Editorial from the March 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard
The MacMillan Government, with the general support of the Labour Party and the Trades Union Congress, is going ahead with the scheme to associate Britain with a European free trade area that is being built up round a separate, more closely integrated "common market” of Germany, France, Italy, Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The six countries in the "common market" aim by stages to abolish customs barriers and free movements of labour and capital within the area. The larger “free trade area: is a sort of half-way house to full integration; in particular British food production and imports would continue to be on the basis of preference for Commonwealth countries.
The motive for the decision of the Government to go in is the powerful one that British industry cannot afford to keep out. When the European “common market” area is formed, with a protected market of 250 million people, thus enabling mass production industries to operate on a scale that will justify the necessary enormous investments of capital, British manufacturers fear that they will be undercut, not only in Europe, but in world markets; for the 50 million population of Britain is far too small a market to serve as foundation for modernised industry. For British Capitalism it is a question of getting into the European group or being crushed by the three great production areas that will then exist, America, Russia and United Europe.
The Express group of newspapers fights a rearguard action for Empire development and “Keep out of Europe,” and accuses the Government, not without justification, of taking this step without a mandate from the electors. The Sunday Express (10/2/57) charges MacMillan on this score with "downright political dishonesty,” and quotes from Design of Europe, a pamphlet of which the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Peter Tborneycroft, was chief author, an admission that no Government could hope in advance, to get the electors to agree:—
“The people must be led slowly and unconsciously into the abandonment of their traditional economic defences.”
The Sunday Express prophecies that if the Government has its way the voters will first realise what has happened when “a million of them wake up one morning to find themselves unemployed.” What the Express writer has in mind is the fact, readily admitted by the advocates of European integration, that while some British industries may gain by having access to a European market, others, notably textiles and perhaps the motor industry, will find themselves unable to compete with German and other producers.
The German Customs Union of last century
The dilemma of the British Government and Capitalists recalls a parallel development of over a century ago. To enable German industry to take its place among the industrial nations in the first half of the 19th century the Prussian Government gradually built up a customs union, first for its own scattered territories, then for the other states in the then disunited Germany. This was to lead eventually to the United Germany that in colonial expansion, wars against Denmark, Austria and France, and the first world war fought for dominance in Europe and the world.
Of particular interest to present day British Capitalism was the fate of Austria in face of the Prussian rise to leading place in Germany. At the outset Prussia and Austria were more or less equal rivals in the struggle for control of Germany and the Prussian Government realised that the advance of Prussia called for the expulsion and weakening of Austria. The rulers of Austria were less farseeing and ruthless than their Prussian rivals and only woke up to the realities of the situation when the battle had already been fought and won by Prussia. Now the struggle is for dominance in a United Europe and British Capitalism hesitates in its dilemma whether to see Germany take the lead in Europe or to get inside in the hope of preventing this; but British Capitalism has Colonial and other ties that pull in an opposite direction and make the decision a hard one.
Socialists have no illusions
For many years sentimentalists who refuse to recognise the nature of Capitalism have looked to United Europe as an ideal or at least as a step towards a warless, united world. It will, of course, be nothing of the kind. United Europe, if it comes to maturity, will be an attempt to form an industrial and military entity powerful enough to stand up to America and Russia.
Socialists can also recall with amusement an argument that used to be flung at them. While British Capitalists and the Empire were at the zenith of their power it was a common Tory argument against Socialists that they rejected British Nationalism, prided themselves on being international, and made use of the works of a foreigner a German, Karl Marx. This is a chicken that has come home to roost for now Tories and Labourites alike, have to admit that survival in a Capitalist world is no longer a matter that can be determined by the people and Government in this tight little island. But whereas they both now look for salvation to a European grouping on a Capitalist basis, Socialists are still internationalist because Socialism as always is a world conception and not a mere European one.