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

Capitalism strains against the confines of the nation-state

The historical significance of transnational production lies in the fact that it represents the striving of the productive forces themselves to overcome the constrictions of the nation-state system. It is the further development of a process that Marx began to analyze through an examination of the significance of the rise of joint stock companies and the expansion of the credit system.

Turning to the formation of joint stock companies, he wrote: “The capital, which in itself rests on a social mode of production and presupposes a social concentration of means of production and labor-power, is here directly endowed with the form of social capital ... as distinct from private capital, and its undertakings assume the form of social undertakings as distinct from private undertakings. It is the abolition of capital as private property within the framework of capitalist production itself.” [1]

This “abolition of the capitalist mode of production within the capitalist mode of production itself” underlined the significance of the joint stock company as a “mere phase of transition to a new form of production.” [2]

In the same way, transnational production represents the abolition of the nation-state system within the framework of the nation-state system itself, and, in that sense, signifies the transition to a higher social order. That is, transnational production begins to lay the objective foundations for the development of the planned world socialist economy.

But the development of transnational production within the framework of capitalism cannot eliminate the national state system. Hence, it reproduces all the contradictions of the capitalist mode of production in even more acute form. So long as the nation-state system remains, then the drive of the productive forces to overcome it leads to the intensification of inter-imperialist antagonisms and the threat of world war. In other words, so long as the nation-state system remains, the very development of the productive forces threatens to plunge mankind into new forms of barbarism.

However, according to the Spartacists, these basic foundations of the Marxist program and perspective are no longer valid.

“To be sure, North & Co do not deny a tendency toward imperialist war. But they do so by counterposing ‘transnational’ corporations to reactionary nation-states. Corporations like IBM are supposedly striving for a transnational capitalist order but are obstructed by the bad, old, obsolete nation-state system. On the contrary, the root cause of imperialist wars does not lie in the nation-state system as such, much less on nationalist and chauvinist ideology and demagogy.” [3]

Spartacist’s argument here is not with some theoretical innovation introduced by the International Committee, but with the long-established analysis of the Marxist movement. In his pamphlet Socialism and War, published in August 1915, Lenin wrote: “It is almost universally admitted that this war is an imperialist war. In most cases, however, this term is distorted or applied to one side, or else a loophole is left for the assertion that this war may, after all, be bourgeois-progressive, and of significance to the national-liberation movement. Imperialism is the highest stage in the development of capitalism, reached only in the twentieth century. Capitalism now finds that the old national states, without whose formation it could not have overthrown feudalism, are too cramped for it.” [4]

In his famous pamphlet The War and the International, published in November 1914, Trotsky wrote: “What the politics of imperialism has demonstrated more than anything else is that the old national state that was created in the revolutions and the wars of 1789-1815, 1848-1859, 1864-1866, and 1870 has outlived itself, and is now an intolerable hindrance to economic development. The present war is at bottom a revolt of the forces of production against the political form of nation and state. It means the collapse of the national state as an independent economic unit.” [5]

Countless other citations could be produced to show that the analysis of the International Committee on the origins of imperialist war are based on the theoretical foundations laid down by the Marxist movement over decades. The question that arises from the Spartacists’ repudiation of this analysis is the following: if the origins of imperialist war do not lie in the contradiction between the development of the productive forces and the political form of the nation-state, then wherein do they lie? The Spartacists do not care to elaborate. But the logic of their politics is clear. If the national state system is not the cause of imperialist war—as the Marxist movement has insisted—then it is perfectly permissible for “socialists” to support the strengthening of their own national state.

While the Spartacists do not elaborate on the origins of war, their political trajectory is nonetheless clearly discernible, and forms part of a broader movement by the entire middle class radical milieu.

One of the most politically-significant features of the civil war in the Balkans, following the break-up of Yugoslavia, has been the response of the petty-bourgeois radical tendencies. In one form or another they have demanded imperialist intervention, either directly, or in the form of the United Nations. The most egregious examples of this tendency have been the German Greens and the British Workers Revolutionary Party under the leadership of Cliff Slaughter. The Greens have been in the forefront of the campaign to demand direct intervention by the German military on the grounds of “humanitarianism,” while the WRP campaigned for intervention by British imperialism, conducted discussions with representatives of the Croatian regime of Franjo Tudjman and applauded the activities of fascist militias.

In the case of the WRP, the turn directly into the camp of imperialism was accompanied by the continuous assertion that the historical analysis of the Marxist movement on this complex question was no longer applicable. More than three years ago, the International Committee explained the broader significance of the evolution of the WRP as a “harbinger of momentous shifts in class relations on a world scale”, which are always preceded by rapid changes in the positions of the petty-bourgeois radical tendencies, as they prepare themselves for their new role as direct servants of imperialism.

Just as the Greens renounced their former pacifism to demand German military intervention, and the WRP applauded NATO intervention in the Balkans, so the open repudiation by the Spartacists of the reactionary character of the imperialist nation-state is the clearest sign of their preparation to directly enter into its service.


Marx, Capital, Volume III p. 427


Ibid, p. 429


Workers Vanguard, March 21, 1997


Lenin, Collected Works, Moscow, Progress, Volume 21 p. 301


Trotsky, The War and the International, p. vii