The Guardian April 25, 2001

Karl Marx: The real meaning of "free trade"

Karl Marx exposed the real meaning of "free trade" at a public lecture 
in 1848  more than 150 years ago.

"What is free trade under the present condition of society?, he asked. "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 labour 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 capitalist and wage workers. On the contrary, 
the only result will be that the antagonism of these two classes will stand 
out still more clearly.

"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.

"All the destructive phenomena which unlimited competition gives rise to 
within one country are reproduced in more gigantic proportions on the world 

"One other thing must never be forgotten, namely, that just as everything 
has become a monopoly, there are also some branches of industry which 
dominate all others, and secure to the nations which most largely cultivate 
them, the command of the world market...

"Do not imagine ... that in criticising freedom of trade we have the least 
intention of defending the system of protection ...

"The protectionism 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 

"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 

The demonstrators in the streets of Quebec who join the massive 
demonstrations in many other cities around the world against corporate 
greed and corporate dictatorship, are living out the forecast of Karl Marx.

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