17 October 2020

Why we boycotted the EU referendum

CPGB statement, February 2016.


1 – The lesson of the 20th century is that socialism must be international, or it will become its opposite. Communists therefore oppose all variants of ‘socialism in one country’, which are exposed as reactionary utopias. We take as our starting point the conquest of power by the working class throughout Europe, abolishing capitalist rule in much of the capitalist core, and ultimately throughout the world.

2 – The European Union as it exists is a mechanism for capitalist exploitation. Its institutions are overwhelmingly unelected and uniformly pro-capitalist. It is, in addition, ‘Fortress Europe’, whose inhumanity has recently been clearly exposed by the fate of refugees fleeing the Syrian war. We wish to overthrow and replace these institutions with radical democracy across the continent, tear down the barbed wire and sink the gunboats.

3 – Communists oppose plebiscitary ‘democracy’, which is in reality nothing of the kind. It is a Bonapartist tool which excludes the masses from effective control over policy, instead offering them a loaded question whereby they can rubber-stamp something already decided. Voting in referenda is a matter of tactics, but that tactical judgement must be informed by the understanding that referenda are, contrary to appearances, inherently anti-democratic.

4 – David Cameron has called a referendum on EU membership for June 23. He argues that he has gotten a ‘good enough deal’ for Britain, but in reality his negotiations were wholly theatrical. The whole exercise is an attempt to outflank his rightwing opponents with chauvinist demagoguery, which may yet dangerously backfire on him. His arguments, when they are not wholly specious, are focused solely on the health of British finance capital, and the peace of mind of petty bourgeois reactionaries.

5 – The ‘out’ campaign is likewise dominated by noxious chauvinism. The advantage of leaving, according to Michael Gove, Nigel Farage and the like, is closer relations with the United States (a fantasy) and tighter border controls – that is, replacing ‘Fortress Europe’ with a stronger ‘Fortress Britain’.

6 – Cameron’s referendum is thus a cynical manoeuvre that pits reactionaries against more reactionaries. We call on all communists, socialists and partisans of the working class to boycott this referendum, and actively propagandise against its legitimacy.


Note: for more on the CPGB and the 2016 referendum, see ‘The in-out kabuki dance‘ in Weekly Worker 1102 which is available on the WW archive here

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