Notes on the Brexit Referendum – the vote on Britain leaving or remaining in the European Union – of June 23rd 2016
By former members of the Communist League, led by W.B. Bland
The CL is no longer a functioning body, and its ex-members are working for the renewal of anew Marxist-Leninist Party in the UK and its constituent parts.
1) The vote facing the working class of the UK (comprised of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) – will affect the daily life of the class. It is not about the central issue, which confronts the working class and its allies now, which will continue to confront the class after the vote. That central issue is the movement towards a socialist revolution, and therefore the need to create a genuine Marxist-Leninist party.
2) But it is still important for the class to consider whether or not a small gain to its goals, is to be achieved in a vote to leave or a vote to remain. There are differences within the capitalist class and the working class must understand these and be able to exploit these for its own liberation. As put by Lenin, in his admonition to the “abstentionist” ultra-left wing segments of European, and especially British working class parties:
“The differences between the Churchills and the Lloyd Georges —with insignificant national distinctions, these political types exist in all countries—on the one hand, and between the Hendersons and the Lloyd Georges on the other, are quite minor and unimportant from the standpoint of pure (i.e., abstract) communism, i.e., communism that has not yet matured to the stage of practical political action by the masses. However, from the standpoint of this practical action by the masses, these differences are most important. To take due account of these differences, and to determine the moment when the inevitable conflicts between these “friends”, which weaken and enfeeble all the “friends” taken together, will have come to a head—that is the concern, the task, of a Communist who wants to be, not merely a class-conscious and convinced propagandist of ideas, but a practical leader of the masses in the revolution. It is necessary to link the strictest devotion to the ideas of communism with the ability to effect all the necessary practical compromises, tacks, conciliatory manoeuvres, zigzags, retreats and so on, in order to speed up the achievement and then loss of political power by the Hendersons (the heroes of the Second International, if we are not to name individual representatives of petty-bourgeois democracy who call themselves socialists); to accelerate their inevitable bankruptcy in practice, which will enlighten the masses in the spirit of our ideas, in the direction of communism; to accelerate the inevitable friction, quarrels, conflicts and complete disintegration among the Hendersons, the Lloyd Georges and the Churchills (the Mensheviks, the Socialist-Revolutionaries, the Constitutional-Democrats, the monarchists; the Scheidemanns, the bourgeoisie and the Kappists, etc.); to select the proper moment when the discord among these “pillars of sacrosanct private property” is at its height, so that, through a decisive offensive, the proletariat will defeat them all and capture political power.”
Lenin, VI. “Left-Wing” Communism: an Infantile Disorder” – ‘Several Conclusions’. April-May 1920. Collected Works, Volume 31, pp. 17–118. Publisher: Progress Publishers, USSR, 1964. https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/lwc/index.htm
Therefore it is relevant for the British working class to consider what are the class forces in the “Brexit” “leave” and “remain” campaigns.
3) The Conservative (Tory) Prime Minister David Cameron, represents the financial section of the British capitalist class. This has become the dominant section of British capitalism. The Labour Party is as a whole are also the political representative of the financiers. The difference between the Tory and the Labour Party, is simply that the Labour party is striving to mislead and mystify the more advanced workers, who wish to have a “fairer” society. However this section of the working class has not yet advanced enough to see the need for a new Marxist-Leninist Party. It has been, and remains, the historic role of the Labour Party to prevent that advance. However, in fact, both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party are split on the question. Cameron was forced to hold this referendum – by the section of the Tory party that represents small manufacturing, and the remnants of industrial capital.
4) At the time of writing the major British industrial basis has been essentially destroyed and lacks independent strength. For example, the steel industry has been dominated by Indian owned steel magnates, the ship building industry has been completely dismantled, the car industry has been largely taken over by German capital. Following Thatcher, the capitalist class was dominated by the financial sectors of capital (‘Crisis in capital and their solution – free trade and protectionism in developed countries.’ At: http://ml-review.ca/aml/AllianceIssues/ALLIANCE3ECONOMICS.html). This has ultimately led to today’s situation, where Britain – is what has been described by Marxist economists – as “a rentier economy”:
“British capitalism has increasingly turned itself into a ‘rentier’ economy, where it get its surplus value, not mainly from the production of things and services to sell at home and abroad, but increasingly from acting as a banker and investor and business advisor for other capitals overseas, and raking off a percentage in interest, rents and fees. That means the British population must import more and more goods from elsewhere to be paid for by monies ‘earned’ from financial and business services; and most important, from the willingness of foreign capitalists to put their money into banks and financial institutions in the City of London.
So the UK runs a massive current account deficit on goods and services with the rest of the world (currently 7% of GDP).”
From: Roberts, Michael: “Brexit, China, the Fed and the global recession”; June 15, 2016; https://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2016/06/15/brexit-china-the-fed-and-the-global-recession/
5) What is the European Union? The European Union is the attempt of the European imperialists of the individual, smaller participant nation states to “find their place in the sun.” Begun post-Second World War, it became institutionalised by a number of agreements, most recently by the Treaty of Maastricht (1992 – and the adoption of a single currency) and the Treaty of Nice (2001 – becoming larger and esepically aimed at Eastern expansion). The overall goal of the many iterations of the EU has been by and large to weld the smaller national states of Europe into one unified market. This with a view to square off against the USA imperialists and the Russian capitalists (formerly Soviet social-imperialists). However this has historically been a somewhat vacillating struggle, especially in regards to the degree of independence from the USA. In fact the EU has not been able to resolutely withstand USA pressures. More recently, it became evident during the Greek crisis that the EU latterly has become dominated by the German capitalist state. Again, German capital has tried to exert itself against USA hegemony, but has not been fully able to withstand pressures. (https://theredphoenixapl.org/2015/08/22/the-greek-debt-crisis-a-misnomer-for-the-european-imperialist-crisis/)
6) This is not the first referendum on the European Union that the people of Britain have been asked to vote in. Below we append the pamphlet by W.B. Bland written for the CL in 1975, at the time of the then referendum on possible withdrawal. In 1975, the CL advised the working class that a disruption of the plans of the European imperialists and the US imperialists would result from British withdrawal. Currently the situation has changed again, and the coalitions on both sides have differing allegiances, which we will describe.
7) The situation of the UK and the EU cannot be disentangled from the evolving struggles between the USA, China and Russia. The world hegemony of the USA imperialists has been newly challenged by the Chinese modern social-imperialists, and the Russian imperialists. In the midst of this competition, the EU is an important ally and additional market.
8) What are the class forces behind those urging the British to stay within the European Union? Those in favour of staying in the European Union (the Remain campaign) objectively serve the interests of both – USA imperial interests, and financial capitalists (primarily in this matter those of Britain). President Barack Obama in several speeches has made it abundantly clear that the USA wishes the UK to remain within the EU. The ulterior thought here is that the UK would promote the USA policies, and influence the EU towards Obama’s Trade Deal. This is embodied in the proposed ‘Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)’ and the related Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).
9) Those assembling under the pro-USA tent include: the Cameronite wing of the Conservative Party, the Corbyn wing of the Labour Party, the Scottish National Party – and some non-aligned forces.
10) Those assembling under the Brexit Campaign represent the vestiges of large British owned industrial capital and the more substantial small business interests. This wing has been supported by Russian imperialism. These include: The Wing of the Conservative Party represented by Boris Johnson, Nigel Lawson and Michael Howard; the reactionary racist and near-fascist forces of UK Independence Party (UKIP) led by Nigel Farrage, some right sections of the Labour Party, and some smaller fascist parties.
11) Obviously both campaigns have noxious anti-working class forces within them. Leaving aside for now the USA and Russian imperialist backing of each opposing side in the campaigns: what are the potential risks or benefits for the working class in either option? There are several main considerations which we will discuss by posing the question, of what effect would leaving the EU – accepting a Brexit Leave position – have on various aspects.
12) What effect would Brexit and leaving the EU have on the UK economy? There seems little reason to doubt the views of the Bank of England and its Governor – Mark Carney – that there would be a lowering of the British GDP. Marxists agree:
“The latest from the UK treasury reckons UK GDP would be 3.6% lower after two years than if the UK voted to stay, unemployment 520,000 higher and the pound 12% lower. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has added that — instead of an improvement of £8bn a year in the fiscal position if the net contribution to the EU fell — the budget deficit might be £20-40bn higher in 2019-20 than otherwise. These fears have already hit sterling, which has fallen 5-6% against other major currencies since the referendum campaign got under way.”
The financial capitalist class of Britain would likely have a drop in its profits. It is likely therefore they will try to recoup this by fiercer attacks on the wages of British workers. Hence a vote for Brexit – leaving the EU – would, likely have a temporary effect to lower the living standards of the British working class. But the major defence of the British working class standard of living is by independent organisation against capital, in contrast to calling to stay in the EU.
13) What effect would Brexit have on labour rights? While the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has argued that the British working class derives benefits from the EU legislation that protects British workers, this has been rather over-played. As expressed by Roberts:
“In a report, the TUC cites rights such as paid annual leave and fair treatment for part-time workers may be in danger that could be rolled back by a Conservative government (UK Employment Rights and the EU). “These are wide-ranging in scope, including access to paid annual holidays, improved health and safety protection, rights to unpaid parental leave, rights to time off work for urgent family reasons, equal treatment rights for part-time, fixed-term and agency workers, rights for outsourced workers, and rights for workers’ representatives to receive information and be consulted, particularly in the context of restructuring. And without the back-up of EU laws, unscrupulous employers will have free rein to cut many of their workers’ hard-won benefits and protections”. But the TUC exaggerates. EU laws and directives like the 48-hour working week are hardly worth the paper that they have been written on, with many exemptions for employment sectors for example, like junior hospital doctors on a 72-hour week or the practice of many employers to get employees to sign a ‘waiver’ on working hours and conditions. The point is that most of our working conditions are determined by national laws and by the class struggle at the workplace, not by EU laws. Those battles have not been hindered or helped much either way by EU employment laws.”
However, it is possible that Brexit would likely bring to power a very chauvinist wing of the ruling class (led by Johnson) who would launch an even more sustained attack on the workers, than Cameron has done thus far. Nonetheless – the EU is not the bulwark of the British workers living standards and working conditions. That remains the domain of the organised resistance of the British working class, against British capitalist pressure.
14) What effect will Brexit have on democratic rights of the British working class? While the rhetoric of the Brexit camp is frankly hyperbolic, it is true that the EU has spawned a huge bureaucracy. This sits on top of each national bureaucracy. Hence it is likely that removal of one layer of such rule – will make it a shade more possible for the British worker to resist external restraints. However, it should not be over-looked that Britain has enough of its own anti-democratic realities. Only the British socialist revolution can over-turn the bureaucratic sway over the lives of British workers. This has been shown vividly by the recent experiences of the Greek working class movement.
15) What effect will Brexit have on the racist anti-immigration forces? Undoubtedly it will increase these forces. The “Little Englander” nature of this forces – can be seen in a very one-sided, misleading and frankly racist video – “Brexit: The Movie.” Such reaction, would have to be counteracted by organised working class actions to weld working class solidarity irrespective of colour, creed, and nationality.
16) What effect would Brexit have on the Scottish National Party (SNP)? Undoubtedly if Brexit succeeds in the referendum, the SNP will take its campaign for Scottish independence into a further step. In the current era of the finance capital dominated Britain, the severing of Scotland from the UK – allows a possibility of developing a socialist movement at least in Scotland. This is not to foster illusions about the SNP – which is a social reformist bourgeois nationalist party. However, its position against the craven politics of the Labour Party has liberated many working class in Scotland form the social-reformism of Labour.
In the absence of a Marxist-Leninist party and a socialist revolution, the British working class will not succeed in improving its lot – whether in or outside the EU. However, a small dislocation to the plans of the USA – still the major imperialist contending against the international working class – will occur with a Brexit vote to leave the EU. As Bland had stated in 1975: Whatever weakens international imperialism will ultimately help the working class movement. Hence we support Bland’s assertion that: “IT IS, THEREFORE, CORRECT FOR SOCIALISTS TO GIVE FULL SUPPORT TO THE GROWING CAMPAIGN TO URGE THE WORKING PEOPLE OF BRITAIN TO RECORD THEIR VOTE IN THE REFERENDUM IN FAVOUR OF THE WITHDRAWAL OF BRITAIN FROM THE EEC.”
See below: CL 1975 Statement
The Referendum. COMbat No. 1 March 1975, p 29-30
The government has announced that a referendum will be held during 1975 on the question of whether Britain should remain within the European Economic Community or should withdraw from it.
At the time when the Conservative government was negotiating Britain’s entry into the EEC, the “Common Market” was developing rapidly into a West European bloc antagonistic to United States imperialism. In the circumstances then prevailing, the choice before British imperialism was whether it should continue in a position of dependence upon US imperialism or whether it should enter into a position of dependence upon the stronger West European imperialist powers. Neither course would have been of benefit to the British working class, to the development of the socialist revolution in Britain.
In recent months, however, a change has occurred in the orientation of the principal West European imperialist powers. In Britain, France and West Germany governments have come to office which represent the interests of sections of monopoly capital which favour going along with the policy of the US imperialists, the policy of the new “Atlantic Alliance” in which the EEC will be, not a rival, but a junior partner of US imperialism.
(These developments are analysed in the article in this issue entitled “The Great American ‘Come-back’ “)
In these circumstances, therefore, THE WITHDRAWAL OF BRITAIN FROM THE EEC WOULD DISRUPT THE PRESENT PLANS OF THE DOMINANT SECTIONS OF THE IMPERIALISTS OF WESTERN EUROPE (including Britain) AS WELL AS OF THE US IMPERIALISTS.
The Soviet neo-imperialists have long been working for the formation of an All-European imperialist bloc – composed of the Soviet Union and its neo-capitalist dependent states in Eastern and Central Europe and the European Economic Community, including Britain – which, under the cloak of “European Security” would be a powerful rival to United States imperialism.
THUS, THE WITHDRAWAL OF BRITAIN FROM THE EEC WOULD ALSO DISRUPT THE PLANS OF THE SOVIET NEO-IMPERIALISTS.
In the present circumstances, therefore, the withdrawal of Britain from the EEC would weaken imperialism in general, and whatever weakens imperialism in general is of benefit to the working class whose objective interests are irreconcilably opposed to those of the imperialists.
IT IS, THEREFORE, CORRECT FOR SOCIALISTS TO GIVE FULL SUPPORT TO THE GROWING CAMPAIGN TO URGE THE WORKING PEOPLE OF BRITAIN TO RECORD THEIR VOTE IN THE REFERENDUM IN FAVOUR OF THE WITHDRAWAL OF BRITIAN FROM THE EEC.