The primary demand of the workers’ movement was the extension of the electoral franchise, which was advocated by the Chartist party. Marx saw its success as paving the way towards revolution in Britain. Yet the basic demands of the Chartists were to be superseded by the Marxists, Liberals and Fabians, and the workers’ movement derailed until it became another wing of plutocracy, as Spengler noted.
Marx quoted a Chartist candidate on the electoral hustings, at length:
I say the representatives of two systems stand before you. Whig, Tory, and money-mongers are on my left, it is true, but they are all as one. The money-monger says, buy cheap and sell dear. The Tory says, buy dear, sell dearer. Both are the same for labour. But the former system is in the ascendant, and pauperism rankles at its root. That system is based on foreign competition.
Now, I assert, that under the buy cheap and sell dear principle, brought to bear on foreign competition, the ruin of the working and-small trading classes must go on. Why? Labor is the creator of all wealth. A man must work before a grain is grown, or a yarn is woven. But there is no self-employment for the working-man in this country. Labor is a hired commodity-labour is a thing in the market that is bought and sold; consequently, as labour creates all wealth, labour is the first thing bought-‘Buy cheap! buy cheap!’ Labour is bought in the cheapest market. But now comes the next: ‘Sell dear! sell dear!’ Sell what? Labor’s produce. To whom? To the foreigner-aye! and to thelaborer himself-for labor, not being self-employed, the laborer is not the partaker of the first fruits of his toil. ‘Buy cheap, sell dear.’
How do you like it? ‘Buy cheap, sell dear.’ Buy the working-man’s labor cheaply, and sell back to that very working-man the produce of his own labor dear! The principle of inherent loss is in the bargain. The employer buys the labor cheap – he sells, and on the sale he must make a profit; he sells to the working-man himself – and thus every bargain between employer and employed is a deliberate cheat on the part of the employer. Thus labor has to sink through eternal loss, that capital may rise through lasting fraud. But the system stops not here. This is brought to bear on foreign competition-which means, we must ruin the trade of other countries, as we have ruined the labor of our own.
How does it work? The high-taxed country has to undersell the low-taxed. Competition abroad is constantly increasing-consequently cheapness must increase constantly also. Therefore, wages in England must keep constantly falling. And how do they effect the fall? By surplus labor. How do they obtain the surplus labor? By monopoly of the land, which drives more hands than are wanted into the factory. By monopoly of machinery, which drives those hands into the street – by woman labor which drives the man from the shuttle – by child labor which drives the woman from the loom.
Then planting their foot upon that living base of surplus, they press its aching heart beneath their heel, and cry ‘Starvation! Who’ll work? A half loaf is better than no bread at all’-and the writhing mass grasps greedily at their terms. [Loud cries of “Hear, hear.”]
Such is the system for the working-man. But Electors! How does it operate on you? How does it affect home trade, the shopkeeper, poor’s-rate and taxation? For every increase of competition abroad, there must be an increase of cheapness at home. Every increase of cheapness in labor is based on increase of labor surplus, and this ‘surplus is obtained by an increase of machinery. I repeat, how does this operate on you! The Manchester Liberal on my left establishes a new patent, and throws three hundred men as a surplus in the streets. Shopkeepers! Three hundred customers less. Rate payers! Three hundred paupers more. [Loud cheers.] But, mark me! The evil stops not there. These three hundred men operate first to bring down the wages of those who remain at work in their own trade. The employer says, ‘Now I reduce your wages.’ The men demur. Then he adds: ‘Do you see those three hundred men who have just walked out – you may change places if you like, they’re sighing to come in on any terms, for they’re starving.’ The men feel it, and are crushed. Ah! you Manchester Liberal! Pharisee of politics! those men are listening – have I got you now? But the evil stops not yet. Those men, driven from their own trade, seek employment in others, when they swell the surplus, and bring wages down. The low paid trades of to-day were the high paid once – the high paid of to-day will be the low paid soon. Thus the purchasing power of the working classes is diminished every day, and with it dies home trade.
Mark it, shopkeepers! your customers grow poorer, and your profits less, while your paupers grow more numerous and your poor’s-rates and your taxes rise. Your receipts are smaller, your expenditure is more large. You get less and pay more. How do you like the system? On you the rich manufacturer and landlord throw the weight of poor’s-rate and taxation. Men of the middle class. You are the tax-paying machine of the rich. They create the poverty that creates their riches, and they make you pay for the poverty they have created. The landlord escapes it by privilege, the manufacturer by repaying himself out of the wages of his men, and that reacts on you. How do you like the system? Well, that is the system upheld by the gentlemen on my left. What then do I propose? I have shown the wrong. That is something. But I do more; I stand here to show the right, and prove it so.” [Loud cheers.]
Here the Chartist makes many valid points. He indicates how foreign trade undermined the home market; how keeping wages low stagnated the economy and was counter-productive – issues that remain relevant. But while the Chartist lamented the destitution of what had formed from the towns and villages into industrial cities as the alienated ‘proletariat’, and pointed – in part – to the causes, Marx saw only the potential to radicalize the uprooted ‘proletariat’. Hence, he and Engels disdained the idea of a protected home market, disparaged any such policy as merely aiding capitalist manufacturers, and instead advocated that the Free Market must continue on its course for the sake of the march of history toward socialism and Communism.
While we read the Chartist account, another lesson is that the current charge of ‘white privilege’ is nothing but a fallacy, and early socialist works such as Engel’s The Condition of the Working Class in England must be ignored by the Left: Writing of this ‘white privilege’ at St. Giles, London, Engels said:
The houses are occupied from cellar to garret, filthy within and without, and their appearance is such that no human being could possibly wish to live in them. But all this is nothing in comparison with the dwellings in the narrow courts and alleys between the streets, entered by covered passages between the houses, in which the filth and tottering ruin surpass all description. Scarcely a whole window-pane can be found, the walls are crumbling, door-posts and window-frames loose and broken, doors of old boards nailed together, or altogether wanting in this thieves’ quarter, where no doors are needed, there being nothing to steal. Heaps of garbage and ashes lie in all directions, and the foul liquids emptied before the doors gather in stinking pools. Here live the poorest of the poor, the worst paid workers with thieves and the victims of prostitution indiscriminately huddled together, the majority Irish, or of Irish extraction, and those who have not yet sunk in the whirlpool of moral ruin which surrounds them, sinking daily deeper, losing daily more and more of their power to resist the demoralising influence of want, filth, and evil surroundings.1
According to neo-Marxian ideology the proletarian wretches, with their ‘white privilege’, came from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland as colonisers, to New Zealand, Canada, Australia, and the USA, to exploit the indigenous populations, and their descendants must now and always atone.
However, Marx and Engels, insisted that the answer to the issues was not to rebuild the home market, which necessitates rising wages to consume production, as the Chartist pointed out. They insisted that ‘protectionism’ is no answer, and specifically rejected the economic theory being advanced in Germany by Friedrich List.
Interestingly, Engels in his 1845 book stated that the ‘Communist revolution’ does not involve the proletariat alone but is concerned with the liberation of the entirety of mankind from the ‘bourgeoisie’ outlook, which is one of money and self-interest. Engels pointed out that this socialism was from the ‘German’ school of philosophy. Spengler drew from the same source for his ‘Prussian socialism’. Spengler pointed out that Marxism emerged from the English materialistic Zeitgeist, and hence, unlike German socialism, did not aim to transcend capitalism but to appropriate it.2 Had Engels pursued his own line of ‘German socialism’ (the frequent idea among the Right that Engels was ‘Jewish’ is not correct) rather than coming under the intellectual domination of Marx, socialism might have later accepted the path offered to it by Spengler, Gregor and Otto Strasser,3 et al. However, to the 1886 American edition of his book Engels felt obliged to add as closing paragraphs that
It will be hardly necessary to point out that the general theoretical standpoint of this book – philosophical, economical, political – does not exactly coincide with my standpoint of to-day. Modern international Socialism, since fully developed as a science, chiefly and almost exclusively through the efforts of Marx, did not as yet exist in 1844. My book represents one of the phases of its embryonic development; and as the human embryo, in its early stages, still reproduces the gill-arches of our fish ancestors, so this book exhibits everywhere the traces of the descent of Modern Socialism from one of its ancestors, German philosophy. Thus great stress is laid on the dictum that Communism is not a mere party doctrine of the working class, but a theory compassing the emancipation of society at large, including the Capitalist class, from its present narrow conditions. This is true enough in the abstract, but absolutely useless, and worse, in practice. So long as the wealthy classes not only do not feel the want of any emancipation, but strenuously oppose the self-emancipation of the working class, so long the social revolution will have to be prepared and fought out by the working class alone. … And to-day, the very people who, from the impartiality of their “superior stand-point” preach to the workers a Socialism soaring high above their class interests and class struggles, and tending to reconcile in a higher humanity the interests of both the contending classes – these people are either neophytes, who have still to learn a great deal, or they are the worst enemies of the workers – wolves in sheeps’ clothing.
The original thoughts Engels expressed in 1844 were that ‘Communism’ stood above the breach between ‘proletariat and bourgeoisie’, and that even the capitalist class would be emancipated by a socialist revolution from its ‘bourgeois’ character; which was in the tradition of German Socialism and the Right, defined as a mentality rather than an estimation of wealth. This is akin to what the Strassers were to call ‘German socialism’ (synonymous with ‘revolutionary conservatism’) when they drew on the German Middle Ages in propounding a guild-based federative state.4 What Engels had been proposing in 1844 were ideas that he repudiated in 1886 as coming from ‘the worst enemies of the workers’. A few years after The Condition of the Working Class was published, Engels was collaborating with Marx on The Communist Manifesto, where Marx’s vehemence is expressed against such ‘reactionism’ as Engels had been propounding a few years before. Perhaps Marx was overcompensating because he was himself thoroughly bourgeois in his outlook, in the way Engels had described the mentality.
There was a third theory that arose around the same time, neither socialist nor Free Trade: Friedrich List’s National System of Political Economy (1841). ‘I would indicate, as the distinguishing characteristic of my system, NATIONALITY. On the nature of nationality, as the intermediate interest between those of individualism and of entire humanity, my whole structure is based’.5
List was a noted economic adviser and his ‘national system’ had an impact on the economic policies of the USA and the German states. He was regarded as the antagonist of Adam Smith, List stating that a nation must secure its manufacturing self-sufficiency to a maximum extent by protection before opening up to outside competition. He did not reject Free Trade per se, as part of a process following the securement of national self-sufficiency, but he did base his system on the nation and ‘nationality’, and saw even then that the Free Traders ignored the national factor in economic affairs. He criticized the primacy of economics over high politics and its use as a factor in foreign policy. He condemned the cosmopolitanism of the Free Traders, and it is notable that even from the early 19th century the Free Traders were the globalists of their day, advocating Free Trade as the harbinger of ‘international peace’ – a notion that List rejected but which, as alluded to previously, Marx accepted. List stated, contra the Free Traders, that the interests of the individual do not necessarily coincide with the interests of the national community, and that it is the duty of the State to ensure that they did so coincide in creating and maintaining ‘national unity’. Again, there is the concept of the organic community, where economics is subordinated to the common interest.
The Right could surely learn by brushing the dust from List’s National System of Political Economy rather than considering the presumed offerings of Adam Smith, Hayek, von Mises or Ayn Rand. The issues List was addressing are today very relevant. They suggest the ‘Prussian socialism’ of Spengler, and the rejection of the Right in that era of capitalism and the English School, but here we are again today, in an ironic situation where the Right forgets its own traditions, with elements within the Right talking about the Free Market as the epitome of Western inventiveness (to cite Stephen Molyneux).
However, Marx damned List for the same reason that he damned the neo-medievalist ‘reactionists’, for both sought an organic unity – or ‘national unity’, as List put it – that in Marx’s view would throw a spanner in the inexorable dialectical ‘wheel of history’ towards pure Communism. In a largely ad hominem attack, as was his habit, Marx stated of List:
How Herr List interprets history and what attitude he adopts towards Smith and his school.
Humble as is Herr List’s attitude to the nobility, the ancient ruling dynasties and the bureaucracy, he is to the same degree ,audacious” in opposing French and English political economy, of which Smith is the protagonist, and which has cynically betrayed the secret of “wealth” and made impossible all illusions about its nature, tendency and movement. Herr List lumps them all together by calling them “the School”. For since the German -bourgeois is concerned with protective tariffs, the whole development of political economy since Smith has, of course, no meaning for him, because all its most outstanding representatives presuppose the present-day bourgeois society of competition and free trade.
The German philistine here reveals his “national” character in many ways.6
If it even seems as though Marx is defending Adam Smith and the Free Trade School, from a dialectical perspective that is indeed what Marx does. It is also of incidental note that here Marx displays a projection of his own character, indicating his psychological state when alleging that List is simply attacking Adam Smith on moral grounds:
But just as the German bourgeois knows no better way of opposing his enemy than by casting a moral slur on him, casting aspersions on his frame of mind, and seeking bad motives for his actions, in short, by bringing him into bad repute and making him personally an object of suspicion, so Herr List also casts aspersions on the English and French economists, and retails gossip about them. And just as the German philistine does not disdain the pettiest profit-making and swindling in trade, so Herr List does not disdain to juggle with words from the quotations he gives in order to make them profitable. He does not disdain to stick the trade-mark of his rival on to his own bad products, in order to bring his rival’s products into disrepute by falsifying them, or even to invent downright lies about his competitor in order to discredit him.7
…Hence, Marx, protagonist for Adam Smith and the Free Market.
Marx had been an early advocate in favour of Free Trade. His planned speech to the Free Trade Congress in Brussels in 1847, but delivered to the Democratic Association in Brussels, was described by Engels in the preface to an 1888 pamphlet:
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.8
Engels reiterated the position they had written of on Free Trade in The Communist Manifesto, that the system would accelerate social fracture and clear the way for the next stage in the historical dialectic:
To him [Marx], 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.9
Again, Free Trade is welcome for the Marxian dialectic to proceed on the misery of the uprooted city proletariat, which will be driven to revolution:
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 labour-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.10
We must ask then, how sincere are Marxists when they campaign against what is today called ‘globalization’, which is nothing other than the process Marx and Engels saw as contributing to the internationalisation of both the means of production, and of the proletariat, as necessary parts in the dialectical process? Furthermore, how sincere are Marxists who agitate for the amelioration of labour conditions when, again, the increasing destitution of labour is a necessary part of the same historical process?
However, Engels realised that defending Free Trade and attacking Protectionism might prompt support for the latter from a conservative or just as much, from a ‘socialist’, position. He therefore sought to dissuade the reader from such a course:
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.11
The crisis of capitalism is prophesied as inevitable, regardless of Free Trade or Protection, so one might as well accept fate and vote Free Trade, and Engels concludes on that note:
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 labour, 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.12
It is no wonder that Engels and Marx were so vehement in their condemnation of List’s ‘National System’, and of the ‘reactionists’ who sought the return of guilds. Both offer organic alternatives by addressing flaws in capitalism, without resorting to the abolishing of private property, destruction of the Church, and elimination of the family. Other movements arose including distributism, guild socialism, and social credit, each often in alliance.
The lesson for the Right is that Whig-Liberalism and Free Trade serve a dialectical purpose in destroying tradition, to make way for the next phase of the class struggle, which would end with the triumph of socialism and its evolution into world Communism. What we see here is the common ground between the Left and capitalism that was described by Oswald Spengler and Julius Evola. What was the common enemy? Tradition, monarchy, aristocracy, faith, land; the organic bonds that had to be cleared away by the bourgeois revolution, as the harbinger of the Communist revolution. Yet we are told by journalists, academics and even a good many supposedly on the ‘Right’ that Whig-Liberalism and Free Trade are ‘Right-wing’. It is the bourgeois revolution of capital that destroyed the remnants of Gemeinschaft, regarding the institutions that held organic communities together as ‘the faux frais of production’. The process of destruction had already taken place in 1789 with the Jacobin Revolution, a bourgeois revolution that eliminated those ‘faux frais of production’ in the name of ‘the people’, establishing a centralized state, and destroying the rights of group association in the name of Free Trade and held together by a social contract. Gesellschaft replaced Gemeinschaft, and if any objected to this new liberty, such as the entire Vendée region, proto-bolshevik class extermination was the answer.
Today, the oligarchs, in the revolutionary role they have assumed from the 19th-century bourgeois, continue the same dialectical process in completing the destruction of the traditional institutions on a global scale, desiring the creation of a world ‘civil society’, and targeting whatever vestiges remain of organic communities. Here the Left, in the name of ‘civil society’, is very useful, particularly feminism, and funding is lavished upon the causes of ‘civil society’, including the ‘colour revolutions’, and the ‘Arab Spring’, by the Soros network, tax exempt Foundations, National Endowment for Democracy, USAID, Freedom House, and a seemingly endless host of others.
The historic irony is that the dialectic did not serve to inaugurate Marxian-socialism, but to continue the process of capitalist internationalisation (globalization) in which the Left has played its part in helping to destroy the traditional institutions that Marx declared to be outmoded for both oligarch and communist. Spengler pointed out a century ago that every ‘proletarian movement’, including the Communists, serve the interests of ‘money’. The post-Marxist Left continues to do so. The Right remains the only genuine revolt against the bourgeois spectre and its Leftist golem.
1Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845), chapter: ‘The Great Towns’.
2Oswald Spengler, ‘Prussianism and Socialism’ (1919) in Prussian Socialism and Other Essays (London: Black House Publishing, 2018).
3Otto Strasser, Germany Tomorrow (Oxford: Alden Press, 1940). Here the ‘revolutionary conservative’, a term used by Strasser, will find a complete doctrine for the Right that transcends capitalism, and restores the organic state, based on decentralisation and de-urbanisation.
4Otto Strasser, Germany Tomorrow, op. cit., passim.
5Friedrich List, The National System of Political Economy (1841).
6Karl Marx, ‘Draft of an Article on Friedrich List’s Book: Das Nationale System der Politischen Oekonomie’ (1845); I. General Characterisation of List.
8F. Engels, Preface to Marx, On the Question of Free Trade (1888).
A wonderful duo of articles, and particularly elucidating on the subject of Friedrich List’s ‘National System’, which is well worth looking into, evidently. Anyone who has given even a cursory glance at Evola or Spengler’s commentaries on matters of the economy, should they be sufficient and reasonable individuals, is bound to have the veneer of free trade and of its supposed antithesis, communism, lifted from them. I’ve always had a ‘soft spot’ so to speak for the revolutionary conservative types, so it is indeed nice to know where an element of that thought comes from (in reference to List).