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Mary Bell

The British Labor Party and European Unity

U.S. Attack on BLP Tags Meaning
of Pool Plan as Anti-Socialist

(16 June 1950)

From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 26, 26 June 1950, pp. 1 & 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The current conferences on the most significant of the “integration” plans to date, the Schuman Plan, which calls for a European steel-coal pool under a supra-national authority, finds the British Labor Party government on the sidelines, and its reasons for refusal to participate the subject of widespread attack.

The specific details of the pool – its organization, extent, method of representation, powers – are not known since they are under discussion among the six powers at the conference. It has not been ratified by any government, including those most intimately concerned, the French and German.

Yet many things are known about the proposed plan and why it presents a special problem for the British Labor Party. The vigorous backing of the United States was a foregone conclusion: European “integration” on a vaster scale had already been proposed by ECA spokesman Paul Hoffman as a part of the general U.S. purpose of welding a Western bloc as a counterweight to Russia and its sphere of influence; and, corollary to this, as a means of European “self-help” to close the dollar gap by lowering the tariff barriers to intra-European trade and attempting to create a single market.

The motivations of the European enthusiasts for the plan are known. For France it represents an attempt to get rid of German competition in iron and steel, a historically well-grounded phobia of the Frenclx ruling class. For the Germans it represents a good-will gesture for the amity of the United States, which can be expressed in greater American aid to the German economy.

It is also known – and this knowledge forms part of the core of Labor Party objections – that any such plan adopted by the present governments of Western Europe will create a new giant capitalist combine. The Christian Socialist chancellor of Germany, Adenauer, is already trying to oust from power in the Ruhr the socialists who favor nationalization of industry. Any authority set up by the capitalist governments of Western Europe will answer to the industrialists and its policies will be determined precisely by the profit needs of the industries involved.

The continental socialists, who for the most part favor the plan, recognized the essentially capitalist nature of its aims by themselves demanding in the recent London conference with the British socialists that it be implemented by a series of indispensable “socialist” or “working-class” conditions. Among other things, they asked: (1) that labor standards in basic industries be raised to the levels of the more progressive countries; (2) that trade unions participate at national and international levels; (3) that democratic control be safeguarded by participation of trade unions and representatives of consumers. The demands are raised because the plan does not have as its point of departure the raising of the standard of living of the masses.

Socialist Side of Argument

The socialist supporters say further that if the Schuman Plan is not based on expanding demand and full employment, it could “quickly develop all the characteristics of a restrictive cartel” and would “produce mass unemployment and derelict areas.” (N.Y. Times, June 17) They admit again that the pool is not based upon the interests and needs of the working peoples of the respective countries. As it is put forward, it is undeserving in any manner of the support of organizations which purport to speak for the betterment of the working class.

In the Labor Party document, European Unity, which revealed the main emphasis of Labor Party thought in advance of an official government stand, there are many excellent and unassailable arguments, from a socialist viewpoint, for its opposition to European integration schemes on the present basis of capitalist Western Europe – alongside, of course, purely nationalistic arguments.

“Socialists,” they say, “would of course welcome a European economic union which was based on international planning for full employment, social justice and stability. But international planning can only operate on the basis of national planning. And many European governments have not. yet shown either the will or the ability to plan their own economies.” This is incontestable! It is such arguments as these that have produced the epithets hurled by the big American dailies of “left-wing doctrinaires” and the like.

“No Socialist Party,” reads the Labor Party statement, “with the prospect of forming a government could accept a system by which important fields of national policy were surrendered to a supra-national European representative authority, since such an authority would have a permanent anti-Socialist majority and would arouse the hostility of European workers.” Again we ignore here, for the purposes of pointing up the motivations of American criticism, the other horses the British Labor Party is trying to ride, its empire and collaboration with the capitalist U.S. From the point of view of socialist responsibility to its electorate, it is correct for the BLP to object to submission to a capitalist majority when its economy is based on planning and full employment.

Would the U.S. Do It?

A sample of American criticism of this aspect of British policy is contained in the New York Times editorial of June 18, Socialism in One Country. “The present Labor leaders make a fetish of economic planning as a prime factor in their philosophy and it is that very feature of planning which is at the bottom of the present conflict over European unity,” admonishes the editorial. “The Laborites are well pleased with themselves these days. There is something of the nature of a boom in Britain this year, etc.”

The United States rails at the objections of the British to giving up part of their national sovereignty, when it would never consider doing so itself. Many of the United Nations proposals are in conflict with American traditions and constitutional provisions and had to go by the board. The Hoffman proposal for European integration was made without an offer on the part of the United States to lower its tariff barriers. “Do as I say, not as I do,” says Uncle Sam. This is apart from class considerations, which also weigh in British thinking, since England represents a mixed economy.

“Only they [the trade unions] can guarantee that wage levels will not be set by the least progressive industries in the plan,” reads the BLP statement. “Full employment,” “social justice,” “overall” planning – all these factors weigh heavily in the British arguments.

The American press has many reasons for its violent opinion on the British point of view. We have already indicated its basic motives for European unity. It also has an ax to grind with relation to the British Labor government itself. As the Times editorial puts it, “The Laborites tried to cling to Socialist doctrine while carrying out policies that differed little from Liberalism or even Toryism. A development like today’s puts an almost impossible strain on the leadership because the doctrinaire horse suddenly bolts. The question brought out so acutely now is whether the Laborites really intend to be Socialists in fact as well as in name.”

It is the aspect of socialism-in-fact that bothers the American press and government representatives. They sigh only mildly over Tory agreement with the Labor Party policy, the Tories only being able in the present circumstances to rail about the ‘blunder’ of timing and errors of diplomacy. The London Times echoed these conservative sentiments, “There is nothing particularly partisan or peculiar to the Labor Party about the assertion that this country cannot hand over essential details of national policy to be decided by the external authority ... There is much good sense in the statement.”

Marshall Plan Big Stick

The reaction of Senator Knowland, California Republican, is typical of the righteous indignation American conservatives abandoned themselves to. “I’m damned mad,” he said. “I think of all we’ve done to make ends meet – and then we wake up to find the British will not cooperate in Western Europe.”

There was implied in his remarks, as was more openly stated elsewhere, the usual eagerness of the United States to resort to waving the Marshall Plan stick. It was quickly pointed out that Britain received and spent the largest of American loans, as well as getting the lion&rsquo:s share of Marshall millions. The senators threaten to keep this in mind when the Marshall funds come up for renewal.

The weakness of the British Labor Party’s position lies in its negative opposition to the Shuman Plan and its failure thus far to utilize the occasion for a positive proposal for European unity. Its argumentation is largely limited to why a bourgeois unification scheme would place in jeopardy the elements of socialist planning in British economy. It is this which gives its statement its nationalist tone, one of being based solely on British interests. Unfortunately, the British Labor Party does have its own type of nationalist perspective. Its “socialism” is largely internal and geared to the empire and Commonwealth. Its foreign policy is entirely geared to this limited program. Its stated foreign policy is to work equally closely with the empire, the United States and Western Europe. It has no socialist perspective in foreign policy. It has no internationalist perspective.

Thus the foreign aims of the British Labor Party are limited to a loose collaboration with the Western bloc. Its statement makes clear that it sees no room for a “Third Force” as an independent pro-socialist entity, directed against the two major exploitive forms of society, Stalinist and capitalist. “Neutrality is not a possible choice,” its statement affirms.

BLP Dilemma

This is the dilemma of British socialism: it is pledged to socialist reorganization of society at home, while it attempts to maintain its non-socialist empire and remain a part of the capitalist bloc af the West. Yet the interests of genuine British socialism demand that it propose, instead of the Schuman Plan, a progressive form for the unification of European economy.

It must be, if the world is hot to degenerate into two frozen imperialist blocs, an independent Western European unification, which will have the interests of the working classes as its base, a planned economy based upon nationalization of basic wealth. Such a union would be neither a competitor to British planning nor a cartelization scheme. Such a union is indispensable if the European masses are to better their standard of living and if a third force against the warmakers on both sides is to rise.

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