50 Years Ago: The Common Market — the Real Issue

The Common Market has become front-page news. Papers that could hardly spare it a thought a few short months ago now give it headlines. Special features set out to explain things in simple terms for “the man in the street.” On radio and TV it is the same. Even ITV did a series and got criticised for slanting the programme too heavily in favour of Britain going in.

There is plenty of such criticism, of course. Dire warnings of what will happen to us if Britain goes into the Common Market are matched by equally dreadful ones about our fate if she stays out.

We are told of other possible consequences. Of how the Government is thinking of going over to decimal currency—after hesitation on the part of its predecessors for close on a hundred and fifty years. And of the way Mr. Marples is apparently making preparations just in case we have eventually to drive on the right hand side of the road! How much keener can British capitalism’s representatives show themselves than that?

But, more seriously, why this sudden about-turn? Why, after resolutely refusing to have anything to do with the Common Market for years, is the British Government desperately trying to get in? Even in 1958, when the writing was pretty plainly on the wall, they still preferred to set up the rival firm EFTA (the Seven) rather than come to terms with the Six. They had the chance of joining then and turned it down. (…)

The reason, then, for British capitalism’s change of front is the one we should always seek when we wish to discover the motive for the really important activities of capitalist nations and their political spokesmen—the motive of harsh, real, cold economic interest.

Plain and inescapable is the fact that if British capitalism does not go into the Common Market, it is going to be left isolated in a world increasingly under the sway of the economic power of the Six. This isolation will become more and more pronounced as the Market’s internal tariffs fall and its duties on imported products increase. Eventually, if the avowed aims of the Common Market were to be achieved, British capitalism would be left high and dry. The Tory Government has, belatedly, woken to the danger and is now fighting a desperate last-minute battle to avert it.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, January 1962)