1980s >> 1988 >> no-1012-december-1988

1992 and all that

In 1992. the barriers to trade in Europe will be removed. By then, the twelve member countries of the European Economic Community will be working together as a single market in which capital and workers will be free to move about without obstacle. Despite Margaret Thatcher’s recent highly publicised and populist opposition to a United States of Europe, the pressure is now on for political change to match new economic circumstances.

Trade and investment no longer bind firms to their national economies. Improvements in communications technology mean that capitalists can operate on a continental scale formerly only possible in the United States. The combined sales of the top three multinational companies operating in Europe — General Motors. Esso and Ford — are larger than the gross national products of all but four of the EEC countries.

Throughout Europe, capitalists are being forced together in mergers and take-overs to defend themselves against worldwide competition. A small percentage of mergers involve contested take-over bids, such as that of Rowntrees by Nestlé. Most mergers, however, are entirely amicable, and the reason has long been apparent:

The battle of competition is fought by the cheapening of commodities. The cheapness of commodities depends on the productivity of labour, and this depends on the scale of production. Therefore, the larger capitals beat the smaller. (Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1. Ch. 25.2).

The post-war labour programme of nationalisation in Britain was simply a capitalist initiative to accelerate the process of concentration by instantly transforming smaller capitals into larger ones. The current trend of privatisation is. in reality, a programme of multi-nationalisation, as the necessity for capital to expand beyond the control of national governments becomes irresistible. British Gas already has oil interests in Canada and Kuwaiti capitalists have acquired a substantial stake in BP.

The position of multi-nationals makes a nonsense of national frontiers. These companies are simultaneously buyers and sellers. Their plants and workforces are linked to facilitate co-operation in the production of a single product. Although separated by many hundreds or even thousands of miles, workers may be as much a part of the same production chain as those on assembly lines housed in the same factory Ford, IBM, ICI and Nestlé all have subsidiaries in at least six EEC countries. It is in multi-nationals like these that capitalist production has resulted in the socialisation of labour on a continental scale.

The formation of the EEC in 1957 and the widely advertised removal of barriers to trade by 1992 are examples of production relations adjusting to new economic circumstances. However, in contradiction to these developments, there are conservative capitalist interests that operate to put a brake on any change. Capitalism profits from the exploitation of workers and benefits from a workforce divided and weakened by petty national differences. Politicians, posing as patriots, attempt to maintain this division in the interests of the capitalists. “There will be no United States of Europe in my lifetime” Thatcher defiantly proclaims.

National antagonisms provide the capitalists with a convenient diversion from the one antagonism that counts to workers: class antagonism. Narrow-minded nationalism is perpetuated by the idea that poverty is caused by there not being enough to go round, and therefore each nation must compete for the wealth available. High wage claims and strikes for improved living standards are familiarly said to be “against the national interest”.

But capitalism has long had the potential to satisfy human needs. Only the social organisation and relationships of production prevent it from doing so. Replace capitalism with socialism, and production will be geared not to selling goods on the market for profit but to creating the necessities of life for the satisfaction of need. Eliminate the waste of human capacities and material resources which exists under capitalism and we will achieve an abundance of the means to life to which everyone will enjoy free access.

In 1883 in his speech at Marx’s graveside. Engels said: “Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of human history.” This law. every bit as scientific as Darwin s. said that “people must always adapt their relations of production to their forces of production”. Thus, the need to get rid of capitalism and replace it with socialism is the need to eliminate production relations which have become fetters on the productive potential of the world. In short: we need a social revolution.

However, there are today forces at work which act to keep the fetters in place. While the right-wing of capitalism perpetuates national differences, the multitude of left-wing sects argue that the working-class is increasingly fragmenting into separate minority-interest groups that must campaign for their palliative reforms on single-issue platforms. In reality the workers of the world have more in common today than ever before. Earlier this century, a London cockney and a Spanish peasant might have seen each other as alien beings. Now, their grandchildren are probably exploited by the same company, producing parts for the same car, pushing buttons on the same IBM keyboard, having received just enough of the same repressive schooling for the privilege of so doing. One might take a holiday in the other s home town. They probably both wear Levi’s, listen to the same analgesic pop music, eat the international standard Big Mac and wash it down with Coca-Cola.

Socialists recognise that developments within capitalism itself are enmeshing workers together in production-relations on a continental and then increasingly global scale. Economic development is guiding the course of human history, whether workers are conscious of it or not. Workers everywhere have long shared interests that transcend national frontiers. A Europe opening for trade in 1992 is one sign among many that the appeal for workers of the world to unite has never been more urgent. History is on the side of socialism. The national state, once essential to the protection of national capital is becoming increasingly irrelevant.

Economic necessity is bringing about the world socialisation of production. We must complete the process and effect a world socialisation of ownership. Only then will the forces of social labour be set free and the means to life be produced in abundance for all.

John Dunn