Marx on Free Trade

Greg Schofield g_schofield at
Wed Oct 24 19:18:03 PDT 2001

The so-called free trade of the present period is no more than international capital giving itself the freedom to price fix unhindered, the freedom to exercise its plans without let, the freedom to use one group of workers to compete against another on a world scale.

There is a historically progressive side to this and abstract opposition or support is niether here nor there.

Now turn to the practical side of things. Yes we should surely call for democratic institutions which somehow bring order to this world. But to make any such demand within the "Empire" requires having a base amongst real people who live in realo states. There is no reason why this should not be an international movement, but it would have to be an international movement which focuses on the nation state and brings up practical demands on how that state should be run and how production should be conducted.

"Counter-Empire" begins at home. Unless we have practical things to say what should be done with the resources at hand, with the state we have and prodution as it is, then we have very little to say to ordinary people. Some of these things, once conjured up out of the contradictions of national life, will not be compatible to "Free World Trade" as big capital would have it - some will but many will not.

It is not Marx's quote about being in favour of free trade because it fosters the capitalist mode of production and hence the conditions for liberation, but his demand in the Communist Manifesto that we should fight to realise workers immediate interests, interests which by history begin with nation states even if they reach across borders.

The point is to raise the ability of the working class to direct its own labour, to consciously apply portions of the surplus it provides to meet its needs and society and to do so with an understanding and the context of the class as an international whole.

As states more and more become managers for "Empire" surely "Counter-Empire" requires the forcing of these institutions to serve the people. "Empire" has not left much room for reformism, its requirements of the state is not to cement hegemony of a national bourgeoisie over a national working class, but to impose control over the international working class through national states.

We cannot hope to overturn such a monster by merely acknowledging its international character and demanding it be transformed into a kinder giant, rather we must force the issue at the national level and carry this through to the international level.

Democratic international reform is a mere abstraction unless supported by actual national democratic reform (democracy being used in its widest sense). The debate is not about free trade, because that is a solution imposed on states (unlike in Marx's day when it derived from particular states). We are not given any real choice the forces for "globalisation" have the power and are making the changes in spite of popular discomfort.

Does this lead to condemening the anti-globalisation movement - far from it. We must understand that this petty-rebellion for what it is, a desperate rage against where we are going and an outrage of what has already come to pass - it is naturally expressed in the anarchism of youth. Our response must be to point to practical solutions, to place the contradictions within a framework which enables us (the practically powerless) to do something about it, we must be prepared to sieze opportunities as they emerge and desist in protest for protest sake.

Most of all we must guide the working class as best we can towards actions which result in victories (little ones to begin with), actions which have a practical outcome, actions in which oridinary workers find good sense in and start experiencing the potential for power that they have, and the potential to lead all the other social classes to a better world in such struggles.

Comrades I am sorry to preach so, but if we take the end of Imperialism at all seriously it must translate directly to a workable political platform (international in shape, national in application).

Greg Schofield Perth Australia

--- Message Received --- From: Thomas Seay <entheogens at> To: lbo-talk at Date: Wed, 24 Oct 2001 11:39:23 -0700 (PDT) Subject: Re: Marx on Free Trade

<<n a word, the free trade system hastens the Social Revolution. In this revolutionary sense alone...I am in favor of free trade.">>

Well, globalization is a fact. Any individual attempts (of nations) to withdraw from Empire is rather futile. Globalization has created a situation in which people must unite globally without the mediation of national interests in order to say no to global capital. As Hardt and Negri put it, Empire must be attacked with Counter-Empire...not anti-globalization in the abstract.


--- Randy Steindorf <grsteindorf at> wrote:

<HR> <html><div style='background-color:'> <DIV><HTML> <DIV> <DIV><HTML> <DIV> <DIV><HTML> <DIV> <DIV><HTML> <P>Hans Magnus Inzensberger wrote on globalization:</P> <P>'[Karl Marx] certainly would not have dreamed of being &quot;for&quot; or &quot;against&quot; [globalization].'</P> <P>From Marx's &quot;Speech on Free Trade,&quot; from 1847: &quot;But, generally speaking, the protective system in these days is conservative, while the free trade system works destructively.&nbsp; It breaks up old nationalities and carries antagonism of proletariat and bourgeoisie to the uttermost point.&nbsp; In a word, the free trade system hastens the Social Revolution.&nbsp; In this revolutionary sense alone...I am in favor of free trade.&quot;</P> <P>Engel's comment on this written in 1887: &quot;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.&nbsp; Indirectly, however, it interests us, inasmuch as we must desire 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...From this point of view...Marx pronounced, in principle, in favor of free trade as the more progressive plan, and, therefore, the plan which would soonest bring capitalist society to that deadlock.&quot;</P> <P>Marx's speech and Engels commentary&nbsp; are essential background for sorting out the relations between free trade/protectionism, and the political movements supporting one or the other.</P> <P>Marx's possible reply to the &quot;shadow-boxing&quot; of the global justice movement, excerpted from the &quot;Critique of the Gotha Programme&quot;: &quot;Vulgar socialism (and from it in turn a section of democracy [i.e., social democrats today]) has taken over from the bourgeois economists [notabley, J.S. Mill] the consideration and treatment of distribution [struggle between the &quot;have and have-nots&quot;] as independent of the mode of production and hence the presentation of socialism as turning principally on distribution...The distributioin of the means of consumption at any time is only a consequence of the distribution of the conditions of production themselves. The latter distribution, however, is a feature of the mode production itself. The capitalist mode of production, for example, rests on the fact that the material conditions of production are in the hands of non-workers in the form of property in capital and land, while the masses are only owners of the!

personal condition of production, viz., labor power. Once the elements of productioin are so distributed, then the present-day distribution of the means of consumption results automatically...Instead of [stating] &quot;the removal of all social and political inequality&quot;...[it should be stated that] with the abolition of class differences [based on the distribution of the conditions of production] all the social and political inequality from them would disappear of itself.&quot;</P> <P>Note that is the destructive nature of free trade, which the global justice movement finds most objectionable, that Marx finds most revolutionary.&nbsp; This is a perspective that Marx raises against democratic socialists--inability to see the revolutionary side of free trade, poverty, oppression, and war.</P> <P>RS</P></DIV></DIV></DIV></DIV></DIV></DIV></DIV></div><br clear=all><hr>Get your FREE download of MSN Explorer at <a href=''></a><br></html>

===== "The tradition of all the dead generations

weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living"

-Karl Marx

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