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Crisis in the Common Market

Ernest Mandel - Internet Archive
Ernest Mandel / Ernest Germain Print
From International Socialist Review, Vol.24 No.2, Spring 1963, pp.46-47, 51.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
TEN years of uninterrupted “boom” in Europe and Japan have culminated in fundamental changes in the relationships of forces within the imperialist camp. American imperialism has lost the absolute economic and financial superiority which it attained at the end of the second world war. British imperialism has lost its position as the second ranking capitalist power in the world. The vigor of the Common Market threatens to deal a serious blow to British economy and it could even become a threat to Yankee imperialism. In the last analysis, the crisis which has suddenly burst forth in the heart of the imperialist alliance – following the refusal of General de Gaulle to sanction the entry of Great Britain into the Common Market – is a consequence of these changes in the relations of inter-imperialist forces.

This crisis is two-fold in character, being at the same time politico-military and economic. On the political and military level, de Gaulle, since his return to power in 1958, is tenaciously pursuing the idea of a reorganization of the Atlantic Alliance which would rest on an equal partnership between European capitalism under French hegemony on the one hand and capitalist America on the other.

He first tried to set up a “directorate” of three (USA, Great Britain, France) at the head of NATO. He afterwards sought to create a “political secretariat” of the Common Market, located in Paris, which would lead the six capitalist powers of the Common Market to act in agreement toward the United States inside the Atlantic Alliance. He is today concentrating his efforts on the construction of a “French atomic striking force,” under the exclusive control of the French government, which could tomorrow become an “independent Franco-German striking force,” and circumvent the Bonn-Paris agreements which ban the equipping of the Bundeswehr with atomic weapons. The purpose of all these efforts is the same: to be able to discuss, negotiate and make pacts on equal terms with Washington; to end the predominant position which American imperialism has occupied since the end of the second world war in Western Europe.

ON THE economic level, de Gaulle’s policy seeks to maintain the Common Market within its present limits, until the interpenetration of its capital funds permits the construction of capitalist enterprises of sufficient power to compete against American enterprises with chances of success. It must be pointed out that the Common Market actually has two aspects: to abolish the customs barriers between the six member countries – France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – by the year 1970, and at the same time to maintain a sufficiently high schedule of tariff duties between the six countries of the Common Market on the one hand and the rest of the world on the other. (At present the customs duties between the Six have been reduced by an average of fifty percent.) Controlling a market considerably larger than before and protected from American, British and Japanese competition by the “common external tariff,” the great French, German and Italian trusts could undergo an exceptional growth, linking themselves to one another and forming new groups which would then be of such dimensions that they could contend with the giant American monopolies.

At first American imperialism favored the growth of the Common Market and the entire process of “European economic integration.” Closer collaboration between the European powers was even one of the conditions attached to the granting of “Marshall Plan aid.” The US did so especially for political and military purposes: to create a counter-weight to the power of the Soviet Union and the other workers’ states on the European continent and to put the Atlantic Pact on a more solid financial and industrial footing.

But for some years now, the American imperialists have with increasing anxiety begun to take account of the economic threat to Washington’s predominant position in the capitalist world posed by a restored and strengthened capitalist Europe. The permanent US balance of payments deficit impelled the American capitalists to insist that their now financially “solid” European partners take more responsibility for a larger share of the military expenditures of the Atlantic Alliance and for “aid” to the underdeveloped countries. Washington’s reply to the purely economic challenge to American imperialism posed by the Common Market consists in advocating the dilution, as quickly as possible, of the Common Market into an “Atlantic Zone of free exchange,” embracing the United States and Canada, in addition to Western Europe.

LIKE the Common Market, customs duties would be abolished within this “Atlantic Zone.” But, unlike the Common Market, there would no longer be protective tariffs between the Six, on the one hand, and the United States and Great Britain, on the other. That is to say, American agricultural and industrial products and British industrial products, would have free access to European markets. This would enable the American trusts to make the most of their present superiority over the European trusts so they would be more of a match for their French, German and Italian competitors.

Great Britain’s entry into the Common Market, followed by that of a series of small European countries – Denmark, Norway, Portugal and perhaps Austria and Switzerland – would have been the first step in the realization of this American plan. General de Gaulle’s veto of Great Britain’s entry into the Common Market, has provoked consternation in Washington and deals a harsh blow to the cohesion of the imperialist alliance. At the same time, it strikes at the economic future of capitalist powers like Great Britain, which, cut off from the markets of the Six, risk being more and more outdistanced by them.

De Gaulle is convinced that his gamble will succeed thanks to a three-fold blackmail. He knows that the only effective European counter to his veto – the breaking up of the Common Market – is impossible because the Common Market members have too much of a stake in maintaining it, despite their resentment against the special position of Paris. He knows that the only effective American retaliation – a threat to withdraw its troops from Europe – is also ruled out. For this would, paradoxically enough, result in reinforcing the Gaullist concept of the creation of a second imperialist bloc in Europe, independent of the United States. He also knows that Washington will not even be able to utilize such a traditional “solution” as promoting the overthrow of de Gaulle. For, in the present political situation in France, de Gaulle is “irreplaceable” from the viewpoint of the bourgeoisie and his precipitate removal would provoke an exceptionally profound social and political crisis.

It thus seems that de Gaulle will be able to realize his objectives in the short run. However, it is more than unlikely that he can realize them in the long run.

In the first place, the capitalist forces which he represents, constitute only a minority current in European capitalism, and do not even represent the whole of French capitalism. These forces are sufficiently expansionist to want to exploit to the bottom the possibilities inherent in the Common Market but are still too weak to face competition on a larger market. Thus these forces need the protection of a “common external tariff.” De Gaulle’s policy is tailored for French agriculture, the European textile industry, or perhaps the coal industry. It is not a policy suited for the most dynamic and powerful German, Italian and Dutch trusts. This is especially true for the German trusts for whom the Common Market has already become too narrow a straitjacket since they already export twice as much merchandise to countries outside the Common Market as they sell to member countries. That is why so many German capitalists, following the lead of Minister of Economics Erhard, have declared themselves in favor of an “open” Europe and the admission of Great Britain into the Common Market.

Moreover, there will be other strategems since de Gaulle has no monopoly on initiative in this situation. Great Britain has already reacted by inducing its partners in the “European Free Trade Association” – Portugal, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Austria and Switzerland – to agree on the complete elimination among the “outer Seven” of all tariff duties by the year 1966, four years before the Common Market tariff elimination date of 1970. There are thus being created additional elements of a tariff war which would especially make the German capitalists stop and think.

At the same time, American imperialism, while itself erecting protective tariff duties, is pressing for a general lowering of tariffs and simultaneously increasing its investments inside the Common Market, thereby to some extent “getting around” the “common external tariff.” This policy of accelerating the export of capital to competing imperialist countries – rather than to colonial and semi-colonial countries which are considered “bad risks” – has the double advantage of fighting the competitor on his own ground and of maintaining a certain degree of unemployment in the US which exercises a pressure on American wage levels. The basic purpose of these exports of capital is to take advantage of the wage differentials – several sectors of American industry even have separate pieces of equipment made abroad to be assembled later in the United States – with the long-range hope that they would thus obtain an “equalization” of American and European wages. [1] But meanwhile this policy of exporting capital aggravates the balance of payments deficit and, from the viewpoint of American imperialism, constitutes a double-edged weapon.

FINALLY, even if the policy of de Gaulle is able to achieve a certain success, it will eventually end in the political and military reinforcement of West German imperialism in proportion to its economic superiority. By exaggerating the economic and military power of France, de Gaulle will, in the last analysis, have been working “for the King of Prussia.” On the day after the Brussels crisis, Germany already seems to have become the arbiter of the situation. After all, it is Germany and not France which is alternately threatened and courted by Washington and London.

It is probable that, a few years hence, the “fusion” of the Common Market with the greater part of the members of the European Free Trade Association will take place and de Gaulle’s plan will run aground. But not without heavy cost in the meantime to the American and British bourgeoisie and not without having also increased the bargaining power of Paris which will undoubtedly bring it some advantages in the field of nuclear secrets.

For revolutionary Marxists, this, conflict is a typical inter-imperialist competitive struggle in which the working class has no reason for supporting one side against the other. [2] To the policies of both sides, they must counterpose the struggle for a Socialist United States of Europe, for a really unified Europe which could effectively surmount the antagonisms bred by capitalist competition; that could only be a Europe which has abolished both capitalist property and the bourgeois state. It is not by accident, moreover, that the present crisis in the Common Market coincides with a slackening of economic expansion which could be the preliminary signal of an opening recession in all capitalist Europe.

Before the advent of this recession, and still more harshly during it, the employers would unleash an offensive to improve its competitive conditions at the expense of their own working class. It would be pure suicide for the working class to solidarize itself, either with its own bourgeoisie or with that of the opposing camp. Its only effective reply can be to affirm its basic class solidarity: “Workers of all European countries unite against the Europe of the monopolies, whether it raises the slogans of the Europe of ‘fatherlands,’ the ‘open’ Europe, or the European ‘community’.” This should be the line of action for the working class movement of Europe.

ABOVE all, this means unity in defending the common interests of the workers. For a number of years the Fourth International has spread the idea of a European trade union conference, bringing together all the confederations without excluding any political or philosophical tendency. This trade union united front should elaborate a two-point policy: Joint resistance to all reductions in real wages, to any deterioration in the social security system and to any financial policy aimed against the workers; joint struggle for the forty-hour week, for three (or four) weeks vacation, for socialized medicine and for the nationalization under workers control of the monopolized sectors of industry – especially those monopolies which are already spread over several countries and which the working class of a single country can no longer completely get hold of.

But the European working class cannot limit itself to a strictly defensive posture before European big business. It should counterpose its plans for a socialist Europe to the imperialist plans. The Soviet Union and the other workers’ states would be able to play a very positive role in this respect. They could take the Gaullist prattle about a “Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals” at its face value, and, recalling that capitalist Europe is only a fragment of Europe as a whole, they could convoke a congress of all the unions and parties of Western Europe. They could place at its disposal the experience, technical personnel and offices of their planning commissions, charge them with drafting the outline of a plan for the economic, social and cultural development of a Europe unified on a socialist basis. The brilliant perspectives of such a plan would exert a growing force of attraction on the European masses, especially to the extent that capitalist expansion abates and unemployment increases, as it already has in Great Britain and Norway.

Instead of following such an orientation, the Soviet government, which continues to represent not the interests of the working class but those of the vast bureaucracy, oscillates between denouncing the Common Market with idiotic arguments (“an attempt to put Europe under the bondage of the United States and impoverish the workers”) and a recognition of its spurious “benefits” (which is the present line of the Italian CP). The initiative is constantly left to the class enemy so that the masses cannot be mobilized and aroused in effective opposition.

It is thus incumbent upon revolutionary Marxists and the currents they seek to influence and direct in the mass movement to redouble their boldness and spirit of initiative in order to substitute themselves for the old defaulting leadership, to rekindle today, in the face of the contradictions which are again rending capitalist Europe, the flame of the socialist Europe of tomorrow, the Europe of the working class.

February 23, 1963 


1. The American trade union bureaucracy, trapped by its position of “pure and simple trade unionism,” cannot conceive of doing anything else except go begging in international conferences for the ... increase of Japanese, French, Italian, etc., wages! See, notably, the attitude of the American delegates at the last conference of the FIOM (International Organization of the Metal Workers.)

2. Over the years, the Soviet bureaucracy has supported different European imperialist powers in their desires to “oppose” Washington, American imperialism being considered as the number one enemy. This was even the justification for the counter-revolutionary policy on the colonial question carried out during this entire period by the various Communist parties under the pretext that it was preferable for French imperialism to control the Mers-el Kebir Algerian naval base rather than Yankee imperialism.

Today, for the first tune since the beginning of the “cold war,” the Kremlin has changed its position. In the conflict between Paris and Washington, it adopts a position of benevolent neutrality towards Kennedy while redoubling its accusations against the de Gaulle-Adenauer coalition. The Kremlin’s fears of the nuclear rearmament of the Bundeswehr and of the constitution of a unified inter-imperialist bloc in Europe, disposing of its own nuclear arms, explains this turn. We must also take into account its hopes for a “global settlement” with Kennedy which they are again strenuously pursuing.


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