Imagine two social systems, which we can call system A and system B. System A involves a tiny minority owning the means of production, a wages system, exploitation, varying degrees of poverty, resistance by workers, wars, environmental problems. System B involves a tiny minority owning the means of production, a wages system, exploitation, varying degrees of poverty, resistance by workers, wars, environmental problems.
System A was a description of British capitalism with the UK as part of the European Union; system B a description of British capitalism with the UK outside the EU. Clearly they are both exactly the same, and there are no important differences to workers’ lives between the two systems. Any differences will be marginal, temporary, and could go either way. So the socialist response to the question of how to vote in the referendum is not to vote Yes or No but to write ‘World Socialism’ across the ballot paper.
The EU is a capitalist club, designed to simplify and harmonise markets and to make it easier for member countries to compete against the US and Japan and the rising power of China, Russia, India and so on. On this issue, however, there is a split in the capitalist class and their political and media representatives. In broad terms, the bigger capitalists and those who are export-oriented or are based in the City of London are in favour of EU membership, while the smaller capitalists and those whose business is domestically-based are against.
Those for staying in say leaving would mean less control over ‘our economic affairs.’ Those for leaving say ‘we’ would ‘regain the power to control of own affairs.’
As is usually the case with statements by the ruling class and their spokespersons, you need to ask who the ‘we’ being mentioned really refers to. And what kind of ‘control’ do they have in mind here? As workers, we don’t control our own lives and certainly not ‘our economic affairs’, nor can we solve ‘our own problems’. It is the interests and powers of the capitalist class that are focussed on in such statements, though it must be said that even capitalists and their governments cannot control capitalism.
In the 1975 referendum on the Common Market, as it then was, the Socialist Party made comparable points, adding that ‘The British people are only being asked to endorse the continuation of capitalism, in or out’ (Socialist Standard, May 1975).
Supporters of nationalisation and taxing the rich may well conclude that whether the UK is in or out of the EU may make some difference as far as their reformist policies are concerned. But to a revolutionary movement that aims at abolishing the wages system and establishing a classless society it does not matter in the least.
Socialists will be writing ‘World Socialism’ on voting papers in the referendum (this is emphatically not an abstention), and we urge all workers to do the same. But of course we urge workers not just to do that but also to consider the case for a society without capitalist clubs like the EU, without countries and without classes.