1960s >> 1961 >> no-687-november-1961
Britain on the Brink
British Capitalism has decided to take its chance with the Common Market. After shivering at the water’s edge for a long, long time it has at last ventured as far as the end of the diving-board. It even shows signs this time that it is really going to take the plunge.
At least its political representatives do. Re-inforced by the support of the Brighton Conference, even if it was apparently only given after some heavy gunning from, the platform, the Conservative leadership can contemplate the next step with easier minds.
Their special envoy, Mr. Heath, has lost no time. He has already told the Six how anxious Britain is to join them, how keen she is to abide by their principles, and with what determination she is ready to carry them out. What a come-down and what hypocrisy!
Ever since the Common Market came into existence, and even before that when its predecessors like the Coal and Steel Community were being formed, British Capitalism has held aloof. For what it no doubt considered quite good economic and political reasons it preferred the safe and easy markets of the Commonwealth to taking risks in Europe. Even when it became clear that the Common Market was becoming a strong economic threat, the U.K. still attempted to thwart it by setting up a rival firm (EFTA or the Seven) as a counterweight. They tried all the other well-known Capitalist dodges into the bargain, such as playing off their rivals against each other, in particular by trying to drive a wedge between France and Germany.
When it became clear that EFTA was hardly in the race the Government immediately set to work to condition British Capitalism to the fact that there was no alternative but to jump on the Common Market band-wagon. In the words of the well-known phrase, “ If you can’t lick ’em, join ’em.”
Since then, they have calmly proceeded to swallow most of what they had said before (as well as a considerable amount of pride) and now calmly go forward, cap in hand, to try to get in as though this had been their intention right along. As more than one commentator has pointed out, the Government spokesmen at the Conservative Conference shot down all the arguments against joining without mercy—every one of which arguments they themselves had been using only a little before!
All the countries concerned with the Common Market are, of course, manoeuvring for position just like Britain. One of Britain’s problems, for example, has been how to cope with its obligations to the other countries in EFTA. It need not have worried so much. When the time came for them to make application to the Six it was to find that the “neutrals,” Austria, Sweden and Switzerland, had already been negotiating with the Community behind their backs and had in fact succeeded in obtaining some quite useful concessions. So much for the niceties of international agreements under Capitalism.
At the same time, the Six themselves are jockeying for positions of self-advantage. The Netherlands are the most inclined to let Britain join, the French the most opposed. These attitudes have nothing to do with anything other than hard economic and political facts. The Dutch would be very pleased to see a further large market for their agricultural produce come into the Community whilst the French are still almost as suspicious as ever that British Capitalism’s only motive for joining is to get inside and smash it.
These are only a few examples of the conflicts of interest underlying everything connected with the Common Market. Every one of the countries involved has its own economic and political interests to safeguard by almost any method it can. There are few holds barred.
The Conservatives managed to bulldoze through their Conference an overwhelming vote of support for their decision. But a lot is going to depend on how the negotiations go. If they get the Six to look favourably on their difficulties with the Commonwealth they will not have too much to fear. If the Six also prove cooperative over agriculture, they will be even happier. But should the discussions on either of these topics run into trouble, the Conservatives will be in trouble, too. There is a large element within the Party which is very touchy on both aspects and which would break out into full cry again if things went badly in the negotiations.
As for the Labour Party, immersed more than ever in the day to day affairs of Capitalism, they hardly know where they are. Out of office, they can afford to argue amongst themselves without the need to come to a decision one way or the other. But if they had been in power, it is a pretty safe bet that they would now be doing exactly the same thing as the Conservatives are doing, with probably the same misgivings and certainly the same dissensions. It is not, after all, by accident that Tribune and the Daily Express find themselves in one camp with Mr. Shinwell and Lord Hinchinbrook, and people like Mr. Heath and Mr. Woodrow Wyatt together in the other. In such ways do the economic forces of Capitalism speak louder than the pretences of Capitalist political parties.
For the essential thing to remember about all this hoo-ha over the Common Market is the harsh Capitalist reality underlying it. The reason why British Capitalism has at last got to the point of joining the Six is because its economic interests are pressing hard upon it to do so. Just how hard is demonstrated by what it is having to suffer in injured pride and swallowed words. And it is these same forces which helped to bring about the Common Market itself and which will again largely determine the attitude of its members to Britain’s application to join and that of any other interested nation.
Politics also play their part, of course, politics which again have their roots in the harsh economic reality of Capitalism. The Common Market is to some extent the reflection of the realisation by such countries as France, Germany, and Italy, that their days as Big Powers have gone and that it is now the giants, such as Russia and the U.S.A. that dominate the world scene. The European Community seeks to present itself as a force on a par with these—with a population of 160 million and an industrial and agricultural production that can stand comparison with the giants. It is the forces of Capitalism again, at work in the drive towards bigger and bigger units within individual countries, and in the urge towards bigger units like the Common Market on the world scene. The smaller national units of Capitalism see cheaper and more efficient production in a larger international unit.
What is not an issue in the Common Market is the interests of the working-class. True, there, are such things as plans to standardise working conditions within the Community and, in theory at any rate, the aim eventually to allow completely free movement of workers inside it, but essentially the workers’ position will remain unchanged. Instead of working for a purely French or German firm, French and German workers may find themselves belonging to a Common Market one, but such a situation has been developing for years and the Common Market, if it succeeds, will only complete this process.
No, the motive force of the Common Market and the events now associated with it is economic interest—the drive for profit. The task of the working-class, whether Britain joins it or not, will still be to get rid of the system that generates this drive for profit.
And in setting about that task the workers of Britain and of the Common Market do have a common interest.