I. The Need for an Independent and Internationalist Working Class Position

As we elaborated in a recent statement, the RCIT considers Cameron’s referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union as a political trap. “Socialists have to explain that it is in the interest of the working class and the oppressed of Britain to oppose any form of imperialist state. They should refuse to be dragged into giving their support as gullible voters to either of these alternative forms of imperialism. Consequently, the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT) and its supporters in Britain call upon workers and oppressed to vote neither YES or NO to UK membership in the EU. Instead, they should write on the ballot: “Neither Brussels, nor Downing Street! For international Unity of the Workers and Oppressed”, i.e., effectively abstain in this vote.” [1]

In doing so, the RCIT is upholding the Marxist tradition of taking a defeatist position in any conflict between two imperialist camps. Faced with the alternative between an imperialist nation-state and an imperialist federation, we give preference to neither. Similarly, Marxists don’t support any one imperialist state in a conflict with another. Neither do we support a smaller corporation against a bigger one or vice versa. Nor do socialist shop stewards support management in the latter’s greedy desire to fuse with another corporation or to sell part of their company to another corporation.

It is a central pillar of the Marxist tradition that the working class be politically independent of the bourgeoisie or any one of its factions. This means that workers should refuse to become foot-soldiers for any imperialist camp.

The main issue at the referendum is not a domestic conflict between different parties (UKIP against the government, Labour and Liberal Democrats) or within the Conservative party. Neither is the main issue national independence or the unification of Europe. These are just phrases of the bourgeois protagonists of the rival camps. Nor is the main issue whether people are for or against austerity or for or against racism, because both austerity and racism have been implemented for decades in both Britain and the EU. The main issue of the referendum is the alternative between two different political forms of imperialist state organization – an imperialist UK within the imperialist EU or outside of it as a junior partner of US imperialism.

In a situation in which two factions of the ruling class try to rally the oppressed classes behind their imperialist banner, it is the paramount duty of Marxists to explain to the working class that it must not lend support to either of these reactionary camps. Instead they must follow the principles of revolutionary defeatism, fight against both proposed alternatives and advocate an internationalist perspective.

Furthermore, in their struggle against both British and EU imperialism socialists should strive to unite with workers and oppressed in other countries. Such an internationalist stand implies that workers in Britain should look for kindred actions and organizations beyond their own national borders which they can support. Similarly, British socialists should strive for multi-national unity between white, Asian, black and migrant workers in their own country. No less, they should mobilize to display solidarity with refugees and migrants and to smash immigration controls.

In the case of the EU referendum, the RCIT calls upon workers and oppressed in Britain to express their internationalist refusal of Cameron’s pseudo-alternative by voting neither YES or NO to UK membership in the EU. Instead, as we wrote in our earlier statement cited above, they should write on the ballot: “Neither Brussels, nor Downing Street! For international Unity of the Workers and Oppressed”, i.e., effectively abstain in this vote.


I.1.          Our Tradition


For four decades it has been the tradition of our movement to advocate abstention in referendums on questions of entry of imperialist states into or their exit from the EU. In one of the first resolution of our predecessor organization – the League for a Revolutionary Communist International – we stated:

For that reason Workers Power in Britain called for an abstention in the 1975 referendum and will not add its voice, nor will the Gruppe Arbeitermacht nor the Irish Workers Group, to the campaigns for withdrawal, which are chauvinist in their inspiration and utopian and narrowly nationalist in the solutions they offer for ailing European capitalism. For the same reason we would have been unable to and unwilling to advocate either a yes or a no vote in the Norwegian referendum on entry or any future one in Spain or Portugal or even in a referendum on withdrawal in Greece. On each occasion the proletariat is asked to decide on the merits of two purely bourgeois programmes which contest the form of the relationship each of the European powers has with the others.[2]

The above quote reflects a certain weakness in the position of our predecessor organization, in that it did not differentiate between the tactics of socialists living in imperialist countries and those active in semi-colonies. As the RCIT has previously elaborated, we maintain that socialists in semi-colonial countries should advocate the exit of semi-colonial countries from the EU (or any other imperialist alliance) as part of the struggle against the imperialist domination of the oppressed people. [3]

However, in its primary manifestation – the question of membership of imperialist countries in the EU – our tradition has consistently taken a correct stand by refusing to support either entry or withdrawal. As briefly noted in the quote above our British section called for abstention in a referendum on Britain’s exit from the EEC (as the EU was called at that time) in 1975. We did so in contrast to most of the centrists and left-reformists (including the Stalinists and the left-wing of the Labour Party led by Tony Benn) who all advocated to vote for withdrawal.

We continued this tradition when the issue of entry into the EU became a central issue in Austria. The Austrian section produced extensive propaganda both against the “left-wing” supporters of the country’s entry into the EU (mostly left-wing social democrats) as well as against those opposed to entry (the Stalinist party as well as nearly all centrists). At that time we wrote:

Revolutionaries should therefore actively seize the opportunity provided by such a national debate in order to advance an internationalist programme of opposition to the capitalist EC and its anti-working class plans, to the attacks of the Austrian bourgeoisie, and for abstention, this posing the only real alternative for Austrian workers: international links between the workers throughout Europe, a concerted fight against capitalism at home and abroad, and for the Socialist united States of Europe. (…) On this point the working class position must be clear: we can have no interest in sticking up for either section of the capitalists against the other and marching with them for their profits. Our defence of workers’ present conditions is based exclusively on the international interests of the proletariat.[4]

In 1994, our Swedish section also called upon workers of that country to oppose both the pro-EU as well as the anti-EU camp of the bourgeoisie and to abstain in the upcoming referendum there. Our Swedish comrades argued:

The immediate task for revolutionary socialists in Sweden will be to intervene in the EU referendum, defending working class independence from both the Yes and No campaign – which are just two different ways of trying to tie the workers to the fate of capitalism.[5]

The RCIT proudly continues this tradition, which is the only revolutionary and internationalist alternative for the working class and the oppressed in such situations.

[1] See RCIT: Boycott Cameron’s Trap: Neither Brussels, nor Downing Street! For Abstention in Britain’s EU-Referendum! For international Unity and Struggle of the Workers and Oppressed! Fight against both British as well as European Imperialism! Forward to the United Socialist States of Europe, 2 August 2015, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/eu-referendum-in-uk/

[2] Movement for a Revolutionary Communist International: The Nature of the EEC and the Elections to the European Parliament; in: Permanent Revolution No. 2 (Summer 1984), p. 9. See also Workers Power: EEC: An Arena for European Class Struggle; in: Workers Power No. 57 (6 June 1984), p. 4

[3] See e.g. RKOB: The European Union and the issue of the accession of semi-colonial countries, 14.10.2012, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 6, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/eu-and-semi-colonies/

[4] MRCI: Austrian Workers and the European Community; in: Trotskyist International No. 1 (Summer 1988), pp. 21-22. See also: ArbeiterInnenstandpunkt: Weder Österreich noch EU, sondern die Vereinigten Sozialistischen Staaten von Europa. Eine marxistische Streitschrift gegen Austropatriotismus und Euroimperialismus, Broschüre, Wien 1994.

[5] Sweden: Voters kick out the Right; in: Workers Power No. 182 (October 1994), p. 13