Referendum second time around
The divisions within the British ruling class over European integration have reached a head with the EU referendum on June 23rd 2016.
This will be the second referendum on British membership of the European Union (formerly the European Economic Community), the first being in 1975 when similar divisions in the ruling class were inescapable as a result of the further development of the centralisation and concentration of capital. The referendum has also caused a great division among the British left, and indeed a great distraction from the development of the class struggle in Britain.
Divided ruling class
There is no point in regurgitating in detail the already familiar history of the EU’s development from 1946 onwards. Briefly the decline of European imperialism after World War 2 meant the European ruling class was faced with the challenge of US imperialism on the upturn, the strengthened Socialist bloc in the east and national liberation movements in the colonies and semi colonies. For the French, British, German, Dutch and Belgian imperialists the future was bleak. Their survival depended on more free trade between them, greater concentration and centralisation of productive forces ( the beginning of the EU was the European Coal and Steel Community) and finance capital. As the decades have moved on we have seen the introduction of bourgeois institutions such as the European Parliament, European Bank and plans for a European Army and Police Force.
The development of capitalism always tends towards the development of monopoly and centralisation. This trend was observed over a century and a half ago by Marx and Engels:
‘In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations.’1
This has been the realisation of monopoly capitalism in the 20th century. The contradiction in this process is the partial erosion of the bourgeois ideology of nationalism based on the traditional nation state. In the process of the free flow of capital it is inevitable that there will be a freer flow of labour and less restrictive borders between traditional national boundaries. The superstructure therefore has to be bought into line with the creation of big capital and thus the old ideological straight jacket of nationalism based on the feudal state foundations needed to be abandoned. These contradictory developments can only be progressive in terms of the greater integration of workers of different nationalities and the eroding of the poisonous bourgeois nationalism of the past which has been used to divide the working class of nations and whipped up to encourage workers to fight for the ruling class against workers of another nation’s ruling class.
The decline of the European powers and the new rivalries they faced pushed them to further integration and centralisation. British imperialism was not keen to be involved at first and sought to preserve its independence and ‘special relationship’ with US imperialism as the junior partner. However in 1973 Britain joined and remained after the referendum voted to stay in 1975. The capitalist class in any nation is not homogeneous however and a section of the British ruling class has always wanted to attempt an independent existence from the European bloc. In recent years there has been tension between European imperialists and US imperialism over such issues as invading Iraq and the strategy towards dominating the Ukraine.
Britain has firmly supported the US and clearly some of the more reactionary sections of the capitalist class would like to be closer to the US and integrate further with US imperialism rather than the EU. The leading reactionaries in the US know that Britain would be useless today as an independent imperialist and this was expressed by Obama in his call for Britain to remain in the EU. The section of the British capitalists who wish to leave the EU of course believe British imperialism can carve out an independent role in dominating the oppressed countries without other European nations and in this sense they want to go backwards and appeal also to backward nationalist ideas and fears of migrants. The leader of UKIP (and independent frontage for disaffected Tory right wingers) Nigel Farage recently claimed the question of women’s safety would be central to the referendum on the basis that the EU allows peoples of different cultures to enter and then claims that these people will abuse women:
‘Frankly, if we are prepared to accept, or if Germany and Sweden are prepared to accept, unlimited numbers of young males, from countries and cultures where women are at best second-class citizens then, frankly, what do you expect? None of this is going to get better because the EU now is in negotiations with Turkey and [Turkish president] Mr Erdoğan plays a clever game, doesn’t he?’2
Clearly stooping to the most reactionary colonial stereotypes and prejudices. This section of the capitalist class wishes to keep the flames of nationalism burning into the 21st century! Although nationalist and racist sentiments are not as strong as in the past they are far from being a spent force and the right-wing out campaigns are blatantly trading on these reactionary ideologies.
British left stoops to a new low
The divisions among the ruling class will of course be reflected in the whole of society through their control of culture and media and this is also reflected in the majority of the British left. We have the Lexit campaign (the Left leave campaign group) and Another Europe is Possible (a leftist campaign to remain in the EU). Both these campaigns are devoid of any class content and sing to the tune of the two sections of Britain’s ruling class.
The Lexit campaign consists mainly of the rump of British revisionism in the CPB associated with the Morning Star newspaper, the Troto-Syndicalist SWP and its splinter group Counterfire, and the RMT union. This campaign correctly condemns the racist official Brexit campaign dominated by the Tories and UKIP. It is however a platform for reformism and Wedgwood Benn protectionism appealing to Little Englander mentality. The roots of this reformist agenda can be traced back to the revisionist document The British Road to Socialism which was the official abandonment of revolutionary politics by the CPGB in 1951 and the capitulation to Labourite reformism. The SWP/Counterfire’s devotion to Leon Trotsky would obviously lead them to the same Menshevik reformist position as their dead master.
The objections to the EU raised by the Lexiters present us with some of the most vomit inducing defences of bourgeois parliamentarianism; ‘Why the EU is a Negation of Parliamentary Sovereignty and Democracy’ screams the Morning Star of the 12th May. So we have a defence of the British capitalists right to exploit and oppress British workers exclusively through ‘Parliamentary Sovereignty’ based on the old feudal state boundaries rather than with their European counterparts. There is no difference for the working class either way! Many workers and the poor in Britain have no interest in defending the British Parliament’s sovereignty as they know it does not represent them and they have no illusions in this institution. Similar reformist sentiment is promoted by TUSC a front for the Trotskyite Socialist Party who have long jumped on the latest populist band wagon and appealed to racist sentiment as they did in the Lindsey Oil Refinery dispute.
The main argument from the Lexiters and those around them is that a British Parliament free from the EU constraints can allow the people of Britain to elect a left wing government which will take lots of utilities into state control and introduce economic protectionism to defend ‘British jobs’ and ‘British industry’. This is nothing but a reactionary dream which leads to nothing. The working class experienced this form of capitalist rule from the 1940s onwards. Exploitation and oppression were still the norm as were colonial wars and oppression of other nations. The conditions for this type of capitalist rule have long gone. British withdrawal from the EU would only strengthen British nationalism, restrict the movement of people and thus intensify racism, and an even more right wing Tory government led by Johnson would probably be installed. It is likely that many migrants from Eastern Europe would have to leave and any form of trade protectionism would lead to unemployment abroad. It would be turning the wheel of history backwards. We cannot let nationalism revive and divide workers. However the Lexit campaign tries to sell it, their pandering to the ‘leave’ vote revives anti-migrant rhetoric and nationalism.
It is unfortunate that some revolutionaries have also been affected by these outmoded ideological structures appealing to the sentimentality of petty bourgeois public opinion. The CPGB(M-L) has adopted a ‘leave’ line separate from the Lexit campaign. They quote Lenin’s oppsition to the slogan of a United States of Europe among revolutionaries 100 years ago.
Lenin’s view on this must be looked at in the context it was written and not simply parroted and thrown around to justify a line of British sovereignty today.
The remain camp of the British left is no better consisting of Trotskyites and reformists and if not openly liberals at first hand. The ‘Another Europe is Possible’ campaign calls for the EU to be reformed. This is to be done by every EU state electing left wing representatives and governments, but this is highly unlikely to happen all at once! As Marxists we reject any such delusional fairy tales as the EU being transformed into a ‘social Europe’. It is a capitalist organisation of nations and will not change! The ‘stay in’ campaign also promotes the institutions of the European Parliament which can only divert class anger into useless leftist electoral populism. They are sewing illusions in Bills of Rights and other legislation which mean nothing to the people of Greece for example who struggle to put food on the table. The only means of changing Europe as any other continent is social revolution.
Lenin on the ‘United States of Europe’
What did Lenin actually say and in what context?
‘From the standpoint of the economic conditions of imperialism—i.e., the export of capital and the division of the world by the “advanced” and “civilised” colonial powers—a United States of Europe, under capitalism, is either impossible or reactionary.’3
Lenin was correct, and he wrote this is 1915 when the European powers were engaged up to then in the most bloody war in human history to re-divide the world between them. Therefore it was impossible to call for a united Europe under such circumstances. An attempt to unite Europe under German imperialism by force was indeed reactionary and led to destruction on an unprecedented scale and the eventual defeat of German fascism by the heroic efforts of the USSR. This attempt to elevate Germano-European imperialism to a new global hegemonic empire and redivide the world died with Hitler in his imperial chancellory.
Since Lenin wrote those quoted lines the European powers have been long eclipsed by US imperialism and later also Soviet Social Imperialism, (the result of the USSR’s transformation after the revisionists seized power), which compelled them to have more than a temporary agreement and create a voluntary union of bourgeois democracies and the EEC was their answer to this challenge.
We should have no interest in preserving the old nation states of the imperialists like Britain. Their integration into a European state is a sign of their decline. We do not wish to involve ourselves in what is an impossible attempt at British imperialism‘s revival by the right wing Tory section of the ruling class.
The world situation has changed in the last century and today US imperialism is developing into a global state with increasing hegemony over the planet. The imperialists of Europe require a union to preserve their interests in the world in the face of the US. They are currently the junior partners to the US but there have been tensions and the future is not yet decided on which way the EU will turn. Hence the split in Britain‘s ruling class.
Capitalist monopoly sews the seeds of its own downfall
The constant development of capitalism towards monopoly forms creates the objective basis for socialism through the disappearance of national frameworks and the barriers between the old European nations have now gone. This also creates better conditions for the solidarity between Europe‘s working class. There have already been campaigns across Europe to oppose TTIP to name just one example. Workers in Europe will increasingly become conscious of a common and central enemy, European capitalism. Even non-member European states like Norway have to adhere to EU regulations and trading laws. Strong globalisation trends determine that integration is now impossible to resist anyway. Trying to reverse globalisation is a futile fantasy.
The revisionists and Trots who call for withdrawal wish to turn back the wheel of history. This is impossible. Only revolution can solve the contradictions. For these reasons Marx supported the development of free trade agreements between capitalist nations in Europe in the 19th century. He participated in the Free Trade Congress in Brussels in 1847. It did not mean he supported capitalism but saw that its further development would objectively bring closer the basis for heightened class struggles and socialism. Engels in his preface to the 1888 English edition of the pamphlet On the Question of Free Trade had this to say about Marx‘s support for the Free Trade campaign:
‘To him, Free Trade is the normal condition of modern capitalist production. Only under Free Trade can the immense productive powers of steam, of electricity, of machinery, be full developed; and the quicker the pace of this development, the sooner and the more fully will be realized its inevitable results; society splits up into two classes, capitalists here, wage-laborers there; hereditary wealth on one side, hereditary poverty on the other; supply outstripping demand, the markets being unable to absorb the ever growing mass of the production of industry; an ever recurring cycle of prosperity, glut, crisis, panic, chronic depression, and gradual revival of trade, the harbinger not of permanent improvement but of renewed overproduction and crisis; in short, productive forces expanding to such a degree that they rebel, as against unbearable fetters, against the social institutions under which they are put in motion; the only possible solution: a social revolution, freeing the social productive forces from the fetters of an antiquated social order, and the actual producers, the great mass of the people, from wage slavery. And because Free Trade is the natural, the normal atmosphere for this historical evolution, the economic medium in which the conditions for the inevitable social revolution will be the soonest created — for this reason, and for this alone, did Marx declare in favour of Free Trade.’4
Socialism will be achieved as an outcome of the forces inherent in historical development. This does not mean it is inevitable. With a scientific understanding of society through Marxism-Leninism-Maoism we can apply our subjective conscious understanding of the need for socialism upon the objective material conditions. Further integration of European superstructure and economy will further this task, it is an inherent contradiction of monopoly capitalism. Social being determines consciousness. The conditions are there for united European wide class struggles and these would enhance the political consciousness of British workers. For a start, they can learn from the current actions of French workers, if we can deconstruct the old national chauvanist attitudes towards the French all the better.
Nationalism is no answer
Attempts to reconstruct the outmoded ideology of national autonomy is backward and promotes reformist illusions. Communists must fight for the greatest unity of workers and oppressed peoples across the whole planet. When the objective conditions of capitalism‘s development facilitate this process we should intervene to support it. This is even more paramount with the rapid development of information technology and its affect on shrinking the world and making it even easier to unify. Along side this development is the US imperialist‘s global state which will face unprecedented resistance as the world situation develops further. The contradictions will also develop between the US, EU and the BRICS and we must always exploit these contradictions to the advantage of the working class and oppressed. The only way of transforming the world is social revolution, as through People‘s War being engaged in today in India by the vanguard of the oppressed people.
As Chairman Mao Tse-tung said the imperialists are paper Tigers, they may look scary and powerful but they are not. The decisive factor is not their power and weaponry but the people.
Whether Britain is in or out of the EU the same fundamental economic and political contradictions will continue to determine the character of British capitalism and thus perpetuate the oppression and exploitation of the great majority of the people in Britain. Voting either way in the EU Referendum will not alter this basic fact. In or out we need to focus on and develop struggles to defend living standards, to alleviate housing shortages, defend public services and combat racism.
1 Marx and Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx and Engels Basic Writings in Philosophy and Politics, Feuer, Lewis (Ed), P33, Fontana (1976)
2 Nigel Farage: Migrant sex attacks to be ‘nuclear bomb’ of EU referendum, The Guardian, June 5th2016
3 Sotsial-Demokrat No. 44, August 23, 1915. Published according to the text in Sotsial-Demokrat. Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [197], Moscow, Volume 21, pages 339-343.
4 On the Question of Free Trade,