What has happened to the once relatively democratic and humane national governments of Western Europe that they now contemplate the harshness in present circumstances of monetary union? Why is France, a society as socially unjust as Britain and with an ever higher unemployment rate contemplating putting yet more people out of work? Why is sluggish Germany, where those in employment now put in, on average, twelve hours a week less than their British counterparts, ready to endanger their welfare benefits, so hard-earned in earlier times, and, with those, perhaps the democratic stability they have brought, in return for the ‘euro’? Why is the United Kingdom wondering whether sterling, backed by a low-wage, low welfare, low safety-regulation economy might not after all successfully resist the ‘euro’ and preserve London as Europe’s greatest financial centre? These questions are prompted by the recent book by the former European Community official, Bernard Connolly.footnote1

For the fact that no one has a plausibly consistent theoretical explanation of this political change the Left has much to answer for. When the European Community started in 1950–52 there was nothing in the dried tea-leaves of Marxist analysis that referred to it. The protestant, nationalist Left mistakenly thought it was another old enemy. ‘Church, capitalism and cartels’, cried Schumacher, propped on one stump and waving another towards a crowd of what still, at that date, looked like the authentic pre-Nazi working class. Plump, intact, Hugh Gaitskell—product of a life where resistance had had a lesser meaning—told the Labour Party in 1962 that Britain should never abandon its thousand years of separate existence. Like other Fabian efficiency experts, he preferred the British Empire. French socialism generated as many opinions about the Community as it did deputies to the National Assembly, but no one’s opinion is remembered as relevant or illuminating.footnote2 Much of the Dutch Labour Party took refuge in a dreamy federalism which misunderstood everything.footnote3 Scandinavian socialists had scarcely heard of the whole idea.

Yet the conservative Right proved equally inept and unaware. In Britain and France it erroneously set about defending the nation against that very train of developments which would so strengthen it. In France it passed quickly into the same political isolation as the anti-republican Catholics of the Third Republic. In Britain it took power and launched its project of the ‘one-world system’, no regional customs unions and the like, but an open multilateral world trade and payments system with Britain and sterling as sub-hegemons to the dollar and the United States. There is, unfortunately, no such thing as a sub-hegemon.

Both Left and Right in Britain thought the idea of European union would go away. It was politically unrealistic, because inexplicable by their own political ideas. The Americans, who encouraged it, would come to their senses. France would be too weak and divided to carry it through. Academic writing reflected these political attitudes. Theoretical interpretation was left to resurrected nineteenth-century liberalism. A burst of historically discredited ideas dominated not only the propaganda pamphlets of the federalist movements but supposedly heavyweight academic literature too. Most of the latter came from America and repeated what liberals believed had made the United States a great nation. Removing barriers to trade and enterprise meant greater economies of scale, which meant a faster growth of incomes, which in turn meant the growth of democracy and, for the federalists, in a further turn, as Tennyson, following Cobden, had declared, ‘the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world!’ Political science elaborated a range of progressivist, teleological theories, functionalist and neo-functionalist, to show that a new epoch of world history had begun.footnote4 Economic and political interdependence meant that supranational governance had begun its inevitable replacement of the now inadequate nation-state. Moribund in European national politics, liberalism was left to explain all in supranational politics.

Those in the Labour Party who embraced ‘Europe’ were most typically the inheritors of Gladstonian anti-imperialist liberalism, like Roy Jenkins. They could believe more easily in the teleologies of economics and political science and saw ‘Europe’ as a more realistic and distinct objective than socialism; the class basis for a socialist programme was so evidently receding in 1950s Britain. ‘Europe’, being theoretically fore-ordained, needed no such quasi-Marxist basis of conflictual class interest for its successful creation. Something similar happened on the Right, as the old class landscape of conservatism was rapidly eroded by the most rapid and sustained growth of income, comfort and leisure for more than a hundred years. ‘Modernization’ became the way to win elections. Modernizers in the Conservative Party, like Macleod and Heath, equated ‘Europe’ with efficiently managed, peaceful, middle-class democracy.footnote5 Empire became retrograde. In so far as these groups in either party needed any political philosophy other than a practical handbook for gathering votes, they found it in the same inconsistent, historically unfounded superficialities that political scientists and federalists called ‘integration theory’.

The Left was silent on this subject, still hoping it would go away, and drawing some comfort from the severe dents that General de Gaulle’s policies inflicted on such theories in the 1960s. De Gaulle also caused American political science to veer back towards a ‘realist’ world, where nation-states were still tough, self-seeking organizations armed with guns and bombs. In Britain two kinds of history of European integration were written; on the one hand, federalist fables where Europe has one culture and the European Parliament is, after some false turns on the way, in the longue durée, the logical consequence of Charlemagne,footnote6 and, on the other, the national diplomatic history of Britain’s sub-hegemony.footnote7 From both, political economy—the interests of most people, why they vote as they do, how the system is shaped from below—was entirely lacking.

It has taken Gorbachev, the demolition of the Wall, the privatization of Eastern Europe, and monetary union proclaimed for the immediate future in a grand treaty to change things. But now at last the Left begins to understand that it needs a political economy of the European Union as it once had one of socialism. Recent articles by Tom Nairnfootnote8 and Perry Andersonfootnote9 reviewing my work were each that rare thing, a creatively intelligent book review, and after fifteen years of scanning marginal comment by the uninterested it should have given me more pleasure than it did to read discourses so purposefully engaged with the real world of social and economic trends in Western Europe as a whole. It was diluted by the thought that both should have been helped by the imperfect efforts of an out-of-date, semi-Keynesian social democrat.