Matthew Jones on an independent working class response to the bosses’ referendum

Neither the European ruling classes, which have created the Euro nor the British capitalist supporters of the pound sterling are friends of the working class. Both are our sworn enemies. The choice being offered to us in this referendum is – a yes vote in support of the Euro or a no vote in support of the pound – not as some would put it Yes in support of Blair and New Labour or No against them.

The nature of money

To understand the class forces at work and where the working class should stand on the Euro it is first necessary to look at the nature of money. Originally precious metals – particularly gold – served as money. Karl Marx pointed out that the high value of gold relative to other commodities was due to the large quantity of labour time taken to produce gold. Historically the value of gold in the modern world market has changed slowly, falling only with the development of new extraction techniques or the discovery of major new deposits with easier workings.

For a time capitalism was able to sustain gold-based currencies as a world currency, a universal equivalent. At this time the gold backed pound sterling and the actual gold sovereign, the currency of Britain, the dominant capitalist power was the international currency. Other, poorer countries such as the various German states had to make do with a paper currency and the demand to import stronger currencies similar to the use of the dollar in Russia today.

Surplus value

However, the basis of all paper currencies is the surplus value extracted from the working class. Surplus value being Marx’s term for the tribute taken from the working class by the capitalist class and bearing a number of labels including profit, interest, rent etc. History shows that the value of each currency depends on the success of each capitalist class in exploiting workers. Where workers are successful in winning concessions then the degree or even the absolut eamount of surplus value extracted by the capitalists will fall, as will the value of the currency. This is called inflation.

The rise of the workers’ movement internationally was heralded by the Paris Commune in 1871 and declared as a fully fledged alternative to capitalist rule by the Russian Revolution of 1917. It forced the gradual abandonment of the link between paper currency and gold – the gold standard– the last vestiges of which were swept away when the Bretton Woods currency system collapsed in 1971.

No accountability

Because money is so central to the operation of capitalism itself there is no way that the capitalist classes can or will concede any democratic control or accountability over their currencies. Only their trusted servants will be allowed anywhere near the system. Thus the notion that the operation of the European Central Bank controlling the Euro is somehow less accountable than the Bank of England controlling the pound is just untrue. Similarly the notion that controls over public spending currently being used in Euroland are significantly worse than the attacks perpetrated by Blair and Brown in the service of British capital is likewise false.

Exploitation of workers

Massive concessions to the working class were institutionalised after 1945 and produced a currency system where for the first time inflation was a permanent feature, for the ruling class and its assorted political servants the war against inflation became code for attacking the working class both nationally and internationally.

In class terms, the conflict between the supporters of the new Euro and those attempting to preserve the pound is a dispute between different factions of the ruling class on how best to maintain the exploitation of the workers. The Euro is a creation of the European Union which at its heart is a deal between the German and French capitalist classes. It is both a pact against the working class in Europe and an attempt to challenge the economic and political dominance of the US capitalist class.

In Britain, those forces supporting the Euro are led by those major manufacturers which remain in Britain plus that section of finance capital, which is either European owned or aligned to interests in the European Union. In some industries, such as cars and chemicals, there is a real fight over whether the Euro or the dollar will be the most significant currency. On the other side, the pound is supported by a large section of finance capital which is seeking to maintain the alliance between the British and US ruling classes plus a majority of small business. The advent of the Euro would undoubtedly mark another attack on sections of small business by large capital.

Anti working class

Both sides of this argument are united in one thing: their absolute determination to maintain the oppression of the working class and to press home further attacks upon it where possible. On one side we have the Tories with their base in small business and the more extreme elements of finance capital supporting the pound and on the other we have Blair with another throughly antiworking class programme.

It is difficult to see how the working class can fight for its own interests other than by calling for a boycott. Both sides of this argument represent the interests of different factions of the British ruling class.

Overthrow of capitalism

The success of the working class in winning concessions from the capitalist class, whether in the form of wage rises and better conditions or better services from the state, undermines money itself by reducing its value through inflation. Whenever the working class comes close to overthrowing capitalism, money automatically becomes worthless because the capitalist class(es) concerned are unable to exploit workers and extract surplus value.

This is not to say that we should not demand more money as part of demanding concessions from capital or the state. But in a future Euro referendum the question will be posed Are you in favour of this money or that money? In other words are you in favour of this set of capitalist interests or the other bunch of bloodsuckers? Our answer must be no – we will fight for a greater share for the working class and for the overthrow of capitalism and it is not in our interests to choose the kind of chains the capitalists want to put on us.

Boycott the Referendum! Fight for Workers’ Interests not those of Capitalists!