(This article was originally written as a follow-up to an article entitled ‘Why Corbyn is a Eurosceptic’, where I argued that “If Corbyn is elected on his manifesto, then he will quickly find that his plans to nationalise energy, rail, post, and water must be carried out in defiance of the single market.” Many readers claimed that the Single Market is not opposed to nationalisation. The evidence for this? The existence of nationalized industry within the trading bloc. But as this article explains, public ownership across the EU is considerably more complex than this – having more to do with historical struggles and the current balance of class forces.)
Many Corbyn supporters who voted for remain in the EU referendum last year are uncertain about how to react to the sacking of frontbench Labour MPs over their support for the Single Market.
Part of the reason for this is the lack of clarity Corbyn, who previously opposed the EU, has put forward since he was elected as Labour leader in 2015. Despite historically opposing the EU, Corbyn ended up supporting a remain vote after being blackmailed by the Blairites.
But the significant gains made by Labour in the General Election have now given Corbyn a mandate to forge a different path.
This couldn’t come a moment sooner. Corbyn’s manifesto is a massive step in the right direction, but if his nationalisation programme is to become more sweeping – removing the privateers from all our public services – it would come up against every EU directive in the book.
State-run industries in the EU
One issue which seems to confound this argument is the presence of state-run industries in many EU member states. Deutsche Bahn, for example, operates a virtual monopoly over the provision of rail travel in Germany. But this alone is not evidence that nationalisation is in keeping with the principles of the Single Market.
Like any capitalist institution, the EU cannot break up a state monopoly if the balance of forces is not in its favour. This is why, for instance, the Tories have always held back from outright privatisation of the NHS. To do so, they fear, would provoke a mass insurrection. It is also why Margaret Thatcher thought that the privatisation of Royal Mail was a step too far.
This fact is reflected in the conditions in which the EU (formerly the EEC) was created. During the Cold War, the UK and Europe accepted social-democratic welfare-capitalism as a strategy for defeating the Soviet Union and neutralising the threat of socialist revolution spreading across Europe. Swathes of industry was taken under public ownership as a consequence. Importantly, this was not motivated by generosity or any commitment to justice or equality. It was the fear that to do any less could mean socialist revolution. The increased strength of the working class at the end of the second world war, combined with the strength at that stage of the planned economies (albeit grossly distorted) of the USSR and eastern Europe, compelled the capitalist class to make considerable concessions to the working class. The systemic threat to capitalism represented by Stalinism also forced the major capitalist powers to smooth over the contradictions between them, with the US overseeing and partly financing the re-emergence of Japan and West Germany as world economic powers.
In addition, for a temporary period, high and sustained demand combined with new methods of mass production (many of which had existed for decades but could only be implemented successfully following the destruction of old industry during the war) stimulated a prolonged investment boom and high profits, despite increased taxation.
But that brief “golden period” for capitalism was exceptional. The real face of the EU was exposed later, when the UK and USA started to dismantle the post-war compromise between capital and labour in the late 1970s and early 1980s (the onset of what we now call neoliberalism). The defeat of mass insurrectionary movements, from 1968 – where a revolution nearly took place in France (one of the world’s most advanced capitalist countries) – to the colossal strike from British miners, provided the pretext for a massive shift to the right in European politics.
By the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and with it the idea of a planned economy, the capitalist political and economic elite felt safe in extending neo-liberal economics to mainland Europe and Scandinavia. The ability, therefore, of the capitalist establishment to break up national monopolies is very much dependent on the level of political struggle amongst the working class.
Many of the remaining state-run industries in the EU are also in the dire situation of having to compete with privately run businesses. This points to another major problem with the EU’s views on nationalisation.
Under Article 106, the EU prohibits public monopolies exercising exclusive rights where this violates EU competition rules. The EU’s Court of Justice has interpreted Article 106 as giving private companies the right to argue before the national courts that services should continue to be open to private-sector competition.
So, whilst the EU would oppose nationalisation of entire industries, it would be open to the state running part of an industry – although admittedly it would take a lot to push the EU to accept this today.
But as been repeatedly proven, partial nationalisation is only a partial solution. Whether in health, education, rail, water, post… allowing public ownership only on the condition that it runs in competition with unaccountable fat cats, whose only commitment is to lining the pockets of their shareholders, would inevitably mean a continuation of poor services.
Look at the NHS for a shining example of what partial nationalisation means – parasitic corporations syphoning public money into private hands. Full socialist nationalisation, bringing industries under workers’ control and management, is the only way to save our ailing services.
And what about those governments that do operate a monopoly on an industry?
And the EU has had some success in rolling back public ownership of rail in Germany. DB now has to compete with private industry on a variety of services, including, for example, the provision of traction current (the electricity used to power locomotives)
Fight the Single Market
So, what does this all mean? Clearly nationalisation could be carried out within the EU. The EU would not be able to stop a determined socialist government, supported by a mass movement of workers, which was willing to break the laws of the Single Market.
But the question is why, given a choice, would a socialist government voluntarily remain a part of an institution that is committed to privatisation over public ownership?
Corbyn is 100% right to sack the Blairite saboteurs, who continue to spin lies about the bosses’ EU. Let us remember that the 50 MPs who rebelled over the Single Market are the very individuals who have taken every opportunity to discredit Corbyn and the views of Labour’s 700,000 members.
Corbyn must fight for a workers’ Brexit, supporting the rights of EU nationals to remain in the UK and opposing the bosses EU. This means leaving the Single Market.
Originally published at Evolvepolitics on July 1, 2017: http://evolvepolitics.com/corbyn-sack-blairite-rebels-single-market/