III.3. WPB/LFI: An Unfortunate Abandonment of Revolutionary Defeatism

Let us now finally deal with the position of our former comrades in Workers Power. [1] Until recently these comrades shared the same position as us on membership of the imperialist nation states in the EU which we have outlined in Chapter I of this essay. Unfortunately, they have now changed their position. Instead of advocating abstention in a referendum, Workers Power now calls for a YES vote in the referendum as is indicated in the title of their statement:

The UK EU Referendum – Vote Yes and fight for a socialist united states of Europe[2]

As we have shown in Chapter I, in the past the WP comrades advocated abstention in a referendum on Britain’s membership in the EU. Unfortunately they neither mention nor explain in their latest statement why they have changed their position.

The WP/LFI resolution contains a number of correct arguments as well as absolutely valid criticism of various centrist organizations. The comrades correctly state:

For revolutionary socialists the task of the day is to create a campaign of effective opposition to the racist and chauvinist No campaigners but equally to the pro-capitalist/neoliberal Yes campaigners, especially at a time when Greece is being martyred by the capitalists and politicians of the EU. Within the ranks of the workers’ movement we need to expose and oppose both the campaigners for a pro-capitalist Labour ‘Yes’ and the reformist and centrist ‘No2EU’ ‘No’ bloc.

Likewise they give a clear characterization of the EU as “an imperialist bloc, completely at the service of finance capital” and conclude:

In such conditions it is an absolute utopia to imagine that the EU can be peacefully transformed into a ‘Social Europe’ by a process of reform or democratisation.

They equally and correctly reject the arguments of the left-wing British patriots:

But it is equally utopian and actually reactionary to imagine that it is in the interest of any working class in Europe (or the rest of the world) if the states which compose the EU were to revert to separate national economies. The idea spread by some who call themselves revolutionary socialists that breaking up imperialist states or federations “weakens imperialism” and thereby strengthens the working class is sheer idiocy; reactionary nationalism is the natural, immediate and poisonous corollary of any move to national independence where this is not a mechanism to throw off the chains of national oppression.


Lack of Clarity about the Internal Semi-Colonies of the EU


Nevertheless the WP/LFI resolution contains some important weaknesses. Despite their characterization of the EU as imperialist bloc, the WP/LFI comrades are not clear and unambiguous about the imperialist relations of oppression inside the EU. Not in a single word do they address what is the class character of more than half of the member states of the EU in which over ¼ of the EU’s population is living. All EU member states in Eastern Europe, Greece, Cyprus, Ireland, Malta etc. are semi-colonies, i.e., countries which are formally independent but which are de facto colonies which are politically and economically dependent on the imperialist powers.

This lack of clarity also becomes obvious in the following formulation. The WP/LFI comrades reprint a quote from Lenin where he says: “Other conditions being equal…always stand for the larger state.” The comrades then continue:

The main case where things might not be equal would be in the case of national oppression; at the moment this is not the case.

What exactly do the comrades mean by this? Are they referring to Britain which, of course, is not in any way nationally oppressed by the EU – contrary to the fantasy of the Stalinists? However, it seems that the comrades are not referring to Britain since they continue, “at the moment this is not the case.” We are certain that they also don’t see a possibility of Britain becoming an oppressed nation in the foreseeable future.

So the only other possible interpretation is that the WP/LFI comrades are referring to the EU as a whole. But how can they then say that “at the moment” there is no oppression of nations in the EU, if there are so many dependent semi-colonial member states?!

The WP/LFI comrades themselves make an indirect reference to this fact when they write:

As the fate of Greece and to a lesser degree Portugal, Spain, Italy and Ireland shows, the imperialist centre has, via the Euro, subjected the periphery to trade domination and debt bondage. If not overcome, this domination will inevitably lead to revolt and fracturing of the Union.

But what is this “trade domination and debt bondage” other than imperialist oppression and super-exploitation of oppressed nations?! We are of the opinion that there is a dangerous lack of clarity in the comrades’ approach: they seem not to recognize, or at least underestimate, the imperialist oppression of a number of nations inside the EU by the great powers and the monopoly capitalists.

Furthermore, the paragraph we just quoted contains another statement which is ambiguous. The comrades write “if not overcome, this domination will inevitably lead to revolt and fracturing of the Union.” Does this mean that the WP/LFI comrades think there is a possibility that the EU can overcome its imperialist character and stop the oppression of its southern and Eastern European member states by “trade domination and debt bondage”?! But this would mean that the comrades believe in the possibility of a reform of the EU into a “social Europe,” an illusion which they explicitly reject.

We think that these quotes demonstrate that there is an important lack of understanding among the WP/LFI comrades about the concrete imperialist character of the EU, something which they need to overcome in order to develop a correct revolutionary strategy in Europe.


Again on Trotsky and the United States of Europe


The WP/LFI comrades reproduce a quote from an article by Leon Trotsky called “The Programme of Peace” which was written in 1915 and 1916. “Likewise Trotsky considered that if German imperialism were to succeed in imposing some sort of union on continental Europe thenthe proletariat will in this case have to fight not for the return to “autonomous” national states, but for the conversion of the imperialist state trust into a Republican European Federation.’[3]

While this quote shows that Trotsky opposed advocating the imperialist nation state as the “lesser evil” compared to an imperialist European federation, the WP/LFI comrades are mistaken if they propose using these ideas of Trotsky in order to justify their YES vote at the referendum. It has always been the Trotskyist position that Lenin was right in opposing the formation of a bourgeois, i.e., imperialist, United Europe and hence to reject the slogan of a “republican United States of Europe.” Lenin was very clear in stating that an imperialist united Europe would be either utopian or reactionary and that it was not a “lesser evil” to an imperialist nation state. Do the WP/LFI comrades now reject this position of Lenin? Trotsky himself, as we showed above, changed his position and gave the Europe slogan a clear, proletarian, class character. Only from that moment on did the slogan acquire progressive content.

This has always also been the position of the WP/LFI comrades, which is why they always rejected voting for joining the EU or to staying inside the EU.

Finally, we remind our comrades that they themselves republished this article of Trotsky’s in the very same issue of Permanent Revolution in which they published the MRCI statement “The Nature of the EEC and the Elections to the European Parliament” from which we quoted in Chapter I of this essay. At that time they obviously did see Trotsky’s article as a valid confirmation of our defeatist position at the EU referendum. Why then have they now changed their interpretation?


On the Breaking Up of Larger States


In their recent statement, the WP/LFI comrades also raise another comparison when they write:

Marxists no more favour the break up of large states or semi-state confederations than they would support the breaking up of giant companies or banks into smaller capitalist units. With states, as with the economic units of capital, our road is through socialisation to a planned economy under democratic workers’ control and management.

We think that this argument is problematic. Yes, of course it is true that we do not favor the breakup of larger states (as long as there is no national oppression involved). Likewise we do not favor the breakup of larger enterprises. But first we have to recognize that breaking up an enterprise, i.e., the organizational form of the productive forces, is not the same as breaking up an imperialist state apparatus. Let us not forget that we are for smashing the capitalist state, but we are not for smashing the capitalist machinery in enterprises.

Irrespective of this, the comrades’ argument is also flawed because, while we do not advocate breaking up of monopolies, neither are we defenders of them. Would a revolutionary shop steward defend that faction of the management which wants to retain a certain unit of the enterprise against another faction which wants to transform it into an independent enterprise? We don’t think so.

Finally, if the WP/LFI comrades really believe that having larger capitalist states or federations is a main achievement for the European working class, should they – armed with the same logic – not have supported Britain’s entry into the Eurozone? Should they not have advocated the entry of other countries (like Switzerland and Norway) into the EU? If the comrades are to be consistent, they have to overthrow their entire political approach to the EU issue. And, to go further, should they not also support free trade agreements, since these create a larger market (which ostensibly should be supported by Marxists when compared to smaller markets)? And shouldn’t they then support Switzerland’s entry into the United Nations as a “lesser evil” to national isolation?

Naturally, we don’t wish for the WP/LFI comrades to draw these erroneous conclusions but rather to correct their mistake of supporting a vote of YES on Britain’s membership in the EU. Because such a correction is the only possible way to return to the program of revolutionary defeatism in the imperialist states!

[1] The RCIT was founded in 2012 by comrades in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Austria and the US who were either expelled or left Workers Power’s League for the Fifth International in the year before. A summary of our critique of the centrist degeneration of Workers Power and the LFI can be read in Where is the LFI drifting? A Letter from the RCIT to the LFI comrades, 11.5.2012, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/centrist-degeneration-of-lfi/. An extensive elaboration of the differences and the lessons from our faction struggle can be read in chapter III and IV of our book by Michael Pröbsting: Building the Revolutionary Party in Theory and Practice. Looking Back and Ahead after 25 Years of Organized Struggle for Bolshevism, Vienna 2014, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/rcit-party-building/.

[2] Workers Power: The UK EU Referendum – Vote Yes and fight for a socialist united states of Europe, 21 June 2015, http://www.workerspower.co.uk/2015/06/united-kingdom-european-union-referendum/

[3] The quote is taken from Trotsky’s article “The Program for Peace”, published in Leon Trotsky: Fourth International, New York, May 1942, https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1917/11/peace-fi.htm