The bourgeoisies of Europe are unable to unify Europe, at the epoch of decline of capitalism; while they were, at the epoch of ascending capitalism, able to unify Germany, Italy and the United States of America. The recent exit of Great Britain from the European Union, which is an attempt to overcome the narrowness of borders by the two main bourgeoisies of the continent, those of Germany and France, is a proof of it.
A reactionary event
The British State had first, with regard to the decision taken in 1957 by six States of a common market (free trade and common customs tariff), named then CEE-EEC (renamed since European Union), attempted to torpedo it in 1960 by a free trade treaty (AELE-EFTA). Then the British bourgeoisie divided itself on the question. Groups oriented towards the continent (and the “City”, the London Stock Exchange) were rather for joining the CEE-EEC, which was translated politically by the Liberal Party (now renamed Liberal Democrats) and the majority of the “Tories” (the Conservative Party). Most small bosses (and groups axed towards other continents) were rather against. Behind the scenes in the State, political parties, Medias and universities, big capital outweighed small one, so the United Kingdom asked to join the CEE-EEC in 1963.
First, the UK thought it would keep its special relation with the US and with the Commonwealth. Second, the UK thought it would keep its role as a world power … Because of these and other differences, Britain withdrew from the negotiations … As a reaction to the establishment of the EEC, the UK, together with Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, set up a free trade area. (Guglielmo Carchedi, For Another Europe, 2001, ch. 1)
The United Kingdom joined in 1973, when the French government accepted, after having for a long time blocked its application, to counterbalance the growing economic power of Germany. On the other hand, the British State refused to adopt the euro in 1992.
The EU may have been formed to bind France and Germany together but its later decades it has been shaped at least as much by British values, ideas and vigour. Its ambitious expansion eastward, the steady construction of an integrated single market, the focus on international trade were made in Britain. (The Economist, July 2nd, 2016)
It is the subordinate fraction of the national bourgeoisie, represented by the xenophobic party UKIP and the minority of the Conservative Party, which has just overthrown this decision by using a referendum. With a heavy poll of 72.2%, nearly 52% of voters in the United Kingdom decided on June the 23rd the exit from the European Union. This result will probably be prejudicial to British capitalism as a whole. Its main sectors, financial as productive, rightly fear to henceforth have to pay full price the right to make business with other European countries. Several variants are indeed possible, from the simple application of the rules of the WTO, a special treaty or bilateral treaties, or a statute of second-rank associate to the European Economic Space, implying some obligations but without a say in the matter. In any case, it is a period of uncertainty that opens, something abhorred by serious people in charge of growing their capital. Moreover, the risks of break-up of the United Kingdom with the rise of Scottish separatism (and unification of Ireland) resurface.
Few of the English people who voted to leave the European Union on June 23rd considered that in doing so they might trigger the break-up of another union: their own. (The Economist, July 2nd, 2016)
But Brexit is in no way a victory of the working class. It is not because many working people (workers, employees, unemployed, shopkeepers, craftsmen …) victims of world capitalist crises and of de-industrialization (resulting from choices of bosses and governments at their service), victims of attacks against the free health care system (NHS), voted for Brexit that this mechanically makes it a workers’ vote, that is, a vote on behalf of the working class. Many workers and students who voted for stay: London is not populated only by capitalists and brokers, Scotland and Northern Ireland even less. Neither side could vote as a class conscious of its interests and fit for taking the lead of the nation (or nations), all followed a political fraction of their exploiters agreeing among themselves to designate refugees and economic migrants as scapegoats. The campaign unleashed by “leave” encouraged a fascist to kill a Labour Party Member of Parliament, Jo Cox.
In reality, the working class and youth of Great Britain have been trapped, summoned to choose between supporting the policies of Cameron through the defence of the Europe of capitalists as the best way to limit immigration, and reactionary nationalism telling all kinds of lies. Never the responsibility of successive bourgeois governments that precipitated workers and youth into successive retreats since Thatcher (Conservative Party), through Blair (Labour Party), to finish by Cameron, was put forward, never the class enemy in its own country was presented as the main adversary. On the one hand, Cameron extolled the merits of the European Union, supposed to have brought well-being and felicity to workers who are worn out, on the other hand, Johnson and Farage designated migrants, of which the European Union would be the purveyor, accused of being responsible of the misery of natives by living from benefits and by stealing jobs. In this confusion, all class borders were swept away, the Labour Party led by Corbyn, flanked by LU, finding itself on the same line as Cameron to extol attainments of the European Union, while on the side of UKIP appeared not only an important fraction of the Conservative Party but also various opportunists of the labour movement, among which the CPB, Respect, the SWP, the SPEW …
Throughout the whole history of the British Labour movement there has been pressure by the bourgeoisie upon the proletariat… (Leon Trotsky, Where is Britain Going?, 1925, ch.4)
This majority vote for Brexit means an extra gain for exacerbated nationalism that gradually overtakes Europe, but also the whole world. That means that the working class divided itself on an opposition between two fractions of its exploiters and that one part let itself be led on the most reactionary ground, that of hatred of the foreigner, of the migrant, that of the recovery of national sovereignty, that of England first. The UKIP party, but also the painful buffoon that is Boris Johnson, a tenor of the Conservative Party and former mayor of London, have they not complacently presented the vote “leave” as a snook to the wealthy elites, using all the tricks of populism, they who belong to the same bourgeois class and have hardly any money problems to end the month.
The consolidation of borders and protectionism by an imperialist country constitutes a regression to which the proletariat could never associate itself. They are always accompanied by militarism and a revival of international tensions.
The reversion to protective tariffs was carried through in Germany as well as in France, Italy, and Russia, together with, and in the interests of, an expansion of the armed services, as the basis for the European competition in armaments which was developing at that time. (Rosa Luxemburg, The Accumulation of Capital, 1913, ch. 31)
The irrationality of contemporary bourgeoisie
Prime Minister Cameron had played with matches: to counter the progression of the racist, xenophobic, nationalist and fascistic UKIP party, which progressed by siphoning electors from the Conservative Party, he had after the elections of 2015 promised to hold a referendum for or against staying in the European Union, expecting also to use it as leverage to obtain a few further concessions from other European bourgeoisies.
And this is what he did in Brussels last February, walking into the steps of the late Thatcher, thundering against the waste of European spending, laxness at borders and yet many other things, to come back in his country satisfied of having so well defended British interests. He had indeed obtained the right not to pay some benefits and allowances to European nationals during the first four years of their settlement in Great Britain, renewed guarantees to preserve the “entries” of the London Stock Exchange in the European Union, a promise to further lighten standards and regulations weighing on enterprises. In return, Cameron had waged a campaign to stay (“remain”).
Alas! The wind that he sowed could only stoke the fire that others had lighted, not only on the side of the UKIP party, but also of a sizeable part of the Conservative Party itself. One has to note however that the victors were first conspicuous by their capacity to flee their responsibility that had suddenly become crushing: Nigel Farage, the president of UKIP, resigns immediately and Boris Johnson engages in a pathetic farce in order not to solicit the position of Prime Minister!
The victorious Leave campaigners, a mediocre bunch who have disgraced themselves during the campaign: lying about inflated budget payments and phantom Turkish migrants, before vanishing after the vote. (The Economist, July 2nd, 2016)
Indeed, past the show, the affair promises to be arduous for the English bourgeoisie and those of the continent. Cameron refused to take responsibility for officialising the break before his resignation. He left this in the care of the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, who integrated in the new Tory government three ministers supporters of Brexit: Johnson nominated Minister of Foreign Affairs, Davis Minister of exit from EU and Fox Minister of Foreign Trade. May thinks both stabilising the main bourgeois party and blaming the difficulties ahead on the excited crowd of “leave”. The justification by the SWP to join this camp was to drive out Cameron. But did workers win by having May instead of Cameron?
After having formed her government, May went to meet Merkel and Hollande, which shows indeed who leads “Europe”. She has not yet officialised the exit. The 27 remaining States are not on the same wavelength in the negotiations that will open with the new Tory government. The bourgeoisies of central Europe want to take advantage to relax Germany’s and France’s hold. The German bourgeoisie, for whom Great Britain is a serious customer, remains rather cautious. Its dominant position confers it a responsibility as custodian of some cohesion of the whole, while one and all are not pulling together. However it has no desire to encourage by a too conciliatory attitude other member countries, notably in the South and East of Europe, to seek adventure elsewhere. The French bourgeoisie does not have such reticence, it pushes the fires to weaken to the highest degree the British bourgeoisie, attempting foremost to put the City off side, hoping that the Paris Stock Exchange will carry off the place. Now the London Stock Exchange is the lung of British capitalism, draining capital worldwide, generating a large surplus balance of services while its balance of exchanges of goods is heavily in debt.
London boasts 250 foreign banks and 200 foreign law firms… The main worry is that financial firms will no longer be able to serve the whole EU from London when Britain leaves, perhaps two years after the formal start of exit talks. (The Economist, July 2nd, 2016)
For proletarian internationalism
Quite rare are those who defended the only class position possible, the call for the boycott of the referendum, for the struggle to make an end of the government of capitalists in Great Britain, the perspective of Socialist United States of Europe.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the bourgeois state with its armies and tariff walls became the worst brake on the development of productive forces, which demand a much more extensive arena. A socialist who comes out today for the defence of the “fatherland” is playing the same reactionary role as the peasants of the Vendee, who rushed to the defence of the feudal regime, that is, of their own chains. (Fourth International, Manifesto, May 1940)
Quite to the contrary, beyond even United Kingdom, a good many organisations drifted into nationalism or walked further steps along this line already defended since long. Thus, the KKE of Greece, Die Linke of Germany, Mélenchon in France, former minister and founder of the PdG, great defender of “Nation”, whose enemy is not the French bourgeoisie but Germany, not only expresses satisfaction at Brexit, but has just accused on July the 5th, 2016 in the European Parliament the posted worker of “stealing the bread from the local worker” …
“The working men have no country”—this means that (α) his economic position (wage work) is not national but international, (β) his class enemy is international, (γ) the conditions of his emancipation also, (δ) the international unity of the workers is more important than the national. (V. I. Lenin, Letter to Inessa Armand, November 20th, 1916)
Most revisionists of Trotskyism (Morenoites, Cliffites, Lambertists, Robertsonists, Taaffeists, etc.), used to follow the stream or influenced by Stalinism, applauded Brexit. Not only British workers have no improvement in their fate to expect from Brexit, but they must rather fear the contrary. Above all, they have, in the greatest confusion, lost on this occasion their class independence, which will only bring additional weapons to the bourgeoisie. Besides, the right wing of the Labour Party has immediately launched a new offensive against Corbyn, with the help of bourgeois Medias.
Meanwhile Labour is tearing itself apart. On June 28th Mr Corbyn lost a vote of no confidence among Labour MPs by 172 to 40. He is facing a leadership challenge. (The Economist, July 2nd, 2016)
The result of the British referendum fits into the strong progression of xenophobic and fascist parties such as the FPÖ in Austria, the FN in France, the AFD in Germany, Jobbik in Hungary, the PVV in Netherlands, XA in Greece, the PIS in Poland, etc. Since June the 24th, Le Pen (FN) exulted: “Brexit, and now France!”.
Ms Le Pen thinks this national mood could help her win the presidential election next spring. (The Economist, July 2nd 2016)
It is “democratic” governments themselves that, by letting capitalists lay off, by decreasing taxes for the bosses and the rich, by limiting social benefits, by bombing the Near East, by barricading Europe to let refugees die on its door, feed xenophobia and racism that are the fuel of reaction. This chauvinism is everywhere at work. What about the candidate of the Republican Party Trump in the United States, who extols protectionism, the driving back of all migrants coming from countries destroyed by American imperialism, and who promises to erect a concrete wall to lock the thousands of kilometres of border with Mexico!
This nationalism is fundamentally the expression of the historical dead end of the capitalist mode of production in the imperialist stage: contradictorily to the interests of the main sectors of the bourgeoisie of capitalist countries that strive while they can after the unfettered circulation of commodities and of capital, the private property of the means of production and the ever increasing concentration of productive, commercial and banking capital that this entails, the exacerbated concurrence of bourgeoisies between them, the domination of the planet by a handful of imperialist powers, stand up as obstacles not only against capital itself, but against the development of the whole humanity.
All imperialist bourgeoisies implemented globalisation, all capitalist groups dream of the opening of borders to their capital and their products, but the laws inherent to capitalism dislocate the efforts accomplished for this purpose, all groups demand the help of their State against the others, all States at their service are quarrelling for the planet. It is the nightmare of the clash between nations that finally resurges. Capitalism in the imperialist stage, it is the organised concurrence between workers of different countries and within the same countries.
An internationalist party is thus needed. It cannot be built up by turning its back to the Labour Party and the trade unions. But the Labour Party cannot replace the revolutionary workers’ party because it is, since its birth, a “bourgeois workers’ party”: worker by its trade union origin and its electoral base of wage workers; bourgeois by its programme and its parliamentary cretinism.
Whatever the parliamentary majority, the whole state apparatus is from top to bottom inextricably tied to the bourgeoisie. Belonging to it are: the whole of the press, the principal organs of local government, the universities, schools, the churches and innumerable clubs and voluntary associations in general. (Leon Trotsky, Where is Britain Going?, 1925, ch. 5)
No social-reformist policy could or wanted, for lack of making an attack on capital itself, open any perspective of lasting improvement of the situation of workers. To the contrary, everywhere, they proved their bankruptcy by becoming zealous auxiliaries of the demands of their bourgeoisie. The masses that have suffered the blows of bourgeois parties in power have had enough equally of bourgeois workers’ parties when they have replaced them. By want of a revolutionary organisation that opens the perspective of the taking of power by the working class, of socialism, of internationalism, it is the most reactionary bourgeois currents that score points. This is precisely why a correct orientation on the question of Brexit is so important. This is why it is urgent to constitute the revolutionary workers’ international.
When the masses grasp how long they have been deceived they carry out a revolution. (Leon Trotsky, Where is Britain Going?, 1925, ch. 4)
Bureau of the Permanent Revolution Collective (Austria, France, Peru) & Marxist-Leninist Tendency (Brazil)