Why Karl Marx Advocated Free Trade (Capitalism)

Peter Myers, Canberra, Australia, August 2, 2001; update January 7, 2003. My comments are shown {thus}. Write to me at contact.html.

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Karl Marx advocated Free Trade, i.e. Capitalism, because (a) whereas Protection builds up the nation-state, Free Trade breaks it down, as a prelude to the creation of a world-state by the Capitalists (b) Free Trade breaks down traditional culture, as a prelude to the creation of a world culture (c) Free Trade exacerbates class warfare, and through this the Capitalists will lose control of the world-state - they will be defeated by the impoverished classes, with the help of their backers in the higher classes.

Free Trade -> Misery -> Social Revolution.

(1) Karl Marx on Free Trade (2) Frederick Engels on Free Trade (3) Trotskyists for Free Trade

(1) Karl Marx on Free Trade

Karl Marx's major statement about Free Trade was an address delivered to the Democratic association of Brussels, Belgium, on January 9, 1848, around the same time as he wrote the Communist Manifesto.

Karl Marx & Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Volume 6, Lawrence & Wishart, London 1976:

{p. 450} Karl Marx


Gentlemen, - The Repeal of the Corn Laws in England is the greatest triumph of Free Trade in the nineteenth century. In every country where manufacturers discuss Free Trade, they have in mind chiefly Free Trade in corn or raw material generally. To burden foreign corn with protective duties is infamous, it is to speculate on the hunger of the people.

Cheap food, high wages, for this alone the English Free Traders have spent millions, and their enthusiasm has already infected their Continental brethren. And, generally speaking, all those who advocate Free Trade do so in the interests of the working class.'

But, strange to say, the people for whom cheap food is to be procured at all costs are very ungrateful. Cheap food is as ill reputed in England as is cheap government in France. The people see in these self-sacrificing gentlemen, in Bowring, Bright & Co., their worst enemies and the most shameless hypocrites.

Everyone knows that in England the struggle between Liberals and Democrats takes the name of the struggle between Free Traders and Chartists. Let us see how the English Free Traders have proved to the people the good intentions that animate them.

{p. 463} To sum up, what is Free Trade under the present conditions of society? Feeedom of Capital. When you have torn down the few national barriers which still restrict the free development of capital, you will merely have given it complete freedom of action. So long as you let the relation of wages-labor to capital exist, no matter how favorable the conditions under which you accomplish the exchange of commodities, there will always be a class which exploits and a class which is exploited. It is really difficult to understand the presumptionm of the Free traders who imagine that the more advantageous application of capital will abolish the antagonism between industrial capitalists and wage workers. On the contrary. The only result will be that the antagonism of these two classes will stand out more clearly. ...

{p. 464} Why should you desire farther to sanction unlimited competition with this idea of freedom, when the idea of freedom itself is only the product of a social condition based upon Free Competition?

We have shown what sort of fraternity Free Trade begets between the different classes of one and the same nation. The fraternity which Free Trade would establish between the nations of the earth would not be more real, to call cosmopolitan exploitation universa1 brotherhood is an idea that could only be engendered in the brain of the bourgeoisie. Every one of the destructive phenomena to which unlimited competition gives rise within any one nation is reproduced in more gigantic proportions in the market of the world. We need not pause any longer upon Free Trade sophisms on this subject, which are worth just as much as the arguments of our prize essayists Messrs Hope, Morse, and Greg.

For instance, we are told that Free Trade would create an international division of labor, and thereby give to each country those branches of production most in harmony with its natural advantages.

You believe perhaps, gentlemen, that the production of coffee and sugar is the natural destiny of the West Indies.

Two centuries ago, nature, which does not trouble itself about commerce, had planted neither sugar-cane nor coffee trees there. And it may be that in less than half a century you will find there neither coffee nor sugar, for the East Indies, by means of cheaper production, have already successfully broken down this so-called natural destiny of the West Indies.

And the West Indies, with their natural wealth, are as heavy a burden for England as the weavers of Dacca, who also were destined from the beginning of time to weave by hand.

One other circumstance must not be forgotten, namely that, just as everything has become a monopoly, there are also nowadays some branches of industry which prevail over all others, and secure to the nations which especially foster them the command of the market of the world. Thus in the commerce of the world cotton alone has much greater commercial importance than all the other raw materials used in the manufacture of clothing. It is truly ridiculous for the Free Traders to refer to the few specialties in each branch of industry, throwing them into the balance against the product used in everyday consumption, and produced most cheaply in those countries in which manufacture is most highly developed.

If the Free Traders cannot understand how one nation can grow rich at the expense of another, we need not wonder, since these same

{p. 465} gentlemen also refuse to understand how in the same country one class can enrich itself at the expense of another.

Do not imagine, gentlemen, that in criticising freedom of commerce we have the least intention of defending Protection.

One may be opposed to constitutionalism without being in favor of absolutism.

Moreover, the Protective system is nothing but a means of establishing manufacture upon a large scale in any given country, that is to say, of making it dependent upon the market of the world: and from the moment that dependence upon the market of the world is established, there is more or less dependence upon Free Trade too. Besides this, the Protective system helps to develop free competition within a nation. Hence we see that in countries where the bourgeoisie is beginning to make itself felt as a class, in Germany for example, it makes great efforts to obtain Protective duties. They serve the bourgeoisie as weapons against feudalism and absolute monarchy, as a means for the concentration of its own powers for the realization of Free Trade within the country.

But, generally speaking, the Protective system in these days is conservative, while the Free Trade system works destructively. It breaks up old nationalities and carries antagonism of proletariat and bourgeoisie to the uttermost point. In a word, the Free Trade system hastens the Social Revolution. In this revolutionary sense alone, gentlemen, I am in favor of Free Trade.

First published in French as a pamphlet at the beginning of February 1848

Signed: Karl Marx {end}

(2) Frederick Engels on Free Trade

The text of Marx' speech was translated into English by Florence Kelley, and published with an Introduction (Preface) by Frederick Engels.

Engels wrote in the Introduction to Free Trade (published by New York Labor News Company, in one volume with another text titled Wage-Labor and Capital, 1902):

"That was the time of the Brussels Congress, the time when Marx prepared the speech in question. While recognising that Protection may still, under certain circumstances, for instance, in the Germany of 1847, be of advantage to the manufacturing capitalists; while proving that free trade was not the panacea for all the evils under which the working class suffered, and might even aggravate them; he pronounces, ultimately and on principle, in favour of free trade." (Free Trade, Engels' Introduction, p.6).

So Marx and Engels clearly knew that Free Trade might worsen the lot of the lower classes, but advocated it anyway, as a means to achieving a World State. They were prepared to endorse an evil means, to achieve what they saw as a worthy end.

(3) Trotskyists for Free Trade

The Trotskyists still pursue Free Trade for this reason. See the website of the International Committe of the Fourth International, http://www.wsws.org, especially the articles by Nick Beams at http://www.wsws.org/articles/2000/feb2000/cho1-f21.shtml opposing Michel Chossudovsky on the recent Seattle riots against the WTO.

Chossudovsky represents the nationalist Left, who see the nation-state as protective of the people, while Beams argues that all nation-states should be destroyed. I personally attended Beams' lecture in Canberra, and found him mild-mannered, a gentleman even, and yet the policies he advocates cause devastation, for the sake of a goal that may never be reached. Trotsky himself, like Stalin, lived by the sword and died by the sword.

Nick Beams wrote, 'Globalisation, as we drew out in our statements on the WTO and in the reply to Professor Chossudovsky, is progressive in that it signifies "immense progress in the socialisation of production".' [Nick Beams replies to a reader on Lenin and globalisation, 15 March 2000].

In Beams' major article of 21 February 2000, Marxist internationalism vs. the perspective of radical protest A reply to Professor Chossudovsky's critique of globalization, he writes:

"The failed World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meeting in Seattle last December was a significant political event in two vital respects. In the first place, the collapse of efforts to launch the Millennium Trade Round marked a new stage in the deepening commercial and financial conflict between the major capitalist powers - the US, the European Union and Japan.

"Secondly, the protests and demonstrations which took place outside the meeting - the largest such activities since the political upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s over the Vietnam War - revealed the explosive social tensions building up in the US and around the world as a result of increasing social polarization. They reflected a growing hostility to the domination of the transnational corporations and financial institutions over the lives of working people and society as a whole.

"... Chossudovsky's program, for all its criticisms of capitalism, ends up providing a theoretical platform for those who wish to refurbish and strengthen one of capitalism's central political mechanisms the nation-state. The program advanced by the WSWS is oriented to the future and the necessity of the international working class - itself a product of the global character of modern economy - to harness the enormous potential of the system of globalized production to advance mankind as a whole. In opposition to this perspective, Chossudovsky turns his face to an idealized past, calling for the restoration of Keynesian-style policies of national economic regulation and social reforms which formed the basis of capitalist rule in an earlier period. "

Wrong, Mr Beams: Capitalism is not the Protective nation-state system, but the very Free-Trade system the Trotskyists are promoting.

How the Trotskyists led the Australian Labor Party up the Free Trade path: xTrots.html.

Sir James Goldsmith argues against Free Trade, in his book The Trap. The front cover asks, "How is it that humanity's greatest leap forward in material prosperity has resulted in extreme social breakdown?" Also presents the case against modern Agriculture, the EU, and the homogenization of the sexes goldsmith.html.

Write to me at contact.html.