Recently a new current of interpretation of Marx's view of British free trade in the nineteenth century seems to be on the rise among historians and theorists interested in the historical experiences of Third World peoples as "consumers of imperialism." One allegation usually shared by these interpreters is that Marx failed to grasp the historical function British free trade played in retarding or distorting the development of backward countries' economies through their integration into the world market system. In other words, Marx is criticized for having optimistically believed that British free trade would promote industrialization throughout the world on the European model. It seems worthwhile to see if these critiques do indeed do justice to Marx or not. Before re-examining Marx's theses on British free trade, however, I think I had better briefly review how Marx's view is criticized by the aforesaid current of interpretations. Let us look at some of the most typical examples.
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