Free Trade

Scott Marshall Scott at
Wed Feb 22 17:13:36 MST 1995

I said as part of a larger post taking issue with the idea that Marx's
postition was something like "regardless of the consequences for workers
Marx supported free trade because it breaks down national barriers and
heightens the contradiction between labor and capital" (something like that):


I don't see any evidence that Marx either supported or rejected free trade
in the abstract. He most often analysed it from the point of view of class
interests involved at that particular moment - that is who was championing
'free trade' and to what end. Mostly he wrote about free trade and
protectionism issues as matters between capitalists and of little
consequense of good or bad to workers.

To which Doug, quoting the above replied:

Here, freshly retrieved from the Marx gopher site at
(under the psn directory), is the exact quote from the 1848 Brussels speech
on free trade:

But, in general, the protective system of our day is conservative, while
the free trade system is destructive.  It breaks up old nationalities
and pushes the antagonism of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie to the
extreme point.  In a word, the free trade system hastens the social
revolution.  It is in this revolutionary sense alone, gentlemen, that I
vote in favor of free trade.

To which I reply - Scott:

It seems odd to me that Doug would take the concludubg paragraph of this
speech to quote. I'm not sure if the quote is meant to refute or support my
position but if the latter then Doug conviently ignores most of the rest of
the speech as well as the key phrase in the paragraph he quotes. After much
sarcasm, ridicule and irony about the arguments of the free traders, and
after very carefully analyzing the specific instance of "free trade" he is
polemicizing against, and after saying emphatically that the arguments
between the free traders and the protectionists are of little consequence to
workers, he says: "It is in this revolutionary sense **alone**, that I vote
in favor of free trade." It is obvious from the whole speech that he does
not advocate a passive postition by labor to support "free trade" as a
general proposition that will mechanically heighten the contradictions
between labor and capital.

Perhaps more telling for this discussion are some other passages from the
same speech.


  Thus, of two things one: either we must reject all political
  economy based on the assumption of free trade, or we must
  admit that under this free trade the whole severity of the
  economic laws will fall upon the workers.

  To sum up, what is free trade, what is free trade under the
  present condition of society? It is freedom of capital.  When
  you have overthrown the few national barriers which still
  restrict the progress of capital, you will merely have given it
  complete freedom of action.  So long as you let the relation of
  wage labor to capital exist, it does not matter how favorable
  the conditions under which the exchange of commodities takes
  place, there will always be a class which will exploit and a
  class which will be exploited.

  Gentlemen! Do not allow yourselves to be deluded by the
  abstract word _freedom_.  Whose freedom? It is not the freedom
  of one individual in relation to another, but the freedom of
  capital to crush the worker.


I believe an objective reading of the speech will show that Marx was
exhorting workers to fight for their own independent class interests.

In a similar vail he pointed out in the Communist Manifesto that trade
unions were at best defensive organizations incapable, in and of themselves,
of making any basic changes in class relations and further that most strikes
could not be won and often benefited the owners. Yet he championed unions
and strikes with all his organizing ability. His point was never that
workers shouldn't fight - but that economic struggles, without a political
fight would never succeed in defeating capitalism. And that every struggle
of the workers (like the fight against NAFTA) results in "the ever expanding
union of the workers."

Scott Marshall                             *
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