On 23rd June, voters in Britain will go to the polls to decide whether the UK remains part of the EU. However, working people understandably view the referendum with disinterest and even disgust, with both the Leave and Remain camps dominated and led by reactionaries: Cameron and the Establishment calling for a vote to Remain; and Boris Johson, Michael Gove, and Nigel Farage leading the charge for the Brexit side.
We publish here a statement from the Socialist Appeal Editorial Board, published in the latest issue of the paper (no.253, May 2016) as part of a special four-page feature on the EU referendum, outlining our position in relation to the farce and Tory circus that this referendum constitutes. We say: a plague on both your houses! Fight for a genuine alternative for working people!
- No the bosses' EU!
- No to Austerity Britain!
- For a Socialist United States of Europe!
For more analysis on the limitations of the left-wing Remain vote, see Josh Holroyd's article on The Myth of Social Europe.
For a Marxist critique of the arguments of the Leave camp, see Daniel Morley's piece on The Delusions of Brexit.
Read here for material by Leon Trotsky on the question of a Socialist United States of Europe.
And watch this recent video, below, in which Alan Woods discusses the EU referendum and the socialist alternative.
Other background material on the European Union:
The European Crisis: Past, present, and future - by Josh Holroyd (video below)
To Leave or Remain? That is the question…or so we are told. Most people, however, are completely turned off by the hollow rhetoric emanating from both sides of the so-called debate.
Under capitalism, working people, whether they are in the European Union or not, will face cuts, austerity and attacks on their living standards. The EU, formerly known as the Common Market, was set up by big business for big business, and nothing more. As we wrote in 1971, just before Britain entered, “The Common Market is a joint capitalist endeavour and not a mutual benefit society.” The last 45 years have demonstrated the correctness of this fact.
Today, a fierce debate has opened up between two wings of the ruling class, following Cameron’s decision - for his own political self-interest - to declare a referendum on Britain’s EU membership.
The pro-Europe camp, headed by the big multinationals and corporations, and supported by Cameron and the Establishment, are keen to remain in, eager to share in the spoils of the European market. They are not interested in workers’ rights, but are very interested in boosting their profits.
The Leave camp, dominated by all manner of reactionaries and supported by other sections of business, wants to be free of EU “regulations”.
Neither side have anything to offer the working class, other than asking them to pay for the crisis of capitalism. In or out, on a capitalist basis, workers face a growing squeeze and falling living standards.
Scandalously, the Labour and trade union leaders are trailing behind the pro-European camp, deliberately mixing up the interests of the workers with the interests of the bosses. The pro-European Labour camp is led by Alan Johnson, the devoted Blairite, who is being backed by Alastair Darling and Gordon Brown. Sadly, Jeremy Corbyn has lent himself to this unsavoury chorus. Cameron is cynically relying on them to deliver the Labour vote.
Jeremy Corbyn has warned that Britain must be part of this capitalist club, otherwise workers face a “bonfire of rights”. But as our article on the Myth of Social Europe discusses, one only has to look at Greece to see how, in the EU, workers there have seen their wages, pensions and rights go up in smoke over the last six years.
Corbyn hopes that the EU can be “reformed” from within. But a leopard cannot change its spots. It is brutally oppressing the workers of Europe. You cannot “reform” the interests of billionaire gangsters. It is the laws of capitalism that dictate the policies of European governments - in Brussels, Berlin, and Britain.
The leaders of the labour movement are burying their heads in the sand, twisting and turning in their unsuccessful attempts to prettify the bosses’ EU. There is not an atom of class content in their approach. Instead, they simply trail behind one section of the ruling class – the powerful pro-EU wing of Big Business.
For instance, Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite the Union, is urging his 1.4 million members to vote to stay in. In doing so, he openly recognises that this is an uphill struggle, given the enormous public scepticism and disillusionment that exists towards the EU and its austerity. In a speech he gave on 9th March, McCluskey said:
“I’m a supporter of the European Union, but when I vote for Britain to remain in the EU in June, I will not be voting for the status quo – let me be clear about that. I will not be voting for the EU, which has sought to impose eye-watering austerity, at the expense of the ordinary citizen not the rich, in Ireland, Greece, Spain, Portugal and elsewhere. I will not be voting for the EU, which is seeking to stitch-up a pro-big business trade deal – TTIP – behind the backs of the people of Europe.
“Above all, I will not be voting for David Cameron’s renegotiation package – a deal designed to protect the financial interests in the City of London, which control the Conservative Party, and to pander to anti-migrant and anti-welfare sentiment.”
But however much McCluskey protests, this is exactly the future that capitalist Europe is offering working people: austerity, privatisation, and the brutal treatment of migrants.
Nevertheless, the Unite leader pleads, “it falls to us in the labour movement to behave in a more statesmanlike way, and to look at the bigger issues.”
Rather than attempting to be “statesmenlike”, however, the leaders of the labour movement, such as McCluskey and Corbyn, should have stood aside from the reactionary farce presented to ordinary people by both sides of this referendum and called for a socialist alternative for workers and youth.
Instead of tail-ending Cameron and the Blairites in the Stay camp, the Labour and trade union leaders should have campaigned to reject both the bosses’ EU and Tory austerity, and begun on the task of building a movement for a Socialist Britain as part of a Socialist Europe.
From beginning to end, this referendum is nothing more than two wings of the ruling class quarrelling over how best to exploit workers all over the world, presented to the British people as a choice between two wings of the Tory Party. Both sides are permeated by reaction.
In the absence of any genuine alternative being offered to the working class, we cannot support a vote either to Leave or Remain. The labour movement leaders should shout the truth from the rooftops: “a plague on both your houses”.
We must oppose the EU as we oppose British capitalism, neither of which can in any form represent the interests of the working class. The working class will gain nothing, either in or out.
The working class has no interest in this rigged referendum, which was only called to prop up Cameron, fearful of losing support to UKIP. It is two sections of the ruling class arguing among themselves. We should boycott this reactionary circus, and instead focus on the vital task of building a mass movement for socialist policies, in Britain and internationally.
A socialist government in Britain would quickly come into conflict with the EU, which has austerity and privatisation enshrined into its laws, and would have to break with this capitalist club. But, combined with a bold international appeal to the workers of Europe to build a Socialist Federation, such a move would become a beacon of revolutionary hope to workers and youth everywhere.
We firmly reject this whole referendum. The labour movement should have an independent class position: No to the bosses’ EU! No to austerity Britain! Fight for a Socialist Britain as part of a Socialist United States of Europe!