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Ian H. Birchall

The Common Market

(February 1971)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.46, February/March 1971, p.32.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Economics of the Common Market
D. Swann
Penguin, 8s.

European Political Parties
PEP – S. Henig & J. Pinder (eds.)
Allen & Unwin, 65s.

Towards One Europe
Stuart de la Mahotiere
Penguin, 8s.

Europe versus America?
Ernest Mandel
New Left Books, 35s.

The Common Market has probably caused more confusion in the British Labour movement than any other question. For the most part, the discussion now is little more advanced than it was ten years ago. The argument still centres around the wrong question – whether we should be for or against British entry. The real question, that of a revolutionary strategy, is still largely neglected.

For, strategy cannot precede analysis. And as yet we have no adequate analysis of what the Common Market is, of how the social, political and economic factors interact on each other. Certainly we shall not get such an analysis from the flood of commentary, polemic and pure public relations material that pours out from the publishers every time the question of British entry is raised. (The first three books under review fit into this category). For all these commentators, whatever their other merits or defects, are equally incapable of seeing the problem as a whole. They are prevented, not only by the narrow categories of the disciplines they adhere to, but by their identification with national and class interests.

Mr. Swann, for example, limits his concern to the economic aspects of the question. Yet his pretensions to develop a quantitative and ‘scientific’ approach do not help him to avoid ending up in the realm of pure imagination. He summarises the 1970 White Paper on the effects of British entry:

‘... the cost to the balance-of-payments of all these factors could be as little as £100 million or as much as £1,100 million.... On the subject of the contribution to the agricultural budget the optimistic estimate was a cost of £150 million, but the pessimistic view envisaged a £670 million drain.’

Likewise, the various learned authors wbo have contributed to the volume on the European Political Parties have assembled a great deal of information about party structures, electoral performances, etc. Yet the one theme that stands out clearly from the work is that in most countries of Europe, in or out of the Common Market, the traditional party patterns are becoming increasingly irrelevant; that new divisions and regroupings are emerging to correspond, on the one hand, to the divisions within the ruling class, and on the other to the increasing disaffection of the working class from traditional politics.

The Common Market has not, in any real sense, overcome national limits. The aim of the operation is to provide a bigger market and encourage competition. Yet to do this it is necessary to establish certain common policies, in, for example, agriculture and transport, and to aim at some degree of social harmonisation.

The results so far are a long way removed from the technocratic vision of a dynamic modern capitalism with all the irrationalities ironed out.

For example, from the beginning the Rome Treaty was committed to the principle of equal pay for women. But.one commentator as late as 1966 commented:

‘Where women are unorganised and their wages inadequately protected the Commission can do little except encourage the appropriate Government to take action.’

The problems of a common agricultural policy are well known. The reorganisation of the milk market alone in 1969 cost France as much as the Algerian war in 1959. To get rid of the embarrassing butter surpluses the Commission not only tries cut price sales to army barracks and old age pensioners, but actually considered using it as an ingredient in cattle feed.

Similarly, for the first eleven years of the Common Market’s existence, virtually no progress was made towards a common transport policy. As late as 1968 Germany imposed a licence system which led to long queues of Dutch lorries waiting at the German borders to pick up licences from lorries coming out. The Common Market is still very far removed from solving the problems of taxation and company law.

In short, the technocrats can neither predict nor plan. The food prices that British workers will have to pay depend on the development of the Common Market agricultural policy. But this development lies not in the hands of the Brussels planners, but will be determined by the level of militancy of the European, and especially the French, peasantry. And this in turn will be significantly affected by the development of the working-class movement.

One might have hoped that Ernest Mandel could have cut through the contradictions and offered the outlines of a revolutionary strategy. Unfortunately much of the book is a ragbag of undigested statistics, with only occasional insights into the total dynamics of the system. Mandel quite correctly stresses the underlying instability of European capitalism, and the way that this leads to social explosions, particularly in the traditional industrial areas. He also points out that if European (and Japanese) capitalism is able to make an attack on the American home market, the effect on the American working class could be fundamental.

But although at the end of his book Mandel unfurls the old banner of the ‘United Socialist States of Europe’, there is little indication of how this can be more than a stirring slogan.

British entry to the Common Market is not inevitable. But none of the alternatives have anything better to offer the working class. As the history of French attempts to resist ‘loss of sovereignty’ show, there is no longer a future for capitalism in one country. As Mandel puts it: ‘De Gaulle’s aversion to supranationality thus paradoxically became American Capital’s best ally in Europe.’

The technocrats are whistling in the dark; the Common Market cannot solve their problems, let alone ours. If the Labour movement reverts to nostalgic nationalism, or capitulates to ‘historical tendencies’, it can only prepare confusion and defeat. A Socialist Europe is not a romantic dream; it is the only way to solve the problem of an agricultural policy in the interests of workers and peasants; the only way to solve the massive discrepancies between regions. We need make no concessions to what passes as bourgeois ‘science’ – realism is on our side.

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