Workers Hammer No. 236

Autumn 2016


Internationalist Group: Pandering to Brexit backlash

While numerous British reformist groups called, however feebly, for a vote against the imperialist EU, that is more than can be said for a small US outfit called the Internationalist Group (IG). Having maintained strict radio silence on the question throughout the lead-up to the British referendum, the IG leapt into the liberal backlash against the vote, firing off a series of articles, including one solely devoted to denouncing the Spartacist League, British section of the International Communist League, for our support for Brexit. The IG’s line is of a piece with a slew of other abstentionist groupings, including the longtime Labour entryists of the International Marxist Tendency. To a man, these groups claim that support for Brexit was racist, pointing to UKIP and others who oppose the EU on the basis of anti-immigrant chauvinism. While the IG’s articles display considerable ignorance about British reality, ignorance is hardly an excuse for refusal to oppose the imperialist EU.

In an online article, the IG tells us: “Revolutionary Marxists are irreconcilable opponents of the European Union” while dismissing the referendum as a “chauvinist circus” (“The ‘Brexit’ Trap: British Left Caught Between ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ in European Union”,, August 2016). Revolutionary Marxists — ie, the ICL — are indeed irreconcilable and consistent opponents of the EU. As for the IG, while claiming it would “never advocate voting for” the EU, when the question is posed concretely its position is to never vote against it. On both occasions where the question of the EU was put to a vote in the recent period — the vote against an EU austerity package in Greece last year and the British referendum — the IG abstained.

The IG reduces the issue of opposition to the EU to a series of (bogus) tactical considerations, claiming that “when a referendum about EU membership is posed by competing bourgeois forces, the political content of the referendum is a key factor”. It is utter hogwash to claim that there is no need for the workers to take a side because the referendum is “posed by competing bourgeois forces”. Under capitalist rule when is it ever not the case that a question in a referendum is posed by the bourgeoisie? The “content” of the EU referendums was unambiguous: yes or no to EU austerity in Greece, remain or leave in Britain. As we noted in our post-referendum statement (“Brexit: defeat for the bankers and bosses of Europe!”, Workers Hammer no 235, Summer 2016), after denouncing UKIP for whipping up blatant anti-immigrant racism:

“Those who voted for Brexit did so for a variety of reasons. But only the wilfully blind in the workers movement will see the vote for Brexit as simply a boost for UKIP and the Tory right wing.”

By the IG’s logic, the ICL should have abstained on the 1994 imposition of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), as opposition to NAFTA in the US was dominated by anti-Mexican chauvinism and rabid protectionism. But we oppose NAFTA on an internationalist basis, describing it as a “free trade rape of Mexico”. It is a feature of referendums that you can’t distinguish your no vote from those in opposition for quite different, and often quite reactionary, reasons. But the result matters to the working class, which from its own, independent class perspective must oppose the EU.

Falsely claiming that our only answer to the EU “is to withdraw”, the IG thunders: “What about calling instead, as the [IG’s] League for the Fourth International did, to bring down the whole structure of capitalist/imperialist Europe through sharp class struggle leading to continent-wide socialist revolution? (“ICL: The Main Enemy Is in Brussels”). Of course, we fight for socialist revolution to overthrow capitalist rule in Europe — and around the globe. However, what was posed by the referendum was not “continent-wide socialist revolution”, but a vote against the EU. It is sheer sophistry to counterpose support for blows that weaken imperialism to the fight for socialist revolution to overthrow it. Like our Marxist forebears, we understand that the proletariat’s capacity for revolutionary struggle and its consciousness as a class for itself does not spring full-blown from the head of Zeus but is built up in the course of partial victories and the lessons drawn from such by its Marxist vanguard.

We observed in our post-referendum statement: “A year ago, the same outrage and discontent at the base of society that propelled the vote to leave the EU also fuelled the election of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party, opening the possibility of reforging Labour’s historic links to its working-class base and thus reversing two decades of Blairite schemes to turn Labour into an outright capitalist party.” But the IG refuses to side with Corbyn against the Blairites, hiding behind the (unremarkable) fact that Corbyn is a reformist. The defeat of the Blairites, leaving Corbyn in charge of a reformist workers party based on the trade unions, would be a big advance for the working class. But to the IG, it is a matter of indifference whether or not the British proletariat succeeds in taking a step towards class independence from the open parties of capital.

The IG’s founders defected from the Trotskyist programme of the ICL out of demoralisation following capitalist counterrevolution in East Germany and the Soviet Union, so as to chase unhindered after all manner of Stalinist has-beens, Latin American nationalists and trade union opportunists. Today, they claim: “When the EEC [European Economic Community] was the economic adjunct of the NATO imperialist alliance against the Soviet Union...that is one thing. But in the context of inter-imperialist rivalries British imperialism outside the imperialist EU is no less an evil” (“ICL: The Main Enemy Is in Brussels”). How insightful! The question is not whether British imperialism will become “less an evil” when it is outside the EU but whether the confidence and consciousness of the workers — in Britain and throughout Europe — will be heightened by the weakening of the blood-sucking EU.

Our defence of the Soviet Union was a critical, though not the sole, factor in our opposition to the EU’s predecessors. What we wrote in 1973, hailing the rejection of the Common Market in a referendum in Norway, is as valid today as it was then:

“Thus unity under capitalism is not only a myth, which will be shattered in the first serious economic downturn, but must necessarily be directed against the working class, as each national capitalist class attempts to become ‘competitive’ through a policy of ‘rationalisation’. This requires rigid wage freezes, massive devaluations, strike-breaking, the liquidation of whole industries, large-scale unemployment and inflation....

“Only unity on a socialist basis, accomplished by proletarian revolution and the expropriation of the giant monopolies, can institute rational worldwide economic development without exploitation. A socialist united states of Europe can only be created on the basis of the most vigorous struggle against the capitalist Common Market and all it stands for.”

—“Labor and the Common Market”, Workers Vanguard no 15, January 1973