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Editorial: Going it alone?

If the results of June’s European elections are anything to go by, more people in Britain like the approach of the “United Kingdom Independence Party” than they do that of the Liberal-Democrats.

UKIP is basically a know-nothing, anti-foreigner party. It is a sad sign of the currently low level of working class political understanding that 16 percent of those who voted in these elections (even if only about 6 percent of the electorate) should have given their votes to such a party, with another 5.7 percent (2 percent of the electorate) going to the even more explicitly anti-foreigner BNP. Not that that means that those who voted for the other parties showed much political intelligence either. No party of capitalism can solve the problems faced by the wage and salary working class and so none of them are worth voting for.

Independence in the sense UKIP means is just not possible within the context of globalized capitalism. Certainly, formal political independence, or sovereignty, is possible, where states have the full power to make decisions without reference to any supra-national rules or decision-making procedures. But there’s a difference between the mere legal power to do something and what can be done in practice. In practice all states, when exercising their sovereign power to make decisions, have to take into account the economic reality that there exists a single world market economy on which they are dependent.

A state can exercise some degree of influence on how the world market operates in relation to it - it erect tariff walls, subsidise exports, devalue its currency - but this depends on its economic clout (such as the productivity and size of its industry and the extent of its internal market). Nearly fifty years ago the leading states of continental Europe calculated that they could better face the world market if they formed a single economic unit. They realised that this meant giving up some of their sovereignty to a supra-national body into whose decisions, however, they would have some input, but anticipated that what they were giving up in terms of national political sovereignty would be more than compensated by the gains brought about by being part of a wider economic unit, exercising collective political sovereignty on trade matters. Thus was born what is now the EU.

Twenty-five years later the dominant section of the British capitalist class made the same calculation as had Germany, France, Italy and the Benelux countries, and, from 1973, joined the economic union they had formed. The advantages of this, for British capitalism, were access to a wider internal market and a greater, even if shared, economic clout on the world market than they would have had on their own.

UKIP tacitly admits, in the small print, that Britain couldn’t go it alone economically when they argue that, after withdrawal from the EU, Britain should still form part of a free trade area with the rest of Europe. But this is how the EU started, and it still involves a sacrifice of sovereignty in the form of a surrender of the right to erect tariff walls against goods coming from the EU or to subsidise exports to it. And there would still need to be negotiations over the rules, their interpretation and on whether or not they had been infringed, negotiations in which the British capitalist class would be weakened by having to face on its own a bigger unit with a common position.

This of course is where the mainstream parties, which better reflect the current interest of the capitalist class, will be able to fault UKIP if ever things got serious, by arguing that if British capitalism is going to form part of some European economic unit then its interests would be better served by being a full member, with full rights to have a say in determining the unit’s common policies.

But this is to assume that UKIP’s case is a rational one whereas it isn‘t. It is based on xenophobia, with its slogans “No to the EU” and “Keep the Pound for Ever” meaning “No to foreigners” and “Britain über Alles”. It is based on the irrational view that “foreigners” of one sort or another represent a threat to the supposed community with a common interest made up of the “native” population of the UK. But there is no such community, no such common interest. Britain, like every other country in the world, is a class-divided country where the two classes - those who own and class and those who work and produce - have diametrically opposed interests.

The view that all who live in the same country have a common interest against all those who live in other states is part of a political ideology that seeks to mobilise the producing class to line up behind the owning class in its contest with the owning classes of other countries. But the interest of the wage and salary working class in all countries is to reject all nationalism, to reject in fact the very idea of “foreigner”, and to recognise that they have a common interest with people in other countries in the same economic situation of being obliged to sell their mental and physical energies in order to get a living. That interest lies in working together to establish a world-wide society of common ownership, democratic control and production for use not profit.