Works of Frederick Engels 1892

The American Presidential Election

Written: between November 9 and 15, 1892, and signed ‘Frederick Engels’;
First published: in the Vorwärts, November 16, 1892;
Transcribed: from the newspaper by Anthony Brown.

The ancient world was dominated by Fatum, Heimarmene, inescapable mysterious fate. These were the names given by the Greeks and Romans to that impalpable omnipotence which frustrated all human will and effort, which led all human deeds to results quite other than those intended, that irresistible force which has since then been called providence, predestination, etc. This mysterious force has slowly taken on a more palpable form, and for this we may thank the rule of the bourgeoisie and capital, the first system of class rule which seeks to find clarity about the causes and conditions of its own existence, thus opening the door to the recognition of the inevitability of its own imminent fall. Fate, providence – that we know now – consists of the economic conditions under which production and exchange take place, and these combine today in the world market.

And this is the importance of the American presidential elect ...... that it is an event of the first order on the world market.

Four years ago I published an essay on protective tariffs and free trade, in Boston in English and in Stuttgart in German.’ Here 1 demonstrated that England’s industrial monopoly could not be reconciled with the economic development of the other civilised countries; that the protective tariffs introduced in America since the Civil War 307 showed Americans’ will to shake off the yoke of th IS monopoly; that thanks to the gigantic natural resources and the intellectual and moral talents of the American race this target has already, been reached, and the customs barrier has become in America, no less than in Germany, a fetter to industry. And then I wrote: If America introduces free trade, then it will beat England on the world market in ten years.

Very well. The presidential election of November 8, 1892 has opened the way for free trade. The protective tariff in the form devised by MacKinley had become an unbearable fetter; the nonsensical price increase for all imported raw materials and foodstuffs, which affected the price of many domestic products, had largely closed world markets to American products, while the home market suffered a glut of American industrial products. In fact, in the past few years the protective tariff only served to ruin the small producers under the pressure of the large producers combined in cartels and trusts, and to surrender the market and thus the consuming nation to exploitation by the latter, that is to say the organised monopoly.. America can only escape from this permanent domestic industrial crisis caused by the protective tariff by, opening itself up to the world market, and for this it must emancipate itself from the protective tariff, at least in its present nonsensical form. The total turn-about of public opinion demonstrated by the election shows that it is determined to do this. Once established on the world market, America-like, and through England – will irresistibly be driven further along the path of free trade.

And then we shall experience an industrial battle as never before. On all markets English products, particularly textiles and iron goods, will have to fight with American products, and finally lose. Even now American cottons and linens chase the English from the field. Would you like to know who performed the miracle of convert rig in one short year the cotton operatives of Lancashire from furious opponents to enthusiastic advocates of the legal eight-hour day? Refer to the Neue Zeit, No. 2 of October this year, p. 56, where you can see how American cottons and linens are displacing the English step by, step on the domestic market, how English imports have, since 1881, never reached the American, and in 1891 only amounted to about one third of the latter. And China is, beside India, much the main market for these textiles.

This is renewed proof that with the turn of the century, all relations are shifting. Transfer the centre of gravity of the textile and iron industries from England to America, and England will become either a second Holland, whose bourgeoisie live on their former greatness, and whose proletariat shrivels, or – it will reorganise itself along socialist lines. The first is not possible, the English proletariat will not put tip with it, it is far too numerous and developed for this. Only the second remains. The fall of protective tariffs in America means the ultimate victory of socialism in England.

And Germany? Back in 1878 it won a position on the world market, which it is now losing step by step thanks to its foolish protective tariff policy – will it insist upon continuing obstinately to close for itself the path to the world market by taxing raw materials and foodstuffs, even against its American competitors, who will throw themselves into things quite differently from the English competition hitherto? Will the German bourgeoisie have the understanding and courage to follow the example set by America, or will it, lethargic as hitherto, wait until American industry, grown all-powerful, forcibly breaks the tariff-cartel between the Junkers and the large-scale manufacturers? And will the government and the bourgeoisie finally realise how marvellously clumsily this precise moment has been chosen to crush the economic forces of Germany with new and prohibitive military burdens, when it should be entering into industrial competition with the most youthfully strong nation in the world, which has easily paid off its colossal war debt in a few years, and whose government does not know what to do with the tax income?

The German bourgeoisie have – perhaps for the last time – the opportunity finally to perform a great deed. One hundred to one they are too narrow-minded and too cowardly to utilise this opportunity for anything except to prove that once and for all their time is up.