The Left against Europe 5

is049-600Chris Harman’s article on the Common Market signalled the adoption by the International Socialists of opposition to British membership of the European Economic Community.  In doing so it came into line with the majority of the rest of the Left.  Like the International Marxist Group (IMG) and others, IS was keen to differentiate its position from that of reformist organisations, particularly the Communist Party (CP) and left of the Labour Party.

It is worth remarking that the political positions of the Communist Party during this period are very similar to those of the Left today, including the successors to the IS and IMG, which thinks of themselves as opposed to the sort of Stalinism represented then by the CP and as advocates of a more revolutionary alternative.

The CP statement on the Common Market quoted by Harman states that:

“A new government, committed to socialist policies, would use its parliamentary majority, together with its mass support in the country, to challenge the power of the ruling class. The developing movement to the left over recent years points in this direction. That is why the ruling class, as part of its attack on positions gained by the working class, is out to deprive Parliament step by step of its authority, and to transfer it to the supranational institutions of the EEC …”

The CP concludes that “Britain’s national sovereignty is of vital concern to the British working class. Sovereignty is a class issue”.

In opposition to this Harman states that:

“A consistent socialist position on the Common Market must begin by rejecting out of hand the chauvinism explicit in the approaches of the Labour leaders and the established left. The national state is not our state. It functions to defend the ruling class, and cannot operate in any other way. The harping of the left about ‘national sovereignty’ only serves to sustain the illusion that somehow we have an interest in common with those who run the state at present. It intensifies the differences between workers in different countries. And it does so at a time when the growth of international firms emphasises the need for united international working class action. .”

Harman warns that nationalism can be a competitor to socialism within movements expressing social discontent, that this can take the form of right wing Tories such as Enoch Powell but can also arise within the working class movement itself.  The parallel with nationalism today in the form of UKIP and the left embrace of Scottish nationalism is striking.

Nevertheless Harman puts forward a number of reasons why it is “imperative for us to oppose entry” into the European Economic Community:

“1.    Entry is being used, alongside other measures, to hit at working class living standards and conditions. Of course, if the ruling class could not achieve its ends through entry, it would try to get what it wanted through other means. We should never forget this as those who peddle chauvinistic ideas within the Labour movement do. But that does not provide us with a reason for not opposing entry. We should oppose it as we would oppose other forms of attack if they were used instead.

  1. Entry is aimed to rationalise and strengthen capitalism. It is an attempt to solve certain of capitalism’s problems by capitalist methods. There was a time when revolutionaries could regard certain such measures as historically progressive. Marx, for instance, gave support to the movement for German unity. . . But he did so in a period in which capitalism as a system was still struggling for supremacy against older forms of class society and, in the process, preparing the preconditions for socialism. Today, however, these preconditions exist. Rationalisation of the system means strengthening it at a time when we as socialists argue that revolutionary change alone offers mankind any future. We have to oppose such measures, counterposing not continuation of the system under its present form, but a. socialist transformation of it.
  1. Not only is the rationalisation of capitalism no longer progressive in any sense, it also speeds up the development of intrinsically destructive forces. In the case of European integration this is expressed in the aim of creating on a European scale what cannot be built up by the isolated states – an effective independent arms potential. According to the British government white paper there is no other way by which British imperialism could have the same opportunities to ‘safeguard’ its ‘national security and prosperity’. Revolutionaries have to oppose this as they have opposed previous arrangements serving the same purposes, e.g. NATO, SEATO, etc.

“There is a fourth, subordinate, reason, that emphasises the need for clear opposition. All summer the makers of official opinion in this country have been worried about the difficulties of ensuring that the decision of the ruling class to go into the EEC is implemented politically. They fear that they might have difficulty getting parliamentary ratification for entry. And so they have been putting enormous moral pressures on sections of the Labour leadership to break with the party and to vote with the Tories for entry.”

“At such a political conjuncture the position of revolutionaries should be obvious. The defeat of the Tory government, in the present context of growing working class opposition to its policies, would give a new confidence and militancy to workers – even if the defeat occurred purely in the parliamentary sphere. Moreover, a defeat on the Common Market would not in fact be a defeat on that issue alone; behind much of the working class opposition to entry is a general, if vague and not fully conscious, distrust of the government’s intentions. The general anti-Tory feeling in the country is feeding the flames of opposition to the Market.”

As the alternative Harman put forward the following:

“In general, our position should be that

  1. We oppose the attempt through the Common Market to rationalise capitalism at our expense.
  2. We also oppose the ideological illusion being peddled in the labour movement that somehow a ‘sovereign’ capitalist Britain is a real alternative to entry into the Market for working people. We have to make clear that while we oppose the capitalist integration of Europe we would be for a Socialist United States of Europe. However, the demand for the United States of Europe is not going to be an immediate agitational demand in the conceivable future. That would require that political life was really moulded on a European scale. The fact, however, is that the failure of capitalist attempts at European integration means that national peculiarities still determine the tempo of the class struggle. In the Belgian and French general strikes (of 1961 and 1968) the key demands had to relate to class power in particular countries not in Europe as a whole.
  3. We argue, against the chauvinists, for a linking of opposition to the Common Market to opposition to the other attacks on working people – the Industrial Relations Bill, the welfare cuts and so on, so as to build up a class based opposition to the whole range of government policies, counterposing demands pointing towards a socialist transformation of society.
  4. At all possible times we put forward our own consistent class based viewpoint in opposition to that of the confusion of the CP and the Tribunites (left of the Labour Party). But if we are unable to get a majority for our clear and consistent positions, we have to vote against the government Common Market strategy in the only way possible – by voting with the CP and the Labour left while making our reservations known (just as, for instance, we would, if we had no choice, give critical support to a resolution opposing the Industrial Relations Law, even if it spoke in terms of the law aggravating ‘industrial unrest’). We are completely steadfast in our opposition to the peddling of ideological illusions in the Labour movement, while being relentless in our opposition to government policy.

Harman’s argument did not go unanswered.  In the same issue of ‘International Socialism’ Ian Birchall quoted from previous editorials of the journal from 1961 and 1967:

“For us the move to Europe extends the scope of class struggle in which we are directly involved; it worsens its conditions for the present. But it makes ultimate victory more secure. (EditorialIS 6, Autumn 1961)”

“It is true that Wilson’s Common Market policy does involve a serious threat to working-class living standards, and is designed to strengthen the hands of the employers in the fight against workers’ defence organisations in the struggles over speed-up, rate fixing, and working conditions. But inside or outside the Common. Market, that particular battle is going to be fought – indeed, outside the battle is likely to be more ferocious. (EditorialIS 28, Spring 1967)”

Birchall notes “that the editors of International Socialism once argued, clearly and consistently, that we must not carry out any kind of campaign against entry. Now that Heath appears to be about to succeed where his predecessors failed, Chris Harman argues that it is ‘imperative for us to oppose entry’.”

Birchall then presents some arguments against Harman: some are good and some are not.  So he says that changes in general objective conditions might warrant a change of view on Europe, which seems obviously correct, but he also says that the growth of the Internationals Socialists from a small propaganda organisation to a larger organisation means ‘merely passive commentary would have to be replaced by agitational slogans’.  This however doesn’t seem to me to justify in itself any change in policy but merely how such a policy is put into effect.

Among the better arguments employed, Birchall notes that Harman’s third is the “least substantial”:

“the suggestion that the Common Market aims to create an ‘effective independent arms potential’. This is supported merely by a quotation from the woolly rhetoric of the White Paper. The failure of the Common Market to achieve integration in other fields is argued elsewhere in this journal; there is no reason to expect a frightening success in the military sphere.”

Experience since the early 1970s has shown that the European Union has not developed into a military alliance that can, for example, replace NATO.

He regards the first argument as the “more substantial” one, although since Britain and the Irish state have long since joined, it is now less relevant, since attacks on the working class are a simple feature of capitalism and continue in or out of the EEC/EU.  He repeats the argument that the attacks associated with membership had already been going on for some time before Britain attempted joining.

He makes an important point about how socialists relate to the opposition of workers to attacks on them that do not take a progressive form.  On Harman’s observation that ‘many rank and file militants instinctively distrust the government’s entry policy’ he says:

“It is undoubtedly true that working-class opposition derives from a sort of class consciousness. It is equally true that, for example, hostility to foreign workers in Britain derives from a form of class consciousness – concern to defend employment and conditions, recognition that immigration is manipulated by the bosses in their own interests. We have to relate to these forms of distorted class consciousness; we certainly do not adapt to them.”

So, for example, opposition to austerity make take the form of nationalism.  Socialists should relate to this opposition but not adapt to the nationalism, and certainly not trumpet it.  Socialists and socialism, which is based on internationalism, while relating to those expressing progressive strivings, albeit through a reactionary form, should make their opposition to this reactionary form even more total.

On the second argument, he denies the claim that the EEC is in any way a progressive development because it lays the basis for socialist internationalism.  He accepts the view that capitalism “cannot achieve a genuine international organisation” but since what he really means by this phrase is so ill-defined it is difficult to make much of this.

He appears to criticise the view that capitalism cannot solve its problems anymore, cannot develop in some ways and so cannot make “technical” and “administrative innovations which could not be taken over by a socialist society.  We do not oppose automation or mergers as such; we oppose them if and when they cause attacks on workers, through redundancies” says Birchall.

Ultimately however since neither he nor Harman thinks capitalism has internationalised sufficiently he does not think that they are in a position to formulate an international programme.  This in part derives from the IS tendency’s, and its SWP successor’s, very un-Trotskyist insistence on not having a political programme of any sort, which, if they had one, would of necessity have to be an international one if it was to be socialist.

Such a view seems odd for the time and is even more wrong now, when globalisation has been a commonplace of analysis of economic development for decades.  Without capitalist development there can indeed be no foundation for socialism to arise on these grounds but IS still subscribed to the view that a socialist revolution in 1971 was not only possible but a realistic prospect.  Without the possibility of an international programme however it would of course have been impossible, since socialism is international or it is not socialism. Yet to further the contradictions within both Harman’s and Birchall’s argument, they both appear to agree that the preconditions for socialism existed.

The important point within this argument is the view that capitalism is no longer capable of any progressive development. What is posed is simply the struggle for socialism.  That there does not exist the material basis for the generation of an internationalist consciousness among workers, which would be a consequence of the lack of international organisation by capitalism postulated by Harman and Birchall, goes unrecognised or unacknowledged.  The implications of this problem for the perspective of socialist revolution are simply overlooked.

To go back to Tom Nairn in New Left Review, where we started this series of posts:  the source of the trouble is treacherous leaders who betray the working class – ‘the crisis of leadership’.  This in itself is not an objective factor since capitalism is ripe for socialism, being in its ‘death agony.’  It has nothing more to offer in providing the preconditions for socialism.

But is it true that capitalism is incapable of further development?  Is it true that such development would not contain, in dialectical fashion, progressive elements?  As the blog linked here shows: of all the goods and services (use values) produced in man’s entire history, nearly 25% have been produced in the first ten years of this century.

And if the creation of this stupendous amount of wealth, involving the industrialisation of the most populous state on earth and others, is not enough – what about this blog here, which records the massive growth of the grave-diggers of capitalism, the world working class, caused by the same industrialisation?

As Nairn quotes Leon Trotsky in his long article

“It has happened more than once in history that, when the revolution was not strong enough to solve those historical problems ripe for solution, reaction has itself been forced to try to resolve them”.  The EU is the capitalist, reactionary means of resolving the contradiction between the international development of the productive forces of society and the nation state configuration of political society and domination of the ruling classes.

The internationalist alternative proposed by socialism will be based on the common interests of workers resting on a common exploitation, imposed and more apparent for its expression in pan-European forms such as the EU.  It will rest on the interests of workers of different nationalities involved in international workers’ cooperatives; international trade unions and an international party, perhaps initially a Europe-wide socialist workers’ party.

At the moment the international organisation of capitalism is in advance of the international organisation of the working class and of socialism.  The answer is not to attempt to drag capitalism back to the immature development of the working class and existing socialist movement but, using the development of capitalism itself, to leap ahead of capitalist development so that the ground is prepared for the socialist revolution that will confirm the emergence of the new society that is the historical leap beyond capitalism.

Such are the issues posed by the British Left’s attitude to Europe in a forgotten debate conducted half a century ago.


Back to part 4

7 thoughts on “The Left against Europe 5

  1. David,

    The EU would not be more progressive historically than say a global capitalist state, which is the logical conclusion to which capital must ultimately drive, as it has created a global economy and market. That is why it has created global para state bodies such as the IMF, World Bank, WTO etc. But, these are only partial para state bodies, not a global state, and reflect the contradictions, and practical limitations on developing such a global state, which is why we also see the development of a series of regional state bodies such as the EU.

    I was having a discussion a while ago with Dan Gay, who works as a consultant for the UN, World bank and other organisations, and who also produces the rather good “Emergent Economics” blog. I am currently conducting a study of Africa, when I have the time, similar to the study I undertook 30 years ago of Asia. Africa now has 7 of the top ten fastest growing economies in the world. It is skipping a number of stages in various respects. The OAU has the goal of creating an African economic union by 2030, and there are already a series of economic unions within the continent.

    My question to Dan, given that he has practical experience working in the continent, was would the best strategy be to go straight for an African Economic Union, and state, or to try to build up the existing proto unions, such as the East African economic area. The danger of the latter is that each of these areas could become competitors of the others, and create division, on the other that may be achievable, whereas the aim of creating a single African Economic Union by 2030, does not.

    In fact, I discussed all these issues 30 years ago, which you can find reproduced in my blog posts on “The new international division of labour” and so on, which are listed in my Economic Analysis Index.

    The point I am getting at in a long winded way is that we have to deal with reality as it exists rather than as it might be in the best of all possible worlds. A single language is not always the bourgeois nationalist solution. I was used when original nation states were created, where a single nationality was dominant and able to impose itself. For example, English in Britain, replaced, Celtic languages, Cornish etc., and in France the language of the Franks, and of the administrative elite replaced the 200 separate languages spoken within the country. But, even that has not been complete, and even the bourgeoisie has conceded in Britain, for example, the use of Gaelic, Welsh and so on. In Canada, both English and French are spoken as official languages, and as stated in Switzerland there are three official languages.

    The lack of progress in the EU I would argue is a consequence of the relative strength over the last 30 years of money-capital as against industrial capital, and the relative strength of conservative forces over social-democratic forces during that period that flows from it. I expect that to change, and in many ways what is happening at the moment in terms of a struggle between austerity and fiscal expansion is a symptom of it, a struggle between the interests of different sections of capital. The logical solution in Europe for big capital is the creation of a single state, with a single fiscal union. It would facilitate the investment of capital in the periphery to raise the level of productivity, and stimulate growth. But Germany and other northern European states will not make that funding available, or act as guarantors of borrowing to finance it, without the existence of such a fiscal union, because it would mean making themselves liable to debts without any control over the spending.

    But, big capital cannot push through such a fiscal union in Europe by straightforward political means without winning over the majority of electors throughout the EU, and those electors over the last 30 years have been fed a diet of conservative, nationalist ideology. Even social-democratic parties like Labour have to respond to that reflection in the electorate if they want to retain votes.

    Big capital will have a choice. Begin to push a social-democratic agenda more forcefully, more openly ally with the working-class to push for the creation of a single European state that removes many of the lunacies that flow from the continuation of the nation state, or begin to see it fall apart, and reaction set in.

  2. Thanks for the reply Boffy. I follow all that and probably I wasn’t precise enough, so to clarify:
    What I meant was that the EU might be more progressive in the terms you outline than the UK and the rest, but is it or will it be more progressive than other multi-national bodies?
    To take your analogy, the most forward looking union would be more reactionary than the most reactionary workers’ co-op. Something like that.
    An official language isn’t the Marxist answer, but it is traditionally the nation-binding bourgeois one. What I meant was that they might be doing things like that if they were building a proper common Europe.
    Instead, the idea of a brave new Europe is barely heard nowadays, when it used to be at least a minority liberal position given a regular outing even in the UK. They might not have done much direct political struggle, but it was more than they are doing now; the bureaucratic aspect is more to the forefront, blatantly so with the administrative coup in Italy for example.
    I see that all that is of little matter if the EU nevertheless helps big capital mature, but here’s some questions anyway!?:
    What if some other multinational body or bodies or international arrangement help it mature faster? How do we know that a loose multinational structure isn’t better for at least some kinds of big capital? If so, are they the more advanced kinds? Which kind of international arrangement would best suit the emergence of the free movement of labour or workers’ co-ops? Are there studies on this kind of thing from a capitalist perspective?

  3. David,

    I’ve explained the reason for this elsewhere. Its a problem based on the nature of social democracy as the mature form of bourgeois democracy based on an historic compromise between the interests of big industrial capital and the working-class. It means that big industrial capital does not push for its immediate interests via a direct political struggle, which would mean it would have to openly come out against the interests of its own class brethren in the ranks of small capital, and would have to mobilise the forces of the working-class behind it, as it did in the 19th century in confronting landlordism. So, it proceeds by bureaucratic methods. This is what has led to the political crisis in the EU, which is also the root of the EU debt crisis.

    The progressive nature of the EU is not determined by the political agenda it pursues. In Marxist terms the political regime that dominates the state is merely a superficial reflection of its underlying class nature. The EU would continue to be historically progressive, even if the dominant policies it pursued were extremely reactionary. What makes the EU progressive is what it is, a more mature form of capital, a more mature form of capitalist state. To make an example, a staff association that has the most forward looking attitudes, is reactionary compared to a trade union with the most reactionary attitudes, because of what a TU represents compared to what a staff association represents.

    I’m also not sure the comments in relation to the IMF and OECD are correct. I think that what both have been noted by in recent years is the extent to which they have promoted the idea of fiscal expansion, as opposed to austerity.

    Marxists could not agree with the idea of making English the official language for the EU, because a central part of our programme for dealing with the national question is that in a state comprising several different nationalities there should be no one official language. The example Lenin gives is of Switzerland, which has three official languages, French, Italian and German.

  4. Can’t help having some sympathy for the last reply. You’d think in all this time the EU would have brought in many more soft power measures than it has to confound critics, if it was serious – remember Captain Europe? – about banging the drum for for political integration. For instance, making English the main official language, as it already is in business.
    The EU has invested in regional policy, but just at the point it was needed most, after the credit crunch, they go all slash and burn. Hard to imagine those scars healing quickly. The progressive arguments in the EU’s favour seem to have behind them the idea that a politically integrated Europe would be a social democratic Europe, but there’s not much evidence of that just now – Greece, Italy etc.
    Meanwhile, other international capitalist bodies like the OECD and even the IMF have gone in the opposite direction, however tentatively, with their research on the effects of spending cuts and inequality.
    As boffy implied – I think! – the world’s more recently industrialised countries have started to take some social democratic measures such as the bolsa familia in Brazil and China’s attempts to increase spending on health and education.
    I still think sraid’s general points are right – you don’t want to get mixed up in SNP or UKIP nationalism – but it’s not necessarily the case that the EU represents, or will continue to represent, capitalist progress. Given the EU can’t really expand geographically in the medium term and with wider international developments such as TTIP possibly superceding it’s business rules-levelling attributes, at what point does the EU with it’s squabbling nations and built in austerity economics become a brake rather than an accelerator? That’s a genuine question, as they say – what markers would we look for to judge whether the EU remains progressive or not?

  5. The process of capitalist integration of Europe may not be reactionary in every respect but it is reactionary in the most important respect. A reactionary outcome would be one that inflamed nationalism rather than dampened it. This is what the the supposed capitalist integration of Europe in point of fact achieves and was intended to achieve. This proposition at first valuation seems ahistorical and against the grain of things. When I was asked to write a chapter for the Socialist Democracy program concerning Europe I read many books on the matter but the one that impressed me the most was a fine book by the historian Alan S Milward called The European Rescue of The European Nation-State. He provided real historical evidence to support the argument that the European Union came into being not to realize the ideals of politicians sickened by the national conflicts of the past nor by the imperative end of a cold war anti-communism, these ideological factors were present but were secondary considerations. The prime movers set the task at hand to resurrect the nation state principle as a viable practical end. Milward provided detailed accounts to show how the war had devastated the economies of most of the countries of Europe to such a degree that only a mere handful of them could have been considered stable and viable. His case study of the desperate state of Belgium in 1945-1951 was particularly convincing.

    If we start our analysis based on the above proposition as our first premise then we come up with something unexpected yet not false. We assume that capitalist accumulation across Europe does not necessarily undermine the class regimes of the national leaderships. It helps to make here a distinction between regime and State. I don’t agree with those Marxists who target the State as the ruling element over capitalist society. Marx himself was the first writer to argue in his criticism of the Theory of Right of the philosopher Hegel that under capitalist conditions the State is generally subordinated to the dominant element in society. This means that capitalist society creates flexible and dynamic regimes within its own body to direct the soul or form of the State. If we look at recent Irish history what we discovery is clear evidence that a flexible national regime that may include invited guests to the national political scene like the representatives of the IMF and the European Central Bank and the European Commission setting out the agenda of the State.

    One of the tactics of those who invited in the guests as part of the new State agenda includes the stoking up of a temporary nationalist backlash that is in point of fact diversionary. Let us examine for one moment the current social uprising against water charges. What would likely happen if the imposition of the charge was known to be originating from some European institution? I think the result would be a great inflaming of national emotion directed at a remote and callous overlord. If the context is altered just a little by way of a thought experiment to include water charges being imposed by a fully democratic European parliament this would not be any the better. The Irish representation in such a parliament would be by right a paltry 0.9 percent of the whole. We can all agree that the concerns of 0.9 percent of the representatives in any parliament are easy to dismiss. The Irish Home Rule Party of Parnell had a much stronger standing in the British Parliament of the 1890s. Again the likely outcome of a tax being imposed from a European Parliament on Ireland with only 0.9 representation would be to inflame Irish nationalism. It seems evident to me that 1.the European Union was not intended to supersede the role of the nation state and 2 the more it appears to be doing something like superseding national democrat by facilitation universal capitalist accumulation the more likely nationalism will be the primary consequence. The third point is that the the European Union is not in fact a plan for another State it is what I have called a regime, something that assists every nation based capitalist class divide and control the exploited classes. If socialist thinks they can find a progressive way to a European socialism via a speed up of capitalist integration, reluctantly following the lead of the most efficient capitalist princes I think they will be in for a nasty nationalist surprise. It will likely mean a one step forward two or even three steps backward.I have long stopped thinking about the political mechanics of capitalism as if they can act as some sort of progressive means to a socialist end.

  6. I think I understand the point you are trying to make here,

    “The EU is the capitalist, reactionary means of resolving the contradiction between the international development of the productive forces of society and the nation state configuration of political society and domination of the ruling classes.”

    If I understand the point you are making, it is that this capitalist solution of a bureaucratic, capitalist, and incomplete EU, is reactionary compared to a Socialist United States of Europe. That is unquestionably true. But, it is unquestionably true only to the extent that any capitalist solution to anything is reactionary compared to a truly socialist solution. Given that a socialist solution to this problem is not immediately available, however, to this problem – and in reality was not in the 1970’s when these discussions were taking place, however much many of us who participated in them at the time, might have thought the revolution was at hand – to counterpose a socialist solution to the actual solution, and on that basis describe the actual solution as “reactionary” seems to me to be misleading. The actual solution that capitalism was driving towards, was not reactionary compared to the actual alternatives on offer, which was a defence of the truly reactionary nation state – truly reactionary, because even the productive forces mobilised by capitalism had already broken beyond the bounds that nation state imposed upon them, as the development of multinational corporations during the 1950’s had demonstrated.

    The position adopted by Lenin appears to me to be correct here. In “Imperialism”, arguing against Kautsky, Lenin argues that although we do not propose the establishment of capitalist trusts and monopolies, we do not oppose them either, we certainly do not propose their break up and replacement with less mature forms of capital. We do not do so, because the monopolies and trusts are progressive compared to these less mature forms.

    Lenin makes a similar point elsewhere, arguing that we raise demands within the context of the development of these trusts and monopolies, that push beyond their limited capitalist bounds. He made a similar position in relation to Stolypin’s agricultural reforms. Lenin argued, we do not support them, because they are bourgeois rather than socialist solutions, but nor do we oppose them, because they represent a progressive development in terms of the organisation of agriculture. This has to be the basis upon which assessment is made – not is any particular development “reactionary” compared to a socialist solution, because by definition it must be, but is such a solution progressive compared to the status quo.

    Of course, its necessary to distinguish here between economic forces and political/military forces. An economic development such as the construction of an economic union like the EU may be progressive, whilst not being socialist. We may then decide that it should not be opposed, but that within the process of its construction, we mobilise to push workers interests as far as is possible, and that we use this development as the base from which to move forward. In the same way, the investment of big industrial capital, in developing economies, may be seen by some as “imperialist intervention”, and yet in reality, is a progressive economic development, that facilitates the creation of the large working classes you mention above, in these economies, and is also the basis, for example in Latin America, and parts of Asia, for the development of those social forces to a level whereby existing Bonapartist regimes have been replaced in the last 20 years, by bourgeois democracies.

    But, this is different entirely from the situation, where an imperialist power like the US, uses its military power to intervene in the affairs of a foreign state – Iraq, Afghanistan, Serbia, Libya, Syria – even where its stated reasons for doing so, and even its real reasons for doing so, may themselves appear progressive, for example to overthrow a murderous dictator, and establish such bourgeois democracy. Where organisations like the AWL go wrong is to take the first argument and to transpose it unthinkingly on to the second. In the first situation, capital is genuinely and organically developing a more mature form, and within that process, workers are able themselves to develop their strength, and to posit their own socialist alternatives. But, no such situation exists in respect of the second.

    That would require that workers were able to exert control over the bourgeois/imperialist state, which as Trotsky sets out is ridiculous, because workers can only ever exert such control over their won state. It would, at the very least require that within the armed forces being sent to fight, that their existed sizeable, disciplined, ideologically advanced battalions of communists able to directly posit their own socialist solutions on the ground to those that their generals and political masters were advancing. But, in that situation, what we would have is a revolutionary situation, and the order of the day would be overthrowing your own capitalist state, not intervening in someone else’s.

    Moreover, in effect what a situation would amount to would be not an intervention by an imperialist state, but an intervention by advanced sections of workers to support their brethren elsewhere, such as occurred with the International Brigade. Outside those conditions, socialists would be duty bound to oppose any such imperialist intervention.

    As I’ve set out in relation to Trotsky’s writings on the Balkans he made it clear that we cannot sub contract the tasks of history to some other social force. We would, for example, have opposed the idea of military conquest to establish a United States of Europe, just as we would oppose any infringement of the right to self determination by military force, even though as Trotsky pointed out, had the Kaiser succeeded in creating such a unified Europe by such means, we would not then have argued for it to be broken up, and returned to a less mature form of state.

    If capital proceeds its in its own bumbling and bureaucratic way to move towards a more mature, and therefore historically progressive form of state, in the shape of some form of federal Europe, we should not, therefore, oppose it, but fight within it, for our own interests, use what facilities it creates for us to unite workers across Europe, and so on, as immediate practical solutions to workers problems, for example by creating Europe wide trades unions, co-operatives and political parties. Although I would prefer the establishment of Europe wide social insurance, and health care systems etc. in the ownership and control of workers themselves, created by these workers organisations, I agree with Marx in his comments in “Political Indifferentism”, that that does not mean rejecting capitalist provision of such facilities important for workers, but involves us raising demands for their democratisation, and transfer into the hands of workers.

    Even a state capitalist, Europe wide health service, along with common sets of social benefits, pensions and so on across Europe would be a step forward from current conditions, for example.
    However, I think that use of the term “reactionary” might be unfortunate in this context. If I understand

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