Sunday, January 24, 2021
Zoom study group December 2020 to April 2021
Thursdays from 10 December 2020, skipping 24 Dec, 31 Dec, and 7 Jan.
Sign up on Eventbrite here
Register on Zoom here
References to the Grundrisse are given both to the "Analytical Contents List" and to the page numbers of the Penguin edition (Nicolaus translation). The page references to the McLellan book of excerpts are to the Paladin edition, 1973. That very different quantities of reading are assigned for each section is deliberate.
Section 1: Introduction
pp.83-111 - "Introduction (Notebook M)"
McLellan excerpt 1, p.26ff.
The method of inquiry and the method of presentation. What do historical materialism, the primacy of the mode of production as a determinant, and dialectics mean? The arts and material development (pp.109-11). (In this connection it may be useful also to look at Marx's short 1873 Afterword to Capital volume 1, and his even shorter Preface to "A Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy", the other texts where Marx said he was discussing methodology).
Section 2: Bastiat and Carey
pp.883-893 - "Bastiat and Carey"
McLellan excerpt 2, p.58ff.
In the 17 December 2020 discussion we referred to Marx's Speech on the Question of Free Trade. That is posted here.
Free-trading and protectionism. Bastiat and Carey.
Section 3: "Free credit" and Proudhonist socialism
No excerpts included in McLellan.
Critique of Proudhonist socialism as represented by Darimon. "The foolishness of those socialists (namely the French, who want to depict socialism as the realisation of the ideals of bourgeois society articulated by the French revolution) who demonstrate that exchange and exchange value etc. are originally (in time) or essentially (in their adequate form) a system of universal freedom and equality, but that they have been perverted by money, capital, etc..."
Section 4: "Labour-money"
Sections of the Chapter on Money from "Value and price" through to "Distinction between planned distribution of labour time and measurement of exchange values by labour time"
McLellan excerpt 3, p.70ff; 4, p.76ff; 5, p.81ff; 6, p.86ff.
Critique of those socialists who advocated that workers should be guaranteed the full fruits of their labour by being paid in "labour-money" (money representing so many hours of labour rather than so many dollars), and then being able to buy goods and services representing exactly as many hours. "This demand can be satisfied only under circumstances where it can no longer be raised".
Section 5: Money becomes the "real community"
Sections of the Chapter on Money from "Distinction between planned distribution of labour time and measurement of exchange values by labour time" through to the end
No excerpts in McLellan.
Money as the "god among commodities" and the "real community" of capitalist society. "Wage labour on one side, capital on the other, are therefore only other forms of developed exchange value and of money". Accounting money and hard cash. Circulation and the other functions of money. Crises.
Section 6: From money to capital
Sections of the Chapter on Capital from "Nothing is expressed...." through to "Product and capital. Value and capital. Proudhon"
McLellan excerpt 7, p.89ff.
What is capital? The difference between a trading economy and capitalist production.
Section 7: Capital and labour
Sections of the Chapter on Capital from "Capital and labour. Exchange value and use value for exchange value" through to "The two different processes"
Section 8: More on capital and labour
Sections of the Chapter on Capital from "Capital and modern landed property" through to "Theories of surplus value (Ricardo...)"
McLellan: Excerpt 8, p.89ff (=pp.278-9)
Excerpt 9, p.93ff (=pp.304-310)
Excerpt 10, p.100ff (=pp.325-326)
Excerpt 11, p.102ff (=pp.331-2)
Section 9: Labour productivity and surplus value: "realising" surplus value
Sections of of the Chapter on Capital from "Surplus value and productive force..." through to "The determination of value and of prices"
McLellan: Excerpt 12, p.104ff (=pp.359-364)
Excerpt 13, p.111ff (=pp.409-410)
Excerpt 14, p.113ff (=pp.415-6)
Section 10: How capital reproduces capitalism
Sections of the Chapter on Capital from "The determination of value and of prices" through to "Chief result of the production and realisation process"
Excerpt 15, p.115ff (=pp.450-6)
Excerpt 16, p.122ff (=pp.456-8)
Excerpt 18, p.139ff (=pp.487-8)
How capital becomes productive. How the exchange-relation between the capitalist and the worker, formally free and equal, is in fact a relation of exploitation. "Labour is absolute poverty as object, on one side, and is, on the other side, the general possibility of wealth as subject and as activity... Instead of... considering the worker to owe a debt to capital for the fact that he is alive at all, and can repeat certain life processes every day... these whitewashing sycophants of bourgeois economics should rather have fixed their attention on the fact that, after constant repeated labour, [the worker] always has only his living, direct labour itself to exchange..."
"Capital is productive, i.e. an essential relation for the development of the social productive forces... Those who demonstrate that the productive force ascribed to capital is a displacement, a transposition of the productive force of labour, forget precisely that capital itself is essentially this displacement, this transposition, and that wage labour as such presupposes capital... The demand that wage labour be continued but capital suspended is self-contradictory".
The difference, however, between capitalist and pre-capitalist exploitation: "The sphere of [the worker's] consumption is not qualitatively restricted, only quantitatively. This distinguishes him from the slave, serf, etc.... [The] essential civilising moment... on which the historic justification, but also the contemporary power of capital rests..."
The "great civilising influence of capital; its production of a stage of society in comparison to which all earlier ones appear as mere local developments of humanity and as nature-idolatry"; and simultaneously its limitedness, its propensity to crises.
"Capital in general, as distinct from the particular real capitals, is itself a real existence".
Section 11: Pre-capitalist formations and capitalism (pages 459-514); section 12: Turnover, transport, utilities, "positing" (p.514-533)
Sections of the Chapter on Capital from the heading "Original Accumulation of Capital" through to "Transport to market...", plus some of the final pages of section 3 of the Chapter on Capital ("Capital as Fructiferous"), plus the section near the end entitled "Value"
McLellan excerpt 17, p.125ff (=pp.459-471)
The historical emergence of wage-labour from pre-capitalist trading economies. The distinction between capitalist wage-labour and e.g. medieval day-labourer relations.
Capital, circulation, public works, and privatisation. "The separation of public works from the state, and their migration into the domain of the works undertaken by capital itself, indicates the degree to which the real community has constituted itself in the form of capital".
Section 13: the universalising tendency of capital; labour and labour-power; labour in capitalism and in the future
From the heading "Credit, the temporal moment of circulation" in the Chapter on Capital through to "Influence of fixed capital on the total turnover time of capital"
McLellan excerpt 19, p.141ff (=pp.539-542)
Excerpt 20, p.145ff (=pp.610-4)
Excerpt 21, p.150ff (=pp.649-652)
Section 14: General intellect
pp.690-743 (especially 701-712)
From the heading "Fixed capital. Means of labour. Machine" in the Chapter on Capital through to the end of "section 2" of the Chapter on Capital
Excerpt 22, p.154ff (=pp.692-704)
Excerpt 23, p.164ff (=pp.704-6)
Excerpt 24, p.167ff (=pp.708-711)
Excerpt 25, p.171ff (=pp.711-2)
Three questions arising from pages 690-743: 1. Whose is "the general intellect"? 2. Increasing alienation as a revolutionary force? 3. Who or what "breaks down" capitalism?
Section 15: "Capital as fructiferous". Tendency of rate of profit to fall
From the start of section 3 of the Chapter on Capital through to the end (other than the sections on Value and on Bastiat and Carey studied already)
Excerpt 27, p.176ff (=pp.748-750)
Excerpt 26, p.173ff (=pp.831-833)
"Capital as fructiferous". Tendency of rate of profit to fall. Interest and profit. Money and precious metals. Alienation.
Saturday, January 23, 2021
Notes from our discussion on session #4, pages 135-172, especially on the idea (p.161) of the "objective connection" (via money) being "preferable to.. primeval, natural, or master-servant relations"
The core issue for Marx in the pages (135-172) which we looked at on 21 January (session #3) was "labour money" - the idea that exploitation and inequality could be fixed by workers, individually or in small cooperatives, buying up the means of production (using the "free credit" discussed in session #2) and getting "fair exchange" between the individuals or small cooperatives through money directly counting hours of labour-time.
We'd discussed most of the issues with labour money in session #2. (The Grundrisse, being rough notes, is like that: theoretical issues emerge and re-emerge in a jumbled and criss-crossing way). We talked a bit about why the call for labour money has faded. It was in circulation at least as early as 1780 (Matt told us that it was written into Granville Sharp's scheme for colonising Sierra Leone), and was still influential in 1857-8. But it had faded by the end of the 19th century (maybe even by the 1860s? it wasn't a big topic of debate in the First International). Why?
The labour-money demand was attuned to a society dominated by small-scale producers, producing a limited and known range of commodities. If a carpenter came to the "time-chit bank" (universal buyer, seller, and regulator of production, as discussed by Marx) with a table and said it represented three hours of their labour, the bank staff could reasonably judge the claim. (As today it is a standard for carpenters that hanging a door takes half an hour).
But what if the 62,000 workers from Volkswagen Wolfsburg come to a time-chat bank with a car, each one claiming that the car represents x minutes of their labour-time?
Or if the 300,000 workers from Foxconn Shenzen come with a new model smartphone, each one claiming it's y minutes of their labour-time?
Or tens of thousands of staff from a university, cleaners, admin staff, technicians, lecturers, come with a psychology lecture and say each of them should be credited with z minutes of labour-money?
The labour-money "model" breaks down with large-scale collective production of an ever-increasing variety of commodities.
This fact led us into a discussion of Marx's assessment of the trend of capitalism to multiply needs and the variety of commodities. That assessment will be more explicit in the passages of the Grundrisse we'll discuss in session #8, but it's clearly implied in pages 158-162 with the idea that historical societies have three broad forms.
1. Tributary, patriarchal, personal dependence 2. "Personal independence founded on objective dependence" (capitalism) 3. "Free individuality, based on the universal development of individuals and… communal, social productivity" (socialism)
Marx argues that #2 is a great step forward from #1. Yearnings for a return to #1 are inevitably generated within #2, but they are reactionary dead-ends. #3 continues and develops, rather than negates, the rise of personal independence and the making-multifarious of needs and wants which comes with #2.
Here Marx is not making a moral judgement - though plainly he feels more in tune with the modern worker, with an individualistic outlook and a personal and maybe idiosyncratic scale of needs and wants, than with the pre-capitalist peasant, very submerged into the local collective and with a stereotype short list of needs.
Rather, he is arguing that, whether we like it or not (though he does like it), the way forward from capitalism cannot be a regression to the human relations of pre-capitalist society, but rather a society of ever more varied productive activities, needs, wants, and individual quirks.
He had already expressed this thought in a polemic against "crude communism" in his 1844 Manuscripts:
"Crude communism is only the culmination of this envy and of this levelling-down proceeding from the preconceived minimum. It has a definite, limited standard. How little this annulment of private property is really an appropriation is in fact proved by the abstract negation of the entire world of culture and civilisation, the regression to the unnatural simplicity of the poor and crude man who has few needs and who has not only failed to go beyond private property, but has not yet even reached it.
"The community is only a community of labour, and equality of wages paid out by communal capital – by the community as the universal capitalist. Both sides of the relationship are raised to an imagined universality – labour as the category in which every person is placed, and capital as the acknowledged universality and power of the community".
And then again in the Communist Manifesto:
"The revolutionary literature that accompanied [the] first movements of the proletariat [like Babeuf's] had necessarily a reactionary character. It inculcated universal asceticism and social levelling in its crudest form".
More on this when we get to session #8?
Session #5, on Thursday 28 January, is on pages 172-250. Marx has already argued (in pages 135-172) that money is not a convention but organically developed out of any comprehensive social system of commodity-exchange - that system must separate out commodities into two groups, one group including only one commodity, money. Now he argues that in that social system money becomes more than a commodity. "Money becomes the real community".
Tuesday, January 19, 2021
Notes from our discussion on pp.115-134, 14/1/21, especially on "history by the bad side"
Much of our discussion in the 14 January session was about "labour money" rather than "free credit". That's reasonable enough, because "free credit" was a smaller, subsidiary, and more ephemeral part of the Proudhonist-socialist program, a transitional proposal towards labour-money rather than itself being the big deal.
It may well be just an accident of the fact that Darimon's book was recent and Marx had it before him that Marx started the Grundrisse with his comments on Darimon and free credit.
Marx does also, in the pages on Darimon, start to develop his argument later summed up in Capital chapter 1 section 3 about a generalised commodity economy inevitably and organically separating out one particular commodity to be money and different from the rest.
But we come back to "labour money" in the 21 January session, and to the separation-off of money as organic to commodity economy in other weeks soon.
The other main discussion came with Mohamed taking up the reference in my PowerPoint back to Marx's comment in The Poverty of Philosophy about history progressing "by the bad side".
The passage from The Poverty of Philosophy is:
"It is the bad side that produces the movement which makes history, by providing a struggle.
"If, during the epoch of the domination of feudalism, the economists, enthusiastic over the knightly virtues, the beautiful harmony between rights and duties, the patriarchal life of the towns, the prosperous condition of domestic industry in the countryside, the development of industry organised into corporations, guilds and fraternities, in short, everything that constitutes the good side of feudalism, had set themselves the problem of eliminating everything that cast a shadow on the picture – serfdom, privileges, anarchy – what would have happened?
"All the elements which called forth the struggle would have been destroyed, and the development of the bourgeoisie nipped in the bud. One would have set oneself the absurd problem of eliminating history."
Marx's argument here is that progress is made not by clever people, from above, abating the "bad sides" of a social formation and boosting its "good sides", but by the human victims of the "bad side" rebelling.
He pursues that in the concluding section of The Poverty of Philosophy, on "strikes and combinations of workers". There, he goes beyond the abstract philosophical affirmations in earlier writings that the working class must be the revolutionary force because it is the negation of capitalism, to expound the revolutionary implications of the actual organisations and struggles of the workers.
He rebukes the Proudhon-type socialists because "when it is a question of making a precise study of strikes, combinations and other forms in which the proletarians carry out before our eyes their organisation as a class, some are seized with real fear and others display a transcendental disdain".
The emphasis on conscious human action (will) as the agency of change is common in Marx's writings of that period, 1845-7.
"History does nothing, it 'possesses no immense wealth', it 'wages no battles'. It is man, real, living man who does all that, who possesses and fights; 'history' is not, as it were, a person apart, using man as a means to achieve its own aims; history is nothing but the activity of man pursuing his aims". (The Holy Family, 1846. Obviously by "man" Marx means "woman and man").
"The materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and upbringing forgets that circumstances are changed by men and that it is essential to educate the educator himself. This doctrine must, therefore, divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society. The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice". (Theses on Feuerbach, 1845)
Matt also mentioned the very "voluntarist" March 1850 Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League.
Marx continued those views to the end, and they can be found, for example, in the Circular Letter of 1879, actually drafted by Engels but co-signed by him and Marx, which was probably Marx's last substantial political statement.
Now along the way in Marx's writings we find some passages which read a lot more "deterministic", as if it is all a matter of laws of history and of economic development which produce the future inexorably, with exercise of conscious will being only a reflection of those laws.
Various "stories" are current about these different emphases.
One is that in his youth Marx was more "Hegelian" and because of that more likely to emphasise conscious human action. In old age he became more deterministic, and Engels after Marx's death was even more so.
A second is that Marx was more "deterministic" when younger, and came to emphasise conscious human action only in his later years, after (some say) the US Civil War or (others say) the Paris Commune.
We can and will discuss this further, particularly in the sections of the Grundrisse which prompt discussion of Hegel because they use special Hegelian terminology so much. But my view is different from the current main stories.
The "deterministic" tilt is probably heaviest in the Preface which Marx wrote soon after the Grundrisse for the only bit of finished writing which he extracted directly from the Grundrisse, the Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy.
It is found, too, in Capital.
I think Marx veered to that "deterministic" tilt when he was taking pains to make his writing "scientific". In his letters to comrades explaining the rather odd choice of contents for the Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy (it has nothing about capital or really about workers, and omits what Marx himself thought his greatest discovery of the Grundrisse period, the distinction and conflict between labour and labour-power), Marx remonstrates that he wants first to publish a "scientific" work, which will win attention by its "scientific" merits, and can then be followed up by more directly revolutionary writing.
Marx was educated in a Hegelian-dominated German university system, where "science" meant something different from what it means to us today. Hegel projected his work as "scientific". He thought that philosophy must be "scientific", and was indeed "the" science. Thus his book titles such as The Science of Logic and The Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences.
As Hegel explained in the Encyclopedia Logic §1.14, for him "science" meant "system". A theory was "scientific" when and only when it was an all-embracing "system", with all its parts locking neatly together - when it depicted, as Hegel's books did, history moving forward through the internal laws of development of history "as a whole".
Marx was polemically very "anti-Hegelian" in writings like The Holy Family and The Poverty of Philosophy. Later, perhaps in part just out of contrarian turn of mind, when Hegelian influence in German universities had been ousted by blander descriptive "historicist" schools of thought, he kicked back. In "kicking-back" moods and when influenced by the idea that he must make a book "scientific" in something like the Hegelian sense, he would write in more "deterministic" style.
Friday, December 18, 2020
Pasquinelli; Negri; Postone-Reinicke; Bellofiore and others; and Arthur, on the Grundrisse and on translations into English
Thanks to Bruce for these readings on the Grundrisse:
Notes from Session 2 discussion on Bastiat and Carey, 17 December 2020
Marx summarised his take on Bastiat and Carey briefly in a section of a letter to Engels of 2 April 1858 where Marx summarised the ideas that would later appear at the end of chapter 6 of Capital volume 1.
If we look at capitalist society just as "the market", without taking into account that some commodities in it (money, labour-power) work differently from others, then we deceive ourselves.
"Simple circulation, considered as such - and it constitutes the surface of bourgeois society in which the underlying operations which give rise to it are obliterated - evinces no distinction [i.e. of status, power, etc.] between the objects of exchange, save formal and evanescent ones.
"Here we have the realm of liberty, equality, and of property based on 'labour'. Accumulation, as it appears here in the form of hoarding, is merely greater thrift, etc.
"On the one hand, then, the fatuity of the economic harmonists, modern free traders (Bastiat, Carey, etc.) [i.e. people who argued that 'pure' market economics would bring equilibrium and general welfare] in upholding this most superficial and most abstract relation of production ['of production'? but that's what Marx writes] as their truth, as against the more advanced relations and their antagonism...
"While everything may be 'lovely' here, it will soon come to a sticky end and this as a result of the law of equivalence". [Marx means, I think, as a result of the basic value relations, not as a result of secondary distortions, etc.]
Both Bastiat and Carey argued that "pure" capitalism was a harmonious and pretty much ideal economic system.
Both of them, however, criticised the actual capitalist society they lived in.
Bastiat argued that the high-tariff protectionist policies of France under the "July monarchy" (1832-1848) warped capitalism there.
Carey argued that capitalism in the USA was warped by having not enough protectionist tariffs in US to escape being warped by the influences of the world market dominated by British capital.
The USA had tariffs, mainly as a convenient way of raising government revenue, from the start; but from 1846, and especially from 1857, they were lowered. They were raised again from 1861 and remained high for a long time.
We talked about the actual level of industrial development in the USA then. The USA was then still predominantly a country of small farmers, much less industrially developed than the UK. In 1820, 70% of the workforce of the USA was in agriculture, as against 37% in the UK; in 1870, 38% USA, 16% UK. Coal did not surpass wood as a source of energy in the USA until the 1880s.
We also talked about whether protectionist policies helped the USA's industrial advance in the later 19th century. It was suggested that we could estimate an answer by comparing the USA to Canada. But Canada (like Australia), although part of the British Empire, in fact developed tariffs against British imports just as the USA did.
Marx had nothing special to say about that. His concern was not to determine what government policies best developed capitalism, but to unpick Bastiat's and Carey's critiques of actual capitalism.
Angus Maddison puts that quite crisply:
"As Marx was not interested in the survival of the capitalist system, he was not really concerned with economic policy, except in so far as the labour movement was involved. There, his argument was concentrated on measures to limit the length of the working day, and to strengthen trade union bargaining power. His analysis was also largely confined to the situation in the leading capitalist country of his day - the UK - and he did not consider the policy problems of other Western countries in catching up with the lead country (as Friedrich List did [a German protectionist economist]). In so far as Marx was concerned with other countries, it was mainly with poor countries which were victims of Western imperialism in the merchant capitalist era."
In that last sentence, Maddison will have had in mind this passage from Marx's Capital:
"The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation..."
We discussed whether free trade is the "natural" regime of capitalist development. Natural? Maybe not. But standard, or default, maybe.
By the early 19th century tariffs on imports had long been the major and most convenient source of government revenue for many governments. They had also been "ideologically" supported by mercantilist proto-economic theory, which held that a country's wealth was measured by its stocks of precious metals, and therefore the country should restrict spending n imports as much as it could.
David Ricardo, whom Marx praised as giving "the most perfect expression" of "classical economics", argued in contrast that through "comparative advantage" two countries would in general both benefit from freeing trade between them. They would do so even if the two countries were on different levels of development, and all commodities could be produced cheaper in country A than country B. Free trade would lead to country B specialising in the commodities where its disadvantage was least, and country A specialising in those where its advantage was most, and greater overall output for the same effort.
Volumes upon volumes have been written on the hidden assumptions in Ricardo's argument and where it falls down (which of course in many circumstances it does). Marx was not really concerned with those issues. He did not consider Ricardo to have preached capitalist harmony. On the contrary, he commented: "Mr Ricardo commences his celebrated work on the principles of political economy with the principle that the three fundamental classes of society... viz: the owners of the land, the capitalists, and the wage labourers, are forming a deadly and fatal antagonism" (The Crédit Mobilier, People's Paper, 7 June 1856). As far as I know he never specifically disputed Ricardo on comparative advantage.
Marx accepted in general that free trade would develop capital faster, though also that "nursery tariffs" might work to help a country get industries reach take-off point without being stifled early on by world competition. In general both he and socialists at least through to the time of Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg, etc. favoured free trade against protection.
But that was not because free trade was better advice to bourgeois governments. It was because both free trade and protectionism, under capitalism, would turn against the working class and against poorer countries, but free trade would in general allow a freer and fuller development of the contradictions of capitalism, leading to class struggle and towards socialism.
Marx had stated this view in his Speech on the Question of Free Trade" of January 1848. In later years Marx referred to few of his earlier writings. That speech on Free Trade was one of the few he cited as important and valid, alongside The Poverty of Philosophy and the Communist Manifesto.
The Anti-Corn-Law League in Britain, from 1838, had been the first great bourgeois mass-mobilising political movement in history, campaigning for the repeal of the tariffs on corn imports. It ran alongside the working-class Chartist movement, which generally favoured free trade, but intervened in Anti-Corn-Law mass meetings to raise specific working-class demands, setting the model which inspired Marx's attitude.
In 1846 the Corn Laws were repealed, and in 1853 Britain repealed most other tariffs. Britain then for decades until World War 1 had a "one-sided" free trade policy, imposing no tariffs on imports from any country. Britain's bourgeois economists argued that the cheaper imports would benefit British capitalism whatever tariffs other countries might impose on British exports. There was a short period in the 1860s when free trade began to spread widely in Europe, but in the later 19th century countries other than Britain shifted to tariffs, not as "nursery tariffs", but to protect established industries.
Marx lived in Brussels from when he was expelled from Paris in early 1845 to the outbreak of the revolutions in early 1848. Engels was there too most of that time. They were active in the Communist Correspondence Committee, a mostly emigré group which later merged into the Communist League for which Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto.
In September 1847 an international Free Trade congress was held in Brussels. Presumably it was inspired by the British free-traders' victory against the Corn Laws. Bastiat was one of the leading figures from France there. Marx went to intervene. He was unable to get called to speak, though his comrade Georg Weerth was called. Marx then wrote up what he had planned to say and delivered it as a speech to the Democratic Association in Brussels in January 1848.
Marx on free trade (for discussion on session 2, Bastiat and Carey)
On the Question of Free Trade: Speech to the Democratic Association of Brussels at its public meeting of January 9, 1848. First published: as a pamphlet in Brussels, February 1848
The Repeal of the Corn Laws in England is the greatest triumph of free trade in the 19th century. In every country where manufacturers talk of free trade, they have in mind chiefly free trade in corn and raw materials in general. To impose protective duties on foreign corn is infamous, it is to speculate on the famine of peoples.
Cheap food, high wages, this is the sole aim for which English free-traders have spent millions, and their enthusiasm has already spread to their brethren on the Continent. Generally speaking, those who wish for free trade desire it in order to alleviate the condition 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-esteemed in England as cheap government is in France. The people see in these self-sacrificing gentlemen, in Bowring, Bright and 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 now see how the English free-traders have proved to the people the good intentions that animate them.
This is what they said to the factory workers:
"The duty levied on corn is a tax upon wages; this tax you pay to the landlords, those medieval aristocrats; if your position is wretched one, it is on account of the dearness of the immediate necessities of life."
The workers in turn asked the manufacturers:
"How is it that in the course of the last 30 years, while our industry has undergone the greatest development, our wages have fallen far more rapidly, in proportion, than the price of corn has gone up?
"The tax which you say we pay the landlords is about 3 pence a week per worker. And yet the wages of the hand-loom weaver fell, between 1815 and 1843, from 28s. per week to 5s., and the wages of the power-loom weavers, between 1823 and 1843, from 20s. per week to 8s.
"And during the whole of this period that portion of the tax which we paid to the landlord has never exceeded 3 pence. And, then in the year 1834, when bread was very cheap and business going on very well, what did you tell us? You said, 'If you are unfortunate, it is because you have too many children, and your marriages are more productive than your labor!'
"These are the very words you spoke to us, and you set about making new Poor Laws, and building work-houses, the Bastilles of the proletariat."
To this the manufacturer replied:
"You are right, worthy labourers; it is not the price of corn alone, but competition of the hands among themselves as well, which determined wages.
"But ponder well one thing, namely, that our soil consists only of rocks and sandbanks. You surely do not imagine that corn can be grown in flower-pots. So if, instead of lavishing our capital and our labor upon a thoroughly sterile soil, we were to give up agriculture, and devote ourselves exclusively to industry, all Europe would abandon its factories, and England would form one huge factory town, with the whole of the rest of Europe for its countryside."
While thus haranguing his own workingmen, the manufacturer is interrogated by the small trader, who says to him:
"If we repeal the Corn Laws, we shall indeed ruin agriculture; but for all that, we shall not compel other nations to give up their own factories and buy from ours.
"What will the consequence be? I shall lose the customers that I have at present in the country, and the home trade will lose its market."
The manufacturer, turning his back upon the workers, replies to the shopkeeper:
"As to that, you leave it to us! Once rid of the duty on corn, we shall import cheaper corn from abroad. Then we shall reduce wages at the very time when they rise in the countries where we get out corn.
"Thus in addition to the advantages which we already enjoy we shall also have that of lower wages and, with all these advantage, we shall easily force the Continent to buy from us."
But now the farmers and agricultural labourers join in the discussion.
"And what, pray, is to become of us?
"Are we going to pass a sentence of death upon agriculture, from which we get our living? Are we to allow the soil to be torn from beneath our feet?"
As its whole answer, the Anti-Corn Law League has contented itself with offering prizes for the three best essays upon the wholesome influence of the repeal of the Corn Laws on English agriculture.
These prizes were carried off by Messrs. Hope, Morse, and Greg, whose essays were distributed in thousands of copies throughout the countryside.
The first of the prize-winners devotes himself to proving that neither the tenant farmer nor the agricultural labourer will lose by the free importation of foreign corn, but only the landlord.
"The English tenant farmer," he exclaims, "need not fear the repeal of the Corn Laws, because no other country can produce such good corn so cheaply as England.
"Thus, even if the price of corn fell, it would not hurt you, because this fall would only affect rent, which would go down, and not at all industrial profit and wages, which would remain stationary."
The second prize-winner, Mr. Morse, maintains, on the contrary, that the price of corn will rise in consequence of repeal. He takes infinite pains to prove that protective duties nave never been able to secure a remunerative price for corn.
In support for his assertion, he cites the fact that, whenever foreign corn has been imported, the price of corn in England has gone up considerably, and then when little corn has been imported, the price has fallen extremely. This prize-winner forgets that the importation was not the cause of the high price, but that the high price was the cause of the importation.
And in direct contradiction to his co-prize-winner, he asserts that every rise in the price of corn is profitable to both the tenant farmer and the labourer, but not to the landlord.
The third prize-winner, Mr. Greg, who is a big manufacturer and whose work is addressed to the large tenant farmers, could not hold with such stupidities. His language is more scientific.
He admits that the Corn Laws can raise rent only by raising the price of corn, and that they can raise the price of corn only by compelling capital to apply itself to land of inferior quality, and this is explained quite simply.
In proportion as population increases, if foreign corn cannot be imported, less fertile soil has to be used, the cultivation of which involves more expense and the product of this soil is consequently dearer.
There being a forced sale for corn, the price will of necessity be determined by the price of the product of the most costly soil. The difference between this price and the cost of production upon soil of better quality constitutes the rent.
If, therefore, as a result of the repeal of the Corn Laws, the price of corn, and consequently the rent, falls, it is because inferior soil will no longer be cultivated. Thus, the reduction of rent must inevitably ruin a part of the tenant farmers.
These remarks were necessary in order to make Mr. Greg's language comprehensible.
"The small farmers," he says, "who cannot support themselves by agriculture will find a resource in industry. As to the large tenant farmers, they cannot fail to profit. Either the landlords will be obliged to sell them land very cheap, or leases will be made out for very long periods. This will enable tenant farmers to apply large sums of capital to the land, to use agricultural machinery on a larger scale, and to save manual labor, which will, moreover, be cheaper, on account of the general fall in wages, the immediate consequences of the repeal of the Corn Laws."
Dr. Browning conferred upon all these arguments the consecration of religion, by exclaiming at a public meeting,
"Jesus Christ is Free Trade, and Free Trade is Jesus Christ."
One can understand that all this hypocrisy was not calculated to make cheap bread attractive to the workers.
Besides, how could the workingman understand the sudden philanthropy of the manufacturers, the very men still busy fighting against the Ten Hours' Bill, which was to reduce the working day of the mill hands from 12 hours to 10?
To give you an idea of the philanthropy of these manufacturers I would remind you, gentlemen, of the factory regulations in force in all the mills.
Every manufacturer has for his own private use a regular penal code in which fines are laid down for every voluntary or involuntary offence. For instance, the worker pays so much if he has the misfortune to sit down on a chair; if he whispers, or speaks, or laughs; if he arrives a few moments too late; if any part of the machine breaks, or he does not turn out work of the quality desired, etc., etc. The fines are always greater than the damage really done by the worker. And to give the worker every opportunity for incurring fines, the factory clock is set forward, and he is given bad raw material to make into good pieces of stuff. An overseer not sufficiently skilful in multiplying cases of infractions or rules is discharged.
You see, gentlemen, this private legislation is enacted for the especial purpose of creating such infractions, and infractions are manufactured for the purpose of making money. Thus the manufacturer uses every means of reducing the nominal wage, and of profiting even by accidents over which the worker has no control.
These manufacturers are the same philanthropists who have tried to make the workers believe that they were capable of going to immense expense for the sole purpose of ameliorating their lot. Thus, on the one hand, they nibble at the wages of the worker in the pettiest way, by means of factory regulations, and, on the other, they are undertaking the greatest sacrifices to raise those wages again by means of the Anti-Corn Law League.
They build great palaces at immense expense, in which the League takes up, in some respects, its official residence; they send an army of missionaries to all corners of England to preach the gospel of free trade; they have printed and distributed gratis thousands of pamphlets to enlighten the worker upon his own interests, they spend enormous sums to make the press favourable to their cause; they organize a vast administrative system for the conduct of the free trade movement, and they display all their wealth of eloquence at public meetings. It was at one of these meetings that a worker cried out:
"If the landlords were to sell our bones, you manufacturers would be the first to buy them in order to put them through a steam-mill and make flour of them."
The English workers have very well understood the significance of the struggle between the landlords and the industrial capitalists. They know very well that the price of bread was to be reduced in order to reduce wages, and that industrial profit would rise by as much as rent fell.
Ricardo, the apostle of the English free-traders, the most eminent economist of our century, entirely agrees with the workers upon this point. In his celebrated work on political economy, he says:
"If instead of growing our own corn... we discover a new market from which we can supply ourselves... at a cheaper price, wages will fall and profits rise. The fall in the price of agricultural produce reduces the wages, not only of the labourer employed in cultivating the soil, but also of all those employed in commerce or manufacture."
And do not believe, gentlemen, that is is a matter of indifference to the worker whether he receives only four francs on account of corn being cheaper, when he had been receiving five francs before.
Have not his wages always fallen in comparison with profit, and is it not clear that his social position has grown worse as compared with that of the capitalist? Besides which he loses more as a matter of fact.
So long as the price of corn was higher and wages were also higher, a small saving in the consumption of bread sufficed to procure him other enjoyments. But as soon as bread is very cheap, and wages are therefore very cheap, he can save almost nothing on bread for the purchase of other articles.
The English workers have made the English free-traders realize that they are not the dupes of their illusions or of their lies; and if, in spite of this, the workers made common cause with them against the landlords, it was for the purpose of destroying the last remnants of feudalism and in order to have only one enemy left to deal with. The workers have not miscalculated, for the landlords, in order to revenge themselves upon the manufacturers, made common cause with the workers to carry the Ten Hours' Bill, which the latter had been vainly demanding for 30 years, and which was passed immediately after the repeal of the Corn Laws.
When Dr. Bowring, at the Congress of Economists [September 16-18, 1848; the following, among others, were present: Dr. Bowring, M.P., Colonel Thompson, Mr. Ewart, Mr. Brown, and James Wilson, editor of the Economist], drew from his pocket a long list to show how many head of cattle, how much ham, bacon, poultry, etc., was imported into England, to be consumed, as he asserted, by the workers, he unfortunately forgot to tell you that all the time the workers of Manchester and other factory towns were finding themselves thrown into the streets by the crisis which was beginning.
As a matter of principle in political economy, the figures of a single year must never be taken as the basis for formulating general laws. One must always take the average period of from six to seven years -- a period of time during which modern industry passes through the various phases of prosperity, overproduction, stagnation, crisis, and completes its inevitable cycle.
Doubtless, if the price of all commodities falls -- and this is the necessary consequence of free trade -- I can buy far more for a franc than before. And the worker's franc is as good as any other man's. Therefore, free trade will be very advantageous to the worker. There is only little difficulty in this, namely, that the worker, before he exchanges his franc for other commodities, has first exchanged his labor with the capitalist. If in this exchange he always received the said franc for the same labor and the price of all other commodities fell, he would always be the gainer by such a bargain. The difficult point does not lie in proving that, if the price of all commodities falls, I will get more commodities for the same money.
Economists always take the price of labor at the moment of its exchange with other commodities. But they altogether ignore the moment at which labor accomplishes its own exchange with capital.
When less expense is required to set in motion the machine which produces commodities, the things necessary for the maintenance of this machine, called a worker, will also cost less. If all commodities are cheaper, labor, which is a commodity too, will also fall in price, and, as we shall see later, this commodity, labor, will fall far lower in proportion than the other commodities. If the worker still pins his faith to the arguments of the economists, he will find that the franc has melted away in his pocket, and that he has only 5 sous left.
Thereupon the economists will tell you:
"Well, we admit that competition among the workers, which will certainly not have diminished under free trade, will very soon bring wages into harm,only with the low price of commodities. But, on the other hand, the low price of commodities will increase consumption, the larger consumption will require increased production, which will be followed by a larger demand for hands, and this larger demand for hands will be followed by a rise in wages."
The whole line of argument amounts to this: Free trade increases productive forces. If industry keeps growing, if wealth, if the productive power, if, in a word, productive capital increases, the demand for labor,the price of labor, and consequently the rate of wages, rise also.
The most favourable condition for the worker is the growth of capital. This must be admitted. If capital remains stationary, industry will not merely remain stationary but will decline, and in this case the worker will be the first victim. He goes to the wall before the capitalist. And in the case where capital keeps growing, in the circumstance which we have said are the best
for the worker, what will be his lot? He will go to the wall just the same. The growth of productive capital implies the accumulation and the concentration of capital. The centralization of capital involves a greater division of labor and a greater use of machinery. The greater division of labor destroys the especial skill of the labourer; and by putting in the place of this skilled work labor which anybody can perform, it increase competition among the workers.
This competition becomes fiercer as the division of labor enables a single worker to do the work of three. Machinery accomplishes the same result on a much larger scale. The growth of productive capital, which forces the industrial capitalists to work with constantly increasing means, ruins the small industrialist and throws them into the proletariat. Then, the rate of interest falling in proportion as capital accumulates, the small rentiers, who can no longer live on their dividends, are forced to go into industry and thus swell the number of proletarians.
Finally, the more productive capital increases, the more it is compelled to produce for a market whose requirements it does not know, the more production precedes consumption, the more supply tries to force demand, and consumption crises increase in frequency and in intensity. But every crisis in turn hastens the centralization of capital and adds to the proletariat.
Thus, as productive capital grows, competition among the workers grows in a far greater proportion. The reward of labor diminishes for all, and the burden of labor increases for some.
In 1829, there were in Manchester 1,088 cotton spinners employed in 36 factories. In 1841, there were no more than 448, and they tended 53,353 more spindles than the 1,088 spinners did in 1829. In manual labor had increased in the same proportion as the productive power, the number of spinners ought to have reaches the figure of 1,848; improved machinery had, therefore, deprived 1,100 workers of employment.
We know beforehand the reply of the economists. The men thus deprived of work, they say, will find other kinds of employment. Dr. Bowring did not fail to reproduce this argument at the Congress of Economists, but neither did he fail to supply his own refutation.
In 1835, Dr. Bowring made a speech in the House of Commons upon the 50,000 hand-loom weavers of London who for a very long time had been starving without being able to find that new kind of employment which the free-traders hold out to them in the distance.
We will give the most striking passages of this speech of Dr. Bowring:
"This distress of the weavers... is an incredible condition of a species of labor easily learned - - and constantly intruded on and superseded by cheaper means of production. A very short cessation of demand, where the competition for work is so great... produces a crisis. The hand-loom weavers are on the verge of that state beyond which human existence can hardly be sustained, and a very trifling check hurls them into the regions of starvation.... The improvements of machinery, ...by superseding manual labor more and more, infallibly bring with them in the transition much of temporary suffering.... The national good cannot be purchased but at the expense of some individual evil. No advance was ever made in manufactures but at some cost to those who are in the rear; and of all discoveries, the power loom is that which most directly bears on the condition of the hand-loom weaver. He is already beaten out of the field in many articles; he will infallibly be compelled to surrender many more."
Further on he says:
"I hold in my hand the correspondence which has taken place between the Governor-General of India and the East-India Company, on the subject of the Dacca hand-loom weavers....
Some years ago the East-India Company annually received of the produce of the looms of India to the amount of from 6,000,000 to 8,000,000 of pieces of cotton goods. The demand gradually fell to somewhat more than 1,000,000, and has now nearly ceased altogether. In
1800, the United States took from India nearly 800,000 pieces of cotton; in 1830, not 4,000. In 1800, 1,000,000 pieces were shipped to Portugal; in 1830, only 20,000. Terrible were the accounts of the wretchedness of the poor Indian weavers, reduced to absolute starvation. And what was the sole cause? The presence of the cheaper English manufacture.... Numbers of them dies of hunger, the remainder were, for the most part, transferred to other occupations, principally agricultural. Not to have changed their trade was inevitable starvation. And at this moment that Dacca district is supplied with yarn and cotton cloth from the power-looms of England.... The Dacca muslins, celebrated over the whole world for their beauty and fineness, are also annihilated from the same cause. And the present suffering, to numerous classes in India, is scarcely to be paralleled in the history of commerce."
Dr. Bowring's speech is the more remarkable because the facts quoted by him are exact, and the phrases with which he seeks to palliate them are wholly characterized by the hypocrisy common to all free trade sermons. He represents the workers as means of production which must be superseded by less expensive means of production. He pretends to see in the labor of which he speaks a wholly exceptional kind of labor, and in the machine which has crushed out the weavers an equally exceptional machine. He forgets that there is no kind of manual labor which may not any day be subjected to the fate of the hand-loom weavers.
"It is, in fact, the constant aim and tendency of every improvement in machine to supersede human labor altogether, or to diminish its cost by substituting the industry of women and children for that of men; or that of ordinary labourers for trained artisans. In most of the water twist, or throstle cotton-mills, the spinning is entirely managed by females of 16 years and upwards. The effect of substituting the self-acting mule for the common mule, is to discharge the greater part of the men spinners, and to retain adolescents and children."
These words of the most enthusiastic free-trader, Dr. Ure, serve to complement the confessions of Dr. Bowring. Dr. Bowring speaks of certain individual evils, and, at the same time, says that these individual evils destroy whole classes; he speaks of the temporary sufferings during the transition period, and at the very time of speaking of them, he does not deny that these temporary evils have implied for the majority the transition from life to death, and for the rest a transition from a better to a worse condition. If he asserts, farther on, that the sufferings of these workers are inseparable from the progress of industry, and are necessary to the prosperity of the nation, he simply says that the prosperity of the bourgeois class presupposed as necessary the suffering of the labouring class.
All the consolation which Dr. Bowring offers the workers who perish, and, indeed, the whole doctrine of compensation which the free-traders propound, amounts to this:
You thousands of workers who are perishing, do not despair! You can die with an easy conscience. Your class will not perish. It will always be numerous enough for the capitalist
class to decimate it without fear of annihilating it. Besides, how could capital be usefully applied if it did not take care always to keep up its exploitable material, i.e., the workers, to exploit them over and over again?
But, besides, why propound as a problem still to be solved the question: What influence will the adoption of free trade have upon the condition of the working class? All the laws formulated by the political economists from Quesnay to Ricardo have been based upon the hypothesis that the trammels which still interfere with commercial freedom have disappeared. These laws are confirmed in proportion as free trade is adopted. The first of these laws is that competition reduces the price of every commodity to the minimum cost of production. Thus the minimum of wages is the natural price of labor. And what is the minimum of wages? Just so much as is required for production of the articles indispensable for the maintenance of the worker, for putting him in a position to sustain himself, however badly, and to propagate his race, however slightly.
But do not imagine that the worker receives only this minimum wage, and still less that he always receives it.
No, according to this law, the working class will sometimes be more fortunate. It will sometimes receive something above the minimum, but this surplus will merely make up for the deficit which it will have received below the minimum in times of industrial stagnation. That is to say that, within a given time which recurs periodically, in the cycle which industry passes through while undergoing the vicissitudes of prosperity, overproduction, stagnation and crisis, when reckoning all that the working class will have had above and below necessaries, we shall see that, in all, it will have received neither more nor less than the minimum; i.e., the working class will have maintained itself as a class after enduring any amount of misery and misfortune, and after leaving many corpses upon the industrial battlefield. But what of that? The class will still exist; nay, more, it will have increased.
But this is not all. The progress of industry creates less expensive means of subsistence. Thus spirits have taken the place of beer, cotton that of wool and linen, and potatoes that of bread.
Thus, as means are constantly being found for the maintenance of labor on cheaper and more wretched food, the minimum of wages is constantly sinking. If these wages began by making the man work to live, they end by making him live the life of a machine. His existence has not other value than that of a simple productive force, and the capitalist treats him accordingly.
This law of commodity labor, of the minimum of wages, will be confirmed in proportion as the supposition of the economists, free-trade, becomes an actual fact. 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 favourable 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. It is really difficult to understand the
claim 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 still more clearly.
Let us assume for a moment that there are no more Corn Laws or national or local custom duties; in fact that all the accidental circumstances which today the worker may take to be the cause of his miserable condition have entirely vanished, and you will have removed so many curtains that hide from his eyes his true enemy.
He will see that capital become free will make him no less a slave than capital trammelled by customs duties.
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.
Why should you desire to go on sanctioning free competition with this idea of freedom, when this freedom is only the product of a state of things based upon free competition?
We have shown what sort of brotherhood free trade begets between the different classes of one and the same nation. The brotherhood which free trade would establish between the nations of the Earth would hardly be more fraternal. To call cosmopolitan exploitation universal brotherhood is an idea that could only be engendered in the brain of the bourgeoisie. All the destructive phenomena which unlimited competition gives rise to within one country are reproduced in more gigantic proportions on the world market. We need not dwell any longer upon free trade sophisms on this subject, which are worth just as much as the arguments of our prize-winners 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 the production which is most in harmony with its natural advantage.
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 herself 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 combatted his alleged natural destiny of the West Indies. And the West Indies, with their natural wealth, are already 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 thing must never be forgotten, namely, that, just as everything has become a monopoly, there are also nowadays some branches of industry which dominate all others, and secure to the nations which most largely cultivate them the command of the world market. Thus in international commerce cotton alone has much greater commercial than all the other raw materials used in the manufacture of clothing put together. It is truly ridiculous to see the free-traders stress the few specialities in each branch of industry, throwing them into the balance against the products 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 gentlemen also refuse to understand how within one country one class can enrich itself at the expense of another.
Do not imagine, gentlemen, that in criticizing freedom of trade we have the least intention of defending the system of protection.
One may declare oneself an enemy of the constitutional regime without declaring oneself a friend of the ancient regime.
Moreover, the protectionist system is nothing but a means of establishing large-scale industry in any given country, that is to say, of making it dependent upon the world market, and from the moment that dependence upon the world market is established, there is already more or less dependence upon free trade. Besides this, the protective system helps to develop free trade competition within a country. 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 government, as a means for the concentration of its own powers and for the realization of free trade within the same country.
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 favour of free trade.
On the Question of Free Trade: Preface by Frederick Engels for the 1888 English edition
Towards the end of 1847, a Free Trade Congress was held at Brussels. It as a strategic move in the Free Trade campaign then carried on by the English manufacturers. Victorious at home, by the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, they now invaded the continent in order to demand, in return for the free admission of continental corn into England, the free admission of English manufactured goods to the continental markets.
At this Congress, Marx inscribed himself on the list of speakers; but, as might have been expected, things were not so managed that before his turn came on, the Congress was closed. Thus, what Marx had to say on the Free Trade question he was compelled to say before the Democratic Association of Brussels, an international body of which he was one of the vice-presidents.
The question of Free Trade or Protection being at present on the order of the day in America, it has been thought useful to publish an English translation of Marx's speech, to which I have been asked to write an introductory preface.
"The system of protection," says Marx, "was an artificial means of manufacturing manufacturers, of expropriating independent labourers, of capitalizing the national means of production and subsistence, and of forcibly abbreviating the transition from the medieval to the modern mode of production."
Such was protection at its origin in the 17th century, such it remained well into the 19th century. It was then held to be the normal policy of every civilized state in western Europe. The only exceptions were the smaller states of Germany and Switzerland -- not from dislike of the system, but from the impossibility of applying it to such small territories.
It was under the fostering wing of protection that the system of modern industry -- production by steam-moved machinery -- was hatched and developed in England during the last third of the 18th century. And, as if tariff protection was not sufficient, the wars against the French Revolution helped to secure to England the monopoly of the new industrial methods. For more than 20 years, English men-of-war [fighting ships] cut off the industrial rivals of England from their respective colonial markets, while they forcibly opened these markets to English commerce. The secession of the South American colonies from the rule of their European mother countries, the conquest by England of all French and Dutch colonies worth having, the progressive subjugation of India turned the people of all these immense territories into customers for English goods. England thus supplemented the protection she practiced at home by the Free Trade she forced upon her possible customers abroad; and, thanks to this happy mixture of both systems, at the end of the wars, in 1815, she found herself, with regard to all important branches of industry, in possession of the virtual monopoly of the trade of the world.
This monopoly was further extended and strengthened during the ensuing years of peace. The start, which England had obtained during the war, was increased from year to year; she seemed to distance more and more all her possible rivals. The exports of manufactured goods in ever growing quantities became indeed a question of life and death to that country. And there seemed but two obstacles in the way: the prohibitive or protective legislation of other countries, and the taxes upon the import of raw materials and articles of food in England.
Then the Free Trade doctrines of classical political economy -- of the French physiocrats and their English successors, Adam Smith and Ricardo -- became popular in the land of John Bull.
Protection at home was needless to manufacturers who beat all their foreign rivals, and whose very existence was staked on the expansion of their exports. Protection at home was of advantage to none but the producers of articles of food and other raw materials, to the agricultural interest, which, under then existing circumstances in England, meant the receivers of rent, the landed aristocracy. And this kind of protection was hurtful to the manufacturers. By taxing raw materials, it raised the price of the articles manufactured from them; by taxing food, it raised the price of labor; in both ways, it placed the British manufacturer at a disadvantage as compared with his foreign competitor. And, as all other countries sent to England chiefly agricultural products and drew from England chiefly manufactured goods, repeal of the English protective duties on corn and raw materials generally was at the same time an appeal to foreign countries to do away with -- or at least to reduce in turn -- the import duties levied by them on English manufactures.
After a long and violent struggle, the English industrial capitalists, already in reality the leading class of the nation, that class whose interests were then the chief national interests, were victorious. The landed aristocracy had to give in. The duties on corn and other raw materials were repealed. Free Trade became the watchword of the day. To convert all other countries to the gospel of Free Trade, and thus to create a world in which England was the great manufacturing centre, with all other countries for its independent agricultural districts, that was the next task before the English manufacturers and their mouthpieces, the political economists.
That was the time of the Brussels Congress, the time when Marx prepared the speech in question. While recognizing that protection may still, under certain circumstances, for instance in the Germany of 1847, be of advantage to the manufacturing capitalists; while proving that 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.
To him, Free Trade is the normal condition of modern capitalist production. Only under Free Trade can the immense productive powers of steam, of electricity, of machinery, be full developed; and the quicker the pace of this development, the sooner and the more fully will be realized its inevitable results; society splits up into two classes, capitalists here, wage-labourers there; hereditary wealth on one side, hereditary poverty on the other; supply outstripping demand, the markets being unable to absorb the ever growing mass of the production of industry; an ever recurring cycle of prosperity, glut, crisis, panic, chronic depression, and gradual revival of trade, the harbinger not of permanent improvement but of renewed overproduction and crisis; in short, productive forces expanding to such a degree that they rebel, as against unbearable fetters, against the social institutions under which they are put in motion; the only possible solution: a social revolution, freeing the social productive forces from the fetters of an antiquated social order, and the actual producers, the great mass of the people, from wage slavery. And because Free Trade is the natural, the normal atmosphere for this historical evolution, the economic medium in which the conditions for the inevitable social revolution will be the soonest created -- for this reason, and for this alone, did Marx declare in favour of Free Trade.
Anyhow, the years immediately following the victory of Free Trade in England seemed to verify the most extravagant expectations of prosperity founded upon that event. British commerce rose to a fabulous amount; the industrial monopoly of England on the market of the world seemed more firmly established that ever; new iron works, new textile factories arose by wholesale; new branches of industry grew up on ever side. There was, indeed, a severe crisis in 1857, but that was overcome, and the onward movement in trade and manufactures soon was in full swing again, until in 1866 a fresh panic occurred, a panic, this time, which seems to mark a new departure in the economic history of the world.
The unparalleled expansion of British manufactures and commerce between 1848 and 1866 was no doubt due, to a great extent, to the removal of the protective duties on food and raw materials. But not entirely. Other important changes took place simultaneously and helped it on. The above years comprise the discover and working of the Californian and Australian goldfields which increased so immensely the circulating medium of the world; they mark the final victory of steam over all other means of transports; on the ocean, steamers now superseded sailing vessels; on land, in all civilized countries, the railroad took the first place, the macadamised roads the second; transport now became four times quicker and four times cheaper. No wonder that under such favourable circumstances British manufactures worked by steam should extend their sway at the expense of foreign domestic industries based upon manual labor. But were the other countries to sit still and to submit to this change, which degraded them to be mere agricultural appendages of England, the "workshop of the world"?
The foreign countries did nothing of the kind. France, for nearly 200 years, had screened her manufactures behind a perfect Chinese wall of protection and prohibition, and had attained in all articles of luxury and of taste a supremacy which England did not even pretend to dispute. Switzerland, under perfect Free Trade, possessed relatively important manufactures, which English competition could not touch. Germany, with a tariff far more liberal than that of any other large continental country, was developing its manufactures at a rate relatively more rapid than even England. And America was, by the Civil War of 1861, all at once thrown upon her own resources, had to find means how to meet a sudden demand for manufactured goods of all sorts, and could only do so by creating manufactures of her own at home. The war demand ceased with the war; but the new manufactures were there, and had to meet British competition. And the war had ripened, in America, the insight that a nation of 35 million, doubling its numbers in 40 years at most, with such immense resources, and surrounded by neighbours that must be for years to come chiefly agriculturalists, that such a nation had the "manifest destiny" to be independent of foreign manufactures for its chief articles of consumption, and to be so in time of peace as well as in time of war. And then America turned protectionist.
It may now be 15 years ago, I traveled in a railway carriage with an intelligent Glasgow merchant, interested probably in the iron trade. Talking about America, he treated me to the old Free Trade lubrications:
"Was it not inconceivable that a nation of sharp businessmen like the Americans should pay tribute to indigenous ironmasters and manufacturers, when they could buy the same, if not a better article, ever so much cheaper in this country?"
And then he gave me examples as to how much the Americans taxed themselves in order to enrich a few greedy ironmasters.
"Well," I replied, "I think there is another side to the question. You know that in coal, waterpower, iron, and other ores, cheap food, homegrown cotton, and other raw materials, America has resources and advantages unequalled by any European country; and that these resources cannot be fully developed except by America becoming a manufacturing country. You will admit, too, that nowadays a, great nation like the Americans' cannot exist on agriculture alone; that would be tantamount to a condemnation to permanent barbarism and inferiority; no great nation can live, in our age, without manufactures of her own. Well, then, if America must become a manufacturing country, and if she has every chance of not only succeeding but even outstripping her rivals, there are two ways open to her: either to carry on for, let us say, 50 years under Free Trade an extremely expensive competitive war against English manufactures that have got nearly a hundred years start; or else to shut out, by protective duties, English manufactures for, say, 25 years, with the almost absolute certainty that at the end of the 25 years she will be able to hold her own in the open market of the world. Which of the two will be the cheapest and the shortest? That is the question. If you want to go from Glasgow to London, you take the parliamentary train at a penny a mile and travel at the rate of 12 miles an hour. But you do not; your time is too valuable, you take the express, pay twopence a mile and do 40 miles an hour. Very well, the Americans prefer to pay express fare and to go express speed."
My Scotch Free Trade had not a word in reply.
Protection beings a means of artificially manufacturing manufacturers, may, therefore, appear useful not only to an incompletely developed capitalist class still struggling with feudalism; it may also give a life to the rising capitalist class of a country which, like America, has never known feudalism, but which has arrived at that stage of development where the passage from agriculture to manufactures becomes a necessity. America, placed in that situation, decided in favour of protection. Since that decision was carried out, the five and 20 years of which I spoke to my fellow traveller have about passed and, if I was not wrong, protection ought to have done its task for America, and ought to be now becoming a nuisance.
That has been my opinion for some time. Nearly two years ago, I said to a protectionist American:
"I am convinced that if America goes in for Free Trade, she will in 10 years have beaten England in the market of the world."
Protection is at best an endless screw, and you never know when you have done with it. By protecting one industry, you directly or indirectly hurt all others, and have therefore to protect them too. By so doing you again damage the industry that you first protected, and have to compensate it; but this compensation reacts, as before, on all other trades, and entitles them to redress, and so on ad infinitum. America, in this respect, offers us a striking example of the best way to kill an important industry by protectionism. In 1856, the total imports and exports by sea of the United State amounted to $641,604,850. Of this amount, 75.2 per cent were carried in American, and only 24.8 per cent in foreign vessels. British ocean steamers were already then encroaching upon American sailing vessels; yet, in 1860, of a total seagoing trade of $762,288,550, American vessels still carried 66.5 per cent.
The Civil War came on, and protection to American shipbuilding; and the latter plan was so successful that it has nearly completely driven the American flag from the high seas. In 1887, the total seagoing trade of the United States amounted to $1,408,502,979, but of this total only 13.8 per cent were carried in American, and 86.2 per cent in foreign bottoms. The goods carried by American ships amounted, in 1856, to $482,268,274; in 1860 to $507,247,757. In 1887, they had sunk to $194,356,746. Forty years ago, the American flag was the most dangerous rival of the British flag, and bade fair to outstrip it on the ocean; now it is nowhere. Protection to shipbuilding has killed both shipping and shipbuilding.
Another point. Improvements in the methods of production nowadays follow each other so rapidly, and change the character of entire branches of industry so suddenly and so completely, that what may have been yesterday a fairly balanced protective tariff is no longer so today. Let us take another example from the Report of the Secretary of the Treasury for 1887:
"Improvement in recent years in the machinery employed in combing wool has so changed the character of what are commercially known as worsted clothes that the latter have largely superseded woollen cloths for us as men's wearing apparel. This change... has operated to the serious injury of our domestic manufacturers of these (worsted) goods, because the duty on the wool which they must use is the same as that upon wool used in making woollen cloths, while the rate of duty imposed upon the latter when valued at not exceeding 80 cents per pound are 35 per cent ad valorem, whereas the duty on worsted cloths valued at not exceeding 80 cents ranges from 10 to 24 cents per pound and 35 per cent ad valorem. In some cases the duty on the wool used in making worsted cloths exceed the duty imposed on the finished article."
Thus what was protection to home industry yesterday turns out today to be a premium to the foreign importer, and well may the Secretary of the Treasury say:
"There is much reason to believe that the manufacturer of worsted cloths must soon cease in this country unless the tariff law in this regard is amended."
But to amend it, you will have to fight the manufacturers of woollen clothes who profit by this state of things; you will have to open a regular campaign to bring the majority of both Houses of Congress, and eventually the public opinion of the country round to your views, and the question is, Will that pay?
But the worst of protection is that when you once have got it, you cannot easily get rid of it. Difficult as is the process of adjustment of an equitable tariff, the return to Free Trade is immensely more difficult. The circumstances that permitted England to accomplish the change in a few years will not occur again. And even there the struggle dated from 1823 (Huskisson), commenced to be successful in 1842 (Peel's tariff), and was continued for several years after the repeal of the Corn Laws. Thus protection to the silk manufacturer (the only one which had still to fear foreign competition) was prolonged for a series of years and then granted in another, positively infamous form; while the other textile industries were subjected to the Factory Act -- which limited the hours of labor of women, young persons, and children -- the silk trade was favoured with considerable exceptions to the general rule enabling them to work younger children, and to work the children and young persons longer hours, than the other textile trades. The monopoly that the hypocritical Free Traders repealed with regard to the foreign competitors, that monopoly they created anew at the expense of the health and lives of English children.
But no country will again be able to pass from Protection to Free Trade at a time when all, or nearly all, branches of its manufactures can defy foreign competition in the open market. The necessity of the change will come long before such a happy state may even be hoped for. That necessity will make itself evident in different trades at different times; and from the conflicting interests of these trades, the most edifying squabbles, lobby intrigues, and parliamentary conspiracies will arise. The machinist, engineer, and shipbuilder may find that the protection granted to the iron master raises the price of his goods so much that his export trade is thereby, and thereby alone, prevented. The cotton cloth manufacturer might see his way to driving English cloth out of the Chinese and Indian markets, but for the high price he has to pay for the yarn, on account of protection to spinners, and so forth.
The moment a branch of national industry has completely conquered the home market, that moment exportation becomes a necessity to it. Under capitalistic conditions, an industry either expands or wanes. A trade cannot remain stationary; stoppage of expansion is incipient ruin; the progress of mechanical and chemical invention, by constantly superseding human labor and ever more rapidly increasing and concentrating capital, creates in every stagnant industry a glut both of workers and of capital, a glut which finds no vent everywhere, because the same process is taking place in all other industries.
Thus the passage from a home to an export trade becomes a question of life and death for the industries concerned. But they are met by the established rights, the vested interests of others who as yet find protection either safer or more profitable than Free Trade. Then ensues a long and obstinate fight between Free Traders and Protectionists; a fight where, on both sides, the leadership soon passes out of the hands of the people directly interested, into those of professional politicians, the wire-pullers of the traditional political parties, whose interest is not a settlement of the question, but its being kept open forever; and the result of an immense loss of time, energy, and money is a series of compromises favouring now one, then the other side, and drifting slowly though not majestically in the direction of Free Trade -- unless Protection manages, in the meantime, to make itself utterly insupportable to the nation, which is just now likely to be the case in America.
There is, however, another kind of protection, the worst of all, and that is exhibited in Germany. Germany, too, began to feel, soon after 1815, the necessity of a quicker development of her manufactures. But the first condition of that was the creation of a home market by the removal of the innumerable customs lines and varieties of fiscal legislation formed by the small German states -- in other words, the formation of a German Customs Union, or Zollverein. That could only be done on the basis of a liberal tariff, calculated rather to raise a common revenue than to protect home production. On no other condition could the small states have been introduced to join.
Thus the new German tariff, though slightly protective to some trades, was, at the time of its introduction, a model of Free Trade legislation; and it remained so, although, ever since 1830, the majority of German manufacturers kept clamouring for protection. Yet, under this extremely liberal tariff, and in spite of German domestic industries based on hand labor being mercilessly crushed out by the competition of English factories worked by steam, the transition from manual labor to machinery was gradually accomplished in Germany too, and is now nearly complete. The transformation of Germany from an agricultural to a manufacturing country went on at the same pace, and was, since 1866, assisted by favourable political events: the establishment of a strong central government, and federal legislation, ensuring uniformity in the laws regulating trade, as well as in currency, weights, and measures, and, finally, the flood of the French billions. Thus, about 1874, German trade on the market of the world ranked next to that of Great Britain, and Germany employed more steam power in manufactures and locomotion than any Continental European country. The proof has thus been furnished that even nowadays, in spite of the enormous start that English industry has got, a large country can work its way up to successful competition in the open market with England.
Then, all at once, a change of front was made: Germany turned protectionist at a moment when more than ever Free Trade seemed a necessity for her. The change was no doubt absurd; but it may be explained. While Germany had been a corn-exporting country, the whole agricultural interest, not less than the whole shipping trade, had been ardent Free Traders. But in 1874, instead of exporting, Germany required large supplies of corn from abroad. About that time, America began to flood Europe with enormous supplies of cheap corn; wherever they went, they brought down the money revenue yielded by the land, and consequently its rent; and from that moment, the agricultural interest all over Europe began to clamour for protection.
At the same time, manufacturers in Germany were suffering from the effect of the reckless overtrading brought on by the influx of the French billions, while England, whose trade ever since the crisis of 1866 had been in a state of chronic depression, inundated all accessible markets with goods unsalable at home and offered abroad at ruinously low prices. Thus it happened that German manufacturers, though depending above all upon export, began to see in protection a means of securing to themselves the exclusive supply of the home market. And the government, entirely in the hands of the landed aristocracy and squirearchy, was only too glad to profit by this circumstance in order to benefit the receivers of the rent of land by offering protective duties to both landlords and manufacturers. In 1878, a highly protective tariff was enacted both for agricultural products and for manufactured goods.
The consequence was that henceforth the exportation of German manufactures was carried on at the direct cost of the home consumers. Wherever possible, "rings" or "trusts" were formed to regulate the export trade and even production itself. The German iron trade is in the hands of a few large firms, mostly joint stock companies, who, betwixt them, can produce about four times as much iron as the average consumption of the country can absorb. To avoid unnecessary competition with one another, these firms have formed a trust which divides amongst them all foreign contracts and determines in each case the firm that is to make the real tender. This "trust", some years ago, had even come to an agreement with the English iron masters, but this no longer subsists. Similarly, the Westphalian coal mines (producing about 30 million tons annually) had formed a trust to regulate production, tenders for contracts, and prices. And, altogether, any German manufacturer will tell you that the only thing the protective duties do for him is to enable him to recoup himself in the home market for the ruinous prices he has to take abroad.
And this is not all. This absurd system of protection to manufacturers is nothing but the sop thrown to industrial capitalists to induce them to support a still more outrageous monopoly given to the landed interest. Not only is all agricultural produce subjected to heavy import duties which are increased from year to year, but certain rural industries, carried on large estates for account of the proprietor, are positively endowed out of the public purse. The beet-root sugar manufacture is not only protected, but receives enormous sums in the shape of export premiums. One who ought to know is of opinion that if the exported sugar was all thrown into the sea, the manufacturer would still clear a profit out of government premium. Similarly, the potato-spirit distilleries receive, in consequence of recent legislation, a present out of the pockets of the public of about $9 million a year. And as almost every large landowner in northeastern Germany is either a beet-root sugar manufacturer or a potato-spirit distiller, or both, no wonder the world is literally deluged with their production.
This policy, ruinous under any circumstances, is doubly so in a country whose manufactures keep up their standing in neutral markets chiefly through the cheapness of labor. Wages in Germany, kept near starvation point at the best of times, through redundancy of population (which increases rapidly, in spite of emigration), must rise in consequence of the rise in all necessaries caused by protection; the German manufacturer will then no longer be able, as he too often is ow, to make up for a ruinous price of his articles by a deduction from the normal wages of his hands and will be driven out of the market. Protection, in Germany, is killing the goose that lays the golden egg.
France, too, suffers from the consequences of protection. The system in that country has become, by its two centuries of undisputed sway, almost part and parcel of the life of the nation. Nevertheless, it is more and more becoming an obstacle. Constant changes in the methods of manufacture are the order of the day; but protection bars the road. Silk velvets have their backs nowadays made of fine cotton thread; the French manufacturer has either to pay protection price for that, or to submit to such interminable official chicanery as fully makes up for the difference between that price and the government drawback on exportation; and so the velvet trade goes from Lyons to Crefeld, where the protection price for fine cotton thread is considerably lower.
French exports, as said before, consist chiefly of articles of luxury where French taste cannot, as yet, be beaten; but the chief consumers all over the world of such articles are our modern upstart capitalists who have no education and no taste, and who are suited quite as well by cheap and clumsy German or English imitations, and often have these foisted upon them for the real French article at more than fancy prices. The market for those specialties which cannot be made out of France is constantly getting narrower, French export manufacturers are barely kept up, and must soon decline; by what new articles can France replace those whose export is dying out? If anything can help here, it is a bold measure of Free Trade, taking the French manufacturer out of his accustomed hothouse atmosphere and placing him once more in the open air of competition with foreign rivals. Indeed, French general trade would have long since begun shrinking were it not for the slight and vacillating step in the direction of Free Trade made by the [French-English] Cobden treaty of 1860, but that has well-nigh exhausted itself and a stronger dose of the same tonic is wanted.
It is hardly worthwhile to speak of Russia. There, the protective tariff -- the duties having to be paid in gold, instead of in the depreciated paper currency of the country -- serves above all things to supply the pauper government with the hard cash indispensable for transactions with foreign creditors. On the very day on which that tariff fulfils its protective mission by totally excluding foreign goods, on that day the Russian government is bankrupt. And yet that same government amuses its subjects by dangling before their eyes the prospect of making Russia, by means of this tariff, an entirely self-supplying country, requiring from the foreigner neither food, nor raw material, nor manufactured articles, nor works of art. The people who believe in this vision of a Russian Empire, secluded and isolated from the rest of the world, are on a level with the patriotic Prussian lieutenant who went into a shop and asked for a globe, not a terrestrial or a celestial one, but a globe of Prussia.
To return to America. There are plenty of symptoms that Protection has done all it could for the United States, and that the sooner it receives notice to quit, the better for all parties. One of these symptoms is the formation of "rings" and "trusts" within the protected industries for the more thorough exploitation of the monopoly granted to them. Now "rings" and "trusts" are truly American institutions, and, where they exploit natural advantages, they are generally though grumblingly submitted to. the transformation of the Pennsylvanian oil supply into a monopoly by the Standard Oil Company is a proceeding entirely in keeping with the rules of capitalist production. But if the sugar refiners attempt to transform the petition granted them, by the nation, against foreign competition, into a monopoly against the home consumer, that is to say against the same nation that granted the protection, that is quite a different thing. Yet the large sugar refiners have formed a "trust" which aims at nothing else. And the sugar trust is not the only one of its kind.
Now, the formation of such trusts in protected industries is the surest sign that protection has done its work and is changing its character; that it protects the manufacturer no longer against the foreign importer, but against the home consumer; that is has manufactured, at least in the special branch concerned, quite enough, if not too many manufacturers; that the money it puts into the purse of these manufacturers is money thrown away, exactly as in Germany.
In America, as elsewhere, Protection is bolstered up by the argument that Free Trade will only benefit England. The best proof to the contrary is that in England not only the agriculturists and landlords but even the manufacturers are turning protectionist. In the home of the "Manchester school" of Free Traders, on November 1, 1886, the Manchester chamber of commerce discussed a resolution
"that, having waited in vain 40 years for other nations to follow the Free Trade example of England, the chamber thinks the time has arrived to reconsider that position."
The resolution was indeed rejected, but by 22 votes against 21! And that happened in the centre of the cotton manufacture -- i.e., the only branch of English manufacture whose superiority in the open market seems still undisputed! But, then, even in that special branch inventive genius has passed from England to America. The latest improvements in machinery for spinning and weaving cotton have come, almost all, from America, and Manchester has to adopt them. In industrial inventions of all kinds, America has distinctly taken the lead, while Germany runs England very close for second place.
The consciousness is gaining ground in England that that country's industrial monopoly is irretrievably lost, that she is still relatively losing ground, while her rivals are making progress, and that she is drifting into a position where she will have to be content with being one manufacturing nation among many, instead of, as she once dreamt, "the workshop of the world". It is to stave off this impending fate that Protection, scarcely disguised under the veil of "fair trade" and retaliatory tariffs, is now invoked with such fervour by the sons of the very men who, 40 years ago, knew no salvation but in Free Trade. And when English manufacturers begin to find that Free Trade is ruining them, and ask the government to protect them against their foreign competitors, then, surely, the moment has come for these competitors to retaliate by throwing overboard a protective system henceforth useless, to fight the fading industrial monopoly of England with its own weapon: Free Trade.
But, as I said before, you may easily introduce Protection, but you cannot get rid of it again so easily. The legislature, by adopting the protective plan, has created vast interests, for which it is responsible. And not every one of these interests -- the various branches of industry -- is equally ready, at a given moment, to face open competition. Some will be lagging behind, while others have no longer need of protective nursing. This difference of position will give rise to the usual lobby-plotting, and is in itself a sure guarantee that the protected industries, if Free Trade is resolved upon, will be let down very easy indeed as was the silk manufacture in England after 1846. That is unavoidable under present circumstances, and will have to be submitted to by the Free Trade party so long as the change is resolved upon in principle.
The question of Free Trade or Protection moves entirely within the bounds of the present system of capitalist production, and has, therefore, no direct interest for us socialists who want to do away with that system.
Indirectly, however, it interests us inasmuch as we must desire as the present system of production to develop and expand as freely and as quickly as possible: because along with it will develop also those economic phenomena which are its necessary consequences, and which must destroy the whole system: misery of the great mass of the people, in consequence of overproduction. This overproduction engendering either periodical gluts and revulsions, accompanied by panic, or else a chronic stagnation of trade; division of society into a small class of large capitalist, and a large one of practically hereditary wage-slaves, proletarians, who, while their numbers increase constantly, are at the same time constantly being superseded by new labor-saving machinery; in short, society brought to a deadlock, out of which there is no escaping but by a complete remodelling of the economic structure which forms it basis.
From this point of view, 40 years ago Marx pronounced, in principle, in favour of Free Trade as the more progressive plan, and therefore the plan which would soonest bring capitalist society to that deadlock. But if Marx declared in favour of Free Trade on that ground, is that not a reason for every supporter of the present order of society to declare against Free Trade? If Free Trade is stated to be revolutionary, must not all good citizens vote for Protection as a conservative plan?
If a country nowadays accepts Free Trade, it will certainly not do so to please the socialists. It will do so because Free trade has become a necessity for the industrial capitalists. But if it should reject Free Trade and stick to Protection, in order to cheat the socialists out of the expected social catastrophe, that will not hurt the prospects of socialism in the least. Protection is a plan for artificially manufacturing manufacturers, and therefore also a plan for artificially manufacturing wage labourers. You cannot breed the one without breeding the other.
The wage labourer everywhere follows in the footsteps of the manufacturer; he is like the "gloomy care" of Horace, that sits behind the rider, and that he cannot shake off wherever he go. You cannot escape fate; in other words, you cannot escape the necessary consequences of your own actions. A system of production based upon the exploitation of wage labor, in which wealth increases in proportion to the number of labourers employed and exploited, such a system is bound to increase the class of wage labourers, that is to say, the class which is fated one day to destroy the system itself. In the meantime, there is no help for it: you must go on developing the capitalist system, you must accelerate the production, accumulation, and centralization of capitalist wealth, and, along with it, the production of a revolutionary class of labourers. Whether you try the Protectionist or the Free Trade will make no difference in the end, and hardly any in the length of the respite left to you until the day when that end will come. For long before that day will protection have become an unbearable shackle to any country aspiring, with a chance of success, to hold its own in the world market.
For an overview of Marx and Engels on free trade, see:
See also, for Marx's critique of the idea that the relations and conditions of production in different countries can be taken as fixed by nature, this passage from Wage Labour and Capital, written around the same time as On the Question of Free Trade.
Capital consists of raw materials, instruments of labour, and means of subsistence of all kinds, which are employed in producing new raw materials, new instruments, and new means of subsistence. All these components of capital are created by labour, products of labour, accumulated labour. Accumulated labour that serves as a means to new production is capital.
So say the economists.
What is a Negro slave? A man of the black race. The one explanation is worthy of the other.
A Negro is a Negro. Only under certain conditions does he become a slave. A cotton-spinning machine is a machine for spinning cotton. Only under certain conditions does it become capital. Torn away from these conditions, it is as little capital as gold is itself money, or sugar is the price of sugar.
In the process of production, human beings work not only upon nature, but also upon one another. They produce only by working together in a specified manner and reciprocally exchanging their activities. In order to produce, they enter into definite connections and relations to one another, and only within these social connections and relations does their influence upon nature operate – i.e., does production take place.
These social relations between the producers, and the conditions under which they exchange their activities and share in the total act of production, will naturally vary according to the character of the means of production. With the discover of a new instrument of warfare, the firearm, the whole internal organization of the army was necessarily altered, the relations within which individuals compose an army and can work as an army were transformed, and the relation of different armies to another was likewise changed.
We thus see that the social relations within which individuals produce, the social relations of production, are altered, transformed, with the change and development of the material means of production, of the forces of production. The relations of production in their totality constitute what is called the social relations, society, and, moreover, a society at a definite stage of historical development, a society with peculiar, distinctive characteristics. Ancient society, feudal society, bourgeois (or capitalist) society, are such totalities of relations of production, each of which denotes a particular stage of development in the history of mankind.
Capital also is a social relation of production. It is a bourgeois relation of production, a relation of production of bourgeois society...