Workers Hammer No. 235

Summer 2016


From the archives

Four decades of opposition to the bosses' Europe

We reprint below excerpts from an article titled “Labor and the Common Market”, which appeared in Workers Vanguard no 15 (January 1973), newspaper of the Spartacist League/US, opposing the Common Market. The Common Market became known as the European Economic Community (EEC), which Britain joined in 1973. In 1993, following the Maastricht Treaty of the previous year, the EEC became the European Union.

The defeat of the Common Market referendum in Norway is a victory for the international working class. Throughout Europe the EEC is profoundly unpopular with the working masses, who correctly see it as a device to solve the acute economic problems of the monopolies at the expense of the exploited. This hostility would have long since destroyed the bourgeois Common Market, and opened the road to a united revolutionary mobilisation of the European working class, if it had been clearly expressed at the political level by the dominant workers’ parties. However, the agents of the bourgeoisie who lead the Communist, Socialist and Labour parties of Western Europe have managed to distort, fritter away or simply ignore the mass rejection of the EEC at every crucial point. Thus the struggle against the bosses’ Common Market, for a united socialist Europe, is at the same time a determined battle against these treacherous misleaders of the working class.

Since Marxists have generally regarded the international integration of capitalism as providing the material basis for socialism, it may not be obvious why the destruction of the Common Market should be a major goal of the European labour and socialist movements. In the imperialist era, alliances between capitalist states, including their economic aspects, are directed against other states, advanced as well as backward states. The Common Market is essentially an unstable alliance between French and German capitalism on the basis of the most reactionary economic policies….

The two political bases for the Common Market’s existence were the desire by the US to strengthen West European unity against the Soviet Union and the desire of the French ruling class to take advantage of Germany’s political weakness stemming from its defeat in World War II. While the Common Market facilitated US investment in Western Europe, American government support for the Common Market was based on strategic political considerations. The American ruling class wanted to suppress that historic economic conflict between the European powers for fear it would disrupt the military alliance against the Soviet Union….

There are few more significant proofs of the rotten reformist leadership of the West European labour movements than its failure to combat the Common Market. While in the first years of the Common Market, the French and Italian Communist Parties ritualistically denounced it, they never mobilised their mass base against it. And paralleling Soviet support for Gaullist-style neutralism, the West European Stalinists have adopted an attitude of benign neutrality towards the Common Market. The Social-Democratic labour parties of Europe are being relied upon heavily to drag the working class along by the nose….

However, it is in Britain that the clash between the labour movement and Common Market has been most intense. Any attempt to understand the Labour Party’s policy towards Market entry must begin with the fact that the Wilson leadership’s opposition to entry is completely phony. The Wilson leadership is just as committed to British entry as the Conservative Party and did everything possible to get Britain into the Market while the Labour Party was in power. In fact, pro-Market Labour politicians regularly bait Wilson that it was he who won them over to British entry in the first place. The Wilson leadership only came out against joining the Common Market after it had been voted out of office, ie, when the Labour Party could “oppose” entry in words without affecting entry in fact. Wilson’s “opposition” to Market entry is designed solely to recoup the popularity the Labour Party lost while governing and to prevent the anti-Market campaign from being dominated by the Labour left and reds. (An opinion poll in 1971 showed 73 per cent of the British population opposed to entering the EEC). Even now, the Wilson leadership is careful the Labour “opposition” does not present a real threat to British entry. While the Trades Union Congress (TUC) voted to oppose entry on principle, the Wilson-Benn leadership pushed through a resolution at the last Labour Party conference merely to re-negotiate the terms of entry….

The Common Market is in no sense progressive. It is originally the product of US imperialism’s mobilisation against the Soviet Union. It is an arena in which the European national bourgeoisies bilk one another and the rest of the world. It is a vehicle for capitalist collaboration against the European labour movements, which have shown little international solidarity.

Despite the national divisions of the capitalists, the increasing interconnectedness of the world market and international socialisation of the means of production are real. The greater rationality of large-scale, centralised units of production and distribution is offset under capitalism, however, by the even greater irrationality of the competition between world-wide oligopolistic monsters driven for the sake of profits only. Thus unity under capitalism is not only a myth, which will be shattered in the first serious economic downturn, but must necessarily be directed against the working class, as each national capitalist class attempts to become “competitive” through a policy of “rationalisation”. This requires rigid wage freezes, massive devaluations, strike-breaking, the liquidation of whole industries, large-scale unemployment and inflation. It is hard to shove such policies down the throats of organised workers, so the bourgeoisies in the respective countries are forced to resort to centre-left and labour governments in order to implement them. Such viciously anti-working-class governments have been in power in Britain and Italy, and now in Germany, and it is this role which a CP-SP-Radical popular front coalition will play in France if elected.

Only unity on a socialist basis, accomplished by proletarian revolution and the expropriation of the giant monopolies, can institute rational worldwide economic development without exploitation. A socialist united states of Europe can only be created on the basis of the most vigorous struggle against the capitalist Common Market and all it stands for. And only under united control by the workers themselves can the productive capacity of Europe be put at the service of the entire world’s working peoples.