The Reformist Pipe Dream of a “Socialist” European Union (Part 1)







Red Flag”, the paper of the British supporters of the "League for the 5th International“ (formerly known as “Workers Power”), has published an, let's put it this way, odd article. [1] Titled “The workers’ answer to Brexit”, the article polemicizes against various Stalinist and centrist proponents of Britain leaving the European Union. [2]


Red Flag (RF) and the League for the 5th International (L5I) rightly reject the backward illusions of sectors of the left that leaving the EU and returning to the imperialist nation-state would be a step forward for the working class. As the RCIT and its British supporters have explained in numerous documents, socialists must not lend support to any imperialist form of rule – neither the “sovereign” imperialist nation state (like Britain or other Western European countries) not the imperialist European Union. Likewise, socialists can not support any camp in an inner-imperialist conflict – like e.g. the current Global Trade War [3] or in military conflicts between such powers. [4] And it is equally impermissible for socialists to lend support to any faction of the imperialist bourgeoisie when they are competing at elections – like e.g. the Republicans vs. the Democrats in the U.S. [5]


Consequently, RCIT and its British supporters call upon workers, socialists and revolutionaries to cast neither a YES nor a NO vote in referenda on EU membership, but to actively abstain. [6]


While RF/L5I correctly criticize those reformists and centrists who are calling for Brexit and who are thereby adapting to the imperialist nation state (like e.g. Stalinists CPB, the CWI or the SWP/IST), they unfortunately fall into the other, no less opportunistic, extreme. They defend their revisionist position that joining an imperialist alliance like the EU would represent a progressive step forward for the working class which must be supported. Here is what the comrades say:


The interests of the working class includes not just our pay and conditions today, but the impact of any given event on our ability to fight in the future, and in particular our ability to free ourselves from capital once and for all, by creating an international commonwealth of socialist republics in which production is planned democratically for need not greed. Viewed from this perspective, socialists should oppose Brexit 100% and use any principled means to stop it. Why? Because:


1) It imposes massive restrictions on the previous freedom of workers from EU countries to travel to and work in the UK, and vice versa. This is against the interests of the working class now and in the future


2) It imposes further barriers to capitalist trade between the UK and EU countries, which in turn mean:


a. Higher prices and job losses arising from tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade that will definitely ensue should Brexit take place on anything other than ‘Norwegian’ terms ie Single Market membership. There is and will be no tariff-free access to the single market for non-members of it


b. More limited interaction and integration of the working class of Britain with the working class of Europe, weakening the development of a Pan-European fightback against capital and a pan-European movement of workers for socialism.


RF/L5I also claims, once again, that “the principal issue [of Brexit is] a massive disruption to trade and economic life that turns countries against each other, pushes our culture backwards instead of forwards, harms working class living standards and sets back the fight for socialism.




Adapting to EU Imperialism




All these arguments of the L5I are demonstrably wrong as we have shown in detail in several pamphlets and articles. [7] At this point we limit ourselves to summarize our main arguments. We have demonstrated extensively on a factual as well as theoretical level that the formation of the European Union has not led to a growth of the productive forces (let alone cultural progress!). We have shown that the rise of free trade in the epoch of imperialism does not lead to the advance of the productive forces not to mention the living conditions of the working class. Likewise we have demonstrated that increase and decline of migration is basically not related to the existence of the European Union. All these phenomena – with their inner contradictions and dynamics – are a result of the fundamental laws of the political economy of capitalism and not specifically related to the EU or a free trade treaty.


Nevertheless, the RF/L5I “critically” supports the creation and advance of imperialist federations like the EU or of free trade agreements as a “lesser evil” than national states. This contrasts sharply not only with the program of the RCIT but also with the position of the Marxist classics. As we have shown in detail in past pamphlets, the leading Marxist theoreticians – from Rudolf Hilferding (in his groundbreaking work “Finance Capital”) to Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky – repudiated support for imperialist free trade over imperialist protectionism, for imperialist federations over national states.


Consequently, they all rejected any form of support – however critically – for the imperialist unification of Europe. In the words of Lenin: “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. (…) 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.[8]


It is not surprisingly that until today RF/L5I has made no effort to prove their claims about the progressive character of the EU in real life. Limiting themselves to silly polemics against the RCIT, they have not even dared to refute the numerous arguments, facts, and quotes which we have provided. [9]


Basically, the comrades of RF/L5I fail to understand that the European Union – like the British nation-state – is first and foremost a political project of the imperialist ruling class. It is not a project to advance the productive forces or to increase migration (see the barbaric Frontex regime at the borders of the EU). It is a project to improve the conditions for the European imperialist monopolies to exploit the working class and oppressed and to give them more leverage against other Great Powers like the U.S., Russia or China.


The key task for Marxists is to help the workers vanguard taking an independent class position. Hence the RCIT steadfastly defends the orthodox Marxist position – which until 2015 was also supported by the L5I itself – to 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.


Unfortunately, RF/L5I is defending and even deepening its social-imperialist adaption to the European Union.


[1] The founding cadres of the RCIT were bureaucratically expelled in 2011 by the majority of L5I leadership for their opposition to the centrist degeneration of this erstwhile organization. Since then, there has been an acceleration of the L5I’s right-wing shift. The RCIT, founded soon after our expulsion, continues to defend the revolutionary tradition of our predecessor organization. Today the RCIT has sections and activists in 13 countries and fraternal organizations in several other countries. On the history of the RCIT as well as the L5I, see 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, December 2014, For our critique of the L5I’s centrist degeneration see in particular chapter III. In addition reader should refer to our letter to the L5I in which we critically analyze its degeneration away from revolutionary Marxism: RCIT: Where is the LFI drifting? A Letter from the RCIT to the LFI comrades, 11.5.2012,

[2] Red Flag: The workers’ answer to Brexit, September 25, 2018, All quotes, unless stated otherwise, are from this article.

[3] See on this e.g. Michael Pröbsting: The Global Trade War is Escalating. Trump’s new Tariffs on about $200bn worth of Chinese Imports Reflect the Accelerating Rivalry between the Great Powers, 19 September 2018,; Global Trade War: No to Great Power Jingoism in West and East! Neither Imperialist Globalization nor Imperialist Protectionism! For International Solidarity and Joint Struggle of the Working Class and Oppressed People! Joint Statement of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), Marxist Group ‘Class Politics’ (Russia), Alkebulan School of Black Studies (Kenya), Pan-Afrikan Consciousness Renaissance (Nigeria), Courant des Jeunes Penseurs Congolais (Democratic Republic of Congo), and Sınıf Savaşı (Turkey), 4 July 2018,; Michael Pröbsting: The Global Trade War has Begun. What is its Meaning and what should be the Response of Socialists? 13 July 2018,; Yossi Schwartz: Capitalist Trade and the Looming 3rd World War, 15 July 2018,; Michael Pröbsting: Where Do Socialists Stand in Face of the Looming Global Trade War? A Showcase of the Practical Consequences of the Assessment of the Class Character of the Chinese State, 17 June 2018,; Michael Pröbsting: World Perspectives 2018: A World Pregnant with Wars and Popular Uprisings. Theses on the World Situation, the Perspectives for Class Struggle and the Tasks of Revolutionaries, RCIT Books, Vienna 2018,

[4] See on this e.g. RCIT: Theses on Revolutionary Defeatism in Imperialist States, 8 September 2018,; Joint Statement: Warmongering in the Middle East: Down with all Imperialist Great Powers and Capitalist Dictatorships! 13 May 2018,; Michael Pröbsting: The Great Robbery of the South. Continuity and Changes in the Super-Exploitation of the Semi-Colonial World by Monopoly Capital. Consequences for the Marxist Theory of Imperialism, RCIT Books, Vienna 2013,; see also our writings collected at a special sub-page on the RCIT’s website

[5] See on this e.g. Yossi Schwarz: Why Not to Vote for the Democratic Party in the Forthcoming US Elections OR AT ANY OTHER TIME, 2.3.2016,; Yossi Schwartz: Once Again: Opportunism of US Left Exposed. An Analysis of the US 2016 Elections Campaign, 14 August 2016,; Michael Pröbsting: The Meaning, Consequences and Lessons of Trump‘s Victory. On the Lessons of the US Presidential Election Outcome and the Perspectives for the Domestic and International Class Struggle, 24.November 2016,

[6] The RCIT has elaborated its Position on the EU in a number of articles, statements and pamphlets: RCIT: After the BREXIT Vote – Stormy times ahead for the workers and oppressed in Britain, 24.6.2016,; 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,; 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,; Michael Pröbsting: The British Left and the EU-Referendum: The Many Faces of pro-UK or pro-EU Social-Imperialism. An analysis of the left’s failure to fight for an independent, internationalist and socialist stance both against British as well as European imperialism, Revolutionary Communism Nr. 40, August 2015; RKOB: The European Union and the issue of the accession of semi-colonial countries, 14.10.2012, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 6,

[7] See 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,; Michael Pröbsting: 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, 16.09.2016,; Manfred Meier: Nachbeben des Brexit - Zur Rechtswende von L5I: das „JA“ zum Verbleib in der EU, August 2016,; Michael Pröbsting: The British Left and the EU-Referendum: The Many Faces of pro-UK or pro-EU Social-Imperialism. An analysis of the left’s failure to fight for an independent, internationalist and socialist stance both against British as well as European imperialism, Revolutionary Communism Nr. 40, August 2015; see also (in German language only) 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),

[8] V. I. Lenin: On the Slogan for a United States of Europe; in: LCW Vol. 21, pp. 340-342

[9] Ben Zimmer: Nach dem Brexit: Folgen und Perspektiven, REVOLUTION Deutschland, 21. Juli 2016,