Karl Marx British Commerce
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KARL MARX: BRITISH COMMERCE
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Introduction
British Commerce
Import
Export
Balance of Trade against England for 1855, 1856, 1857
Balance of Trade in favour of England for 1855, 1856, 1857
Source


Karl Marx: British Commerce
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This article by Marx which we are publishing below appeared February 3, 1858 in the American newspaper «New York Daily Tribune»

In spite of its shortness, this article is of great importance because it illuminates the complex game of actions and reactions which began to undermine British industrial and financial monopoly at the height of its fortune - or better, which began to corrode the bases of its industrial monopoly by a counter blow from the expansion of the world financial monopoly of the «City». In pointing out its first symptoms, Marx did not consider these processes from the immediate point of view even though they were already manifesting themselves in a series of periodic crises - instead he considered it as a historical tendency. This tendency expressed itself in the torments of the British economy after World War I and especially after World War II: the imbalance between British industrial and financial strength, and between the industrial and commercial capacity of Great Britain and that of its rivals (which itself had supported by exporting its capital) took an always more pronounced character with all the ensuing consequences for the condition of the English working class as a whole (with the exception of the higher layers of the labour aristocracy). Marx's article indicated all these aspects even then.

It is also noticeable how Marx rapidly delineated the typical internal antagonisms of what will be the highest phase of capitalism as analysed by Lenin - commercial rivalry, export of capital, speculation, competition for raw materials and the rising price of the latter - so many phenomena of «blazing reality» which so-called bourgeois progress, far from having cleared away, has extended to the entire planet. This proves once more that imperialism is not a «new and unforeseen» fact but the generalisation in space and the exacerbation in time of phenomena well known for more than half a century before by Marxist science.

 

BRITISH COMMERCE
[New York Daily Tribune, February 3, 1858]

 

During the late extraordinary session of the British Parliament, Lord Derby declared in the House of Lords that, for the last three years the value of British imports had exceeded that of British exports to the amount of £150.000.000. This statement gave rise to a controversy, out of doors, some private individuals applying to Lord Stanley of Alderley, President of the Board of Trade, for information as to the correctness of Lord Derby's statement. The President of the Board of Trade, in a letter addressed to his interrogators, replied:

«The assertion made by Lord Derby m the House of Lords, that the value of our imports during the last three years had exceeded that of our exports by £150.000.000, is incorrect, and arises from Lord Derby having taken the total value of our imports, including our imports from the Colonies and foreign countries, while he has excluded the re-export of merchandise which has been received from the Colonies and foreign countries. Thus Lord Derby's calculation shows:

Importations.................................... £ 468.000.000
Exports......................................... £ 308.000.000
Difference...................................... £ 160.000.000

Whereas it should be:

Importations.................................... £ 468.000.000
Exports......................................... £ 371.000.000
Difference...................................... £ 97.000.000»

 

The President of the Board of Trade substantiates this assertion by adding to it a comparative statement of the value of the exports and imports of the United Kingdoms during the years 1855. 1856 and 1857. This highly interesting document, which is not to be found in the London newspapers, we reprint below. First it will be seen that the case might be put in a shape confirmatory of Lord Derby's assertion, viz.:

 

Total imports.............................................. £ 468.000.000
British exports
............................................ £ 308.000.000

Excess of imports over British exports
................ £ 160.000.000
Re-exports of foreign produce
........................... £ 63.000.000

Balance of trade against Great Britain
................ £ 97.000.000

 

Thus, there is actually an excess of foreign imports over British exports of £160.000.000 and after the re-export of £63.000.000 of foreign productions, there remains a balance of trade against Great Britain, as stated by the President of the Board of Trade himself, of £97.000.000, or more than £32.000.000 for the average of the three years, 1855, 1856, and 1857. Hence, the recent complaint of The London Times: «The actual losses sustained by the nation have been going on for the last five or six years, and it is only now that we have found them out.» These losses, however, arise not from the excess of imports over exports, but from the specific character of a great part of the exports.

 

The fact is, one-half the re-exports consist of foreign raw materials used in manufactures serving to increase foreign rivalry against the British industrial interests, and, to some extent, returned to the Britishers in manufactured goods for their home consumption. The decisive point, however, to be kept in view, is this, that the large re-exports of raw materials, resulting from the competition of Continental manufactures, enhanced the price of the raw material so much as almost to absorb the profit left to the British manufacturer. On a former occasion, we made some statements in this sense with respect to the British Cotton industry. As at the present moment the industrial crisis rages most violently in the British Woolen districts, where failure follows upon failure, anxiously concealed from the general public by the London press, it may be opportune to give at this place some figures showing into what effective competition for raw wool the manufacturers of the European Continent were entering with the British ones - a competition which led to the unparalleled enhancement in the price of that raw material, ruinous to the manufacturer, and fostering the now blown-up speculations in that article. The following statement comprises the first nine months of each of the last five years

IMPORTS

Year ......... Foreign ............. Colonial ............ Total

1853 .... lb. 37.586.199 ..... lb. 46.277.276 ..... lb. 83.863.475
1854
......... 27.006.173 ......... 50.187.692 .......... 77.193.865
1855
......... 17.293.842 ......... 53.896.173 .......... 71.190.015
1856
......... 22.377.714 ......... 62.148.467 .......... 84.526.181
1857
......... 26.604.364 ......... 63.053.100 .......... 90.657.464

 

 

EXPORTS

Year .............. Foreign ................ Colonial ................ Total

1853 ..........lb. 2.480.410 ...........lb. 5.343.166 ............lb. 7.823.576
1854
.............. 5.993.366 .............. 13.117.102 .............. 19.110.468
1855
.............. 8.860.904 .............. 12.948.561 .............. 21.809.465
1856
.............. 5.523.345 .............. 14.433.958 .............. 19.967.303
1857
.............. 4.561.000 .............. 25.068.787 .............. 29.629.787

 

 

The quantities of foreign and colonial wools returned for British home consumption appear, therefore, to have been, in the years:

Year ............ Pounds

1853 ............ 76.039.899
1854
............ 58.083.397
1855
............ 49.380.550
1856
............ 64.568.878
1857
............ 61.027.677

 

On the other hand, the quantities of British home-grown wool exported were:

Year ............. Pounds

1853 ...............4.755.443
1854
...............9.477.396
1855
..............13.592.756
1856
..............11.539.201
1857
..............13.492.386

 

By deducting from the quantity of foreign wools imported into the United Kingdom, first the quantity re-exported and next the quantities of English wools exported, we find the following real quantities of foreign wool available for British home consumption:

Year ........... Pounds

1853 ........... 71.284.456
1854
........... 48.606.001
1855
........... 35.787.794
1856
........... 53.029.677
1857
........... 47.535.291

 

While, therefore, the import into the United Kingdom of colonial wool increased from 46.277.276 lbs. in the first nine months of 1853 to 63.053.100 lbs. in the same period of 1857, and the total imports of all kinds from 83.863.475 lbs. to 90.657.464 lbs. during the same respective periods, such, in the mean time, had been the increase in the demand for the European Continent, that, in regard to the foreign and colonial wools, the quantities returned for British consumption diminished in the five years from 76.039.899 lbs. in 1853 to 61.027.677 lbs. in 1857; and taking into account the quantities of English wools exported, there took place an aggregate reduction from 71.284.456 lbs. in 1853 to 47.535.291 lbs. in 1857. The significance of these statements will be better understood when attention is called to the fact avowed by The London Times, in a money article, that, simultaneously with this increase in the export of wool from the United Kingdom, the import of Continental woolen manufactures, especially French ones, was increasing.

From the figures furnished by Lord Stanley of Alderley we have abstracted the following tabular statement, showing the degree in which the balance of trade with Great Britain was favourable or unfavourable to different countries:

 

Balance of Trade against England for 1855, 1856, 1857

 

1. United States............... £ 28.571.764
2. China.
.......................... 22.675.433
3. East Indies.
................... 19.605.742
4. Russia..
........................ 16.642.167
5. Prussia
........................ 12.842.488
6. Egypt.
.......................... 8.214.941
7. Spain
........................... 7.146.917
8. Br. West Indies
............... 6.906.314
9. Peru
............................ 6.282.382
10. Sweden
........................ 5.027.934
11. Cuba and Porto Rico
......... 4.853.484
12. Mauritius
..................... 4.672.090
13. New-Brunswick
................ 3.431.303
14. Denmark
....................... 3.391.144
15. Ceylon
........................ 3.134.575
16. France
........................ 2.696.291
17. Canada
........................ 1.808.454
18. Norway
........................ 1.686.962
19. Africa (Western)
............ 1.432.195
20. Portugal
...................... 1.283.075
21. Two Sicilies
................. 1.030.139
22. Chili
............................ 693.155
23. Buenos Ayres
.................... 107.676

 

Balance of Trade in favour of England for 1855, 1856, 1857

1. Hansetowns ............. £ 18.883.428
2. Australia
................. 17.761.889
3. Turkey
...................... 6.947.220
4. Brazil
...................... 7.131.160
5. Belgium
..................... 2.214.207
6. Holland
..................... 1.600.904
7. Cape of G. Hope
............... 59.661

 

The simple fact of the excess of British imports over exports, amounting in three years to £97.000.000 would by no means warrant the cry now raised by the Britishers «of carrying on their trade at a yearly sacrifice of £33.000.000», and benefiting by that trade foreign countries only. The enormous and increasing amount of British capital invested in all parts of the world must be paid for in interest, dividends and profits, all of which are to be remitted to a great extent in the form of foreign produce, and consequently go to swell the list of British imports. Beyond the imports corresponding to their exports, there must be a surplus of imports, remitted not in payment for commodities, but as revenue of capital. Generally speaking, the so-called balance of trade must, therefore, always be in favour of the world against England, because the world has yearly to pay to England not only for the commodities it purchases from her, but also the interest of the debt it owes her. The really disquieting feature for England of the statements above made is this, that she is apparently at a loss to find at home a sufficient field of employment for her unwieldy capital; that she must consequently lend on an increasing scale, and similar, in this point, to Holland, Venice and Genoa, at the epoch of their decline, forge herself the weapons for her competitors. She is forced, by giving large credits, to foster speculation in other countries in order to find a field of employment for her surplus capital, and thus to hazard her acquired wealth in order to augment and conserve it. By being obliged to give large credits to foreign manufacturing countries, such as the Continent of Europe, she forwards herself the means to her industrial rivals to compete with her for the raw produce, and thus is herself instrumental in enhancing the raw material of her own fabrics. The small margin of profit thus left to the British manufacturer, still reduced by the constant necessity for a country the very existence of which is bound up with the monopoly of forming the workshop of the world, constantly to undersell the rest of the world, is then compensated for by curtailing the wages of the labouring classes and creating home misery on a rapidly enlarging scale. Such is the natural price paid by England for her commercial and industrial supremacy.

Published in: «Programme Communiste» n° 64 octobre 1974

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