Thursday, March 10, 2016

Class or Country?

The campaign on the European Union underlines the need for the labour movement to take a clear class, anti-capitalist attitude on the question of the Referendum. The EU has probably caused more confusion in the British labour movement than any other issue. The response of the average person to any discussion to the EU, and especially of the up-coming referendum, is certainly one of total boredom. Yet behind the boredom one fact remains: the ruling class and its representatives take the EU very seriously indeed.

 Strategy cannot precede analysis. Many commentators are incapable of seeing the problem as a whole. They are prevented by their identification with national and class interests. Some on the Left call for ‘United Socialist States of Europe’ but The Socialist Party stands for an independent class battle against capitalism. We advocate world socialism and it is not a romantic dream; it is the only way to solve the problems of workers. Realism is on our side. Workers should not be wasting valuable time now fighting irrelevant battles on the questions of national independence and ‘our British way of life’. We have to make the working class, from which we are a part, realise just how powerful they are. If we all sigh together it is like a mighty wind and if we all stamp their feet it is an earthquake. The goal of world socialism in which the working class organises and controls its own destiny can only be achieved by the working class.

Capitalism is a worldwide system. Capitalism is expansive or it is nothing. Capitalism created the nation-state and the interdependence of world economy as one single unit. It has long been known that the development of productive forces has outgrown the framework of the national state on the European continent. European corporations find themselves driven by the scale of business operations, the ever greater expense of technological advance and the requirements of military defence to try and integrate their efforts. This cannot be restricted to the mere removal of trade barriers. It seems to necessitate an actual merging of the ruling classes themselves. Only in this way could they develop the resources to enable them to compete with other giants of the modern world economy. The whole trend of the development transcends national boundaries, but the fact remains that a vast majority of firms continue to be owned from and operate within a particular national base. Indeed, firms are more closely bound together than ever before into blocks of national capital – by interlocking directorships, the role of banks and financial institutions, and so on. The EU is a product of the contradictions of capitalism. The particular contradiction in this case is that a modern capitalist state can be neither consistently nationalist nor consistently internationalist. Modern capitalism is a highly integrated international system. Production is organised across national boundaries, trade and finance operate on a world scale. No single unit of capitalist society can jump outside of this system.

Contrary to the Utopian dreams of some on the extreme right and the reformist left, there is no way that Britain can simply put up the shutters and pursue its own economic destiny within its own frontiers. The only state that has seriously tried has been North Korea. The result is scarcely encouraging. Thus the capitalist ruling class are compelled to think in terms of international cooperation and even planning. Hence the various ‘economic summits’ and similar charades. Indeed, many national states are now too small to function adequately in terms of the needs and pressures of modern capitalism and strived to be incorporated into the EU. In terms of pure logic it would make good sense for them to merge. Nothing could be more rational than the various nation states of Western Europe should merge into a single political and economic unit able to stand on a level with Russia, China and the USA.

Capitalism is by its very nature a competitive system. The survival of each enterprise depends upon a continual life and death struggle with other enterprises. The EU represents a deliberate attempt to encourage internationalisation of business. It wants ‘Europeanisation’ of capital. 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 economic policies and to aim at some degree of social harmonisation. The arguments of the anti-EU have had no more substance than those of the pro-EU themselves. They have adopted a narrow nationalistic outlook, appealing against the loss of British “sovereignty”. But in no way do they offer a viable alternative.

The advent of the EU in no way means ended national chauvinism as an ideological weapon in the hands of the ruling class. The very way in which decisions are arrived at – by continual, and often very bitter haggling between different governments – creates an environment in which nationalistic talk can flourish. National governments can blame unpopular moves on the pressure of the other member states and demand national ‘sacrifices’ in order to resist them. They can claim that they, are being forced by the EU to carry through unpopular measures – even when, in reality they could ignore such rulings. They can simultaneously blame Brussels or Strasbourg for unpopular policies, and divert protest into a nationalistic blind alley. Socialists must be adamant in their opposition to those inside the working class movement who resort to arguments about sovereignty.

Neither leave or stay can solve the problems of British capitalism. Neither UK nationalism nor EU-Europeanism is a solution in the interests of the working class. The solution to the problem lies in the unity of the workers of Europe and the world against the capitalists of Europe and the world. In the coming years the British and European workers will increasingly come to understand the community of interests of the world’s workers. Marx, for instance, gave support to the movement for German and Italian unity. But he did so in a period in which capitalism as a system was still struggling for supremacy against older forms of class society and, in the process, preparing the preconditions for socialism. Today, however, these preconditions exist. Marx explained that the working class could not support either tariffs or free trade, neither of which would serve their interests. We oppose the illusion being peddled that somehow a ‘sovereign’ capitalist Britain is a real alternative to staying in the EU for working people. The position of socialists towards the EU can best be derived from the traditional Marxist position towards capitalist concentration. Marxists are not in favour of monopolies as opposed to small business; at the same time, they understand that artificially to try and protect small business against capitalist concentration is a reactionary policy. Socialists therefore point to small businesses being gobbled up by large corporations as indications of an inevitable process of capitalist concentration, which should increase the pressure in favour of common ownership of the means of production. It makes no sense from a Marxist point of view to call either for a EU super-state over the national state, or to defend the national state against the growth of the EU powers. The EU is an attempt, on a strictly capitalist basis, to overcome some of the contradictions between the scale of modern capitalist industry and the restrictions of national boundaries. Both the tendencies of capital concentration and centralisation and of the obsolescence of a purely national economy are indications of over-ripeness for socialist solutions: the need for a rational planned economy based upon common ownership. We must fight for and explain the case for socialism. The enemy is not the EU, the enemy is capitalism.

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