Posts Tagged ‘‘On Perpetual Peace’’

Labour’s Ernest Bevin and European Union

June 6, 2016

I’ve posted several pieces pointing out that the idea of a united Europe, or a European parliament, ultimately goes back to the Quaker William Penn in the 17th and 18th century philosophers and idealists, such as Immanuel Kant. In his essay, On Perpetual Peace, Kant advocated the creation of a federal European state as a way of preventing further European wars. The great Italian patriot and revolutionary, Mazzini, also believed in a federation of European nation states, dedicated to peace.

In the 20th century, one of the great advocates for European economic union in the Labour movement was Ernest Bevin. Bevin was one of the founders, with Harry Gosling, of the TGWU and the foreign minister in Atlee’s government after the War. At the TUC Congress in 1926, Bevin urged in the name of his union that a formal resolution should be passed

That notwithstanding the political divisions of Europe, this Congress instructs the General Council to further, through the international organisations, a policy having for its object the creation of a European public opinion in favour of Europe becoming an economic unity.
(Francis Williams, Ernest Bevin: Portrait of a Great Englishman (London: Hutchinson 1952, p. 149).

Bevin was a frequent visitor to the International Labour Office in Geneva, and helped to reform the International Transport Workers’ Federation after the War. His biographer, Francis Williams, considered that his experience of the profound economic links between workers in various countries right across Europe helped shape his internationalism and support for European economic union. Williams writes of his 1927 speech in favour of economic union for Europe

“Anyone who has had to follow the transport trades of the world”, he said, “realizes that while you may satisfy political ambitions by the establishment of boundaries the economic development of the world is often in total conflict with national aspirations. I recognise and my union recognises that national aspirations and national boundaries are bound to be a great handicap to us … but we also believe that if we are to develop nationally we have got to show our people unionism in terms of raw materials, in terms of harvests, cycles of trade and exchange…”

“We have,” he continued, “debated all this week as if Britain had no industrial problem to solve. But Britain has got a problem and it is no use attacking unemployment unless we try at least to make a contribution towards its solution and one of the complications throughout Europe has been the creation of a greater number of national boundaries as a result of the Versailles Treaty… The Labour Movement should carry on a great educational work in promoting the development of all forms of national culture even to the extent of political divisions and yet at the same time to inculcate the spirit of a United States of Europe on an economic basis… Cast your eye over Europe,” he went on, “with its millions of underfed, with its millions of people with a wretchedly low standard of living. We can have mass production, we can have intensified production, but we must, in order to absorb that mass production direct consuming power ot the millions of people in Europe whose standard of living is not far removed from the animal…. When we meet our international friends (let us) talk of the real problems of Europe in terms of materials, in terms of goods, in terms of the productive capacity of the peasantry, in terms of exchange, and drive along the line of endeavouring to create a feeling of interdependence between the production of the peasantry from the land of the craftsmanship of the workshop…”

Although in 1927 Bevin no doubt underestimated the political difficulties in the way of European Economic Union and was somewhat too facile in his belief in a United States of Europe this speech is interesting not only for its evidence of the widening of his own view of the duty of the trade unions but because the premises on which it was based remained all his life fundamental to his view of international affairs. They later deeply influenced his policy as Foreign Secretary, not least in his response some twenty years later to Mr. Marshall’s Harvard speech on European economic dislocation the full significance of which, as the Annual Register at the time commented, “was not realised on either side of the Atlantic” until Bevin “grasped with both hands” the opportunity it offered of American aid in initiating European co-operation and thus brought into being the Marshall Plan.

In 1927 he was thinking aloud, dreaming a little as he said because “to be a dreamer is sometimes necessary”, and his thoughts brought many angry responses from other delegates to the Congress. Some of them opposed him because they considered that it was the T.U.C.’s business to deal with practical matters and not waste its time on large visions of this kind, others because the idea of European union seemed to them to run counter to the old socialist ideal of an all-embracing international. To this latter argument Bevin replied belligerently that he was not less an internationalist because he was also a realist. It was fine to talk about a world-wide international. but that was far away. meanwhile trade barriers to Europe were keeping living standards low and big employers were developing cartels to safeguard their own interests at the expense of the community. His resolution was carried in the end by 2,258,000 votes to 1,464,000 although both the miners and the railwaymen opposed him. (pp. 151-2).

Williams also says of his idea for a united Europe that

In the past he had been preoccupied with the need to develop trade union power in order to establish a counter-weight to the organised power of employers. Now he saw the solution to many of the world’s economic problems in somewhat similar terms, preaching the need for Britain to develop, either through participation in an economic United States of Europe “spreading from the borders of Russia right to the borders of France”, or in a Commonwealth and European bloc or both, a counter-weight to the economic power of the United States and the potential economic power of Russia. (p. 153).

This was one of the reasons the EEC, the EU’s precursor was founded – so that through an economic union European trade and industry could compete with the US and Soviet blocs. Moreover, the Social Charter in the EU safeguards some basic workers’ rights, rights that are severely threatened by the Brexit campaign.

William Penn on the Need for a European Parliament

March 26, 2016

I’ve probably blogged about this before, but as the issue is now of major importance once again, I’ll carry on talking about it.

The debate about whether Britain should leave the EU has been raised again, with both Boris Johnson and Ian Duncan Smith giving their support to the leave campaign. David Cameron, on the other hand, supports staying in, and has forced his cabinet to take an oath of personal loyalty to him about it. Actually, I wonder if this was the real reason IDS walked out of the cabinet, rather than any of the bunkum he spouted about working age people being hit too hard by Osborne’s benefit cuts. IDS has never voiced any opposition to cutting wages or benefits before. Indeed, he’s been frantically for them. And Tory opposition to the EU is focussed on the Social Charter, which guarantees European workers certain minimal rights. This seems far more likely as a reason for IDS choosing to walk out than him suddenly developing a social conscience. Though it might be that he was genuinely frustrated at not being able to vent his malevolence and hatred of welfare scroungers at the elderly.

Euroceptic attacks on the EU frequently argue that it’s a development of the policies of Napoleon and the Kaiser. Both of these monarchs wanted to create a free trade zone in Europe. However, the demands for a European parliament weren’t confined either to Napoleon, and can be traced back centuries earlier. Kant wrote a trace, On Perpetual Peace, arguing for a federation of states that would outlaw war, and Mazzini, the Italian patriot and revolutionary, also held the same views.

And one of the first pieces arguing for the benefits of a European parliament was written by the great Quaker writer and founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, in 1693 pamphlet An Essay towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe, by the Establishment of an European Diet, Parliament or Estates.
This is divided into several individual sections, such as ‘1. Of Peace, and its Advantages’, ‘2.Of the Means of Peace, Which Is Justice Rather than War’, ‘3. Government, Its Rise and End of All Models’, ‘5. Of the Causes of Difference, and Motives to Violate Peace’, ‘6. Of Titles, Upon Which Those Differences May Arise’, ‘7. Of the Composition of these Imperial States’, ‘8. Of the Regulation of the Imperial States in Session’, ‘9. of the Objections that May Be Advanced against the Design’, ’10. Of the Real Benefits that Flow from the Proposal About Peace’, and a Conclusion.

It is the section ‘4. Of a General Peace, or the Peace of Europe, and the Means of It’, that contains Penn’s basic description of the European parliament he proposes to provide the means by which the various princes and leaders of the various European states at this time could settled their differences peacefully through negotiation. He wrote:

In my first section, I showed the desirableness of peace; in my next, the truest means of it; to wit, justice, not war. And in my last, that this justice was the fruit of government, as government itself was the result of society, which first came from a reasonable design in men of peace. Now it the sovereign princes of Europe, who represent that society, or independent states of men that was previous to the obligations of society, would, for the same reason that engaged men first into society, viz. love of peace and order, agree to meet by their state deputies in a general diet, estates, or parliament, and there establish rules of justice for sovereign princes to observe one to another; and thus to meet yearly, or once in two or three years at farthest, or as they shall see cause, and to be styled, the sovereign or imperial diet, parliament or estate of Europe; before which sovereign assembly, should be brought all differences depending between one sovereign and another, that cannot be made up by private embassies, before the sessions begin; and that if any of the sovereignties that constitute these imperial states, shall refuse to submit their claim or pretensions to them, or to abide and perform the judgement thereof, and seek their remedy by arms, or delay their compliance beyond the time prefixed in their resolutions, all the other sovereignties, united as one strength, shall compel the submission and performance of the sentence, with damages to the suffering party, and charges to the sovereignties that obliged their submission: to be sure Europe would quietly obtain the so much desired and needed peace, to her harassed inhabitants; no sovereignty in Europe, having the power, and therefore cannot show the will to dispute the conclusion; and consequently peace would be procured, and continued in Europe.

The full text of Penn’s work, and his other writings, can be found in William Penn: The Peace of Europe, the Fruits of Solitude and Other Writings, ed. Edwin B. Bronner (London: Everyman 1993).

Penn was writing in the late 17th century, after a series of terrible religious wars had raged across the continent, of which the British civil war was just one. The French in the 16th century had suffered the Wars of the Religion, while in the German Empire a fifth of the population had died of starvation as armies had raged across the country from the borders of France to Russia. As a Quaker, Penn was committed to peace, and saw the creation of a European parliament as the correct means through which peace could be achieved, and justice and prosperity return to the suffering peoples of Europe.

There’s a lot wrong with the EU, from bureaucratic wastefulness and corruption to the massive, economic mess that’s the Euro and the Troika ruling Greece, Italy and the other countries that have suffered severely from the economic effects of the single currency. But the idea of creating a single European community of nations, in which international disputes can be resolved without violence, and nation can truly speak peace unto nation, is the dream of centuries. It should not be thrown away, and especially not because IDS, BoJo and Priti Patel want to turn Britain into an unregulated sweatshop outside EU control.