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

Transnational production, the nation-state and the origins of war

The Spartacists’ defense of the nation-state is revealed most clearly in the concluding sections of their four-part series. Here they explicitly defend the “progressive” role of the nation-state system and absolve it of any responsibility for imperialist wars.

The Spartacists take violent exception to the following passage from the speech delivered by David North in 1992 entitled Capital, Labor and the Nation-State:

“Under the aegis of imperialism, the globalization of production collides against the nation-state form within which capitalist rule is rooted. The efforts of the imperialists to overcome the restraints placed by the nation-state system upon their global economic ambitions lead to war.

“The web of alliances being formed by various transnational corporations, such as Toshiba, IBM and Siemens, expresses the organic drive of the productive forces to organize themselves on a world scale. But the other side of this same process is the growing antagonism among nation-states and the eruption of various forms of national and communal conflict.”

For reasons bound up with their defense of the nation-state system, and, as we shall see, with their efforts to deny that it leads to war, the Spartacists chose to omit the italicized passage in their citation. They comment on the passage as follows:

“Transnational corporations are here counterposed to imperialist nation-states. Moreover, the former are presented as (relatively) progressive, since they serve as agents of global economic integration, while the latter are viewed as reactionary and obsolete. North’s statement is diametrically counterposed to what Lenin argues in his Imperialism.” [1]

The class foundation of all the political positions of the Spartacists is summed up in these sentences. They denounce the International Committee for upholding and advancing the central thesis of Marxism that the nation-state system is reactionary and obsolete, because it cuts across the global development of the productive forces, and that the conflict between the global development of the productive forces and the system of national states is the source of imperialist wars.

This is no mere theoretical debating point. Since 1914 and the outbreak of World War I, the attitude to the nation-state system has formed the dividing line between the program of Marxism, which fights for the unification of the international working class in the struggle for socialism, and opportunism, which defends its “own” bourgeoisie and its national state.

In his Imperialism, Lenin demonstrated that the war signified the end of the progressive role of capitalism and its system of nation-states, and the objective necessity for the socialist transformation. Either the international working class overthrew the capitalist order, or it would be plunged into a series of wars, as the bourgeoisie sought to divide and redivide the world in an endless struggle for resources, markets and profits. This was the essential meaning of Lenin’s strategical perspective to transform the imperialist war into a civil war.

This perspective was based upon a profound study of the new forms of capitalist production and finance. An examination of this is enough to demolish the claims by the Spartacists that the analysis of the International Committee is “diametrically counterposed to what Lenin argues in his Imperialism.”

In the passage from North’s speech cited by the Spartacists, the significance of transnational production is explained as expressing “the organic drive of the productive forces to organize themselves on a world scale”—a tendency that comes into direct conflict with the nation-state system. It is precisely this contradiction which Lenin underscored in his analysis of the initial development, at the beginning of the century, of multinational corporations and the formation of alliances between them.

Replying to bourgeois claims that, while the capitalist system was characterized by the “interlocking” of different enterprises, the Marxist prediction of “socialization” of production had not come about, Lenin wrote:

“What then does this catchword ‘interlocking’ express? It merely expresses the most striking feature of the process going on before our eyes... Ownership of shares, the relations between owners of private property ‘interlock in a haphazard way.’ But underlying this interlocking, its very base, are the changing social relations of production.

“When a big enterprise assumes gigantic proportions, and, on the basis of an exact computation of mass data, organizes according to plan the supply of primary raw materials to the extent of two-thirds, or three-fourths, of all that is necessary for tens of millions of people; when the raw materials are transported in a systematic and organized manner to the most suitable places of production, sometimes situated hundreds or thousands of miles from each other; when a single center directs all the consecutive stages of processing the material right up to the manufacture of finished articles; when these products are distributed according to a single plan among tens and hundreds of millions of consumers (the marketing of oil in America and Germany by the American oil trust)—then it becomes evident that we have socialization of production, and not mere ‘interlocking;’ that private economic and private property relations constitute a shell which no longer fits its contents, a shell which must inevitably decay if its removal is artificially delayed, a shell which may remain in a state of decay for a fairly long period (if, at the worst, the cure of the opportunist abscess is protracted), but which will inevitably be removed.” [2]

Lenin’s language in this passage is somewhat less direct than it otherwise would have been, because Imperialism was written with an eye to wartime censorship, but the political perspective he enunciates is none the less clear. The crucial task is the overthrow of the private property nation-state system, which has become a shell that no longer fits its contents (socialized production) and must be removed. The key to the accomplishment of this task, he emphasizes, is the removal of the opportunist leaderships of the working class, who rallied to the national state as they took up the call for “defense of the fatherland” with the outbreak of World War I.

The socialization of production, the beginnings of which were seen by Lenin in the oil industry, now extends to every sector of the economy. Transnational corporations, either alone or in alliances, dominate production in every sphere, organizing the manufacture and distribution of commodities world-wide. But at every point, this socialization of production conflicts with the private profit system and the division of the globe into rival national states.

What is at stake in the Spartacists’ denial of the “reactionary and obsolete” character of the nation-state system is the denial of the entire socialist perspective. If the nation-state system is still progressive, as the Spartacists clearly maintain, then there is no basis for its overthrow.

The Marxist analysis of the reactionary character of the nation-state system is not a subjective denunciation, based on the ethical ideal of the unification of the working class, but rests upon objective foundations. Like the feudal state system before it, the bourgeois nation-state system has become historically obsolete, because it cuts across the development of the productive forces and the international division of labor.


Workers Vanguard, February 21, 1997


Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 22, pp. 302-303