Ted Grant

Common Market—impasse of British imperialism

Source: Militant, No. 27, June 1967
Transcription: Francesco 2009
Proofread: Fred 2009
Markup: Niklas 2009

The impasse of British capitalism, and the Labour government’s failure to take radical measures against it, forced the Wilson government to adopt in even more virulent forms the economic policies of the Tories at home. They have fawned on and helped and conciliated big business, at the expense of the working class. Prices have risen and wages have remained frozen. The working class and housewives have been taxed while big business has been given lavish handouts to invest. The chief beneficiaries have been the monopolies. But they have not increased investment; on the contrary investment has fallen 8 percent last year and will possibly fall another 10 percent this year. Production is stagnant. Unemployment threatens to rise even above the present half million or so. The “national plan” has been silently buried. Election promises, have not been carried out, for the most part.

Faced with this crisis at home Wilson and the other Labour leaders have looked for some miracle abroad to solve the problems of British capitalism. History repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce. Not only have Tory policies been aped at home, but the Labour government, in applying for entry into the European Common Market, is doing the opposite of what they preached not only in home policy but in foreign policy too.

The “orthodox” nostrums of finance capital have failed as disastrously as the “unorthodox” economic policies which they have not even dared to attempt. Now the abject attempt to crawl into the Common Market has received the same treatment as the attempt of Heath.

French capitalism endeavouring to operate an independent policy from that of American imperialism, has, through the Bonapartist de Gaulle, castigated the dependence of Britain on American foreign policy. They have attacked Britain’s attitude to Vietnam and other questions, such as the attempt to maintain a world role for British imperialism, especially East of Suez. This will mean, at best, that British capitalism can look forward to years of negotiations before even hoping to reach the threshold of the Common Market.

Since the end of World War Two British capitalism has continuously been in a state of rapid decline in face of her rivals, partly because of the attempt to maintain herself as a world power. When the question of the coming together of the Western European powers was first posed, Britain declined to enter. As an alternative to the Western European customs union, she set up the customs union of the 7 states of EFTA, as a rival trading bloc.

But the declining power of British capitalism, despite her vast wealth has been speeded up. This is the legacy of the two world wars fought by British capitalism in its own interests. The Soviet bureaucracy on the one side, and mighty American imperialism have emerged as the two world powers. (More remote, if the status quo is preserved, is the threatened emergence of China as a third world power). The power of British capitalism has been enfeebled even in relation to her erstwhile semi-satellites, Italy and France, and to her rival, German imperialism.

Power is measured by production and per capita income, and in these fields Germany has outstripped Britain. France has now the same per capita national income as Britain. In standards of living, social services and education, Britain’s tremendous lee-way of pre-war days, up to 501 percent in the case of Germany, has been made good in the last decades. Britain is falling behind. Every two years there has been the balance of payments crisis, caused by the City of London financiers endeavouring to maintain the world role of British finance capital and of the pound. The French “sickness” has temporarily been overcome by the drastic measures of de Gaulle. Britain has replaced France as the “sick man of Europe”.

Meanwhile Britain’s big monopolies, which have grown despite their low increase compared to other industrial capitalist countries, feel themselves hamstrung by the relatively small British market. Big business in the modern industries (plastics, chemicals motor-cars and other vehicles and computers) reflects the fact that the productive forces (i.e. the power to produce goods by mass production) have outgrown the national state and the private ownership of these means of production. Failing on the world market, they hoped to solve their problems within the framework of the Common Market.

The temporary increase in production in Western Europe vis-à-vis Britain and America has led to French imperialism challenging the monetary, political and industrial policies of the “Anglo-Saxons”. For 500 years Britain succeeded in maintaining the balance of power in Europe. Now this position industrially, militarily, commercially and financially has been irretrievably lost, and Britain has been reduced to the position of an island of the West European mainland.

The arguments of the anti-marketeers in the labour movement have had no more substance than those of the pro-marketeers themselves. They have adopted a narrow nationalistic outlook, appealing against the loss of British “sovereignty”. At the same time they have made chauvinistic appeals on the basis of the Commonwealth, which would provide the markets which Britain lacked. Correctly they pointed to the steep increases in the price of food which would follow integration into the EEC.

But in no way did they offer a viable alternative. Just as in home policy they have adopted the policy that Wilson had when he was in opposition, so in the field of foreign policy they have adopted Wilson’s erstwhile policy. Being in office has taught Wilson and the other Labour leaders the impracticality and the utopian character of these policies, given the premise of a capitalist economy.

British capitalism has been brought to such a blind alley that in effect they were prepared to re-introduce a version of the corn laws which they fought so desperately to repeal in the nineteenth century, against the opposition of the landowners. Now at the behest of French imperialism they are even prepared to introduce “dear food” and abandon their cheap food policy, on which the competitiveness of British manufacture was based in the past.

The relative success of the Kennedy round of tariff cuts on a world scale, which will benefit the industrialised capitalist countries, by increasing trade temporarily, has seemed the only ray of light in the gloom which has enshrouded British capitalism. But this can only give a temporary uplift to world trade, and world capitalism. The unevenness of world capitalism will re-assert itself and the powers which are outstripped will have to resort to tariffs to protect themselves. Similarly the Common Market itself will inevitably land in a blind alley, and begin to break up because of the vested interests of each national capitalism, vested interests expressed for example in the policy of French imperialism re their erstwhile British “ally”. They have exchanged this for a Franco-German axis, temporarily held together by the weakness of these powers and the European and world economic upswing.

The solution to the problem as always is simple, once the premises of the policies put forward are examined. Neither entry nor non-entry can solve the problems of British capitalism.

Neither nationalism nor pseudo-Europeanism is a solution in the interests of the working class.

The groping attempts to expand beyond the frontiers of European and world trade are expressions of the outmoded character of the nation state and of private ownership of the means of producing wealth. For a start a recognition of this fact could be expressed in the establishment of a socialist Britain, with the taking over (with minimum compensation, on the basis of need) of the 380 monopolies, the private banks and the insurance companies. These control two thirds of the wealth of Britain. An “Enabling Act” with the mobilisation of the trade unions and other workers’ organisations could accomplish this. It would have to be linked to a national plan of production and a state monopoly of foreign trade. Then an appeal could be made to the workers of Europe for a continental plan of production and division of Labour, which would mean an enormous increase in wealth and standards of living. The so-called undeveloped countries of the world could be brought into such a plan of production lifting them out of the poverty and degradation in which they are engulfed.

The solution to the problem lies in the unity of the workers of Europe and the world against the capitalists of Europe and the world. A socialist Britain, in a socialist united states of Europe.

In the coming years the British and European workers will increasingly come to understand the community of interests of the world’s workers. As Britain under capitalism is the sick man of Europe, it provides the British labour movement with the opportunity of taking the lead in the establishment of such a unity. The waste on armaments, on the vested capitalist interests of Western Europe, on the bureaucratic bungling and national limitedness of the authoritarian and deformed workers’ states of Eastern Europe, would be shown up in all its nakedness. The British workers must take advantage of the difficulties of British capital to overthrow it and set up a democratic socialist Britain, which would rapidly prepare the way for a democratic socialist united states of Europe.

  1953   1964 1965
Exports to Value Exports to Value Value
£.m. % £.m. % £.m. %
N. America 315.6 12.2 N. America 594.2 13.5 700.1 14.8
Commonwealth 1256.0 48.7 Commonwealth 1259.6 28.6 1341.2 28.4
EEC 336.7 13.0 Sterling area 1537.6 34.9 1645.3 34.9
Latin America 53.9 2.0 EEC 898.5 20.4 904.5 19.2
Middle East 150.5 5.8 Latin America 150.5 3.4 158.6 3.4
E. Europe 15.5 0.5 Middle East 259.7 5.9 267.3 5.7
E. Europe 99.4 2.3 111.8 2.4
World 2582.1 World 4411.6 4723.8