Chapter II. The Position of the RCIT and Our Tradition in the LRCI/L5I




Contrary to the L5I, the RCIT continues to defend the program of the political independence of the working class in a conflict between two imperialist camps. Given the referendum in Britain we said, "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" [1]


The RCIT and its British comrades stated that the referendum is a trap, "…because it presents two equally bad forms of capitalist state organization as a pseudo-alternative. It is no accident that both camps – the pro-EU as well as the Brexit camp – are dominated by reactionary, chauvinist and pro-business forces. The referendum asks people to choose between two forms of racism where in fact both camps – Cameron and the EU as well as Nigel Farage’s Brexit – are deeply racist. (…) The referendum asks people to choose between two forms of imperialist militarism where in fact both the Cameron government and the EU as well as the right-wing anti-EU forces have a long history of waging wars abroad. (…) The referendum asks people to choose between two forms of capitalist exploitation where in fact both the Cameron government and the EU as well as the right-wing anti-EU forces are champions of attacking labour rights." [2]


We note that both camps – both the pro-EU as well as the anti-EU forces – were dominated by reactionary forces of the capitalist class and their respective allies. "In short, the pro-EU camp is dominated by the big imperialist bourgeoisie, trailing in its wake the social-imperialist labor bureaucracy. (…) In short, the anti-EU camp is dominated by the most reactionary, backward sectors of the (middle and petit) bourgeoisie and the country’s middle layers, while left-reformists and centrists serve as their “left-wing” fig leaf." [3]


The viewpoint of the RCIT on the issue of the EU referendum in Britain in June 2016 is based on the fundamental position of Marxists, expounded by Lenin, regarding membership of imperialist nation states in a European confederation. Lenin formulated the Marxist position on the question of unification of Europe in his famous saying that “a United States of Europe, under capitalism, is either impossible or reactionary. [4] Lenin elaborated this position by saying, “Of course, temporary agreements are possible between capitalists and between states. In this sense a United States of Europe is possible as an agreement between the European capitalists ... but to what end? Only for the purpose of jointly suppressing socialism in Europe, of jointly protecting colonial booty against Japan and America, who have been badly done out of their share by the present partition of colonies, and the increase of whose might during the last fifty years has been immeasurably more rapid than that of backward and monarchist Europe, now turning senile.” [5]


Therefore, even "tactical" support of the imperialist United States of Europe is nothing but support for the reactionary imperialist bourgeoisie.


Likewise, Marxists neither defend the imperialist nation state (as opposed to the oppressed, semi-colonial countries) against other states or a confederation. For Lenin it was clear that the imperialist nation state is not worthy of support in any way.


What do we mean when we say that national states have become fetters, etc.? We have in mind the advanced capitalist countries, above all Germany, France, England, whose participation in the present war has been the chief factor in making it an imperialist war. In these countries, which hitherto have been in the van of mankind, particularly in 1789-1871, the process of forming national states has been consummated. In these countries the national movement is a thing of an irrevocable past, and it would be an absurd reactionary utopia to try to revive it. The national movement of the French, English, Germans has long been completed. In these countries history’s next step is a different one: liberated nations have become transformed into oppressor nations, into nations of imperialist rapine, nations that are going through the “eve of the collapse of capitalism” [6]


Later Trotsky combined the slogan of unification of Europe with the slogan of workers' power and, on his initiative, the Communist International adopted the slogan of the United Socialist States of Europe in its programmatic arsenal in the summer of 1923 (from where it was deleted by 1928 as a result of the Stalinization of the Comintern). [7]


Such an approach is the only legitimate one for Marxists in conflicts between two imperialist camps. Marxists can never lend support in to one side in a conflict between an imperialist state and one or more other imperialist states – no matter how "tactical" or "critical." Similarly, class-conscious workers do not support capitalist corporations competing against one another. Any such support would be nothing other than a betrayal of the principles of proletarian class independence and a transition to being in the camp of reformist class collaboration.


Based on this approach, our movement – formerly under the name the League for a Revolutionary Communist International (LRCI), then the League for the Fifth International (L5I) and today as the RCIT – called for abstention at referendums on membership in the EU. This viewpoint was developed for the first time in Britain. After the country had joined the "European Economic Community" (the forerunner of the EU organization) in 1972, a referendum on an exit from the EU was held in June 1975. In this vote, on the very same question as that put before the public in 2016, a 2/3 majority voted for Britain to remain in the EU.


Later, our movement generalized this tactic, and in one of our first statements as an international organization we incorporated it as part of our programmatic arsenal.


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. [8]


Even if we then mistakenly combined the question of EU membership for imperialist and semi-colonial countries, rather than make a distinction in these two cases (for more on this, see below), nevertheless the above quote demonstrates the basic and correct thrust of our movement. We refused to support either of the alternative variants of imperialist state organization or to tail any of the two factions of the imperialist bourgeoisie. Through this attitude we set ourselves apart from both the pro-EU Social Democrats and the Stalinists and various centrists who preferred the imperialist nation-state in favor of the EU.


We later confirmed this attitude again in another resolution of the International Secretariat of LRCI from 1992. There, we rejected the position of the "left" pro-exit supporters as well as those who spoke out for respectively joining or remaining in the EU. In marked contrast to today's pro-EU position of the L5I leadership, which has become centrist, at that time we forcefully rejected casting a vote either for or against membership in the EU. On the contrary, we unconditionally condemned those in the pseudo-left who took such a social-imperialist position:


"Attracted to a 'social Europe' or a 'Europe of regions or the small nations', right-wing reformists, nationalists and even some ‘Marxists’ are arguing for a' Yes' vote. This too is profoundly mistaken and will have equally reactionary and class-collaborationist consequences. The unifying EC has the overall character of an imperialist power, exploiting semi-colonies both within its frontiers and beyond, restoring capitalist exploitation and misery in Eastern Europe, fomenting rivalry, and economic and, ultimately, military confrontation with the US and Japan. We can never give a vote of confidence in imperialism to unify Europe in the interests of all its peoples in the interests of its workers and small farmers. Only the working class can build such a federation under the banner of the Socialist United States of Europe.


A united capitalist Europe will not aid or benefit the masses of the super-exploited semi-colonies. Free movement within the Fortress Europe will be matched by a battery of racist immigration controls, imposed by a new transnational police force with added powers for tracking ‘terrorists’. (...) Post-1992 Europe will be a fortress against political refugees and those fleeing the economic havoc that the EC and the IMF has wrought in the semi-colonies.


We reject both the new capitalist Europe which is currently being constructed and the isolated capitalist nation states which currently exist. To indicate this double rejection, workers should demonstratively and actively abstain from choosing between the existing states and the existing EC of which they are a part and the post-Maastricht new order. Where the population is directly asked to endorse or to reject Maastricht we say neither option is a real choice for workers." [9]


When the question of joining the EU arose in other imperialist countries where our movement had sections, we consistently applied this method and therefore refused to either support the country’s joining the EU or defend the nation state. Consequently, we called for abstention in such respective referenda.


In a resolution drafted by this author and adopted by the leadership of the Austrian section of the LRCI in April 1993, we put our position as follows:


"The real alternative in a vote for EC membership is as follows: 'Are you for a capitalist Austria within a capitalist EC or are you for a capitalist Austria outside the EC’ (which equally exploits the Third World countries and Eastern Europe)? A ‘Yes’ to joining the EC means openly advocating the policy of the big bourgeoisie and promoting participation in an imperialist alliance. Voting ‘No’ vote means to prefer the stuffy, provincial capitalism with its tradition of peace of the graveyard and patriotism, and is no less pathetic. For such voting behavior is deeply nationalistic. (...) To lend ideological support for one of the two bourgeois factions is nothing but criminal and has nothing to do with a policy in the interests of the international working class. Workers militants can only abstain when considering this alternative and have to focus the attention of the working people away from the referendum and towards the international class struggle.


The proletariat therefore must must not lend support to the campaign of the big bourgeoisie which attempts to weaken and overcome the national borders of its rule: What can come out in the best case, is a united (Western) Europe on a bourgeois-capitalist basis. Such is never ever our Europe - the Europe of the working class! However, the workers must also not take a reactionary position by opposing the tendency to unify the outlived nation state.


The answer of the revolutionary Marxists: class struggle instead sham referendum!


We say: the working class must not let itself be distracted by the bourgeoisie of the real fronts. Not the form of capitalist exploitation (EC or Austria), but the struggle against the attacks of the capitalists themselves is crucial. 'Class struggle instead of sham referendum'. Marxists must tirelessly explain that the only way to defend proletarian interests is an offensive campaign against the recent attacks of the capitalists and for an international fighting community. First positive signs are the European Day of Action of the railway workers in autumn 1992 as well as the international day of action on April 2 for the right to work and social security, even if the OGB [the Austrian trade union federation, Ed.] in Austria doesn’t do anything. But that is not enough in order to resist the attacks of the bosses. The Austrian working class must fight again - and for this any nationalist propaganda, as the petty-bourgeois left is promoting, is intolerable.


Our principled defeatism in the face of these alternatives is not altered by the fact that Austria would join most probably the WEU. The military component is only one – and not the dominating – aspect in the context of the whole question of joining the EC.


The workers movement must begin to raise Europe-wide demands to prevent being divided against each other. Such demands must allow a united response of European workers against the essential lines of attack of the bourgeoisie. [10]


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. [11]


In another programmatic article which we published years later we again highlighted this viewpoint:


The working class as a whole should not take a position for or against the Maastricht Treaty in referendums since the opposition to it is opposition to one form of capitalist development and in favour of another. Each of these forms of development have anti-working class implications and these must be resisted by the working class. But it would be disastrous for the working class in any European country to line up behind one section of the bourgeoisie or another, to espouse protectionism and so on. This would fatally undermine the independence of the workers, and destroy the chances of effective international solidarity between sections of workers. (…) All this must be rejected. We advocate neither a united imperialist Europe exploiting the world and clashing increasingly with its rival blocks (NAFTA and Japan) nor for “independent” rival European imperialisms, racing against each other to introduce South East Asian conditions in the labour market whilst stoking up nationalism amongst the working class. The workers of Europe must establish their class independence from both their national capitalists and from the institutions of a would-be European imperialist superstate. [12]


In marked contrast to the L5I, the RCIT proudly continues to defend this tradition under today’s present conditions. It is our firm belief that this method of struggle for the political independence of the working class and the oppressed and against all forms of support for a fraction of the imperialist bourgeoisie is the only possible, revolutionary and internationalist alternative for Marxists.


[1] Siehe RCIT und RCIT Britain: 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,

[2] RED*LIBERATION (Bulletin of Socialists in the Labour Party): UK: No to Cameron’s Trap: Neither YES nor NO to UK membership in the EU! For Abstention in the Referendum! We call on Momentum to create a “Third Camp” and to launch a socialist and internationalist campaign! For international Unity of the British, Migrant and European Workers! 25 February 2016,

[3] RCIT und RCIT Britain: Boycott Cameron’s Trap: Neither Brussels, nor Downing Street! (unsere Übersetzung)

[4] V. I. Lenin: On the Slogan for a United States of Europe; in: LCW Vol. 21, p.340

[5] V. I. Lenin: On the Slogan for a United States of Europe; in: LCW Vol. 21, pp.341-342

[6] V. I. Lenin: A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism; in: LCW Vol. 23, p.38

[7] See on this e.g., Leon Trotsky: Is the Slogan “The United States of Europe” a Timely One? (1923), in: Leon Trotsky: The First Five Years of the Communist International, Vol. 2, New Park Publications, London 1974, pp. 341-346

[8] 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

[9] LRCI: Resolution on Maastricht (1992), in: Trotskyist Bulletin No. 2, pp. 38-39.

[10] ArbeiterInnenstandpunkt: Der österreichische Kapitalismus auf dem Weg in die EG. Die Auswirkungen auf die österreichische Klassengesellschaft und die Aufgaben der Arbeiterbewegung (Resolution der Nationalen Leitung vom April 1993), in: Revolutionärer Marxismus 9, S. 35 (our translation). Our position has also been documented in a pamphlet ArbeiterInnenstandpunkt: Weder Österreich noch EU, sondern die Vereinigten Sozialistischen Staaten von Europa. Eine marxistische Streitschrift gegen Austropatriotismus und Euroimperialismus, Broschüre, Wien 1994

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

[12] Mark Abram: For a Socialist United States of Europe! (1996), in: Trotskyist International No. 19, p. 6