The Reformist Pipe Dream of a “Socialist” European Union (Part 3)




Would Communists have “Critically” Defended the Existence of the British Empire? Surely Not!



The idea of such a socialist transformation of imperialist institutions is not new. In 1920, Sidney and Beatrice Webb – internationally renowned proponents of revisionism at their time – wrote a whole book about “A Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain. This famous Fabian couple outlined, in 400 pages, a detailed conception how the British Empire could be transformed towards socialism. [1]


Of course, today the British Empire exists only in the nostalgic dreams of some English aristocrats. However, instead, there exists another imperialist Empire called the European Union. The communists in the time of Lenin and Trotsky never desired to keep the British Empire and transform it towards socialism. They rather desired to smash the British Empire in order to open the road to the liberation of the working class and the oppressed people and the creation of a federation of workers (and peasants) republics. This view was reflected, for example, in an article by the British communists in 1923. It attacked the revisionist vision of the Webbs and called for an anti-imperialist strategy. Instead of striving to keep the Empire (today we would say European Union), the communists called to “repudiate the bonds of Empire and liberate the exploited masses“!


What, then, is the Communist answer to the questions arising out of the existence of the Empire? If the workers come to power in this country what ought they to do? The answer is clear and definite. Repudiate the bonds of Empire and liberate the exploited masses and join in the fight to crush their enemies by helping to form workers’ and peasants’ Governments in the liberated countries. But the imperialists would attack? Then join in the defensive fight and use the situation to spread the revolution in the camp of the attackers. To hold aloof in the class war in the name of “self-determination” may be good pacifism. In our opinion, it is rank cowardice and certainly not the way to win victory for the workers.


But it may be asserted that by the act of liberation from the Empire it may not follow that the workers’ and peasants’ Government would come to power. Very well, the workers’ Government of Britain would have to use its economic, political and agitational power to ripen the conditions to secure such a consummation whilst being prepared to defend the liberated nation from the attacks of external forces. (...) The Communist alternative which can be put to that of the Imperial Conference and their understudies of the Labour Party and I.L.P. briefly stated is as follows:


(1) Support every measure to organise the workers of the countries within the Empire, that will enable them to struggle for improvements as a means to developing their forces to secure self-government by the seizure of power.


(2) To conduct strenuous agitation in this country in support of these workers and peasants with a view to exposing the ramifications and implications of imperialism and uniting the workers of this country with the exploited workers throughout the Empire.


(3) To aid by every possible means, whether in the colonies or here, in securing the liberation of these countries from the control of the Empire and assist in their struggle against all the imperialists.


These are the tasks which provide the workers in the Empire with their answer to the Imperial Conference and the special obligations which history places upon the working class in Great Britain in the revolutionary struggle against international imperialism.[2]


What a gulf between the British communist politics in the time of Lenin and Trotsky and the politics of the British L5I supporters today!


Communists always oppose the existence of imperialist Empires – in the past as well as the present! Following the new social-imperialist logic of the L5I, Marxists would have had to view the British Empire (renamed into British Commonwealth of Nations in 1931) as a step forward compared with the existence of Britain as a nation state only. Consequently, they would had to “critically” defend the survival of the British Empire against its dissolution since, in the logic of the comrades, such an Empire represented a much larger entity than the British nation state alone and, hence, it would allow much better conditions for the development of the productive forces.


Naturally, such a reactionary position has nothing in common with Marxism. It has rather everything in common with Labourite social-imperialism. But with the new centrist logic of the L5I such a conclusion is the only possible one! They must “critically” support all forms of imperialist expansionism – starting from free trade agreements like NAFTA, TTIP, CETA, etc. up to the existence of the EU – as they allegedly constitute “progress” in relation to the nation state.








As we have already warned in past works, it is only a small step from such a social-chauvinist position to the support for imperialist wars (albeit very “critically”)! Lenin often cited the famous principle of the Prussian military theorist von Clausewitz according to which the "war is nothing but the continuation of politics by other means." [3] If the alleged advantages of larger imperialist countries and business associations for the development of productive forces and of the international consciousness of the working class are actually so important for the L5I leadership, so much so that they are in favor of EU membership – then why not support achieving such greater political and economic state organizations by military means?


Surely, the L5I comrades currently oppose such conclusions. But the inner logic of such an approach is merciless: if one supports or defends the creation of larger imperialist entities (like the EU) why not supporting it also via military means?! We repeat: anyone who extends even a little finger to the program of social imperialism is inevitably caught in the net of its political chasms.


Communists must defend a consistent, revolutionary, internationalist and defeatist position when it comes to projects of imperialist expansionism. They must oppose imperialist free trade agreements and they must oppose the imperialist European Union. At the same time they must also oppose the imperialist nation state as it basically represents only a smaller version of the same beast: reactionary institutions of the imperialist ruling class.


Therefore, the RCIT considers the EU, like the British state, as an imperialist enemy and calls the workers vanguard not to support either of them. In the past, when the L5I was a revolutionary organization, it shared this outlook. Today, it has repudiated its own tradition and program without openly explaining why it threw its traditional position over board.


We repeat our conclusion written two years ago: “All these examples show that the new position of the L5I on the EU and its justification inevitably drive them in the direction of social-imperialism. Despite their anti-imperialist rhetoric, they would support the concrete central projects of the EU and other imperialist powers – in the name of the "development of productive forces and of the international consciousness of the working class." Ultimately, the group would degenerate to becoming "critical" (of course) cheerleaders for the imperialist powers and their expansionism. What a sad end for a group that once embodied a proud revolutionary tradition![4]


Authentic revolutionaries must revolt against such a pro-EU social-imperialist orientation! It is crucial break with such centrism and to unite on the basis of a consistent Marxist program. It is more urgent than ever to build an international revolutionary organization in order to fight against all forms of social-chauvinism – both pro-EU as well as pro-UK! Only a strong revolutionary force can effectively combat centrist confusion! This is the task of the RCIT and we call all authentic revolutionaries to join us!


[1] Sidney and Beatrice Webb: A Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain, London, New York, Bombay 1920

[2] J. T. Murphy: The Empire Conference and the Workers, in: The Communist Review, November 1923, Vol. 4, No. 7, published by the Communist Party of Great Britain,

[3] Carl von Clausewitz: Vom Kriege (1832), Hamburg 1963, p. 22; in English: Carl von Clausewitz: On War,

[4] Michael Pröbsting: Marxism, the European Union and Brexit. The L5I and the European Union: A Right Turn away from Marxism