Does the EU Represent "Bourgeois Democratic Progress"?

Once again, on the EU and the Tactics of the Working Class – An Addendum to our Criticism of the L5I’s Turn to the Right and Its Support for EU Membership

By Michael Pröbsting, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 16.09.2016,




Recently the RCIT published a detailed work on the imperialist nature of the EU, the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, and the tactics of revolutionary organizations on this issue. [1] We closely examined the rightward turn of the centrist organization "League for the 5th International" (L5I). As we reported, the leadership of L5I recently changed its decades-long position on the EU and now considers it as something progressive for the working class. Therefore, in cases of referenda on EU membership – such as the one which took place in Britain in June 2016 – the L5I will call for workers, socialists, and revolutionaries to vote to enter the EU, if the state is not already a member, or to remain within the EU if it is. In our essay we demonstrated that the justification given by the L5I leadership for such tactics amounts to nothing more than opportunistic whitewashing of the EU and that the consequences of adopting such tactics clear the path for social imperialism.


Unlike the L5I, the RCIT steadfastly defends the orthodox Marxist position – which until recently was also supported by the L5I itself. We reject support either for the imperialist EU or for the imperialist nation-state. We stand for an independent position of the working class and, therefore, refuse to support both the pro-EU faction and the anti-EU faction of the imperialist bourgeoisie. Consequently, we call upon workers, socialists and revolutionaries to cast neither a YES nor a NO vote in such referenda on EU membership, but to actively abstain.


Shortly after we published our essay, the L5I published a new edition of its German-language theoretical journal. In it there is an article that deals with the question of the unification of Europe. [2]


This article largely recycles arguments already put forth in earlier L5I articles. However, it also includes a few new arguments which only further entrench and solidify the revisionism of this organization.


In the following present article – a sort of addendum to our longer essay referred to above – we shall respond to the new arguments provided by the L5I and thereby complete our criticism of this organization’s turn to the right. We recommend that readers read the current article in conjunction with the recently published longer essay by the RCIT.




The New Arguments of the L5I Leadership




Essentially the new L5I article raises the following additional points which we will deal with briefly here.


First, the L5I leadership confirms even more explicitly than before their view that the imperialist EU is something progressive for the working class and therefore worth defending. This becomes unmistakably clear from the following quotations:


"In contrast to a purely national-state order, a capitalist, bourgeois-democratically oriented federation is a progressive development. This is often forgotten by the critics of the EU ..." [3]


"In this context one would have to wage the struggle against the border regime in the British Isles, which gives rise to catastrophic conditions on the other side of the Channel. This could more readily be conducted in the context of a bourgeois-democratic federation which would give the labor movement, jointly with the refugees, the opportunity to organize a strong proletarian response against the emerging racist and nationalist movements of the bourgeoisie." [4]


"Certainly no one on the left is actually shedding tears over [the tribulations of] an imperialist "unification project." At the same time, one should never forget: The EU's disintegration into separate "independent" nation states, the withdrawal from the Union or the euro zone is – on the basis of a capitalist state – a reactionary response to the crisis. The expansion of the productive forces, a larger economic space, closer, transnational economic connections, standardized communication and transport systems, greater freedom of movement of labor represent progress, even if they were carried out under the aegis of finance capital ‘from above.’ The collapse of the EU into individual nation-states will reconstruct boundaries between the workers of Europe and will further intensify the racist bankruptcy. This is why the effects of the Brexit referendum were and are reactionary." [5]


Second, the L5I leadership has now abandoned its previous position that the creation of an imperialist EU state apparatus is actually possible. Instead, it has now adopted the traditional argument of Stalinism, which explains that such an imperialist unification of Europe is impossible and incorrectly quote Lenin in defense of this view. Furthermore, while the L5I leadership uncritically reproduces Trotsky’s incomplete and undeveloped position from 1915 and uses it as a justification for their opportunistic support of the imperialist EU, they conceal and distort Lenin's position on the slogan of the United States of Europe.


"The EU's crisis also illustrates one thing. The capitalist classes and the imperialist states are not able to unite the continent." [6]


"The EU is therefore not an independent imperialist actor, there is no ‘EU-imperialism' as such, but only a pooling of national-imperialist intersections in the construction of transnational bureaucratic structures which only have a certain political sovereignty and leadership. Therefore, all assumptions à la ‘super state ' are fundamentally wrong, as they are put forward by the 'left' critics of the EU. There is no ‘ultra-imperialism,' as was hoped for by Kautsky for the time after World War One. (...) In contrast, the 'left' critics of the EU believe that there is a European imperialism. In this way they support Kautsky’s revisionist theory of ultra-imperialism against which Lenin strongly polemicized. (...) The EU is a semi-finished structure with the problem that, under capitalism, it cannot be completed." [7]




The "Bourgeois-Democratic" Imperialist EU – A Step Forward for the Working Class?




In our recent essay, we already pointed out that the L5I leadership considers the imperialist EU as a progressive factor in the interests of the working class and wants to defend it against withdrawals by member states. The comrades incorrectly view the EU primarily as a progressive manifestation in the development of the productive forces and as an objective factor for increasing the internationalist consciousness and the international struggle of the working class.


In their new article, the L5I leadership develops this objectivist and economistic line of argument further. Now the imperialist EU is viewed not only as economically progressive and as an objectively progressive factor for the class struggle, but also and more generally as a manifestation of "bourgeois democratic progress".


Such a position demonstrates how much the L5I leadership has been swept away by their revisionist deluge. Instead of recognizing the EU primarily as an imperialist state formation, the comrades focus their attention on its ostensibly bourgeois-democratic character. But, as we elaborated in our essay, the key feature of the EU is the merger of national imperialist bourgeoisies – mainly the great powers with Germany and France at the top – into an imperialist federation of states (with all its internal contradictions).


In reality, the arguments of the L5I leadership merely reflect the traditional social-democratic myth that Western European states primarily represent (bourgeois) democracies and not imperialist states. From this they deduced, during the first half of the 20th century, that it was necessary for the working class to defend France and Britain in the imperialist world wars. In contrast, we Trotskyists always rejected such opportunistic fool’s wisdom. We, in contrast, focused our analysis on the imperialist character of these countries and thus drew from this the conclusion that workers should not support these countries under any circumstances.


The L5I leadership has forgotten a crucial principle of Marxism: the imperialist states in Europe and the European Union – representing a merger of the same – does not and cannot represent any kind of progressive bourgeois democracy. Rather, they are the states or a federation of states of imperialist bourgeoisies each of which domestically exploits its own respective working class, oppresses migrants, and increasingly restricts democratic rights while abroad it individually exploits the peoples of the South or as part of a coalition it wages more and more imperialistic wars. In short, these countries do not represent progressive bourgeois democracy but reactionary imperialism.


Lenin already pointed out this principle one hundred years ago: „Today, it would be ridiculous even to imagine a progressive bourgeoisie, a progressive bourgeois movement, in, for instance, such key members of the “Concert” of Europe, as Britain and Germany. The old bourgeois “democracy” of these two key states has turned reactionary. [8]


We do not deny that there still exists a certain degree of bourgeois democracy in the European countries – although this is increasingly restricted (see, for example, the emergency regime in France). Rather, precisely because of this does the RCIT give great importance to the struggle for democratic rights within the European countries – a struggle which becomes more urgent as the ruling class in all European countries are increasingly transformed into an openly anti-democratic, reactionary force. [9]


But this must in no way leads us to support for the EU. Contrary to the misconception of the L5I leadership, the EU does not at all embody more bourgeois democracy than the individual European nation states. On the contrary, praising the EU as a "bourgeois democratic progress" it is not without its irony. As is common knowledge, there is hardly a European country in which parliament has so few powers as those of the European Parliament, and in which the "government" (the European Commission and the EU Council) are so much beyond any control by its parliament. [10]


So we can safely add the position of the L5I leadership regarding the “democratic nature” of the EU to the other myths they give to justify their opportunistic support for the imperialist EU.




Is Trotsky a Key Witness for the L5I-Slogan of the "United States of Europe"?




The L5I leadership advances the slogan for the unification of Europe as a progressive slogan in itself. They ignore that such a union under imperialist auspices – i.e., under the leadership of one or two major imperialist powers – is in no way progressive, but instead creates a larger, more powerful imperialist state federation which, in addition, is accompanied by the greater oppression of smaller and economically weaker nations.


Therefore Marxists do not advance the slogan of the United States of Europe (which, without class characterization, is implicitly pro-imperialist), but only the slogan of the United Socialist States of Europe.


While the L5I leadership also repeats this slogan of the socialist unification of Europe in their new article, they also refer, explicitly and in the affirmative, to the slogan of the "United States of Europe/". To this end, they reproduce statements made by Trotsky in 1915, in which he put forward the slogan of a republican United States of Europe and the L5I comrades add that this slogan is timely even today. [11]


Prudently, however, the L5I conceals that Lenin formulated a sharp and unequivocal criticism of this solution:


From the standpoint of the economic conditions of imperialism—i.e., the export of capital arid the division of the world by the “advanced” and “civilised” colonial powers—a United States of Europe, under capitalism, is either impossible or reactionary. [12]


One can hardly reconcile the difference between the viewpoint of Lenin and that of the L5I: While Lenin states that the “United States of Europe, under capitalism, is either impossible or reactionary”, the L5I thinks that "a capitalist, bourgeois-democratic oriented federation is a progressive development."


It is significant that the L5I leadership fails to mention Lenin’s criticism even in a single word. Do the comrades consider his criticism as wrong? If so, then they should say this.


Finally, as we already stated in our essay, we note that the L5I leadership liberally refers to statements by Trotsky which he expressed before having completely overcome his own centrist weaknesses and joined the Bolshevik Party in 1917. Trotsky himself, as is generally known, developed further this slogan and put it in the form of the United Socialist States of Europe or the United Soviet States of Europe in 1923. For a detailed discussion of the development of Lenin and Trotsky's understanding of the slogan of the United States of Europe we refer readers to another work we have published. [13]




Did Lenin Consider Impossible the Unification of Europe under Imperialist Conditions?




Not only does the L5I leadership conceal Lenin's criticism of Trotsky's slogan for a republican United States of Europe, they also falsify Lenin’s actual position. By claiming that Lenin considered a unification of Europe under imperialism as impossible, they parrot Stalinist and centrist interpretations.


As the cited quotation from the new L5I article demonstrates, today the comrades claim – as have in the past various Stalinists, Peter Taffees’ CWI, Alan Woods’ IMT and others – that unification is impossible. They even claim that the thesis of the possibility of capitalist unification of Europe would be a concession to Karl Kautsky’s revisionist theory of ultra-imperialism.


This is of course nonsense. In reality, Kautsky’s theory of ultra-imperialism referred to the mistaken belief that a worldwide fusion of imperialist monopolies and great powers would be possible, which could – as the chief theoreticians of centrism believed – lead to the overcoming of the arms race and the danger of a world war. This assumption was and is theoretically absurd and politically dangerous. But it would be completely wrong to assume that even the capitalist unification of Europe would be impossible. In the past we have replied to this hypothesis of the Stalinist and centrist critics:


"Kautsky's revisionism was not based on his notion that two or more imperialist states could merge. Rather, his revisionism was based in his accepting as possible the merger of all major capital around the world into a single ultra-imperialism – or a "general cartel" as Hilferding called it. Neither is it revisionism to consider possible the merger of two or more corporations so that they can better stand in competition. It is, however, indeed revisionism to consider the peaceful, organic unification of all capital around the world." [14]


This is why Kautsky concluded from his theory of ultra-imperialism, that in such a case the danger of a world war would be averted. This is also evident from the following quotation from Kautsky's famous article on the theory of ultra-imperialism:


What Marx said of capitalism can also be applied to imperialism: monopoly creates competition and competition monopoly. The frantic competition of giant firms, giant banks and multi-millionaires obliged the great financial groups, who were absorbing the small ones, to think up the notion of the cartel. In the same way, the result of the World War between the great imperialist powers may be a federation of the strongest, who renounce their arms race. Hence from the purely economic standpoint it is not impossible that capitalism may still Jive through another phase, the translation of cartellization into foreign policy: a phase of ultra-imperialism, which of course we must struggle against as energetically as we do against imperialism, but whose perils lie in another direction, not in that of the arms race and the threat to world peace. [15]


The L5I leadership’s conflating our recognition of a possible imperialist unification of Europe with Kautsky theory of ultra-imperialism by is therefore completely wrong.


As we demonstrated in detail in another essay on the question of the unification of Europe in the light of Marxist theory, Lenin, the theoretician of the Bolsheviks – and even Trotsky, in some quotes – considered a unification of Europe under imperialist conditions as indeed possible. [16] This is also evident from the above quotation from Lenin, according to which the "United States of Europe, under capitalism, is either impossible or reactionary." In the same article, Lenin stated:


A United States of Europe under capitalism is tantamount to an agreement on the partition of colonies. Under capitalism, however, no other basis and no other principle of division are possible except force. (…) 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. Compared with the United States of America, Europe as a whole denotes economic stagnation. On the present economic basis, i.e., under capitalism, a United States of Europe would signify an organisation of reaction to retard America’s more rapid development. [17]


In short, and in light of the above, we can also confidently relegate to the dustbin and the realm of centrist storytelling this additional justification of L5I leadership for their social-imperialist adaptation to the EU (i.e., that Lenin allegedly considered a unification of Europe under imperialism to be impossible).




Is a Unification of Europe under Imperialist Conditions Impossible?




Finally, we come to the question of whether a unification of Europe is virtually impossible even under imperialist conditions. We have always maintained – and, until recently, the L5I did too – that while such a unification would encounter major obstacles, it is by no means impossible.


The central, strategic task of the European bourgeoisie is, therefore, to take forward the formation of the EU as a strong challenger to the US empire on the world stage. For this it has to make a qualitative step forward towards a more economically competitive, politically unified and militarily independent (from the USA) entity that is capable of challenging the US empire. [18]


„We can state the following ‘law’: The more successful the European bourgeoisie is in attacking and defeating the working class, the easier the creation of a unified European imperialist bloc and state structure (under a Franco-German leadership) will be for them. Equally, if the working class resistance is too strong, and attempts to raise the rate of exploitation sufficiently fail, then subsequent attempts by the Franco-German bloc to subordinate the rest will also fail. From this flows the strategic importance of the German and French working classes since they are situated in the heart of the European beast. [19]


Decisive is not the question of whether a unification of Europe will take place under imperialist conditions or not. No one can foresee the feasibility of such a development. Ultimately, this will depend on many factors which are a product of the capitalist crisis, the global rivalry between the great powers and the class struggle.


Rather the following question is crucial: Has there been for quite some time and will there be in the foreseeable future a real and serious attempt by the main monopoly bourgeoisies of Europe to unite the continent (in whatever form) so that the EU can become a major great power on a global scale? For the following reasons, the only possible answer to this question is a clear affirmation:


* The experience of the past decades and the massive integration of the EU (Maastricht, etc.) which has taken place;


* The openly expressed plans by several leading representatives of the EU-monopoly capital;


* The objective necessity for European imperialist states to join forces in order to withstand the pressure of the other great powers (the US, China, Russia, Japan).


A second, even more decisive, question is: Even if unification of the continent by the imperialist EU will not be achieved, is it permissible for revolutionaries to subordinate the working class to the monopoly bourgeoisie by calling upon them to support either joining or remaining inside of the imperialist EU? As we have shown in our essay and numerous other works, Marxists can only answer this question with an unequivocal NO.


The L5I leadership asserts that EU membership would objectively force the working class to increasingly fight on an international scale. Yes, a common enemy in the form of the EU can objectively push the European proletariat in the direction of fighting against it. (However, it can also objectively push the proletariat to follow the nationalist rhetoric "against the EU bureaucracy" of right-wing populists!) Regardless, – and this is the politically crucial point – this is hardly a reason to call the working class to support EU membership and thereby voluntarily support its own captivity and its jailers! According to this absurd logic of the L5I, workers should vote in favor of TTIP and CETA, since these agreements would lead to a pan-European and even cross-Atlantic class struggle.


In general, this objectivist logic of the L5I leadership is alien to Marxists. Such objectivist reasoning would lead them, for example, to support the ruin of the peasants in semi-colonial countries, since doing so objectively weakens the rural petty bourgeoisie and strengthens the proletariat. However, while Marxists naturally welcome the strengthening of the ranks of the proletariat, they instinctively fight against the ruination of the poor peasants by the monopolies and advocate demands to prevent such ruin.


In short, the latest article by the L5I leadership provides absolutely no reason to follow their turn to the right and their support for the imperialist EU. By adopting such a position, they have unabashedly betrayed the traditional Marxist principle which calls for consistent, international anti-imperialism and revolutionary defeatism.




[1] Michael Pröbsting: Marxism, the European Union and Brexit. The L5I and the European Union: A Right Turn away from Marxism. The recent change in the L5I’s position towards the support for EU membership represents a shift away from its own tradition, of the Marxist method, and of the facts; August 2016, in: Revolutionary Communist No. 55,

[2] Tobi Hansen: EU-Krise und die Vereinigten Sozialistischen Staaten von Europa, in: Revolutionärer Marxismus 48, August 2016, pp. 47-85

[3] Tobi Hansen: EU-Krise und die Vereinigten Sozialistischen Staaten von Europa, p. 60 (Our emphasis and our translation)

[4] Tobi Hansen: EU-Krise und die Vereinigten Sozialistischen Staaten von Europa, p. 64 (Our emphasis and our translation)

[5] Editorial Board: Wohin treibt Europa? in: Revolutionärer Marxismus 48, August 2016, (Our emphasis and our translation)

[6] Editorial Board: Wohin treibt Europa? in: Revolutionärer Marxismus 48, August 2016, (Our translation)

[7] Tobi Hansen: EU-Krise und die Vereinigten Sozialistischen Staaten von Europa, p. 61 (Our translation)

[8] V. I. Lenin: Under A False Flag; in: LCW Vol. 21, p.141

[9] See on this e.g. Michael Pröbsting; The Struggle for Democracy in the Imperialist Countries Today. The Marxist Theory of Permanent Revolution and its Relevance for the Imperialist Metropolises, August 2015, in: Revolutionary Communism Nr. 39,

[10] We have dealt extensively with the EU treaty and the political power relations inside the EU in the following pamphlet: Michael Pröbsting: Der EU-Reformvertrag, seine Hintergründe und die revolutionäre Strategie, Frühjahr 2008, A shortened version in English language has been published in the journal Fifth International Vol.3, No.1 (2008),

[11] See e.g. Tobi Hansen: EU-Krise und die Vereinigten Sozialistischen Staaten von Europa, p. 55, 53 and 60

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

[13] See Michael Pröbsting: Die Frage der Vereinigung Europas im Lichte der marxistischen Theorie. Zur Frage eines supranationalen Staatsapparates des EU-Imperialismus und der marxistischen Staatstheorie. Die Diskussion zur Losung der Vereinigten Sozialistischen Staaten von Europa bei Lenin und Trotzki und ihre Anwendung unter den heutigen Bedingungen des Klassenkampfes, in: Unter der Fahne der Revolution Nr. 2/3 (2008),

[14] See Michael Pröbsting: Die Frage der Vereinigung Europas im Lichte der marxistischen Theorie, p. 17 (our translation)

[15] Karl Kautsky: Der Imperialismus, in: Die Neue Zeit 32-II., 1914, 21, p. 921, in: English: Karl Kautsky: Selected Political Writings (edited and translated by Patrick Goode), The Macmillan Press, Hong Kong 1983, p. 88,

[16] See Michael Pröbsting: Die Frage der Vereinigung Europas im Lichte der marxistischen Theorie

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

[18] Michael Pröbsting: Americanise or bust’ – Contradictions and challenges of the imperialist project of European unification (2004), in: Fifth International Vol.1, No.2, p. 8,

[19] Ibid, p. 17