The Brexit victory, in the June 23, 2016 referendum, created shock waves not only in Europe but right around the world. Donald Trump credited his victory in part to it, winning on a similar programme of breaking free from multilateral trading blocks, increasing rivalry with other great powers and victimising migrant workers.
In Britain, thanks to the billionaire tabloids, chauvinist and racist poison has penetrated a sizeable minority of the working class who traditionally voted Labour. But “healing the divisions” in the Labour Party by adapting to the anti-European and anti-immigration views of the Leave voters would be a disaster. Jeremy Corbyn’s recent retreat from the principle of “free movement” for British and European workers, was a first step in this direction.
Theresa May’s triggering of Article 50, with Labour support, unleashes a two year negotiation over exit terms; to be followed by an indefinite period of trade negotiations. From now on, every dispute between the UK government and the EU will be used by the tabloids to foment yet more chauvinism. This is why all genuine socialist internationalists were firmly opposed to leaving the European Union. Now, despite the referendum vote, they must remain so, otherwise a tsunami of imperialist patriotism will sweep Labour away as a party of any use to the working class.
However, unlike the Liberals, who have wisely put themselves at the forefront of opposition to Brexit and defence of free movement, socialist internationalists must also make it clear that the European Union is itself an imperialist project. It is the means by which finance capital in the major states intends to subordinate the smaller countries in order then to compete with the US, Russia and China in a new struggle to redivide the world, a struggle that can lead to war.
Revolutionaries cannot support for one minute the European Union as it is with institutions like the European Commission and the European Central Bank which have used the Euro, and the rules that underpin it, to bludgeon Greece and other southern European states into austerity. Nor can we support its military and diplomatic aid for the adventures in Ukraine, its Cold War aimed at Russia, its hot wars in the Middle East or its racist Fortress Europe policy on immigration.
Since the inauguration of the Euro, European imperialist governments, led by Germany, have adopted policies through the European Central Bank, ECB, and the IMF that imposed austerity within most countries of the Union. They are running down the welfare state as an overhead no longer affordable by a capitalism mired in low profit rates and a prolonged tendency to stagnation. In such conditions, it is an absolute utopia to imagine that the EU can be peacefully transformed into a “Social Europe” by a process of reform or democratisation.
It is equally utopian, and actually reactionary, to imagine that it would be in the interest of any working class in Europe, or the rest of the world, if the states which compose the EU were to revert to separate national economies or that this would represent a recovery of sovereignty by their peoples or parliaments. Reactionary nationalism is the natural and poisonous corollary of such moves, as we have seen so clearly in the UK. Marxists no more favour the break up of large states or semi-state confederations than they would support the breaking up of giant companies or banks into smaller capitalist units. With states, as with the economic units of capital, our road forward is through social ownership to a planned economy under democratic workers’ control and management.
Nevertheless, the crisis which has wracked the EU since 2008 shows that the capitalist classes of the continent are unable to perform the historically progressive task of unifying the continent peacefully. The task of unifying Europe, which revolutionary socialists realised was necessary a century ago, before the carnage of the two world wars exterminated millions of European workers, peasants, oppressed nations and “races”, falls to the working class. The means by which it can achieve this is the Europe-wide revolution.
The main obstacles to such a perspective are not objective ones. They lie in the divisions of the European working class and, above all, its bureaucratic trade union and parliamentary leaderships, all of which are closely tied to their national capitalist classes. In the struggles against ECB guided austerity, workers will not only need to take control of their unions, or build new organisations, but to coordinate the fight across the continent. This will require internationalist political leadership and, as soon as possible, the founding of a new international party of the working class, a Fifth International.
This does not mean that we are indifferent to struggles for serious partial or democratic changes to the EU any more than we would be to reforms at the national level. We advocate a strategy of continent-wide coordinated action, up to and including general strikes, which spread from the national flashpoints through solidarity action. A vital part of this process will be building solidarity action with workers in Europe, starting with Greece, but everywhere that our class confronts the dictatorship of capital.
We are for opening the external and internal borders of Europe to migrants and refugees fleeing poverty, persecution and war.
We are for their right to full citizenship and equal access to social security, healthcare and education for them and for all those already here. We are for the release of all detainees and an end to the persecution of “illegals”.
We are against the policies of austerity and privatisation which dismantle the welfare state, weaken labour protection, human and trade union rights, and that promote environmental degradation.
We are against the undemocratic institutions of the EU; the Council, Commission, Central Bank and the powerless parliament. We are for their replacement by bodies under the control of the democratic organisations of the working people of the continent.
We are for the immediate dissolution of Nato and the disbanding of the standing armies of the various states, replacing them with workers’ militia.
We are for elections by proportional representation with no percentage threshold, by all people resident in Europe over the age of sixteen, of a Constituent Assembly to establish the legal basis of the Union.
We are for a charter of democratic and social rights including the rights to assembly, free speech, equal access to and democratic control of the mass media, women’s rights (equal pay, control of fertility, socialisation of childcare and housework), workers’ rights (to strike, to join a trade union, etc.).
We are for a planned management of the natural environment, including the planned elimination of the use of fossil fuels and nuclear power, to combat the climate change caused by capitalism and to overcome the hypertrophy of urban centres and rural depopulation due to lack of infrastructure and resources.
We are for the expropriation of private property in all the large scale means of production, distribution, communications and banking under workers’ control and management.
We are for the right of all states, whose peoples have freely and democratically chosen to do so, to join the European Union.
We are for a Socialist United States of Europe based on the common ownership of the means of production and exchange, of universal free provision housing, of welfare, education healthcare and care of the young, the old, the disabled and the sick.
To fully realise this programme requires a Europe-wide struggle led by the working class and its allies; all the socially and nationally oppressed groups and layers of present day society. It requires both national revolutions and a European revolution. The first stage is for workers across Europe to come to the aid of their Greek brothers and sisters and demand the total cancellation of the Greek debt and the abandonment of all attempts to impose further austerity in Greece or any other country.
Therefore our objective remains to oppose and stop exit from the EU, whilst building the most powerful links with workers’ organisations across Europe, agreeing with them a strategy for going forward to a United Socialist States of Europe, open to the world, established in the course of a continent-wide spread of social revolution.