Neither euro nor pound, but workers' unity!
A briefing for activists
Produced by the Alliance for Workers' Liberty, March 2001 to inform the debate at the Socialist Alliance policy conference.
William Hague has announced 'save the pound' the keynote of his election campaign. He claimed that entry into the euro would make Britain a 'foreign land' with, horror of horrors, 'the Royal Mint melting down pound coins as the euro started to circulate' -and went on from this scaremongering about a 'foreign land' to promise to lock up all asylum-seekers while their claims are considered.
The Socialist Alliance needs a clear reply to this use of anti-European prejudice as the thin end of the wedge for racism. Parts of the Wandsworth amendment recommended by the Conference Arrangements Committee for acceptance without debate spell out that reply: 'For workers' and socialist unity across Europe. For a democratic federal workers' Europe...'
We cannot hitch a lift to the future socialist Europe on the 'save the pound'/'no to the single currency' bandwagon ' or on the 'join the euro' bandwagon, for that matter. The 'save the pound'/'no to the single currency' lobby represents the interests of US-oriented capital and sections of domestically-oriented small capital. The 'join the euro' lobby represents the interests of European-oriented capital. Workers who support either lobby gain nothing, but only lose political independence.
Socialists have no brief for either monetary system. We do not mind whether the Queen's head or the euro symbol is on the coins and notes. What concerns us is not the picture on the money, but the fact that the capitalist class ' a class increasingly interlinked and integrated across Europe ' owns the great masses of that money, and can use their ownership to exploit and oppress. The only answer to that is workers' unity across Europe.
Yes, the European Union is a great cartel, confronting the underdeveloped countries as a predator and confronting migrant workers from outside its walls as 'Fortress Europe'. Many things about it outrage the spirit even of classic liberal democracy, not to speak of socialism. Old national antagonisms have only been buried, not drained off. There is a great deal to object to in this bourgeois united Europe.
But what policy will best serve working class interests' There are two basic lines of possible policy. One is to build on what the bourgeoisie have built and unite the working class across the EU to fight the bourgeoisie on a European scale. That includes fighting to democratise the EU by way of scrapping existing bureaucratic structures and replacing them with a sovereign elected European Parliament. It includes a fight for levelling upwards of working class living standards, and for a plan to eliminate unemployment and social exclusion (cut the working week, expand public services), and so on.
It does not commit us to support, or forbid us to oppose, any specific bourgeois measures, for example the Maastricht criteria. It does commit us to counterpose working class measures on a European scale to the bourgeois measures; and it commits us to European unity and against advocacy of the old bankrupt European bourgeois national state system.
The alternative is for the workers' movement to respond to the bourgeois character of this existing European unification by advocating regression to an earlier stage of bourgeois rule ' the era of competing and sometimes warring national states. Despite its advocates' concern with working class self defence, this is a reactionary policy.
Issues similar in principle have confronted labour movements for over 150 years, and there is a strong Marxist tradition on such questions. For example: at the turn of the 20th century, imperialism bestrode the world. Grand trusts and cartels united with powerful states to fight other states and their industries for markets and colonies. In response there arose a movement against these 'unacceptable' manifestations of capitalist development, and proposals for breaking up the giant industries. In America such ideas were made law, and Standard Oil was broken into parts: most of which then developed into giant corporations...
The consistent socialists of the time mocked at the ideas of the 'trust-busters' and denounced their plans as a petty-bourgeois utopian effort to roll capitalism back to a stage it had long passed and could never return to. They saw the gigantism of capitalist organisation as a potentially progressive work of social integration and organisation: the answer to its exploitative and brutal capitalist character was for the working class to win political power, and thus control over the new industrial economy, by expropriating the bourgeoisie. Though it remains itself, capitalism will go on developing until we overthrow it. The European Union represents an irreversible stage of capitalist development ' or, at least, a stage reversible only by regression to chaos and war.
When the bourgeoisie unite Europe and integrate the European capitalist economy in their own way and for their objects, we do not propose to roll the film of history backwards or want Europe to regress to the old system of antagonistic states and alliances that produced the two World Wars in which so many millions died. We seize the chance to unite the European working class; we propose that the working class takes over from the bourgeoisie and creates the Socialist United States of Europe.
In contrast to this, for decades many on the British left have taken the stance of 'opposing' the European Union as such and championing 'British withdrawal'. Left-wing support now for the call 'no to the single currency' is the shamefaced relic of that old position. People who call themselves revolutionary socialists and 'Trotskyists' raise the slogans 'No to Maastricht', 'No to the single currency', or whatever, linking them with 'Yes to the Socialist United States of Europe'. But the road to the Socialist United States of Europe has to be the road of building European working class unity, the road of class struggle, the road of fighting one's own bourgeoisie in the spirit of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg who raised the cry in 1914: 'The main enemy is at home.'
In reality, now, the Socialist United States of Europe is not the available alternative to the European Union, and a socialist Europe could never be a merely British alternative. The available alternative is an independent capitalist Britain, or, rather, one oriented more to the US than to Europe. The immediate alternative to the euro is the pound, Queen's head, unaccountable Bank of England, and all. Socialists can support neither capitalist alternative. The notion that British nationalist ideas can be a short-cut to a socialist Europe, by rousing British workers against either British or European capital, has been shown by decades of experience to be utter nonsense. The right, and the forces of working class disunity, gain from such nationalism, not the left. Hague knows that. So should we.