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International Socialism, Winter 1962


Notes of the Quarter

4. Class or Country


From International Socialism, No.11, Winter 1962, pp.5-6.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


So the Labour Party is now committed to opposing Britain’s entry into the Common Market. All right. And the soft Left has acclaimed the decision as a victory. All right. Even the hard left, people who read this magazine and consider themselves revolutionary socialists, are beginning to wonder whether it wouldn’t be right and wise to oppose Britain’s entry, and to help this opposition on the coming electoral masthead. This is not all right; not at all.

For the record: the Common Market is designed as an economic arm of NATO; its existence perpetuates the division of Europe; it is designed to further the process of monopolization and concentration of capital at the expense of the West European working class; and it is a rich man’s club whose sponsors hope that it can compete successfully against US capitalism in Asia and Africa. Also for the record: Britain outside the Common Market is equally an economic arm of NATO, equally perpetuates the division of Europe; is witnessing a process of monopolization and concentration of capital as ruthless as any; and it is as certainly part of the white man’s club if not its chairman.

The opposition to joining is far more unanimous than the reasons advanced. Many on the left will agree with our criticism of Gatskell’s five conditions. They would want to know who ‘our friends and partners in the Commonwealth’ were before they undertook to safeguard their ‘trade and other interests.’ They would want to know – particularly after Cuba – what ‘our own foreign policy’ is and how non-entry would guarantee its ephemeral independence. They would want to know further why they should bother with ‘pledges’ made in their name to ‘our associates,’ the ruling class in the EFTA countries; and, as pointed out in our last issue, they would question the assumption that Gaitskell would plan, even if the facts of contemporary economics encouraged him to do so. Finally, socialists would want to learn – from agricultural workers, the ones, be it remembered, who run away from the countryside as fast as they can find the accommodation in a town – why we should ‘safeguard the position’ (read profits) of ‘British agriculture’ (read farmers).

Many will agree with these strictures; yet they still plump for the anti-Europe line. Why?

The major arguments, as they have been put in correspondence to this journal, start off by questioning the importance to Britain of Europe – or rather, the five-and-a-half countries of the Common Market. It is as wrong, they claim, to see an inexorable trend pushing capitalist Britain into capitalist Europe as it is to see a socialist Britain mortally disfigured by isolation from it. ‘Inexorable’ and ‘mortally’ are strong words, perhaps too strong. But so compelling are the reasons for British capitalism to wish to join the Common Market – reasons expounded lucidly and with logic by Macmillan to his party at Llandudno last October – that it will be willing to do so on almost any terms. If, in the event, it is not let in, British capitalism won’t collapse : it will merely become weaker relatively to its competitors. In so far as the ruling class see or sense this, and in so far a they can exert pressure to enter the European Club, they will do so. Unfortunately, they still run this country and it is not within our competence to stop them.

Even if it were, would we want to ? Few things could be more dangerous than the despairing socialist solipsism – to ‘go it alone.’ A socialist Britain, socialist that is for more than a fleeting moment, is impossible in isolation. Surely, forty years of Russian history have proved that, if nothing else. And a ‘Labour Britain,’ in the sense of a relatively prosperous, relatively restrained and partially planned capitalism, would need, in practice, as much goodwill on the part of the gremlin ‘bankers of Basle’ out of the Common Market as in it.

The same sort of argument is deployed in the debate about the Commonwealth countries. ‘Even the pro-Commonwealth arguments are not entirely wrong,’ writes one correspondent. ‘In the case of many Leftwingers it is a way of saying “What about the underdeveloped countries?” (and well, what about them?) which makes an interesting contrast to Gaitskell’s emphasis on the White Dominions.’ It does, but it ignores the all-important fact that capitalist Britain, as has been repeated many times and in detail in this journal, is finding it less and less profitable to dovetail its economic structure with that of the more backward, less industrialized economies in the world. No matter how enlightened it pretends to be, unless it can find ways of lacing this concern for backwardness with profit, it will do nothing to help. Leftwingers are right to hate and resent the bestial poverty in backward countries, but to expect great change there without revolution here is to reduce the struggle for political power to a level of incantation.

What then are we to do? It might well be that, as one correspondent puts it, ‘revolutionary De Fencism (sitting on De Fence while uttering revolutionary nostrums) is utterly scholastic and alien to the working man.’ Infinitely more alien, however, is to adopt an unreal policy, as impossible to implement as it is unrelated to any working class goals. Gaitskell can do it; but nobody has ever found any working class goals in his universe. We cannot. To follow his line would be to duck the real issue posed by the Common Market, namely this:

‘Several big groups,’ writes The Times (5 November), ‘have been deliberately streamlining their work-force in preparation for Common Market competition.’

Several equally big groups have been doing the same as a consequence of the Common Market on the Continent. ‘In preparation for,’ ‘as a consequence of’ – these are the words we need watch. In itself, the Common Market cannot tilt the class balance against us. But if we get lost in arguments for or against instead of ensuring that workers neither pay for the preparations nor suffer the consequences in unemployment, wages or prices, it can and might.

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