Thursday, December 14, 2017

The United Socialist States of Europe

In the mid-1970s when I was trying to escape from teaching, I applied for an executive officer job with the Civil Service. I took the tests and attended an interview where I was asked, "What do you think about Britain being in the Common Market?".

I was conflicted: I was still a revolutionary socialist so I knew the party line was: 'No to the Europe of the capitalists, for a United Socialist States of Europe!'.

On the other hand, I was a disillusioned leftist and inclined to doubt that insurrection was likely to engulf Europe any time soon. In any case, I quite liked the idea of Europe: I'd had some great holidays there.

I responded without conviction that I thought the Common Market was not a good idea for Britain. No doubt that was why I didn't get the job .. (only kidding: there were a thousand reasons for the Civil Service not to employ me).

The left is now all at sea over Europe though; the pristine ideological purity of half a century ago has been shredded.


If the UK capitalist class was truly united in wishing to stay in the EU, that inconvenient referendum result would have been subverted or reversed well before now.

It's certainly true that almost all economists believe that being part of the customs union, with a say on policy, offers by far the best prospects for the UK economy. It goes with the flow of globalisation, increased market size, lowered transaction costs and just-in-time logistics.

But the UK bourgeoisie has never been quite so committed to that predominantly political project which the EU truly is. The path to ever greater convergence, towards that famed economic and political integration into a 'superstate', is in practice one of transition to a unified European polity under German dominance.

With its global interests - the tepid afterglow of Empire - the British establishment always wanted the economic benefits without the political subordination. That balancing act has become ever more difficult as Germany has become more assertive and other members states more reliant upon it, more subservient to its power one might say.

So apart from the most devoted servants of international finance capital in the City (the George Osborne wing of the Tory Party; the Blair wing of Labour) there is a kind of strategic paralysis gripping most other sectors of the capitalist class.

So-called soft-Brexit, which is essentially the status quo ante but with even less political influence in Europe (or, even more disengagement, to put the positive spin on it), is thus the favoured option.

Smaller, more national and regional businesses get little of benefit from the EU and lack lobbying power there. These are the stalwarts of the Tory Party in the country and the most enthusiastic Brexiteers.

Meanwhile everyone is now familiar with the plight of the traditional, relatively unskilled working class, marginalised by higher-skilled, younger and more energetic competition from Eastern Europe. As they have been pressed back into the reserve army of labour, their resentment has fuelled a visceral 'leave' sentiment: a problem for Labour and a tantalising opportunity for the Tories.


I don't have any views as to what the revolutionary left ought to be campaigning on here. The theory says that you should base your line on objective political analysis, not the vagaries of sentiment of your base-support. Since the EU is just as much a capitalist/globalisation project now as it was 45 years ago, the orthodox Leninist-Trotskyist position must be to oppose it.

But this implies that there's a viable strategy to supersede capitalism (a United Socialist States of Europe!) which can be meaningfully counterposed - and there is not.

The alternate argument, heard from those bright young revisionists in Labour's Momentum, is that socialism has to build on capitalism - it will be even more global and harmonised etc - so we obviously have to back all movement in that direction under capitalism. This reflects the naive idealism of their middle-class professional base which I myself exhibited (and suppressed) in my interview with the Civil Service.*

I'm not here to give advice to British capitalism on their optimal strategy: they don't need much assistance anyway to converge on 'soft-Brexit' as their preferred way forward.

But any institution which lionises George Osborne, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel is going to find me heading rapidly towards the exit.


* What's wrong with that argument, I hear you say? Simply this: the purpose of capitalism is always and everywhere the valorisation (the self-expansion) of capital. This single-minded dynamic often cuts across broader human interests and values as you may have noticed.

We don't have to completely roll-over for every project of the haute-bourgeoisie to get the benefits of their development of the productive forces. There's a reason they're called 'the bubble'. With effort they can be constrained and diverted.


  1. The definitive UK Referendum positions seem to be: (1975) For the Common Market; (2016) against the EU. The mid point was around Maastricht when a Referendum could/should have occurred. Indeed there was a petition against Maastricht going around our offices at that time.
    I have heard it said that 1970s Civil Service managers were not all in favour of the CM.
    Exactly what the EU is about is a bit of a puzzle in that it is this mixture of grand capitalist project with extreme regulation silencing everything. The EU has not come across as a centre and powerhouse of Capitalism.

    1. Europe is not an easy optimisation project for frictionless capitalism-at-scale. Too many national vested interests. But few bubble-folk want to roll the stone back to pre-WW2. They're cheering Emmanuel Macron instead: 'en marche!' ..


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