II. The NO-Camp: “UK First” Social-Imperialism


The three main left-wing organizations in Britain – the Stalinist CPB, the SPEW (the leading section of Peter Taffee’s CWI), and the SWP (affiliated with the IST led by Alex Callinicos) – all call for voting for Britain’s exit from the European Union. They claim that this would in one way or another benefit the working class. Let us deal here with their arguments.


II.1.        The Stalinist CPB: The Openly Patriotic “Communists”


The British Stalinists – the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) – and their daily newspaper, the Morning Star, asserts that the austerity attacks on the working class are the result of Britain’s membership in the EU. According to them, it is the European monopolies which strive to slash the wages and social benefits but not the British monopolies. For Stalinism, the devil resides abroad. If Britain would leave the EU, things would be much better – so goes the perpetual canon of these “UK First” socialists. For them the devil resides abroad. This is why the CPB’s paper calls in an editorial for a capitalist Britain which is not a member of the EU: “the alternative is a federal Britain, outside the EU and Nato, in which we can fight for parliaments and governments free to enact progressive domestic and foreign policies.[1]

Obviously, the Stalinists speculate that the working class suffers from a collective Alzheimer disease and forgets its history. Britain had been outside of the EU for much longer than it has been a member of it. There have been plenty of opportunities to have “parliaments and governments free to enact progressive domestic and foreign policies.“ However, inexplicable for these “communists” without memory, the British working class was never able to get the parliaments and governments to enact progressive domestic and foreign policies.

The reason for this is very simple. The British state and its monarchy have never been and can never be an instrument of working class policy. It was always and could only have been an instrument of the ruling class. This huge centuries-old apparatus was built by the ruling class during the course of hundreds of years and is closely linked with the big capital groups. In addition, it includes a parasitic monarchy as a kind of Bonaparte in reserve. Hence, the British state has always served to keep the working class under control (which includes massive bribery and integration of its bureaucracy and upper strata) while keeping the oppressed people down (first as part of the Empire and later as part of indirect domination of the semi-colonial world via the imperialist powers).


The Marxist Classics versus the CPB


In fact, it is the Stalinists who have lost their memory and forgot what Marx and Lenin taught socialists. As early as the Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx and Engels stated:

The executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.[2]

Lenin made clear that there exists an abyss between authentic Marxists and those centrists and left-reformists who hope to gain a majority in parliament thereby enabling them to utilize the bourgeois state machinery for the interests of the working class:

Marx teaches us (…) to act with supreme boldness in destroying the entire old state machine, and at the same time he teaches us to put the question concretely: the Commune was able in the space of a few weeks to start building a new, proletarian state machine by introducing such-and-such measures to provide wider democracy and to uproot bureaucracy. Let us learn revolutionary boldness from the Communards; let us see in their practical measures the outline of really urgent and immediately possible measures, and then, following this road, we shall achieve the complete destruction of bureaucracy.

The possibility of this destruction is guaranteed by the fact that socialism will shorten the working day, will raise the people to a new life, will create such conditions for the majority of the population as will enable everybody, without exception, to perform “state functions", and this will lead to the complete withering away of every form of state in general.

“Its object [the object of the mass strike],” Kautsky continues, “cannot be to destroy the state power; its only object can be to make the government compliant on some specific question, or to replace a government hostile to the proletariat by one willing to meet it half-way ... But never, under no circumstances can it [that is, the proletarian victory over a hostile government] lead to the destruction of the state power; it can lead only to a certain shifting of the balance of forces within the state power.... The aim of our political struggle remains, as in the past, the conquest of state power by winning a majority in parliament and by raising parliament to the ranks of master of the government.”

This is nothing but the purest and most vulgar opportunism: repudiating revolution in deeds, while accepting it in words. Kautsky’s thoughts go no further than a “government... willing to meet the proletariat half-way"—a step backward to philistinism compared with 1847, when the Communist Manifesto proclaimed “the organization of the proletariat as the ruling class".

Kautsky will have to achieve his beloved “unity” with the Scheidmanns, Plekhanovs, and Vanderveldes, all of whom agree to fight for a government “willing to meet the proletariat half-way".

We, however, shall break with these traitors to socialism, and we shall fight for the complete destruction of the old state machine, in order that the armed proletariat itself may become the government. These are two vastly different things.

Kautsky will have to enjoy the pleasant company of the Legiens and Davids, Plekhanovs, Potresovs, Tseretelis, and Chernovs, who are quite willing to work for the “shifting of the balance of forces within the state power", for “winning a majority in parliament", and “raising parliament to the ranks of master of the government". A most worthy object, which is wholly acceptable to the opportunists and which keeps everything within the bounds of the bourgeois parliamentary republic.

We, however, shall break with the opportunists; and the entire class-conscious proletariat will be with us in the fight—not to “shift the balance of forces", but to overthrow the bourgeoisie, to destroy bourgeois parliamentarism, for a democratic republic after the type of the Commune, or a republic of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, for the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. [3]

Hence, in contrast to the Stalinists, Lenin was fully aware that the capitalist state machinery cannot be reformed but has to be smashed:

The proletarian revolution is impossible without the forcible destruction of the bourgeois state machine and the substitution for it of a new one which, in the words of Engels, is "no longer a state in the proper sense of the word. But Kautsky finds it necessary to befog and belie all this -- his renegade position demands it.[4]

Therefore, Lenin and the Bolsheviks resolutely refuted the reformist idea that the transformation to socialism could proceed peacefully. They insisted that this is only possible via a revolution, an armed insurrection:

Of course, if it were a case of capitalist society in peacetime, peacefully developing into socialism, there would be no more urgent task before us than that of increasing output. But the little word “if” makes all the difference. If only socialism had come into being peacefully, in the way the capitalist gentlemen did not want to see it born. But there was a slight hitch. Even if there had been no war, the capitalist gentlemen would have done all in their power to prevent such a peaceful evolution. Great revolutions, even when they commence peacefully, as was the case with the great French Revolution, end in furious wars which are instigated by the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie. Nor can it be otherwise, if we look at it from the point of view of the class struggle and not from the point of view of philistine phrase-mongering about liberty, equality, labour democracy and the will of the majority, of all the dullwitted, philistine phrase-mongering to which the Mensheviks, Socialist-Revolutionaries and all these “democrats” treat us. There can be no peaceful evolution towards socialism. [5]

Likewise, Lenin stated categorically in his famous book State and Revolution:

The supersession of the bourgeois state by the proletarian state is impossible without a violent revolution.“ [6]


A Referendum on Austerity, Free Trade and Democracy?


The British Stalinists also raise the present secret negotiations between the US and the EU about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Pact (TTIP) free trade agreement as an example illustrating the reactionary character of the EU.

The EU and its basic treaties and institutions such as the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the anti-labour European Court of Justice were designed to serve big business and minimise the potential for democratic intervention by national governments or parliaments in favour of the people against profits. That's why the EU drives forward the austerity and privatisation agenda hammering the people of Greece today. That's why it negotiates a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Pact (TTIP) with the US and Canada in secret while pretending to take on board people's concerns about the corporate threat TTIP poses to public services and national self-government.[7]

Again, it is beyond doubt that the EU is a reactionary imperialist institution and that socialists must fight against the dangerous TTIP. However, why on earth would Britain as an “independent” capitalist nation-state outside of the EU, not participate in these secret negotiations?! The promoters of the campaign against the EU are arch-reactionary capitalists who are fanatic supporters of the “free market.” Furthermore, except for the EU, all participants in the negotiations of the TTIP or the Trans-Pacific Partnership (the Asian equivalent to the TTIP) are capitalist nation-states!

Likewise writes Doug Nicholls, the Stalinist chairman of Trade Unionists against the European Union:

The EU Parliament is toothless. The EU’s politics and economics are entirely determined by the banks and large corporations. It is a superstate with no real electorate, it acts entirely in the interests of capital.[8]

But how is this different from Britain?! Aren’t British politics and economics not “entirely determined by the banks and large corporations”?! And does the British state not “act entirely in the interests of capital“?!

How on earth have the British monopolies succeeded in convincing the Stalinists that it was not their desire, but that of the EU, to so viciously attack the miners and the entire British working class since the early 1980s?! How did BP and Shell create the impression that it is not their own profit greed which is destroying the climate as well as the living conditions of the people in South but rather the pressure from Brussels?! How could the CPB leadership get the impression that the Tories imposed the anti-union laws not because of the British capitalists’ class-hatred but because of the EU-bureaucrats?!

Well, the more likely explanation is that the CPB leaders wish to believe this because they are looking for excuses to adapt opportunistically to the (non-existent) ”patriotic” sector of the British bourgeoisie. This is what Lenin called “social-imperialists”.

There is no doubt that the EU is an undemocratic institution having a parliament with little power. However, the British Stalinists are such deep-seated patriots that they have “forgotten” that they themselves are living in a pretty undemocratic country which is still a monarchy! We are not aware of a case in which a British Queen (or King) has ever been democratically elected by the people! Neither are we aware of elections having been held for the House of (mostly senile, corrupt and perverse) Lords!

The CPB would be doing the British working class a much bigger favor if it would seriously campaign to abolish the monarchy instead of for the country’s exit from the EU!

Amusingly, the CPB leadership calls workers to vote for Britain’s exit from the EU because the referendum supposedly is a vote for or against austerity:

A resounding No to continued membership of the EU should be coming from the working-class socialist movement. That is why campaigners have formed Trade Unionists Against the European Union (TUAEU). The inhuman punishment of Greece should not be duplicated anywhere ever again. The EU has never worked in our interests, either here or throughout Europe and the world. The opportunity of the referendum on continuing EU membership offers a real opportunity to say no to austerity and the domination of the banks and to escape the clutches of the most anti-democratic superstate in the world. It is a major opportunity to express our internationalism and belief that another world is possible. (…)“[T]he opportunity of a referendum on the EU provides the people with a unique chance to upset the whole austerity apple cart and end our relationship with its strongest European advocate.[9]

These are the words of people with a world view of a village idiot! Clearly they have never heard of austerity programs’ having been implemented by the capitalist classes in many countries outside of the EU. Just ask the US, Japanese or Australian workers, to say nothing of their Russian and Chinese brothers and sisters! Or at least, if the patriotic CPB leaders cannot bring themselves to leave their beloved island, they could at least attempt to read some newspapers with reports from these countries, or maybe check the internet.

The Stalinists’ deep-seated affiliation to Britain, one of the oldest and most reactionary imperialist powers, also becomes obvious in the following statements. Brian Denny, a Stalinist spokesman of the No2EU campaign, calls for British imperialism to defend the pound as its currency and to stay out of the Eurozone:

Cameron has no intention of fundamentally changing Britain’s relationship with the EU, mainly because finance capital does not want it altered. There is no sign that he will end the supremacy of EU law over British law or even that he will keep Britain out of the eurozone in the long run.[10]

Likewise Doug Nicholls states:

Trade unionists and socialists led the campaigns against joining the European single currency. Imagine where we would be now if Britain had joined the euro. Voting Yes in the referendum will lead to renewed calls to join this single currency club and worsen our situation.” [11]

These words reflect unabashed support for British imperialism! The Pound has been the traditional currency of British financial capital. It served and serves as a tool for currency speculation and as a financial weapon against the economically weaker countries of the South. How on earth can it be in the interest of the working class, except those who are deeply corrupted by white chauvinism, to support the currency of the British financial oligarchy?!

Leaving this aside, such an argument is also empirically wrong. In general the British economy has not fared better before its entry in the EU than the EU itself. Let us compare the dynamics of capital accumulation in Britain and the EU. (See Table 5)


Table 5: Capital Accumulation in UK and EU-15 [12]

                                                Growth of Gross fixed capital formation at 2010 prices;

                                                total economy (percent per annum)

                                                UK                          EU-15

1961-1970                            +5.3%                    +6.0%

1971-1980                            +1.1%                    +1.9%

1981-1990                            +4.1%                    +2.8%

1991-2000                            +0.7%                    +1.8%

2001-2010                            -0.3%                     +0.4%


Similarly, we cannot confirm better performance of the British economy as a result of its sticking with the pound after the introduction of the Eurozone in January 2002. This can clearly be seen in the comparison between the respective capital accumulations of the UK and the EU-15 in the bottom line of Table 5 (for the decade 2001-2010). This is also made manifest when we examine the comparative development of industrial production and public debt for the UK and the EU-15 (see Tables 6 and 7). Public debt has increased much faster in Britain than in the Eurozone since 2002 and industrial production has also fared worse in UK than the Eurozone during that period.


Table 6: Growth Rate of Industrial Production in UK and Eurozone [13]

                                Growth rate of industrial production (percent per annum)

                                                UK                        Eurozone

2001-2010                               -1.2%                     -0.1%

2011                                       -0.8%                     +2.6%

2012                                       -2.7%                     -2.7%

2013                                       -0.5%                     -1.0%

2014                                       +1.5%                    -0.4%


Table 7: General government consolidated gross debt; in UK and Eurozone [14]

                                                As Percentage of GDP at market prices

                                                UK                          Eurozone

2002                                         35.9%                    67.2%

2008                                         51.8%                    69.5%

2010                                         76.4%                    84.8%

2014                                         89.4%                    95.1%


Neither can we assess a more favorable development of wages for British workers when compared with those of their Eurozone colleagues since 2002 (See Table 8). While the wage share in the UK is traditionally higher than in Europe (because of the smaller proportion of small farmers), the UK wage share decreased slightly in the period 2002-2014 while it slightly increased in the Eurozone.


Table 8: Adjusted Wage Share; Total Economy; in UK and Eurozone [15]

                                                As Percentage of GDP at Current Factor Cost

                                                UK                          Eurozone

2002                                         67.9%                    63.2%

2005                                         66.5%                    62.4%

2008                                         66.8%                    62.0%

2010                                         68.2%                    63.2%

2012                                         67.6%                    63.6%

2014                                         67.3%                    63.7%


The British Stalinists mourn that Britain’s “real economy” has never been as weak as it is now.

The break-up of a strong manufacturing economy with flourishing publicly owned services and infrastructure has been the very purpose of the EU and has severely weakened our country. Britain’s real economy has never been weaker than it is today.[16]

This is certainly true. But this has nothing to do with membership in the EU since this is true for nearly all imperialist countries. As we have shown in our book The Great Robbery of the South this is a world-wide process reflecting the decline of the old imperialist powers and the shift of capitalist value-production to the South. (See Table 9)


Table 9: Share of Output by Sector in Developed and Developing Countries 1990–2005 (in %) [17]

                                Developed Countries                                                        Developing Countries

               Agriculture               Industry                 Service                   Agriculture              Industry                 Service

1990       2.7%                       31.8%                    65.4%                    14.9%                    35.9%                    49.2%

1995       2.2%                       29.2%                    68.6%                    12.8%                    35.9%                    51.3%

2000       1.8%                       26.9%                    71.3%                    10.8%                    36.7%                    52.5%

2005       1.6%                       24.9%                    73.5%                    10.5%                    37.8%                    51.7%


The very same process is also reflected in the ever-increasing relative importance of the proletariat in the semi-colonial part of the world which today constitutes the vast majority of the global working class. Conversely, the share of the global working class living in the old imperialist countries, like Britain, is progressively declining (see Table 10 and 11).


Table 10: Distribution of Wage Laborers in different Regions, 1995 and 2008/09 [18]

                                                                                                                                Wage earners (in percent)

                                                                                                                                1995                                       2008/09

World                                                                                                                        100%                                       100%

Countries with low and middle income                                                                          65.9%                                      72.4%

Countries with high income                                                                                          34.1%                                      27.6%

Countries with high income

(without semi-colonial EU-States)                                                                                   -                                            25%

Countries with low and middle income

(including semi-colonial EU-States)                                                                                 -                                            75%


Table 11: Distribution of Labor Force in Industry in different Regions, 2008/09 [19]

                                                                                Labor force                                                          Distribution of

                                                                                in Industry (in Millions)                                     industrial Labor force

World                                                                        666.4                                                                      100%

Developed economies                                                 109.8                                                                      16.5%

Eastern Europe & ex-USSR                                           39.5                                                                        5.9%

East Asia                                                                  226.0                                                                       33.9%

South-East Asia                                                          49.9                                                                         7.5%

South Asia                                                               122.2                                                                        18.3%

Latin America                                                            56.1                                                                          8.4%

North Africa                                                              14.9                                                                          2.2%

Middle East                                                               16.4                                                                          2.4%

Sub-Saharan Africa                                                   31.7                                                                          4.8%


Furthermore, the social-imperialist line of the CPB is only reiterated by the laments of its leaders who jingoistically complain that “we,” i.e., the British state and its ruling class, have to pay too much money to the foreigners, i.e. the EU.

EU membership has cost a great deal in hard cash. The EU is legendary for its internal fraud and waste, yet Britain’s net annual payments into it are £10 billion a year. It is said: “But we get a lot back.” We don’t. It is said that our payments help the European poor, but they don’t.[20]

This is a propaganda socialists should be quite familiar with, since they are exposed to it all the time in the bourgeois media and particularly in the agitation of the yellow press and right-wing populists from the richest, most parasitic imperialist countries like Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands.

In their patriotic enthusiasm the Little England Stalinists even go so far as to suggest Britain might constitute a kind of “colony” of the EU and leaving it would lead to “self-rule”!

The EU is fundamentally unreformable. It was designed to be that way. To those who say we can’t survive outside the EU, we should be pointing out that this is a colonial mentality and, in the end, what on Earth is wrong with self-rule?[21]

The very analogy by the CPB is the product of servile decrepitude! It demonstrates once again how thoroughly social-imperialists these Stalinists have become; how pathetic it is for so-called Trotskyists like Peter Taaffee’s SPEW to join the CPB in the No2EU campaign! In fact, British monopoly capitalists are among the richest, most rapacious, and most parasitic sectors of the ruling class in Europe. Britain is not a colony of the EU but one of its leading states. A capitalist Britain outside of the EU would certainly not constitute “self-rule” for the working class and the oppressed. Such a scenario (probably led by right-wing Tories and UKIP) would instead only further entrench the rule of the British imperialist ruling class in its vicious, unrelenting attack against the working class and migrants, acting in collusion as a junior partner of US imperialism.

Another bizarre and truly social-imperialist argument of the CPB is that the EU has supposedly caused migration which the Stalinists consider as something bad “for Britain.”

The EU’s four founding principles are the freedom of movement of labour, capital, goods and services. These cannot be reformed away from within. The EU and European Courts of Justice exist only to promote these “freedoms.” The mass forced migration it has caused has led to a tragic and nomadic life for millions.[22]

This argument certainly says a lot about the CPB. According to these Stalinists it is the EU and its Court which has caused “mass forced migration.” How naïve we Trotskyists must be to assume, as we do, that migration is caused by the miserable lives led by people in the semi-colonial countries of Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere! How ignorant we must be to actually believe that those responsible for this misery are the imperialist monopolies (including those of the British!) and the great powers (including the UK!) which exploit these countries and wage or at least instigate wars against them!

Another argument of the Stalinists love to make is that a victory for NO in Cameron’s referendum will weaken the government or even split the Tory party: “By voting No we also have an opportunity to drive a significant split in the Tories and wound the government. If we do not take this opportunity, we are stuck with them for five years.[23]

While this argument is certainly true, it is extremely short-sighted. The Tories have already been weakened by the emergence of Nigel Farage’s right-wing anti-EU UKIP party. However this development has hardly been advantageous to the working class! Rather, a victory for NO will further strengthen the right wing among the Tories and fortify the most reactionary forces inside and to the right of the Conservative party. Such a “weakening” of the Tories will hardly be beneficial to the working class struggle! The only idiots who might object to this analysis are those Stalinists who viewed the rise of the fascists and semi-fascists as a harbinger of the future communist victory – as the Stalinist Comintern did when faced with the rise of Hitler in the early 1930s!

In short, the CPB’s position regarding the referendum offers the working class no internationalist perspective but is rather a reactionary and utopian conception of an “independent” imperialist Britain which would somehow be “fair” to workers.

[1] Morning Star: Left reasons to ditch EU, 8 June 2015, Editorial, https://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-3bf9-Left-reasons-to-ditch-EU#.VboNxvm3rLE

[2] Karl Marx/Friedrich Engels: Manifesto of the Communist Party (1847); in: MECW Vol. 6, p. 486

[3] V. I. Lenin: The State and Revolution. The Marxist Teaching on the State and the Tasks of the Proletariat in the Revolution (1917), in: LCW Vol. 25, pp. 493-495

[4] V. I. Lenin: The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, in: LCW Vol. 25, p. 237

[5] V. I. Lenin: Deception of the People with Slogans of Freedom and Equality (First All-Russia Congress on Adult Education, 19 May 1919); in: LCW Vol. 29, p. 363

[6] V. I. Lenin: The State and Revolution. The Marxist Teaching on the State and the Tasks of the Proletariat in the Revolution (1917), in: LCW Vol. 25, p. 405

[7] Morning Star: Left reasons to ditch EU, 8 June 2015, https://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-3bf9-Left-reasons-to-ditch-EU#.VboNxvm3rLE

[8] Doug Nicholls: The Only Good Vote is a No Vote, 23 July 2015, Morning Star, https://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-e0d8-The-Only-Good-Vote-is-a-No-Vote#.VboNX_m3rLE

[9] Doug Nicholls: The Only Good Vote is a No Vote

[10] Brian Denny: EU referendum: Vote to get out, 24 June 2015, Morning Star, https://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-7e3d-EU-referendum-Vote-to-get-out#.VboNi_m3rLE

[11] Doug Nicholls: The Only Good Vote is a No Vote

[12] European Commission: Statistical Annex of European Economy Spring 2015, p.49

[13] European Commission: Statistical Annex of European Economy Spring 2015, pp.32-33. For reason of comparability we use the figures only for the original 12 members of the Eurozone (which includes Greece as it joined in January 2001 before the Euro was officially launched on 1 January 2002.

[14] European Commission: Statistical Annex of European Economy Spring 2015, pp.163-164

[15] European Commission: Statistical Annex of European Economy Spring 2015, pp.72-73

[16] Doug Nicholls: The Only Good Vote is a No Vote

[17] Bill Dunn: Global Political Economy - A Marxist Critique, London 2009, p. 229

[18] World Bank: World Development Report 1995, p. 9, International Labour Office: Global Employment Trends 2011, p. 68; Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs of the European Commission: Labour market and wage developments in 2009; in: EUROPEAN ECONOMY Nr. 5/2010, pp. 188-190 and our own calculations. The category “Developed economies” excludes Eastern and South-Eastern European states and Malta and Cyprus.

[19] Sources: International Labour Office: Global Employment Trends 2011, p. 68 and our own calculations

[20] Doug Nicholls: The Only Good Vote is a No Vote

[21] Brian Denny: EU referendum: Vote to get out

[22] Doug Nicholls: The Only Good Vote is a No Vote, 23 July 2015, Morning Star, https://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-e0d8-The-Only-Good-Vote-is-a-No-Vote#.VboNX_m3rLE

[23] Doug Nicholls: The Only Good Vote is a No Vote, 23 July 2015, Morning Star, https://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-e0d8-The-Only-Good-Vote-is-a-No-Vote#.VboNX_m3rLE