To fully comprehend Spartacist’s defense of the nation state and its denial of the revolutionary implications of the globalization of production, one has to investigate the origins and development of this particular organization. In the evolution of political tendencies it sometimes takes decades for the logic of positions taken to ultimately work themselves out. In the case of the Spartacist League one is dealing with the finished form of a tendency that, from its inception, has been characterized by extreme subjectivism and American petty-bourgeois nationalism.
The Spartacist League emerged out of the struggle that developed in the American Socialist Workers Party in the early 1960s over the planned reunification of the SWP with the International Secretariat of the Fourth International led by Michel Pablo and Ernest Mandel.
In 1953, the SWP, under the leadership of James P. Cannon, issued an Open Letter to the World Trotskyist Movement calling for the removal of Pablo and his supporters from the leadership of the Fourth International. The subsequent split took place on the most basic issue of all: the role of the Fourth International. The essence of all the political positions of Pablo and Mandel was liquidation of the organized Trotskyist movement on the grounds that such was the crisis of imperialism that mass pressure would compel the Stalinist parties to “project a revolutionary orientation” and carry through the socialist overturn. In other words, there was no need for the Fourth International.
Notwithstanding the central role it had played in defending the Fourth International, the SWP was coming under the same pressures which gave rise to the Pabloite tendency. More than a decade of political isolation, the development of the post-war boom, and the spread of Cold War anti-communism had begun to produce the same liquidationist pressures inside the SWP. They manifested themselves in the form of adulation of Castro and Castroism and the declaration that Cuba was a workers’ state.
The struggle against the SWP leadership was led by the British Trotskyists of the Socialist Labour League who, in a series of documents and reports in the early 1960s, exposed the orientation of the SWP and deepened the struggle against the liquidationist outlook of Pabloism upon which it was based.
Within the SWP a minority tendency arose that solidarized itself with the struggle led by the British SLL. But those within the leadership of the minority tendency who subsequently formed the Spartacist League, while claiming agreement with the perspectives of the SLL, refused to conduct their struggle inside the SWP as part of an international tendency. This led to a split within the minority between a genuinely internationalist tendency and the essentially nationalist Spartacist grouping.
Despite their professed opposition to Pabloism, the Spartacist group did not vote against reunification with the Pablo-Mandel organization, but abstained. Thus, while they were prepared to subordinate themselves to the Pabloite leadership of the SWP, they would not function as part of international faction if that meant giving up what they considered to be their national prerogatives.
By 1964, following the reunification in 1963, both tendencies, the Spartacists led by James Robertson and the American Committee for the Fourth International, led by Tim Wohlforth, had been expelled from the SWP. The ACFI had been expelled after demanding a discussion in the SWP on the entry of the LSSP, the Sri Lankan section of the Pabloite International, into the bourgeois government of Mrs. Bandaranaike in June 1964.
With both opposition tendencies now outside the ranks of the SWP, the International Committee leadership sought to obtain a principled unification of the two groupings. It was on this basis that the Spartacist League sent a delegation, including its leader James Robertson, to the Third Congress of the International Committee held in London in April 1966.
The central question before the congress was to make an assessment of the significance of the struggle against Pabloism. Robertson’s contribution made it clear he had sharp differences with the line of the main report to the congress, but after making his presentation he refused to attend the subsequent discussion. The conference voted unanimously to demand his attendance and called on him to apologize to the conference for his failure to do so. Robertson refused to do so. He was then asked to leave the conference and was followed out by the rest of his delegation.
Contained in Robertson’s final break from the International Committee was the nationalist outlook which had characterized the Spartacist organization from its origins. Robertson’s refusal to recognize the authority of the Congress was not an accident—the style was the man and the group—but an expression of the politics of his organization. As his contribution to the Congress made clear, it was rooted in a deep-seated hostility to the programmatic foundations of the Fourth International and the struggle of the International Committee for the political independence of the working class.
One of the key tasks of the Congress—the first since the reunification of the SWP with the Pabloites—was to make an assessment of the struggle against revisionism inside the Fourth International. Robertson addressed this question in his contribution.
“Pabloism,” he declared, “is a revisionist answer to new problems posed by the post-1943 Stalinist expansions. And Pabloism has been opposed within the movement by a bad ‘orthodoxy’ represented until the last few years by the example of Cannon...
“The pressure which produced Pabloism began in 1943, following the failure of Leon Trotsky’s perspective of the break-up of the Soviet bureaucracy and of new October revolutions in the aftermath of the war: this failure resulted from the inability to forge revolutionary parties. After 1950, Pabloism dominated the FI; only when the fruits of Pabloism were clear did a section of the FI pull back. In our opinion, the ‘orthodox’ movement has to still face up to the new theoretical problems which rendered it susceptible to Pabloism in 1943-50 and gave rise to a ragged partial split in 1952-54.”
The unmistakable implication of Robertson’s thesis concerning the origins of Pabloism was that Trotsky, and the false perspective he advanced in the period prior to World War II, were to blame. Robertson was echoing the positions advanced by various skeptical tendencies which deserted the Fourth International after the war, arguing that Trotsky’s “promises” of the collapse of the Stalinist bureaucracy and new October revolutions had failed to materialize. Trotsky had, of course, made no such promises. In fact, shortly before his death he had warned against just such a method.
“Every historical prognosis is always conditional, and the more concrete the prognosis, the more conditional it is. A prognosis is not a promissory note which can be cashed in on a given date. Prognosis outlines only the definite trends of development.”
In some of his last writings Trotsky had sought to provide an historical assessment of the imperialist war and the struggle to resolve the crisis of proletarian leadership:
“The second imperialist war poses the unsolved task on a higher historical stage. It tests anew not only the stability of existing regimes but also the ability of the proletariat to replace them. The results of this test will undoubtedly have a decisive significance for our appraisal of the modern epoch as the epoch of proletarian revolution. If contrary to all probabilities the October Revolution fails during the course of the present war, or immediately thereafter, to find its continuation in any of the advanced countries; and if, on the contrary, the proletariat is thrown back everywhere and on all fronts—then we should doubtless have to pose the question of revising our conception of the present epoch and its driving forces.” 
The actual course of events turned out to be more complex than indicated by Trotsky’s prognosis. The working class and oppressed masses moved forward in a series of revolutionary struggles, but due to the betrayals of the Stalinist leaderships—whose political authority had been strengthened by the defeat of the fascist armies by the Soviet armies—the overthrow of capitalism in the advanced countries of Western Europe was prevented. The proletariat did not achieve new October revolutions, but neither was it pushed back. In this complex situation the Stalinist bureaucracy not only managed to remain in the saddle but consolidated and extended its rule into Eastern Europe.
The socialist revolution had not gone forward, but neither had the working class suffered a historical defeat. And contrary to all expectations, including its own, the bourgeoisie was able to set in place a series of political and economic arrangements that led to a new period of capitalist expansion.
This complex and contradictory objective situation placed great pressures upon the Fourth International. These pressures found their political expression in the theories of Pablo and then Mandel, which began to attribute revolutionary capacities to the Stalinist bureaucracies. More than that, Pabloism sought to revise the entire Lenin-Trotsky theory of the party, which insisted upon the decisive role of conscious revolutionary leadership in the socialist transformation, and replace it with a perspective in which the overthrow of capitalism would be accomplished by the operation of objective processes working through whatever forces happened to dominate the working class.
The Open Letter of 1953 drew the clearest division between Pabloism and the program of the Fourth International and insisted that “the lines of cleavage are so deep that no compromise is possible either politically or organizationally.”
It was this decisive struggle which Robertson, in what was to become the trademark of a series of opportunist tendencies eager to avoid the issues of principle, dismissed as the “ragged, partial split in 1952-54.”
The cynical attitude of all the middle class radical groups to the theoretical and political struggles waged inside the revolutionary movement against opportunism was underscored by Robertson’s assessment of the historical significance of the Fourth International itself.
“We take issue with the notion,” he declared, “that the present crisis of capitalism is so sharp and deep that Trotskyist revisionism is needed to tame the workers in a way comparable to the degeneration of the Second and Third Internationals. Such an erroneous estimation would have as its point of departure an enormous overestimation of our present significance, and would accordingly be disorienting.”
This was nothing less than a repudiation of the entire analysis which Trotsky had made of the significance of the founding of the Fourth International, and an embrace of the Pabloite perspective. Trotsky had insisted that outside of the cadres of the Fourth International, limited in number as they were, there was not a revolutionary tendency on the entire planet worthy of the name.
The significance of the struggles waged inside the Fourth International lies in the fact that there is no other movement that represents the proletariat as a revolutionary class and in which the complex problems of freeing this class from the domination of the bureaucratic agencies of capitalism and realizing its historical task are consciously tackled.
Robertson’s comments, dismissing the crucial importance for imperialism of the development of opportunism in the Fourth International, were even more revealing given their immediate political context. Less than two years previously, in June 1964, the LSSP, hailed by Pablo and Mandel as the “largest Trotskyist party in the world,” had entered the bourgeois coalition government of Mrs. Bandaranaike in order to head off a developing revolutionary situation. As the prime minister herself explained, the choice facing her regime was either to attempt to impose army rule on the working class or bring the workers’ leaders into the government. There is no doubt that the LSSP’s betrayal in Sri Lanka played a decisive role not only in rescuing the bourgeoisie in that country, but in stabilizing capitalist rule throughout the South-East Asian region and on the Indian subcontinent.
The political crisis in Sri Lanka in 1964 expressed in the most concentrated manner the role of the Pabloite tendencies in the social and political convulsions that were to develop over the next decade. In France in 1968, the Pabloite organizations played a central role in blocking the development of a political struggle against the CP leadership which ensured the maintenance of the Gaullist regime and French capitalism. In the United States, the Socialist Workers Party, which had unified with the Pabloites in 1963, played the central role in ensuring that the upsurge of protest which developed over the civil rights movement and then against the Vietnam War did not turn in a revolutionary direction.
The full story of the crimes of Pabloism in Latin America has yet to be written, but it will reveal the role of the Pabloites in liquidating tens of thousands of youth into the dead end of guerrillaism in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia and elsewhere. Everywhere in the period of radicalization of the working class in 1968-75, the Pabloites played the key role in blocking the emergence of revolutionary tendencies from among the workers and youth looking for an alternative to the betrayals of social democracy and Stalinism.
As the International Committee explained in its perspectives resolution published in 1988: “In the assistance it rendered to Stalinism, social democracy and bourgeois nationalism, the opportunism of the Pabloite centrists played a vital role in enabling imperialism to survive the crucial years between 1968 and 1975 when its world order was shaken by economic turmoil and an international upsurge of the working class and the oppressed masses in the backward countries. It verified Trotsky’s assessment of centrism as a secondary agency of imperialism.” 
The fundamental hostility of the Spartacists to the independence of the working class and the program of Marxism, through which the fight for that independence is waged by the revolutionary party, has never been more clearly defined than in Robertson’s address to the 1966 IC Congress.
While professing agreement with the main resolution, he criticized the leaders of the International Committee for their refusal to hail the petty-bourgeoisie and their leaderships as a revolutionary force capable of carrying out the socialist transformation. According to Robertson: “The Pabloites have been strengthened against us, in our opinion, by this simplistic reflex of the IC, which must deny the possibility of a social transformation led by the petty-bourgeoisie in order to defend the validity and necessity of the revolutionary Marxist movement.”
By the strengthening of the Pabloites Robertson meant that with the declamations that Cuba was a workers’ state and Castro a “natural Marxist” they had been able to win a certain following among sections of the radical petty-bourgeoisie in the advanced capitalist countries. What he dismissed as a “simplistic reflex” on the part of the International Committee in fact embodies the historic struggle waged by Marxists to establish the political independence of the working class and realize its revolutionary role. To renounce this struggle is to renounce the whole of Marxism, for if the working class is not considered to be revolutionary then Marxism itself is nothing more than a “critique” of capitalism, along with others that have gone before it, in which the program of socialist revolution is replaced by a call for the establishment of a utopia.
It was the discovery by Marx in the 1840s of the unique revolutionary role of the working class which marked the establishment of scientific socialism as opposed to the various forms of utopian socialism which had preceded it. Other social classes, the peasantry and the petty bourgeoisie in general, cannot play the same historical role as the working class, not because they are more or less oppressed by capital, but because they have a different relationship to the means of production.
Moreover, the working class is the revolutionary class not because it is exploited as such, but because it is the true creation of modern industry. The peasantry is the product of an earlier historical period, and is destined to be proletarianized with the advance of capitalist social relations. The petty-bourgeoisie as a whole cannot overturn capitalist property relations because its whole existence is bound up with their maintenance.
What was at stake in the struggle against the SWP’s position on Cuba was nothing less than the abandonment of Marxism and the liquidation of the revolutionary party. As the leadership of the SLL made clear in a document sent to the SWP in 1961, there was an inexorable logic to their stand on Cuba and the abandonment of the Marxist conception that “the emancipation of the working class is the task of the workers themselves.”
“If the petty-bourgeois leadership in Cuba has been forced by the objective logic of events to lead the proletariat to power (the SWP says Cuba is a ‘workers’ state,’ which can only mean the dictatorship of the proletariat) then we must demand an analysis of the present world situation which shows how this type of event has become possible, so that the Leninist theory of the relations between class, party and power, must be discarded.” 
The struggle of petty-bourgeois radicalism against Marxism, whether it is conducted under the banner of “combating sectarianism”, the promotion of “flexibility” against “dogmatism,” or the denunciation of vital theoretical principles as “simplistic reflexes”, is aimed at the subordination of the working class to the existing leaderships and parties, and through them, to the bourgeoisie itself.
The significance of the struggle waged by the International Committee against these tendencies—the high point of which has been the fight against Pabloite opportunism—can now be seen clearly. It has been the indispensable theoretical and political preparation for the revolutionary struggles which now confront the working class.
The theories of opportunism rested on definite material foundations: the peculiar set of economic and social relations which characterized the post-war equilibrium of world capitalism. But now the foundations of that equilibrium—and the political relations which arose upon it—have literally been blasted away by the relentless expansionist drive of capitalism itself. This is the revolutionary significance of the development of globalized production.
Petty-bourgeois radical tendencies like Spartacist, which grew under the post-war regime, now feel the ground being torn from under their feet. All their theories of the “progressive” role of Stalinism, the revolutionary capacities of Maoism, the dynamic of petty-bourgeois guerrillaism, and the possibilities of “revolutionizing” the unions and their apparatuses lie in tatters.
More than three decades have passed since the Spartacist tendency carried through an irrevocable break with the Trotskyist movement. Its evolution over the intervening years has been further and further along the lines of petty-bourgeois opportunism. As we have established, its politics are consistently characterized by nationalism and subjectivism. With the breakup of the post-World War II order and the deepening of the contradiction between world economy and the nation-state system, these tendencies are aligning this group ever closer with the politics of extreme right-wing forces.
As the world they knew is blown apart—a world in which the class struggle was suppressed by the domination of the labor bureaucracies—the Spartacists furiously lash out at “globalization”, denounce the International Committee, and frantically try to reassure themselves that despite everything, the old order remains. In vain. Their desperation is only the surest sign of the social and political convulsions ahead.