By Steve Dobbs

The working class are being given another hard lesson in bourgeois democracy.

Last year the Tories won the General Election with a pledge to hold a referendum on membership of the European Union. Whilst technically the referendum was non-binding (advisory), it was treated by Prime Minister David Cameron as binding, such that he staked his continued premiership on a vote to remain in the EU. All the major political parties (except for UKIP), the City, the economists, the mainstream media, the Confederation of Business Industry (CBI) and hedge fund managers backed remaining in the EU. Together they launched Project Fear mark 2. To their surprise, the masses of working class and poor helped carry the vote to leave the EU and stuck two fingers up at the ruling class.

But as Lenin remarked, capitalist democracy is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. And if the ruling class lose the vote, they have plenty of other options available through their control of the state apparatus. It is on this basis that a millionaire City hedge-fund manager has run to the High Courts and their unelected millionaire judges in an attempt to overturn the mass popular vote to leave the EU. The outcome was such that Parliament now has to vote on whether to trigger Article 50, the legal mechanism that actually begins the process of leaving the EU. Clearly this is an effort to delay the triggering of Article 50 and buy enough time so that MPs can be “persuaded” into voting against triggering Article 50 and thus for remaining within the EU.

The labour aristocracy and the essence of the EU

Unfortunately the vast majority of the official Trade Union movement (except for the RMT and Baker’s union BFAWU) and the Labour Party sided with the ruling class and backed remaining in the EU on the pretence of protecting jobs and workers’ rights. This reflects how the Trade Union and Labour officialdom is controlled by an upper stratum of the working class and what we might call middle class, known to Marxists as the labour aristocracy. It is in their interests to maintain membership of the EU because their enhanced living standards (relative job security, pensions, rising house prices and cheap consumer goods) are a result of concessions afforded by imperialism. Hence they have a vested interest in maintaining this system as it keeps them relatively above the social level of the mass of the poor proletariat, even if absolute living standards for many have fallen since the 2008 crisis.

The EU facilitates the domination of the European imperialist countries (UK, Germany, France) over the less developed European countries (such as Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Eastern Europe) through an approximately border-less “free trade” arrangement known as the single market. But such free trade is neither free nor equal, with terms in practice favouring the imperialist countries and capitalists, allowing them to export capital and lend money at rates and terms that ultimately benefit the imperialists. In the UK, the biggest sector of the economy is services. The export of capital to the EU props up the banking and financial system and reinforces manufacturing abroad, resulting in cheaper consumer goods created off the back of the poorer countries, retarding their development. Free trade means freedom for capital, which also includes workers. Under the progressive veneer of social liberalism, the imperialists import EU migrant labour which they can more easily exploit and raise the rate of exploitation at home.

Brexit is not racist

The confusion of the Marxist Left over the EU referendum and the official labour movement backing Remain meant that the only coherent anti-EU voice was the right-wing populist UKIP, headed by Nigel Farage. Whilst this certainly gave aspects of the anti-EU vote a nationalist and even xenophobic veneer, most working class Leave voters had real concerns around jobs, wages and housing, but refracted through the lens of populist anti-immigration rhetoric. They did not vote Leave because they were conscious racists. Neither were they won to UKIP’s leadership. Quite the opposite in fact: UKIP membership has declined from 47,000 in May 2015 to 39,000 in July 2016. Meanwhile, Labour has become the biggest political party in Europe with over half a million members!

The vast majority of the Left failed to point out the imperialist nature of the EU and the fact that a British Exit would begin the process of its collapse and free the chains of the workers in the poorer countries. The main Marxist anti-EU campaign was ‘Lexit’ (Left Exit), which put forward a hypothetical reformist programme on the basis of leaving the EU. The Official Leave campaign also put forward hypothetical policies via slogans such as “We send the EU £350 million a week, let’s fund our NHS instead”. But both of these campaigns did not deal with the concrete reality of the referendum, which was simply a question of membership of the EU. No political programme or policies were objectively being posed! This bizarre subjective approach from campaigners allowed the far-right and UKIP to claim the mantle of Brexit and associate it with racism. The mainstream media, the ruling class, liberals and the reformist Left were all happy to accept this analogy because it made a convenient argument to oppose Brexit and support the imperialist EU! And so this reasoning and scare mongering continues after the referendum, which actually gives false strength to the minority of real racists.

Oppose UKIP and racism. Fight for workers’ democracy and socialism

Thus the tasks posed for revolutionary socialists are more nuanced than most on the Right and Left claim. UKIP opposes so-called ‘globalist’ capitalism but can only put forward a reactionary and utopian programme of national capitalism – reactionary because capitalist profits can only be restored through super-exploitation of the ‘native’ working class, and utopian because such a policy cannot save capitalism and would lead to major social unrest, not the ‘unity of classes for the national interest’ that right-populists advance.

In direct opposition to UKIP, socialists fight for unity of the working classes of all nations against international capitalism. This means opposing racism and anti-migrant chauvinism at home and building a combative workers’ movement that can fight capitalism and imperialism, including the EU. This task will not be easy given the simplistic subjective polarisation of the EU debate, but given a Marxist objective materialist analysis and approach we can win over both migrant and non-migrant workers.

We must articulate the justified anger around the ruling class’s desire to stop Article 50 and emphasis the need for sovereignty of the working class to run society for themselves rather than representatives of big business and unelected millionaire judges. Of course, this does not mean we march with Nigel Farage as some on the pro-EU Left have suggested! We have our own pro-working class programme and aims independent of the mainstream Leave campaign and the pro-EU Left.

To really ‘take control’ of our lives we must take control and ownership of the banks and corporations that run the economy and plan production and distribution of goods and services to meet the needs of the majority. To help construct a socialist society we would welcome all workers from around the world who support our aims. Socialism cannot exist in one country – its success in Britain also depends on socialist revolution in Europe and worldwide.

  • Trigger Article 50 and smash the capitalist-imperialist EU!
  • The working class must run society democratically, not the banks and big business
  • Take control and ownership of the banks and corporations – plan production and distribution of goods and services to meet the needs of workers, not shareholders
  • Fight for workers’ unity with migrants against racism and capitalism
  • For a socialist Britain and a voluntary socialist federation of Europe!


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