Michael Kidron

The Left and the Common Market

(January 1962)

From Socialist Review, [12th Year No. 1,] January 1962, pp. 1 & 5.
Transcribed by Ian Birchall, Nina Kidron & Richard Kuper.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

IT is understandable that the labour movement in this country is split in many different directions on Britain’s application to join the Common Market. It is a major issue and the repercussions of whatever move the Tories make will be felt for many years. Under the circumstances one could expect the debate to be both serious and informed.

But no. The Common Marketers – Crosland, Roy Jenkins, Charles Pannell and the rest – are content to peddle cartel-Europe in the same terms and tones as are heard around boardroom tables, while the Anti’s – and here one is dealing with the established Left of the movement – have laboured to produce a motley of arguments which, were they not such a tragic indication of their poverty in ideas, would be very funny.

... There’s no need to reproduce the arguments of the Marketeers here. They can be seen daily in the Times, Telegraph, Economist and other such organs of ‘enlightened’ big business. The ‘Left’ is less, well serviced, and so claims more attention.

Their first argument concerns the Commonwealth and Britain’s unique role in world affairs. ‘The danger for Britain of “integration” into the common political institutions envisaged by the Treaty of Rome are clear’ writes Trade Union Affairs, new-look journal of the ‘enlightened’ trade union bureaucracy (Spring 1961, p. 104). ‘From the day of her entry there would be a corresponding erosion of Commonwealth organs and a diminishing of her special role in the world, which has been quite exceptional for a nation of only 52 million people unbacked by natural wealth.’ Tribune echoes: to join ‘would be to turn our backs on the Commonwealth, to abdicate our independent role in world affairs ...’

A nice thought this. Indeed, Britain has a special, independent role in world affairs. No other power has played claphandies with Sir Roy so single-mindedly as Britain in the Congo. Who but Britain could have led the Suez invasion six years ago? As for the Commonwealth, a true example of non-racialist (except of course for Australia and Britain) brotherhood it is. Within it capital is capital, guns guns and strikers against the one are shot down by the other as on the British tea estates in Assam.

Moving on, the Left has discovered the virtues of the virgin EFTA (European Free Trade Association) conjured up by Britain to use as a bargaining counter with the Common Market. Barrett-Brown and Hughes have shown in their New Left Pamphlet, Britain’s Crisis and the Common Market, that ‘EFTA is fundamentally a neutralistic bloc’! Shame on MacMillan and Salazar for dragging us out of NATO without telling anyone! Will they never get rid of their predilection for secret diplomacy?

Then there is the danger to socialist planning. New Left Review: ‘The contradictions for a government trying to steer a socialist economy in tight reign with six capitalist countries, working in close harmony would be immense.’ (July–August, 1961, pp. 9–10). So too Trade Union Affairs: ‘a future Labour Government might find progressive policies outlined in an election manifesto were impossible of implementation due to the economic and political planning core of the Six.’ (Spring 1961, p. 105).

Observe the image of Gaitskell steering Britain’s ‘socialist economy’ between the rocks of capitalist Europe, in which, by the way, holidays and holiday pay are better than here (in Germany, Italy and France), pensions more generous (Germany), maternity benefits higher (France) and equal pay for women the rule (France).

‘I have no wish’, says Anthony Greenwood, MP, an important anti-Marketeer on the left of the Parliamentary Labour Party, ‘to transfer political power from the British man in the street to Dr. Adenauer and President de Gaulle ...’ (Daily Worker, 10 June 1961). Blessed be the sentiment, but which man in which street is dear Anthony talking about? Selwyn Lloyd in Downing Street?

Finally, it takes the Communist Party to appeal to the very basest, parochial and cowardly defensive instincts in the movement. ‘If the free movement of labour were established large numbers of unemployed Italian workers might come to Britain.’ (Labour Research Department, Questions and Answers on the Common Market, p. 18). If it were true, so what? Surely the labour movement is powerful enough to extend trade union protection to all new workers? But it isn’t even true, otherwise German capital wouldn’t be combing countries outside the Common Market – Greece and Spain – for workers, nor would Italian industry be stalking the Ruhr to lure Italian immigrant workers back to their home country.

Not all the arguments are so specious, however. Trade Union Affairs is right to say that ‘we might well find ourselves committed to a sadly unequal struggle with entrenched monopolistic concerns able to insure themselves against pressures or defeat by the international nature of their operations’ (Spring 1961, pp. 104–5), and that ‘the British trade unions need overhaul, better structures, more specialists: they would be lost in the Common Market‘. (Summer 1961, p. 5) But surely this is an argument for getting on with the job of adapting the structure of our unions and for linking up internationally?

Within capitalism there seems no escape from cartel Europe. Nor is the decision ours. If it were, we would be on the brink of socialist revolution and looking ourselves for support from Europe’s workers. But it isn’t, and so long as this is the case, instead of crying ‘Commonwealth’, ‘EFTA’, ‘Planning’ etc. with the established Left, it is our duty to warn the labour movement of the upheavals that are bound to occur as we edge towards the Continent, to fight for the best conditions obtaining anywhere within the Common Market (British National Health Service, German pensions, French equal pay and so on), to link up with the European labour movement and to help inscribe on the program of a united European labour movement – no Cartel Market but the United States of Socialist Europe!

Last updated on 18 February 2017