Statement of the International Committee of the Fourth International
Globalization and the International Working Class

The rejection of a revolutionary perspective

Apart from being refuted by empirical facts, the Spartacist thesis that trade unions “work well” as centers of resistance to the demands of capital raises issues of long-term historical perspective. If, as the Spartacists maintain, there is no objective reason why the trade unions cannot continuously carry forward the interests of the working class against the predations of capitalism and maintain the “defense of the workers’ interests within capitalism”, then there is clearly no objective necessity for the overthrow of capitalism.

There is no material necessity for the working class to advance the struggle for socialism, because its material interests can be met within the framework of the profit system by trade unions that “work well” provided their leadership is sufficiently militant. Consequently, the socialist revolution is not an objective material necessity, but merely an idea or a utopia. The revolutionary party is not the necessary instrument through which the working class emancipates itself; it is, at most, a propaganda society for this utopia.

In other words, the Spartacist denunciation of the International Committee is a regurgitation of the same arguments thrown forward by every union bureaucrat since the formation of the unions: the defense of the immediate material interests of the working class requires nothing more than the trade unions.

The deep-seated hostility of the Spartacists to the socialist revolution emerges clearly in their objections to the following passage from an article by Nick Beams, which explained the connection between the immediate struggles of the working class and the socialist program:

“In order to defend even the most minimal conditions—the simple and most ordinary demands—the working class is confronted with the necessity of overthrowing the social relations based on capital and wage labor determined by the capitalist market through which the appropriation of surplus value takes place.”

The Spartacists object: “At first glance, this may seem like a terribly revolutionary position. In fact, it indicates a defeatist and abstentionist attitude toward the actual struggles of the working class, without which all talk of overthrowing the social relations based on capital and wage labor is empty rhetoric.” [1]

This counterposing of the “actual struggles” of the working class to the struggle for a socialist perspective is the hallmark of every opportunist tendency and has been the stock-in-trade of the reformist and trade union bureaucracy throughout this century, and well before.

The position advanced by Beams—that the defense of the most minimal conditions of the working class raises the necessity for the struggle for a program aimed at the conquest of political power—does not imply an abstention from the struggles erupting in the working class. Rather it indicates, and this is where the objections of the Spartacists arise, what must be the attitude of Marxists towards those struggles—the necessity for the working class to break out of the stranglehold of the trade union bureaucracy, which seeks to subordinate it to the rule of capital.

The International Committee raises before the working class the new tasks with which it is confronted as the result of changed objective conditions. The real practitioners of abstentionism and capitulation are those who maintain that the working class can simply continue as before, when clearly the entire situation has been transformed. Not only are there no further concessions, the bourgeoisie is striving to claw back all the concessions it was forced to make in the past. This means that there can be no actual struggle to defend the conditions of the working class outside of a political struggle, which aims at the conquest of political power. The working class cannot defend anything unless it challenges everything, that is, the domination of capital and its drive for profit over the whole of society.

The attitude of the International Committee to the “actual struggles” of the working class is based on the program of Marxists throughout this century. When the opportunists of the Bernstein school sought to separate the “actual struggles” of the working class for improved wages and working conditions from the overthrow of capitalism and the socialist revolution, Luxemburg replied that reforms were, in every sense, a by-product of revolution, either of past revolutionary struggles, or of an ongoing revolutionary movement.

In the 1930s, in his critique of the program of the French Communist Party, Trotsky directly addressed the separation of the immediate demands of the working class from the struggle for political power.

The program was crowned, he pointed out, by the following statement: “While fighting every day in order to relieve the toiling masses from the misery which the capitalist regime imposes on them, the Communists emphasize that final emancipation can be gained only by the abolition of the capitalist regime and the setting up of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.” [2]

This formula, which was invoked by the Social Democracy half a century before, had become obsolete by the time of World War I, but was now being employed by the Stalinists in the name of Marx and Lenin.

“When they ‘emphasize’ that ‘the final emancipation’ can be obtained only by the abolition of the capitalist regime, they manipulate this elementary truth in order to deceive the workers. For they give the workers the idea that a certain alleviation, even an important alleviation in their condition, can be obtained within the framework of the present regime.” [3]

The present-day Spartacists repeat almost word for word the positions of the Stalinists more than 60 years ago. They admit that, of course, the final emancipation of the working class requires the overthrow of capitalism, and that a revolutionary party, not a trade union, is necessary for that task. But the socialist program is consigned to the indefinite and cloudy future and has no bearing on the “actual struggles” of the working class, for these involve “the defense of the workers’ interests within capitalism” by means of the trade unions.

In opposition to the Stalinists, Trotsky explained: “The Marxist political thesis must be the following: ‘While explaining constantly to the masses that rotting capitalism has no place either for the alleviation of their situation or even for the maintenance of their customary level of misery, while putting openly before the masses the task of the social revolution as the immediate task of our day, while mobilizing the workers for the conquest of power, while defending the workers’ organizations with the help of the workers’ militia—the communists (or the socialists) will at the same time lose no opportunity to snatch this or that partial concession from the enemy, or at least to prevent the further lowering of the living standard of the workers.’” [4]

This approach was further developed by Trotsky in the Transitional Program, the founding document of the Fourth International, written in 1938.

“The Fourth International,” Trotsky explained, “does not discard the program of the old ‘minimal’ demands to the degree to which these have preserved at least part of their forcefulness. Indefatigably, it defends the democratic rights and social conquests of the workers. But it carries on this day-to-day work within the framework of the correct actual, that is, revolutionary perspective. Insofar as the old partial, ‘minimal’ demands of the masses clash with the destructive and degrading tendencies of decadent capitalism—and this occurs at each step—the Fourth International advances a system of transitional demands, the essence of which is contained in the fact that ever more openly and decisively they will be directed against the very bases of the bourgeois regime. The old ‘minimal’ program’ is superseded by the transitional program, the task of which lies in the systematic mobilization of the masses for the proletarian revolution.” [5]


Workers Vanguard, January 24, 1997


Trotsky, Whither France?, London, New Park, p. 53


Ibid, p.53




The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International, London, New Park, pp.15-16