Antitrust Laws

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Antitrust Laws


in a number of bourgeois states, laws adopted nominally to limit the activities of trusts, cartels, and other forms of monopolies. The first such law was the Sherman Act, issued in the USA in 1890. In the late 1960’s there were antitrust laws in most capitalist countries of Europe, in Japan, Israel, the Republic of South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia. The Treaty of Rome of 1957, which created the European Economic Community (the so-called Common Market), contains antitrust articles.

The appearance and development of antitrust legislation was bound up with the growth of discontent among small and middle entrepreneurs, as well as among broad strata of the population increasingly oppressed by big capital and monopolies. Through these laws, bourgeois states attempt to cool down antimonopolistic struggle and plant among the masses the reformist notion that state control “eliminates” the domination of monopolies in contemporary capitalist society. The antitrust laws adopted over the last decades are intimately bound up with the general system of measures by which bourgeois states attempt to influence market relations and forms of association of entrepreneurs. In bourgeois economic and legal literature, antitrust legislation is frequently heralded as proof of the struggle waged by bourgeois states against monopolies and as a manifestation of so-called “regulated,” or “people’s,” capitalism. In reality, antitrust legislation is a specific manifestation of state intervention in the economy characteristic of the era of state monopoly capitalism. It curbs certain of the most obvious and crude modes of monopolistic activity and has a certain influence on the nature of the competitive struggle, but it never injures the most important interests of the large monopolies.

The antitrust laws of the USA are customarily considered the “strictest” and most highly developed, since they contain many prohibitive articles. As early as the Sherman Act, trusts, pools, and other associations of entrepreneurs were formally placed outside the law if they restricted interstate trade or trade with other countries; the law prohibited the “monopolization” of such trade. By a series of later laws—the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914, the Clayton Act of 1914, and others—“dishonest trade practices,” discrimination in prices, mergers of companies, and other forms of association were prohibited if they led to “substantial weakening of competition.” Criminal responsibility of the entrepreneurs involved was stipulated for violation of antitrust laws (a fine or prison term of up to one year); antitrust legislation also provided for the dissolution of unlawful combinations by order of the courts.

However, monopoly capital in the USA had no difficulty in adapting to antitrust legislation—first of all, because the laws themselves contain a number of outright exceptions preventing the application of the legal norms to capitalists engaged in export trade, the transportation system, banking, and also a whole number of branches of industry (military industry, atomic energy, and others). Large corporations make use of forms of combinations and monopolistic activities that, considered from the point of view of antitrust legislation, are legal: holding companies, “conglomerate mergers” (that is, combinations of companies involved in different branches of trade or industry); and they also employ covert methods of establishing monopolistic domination, such as “gentlemen’s agreements” and “price leadership.” Monopolies have been greatly assisted by USA courts, which by their decisions have considerably restricted the application of antitrust laws—for example, with respect to sugar, tobacco, steel, and other trusts. But even judicial decisions providing for fines and reorganization of unlawful combinations—for example, the General Motors case of 1957, the Alcoa aluminum company case of 1964—have led only to the restructuring of monopolies; they have not undermined or eliminated them. In reality, during the entire history of antitrust legislation, only once have capitalists been convicted for violating antitrust laws (the 1961 case involving electrical engineering corporations), and even then it was not the proprietors of the monopoly but rather seven of its employees who were sentenced to one-month prison terms. On the other hand (up through the 1930’s), antitrust laws were used on a number of occasions to administer judicial reprisals against the organizers of workers’ strikes, which were equated with “unlawful trusts.”

In most capitalist countries antitrust laws do not even contain a formal prohibition of monopolies; rather, they merely establish partial government control over certain modes of entrepreneurial activity that are undesirable from the standpoint of the bourgeois state (so-called restrictive business practice, dishonest trade, and other activities). Thus, the English act on monopolies of 1965 provides for the possibility of investigating individual mergers of companies, the West German law of 1957 invalidates (with numerous exemptions) cartel agreements among entrepreneurs, and so on. In order to stabilize market relations, administrative organs in capitalist countries have been given certain powers to regulate the competitive struggle. However, such “antimonopolistic” regulation has not undermined the positions of the monopolies.


Zhidkov, O. A. Antitrestovskoe zakonodatel’stvo v SShA. Moscow, 1963.
Zhidkov, O. A. Zakonodatel’stvo o kapitalisticheskikh monopoliiakh. Moscow, 1968.
Mozolin, V. P. Korporatsii, monopolii i pravo v SShA. Moscow, 1966.
Perspectives on Antitrust Policy. Princeton, 1965.
Kaysen, C, and D. Turner. Antitrust Policy. Cambridge, 1959.
Kartelle und Monopole in modernen Recht. Karlsruhe, 1961.
Carabiber, C. Trusts, cartels et ententes. Paris, 1964.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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