<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wage-slaves, proletarians, who, while their numbers increase constantly, are at the same time constantly being superseded by new labor-saving machinery; in short, society brought to a deadlock, out of which there is no escaping but by a complete remodeling of the economic structure which forms it basis.
>From this point of view, 40 years ago 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. But if Marx declared in favor 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 laborers. You cannot breed the one without breeding the other.
>The wage laborer 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 labor, in which wealth increases in proportion to the number of laborers employed and exploited, such a system is bound to increase the class of wage laborers, 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 laborers. 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.
- Engels, writing in 1888https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1888/free-trade/index.htm
The world has changed, free trade has enabled countries like China to build up its productive forces. However, the "necessary consequences" do not seem to have materialised fully. Along with free trade, we have gotten increased inter-dependence, exchange of information, global policing, surveillance, etc. How can the proletariat of one country stand up against its national bourgeoisie if there are countries willing to ignore sovereignty and help the counter-revolutionaries? These things seemed more possible when each and every person was not tracked and listened to through a cell phone or laptop.
Engels says that in Marx's time the free trade position was the revolutionary one? Does that still hold true today?