Alongside the charge of defeatism, Spartacist marshals against the SEP and the ICFI the allegation of abstentionism in relation to the struggles of workers in the unions. This is a red herring. As any reader of The International Workers Bulletin in the US and the press of the IC sections around the world knows, our movement has never failed to intervene aggressively in the trade unions, defending the interests of the workers against the attacks of the employers and the treachery of the union bureaucracy.
What Spartacist really means by abstentionism is the SEP’s refusal to base its interventions in the unions on the tactic of placing demands on the union leadership. If we fail to direct the workers along this path, they declare, we are guilty of capitulation by default to the union officialdom.
This charge highlights a fundamental and principled issue that distinguishes Marxism from the Spartacists and all other varieties of petty-bourgeois opportunism. Marxists proceed at every point from a revolutionary strategy that is derived from a historical perspective and a scientific analysis of the development of world economy and the international class struggle. The principal consideration in the elaboration of this strategy is the education of the working class, that is, the struggle to raise the political consciousness of workers to the level of the objective tasks placed before the proletariat by the crisis of capitalism.
Transformations in economic, social and political relations, from the most basic forms of production to the institutions of the bourgeoisie and the forms of organization of the working class, must be taken into account. The elaboration of such a perspective can only be based on the historical and dialectical materialist method of Marxism. The mere citation of precedent and amassing of quotations settles nothing.
Tactics, as important as they are, must be worked out on the basis of such a scientifically grounded revolutionary strategy. They must be consistent with this strategy and serve its ends.
This conception is entirely foreign to the petty-bourgeois “radicals”. Their politics are of an entirely conjunctural character. For them, nothing is higher than the immediate tactic, whose raison d’etre is political expediency. To the extent that they seek a Marxist coloration for their opportunist practice, it is based on an eclectic and ahistorical approach, which treats Marxism as a dogma—an approach entirely alien to the method and spirit of Marxism.
A prime example is the uncritical and politically reactionary orientation of Spartacist toward the trade unions, or, to be more precise, toward the trade union bureaucracy. There may be times and conditions, even in the present period, when it becomes necessary for the party to place demands on the trade unions. But to elevate this provisional and limited tactic to the status of a strategy, far from educating and strengthening the working class, is to spread the most harmful illusions among workers and bolster the most reactionary forces. To tell workers that they must place demands on the unions to do things that these organizations are neither willing nor able to do, is not to enlighten, but rather to confuse, miseducate and, ultimately, demoralize the masses.
On the contrary, the task of Marxists is to elucidate clearly to the workers the nature of the organizations that falsely claim to represent them, and to explain the inevitability of a collision between the working class and the trade unions. The political and theoretical work of the SEP is aimed at preparing the working class for this collision and laying the basis for the emergence of new and higher forms of working class struggle.
Certainly, the working class requires organizations to prosecute the day-to-day defense of its economic and social interests. But trade unions are not the only possible form of organization geared to the defense of workers’ immediate conditions. History has seen the emergence of more broad, democratic and militant types of organization, such as factory committees and workers councils, which transcend the limited realm of struggle over wages and hours and aspire to establish workers’ control over the production process.
More than a century of historical experience has demonstrated that trade unions in and of themselves cannot provide the means for the working class to organize a struggle against the capitalist system. For this, the working class requires, above all, a mass socialist party, organized on an international scale, whose strategy and tactics are guided by Marxist theory.
Spartacist’s perspective leads inevitably to the politics of the popular front, i.e., a political alliance between the working class and “left” or liberal sections of the bourgeoisie. In the course of their polemic against the ICFI, the Spartacists all but openly embrace this type of orientation. Thus they quote Dan Gallin, the general secretary of the International Union of Food and Allied Workers’ Associations, who complains that the global mobility of capital “weakens the power of national democratic pressures from labour parties and trade unions.”
Spartacist comments: “Gallin, who is at least more intellectually honest than North, openly argues for a popular-frontist perspective of ‘building a broad-based people’s movement’ to counter the effects of ‘globalization.’
“But neither does North denounce the union misleaders for not mobilizing the economic power of the workers’ movement and popular political support against the capitalist offensive.” 
These lines from the Spartacist League raise the obvious question: what is the difference between its perspective of the trade unions “mobilizing the economic power of the workers movement and popular political support against the capitalist offensive” and the “broad-based people’s movement” against globalization advocated by Gallin? In fact, there is no essential difference. The political perspective of the Spartacist League is fundamentally the same as Gallin’s.
Workers Vanguard, January 24, 1997