European Union Referendum – More Capitalist Choices to Reject

There is a minority layer within the British bourgeoisie (the capitalist ruling class) who have started to believe that they might be better able to defend their position if Britain withdraws from the European Union. Before the election in May the Tories bought off those layers by promising a referendum. That piece of democratic charade looks likely to happen in the next 2 years. For the working class the choice will be simple – should British capitalism exploit us inside or outside the European Union (EU)?

Our position as Internationalist Communists is crystal clear. The real choice for workers is to act in our own interests. Don't be drawn into the bosses' phoney debate.

What is the European Union?

The roots of the EU lay in the attempts to reorganise Western European capitalism after the destruction of the Second World War and the growth of the Russian controlled bloc in Eastern Europe. The Marshall Plan was the main device that U.S. imperialism used to ensure a stable and secure market in Western Europe. “Marshall declared that the U.S. would provide financial aid to European countries if they agreed to rebuild their economy on a cooperative basis.(1)

Starting off with control of resources and then working towards "free trade agreements" the project was rolled forward by the ruling classes of the six member states.(2) That process continued throughout the late 1950s and 1960s alongside the extended post-war capitalist reconstruction. From the very earliest days the structures were dependent on all the national bourgeoisies agreeing to surrender elements of their own state's decision-making to the European transnational arrangements.(3)

Just as the post-war boom was making way for the still unresolved profitability crisis Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined the EEC(4) at the start of 1973.

As the economic crisis rocked the foundations of capitalism across the world an increasing number of national bourgeoisie's were prepared to "bite the bullet" of "pooled sovereignty". This attempt to protect the tiny national economies against the power of the Imperialist blocs resulted in Greece (1981) and Portugal and Spain (1986) joining.

This geographic expansion entered a new phase following the collapse of the Russian imperialist bloc. The first expansion into the former Russian empire came when the two German states united in 1990 with the territory of the former East Germany being absorbed into the EEC. The process accelerated until the current EU now includes 28 national members including all the former Eastern European members of Comecon outside the Soviet Union. Taking full advantage of the collapse of the Russian bloc Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, from within the former "Soviet Union"(5) joined both EU and NATO.(6)

Alongside that expansion/"broadening" the member states have tried to protect themselves from the worst of the global crisis by "deepening" the European institutions. The contradictions of that process are being amply illustrated as the much-vaunted EU "acquis" i.e. achievement, of open borders across much of the EU has collapsed under the pressure of migration.

In turn, that broadening and deepening of the EU has allowed it to emerge as a rival bloc to both the established US hegemony and to the emerging Chinese and renewed Russian imperialisms.

The most challenging result of the "deepening" has been the Euro currency union. Currently 19 of the EU states are members with all others except UK and Denmark being obliged to join in the future. The creation of national currencies was one of the characteristics of the creation of capitalist nation-states in Europe and beyond. Abandoning that totemic element of statehood shows how desperate European imperialism was to create institutions to try and appear as a significant player amongst the world-wide imperialist rivalries.

As the crisis deepened after 2007 the contradictions of many nation states sharing a common currency has become increasingly apparent. So far workers in Cyprus, Ireland and Greece have experienced the sharpest attacks as their ruling classes attempt to "square the circle". Like so many other aspects of the crisis, late capitalism (imperialism) has no easy way out of those contradictions.

In or Out - No Choice for Workers

As the crisis has deepened it has become clear that the British ruling class, like the rest of the world, has no way to squeeze enough profit out of our labours. Both their favoured economic theories, Keynesian(7) state interventionism or "monetarist"(8) free market cuts, have let them down. Of course, as their theories have failed, all the bosses' efforts have been about passing on the costs of their crisis onto the working class – the class that actually produces their profits.

In recent years a section of the ruling-class has started to peddle another quack remedy. Appealing to nationalism and its racist anti-immigrant offshoots the argument that British capitalism should leave the EU has found its place in the bosses' choices. The argument has moved from the "lunatic fringe" sponsored by the billionaire James Goldsmith, who formed the "Referendum Party" which was created for the General Election in 1997.

There are sections of the British bourgeoisie whose ability to make profits are not directly linked to the EU "project". At the core of that layer are smaller nationally limited capitalist firms. Alongside these may include British-based multinationals who extract their profits from production elsewhere in the world and those who realise their profits by selling outside the EU.

Based on that element within the bourgeoisie politicians have used the ever-present notions of nationalism, particularly "little Englandism", to establish British withdrawal from EU as part of the ruling-class conversation. The process has seen UKIP grow from an insignificant joke party to an unpleasant joke party with about 4 million votes in both the European elections (2014) and General Election (2015). Alongside and overlapping with the growth of UKIP a significant number of Conservative MP's have latched onto the question of EU withdrawal as a diversion from the savage cuts that they have carried out against the working class.

Although the position in favour of British withdrawal is clearly only advocated by a minority of the bourgeoisie the political parties have now seen an opportunity to "let the people speak". Their referendum will be an exercise where working class people are being tempted to participate in a debate which is purely about how our rulers arrange their affairs to best exploit us.

Elections and Referendums - Bosses' Traps

The British ruling class is well used to producing regular election "spectacles" as part of the democratic illusion. As more and more, particularly younger people(9), are not convinced by the "smoke and mirrors" our rulers have learnt from last year’s referendum in Scotland. By posing bogus choices; 2014 - Scottish capitalism or UK capitalism, 2017? - UK capitalism or EU capitalism, the bourgeoisie see the opportunity to suck layers back into the play acting.

The reality is that while the global imperialist crisis deepens the bourgeoisie and their states and institutions are ceaselessly trying to drive down our working-class living standards.(10)

Many on the capitalist left (left Labourists, Trotskyists, Stalinists, etc.) will play their role in spreading the lie that workers can gain something by participating in the referendum exercise. The truth is that participation in bourgeois politics of any sort only spreads illusions that this is the sphere through which workers interests can be protected. This is exactly what our rulers want us to believe. In reality a complete rejection of the entire circus of capitalist politics is a necessary first step for any advancement of workers interests. We totally reject the idea that workers have any interest in "fine tuning" the relationship of UK imperialism to the EU institutions. We reject that nonsense alongside all such fantasies regarding a reformed capitalism, an acceptable class society or a fair rate of exploitation.

However organised, capitalism can only launch more attacks on the working class. The focus of any political organisation claiming to stand for the interests of “working people” has to be on how to encourage a unified resistance and within that, how to win over more workers to the struggle against capitalism itself. That struggle will result in the overthrow of capitalism’s nation states and also its “supra-national” institutions such as the European Union. In this respect the EU referendum is a diversion. Abstention is the only possible response that expresses the interests of the working class.

  • No support for any capitalist arrangement – regional, national or transnational
  • For working class independence
  • No to the ballot box charades



(2) West Germany, France, Italy and "Benelux" (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg)

(3) Academics refer to this as the "pooling of sovereignty".

(4) European Economic Community as the structures which became the European Union were then known

(5) Readers should not be confused by the misuse of the word "Soviet". The "Soviet Union" and its empire were anti-working class expressions of capitalism where the economy and state functions were run by so-called Communist parties. The Soviets as expressions of working-class power were shattered during the Civil War that imperialism unleashed. Likewise the Communist Party which emerged was left as the defender of a state capitalist economy under the bogus slogan of "Socialism in one country"

(6) The military alliance formed in 1949 to ensure the participation of European powers (including Turkey) in the camp of the USA against the Russian-led bloc. NATO has significantly expanded into Central and Eastern Europe since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

(7) The British ruling class’s preferred economic theory during the prolonged post war reconstruction from the late 1940s until the 1970s. It encouraged state intervention to “fine tune” the capitalist economy.

(8) A theory which justified attempts to reconstruct capitalism at the expense of the working-class by reducing welfare provision and state financial support for industry. It was initially adopted by the Callaghan Labour Government instructed by the International Monetary Fund.


(10) Our wages and benefits are part of the "costs of production" that affect the bosses’ profitability. The bosses' attempts to attack those conditions are a vicious and futile attempt to reduce the crisis which actually stems from an intrinsic part of capitalism – the tendency for the rate of profit to decline.

Monday, November 16, 2015


CWO will be arguing the Internationalist Communist case on the EU Referendum at the Wakefield Socialist History Group debate starting at 1:00 on Saturday, 21st November in the "Red Shed", Vicarage Street, Wakefield

Good luck and best wishes for the meeting on Saturday. I hope a lot of people attend and that you ague your case well. That it's taking place in the "Red Shed" has to be a good omen, even if the Shed's address is Vicarage Street. (Sorry! I couldn't resist it.)

Thought I'd give this a bump seeing as it is almost upon us.

There is a media frenzy of speculation about the possible consequences of the possible result, but I find it somewhat interesting that populist ideas in a variety of skins have taken off in a very significant way, not only in the UK but globally, and being optimistic could be interpreted as some sort of step towards a more antagonistic working class, though I am probably being reading into this what I hope to see.

Of course the vaious shades of left and right wing populism offer no way forward but they do tap into and give some sort of voice to the pain many have felt for decades and perhaps there will be a greater reception of the real anti-establishment message within a time frame that will not see us marching off to an unstoppable climatic catastrophe.

None of this means that in or out of the EU offers any better panorama for the working class.

We are preparing a longer piece on this but the whole focus onthe referendum has been just another propaganda campaign for the ruling class. Both Remain and leave put "Britain" or "the country" as the core of the debate. The pain that those socially, economically and politically excluded from the so-called democratic system is now being expressed in support for reaction and whatever the outcome of the current vote (which as we all agree has nothing to do with the working class which will face more cuts whatever) the narrow nasty nationalist tone will continue to dominate the ruling class media. In this sense it is a referendum for reaction.

No doubt the fumes of ideology are being used to opiate the masses whose material living standards are in decline. But through intelligent manipulation the ruling class is able to distract the working class from the facts of the cut backs and maintain the passivity of the giant. For example, manipulation of unemployment figures disguised by part time, zero hours and self employment. Taking the edge of the porest paid with rises in the minimum wage. Masters of giving little and taking more yet presenting such a scenario as beneficial for the victims, the ruling class uses every opportunity to drive home the message of unity based on geography rather than antagonism based on the relations of production. Every tragedy is a chance to unite around the nation, the flag, "our values", and the like, to put aside our differences, to celebrate what unites us....a hypnotic brew which somehow presents capitalist exploitation as reasonable, balanced, democratic, to be defended at all cost against the hateful minority.