Referendum on Europe:
British Proletarians Have no Side to Support!
(«Proletarian»; Nr. 13; Autumn - Winter 2016)
The referendum campaign on whether Britain should remain within or exit the European Union has become increasingly more animated in recent weeks, whereas before it was met with a certain indifference, especially among proletarians and the laboring population. Supporters of «Brexit» (out of EU) beside their traditional argument of the defense of British sovereignty have increasingly brought to the forefront of their propaganda the «threat» that the flow of European and non-European migrant workers into the country represents, fueling nationalist and chauvinist sentiments; the side that favors maintaining EU membership seeks to dramatize the risks of economic crisis that would be represented by leaving the EU.
Recent surveys indicating that a majority of voters are in favor of Brexit have also caused not only a decline in the British currency, but a bear market, and not just in Europe, concerned about the consequences such an event would have on a global economy already in full slowdown. Britain is indeed one of the major European economies, and the inevitable economic perturbations that would be engendered by its exit from the EU would not be negligible, at least for now. This is why international organizations like the IMF or the OECD warned against this possibility, joining similar scaremongering refrains by Prime Minister Cameron or the Bank of England (the central bank of the United Kingdom).
Given that the bulk of British trade is with the European Union (depending on the month, from 38 to 48% of exports, and 47 to 55% of imports according to official customs statistics), it is understood that the most important capitalist sectors of the country, whether the largest enterprises or the City of London – veritable financial center of Europe – are in favor of staying in the European Union; 80% of members of the Confederation of British Industry, which includes the largest companies, are of this opinion. During his official visit to Britain in April, President Obama urged the British to stay in the European Union; He thus expressed the interests of many US firms that are established in the country in order to have more convenient access to the European market (a market of over 500 million people), while enjoying a linguistic, legal and social environment more similar to that of their country of origin: these companies would inevitably suffer from the loss of free access to this market.
However, the fact that major bourgeois political forces (understood to include current government ministers) have declared in favor of Brexit, is explained by the fact that this would be in the interests of some capitalist sectors; this is particularly the case among small and medium enterprises (SMEs) producing for the local market (or that of the Commonwealth, the rest of the former colonial empire), and who see in the European regulations unnecessary constraints to their business: about half of the managers of these SMEs are in favor of Brexit.
One can find an expression of this division among the British bourgeoisie in the fact that the British Chamber of Commerce has declared its neutrality on the issue (after its president, who therefore had to resign, declared himself a supporter of Brexit in speech given at a meeting where Cameron had come to plead for staying in the EU!). In the milieus of supporters of abandoning the EU, some believe that the future of British capitalism will be played out more in non-European markets, Asian or other, since the proportion of trade carried out with the European Union has been in decline for the last fifteen years; while others think that free of the constraints of the ‘single market’ Europe would increase the competitiveness of goods made in Great Britain compared to European goods...
Brexit or maintaining membership in the EU: a false alternative for British proletarians
Prime Minister Cameron had without doubt decided on holding the referendum for domestic political reasons; but he also used the threat of calling the vote for Brexit to obtain concessions from other European states (which makes quite a bit less credible his assertions about the catastrophic consequences of leaving the EU). Notably he has obtained satisfaction on the possibility of not granting social allowances for a number of years to workers coming from Europe, that is to say, to make this part of the proletarians living in the country a source of cheap manpower, super-exploitable by British capitalism. Social benefits are not a gift granted by the bourgeoisie to the proletariat, but are what is referred to as the «indirect wage», i.e. the part of the salary that is not paid directly to workers: to lower this share drives down the real wages paid by the capitalists to their employees. After granting it – without too much trouble! – to the British bourgeoisie, the EU leaders reaffirmed maintaining ... the special status of Britain in the EU; obtained by previous governments it translates to the fact that the country is not part of the euro zone nor of the «Schengen area» (which allows the free movement of persons) and it enjoys exemptions from EU rules in critical areas for it, such as finance; whether Labour or Conservative, successive governments have always effectively defended the interests of British capitalism against their proletarians as well as against their European competitors-partners! It will be the same in the future, whatever the outcome of the referendum...
The conclusion is clear: the supporters of Brexit as well as those wishing to stay in the EU are divided on the best way to defend the bourgeois interests. The proletarians of Britain do not have to support one or the other because they are both equally their class enemies. Against the defenders of British sovereignty who are threatened by the European Union, as against supporters of keeping this alliance of bourgeois states that is the European Union to preserve national capitalism, the only camp which they must take part in is that of class independence and the international unity of the proletariat.
But this is not what the so-called «revolutionary» groups present in the country are saying to the proletarians: on the contrary virtually all of them appeal for mobilization in favor of either of the two bourgeois camps!
The groups that wallow in the wake of the Labour Party are campaigning, just like the latter and the union apparatus for a vote in favor of remaining in the EU; this is true of the Trotskyists of «Socialist Action» and those of «Socialist Resistance», justifying this in the name of the fight against racism: Yes, a vote for Fortress Europe that is responsible for the deaths of thousands of proletarians immigrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean, would be a vote against racism!
However most of the groups and parties of «far»-left call for the Brexit choice either openly in the name of sovereignty as do the «Marxist-Leninists» of the Communist Party of Britain Marxist-Leninist, or because they claim the EU is the main capitalist force threatening the workers and that Brexit would weaken the Conservative party: this is the pretext of the Socialist Workers party (leading party of the far left), the Socialist party or the Spartacists of International Communist League.
For these contortionists for one or the other side, participation in the referendum and supporting bourgeois forces would be a clever move for the proletariat! They thus demonstrate that they are completely foreign to the proletarian cause: to support a bourgeois camp and to call to participate in the electoral mystification means in effect opposing the class positions that are essential for the proletarian struggle. Their positions on the issue of the European referendum are the demonstration of the anti-proletarian nature of these various so-called socialist or communist groups.
In Britain there is another Trotskyist group, the «Socialist Equality Party» (a member of the «International Committee of the Fourth International» better known by its website wsws.org), which has the merit of denouncing both contending sides and participation in the referendum as contrary to the interests of workers. However this is not sufficient to be defined as an authentically class position; Indeed, in its statements it called without hesitation for opposition to the EU, but it condemns only «British nationalism» and nowhere does it call for opposition to the British state! Besides opposition to the EU and British nationalism, its slogans are for the unity of British and European workers and for the Socialist United States of Europe.
But an important part of the proletarians present in Europe and Britain are non-European, proletarians who are Africans, Arabs, Turks, Pakistanis, Indians, etc., represent a significant fraction of the working class of Europe and are a living link which connects to the proletarians of these countries: the European proletariat is actually in part extra-European and any political orientation which takes for its framework bourgeois Europe’s borders means the rejection of part of the proletariat and restricting its international nature.
The main enemy of the proletariat in Britain, no matter what their race and their nationality is «their» own bourgeoisie, with its tradition of exploitation and imperialist pillage well established, and its state strengthened to a solidity historically unequaled in the world.
The only allies on whom they can rely in the fight against this very tough and very experienced enemy, are precisely the proletarians of other European and non-European countries which all sides see as a menace. To reject bourgeois propaganda, to be free of illusions in the benefits of bourgeois democracy, to reject all false alternatives presented to them by capitalists with the help of their lackeys on the left or far left, is a basic requirement in order to go forward to the reconquest of the class independence which they were the first to set an example of before being subjugated by the power of their capitalism then set to conquer the world market. In undertaking this path, the proletarians of Britain will also have to reconnect again to the combat begun by their glorious predecessors for the constitution of the party and class organizations which are fiercely anti-bourgeois, once more bringing to life the old but always immanent watchwords: Proletarians of all countries, unite!
June, 8th 2016
International Communist Party