stock. From 1900 to 1907 the following dividends were paid on the latter: 48, 48, 45, 44, 36, 40, 40, 40 per cent in the respective years, i.e., in all, $367,000,000. From 1882 to 1907, out of total net profits amounting to $889,000,000, $606,000,000 were distributed in dividends, and the rest went to reserve capital.

        The report of the American Government Commission on Trusts states: "Their superiority over competitors is due to the magnitude of its enterprises and their excellent technical equipment. Since its inception, the Tobacco Trust hasdevoted all its efforts to the substitution of mechanical for manual labour on an extensive scale. With this end in view it bought up all patents that had anything to do with the manufacture of tobacco and spent enormous sums for this purpose. .... One of these establishments, that in Brooklyn, employs on the average 300 workers; here experiments are carried out on inventions concerning the manufacture of cigarettes, cheroots, snuff, tinfoil for packing, boxes, etc. Here, also, inventions are perfected.

       Competition becomes transformed into monopoly. The  result is immense progress in the socialization of production. In particular, the process of technical invention and improvement becomes socialized.

        This is something quite different from the old free competition between manufacturers, scattered and out of touch with one another, and producing for an unknown market. Concentration has reached the point at which it is possible to make an approximate estimate of all sources of raw materials (for example, the iron ore deposits) of a country and even, as we shall see, of several countries, or of the whole world. Not only are such estimates made, but these sources are captured by gigantic monopolist combines. An approximate estimate of the capacity of markets is also made, and the combines "divide" them up amongst themselves by agreement. Skilled labour is monopolized, the best engineers are engaged; the means of transport are captured: railways in America, shipping companies in Europe and America. Capitalism in its imperialist stage leads right up to the most comprehensive socialization of production; it, so to speak, drags the capitalists, against their will and consciousness, into some sort of a new social order, a transitional one from complete free competition to complete socialization.

        Production becomes social, but appropriation remains private. The social means of production remain the private property of a few. The general framework of formally recognized free competition remains, but the yoke of a few monopolists on the rest of the population becomes a hundred times heavier, more burdensome and intolerable.

        we no longer have competition between small and large, technically developed and backward enterprises. We see here the monopolists throttling those which do not submit to them, to their yoke, to their dictation. ####

 the development of capitalism has arrived at a stage when, commodity production still "reigns" and continues to be regarded as the basis of economic life, it has in reality been undermined and the bulk of the profits go to the "geniuses" of financial manipulation. At the basis of these manipulations and swindles lies socialized production; but the immense progress of mankind which achieved this socialization, goes to benefit . . . the speculators.

         The statement that cartels can abolish crises is a fable spread by bourgeois economists who at all costs desire to place capitalism in a favourable light. On the contrary, monopoly which is created in certain branches of industry, increases and intensifies the anarchy inherent in capitalist production as a whole. The disparity between the development of agriculture and that of industry, which is characteristic of capitalism in general, is increased. The privileged position of the most highly cartelized, so-called heavy industry, especially coal and iron, ...  

        Crises of every kind -- economic crises most frequently, but not only these -- in their turn increase very considerably the tendency towards concentration and towards monopoly.        

        Monopoly! This is the last word in the "latest phase of capitalist development." But we shall only have a very insufficient, incomplete, and poor notion of the real power and the significance of modern monopolies if we do not


        The principal and original function of banks is to serve as middlemen in the making of payments. In doing so they transform inactive money capital into active, that is, into capital yielding a profit; they collect all kinds of money revenues and place them at the disposal of the capitalist class.

        As banking develops and becomes concentrated in a small number of establishments, the banks grow from humble middlemen into powerful monopolies having at their command almost the whole of the money capital of all the capitalists and small businessmen and also the larger part of the means of production and of the sources of raw materials of the given country and in a number of countries. This transformation of numerous humble middlemen into a handful of monopolists represents one of the fundamental processes in the growth of capitalism into capitalist imperialism; for this reason we must first of all deal with the concentration of banking.     

        We have emphasized the reference to the "affiliated" banks, because this is one of the most important distinguishing features of modern capitalist concentration. The big enterprises and the banks in particular, not only completely absorb the small ones, but also "annex" them, subordinate them, bring them into their "own" group of "concern" (to use the technical term) by acquiring "holdings" in their capital, by purchasing or exchanging shares by a system of credits, etc., etc.

        The Deutsche Bank "group" is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, of the big banking groups. In order to trace the main threads which connect all the banks in this group, it is necessary to distinguish between "holdings" of the first, second and third degree, or what amounts to the same thing, between dependence (of the lesser banks on the Deutsche Bank) in the first, second and third degree. We then obtain the following picture

The Deutche Bank holdings

1st degree

2nd degree

3rd degree



 9 in 34

 4 in 7

Indefinite period






5 in 14

2  in 2  


in 30 banks

 14 in 48

6 in 9

        Included in the eight banks dependent on the Deutsche Bank in the "first degree," "occasionally," are three foreign banks: one Austrian (the Wiener Bankverein) and two Russian (the Siberian Commercial Bank and the Russian Bank for Foreign Trade). Altogether, the Deutsche Bank group comprises, directly and indirectly, partially and totally, 87 banks; and the total capital -- its own and others' which it controls -- is estimated at between two and three billion marks.

        It is obvious that a bank which stands at the head of such a group, and which enters into agreement with half a dozen other banks only slightly smaller than itself for the purpose of conducting exceptionally big and profitable financial operations like floating state loans, has already outgrown the part of ''middleman'' and has become a combine of a handful of monopolists.      

        We see the rapid expansion of a close network of canals which cover the whole country, centralizing all capital and all revenues, transforming thousands and thousands, of scattered economic enterprises into a single national capitalist, and then into a world capitalist economy.

                     the concentration of capital and the growth of bank turnover are radically changing the significance of the banks. Scattered capitalists are transformed into a single collective capitalist. When carrying the current accounts of a few capitalists, a bank, as it were, transacts a purely technical and exclusively auxiliary operation. When, however, this operation grows to enormous dimensions we find that a handful of monopolists subordinate to their will all the operations, both commercial and industrial, of the whole of capitalist society: for they obtain the opportunity -- by means of their banking connections, their current accounts and other financial operations -- first, to ascertain exactly the financial position of the various capitalists, then to control them, to influence them by restricting or enlarging, facilitating or hindering credits, and finally entirely determine their fate, determine their income, deprive them of capital, or permit them to increase their capital rapidly and to enormous dimensions, etc.   

   Commenting on the increase of the capital of the Disconto-Gesellschaft to 300,000,000 marks, the German review, Die Bank, wrote: "Other banks will follow this same path and in time the three hundred men, who today govern Germany economically, will gradually be reduced to fifty, twenty-five or still fewer. It cannot be expected that this latest move towards concentration will be confined to banking. The close relations that exist between individual banks naturally lead to the bringing together of the industrial syndicates which these banks favour. . . . One fine morning we shall wake up in surprise to see nothing but trusts before our eyes, and to find ourselves faced with the necessity of substituting state monopolies for private monopolies. However, we have nothing to reproach ourselves with, except for having allowed things to follow their own course, slightly accelerated by the manipulation of stocks." (A. Lansburgh, "Die Bank mit den 300 Millionen" in Die Bank, 1914, 1, p. 426. )

    But facts remain facts. There are no trusts in Germany; there are "only" cartels -- but Germany is governed by not more than three hundred magnates of capital, and the number of these is constantly diminishing. At all events, in all capitalist countries, notwithstanding all the differences in their banking laws, banks greatly intensify and accelerate the process of concentration of capital and the formation of monopolies.      

     "Thirty years ago, businessmen, freely competing against one another, performed nine-tenths of the work connected with their business other than manual labour. At the present time, nine-tenths of this "brain work" is performed by officials. Banking is in the forefront of this evolution."This admission by Schulze-Gaevernitz brings us once again to the question: to what is this new capitalism, capitalism in its imperialist stage, passing?      

   As regards the close connection between the banks and industry, it is precisely in this sphere that the new role of the banks is, perhaps, most strikingly felt. When a bank discounts a bill for a firm, opens a current account for it, etc., these operations, taken separately, do not in the least diminish its independence, and the bank plays no other part than that of a humble middleman. But when such operations are multiplied and become an established practice, when the

    bank "collects" in its own hands enormous amounts of capital, when the running of a current account for a given firm enables the bank -- and this is what happens -- to obtain fuller and more detailed information about the economic position of its client, the result is that the industrial capitalist becomes more completely dependent on the bank.       

At the same time a personal union, so to speak, is established between the banks and the biggest industrial and commercial enterprises, the merging of one with another through the acquisition of shares, through the appointment of bank directors to the Supervisory Boards (or Boards of Directors) of industrial and commercial enterprises, and vice versa. The German economist, Jeidels, has compiled most detailed data on this form of concentration of capital and of enterprises. Six of the biggest Berlin banks were represented by their directors in 344 industrial companies; and by their board members in 407 others, making a total of 751 companies. In 289 of these companies they either had two of their representatives on each of the respective Supervisory Boards, or held the posts of chairmen. We find these industrial and commercial companies in the most diverse branches of industry: insurance, transport, restaurants, theatres, art industry, etc. On the other hand, on the Supervisory Boards of these six banks (in 1910) were fifty-one of the biggest industrialists, including the director of Krupp, of the powerful "Hapag" (Hamburg-American Line), etc., etc. From 1895 to 1910, each of these six banks participated in the share and bond issues of many hundreds of industrial companies (the number ranging from 281 to 419).

        The "personal union" between the banks and industry is supplemented by the "personal union" between both and the government. "Seats on Supervisory Boards," writes Jeidels, "are freely offered to persons of title, also to ex-civil servants, who are able to do a great deal to facilitate" (!!) "relations with the authorities." . . . "Usually, on the Supervisory Board of a big bank, there is a member of parliament or a Berlin city councillor."       

        The result is, on the one hand, the ever growing merger, or, as N. I. Bukharin aptly calls it, coalescence, of bank and industrial capital and, on the other hand, the growth of the banks into institutions of a truly "universal character." On this question we think it necessary to quote the exact terms used by Jeidels, who has best studied the subject:      

"An examination of the sum total of industrial relation ships reveals the universal character of the financial establishments working on behalf of industry. Unlike other kinds of banks, and contrary to the demand sometimes expressed in literature that banks should specialize in one kind of business or in one branch of industry in order to prevent the ground from slipping from under their feet -- the big bank are striving to make their connections with industrial enterprises as varied as possible regarding locality and branch of industry and are striving to eliminate the unevenness in the distribution of capital among localities and branches of industry resulting from the historical development of individual enterprises." One tendency is to make the connections with industry general; another tendency is to make them durable and close. In the six big banks both these tendencies are realized, not in full, but to a considerable extent and to an equal degree."

At precisely what period were the "new activities" of the big banks finally established? Jeidels gives us a fairly exact answer to this important question:
        "The connections between the banks and industrial enterprises, with their new content, their new forms and their new organs, namely, the big banks which are organized on both a centralized and a decentralized basis, were scarcely a characteristic economic phenomenon before the nineties; in one sense, indeed this initial date may be advanced to the year 1897, when the important 'mergers' took place and when, the first time, the new form of decentralized organization was introduced to suit the industrial policy of the banks. This starting point could perhaps be placed at an even later date, for it was the crisis of 1900 that enormously accelerated and intensified the process of concentration of industry and of banking, consolidated that process, for the first time transformed the connection with industry into the actual monopoly of the big banks, and made this connection much closer and more active."

        Thus, the twentieth century marks the turning point from the old capitalism to the new, from the domination of capital in general to the domination of finance capital.






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