Socialist Fight Debate EU Referendum: Three Marxist Perspectives


08/03/2016 by socialistfight




Starts: 01:30 p.m. Sunday March 13, Cock Tavern, 23 Phoenix Rd, London NW1.

Speakers: Graham Durham (Leave); Gerry Downing (Remain); Ian Donovan (Active boycott).

Socialist Fight:




Gerry Downing: Vote Yes: For the Socialist United States of Europe!

We should call for a Yes vote in the referendum because as socialists we must ask and answer the question, is it in the interests of the working class and oppressed in Britain and internationally for the UK to remain in the EU or to leave it? That is our sole criterion. We are for a Yes vote primarily because we recognise that socialism in a single country is impossible. Indeed capitalism has long ago become impossible to sustain and develop in a single country and socialism must be built on a far higher level of wealth and productivity. An exit from the EU would strengthen nationalism and patriotism not only in the British ruling class but also in a big section of the British working class.

But surely we must not attempt in any way to confuse the Socialist United States of Europe with the present imperialist cabal that is the European Union? The United States of America was established in the War of Independence and maintained in the Civil War in revolutionary struggles. France’s internal customs borders were demolished along with the ancien regime by revolution in 1789-94. However both Germany and Italy were unified from the top down basically by reactionary political movements after failed revolutions.

Hoey and the Morning Star have pandered to ‘anti-establishment’ Strasserism. Five Labour MPs have left the pro-establishment Vote Leave Tory dominated campaign and founded the Labour Level campaign, funded and chaired by millionaire John Mills. They have (all?) now lashed up with the Grassroots Out (GO)! campaign which includes CAEF (Campaign against European Federalism), Ukip and sundry other racist scumbags. On the basis that it is more ‘anti-establishment’.

Hoey defended her conduct in a Morning Star article. They pointed out that Grassroots Out is led by hard-right Tory MP Peter Bone. They asked her if she finds it difficult to campaign alongside people she has such ideological differences with? She replied: “The reality is that if you really want to get out, every group has a slightly different perspective, and we can only win this referendum if we can all come together, I don’t think there’s a problem with that.” That’s pandering to Strasserism.

Vote Yes: For the Socialist United States of Europe!


But surely we must not attempt in any way to confuse the Socialist United States of Europe with the present imperialist cabal that is the European Union? The United States was established in the War of Independence and maintained in the Civil War in revolutionary struggles. France’s internal customs borders were demolished along with the ancien regime by revolution. However both Germany and Italy were unified from the top down basically by reactionary political movements. Trotsky explains:


“It has happened more than once in history that when the revolution is not strong enough to solve in time a task that is mature historically, its solution is undertaken by reaction. Thus Bismarck unified Germany in his own manner after the failure of the 1848 revolution. Thus Stolypin tried to solve the agrarian question after the defeat of the 1905 revolution. Thus the Versailles victors solved the national question in their own way, which all the previous bourgeois revolutions in Europe proved impotent to solve. The Germany of the Hohenzollerns tried to organize Europe in its own way, i.e. by uniting it under its helmet.


“The leadership of the Comintern, and particularly the leadership of the French Communist Party are exposing the hypocrisy of official pacifism… The slogan of the United States of Europe is not a cunning invention of diplomacy. It springs from the immutable economic needs of Europe which emerge all the more painfully and acutely the greater is the pressure of the USA… In the person of the Opposition the vanguard of the European proletariat tells its present rulers: In order to unify Europe it is first of all necessary to wrest power out of your hands. We will do it. We will unite Europe. We will unite it against the hostile capitalist world. We will turn it into a mighty drill-ground of militant socialism. We will make it the cornerstone of the World Socialist Federation.”


Abstain: The referendum and class independence


Socialists should not advocate support for either the Yes or No camp in the coming EU referendum. Both sides of the debate represent different strands of imperialism. Neither strand represents a democratic gain, even in a deformed sense, for the working class or other sections of the oppressed. Neither socialism, nor even significant social reform, is on offer from either of the contending camps.


And indeed both the ‘No’ and the ‘Yes’ side of the debate, in bourgeois terms, are quite capable of inflicting major, crippling defeats on the working class. Both are variants of neo-liberalism in terms of not just ultimate aims, but immediate, straightforward policy. The dispute over the European Union is a dispute between two different sections of the ruling class, about which is the best way to promote the interests of British imperialism and to shore up its declining position in the world.


Socialists do not necessarily refuse to take sides in intra-bourgeois political disputes. If the issues involved substantially impinge on questions that are essential to working class interests, and if the victory of one side over the other would make a qualitative difference to some essential working class interest, then it would be correct to take a side.


The problem is that the victory of either side in the coming referendum promises to damage working class interests substantially. If the ‘Yes’ side in Cameron’s referendum is victorious, the population would have voted not only for the current undemocratic, neo-liberal EU, but also whatever Cameron is able to achieve in diluting and doing away with some of the EU’s social democratic protections for some basic workers’ rights. It will also be a signal the implementation of whatever ‘concessions’ Cameron is able to extract in terms of diluting the EU’s laws guaranteeing the free movement of labour across the EU, attacks on benefits for migrants and others, etc. It could even signal further derogations from human rights laws which also sometimes provide a level of protection for some from the most blatant UK government abuses.


Vote No: No support to the EU neo-liberal cartel!


“The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. It’s not even close” (Barack Obama, 12 January 2016)

As US President Obama prepares to leave the scene, the first black man allowed to act as the key spokesperson of those oppressing the world working -class and militarily imposing neo-liberal political and economic chaos across the planet, there can be little doubt he is right about the dominant military and economic clout of the US.

It is a dominance which daily wreaks havoc on all parts of the globe: from the war refugees washing up drowned in the seas of Europe, to the daily oppression of Palestinians and all others who refuse to accept US-backed Israeli dominance, to the exploited poor of America and the so-called first world hounded into insecurity and denied welfare and health, to the opponents of clerical regimes from Saudi to Iran who face torture and execution and, of course, to the poorest bonded labourers and street beggars of the world without trade unions or rights and to the robbed and exploited peasants and farmers.

The list could run on but it is important to begin a debate about Europe with this recognition that US imperialism, in its relentless drive for corporate profit requiring increased exploitation of workers and resources, which is responsible for the human misery of the oppressed around the planet.. However whilst proxy wars for US dominance are being fought in Syria, Libya and elsewhere including on the European mainland in the attempt to crush the Donetsk republics, the world situation has changed dramatically over 75 years when US dominance was confirmed. Most strikingly the ability of capital itself to act internationally without restriction has developed to a new and unprecedented level.

The debate on the EU referendum should therefore take account of the increased international nature of capital as predicted by Marx and Lenin and recognised by nearly all modern bourgeois and ‘Marxist’ analysts. As the Guardian economics editor, Larry Elliott, put it (21 January 2016):

“Economies are far more integrated than they were half a century ago, when capital controls, trade barriers and extensive public ownership shielded national economies. Today changes in political philosophy and technology mean that there are far fewer impediments to the free movement of goods – and virtually none at all to the free movement of money”



2 thoughts on “Socialist Fight Debate EU Referendum: Three Marxist Perspectives

  1. However both Germany and Italy were unified from the top down basically by reactionary political movements after failed revolutions.

    This is the correct perspective. The EU represents a reactionary movement toward accomplishing a necessary historical task. How does Gerry go from that correct perspective to supporting the EU?

    Gerry doesn’t say exactly how the EU is reactionary. That allows him to see only the historical necessity and to ignore the reactionary character. The EU is reactionary because it substitutes a transnational bureaucracy of “Institutions” for the sovereignty of nation states, antidemocratically placing policy still further from the popular will and feeding nationalism by impugning national self-determination.

    The CPGB, for one, has revised the Leninist position on national self-determination by denying that self-determination serves the working class just because it clears the field of nationalist distractions. They imagine that nationalist movements would only grow stronger were the EU abolished – as they deny that nationalism feeds on national injury. They don’t want to face – or are incapable of the dialectical apprehension – that rather than pan-European workers unity, the EU is spawns rightism and nationalism.


  2. I disagree only on this point with regard to Ian’s mostly correct analysis in his letter to Weekly Worker:

    We as Marxists cannot support the little England proponents of Brexit, as their programme is simply one of piloting imperialist Britain out of this particular imperialist bloc, and into other blocs of a similar type, but with different specifics.

    Would Ian say the same about the “Trans Pacific Partnership”? Were there a referendum on that subject, should American workers abstain – because a No vote would reject only this particular bloc?

    If yes to even to that, then a further question: should we abstain on the issue of a given war – because imperialism will always find another to fight. (Should there have been no call for withdrawal from Iraq because Obama’s alternative was waging war in Afghanistan.)

    The excuse for avoiding a No vote is so flimsy, that I much suspect other motives, such as a reluctance to enter a de facto bloc with racists. If so, it’s a moralistic dodge.


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