A Pre-First World War European Federation formed on Co-operative principles

waechter-sir-max-picOn June 12th 1913, sixty years before the UK joined the EEC, and 103 years before it voted to leave it, The New Age, a well-known Socialist weekly, published a prescient article by one of its frequent contributors, Joseph Finn (1865 – 1945), a former tailor who, according to one source, became ‘one of the first Jewish labour leaders in Britain.’ In it Finn put forward a radical economic alternative to the political vision of a ‘United States of Europe’ that Sir Max Waechter had outlined in a recent issue of The Fortnightly Review.

On the eve of a possible war between Britain and Germany Waechter had argued that there were no political, racial or dynastic reasons why the two nations should not join as the prime movers of a larger European Union. Finn, however suggested that the basis for any such federation should not be political, but economic. Germany and Britain were in direct economic competition with one another and therefore were unlikely to cooperate within a proposed political union, but might even go to war in furtherance of their own economic ambitions. Finn continued:

‘If nations were not afraid of competition they would not surround themselves with tariff walls. England is no exception, though she is a Free Trade country. English free trade originated in a period when England was the workshop of the world. On the one hand, she had no rivals; on the other hand, she stood in need of cheap food for her factory hands. Such economic conditions were the natural mother of the political institution of Free Trade. Now, having lost her monopoly in manufacture, and she being compelled to face formidable rivals, we see growing up a political tendency towards Protection. Thus we see clearly the truth of the sociological law, that the political structure of society is the outcome of the economic structure.

In a prescient passage Finn also pointed to the threats to commercial success in Europe from the emerging industrial powers of India, Japan and China who, from being reliant on importing finished goods from Europe, were fast becoming, not only self-sufficient in these goods, but likely at some time in the future to ‘dump ‘ their surplus onto Europe. This, of course, has come to pass, particularly in regard to Chinese steel.

Finn’s answer to the problem of commercial competition among European powers and threats from further afield seems simple enough: European nations should all become partners.

‘The industries of England, Germany, Belgium, Holland and France must become amalgamated. When the profits from British industries shall be shared by Germany, and those of the latter by the former, on the joint stock principal, and the same with the other countries; then Europe would in reality become one country. Commerce in the modern sense will cease. The various countries would have no need to sell goods to each other, no need of rivalry on the part of one country in doing more trade than any other country. Commerce would simply mean an exchange of goods between one country which can supply that which the other country requires and has not got. The world market as we know it would disappear. Why should any one country strive to push her goods when the profits will not be exclusively her own, but would be shared by all? If the shipping trade of England, Germany, Holland, France and Belgium were to be amalgamated into one International concern, and the same thing were to take place with several other principal industries; then war between those countries would become an impossibility, because their economic interest would not only become interdependent but practically one and the same. This is the only real foundation for a United States of Europe. The political roof would follow as a natural and logical consequence. The elimination of competition, and the substitution of partnership between nations, would be followed by a similar process between the various competing firms within every nation. Sir Max Waechter recognises this fact in his article when he says that “unlimited and ruinous competition is gradually being eliminated from business by co-operation and amalgamation.”…

‘Amalgamation of all the private industries in every country, and their further amalgamation into International concerns, may be summarised as International Partnership. When established, it will not only abolish military wars, but what is of even greater importance industrial war. Under International Partnership there is room only for two classes;1) the actual producers of wealth ; 2) the owners of the means of production. At present the national income is divided between several classes who represent various social economic functions, and some standing between the above mentioned two classes, e.g. shopkeepers, merchants, financiers, company promoters, various middlemen, agents, brokers, insurance companies, commercial travellers, and still other who do not directly participate in the production of the necessities and luxuries of life. Those functionaries are the product of a system of private trading, but under a system of International Partnership, they become unnecessary.

Finn goes on to explain how under his scheme all financial transactions would become superfluous.

‘ Every worker (physical or mental) in Class I and every shareholder in Class II would have a deposit book. On the credit side would be entered what is due to him in dividend or wages, and on the debit side what he had received in commodities or services. When we taken into consideration what is wasted in destructive work, and add to it the still greater wastage of unproductive work; when all able-bodied people now living on wages, are put on work which is absolutely necessary for the production and supply of society’s needs; and all the capital now employed in unnecessary social functions is employed for the above purpose; it is safe to prophesy that the total wealth then produced will be so great that it will enable Class II to give Class I such a share in the national or international income, that the latter will be able to live in comfort and affluence as compared with their state on their present share. Class II will also get more on their capital than they now receive. There would be work for all, and overwork for none. Security would be substituted for the present insecurity. The workers would no more know the dread of unemployment, nor the shareholders of losing their capital. As long as the earth yields her fruits, and Labour and Capital are ready to gather them, so long would peace and plenty be the lot of all.’          

In defence of his programme Finn maintains that such an International Partnership was the only way in which the opposing counter-currents of Capitalistic individualism and Socialist interventionism could be deflected in the cause of International Peace. Only by making International Partnership the object of his European Union League, Finn concludes, will Sir Max Waechter be ‘laying the foundation stone for a United States of Europe ‘.

Neither of the peace-promoting ideas of Waechter or Finn made much impression on the European powers. There was to be no political or economic cooperation with Germany. On 28th July 1914, just over a year after Finn’s article had appeared, war was declared in Europe. However, three years later in Russia a revolution began which brought into being some of the radical ideas explored by Finn. [R.M.Healey]

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