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

Spartacist denies the fall in living standards

In their defense of the viability of trade unionism, the Spartacists go to the most absurd lengths, denying the social reality of declining living standards.

The 1993 perspectives resolution of the Workers League, The Globalization of Capitalist Production and the International Tasks of the Working Class, explained that, with the shifting of production to countries with wages a fraction of those in the advanced capitalist nations, there was an inexorable “downward leveling of wages and living standards and a relentless assault on past social reforms and legal limitations on the exploitation of labor by capital in the imperialist centers.”

According to the Spartacists, however, merely by pointing to this undeniable process “the Northites are here advancing, with a thin veneer of Marxist rhetoric, an argument propounded by a wide range of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois liberals.” In other words, because this tendency has been noted by a number of bourgeois economists and journalists motivated by concerns for the stability of capitalist rule, its existence must be denied.

On the basis of this ridiculous argument one might just as well conclude that the whole of Lenin’s work Imperialism should be discarded because he drew heavily on the work of the social liberal Hobson, not to speak of other bourgeois economists and journalists of his day.

The passage to which the Spartacists object is not, of itself, a political perspective, but simply a statement of economic fact based on the operations of the capitalist market. If capital is able to purchase commodities in one market more cheaply than in others—and the labor power of the working class, skilled and unskilled, is most assuredly a commodity—then the price of that commodity in all other markets will tend to fall.

In essence, the Spartacists’ denunciation of the International Committee amounts to a denial of the most basic historical tendencies of the capitalist mode of production. As Marx revealed, what distinguished capitalism from all previous modes of social production was its tendency to become all-embracing, to extend to every corner of the globe, and to create a world market. This inherent tendency is bound up with the incessant striving by capital to increase the extraction of surplus value from the working class.

The Spartacists’ thesis now emerges clearly: while there is a general tendency for capital to create a world market, this applies to every commodity save one, labor power. Capital strives to break down every barrier and remove every limitation on its activity—the accumulation of surplus value—but stops at one: the market for labor power remains constricted within the nation-state.

The process of globalized production has been characterized by two interconnected tendencies in the labor market: the increasing ability of capital to purchase labor power in any part of the globe, and the vast increase in the global supply of labor power. It is estimated that the world supply of labor will increase by around 1 billion over the next decade. The massive destruction of the peasantry through the operations of global capital has created an unprecedented situation: for the first time in human history the proletariat, the class with nothing to sell but its labor power, constitutes the majority of the world’s population.

While opposing the advocates of the “iron law of wages”, Marx pointed to inexorable tendencies, within the process of capitalist production, which worked to drive down the price of labor power, i.e., wages. Above all, the continuous advancement of the productive forces and the development of new technologies worsened the position of the working class by reducing the demand for labor and increasing its supply.

This has been precisely the impact of computerization and the automation of production processes over the past two decades. The technological transformation of entire production processes has made possible the elimination of vast amounts of labor, while at the same time enabling production processes to be integrated across vast distances, thereby allowing capital to shift high-labor operations to low-wage regions.

According to the Spartacists, however, these processes, which have transformed production and the lives of millions of people, are nothing more than the illusory products of a propaganda campaign.

“‘Globalization’”, they write, “ is but a new variation on an old theme. In the 1950s and early ’60s, the term ‘automation’ was invested with the same apocalyptic, earth-shaking consequences. Liberal intellectuals predicted that the industrial working class would in large part be replaced by robots and other machinery. One conclusion was that trade unions were becoming or would become obsolete.” [1]

It would be difficult to find a clearer expression of the indifference of the middle class radicals to the fate of millions of working people. Over the past two decades, the lives of hundreds of millions of workers—blue collar and white collar alike—have been transformed by the introduction of computerized, automated methods of production and information processing, leading to a vast destruction of jobs.

One does not have to subscribe to the predictions of bourgeois commentators that robots will replace the working class to recognize the far-reaching changes automation has introduced into the work place, and the abject failure of the unions to defend workers against its short-term impact, or provide the working class with a means for harnessing these changes to its longer-term benefit. It is an undeniable fact that young unskilled and semi-skilled workers today have far less chance of obtaining a secure, decent-paying job in auto, the mines and many other industries than did their fathers or grandfathers, and that this is due, in large measure, to the introduction of robotics and other automated techniques.

Spartacist dismisses automation, just as it discounts globalization, in order to boost illusions in the trade unions, which are incapable of confronting either phenomenon in a way that accords with the interests of the working class.


Workers Vanguard, January 24, 1997