A Referendum and the Murder of an MP
Gerry Dorrian condemns conflation
On Thursday June 16, 2016, the increasingly acrimonious campaigns to remain and leave the European Union in the next week’s referendum fell silent at the news that Jo Cox, a Labour MP and mother of two young children, had been killed, allegedly by one Thomas Mair, who was found to have a collection of neo-Nazi literature.
I have no desire to defend or to indict Mair. Rather, I wish to show that if he was a neo-Nazi – or was attracted to neo-Nazism because of his mental health problems – this does not of itself give an indication of his views regarding the EU.
The complicated gestation of the European Union
There persists a worldview in which left-wing politics taken to the limit yields internationalism, and right-wing politics taken likewise gives rise to nationalism, with a positive value being accorded the former and a negative one the latter. In practice, this worldview was obsolete by the end of the Second World War.
The first call for a “United States of Europe” in the 20th century was made by Leon Trotsky in 1914,1 as a way to stop the war, and reflected the internationalism then exclusive to the Left. But, “wingedness” was no longer a reliable predictor of policy. Thirty years later, in 1945 the call would be repeated by Winston Churchill, outgoing Conservative Prime Minister (who, however, qualified his call by saying that Great Britain should be supportive of the project but remain apart2). To this end Churchill would later voice support for the Schuman Plan, named after French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, which founded the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) to internationalise French and German sovereignty over these materials so that neither country could arm for war without the other knowing. Churchill lauded the plan as the end of a “thousand year quarrel”,3 referring to the long, slow disintegration of Charlemagne’s original Holy Roman Empire, and it is assumed that the Schuman Plan was the first step in the process that delivered the European Union.
But that’s not exactly the case. The original conception for a French-German settlement post-WWII was the Monnet Plan which was at root a unilateral French strategy that was not just nationalist but expansionist. Named from the diplomat Jean Monnet, the main strategy was for France to occupy Germany’s main coal, coke and steel producing areas, ie the Saar, The Ruhr and part of the Rhineland.
In practice the Saar was the only region occupied. Created from a former German district by the 1919 Versailles treaty, it had been transferred from League of Nations administration to Nazi Germany after a 1935 referendum.4 After the Monnet Plan declared it a Protectorate of France in 1947, Konrad Adenauer – Germany’s first postwar Chancellor, who had been imprisoned by the Nazis because of his commitment to democracy – voiced fears about colonialization and a breakdown of relations among European nations.5 The US, recognising that the areas envisaged for occupation had been flash points before the 1870 Franco-Prussian War and the First and Second World Wars, took these fears seriously and, being in charge of the money supply through the Marshall Plan, forced France to think again. The subsequent Schuman Plan, while ostensibly internationalist, was crafted to preserve French hegemony over the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany).6 Although the Saar opted to join West Germany after a 1956 referendum, in 1960 French Prime Minister Michel Debré showed the extent to which the healing of the “thousand year quarrel” was cosmetic when he delivered a speech announcing that Germany was “now only a French satellite”.7 The EU continues to honour Monnet as “father of Europe”.8
On the German side was Walter Hallstein, who would become first president of the European Commission (the commission of the EEC). Hallstein was a professor of law until he joined the Wehrmacht as an officer, and was captured by US forces in Cherbourg in 1944. He was taken to Camp Como in Mississippi and directed to set up a “camp university”9 to retrain German POWs with an academic bent. In an extraordinary example of international cooperation, German authorities sent the US certificates to ensure the students’ achievements would be accredited in Germany10, at a time when soldiers of the two countries were at war in the field. Immediately after the war Hallstein was installed as rector of Frankfurt’s Goethe University then, after a stint at the Auswärtiges Amt (Foreign Office), Hallstein became Commission President upon the EEC’s formation in 1958.
By 1960 both Adenauer and French President Charles de Gaulle were wary of the power Hallstein had accrued in the EEC’s main base in Brussels,11 capital of Belgium, and with good cause: centralisation had been a major strategy of the Nazis to concentrate power in their hands,12 and as early as 1954 Frankfurt School economist Otto Kirchheimer, working for US intelligence services, had voiced concerns about the abandonment of decentralisation (as well as decartelisation and denazification) in Germany.13 After German reunification, there was no change in the federalist dynamics of the European project; hegemony within the bloc simply pivoted from France to Germany.
The foregoing is necessary to understand the unrelieved tensions bubbling close to the surface when the Treaty of Rome, the EEC’s and EU’s founding document, called for “ever closer union among the peoples of Europe”.14 The scenario was instructive: a former officer in the Nazi war machine was in charge of preparing national borders for dissolution in the cause of internationalisation, while a German democrat and a French freedom fighter had experienced how borders had been dissolved by fascism in the cause of one nation’s hegemony and were therefore alarmed.
Internationalism: left- or right-wing – or both?
Hitler’s modus operandi dissolved national borders as effectively as Lenin’s had and, in fact, the Nazi’s main opponents in occupied countries were nationalistic resistance groups that as such would be identified as right-wing in some quarters in modern times but were actually composed of fighters from across the political spectrum. British people of all political beliefs, likewise, were in general fiercely patriotic and were led by a National Government comprising the leaders of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties – Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee and Archibald Sinclair respectively.
Free peoples and freedom fighters were not the only ones to find themselves in unexpected coalitions. Before Hitler’s invasion of Russia violated the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression treaty, fascist and communist ideologies had mixed in that point of totalitarian convergence where all tyrannies are equal. Subsequently, in East Germany (German Democratic Republic) the adherents of neo-Nazism presented it as the only alternative to a communist regime resistant to opposition,15 although the neo-Nazi resurgence in the GDR may be a case of incipient totalitarian convergence.) In 1983, former Wehrmacht officer turned neo-Nazi Otto Rehmer stated that Russia’s communism should not deter national socialists from seeking to unite with it against the “threat from Asia” and, in doing so, influenced a next- that is the current – generation of neo-Nazi internationalists.16
Jo Cox’s alleged murderer may have been either a neo-Nazi or heavily influenced by neo-Nazi materials.17 This does not prove that he had a predictable view for or against continued membership of the European Union. Since the available literature does not (as far as I have found) identify anything other than the defeat of Germany in 1945 to differentiate neo-Nazis from Nazis, it is reasonable to suppose Thomas Mair, if his mental state allowed him to hold a fully-fledged view, may have either supported leaving the EU to form an ethnonationalist UK or remaining to form a federalist union centring upon Germany.
Mair’s trial (scheduled for the Autumn) may make much of his alleged statement “put Britain first”, presumably referring to the Islamophobic groupuscule led by Jayda Fransen and Paul Golding. While Mair must be punished if he is found guilty, it is to be hoped that the referendum campaign rhetoric will also feature in the trial. Were senior politicians really so naïve as to suppose that warnings of war, genocide and the collapse of Western civilisation would have no effect on minds that were struggling to hold on to reality?
When David Cameron used his first speech to the Conservative party conference as prime minister, in 2010, to tell the country “we’re all in this together”, voices mocking the Old Etonian may have drowned out the end of the sentence proclaiming the motto “a call to arms”.18 While political analysts may contemplate the statement’s grim prophetic irony, I hope that when Armageddon is not a prospect the related hyperbole will be discarded.
- Trotsky, Leon. The War and the International (1914), Marxist writers’ Internet Archive 1996, pp71. Available at https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1914/war/warintl.pdf, accessed 26/6/2016
- Larres, Klaus, Churchill’s Cold War: The Politics of Personal Diplomacy, Yale University Press 2002, p141
- Churchill, Winston B, We must not lose Hope (1952), in Never Give in! Winston Churchill’s Speeches, ed Winston S Churchill, Bloomsbury 2013, p395
- Rota, Emanuel, A Pact with Vichy: Angelo Tasca from Italian Socialism to French Collaboration, Fordham University Press 2013, p81
- Long, Bronson, No Easy Occupation: French Control of the German Saar, 1944-1957, Camden House 2015, p137
- Milward, Alan S, The Reconstruction of Western Europe 1945-1951, University of California Press 1984, p475
- MacMillan, Harold, The MacMillan Diaries Vol 2, ed.Peter Catterall, Macmillan 2011, p323
- Neal, Larry, The Economics of Europe and the European Union, Cambridge University Press 2007, p237
- Piela, Ingrid, Walter Hallstein – Jurist und gestaltender Europapolitiker der ersten Stunde, Berliner Wissenschafts 2012, p32
- Sytko, Glenn A, German POWs in North America, 2016. Available at http://uboat.net/men/pow/recreation.htm, accessed 9/7/2016
- Macmillan, 2011, loc cit
- Pelle, Anita, The Freiburg Scholars and interwar Germany, in Poettinger, Monika and Gianfranco, Tusset (eds.), Economic Thought and History: an unresolved relationship, Routledge 2016, p105
- Kirchheimer, Otto, Notes on the Political Scene in West Germany, World Politics Vol 6 No. 3 (April 1954), pp306-321
- The Treaty of Rome, europa.eu, 1957, p2. Available at http://ec.europa.eu/archives/emu_history/documents/treaties/rometreaty2.pdf, accessed 9/7/2016
- Ross, Gordon Charles, The Swastika in Socialism: Right-Wing Extremism and Militant Nationalism in the GDR, in Grix, Jonathan and Cooke, Paul (eds.), East Germany: Continuity and Change, Rodopi 2000, pp86-87
- Whine, Michael, Trans-European trends in right-wing extremism, in Mammone, Andrea, Godin, Emmanuel and Jenkins, Brian, Mapping the Extreme Right in Contemporary Europe: from Local to Transnational, Routledge 2012, p320
- Davenport, Justin et al, Thomas Mair: Neo-Nazi links of man suspected of murdering MP Jo Cox are revealed, Evening Standard 17 June 2016. Available at http://www.standard.co.uk/news/crime/revealed-neonazi-links-of-man-suspected-of-murdering-mp-jo-cox-a3274356.html, accessed 9/7/2016
- David Cameron’s Conservative conference speech in full, The Telegraph, 6 Oct 2010. Available at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/david-cameron/8046342/David-Camerons-Conservative-conference-speech-in-full.html, accessed 9/7/2016
GERRY DORIAN writes from Cambridge