Saturday, 11 April 2009


The following document was written by me in January 1982. It appeared in the Internal Bulletin of the Workers Socialist League, of which I was then a prominent member. The context of the document is that it came shortly after the fusion of the International Communist League – of which I had been a member – and the Workers Socialist League of Alan Thornett. Although, the subsequent split of the two organisations arose in relation to the sharp differences over the Falklands War, those differences were really just a manifestation of a deeper theoretical divergence over more fundamental issues relating to the question of Imperialism and the National Question, differences indeed, which continue to mark the Left not just in Britain, but internationally, and stem from a collapse of many on the Marxist Left – largely due to the influence of Stalinism – into Nationalistic positions, and a petit-bourgeois Third Worldism. This document was one of the opening salvos in the debate over those issues that erupted within the WSL. It responds to a document produced by a leading member of the Thornett faction calling for a withdrawal from the EEC. Apart from my overall rejection of “Leninist” politics, I still support the basic political line taken here, and of the WSL Majority back at that time. In fact, ironically, I think, as some of the other documents from the time, I have recently been re-reading demonstrate, it is the current Alliance for Workers Liberty – which is the descendant of the WSL – which has taken up some of the centrist and sectarian politics of the Thornettites, alongside a general degeneration into what is essentially now a Stalinist sect, which has led it into some disastrous mistakes and increasingly desperate zig zags of position.

Given recent developments in relation to the reactionary nationalist stunt of “No2EU”, See: The cancer of Nationalism in the Workers Movement this document demonstrates the old saying, “The more things change the more they remain the same.”


The EEC is the inevitable result of the laws of Capitalist economic development. Faced with increasing competition from American Capital, which had the inbuilt advantage of economies of scale resulting from its vast domestic market, European Capital was bound to protect itself, first by an enlargement of its own domestic protected market and then through concentration of European Capital.

“The emergence of American Capital within the walls of the Common market, whether in the form of new direct subsidiaries of US companies, or through merger with or absorption of existing European units, always represents in the last analysis, a means whereby part of the European market is taken away from European Capital….It is unrealistic to assume that European Capital will not react and defend itself against this process. Inasmuch as we are confronted here with a process of intensification of international Capitalist competition, the amalgamation of European and American companies, in 99 cases out of 100, mean in reality a defeat of European Capital as a result of that competition.”

(Ernest Mandel – ‘International Capitalism and “Supranationality”’ from “International Firms and Modern Imperialism” – Hugo Radice)

If, under present conditions, Britain were to withdraw from the EEC, what would be the result? Either it would work out some close association with the EEC almost equivalent to membership, or its miniscule economy would be totally insufficient to enable capital to dispose of its overproduction. And it would be totally incapable of raising the vast sums necessary to devote on R&D, and capital construction.

British Capital would be ravaged by international competition, and American and European Capital would step in to pick up cheap acquisitions. In short, Britain would be turned into an object for imperialist expansion.

Comrades from the WSL appear to argue that such a turn of events is no bad thing. At the North West Aggregate meeting on 28th June, PL argued that socialists must support the weakening of capitalism and demands, which make the crisis of capitalism deeper. But, it is mechanistic to equate capitalist crisis with working class advance.

“The political effects of a crisis (not only the extent of its influence but also its direction) are determined by the entire existing political situation and by those events which precede and accompany the crisis, especially the battles, successes or failures of the working class itself prior to the crisis. Under one set of conditions the crisis may give a mighty impulse to the revolutionary activity of the working masses; under a different set of circumstances it may completely paralyse the offensive of the proletariat and, should the crisis endure too long and the workers suffer too many losses, it might weaken extremely not only the offensive but also the defensive potential of the working class.”

Trotsky – Flood Tide from the “First Five Years of the Comintern”)

See: Flood Tide

If withdrawal from the EEC were a part of an overall class battle in which the policies of a Workers Government and the interests of the working class were coming into immediate collision with the EEC, then yes, we would have to withdraw de facto by refusing to accept EEC instructions. In such circumstances any concomitant economic crisis could serve to spur the working-class forward towards revolution.

But, we are not in those circumstances, and the call for withdrawal at the present time has simply the effect of leading the working class up a nationalistic blind alley, whether that is the intention or not.

At the present time, any successful campaign for real withdrawal would inevitably have to be followed up by the siege economy aspects of the AES (Stalinist Alternative Economic Strategy AB) in order to prevent foreign capital carving up Britain.

As E. Mandel wrote in his economic analysis (though the USFI’s political line is different!)

“The position of socialists towards the Common Market can best be derived from the traditional Marxist position towards capitalist concentration. Marxists are not in favour of trusts as opposed to small businesses; at the same time, they understand that to try artificially to protect small business against concentration is a reactionary policy…..

In the same perspective, it would make no sense from a Marxist point of view to call either for bourgeois supranational powers over the national state, or to defend the bourgeois national state against the growth of supranational powers.”

As Marxists, we do not oppose the inevitable laws of capitalist development for the sake of it. We see in such development the further development of the inherent contradictions of capitalism. We seek to further the revolutionary elements in that contradiction by our intervention.

JL says that we must not be neutral on “whether or not the British imperialists cement a new economic alliance which will strengthen their hand against the working class at home or abroad.” Exactly how the EEC strengthens the bosswes hand is not spelled out. If JL means that the EEC strengthens European Capital because it enables concentration to take place more easily and because it does away with some economic frictions within the community (tariffs, capital movements etc.) then I would not disagree. But, this sort of strengthening is essentially no different from Capital being “strengthened” by new technological developments, which provide the potential for Capital to increase the rate of exploitation. Marxists do not oppose the introduction of (say) the microprocessor, we argue for work-sharing without loss of pay in order that the working class can fight for such technology to be used for its benefit.

Nor can the growth of Capital be seen as automatically against the interests of the working class.

“But a boom is a boom. It means a growing demand for goods, expanded production, shrinking unemployment, rising prices and the possibility of higher wages. And, in the given historical circumstances, the boom will not dampen but sharpen the revolutionary struggle of the working class.”

(Trotsky ibid)

It is difficult to see in what other way the EEC strengthens capitalism vis a vis the working class. Does being in or out of the EEC make any difference to Ford’s ability to move work from Britain to Germany during a strike? Of course, the answer is no, and must be no, because the EEC is no more than the bourgeoisie's attempt to bring the political and juridical superstructure into line with the reality of European economic relations as they have developed since the late ‘50’s.

JL’s presentation of the EEC is one-sided. Marxists have always stressed that capitalism is unable to carry out the necessary transformation of Europe because of the contradictions inherent in trying to satisfy the divergent interests of the various capitalist states. But, the fact that these contradictions exist and the limited nature of the transformation that capitalism is able to bring about are not an argument for withdrawal. Rather they should be at the centre of the propaganda we make in relation to the needs of the European working class, peasants, and small farmers.

Indeed, the contradictions and divergent interests of Capital within Europe offer certain advantages for us in terms of political intervention. Take for example, the question of Ireland. Labour and Ireland No.5 carried an article by Richard Balfe which related how support in the Socialist Group in the European Parliament had been developed, and how a telegram had been sent to Thatcher calling on her to negotiate with the hunger strikers. OK, the telegram was pretty useless, but it was an advance on the position taken by Labour at Westminster.

More importantly, Balfe says that Ireland, “has made campaigners against the Berufsverbot in Germany, for Civil Rights in Italy, for the right to petition to the Court of Human Rights in France, realise that they have potential for alliances on all of these issues between groups in different countries.”

And on 29th June, a demonstration of European Trade Unions took place against unemployment. Without the existence of the EEC to provide a focus, is it likely that such a demonstration could have taken place? At that demonstration, Len Murray said that the TUC was there because they were opposed to Thatcherism in what ever language it was spoken.

For how long are the nationalist solutions to unemployment peddled by Murray and Co. going to remain compatible with statements like that, which openly say to the working class, unemployment is an international problem?

If there has been any weakness in the ICL’s position, it has been that our propaganda has been aimed almost entirely at the British working class rather than towards raising demands in relation to the EEC capable of uniting the working class, peasantry and small farmers throughout Europe. One of the most obvious areas where such demands should be raised is in relation to the CAP.

The CAP maintains high food prices, creates massive overproduction and waste, and barely provides a subsistence for the peasants and small farmers for whom it is supposedly designed. An internationalist policy would suggest raising the demand for nationalisation of the large farms, a minimum wage for the peasants and small farmers, the provision of state finance for the modernisation of the small scale farms and incentives fort he peasants to form collective farms, for the defence of workers living standards through a sliding scale of wages.

JL, however, sees the high prices caused by the CAP purely as an attack on the british working class, and instead of a united class response to the CAP offers withdrawal. Such a response not only offers no solutions to the peasants and small farmers of the EEC, but is also unlikely to result in any lowering of the cost of living for British workers (let alone any other workers)!

The argument is a very strange one. Marxists have argued that one of the incentives for imperialism was the need for sources of cheap raw materials and particularly cheap foodstuffs, in order to reduce the value of labour power. By reducing the amount of necessary labour-time, so the argument went, so the amount of surplus labour time would be increased. Now, if JL is correct that the strategy of Capital is to attack workers living standards through the CAP by keeping food prices high we must assume that imperialism was on completely the wrong tack before. Instead of sources of cheap food, it should really have been looking for more expensive food!

In fact, JL’s argument really gives unintentional help to the reformists. It says instead of a fight to protect workers living standards through the sliding scale of wages, blame it on the EEC. If taken to its logical conclusion, this argument, by shifting the focus of struggle from wages to prices should lead to us calling for price controls in Britain to protect workers living standards.

Even without the sliding scale it is doubtful whether workers living standards in Britain have fallen as a result of higher EEC food prices. Indeed, one of the reasons for the acuteness of the present crisis in Britain stems from the ability of the workingc lass to defend its standards of living against the needs of Capital for he last decade or so.

One final note: as Trotskyists we have always made propaganda for the United Socialist States of Europe. But, to say either the USSE or nothing is maximalist sectarianism. An internationalist perspective must be based on unifying the workers, peasants and small farmers around Transitional demands which expose the inadequacy of Capitalism’s attempts at restoring the economic life of Europe. In Britain, we have raised the slogan of the Workers Government. Now, I believe is the time to raise the slogan of the Workers and Peasants Government for Europe.

“The slogan: “a workers’ and peasants’ government” is designed to meet the growing attempts of the workers to find a way out by their own efforts. It has now become necessary to point out this avenue of salvation more concretely, namely, to assert that only in the closest economic co-operation of the peoples of Europe lies the avenue of salvation for our continent from economic decay and from enslavement to mighty American capitalism.”

(Trotsky – “Is the Slogan of ‘The United States of Europe a Timely One’ from The First Five years of the Communist International.)

See: Trotsky



There will be more documents from the archives in future blogs.

No comments: