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

Global economy versus the nation-state system

The vast changes in capitalist production over the past two decades associated with the development of computer technology have fundamentally transformed the world capitalist economy. The emergence of the transnational corporation and the organization of production on a global scale have once again brought to a head the central contradiction of capitalism in the 20th century: that between the world economy, expressing the inherent growth and spread of the productive forces, and the nation-state system, the basis of bourgeois rule and private property.

This is most strikingly expressed in the collapse of all those organizations based on a nationalist perspective. The downfall of the Stalinist regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe was, in the final analysis, an expression of the bankruptcy of the nationalist program of socialism in one country. Likewise, the organic incapacity of the trade unions in the advanced capitalist countries to defend the social position of the working class, and their outright collaboration in the imposition of the dictates of capital, signify the collapse of the program of social reform based on an expanding national economy.

This historical crisis of the capitalist mode of production is the root of the crisis of perspective in the workers movement. But this very crisis confirms another important prediction of Marx: no problem ever arises without the material conditions for its resolution emerging, or being in the process of formation.

The globalization of production has brought about a vast expansion of the international working class. The penetration of capitalist production into new regions of the world where, until recently, there was only peasant-based agriculture, has transformed millions of people into wage workers. In the advanced capitalist countries, ruthless downsizing carried out by major corporations in the struggle to slash costs and boost profits, has ended the relatively privileged status of what were once considered sections of the middle class. It is only in the past two decades that the proletariat has become the numerically predominant social class on an international scale.

The same processes which have brought about the proletarianization of an ever-greater proportion of the world’s people have produced common conditions of exploitation. Thus the globalization of production has laid the foundations, as never before, for the international unification of the working class in a common struggle against the transnational corporations and international capital.

At the same time, globalized production, undermining the national basis for the organization of economic life, has laid the objective foundations for the development of a planned world socialist economy.

The program of Marxism has always been based on the understanding that the nation state, like the bourgeois property forms it upholds, is a product of historical processes, destined to pass into history along with other outmoded forms of social organization, such as slavery and feudalism. But if the assertions of the Spartacists are true, then the nation state has a permanence unforeseen by the founders of scientific socialism. Consequently, the abolition of the nation state system, and the entire framework of bourgeois property, is a utopian perspective, for no matter how extensive the development of the productive forces, the nation state remains the preeminent economic entity.

Marx himself put the issue very clearly: “If we did not find concealed in society as it is the material conditions of production and the corresponding relations of exchange prerequisite for a classless society, then all attempts to explode it would be quixotic.”[1]

If, as the Spartacists maintain, the growth of the productive forces is not undermining the nation state system, then we must conclude that the entire Marxist perspective is nothing more than a moral or ethical ideal. Indeed, the perspective of a planned socialist economy, in which production is organized by the “associated producers”, is not only an idealist utopia, but a downright harmful program, given the timeless economic viability of the national state.

Moreover, the perspective for the international unification of the working class the rallying call of the socialist movement since the publication of the Communist Manifesto 150 years ago is rendered no less utopian. If the national state retains its viability as the basic economic unit of capitalist production, then the bourgeoisie and its agencies in the workers movement will always have an unshakable material basis for their program of nationalism.

Before taking up the specific arguments of the Spartacists, it is necessary to outline some basic features of capitalist production, so as to focus on the qualitative transformation in the structure of the world economy signified by globalization.

Capital, Marx explained, exists in three forms: money capital, productive capital and commodity capital. The process of capitalist production, and the accumulation of surplus value which is its driving force, involves the continuous transformation of these three forms of capital into one another.

In the first stage, capital appears on the market in the form of money. This money capital is used to purchase the means of production (raw materials and machinery) together with labor power. In these transactions, money capital is transformed into productive capital.

In the second stage, productive capital is transformed, in the process of production, back into commodity capital, with a higher value. The source of this additional, or surplus, value arises from the difference between the value of the labor power that the capitalist purchased in the market, and the value that is added by the workers in the course of the working day.

In the third stage, the newly produced commodities are taken back to the market, where they are transformed once again into money capital (realizing the surplus value embodied in them), whereupon the process of accumulation resumes.

It is through this continuous metamorphosis from money capital to productive capital to commodity capital and then back to money capital that capital accumulation, or self-expansion, takes place, the source of this expansion being the surplus value extracted from the working class in the process of production.

The history of capitalism involves the globalization or internationalization of these three forms of capital. The expansion of capitalist production in the 19th century saw the globalization of capital in the commodity form, as the commodities produced by the factory system and capitalist farms were sold on the expanding world market. By the end of the 19th century, the rise of industrial capitalism brought in its wake an expansion of banking and finance capital, which increasingly became globalized through the development of international investments.

However, while both commodity capital and money capital became increasingly globalized, productive capital still remained confined, to a great extent, within the framework of the national state. While the surplus value extracted from the working class, and embodied in commodities, was increasingly realized on the world market, and the money capital derived from this process reinvested by the banks and finance houses on an international scale, the actual process of surplus value extraction the heart of the accumulation process still took place within a given national state. This is no longer the case.

The Spartacists begin their denunciation of the International Committee by disputing the supposed claim that “the transfer of production by ‘multinational’ corporations from North America, West Europe and Japan to the so-called ‘Third World’ in recent years represents a profound, structural change in the world capitalist system.”

Furthermore, they insist, “the idea that the capitalist market is ‘global’, that banks and corporations seek out those (low wage) countries where they can get the highest return on their investments, that, indeed, the internationalization of finance capital is a dominant feature of the contemporary profit system, is hardly new.”[2]

Everything here is jumbled and confused in order to try to obscure the essential processes and assert that nothing fundamental has changed in the structure of world capitalism, at least since 1914.

In the first place, globalization of production does not merely refer to the transfer of production to so-called “Third World” countries, or simply to a “large-scale shift in production by ‘multinational’ corporations to the Third World.” These processes, which in themselves are expressions of decisive changes in the structure of world capitalist production, are only one aspect of the globalization process.

Globalization of production refers to the mobility of productive capital, engaged in the extraction of surplus value, on an international scale. It signifies not merely a quantitative increase in the international activity of capitalist firms, but marks a qualitative transformation in the capitalist mode of production. For the first time in history productive capital, like commodity capital and money capital before it, is able to move around the world.


Marx, Grundrisse, Penguin, p. 159


Workers Vanguard, January 24, 1997