II.3. SWP/IST: Subjective Internationalists, Objectively Supporters of the Patriotic Anti-EU Campaign

The Cliffite Socialist Workers Party (SWP) has also joined the camp of those who advocate Britain’s exit from the EU and its return to being an “independent” imperialist state. Basically, the SWP shares the same faulty logic of voting for Britain’s exit because the EU is a “bosses’ club,” as was stated by Charlie Kimber, the SWP’s national secretary:

It’s a bosses’ organisation designed to ease the exploitation of workers and sharpen the capacity of European capitalists to beat other capitalists. We don’t believe the EU will ever be a positive assistance to workers’ struggles.[1]

Similarly, the SWP stated recently:

Lined up on that side is Tory prime minister David Cameron and the majority of the British ruling class. That’s because the EU is a bosses’ club and is no guarantor of workers’ rights. It polices austerity across the continent. (…) The EU is a thoroughly pro-business project.” [2]

Like the Stalinists and SPEW/CWI, the Cliffites distort the meaning of the referendum. The SWP/IST claims that this will be a referendum polling the opinion of the people of Britain on the imperialist EU. As we have explained above, they forget – more accurately, they want to make the people forget – that this is in fact rather a referendum on how British imperialism is to be politically organized: either as part of the EU or “independently” (which will most likely really mean Britain’s becoming the complete poodle of US imperialism). This, and only this, is the real political meaning of the referendum!

Like the Stalinists and SPEW/CWI, the SWP/IST demagogically claims that the EU is “no guarantor of workers’ rights” and that it “will never be a positive assistance to workers’ struggles.” What a surprise! But, we ask our SWP comrades, has the capitalist British state ever been in any way more of a “guarantor of workers’ rights” and “will it ever be a positive assistance to workers’ struggles”?! Comrade Kimber, haven’t you heard about Margaret Thatcher and her brutal attacks on the working class in the 1980s?! Or do you want to claim that Thatcher would not have attacked the workers if Britain would not have been part of the EU?! If you think so, how do you explain that the same kind of attacks took place and still take place in countries which have never been part of the EU (like the US, Canada, Australia or Japan)?!

Again like the Stalinists and SPEW/CWI, the SWP/IST claims that a victory for the NO vote in the referendum would throw the Cameron government into a crisis:

A vote against the EU could also cause a crisis for our rulers. The Tory party could rip itself apart over its divisions on Europe.[3]

We repeat the argument we elaborated above: this will be a crisis from which only the right-wing of the Tories and the UKIP party would gain. How on earth can this be beneficial to the working class and the migrants?!

It is however also necessary to differentiate here and note that the SWP/IST refrains from the chauvinistic excesses of the openly patriotic Stalinists and the hidden patriotic SPEW/CWI. SWP/IST has always opposed immigration control and also took a principled stand during the chauvinist “British Jobs for British Workers” strike in 2009.

Likewise, the SWP/IST is more aware of the chauvinistic dominance of the NO-campaign. However, they don’t understand that this chauvinism is not by chance, but rather is due to the essentially chauvinist nature of the entire issue. Therefore, they do not completely drop their involvement in the pro-UK social-imperialist NO-camp, but take a clearly more passive position by limiting themselves to propaganda for a “relatively small groups of people” as SPW cadre Joseph Choonara explained in a recent article:

Our role in the referendum is to try to carve out a space for an internationalist No campaign. There are times when socialists put forward simple arguments and rally large numbers of people around them. There are other times when we have to provide clarity by making complex arguments to relatively small groups of people. The EU referendum is an occasion for the latter.[4]

Unfortunately, passivity and abandonment of mass agitation will not exempt the SWP/IST from the political trap of pro-British social-imperialism in which it has adeptly maneuvered itself. Falling in this trap is only possible if the SWP/IST comrades break with the NO-camp and take a consistently internationalist stand by opposing both British as well as EU-imperialism and advocating abstention in the referendum. In other words, they can avoid this pitfall only if they don’t ignore Trotsky’s advice about the necessity of the working class to break all links with “their” fatherland.

Workers‘ action can only begin by absolute opposition to the national bourgeoisie and its international combinations.[5]



[1] Charlie Kimber: We must not play into Ukip's hands, SWP, Socialist Worker Issue No. 2353, 14 May 2013, http://socialistworker.co.uk/art/33289/We+must+not+play+into+Ukips+hands

[2] SWP: EU referendum debate can’t be left to racists, Socialist Worker, Issue No. 2455, 26 May 2015, http://socialistworker.co.uk/art/40616/EU+referendum+debate+can%E2%80%99t+be+left+to+racists

[3] SWP: EU referendum debate can’t be left to racists

[4] Joseph Choonara: EU referendum: Should we stay or should we go? Socialist Review July / August 2015, SWP, http://socialistreview.org.uk/404/eu-referendum-should-we-stay-or-should-we-go

[5] Leon Trotsky: Once Again the ILP (November 1935); in: Trotsky Writings 1935-36, p. 201