Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Abyss

The dominant section of the capitalist class in Britain want to stay in the EU, but they have a political problem. Their representatives, in the Tory Party committed themselves to holding a referendum on the question. This was unwise, from their point of view, as this is to delegate a decision of vital interest to them to a population of workers that is largely uninformed on the issue and whose heads have been filled over the years with patriotic nonsense for other purposes. It is by no means certain that they will win the referendum, though they probably will if they put the media organs they control into top gear. Cameron and others are now presently warning workers that leaving the European Union is a "leap into the dark" with unknowable consequences. Martin Temple, the chairman of the manufacturers’ organisation EEF, warned to leave the European Union would amount to a step into an “abyss of uncertainty and risk.”

The main argument put forward by the anti-EU section of the capitalist class is that it involves a loss of "our" sovereignty. It may well involve a loss of their sovereignty but the rest of us have no "sovereignty" to lose. Certainly, we have the vote and we can use it to elect politicians to Westminister. But neither Parliament nor the government can control the way the economy works. They can try but if they go against the profit logic of the system they just make things worse. The most they can successfully do is go along with this logic. They emphasise Parliament's "constitutional right" to control the economy, completely ignoring the fact that experience has shown this to be a purely paper right. The capitalist economy works according to certain economic laws which no government or legislative body can over-ride. So the argument about sovereignty is not really about what the constitution may or may not say. It's about the effective power that a capitalist state can exercise within the capitalist economy.

Capitalism has always existed within a framework of competing states, none of which is strong enough to impose its will on all the others. States, as weapons in the hands of rival groups of capitalists, intervene to further the interests of the capitalists that control them. They do this by using state power to set up protected markets, raw materials sources, trade routes and investment outlets. In normal times their weapons are tariffs, taxes, quotas, export rebates and other economic measures. The extent to which a capitalist state can distort the world market in favour of its capitalists depends both on its industrial muscle. In the dog-eat-dog world of capitalism might is right. Over the years capitalism has become more and more international, more and more globalised. This has tended to reduce the margin of manoeuvre open to states, i.e. has reduced their "sovereignty". The sovereignty argument is really an argument within the capitalist class as to whether they should give up some of the might of their state to be able to benefit from the greater might of a larger grouping. In the capitalist world, just as much as for workers bargaining over wages, "unity is strength". The less stupid capitalists are circumspect. They realise that Britain can't really go it alone, but has to be associated with some larger grouping.

As socialists, we don't take sides in this inter-capitalist argument. We don't support one section of the capitalist class or the other, and we don't have any illusions about the "sovereign power" of Parliament to pass reformist legislation that can make capitalism work in the interest of the exploited class of wage and salary earners. Capitalism just cannot be reformed to work in this way; so transferring some of the powers of the House of Commons to a European Parliament in Strasbourg makes no difference. Whether or not the British capitalist class stay in the EU is not a working-class issue. Let the capitalist class and their parties and supporters settle the matter for themselves. In the meantime we continue to campaign for the establishment of a world society without frontiers where the resources of the Earth are the common heritage of humanity and are used to produce the things we need to live and to enjoy life for us to take directly.