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Ian Birchall

Hedging his bets

(September 1980)

From Socialist Review, 1980 : 8, 18 September–16 October 1980, p. 32.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

UnCommon Market
Stuart Holland
Macmillan, £2.95

Stuart Holland played a creditable role in the Brixton dole picket, and is currently being attacked by Len Murray for taking action which should be the minimal duty of any MP elected under the label of ‘Labour’. It would be a pleasure, therefore, to report that he had written a useful and interesting book. Unfortunately honesty requires me to state that it is a boring irrelevance.

In 1975 the SWP called for a ‘No’ vote in the Common Market referendum, because we saw the ‘yes’ campaign as consolidating Wilson’s links with British capitalism and clearing the path for wage controls. However, we have nothing in common with those elements in the Labour left and CP who try to blame the current crisis on EEC membership and want to launch a campaign for withdrawal. Such a campaign can only be a diversion from the real targets. Doubtless it would be popular – witness the flood of sub-racist filth churned out by the media because French fishermen fighting for jobs have screwed up Brits’ holidays, But it would be profoundly anti-working class.

Holland, as one of the subtler lefts, is hedging his bets. In his Preface he tells us the book is ‘analytical rather than prescriptive’ (in plain English, it is irrelevant to action), and denies that it is the ‘rationale for an anti-EEC case’.

The valid point in Holland’s argument is that the Common Market doesn’t work, even in its own terms. Capitalism, historically embodied in the nation state, cannot create effective international institutions (though it may create temporary blocs and working agreements). Holland shows how the free market ideology of the EEC ensures that the Rome Treaty’s provisions are ‘concerned with preventing abuses to competition and the market mechanism rather than with providing a framework for joint intervention to achieve what the market itself cannot do.’ Thus the EEC has failed over twenty-odd years to establish a meaningful transport policy; all it has done is to forbid individual governments from protecting, people and the environment against hordes of giant lorries. The Common Agricultural Policy benefits rich landowners, not poor peasants, while raising food prices for workers. Monetary integration, he argues, ‘is irrelevant to the real needs of Western Europe now.’

So far, so good. If anyone in the whole wide world (except for Williams, Owen and Rodgers) still believes the EEC has anything to do with real internationalism, Holland will help disabuse them. For the rest of us, he has little to offer. He does offer reforms of the EEC institutions which, he claims, ‘could increase support for closer cooperation between governments at the European level’. Maybe. But do we really want closer co-operation between Thatcher, Schmidt and Giscard d’Estaing. Far better for us if they are at each other’s throats.

A few pages later Holland tells us that ‘joint action by labour at an international level in response to multinational capital tends to be rare, temporary, and relatively ineffective.’ Once again, true enough; But to note the fact is hardly helpful; what we need is a discussion of how this State of affairs can be changed. But Holland passes on. Advice to governments on how to link up, but none for workers. For doubtless Holland, despite his guest appearance at Brixton dole, sees his future with governments rather than with workers. And that is why his book cannot help us much.

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