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International Socialism, Spring 1963


John Palmer

The Common Market


From International Socialism, No.12, Spring 1963, pp.26-28.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


John Palmer, a journalist, is the prospective Labour candidate for Croydon North West (Tory majority 14,000 odd) and chairman of the West Surrey Federation of Young Socialists.

Although this article began with pretensions to be a comprehensive survey of the attitude of British Labour to the Common Market, and an analysis of the effects of the Common Market struggle on the movement, it is in fact going to extend the dialogue on the subject, initiated in the last issue of International Socialism.

It has taken a long time for us to assimilate at least the rough outline, and the most relevant factual data on the subject. I think that now we must start to project the Common Market issue against the wider back cloth of the development of international capitalism and the concomitant development of the Labour movement’s struggle for international socialism.

With this prospective in mind, it does seem a little inadequate, to say the least, for the left to attempt to crystallize the debate into ‘for’ and ‘against’ attitudes. Even in circles normally sympathetic to the ideas of this journal, this has been the approach of such diverse comrades as Alasdair Mclntyre and Eric Heffer among the ‘fors’, and Peter Sedgwick, Ray Challinor and John Fairhead among the ‘against’.

It might at this stage be appropriate for me to sketch in what appear to be the relevant international trends which have given birth to the Common Market issue.

For western capitalism the record rate of post war expansion and development of markets, is increasingly becoming a thing of the past. With the slow down in expansion, first in the USA then Britain and now Western Europe, have come excess capacity and a sharp increase in the competitive struggle for profits.

While the counter-cyclical investment techniques, learned by the capitalist states from their experiences in the 1930’s. have effectively prevented them allowing any unnecessary and sudden tendency to slump, even the most advanced of Keynesian Governments have been powerless in the face of the gradual saturation of the world markets, in recent years.

The situation has been complicated, however, by the effects of the permanent war economy in many of the leading industrial nations of the west. Here the strategic switch from heavy conventional weapons to the more technologically refined missile types has meant a sharply reduced demand for raw materials, machine tools and labour in the central, and ancillary, ‘defence’ industries.

This has stimulated the growth of automation and, with it. rising levels of structural unemployment, and so of stagnation of the internal consumer markets. The only answer that capitalism has been able to offer to this situation has been increased automation and a swing towards international investment and production specialization.

Indeed leading political spokesmen for the European Economic Community have made no secret of the fact that a major stimulus to the erection of a tariff free market in western Europe has been the increased US economic penetration of the continent. Only by the creation of such a market in western Europe, they argue, can the ‘six’ hope to encourage that degree of specialization which will enable them to meet the brunt of increasing world competition from the USA.

In this country, as well, the leading exponents of British entry into the Common Market have invariably been advocates of the ‘take over’ technique of rational specialization within their own country.

Mr Paul Chambers, chairman of the powerful ICI complex, which attempted a £1000 million merger with Courtaulds early last year, put it this way.

‘It is not competition within this or any other country which will count in the near future. We have to think now of Du Ponts of America or Rhone-Poulenc-Rhodiaceta of France when we think of competition. Undoubtedly the demands of investment in ever more comprehensive and more specialized techniques, will mean fewer and larger groups in chemicals and artificial fibres.’

Thus, although the ultra free-trade element among the capitalist protagonists of the EEC have made much of its anti monopoly and anti cartel legislation, in practice little or nothing has been done because nearly all the important mergers within the Common Market have been exempted under Article 85 (1) and (3) which declares that cartels or mergers may be ‘in the public interest’ or ‘contribute to the improvement of production or distribution... or to the progress of technical and economic progress.’

By coincidence these clauses have tended to favour those industries, electronics, chemicals, engineering where international pressure from the USA has been greatest.

Side by side with these developments has been the growing intervention by the state, on behalf of the employer class, in establishing institutions for ‘planning’ and ‘income control’. The one has encouraged precisely the kind of ‘specialization’ described above, while the other has been a synonym for wage freezes. Indeed as the ‘six’ have been catching up in competitiveness with the USA, with the resulting aggravation of competition, the trend towards ‘NIC’ type bodies and tougher policies towards wage demands have gone with it.

I have stressed these basic economic developments in an attempt to show that far from the ‘six’ being the progenitor of the accelerated trend to monopoly and wage freeze, with all that it implies for the Labour movement, it is in fact the creation of wider forces, which themselves have created the need within capitalism for state intervention on behalf of the employers in a major drive to reduce costs and ‘increase competitiveness’.

Because these forces arise precisely from the situation of international capitalism, Britain cannot be immune from them whether she is a member of the six or not. This is the fact which, more than any other, should determine our tactical attitude towards the political issues raised by the proposed entry into the ‘six’.

Indeed the same drift to monopoly and state backing for wage control has nowhere been seen more clearly than in Britain. And it has been made abundantly clear that if the Brussels negotiations end in failure, far from this move to tougher industrial discipline easing, it will be considerably increased.

Dr Charles Hill, writing recently in the Statist makes the point that if Britain does not join the ‘six’ then there will be a greater need for income control because it will have to do the job for British capitalism which they wanted the Common Market to carry out – namely the switch to few and bigger units of production, with greater automation and smaller labour forces.

A leader writer in the Economist writes:

‘Those who imagine that the pressure will be off if we stay outside (the six) are under a grave misapprehension. In fact it will mean that we shall have to implement a far more comprehensive policy of income control ...’

Other writers and industrialists have also been calling for ‘a more ruthless pruning of Government spending’ as well as cuts in social service expenditure, lower food subsidies and so on. It seems then for the Labour movement to pose the Common Market alone as a threat to our National Health Service, to ‘cheap’ food and to wage bargaining, is short sighted in the extreme.

The call at the annual conference of the Institute of Directors for tougher ‘industrial discipline’ has been going hand in hand with attacks on the most strongly placed workers, and at the source of their strength ... the shop floor: The pressure at the moment being applied to the shop stewards movement, at Fords, in the power stations and elsewhere is vital to Capital if it is going to be able to force its wage control policies on the workers. If the economic forces within the EEC will not come to the aid of the British bosses, then they shall have to take the initiative all the more ruthlessly themselves.

In or out of the Common Market, the problems facing the British Labour movement are likely to be very much the same. Indeed the point is that the issues facing us are more similar to those facing European and American workers than at any time in the past 40 years.

This, in my supposition, should provide the basis for our political attitude to the Common Market struggle. Above all we should be always referring discussion on the Common Market back to the following essential points of departure:

  1. The concentration of world capitalism into bigger and fewer units is inevitable now that the postwar boom is slowing down and competition has greatly increased.
  2. This competition necessitates (inside or outside the ‘Six’) the streamlining (Neddy type planning) of the national capitalist economies.
  3. It also means an increase in the rate of exploitation, greater wage and salary controls, greater freedom for the entrepreneur to make the kind of profit necessary to the system if it is going to get the required level of investment.
  4. Associated with the above, increasing cut backs on social service expenditure and planned attacks on the centres of resistance of the working class; on the shop stewards movement etc.
  5. If we stay out, national capitalist Britain will look increasingly to the State to assist the employer in bringing about the kind of situation for which they had been looking to the forces of the Common Market to provide.

Neither the countries of the Commonwealth, because of their lack of a sufficiently high level of capital intensiveness, nor the countries of the European Free Trade Association, because of their size can provide British capitalism with a suitable alternative to the Common Market. Indeed ultimately the Common Market will not prove sufficient either. Already the preparations are being made to convert the USA, the whole of Europe and any other western-style capitalist countries into one vast tariff free market competing almost exclusively with the Eastern block. The degree of specialization and automation necessary for British, or any other capitalists to adjust will be enormous ...

It should be quite clear by now that the battles the labour movement will have to fight in the future cannot be won Within the confines of one country. Never were the perspectives of ‘internationalism’ more relevant and more practicable.

If the working class is going to successfully resist the most serious, attacks of the employers and their state, as capitalism gears itself for the coming structural changes evolving within the system, then the key to success will be the spreading of resistance to as wide an arena as possible.

With investment and factory ownership so internationalized already (American Fords owning plants not only in the USA but Britain and Germany as well) the need is for the rationalization and standardization, on the highest common denominator, of the workers organizations and their demands.

Now is the time when both the Trade Unions, not only at bureaucratic but also rank-and-file level should be discussing with their opposite numbers in Europe a program of common demands and basic resistance points ... from ‘full work or full pay’ onwards. Also liaison and coordination in resistance struggles should be in the stage of being blue-printed now.

At the level of the struggles for reforms, and this more directly applies if Britain joins the ‘six’, we should now be forcing the leaders of the Labour Party to seek from the other mass reformist parties a common platform in defence of the highest standards of social services, of securing the maximum possible democracy within the various EEC commissions, and so on.

Of necessity this article has been sketchy in the extreme. It has attempted no more than to highlight some of the points in the Common Market debate which are of more concern to the Labour movement and the fight for international socialism, than ‘a thousand years of national history’, or ‘the Empire and national independence’.

In future contributions, it is to be hoped that there will be a closer examination of the effects on a right wing Labour Government, and thus on the whole movement, if we stay out or if we go in.

For the moment let us say at least this: we know that this Common Market has not been conceived as something in the interests of the working masses but indeed that it will provide the framework for more intensive exploitation. On the other hand this market is only the superstructure for the new level into which world capitalism is being geared. Our job is to expose the superstructure for what it is.

However, since the struggle for Socialism must be fought within the confines of the capitalist superstructure, the Labour movement should not be wasting valuable time now fighting irrelevant liberal battles on the questions of national independence, ‘our British way of life’ etc. but should be gathering and coordinating its international forces on an agreed policy to obtain the highest possible conditions both at the point of production and within the social services framework of the state.

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