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This post is presented as a contribution to the continuing discussion on the vital question of the united front tactic in the struggle for our communist future. On this question, as I know from bitter and frustrating personal experience, we need all the education we can get.
On the United Front- based on the RCY "National Bureau Document on the United Front," 3 July 1973. (RCY is the Revolutionary Communist Youth, the then youth group of the Spartacist League/U.S.-Markin)
The united front (UF), as embodied in the work of the early Communist International (CI) and the subsequent struggle of Trotsky for a revolutionary international, grew out of the experience of building the Bolshevik party. The struggle over the UF in the CI was due to what might be called the "uneven and combined development" of the parties and groups, especially in Western Europe, which rallied to the Bolshevik Revolution and the CI. These parties and groups had their origins in social democracy (Germany, France, Italy) and often represented the fusion of left-wing social democracy with revolutionary syndicalism (U.S. and France). Their schooling in social democracy gave them a conception of the party as a "party of the whole class," or as one of the most articulate and left-wing exponents of this conception, Rosa Luxemburg, stated in Leninism or Marxism?:
"The fact is that the Social Democracy is not joined to the organization of the proletariat. It is itself the proletariat." (emphasis in original)
Although she was in the forefront of the fight against Bernsteinism which saw the transformation of capitalism into socialism as organic and evolutionary, yet, like Bernstein, she saw the transformation of consciousness within the working class, from capitalist to socialist consciousness, as an organic, evolutionary, undifferentiated process. Luxemburg saw the party and class consciousness emerging organically from "the struggle itself." For Lenin the "struggle itself," the experiences of the masses of workers, were shaped both materially and ideologically by bourgeois society. From the "struggle itself" at best only trade-union consciousness could emerge. Scientific socialism had to be brought to, joined to, the "struggle itself." For Luxemburg, the party represented the proletariat as it is. Such a party can at best be only a party of trade unionism, of reformism. For Lenin the party represented the proletariat as it must be if it is to carry through its historic mission of the socialist reconstruction of society.
Thus, the common error of left-wing social democracy was the liquidation of the party into the class:
"...the Social Democratic movement cannot allow the ejection of an air-tight partition between the class-conscious nucleus of the proletariat already in the party and its immediate popular environment, the nonparty sections of the proletariat."
—Leninism or Marxism?
The party is seen as an "all-inclusive" bloc of tendencies of which the central apparatus, the party functionaries, the party bureaucracy, is seen as the most conservative since it is the most distant from the "struggle itself," while the ranks of the party, and even the non-party workers, are seen as subjectively more revolutionary. This is, of course, often the case in social-democratic parties and reformist trade unions, but this is precisely because these organizations have merged with the "struggle itself" which, confined to the laws of the capitalist market, never transcend the simple battle to exchange labor power for its equivalent, i.e., never transcend wage slavery. Within this context, democratic centralism is seen simply as the subordination of the revolutionary ranks to the conservative apparatus. Indeed, democratic centralism is the appropriate form only for a revolutionary party. Luxemburg's fears that the German Social Democracy's (SPD) adoption of democratic centralism would mean simply the subordination of the revolutionary wing of the party to the Kautskyites was well-founded. But it was her responsibility, while struggling for the maximum freedom within the SPD, to build a revolutionary democratic-centralist faction within it.
Thus, while Luxemburg's history as a heroic revolutionary is unimpeachable (it is not accidental that our tendency has adopted the name "Spartacist"), her views on party discipline, party building and the relationship between the party and the class were simply the most left-wing expression of social-democratic organizational norms. These norms equated the party with the class or placed the class above the party, denied the necessary vanguard role of the party of proletarian revolution and, hence, were fundamentally liquidationist.
The UF: Class Unity and Communist Hegemony
For the CI and Trotsky the UF had two equally important and inseparable aims: class unity and communist hegemony. Flowing from the dual nature of the UF is the necessity to maintain both the complete organizational independence of the communist party and the complete freedom to criticize one's temporary allies within the UF. The dual nature of the UF is captured in the CI slogan, "March separately, strike together." Each participant in the UF retains its organizational identity; agreement in the UF need pertain only to the details of the specific action to be carried out and can only be reached through unanimous agreement. Another slogan which captures the dual nature of the UF is "freedom of criticism, unity in action." Organizations like the Class Struggle League which take the definition of the UF and substitute it for the definition of the combat party effectively liquidate the party into the UF. This is the very essence of centrism.
The struggle for the UF at the Third and Fourth CI Congresses represented the recognition that the post-WWI revolutionary upsurge had passed over the heads of many of its national sections because they were unable to lead a majority of the working class into battle for the conquest of power. By the Third Congress the upsurge had already begun to recede, taking off the agenda, at least for the immediate period, the conquest of power, and placing on the agenda the conquest of the masses.
The need for the UF flowed from the fact that the majority of workers in most countries had gone through the post-war revolutionary upsurge retaining their allegiance to the reformist leaderships in the trade unions and the social-democratic parties. At the same time, capitalism itself, in the wake of the receding revolutionary tide, went on the offensive. It was not a question of a "revolutionary offensive" as was seen by the "ultra-lefts" in the CI, but of a capitalist offensive that was forcing even the reformist-led organizations into partial and defensive struggles to fight for their life, to fight simply to maintain the organizational gains and standard of living they had won in the past. This situation placed on the agenda the need for a united workers front against the capitalist offensive.
The question was posed to the national sections of the CI: What was to be done in the face of the capitalist offensive which drove even reformist organizations to battle and intensified the objective need in the proletariat for class unity? The majority of the CI drew the conclusion that propaganda and agitation alone were not sufficient to break the mass of workers from their reformist leaderships. The infamy of the reformists, fighting capacity of the communists and viability of the communist program had to be demonstrated in action. A period in which the reformists are drawn into battle, albeit in a half-hearted, partial way, is precisely the best time to expose their infamy through common action side by side with them, where the workers can measure in their own immediate experiences and struggle the fighting capacity and program of the communists vs. those of their reformist leadership.
In the CI discussions a distinction was drawn between the "UF from above" which was an agreement reached between communist and non-communist leaderships to carry out a particular class action and the "UF from below" which was a direct appeal made to non-communist workers over the heads of their leaders. Certain members of the CI wanted the UF to mean only "from below" believing that agreements with opportunists must necessarily be opportunist agreements. Trotsky and others arguing against this viewpoint stated that if the rank and file of organizations were not ready to march under the leadership of the communists during the post-war upsurge, they would not break with their leaderships to march with communist calls to action now. Now that capitalism had taken the offensive and the revisionist and reformist leaderships of proletarian organizations were forced to call class actions or at least forced to talk of calling them, it was necessary to intersect this development. Communists should not only participate in partial and defensive struggles but should initiate them when necessary and fight to win the leadership of them when possible. Therefore, agreements with reformist and centrist leaders could not be precluded, though communists should be ever ready to break with the centrists and reformists when their vacillations become a brake on the struggle. In the course of such a break the communists might very well go over to a "UF from below." In any case either the reformists and centrists would refuse to enter into common struggle with the communists, in which case they would be discredited, or their pusillanimous behavior in the course of the struggle would tend to discredit them and enhance the authority of the communists.
The UF: Sharpening the Political Struggle
Thus the tactic of the UF should never be seen as a cessation of political struggle, as a non-aggression pact or mutual amnesty with other tendencies. The CI slogan for the UF—"freedom of criticism, unity in action"—anticipated that the UF would sharpen the political struggle and exacerbate hostilities between communist and non-communist leaderships. The UF as a political weapon in the struggle for communist hegemony is often put forth in anticipation that reformists and centrists will refuse to participate in common action with the communists, even though the former have committed themselves, at least verbally, to such actions. Whether these non-communist leaderships of proletarian organizations refuse to respond to the UF call or respond only in a half-hearted way, the call can serve to discredit their authority over the non-communist workers and "set the base against the top."
An important international application of the CI UF tactic was the CI call for common class action with the Second International and the Vienna Union or "Two-and-a-Half International." Negotiations for common action broke down, and the Two-and-a-Half International was forced to move to the right to prevent its membership from engaging in common battles with the communists. This eventually drove the Vienna Union into fusion with the Second International. While CI members who were skeptical about the UF policy considered the fusion of the Two-and-a-Half International and Second International a defeat, Trotsky and other CI supporters of the UF considered the fusion to be a positive gain for the communists in as much as it cleared the path of an obstacle between the communists and the reformists. There was no longer a third pole which claimed to be both "revolutionary" and non-communist, thereby confusing militant workers and creating obstacles in the class struggle.
Likewise, in the late '60s, Progressive Labor Party (PL) was an obstacle between the SL and those sections of the New Left which were moving leftward toward proletarian socialism. PL's verbal commitment to a pro-working-class and non-exclusionist Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) provided the framework in which the UF could be applied to a whole series of issues, from the question of military recruiting on campus, strike support and the question of unemployment, to whether SDS should be an explicitly socialist organization. The application of the UF tactic to PL essentially offered PL two choices. Either it could carry through with its verbal commitment to a pro-working-class non-exclusionist SDS and conduct common actions with the SL/RCY which would ultimately force it to break with its Stalinist heritage, or it could retreat to the right. PL took the latter course which, while dashing our hopes of winning a section of the PL cadre, removed PL as an obstacle to our recruitment of those sections of the New Left 'which were moving in a proletarian socialist direction.
The struggle for communist hegemony has as its aim the. political polarization of all ostensible revolutionary organizations into revolutionary and non-revolutionary components, and the regroupment of all organizations, tendencies and factions which stand for revolutionary Marxism into the united Leninist vanguard party. The UF is an important component of the regroupment tactic for it is precisely through common action that the political struggle of counterpoised programs can reach its sharpest expression. Thus, it was both full political discussion (Zinoviev's famous speech at Halle) and common action that won a majority of the German Independent Socialists over to the German CP. The center of our regroupment orientation during the late '60s was PL/SDS. PL/SDS' abandonment of a proletarian perspective and their capitulation to academic liberalism with the "anti-racist textbook" campaign combined with our acquisition of groups and tendencies from the PL periphery (like the Buffalo Marxist Collective) are both the negative and positive confirmations of the correctness of our regroupment perspective for that period.
Ultra-Left and Opportunist Opposition to the UF
Rejection of the UF or of the "UF from above," while often clothed in the rhetoric of revolutionary intransigence, in reality represented a kind of political passivity, conservatism and lack of revolutionary will. Such "leftism" was, in fact, an acceptance of the status quo and the division of the workers movement into the communists who had revolutionary intransigence and the reformists who had the working class. Opposition to the UF came not only from the left but also from the right, especially from those groups whose break with social democracy had been organizational but not methodological.
Most of Trotsky's CI polemics in defense of the UF were directed against centrist elements in the French CP which resisted communist organizational norms, refused to support international democratic centralism or Leninist functioning in their own party, refused to subordinate their press, parliamentarian or trade-union fractions to party discipline, publicly attacked the CI in their press and in public meetings, resisted carrying out communist propaganda in the military or in the trade unions and refused to take up the fight against French colonialism. It was the left wing of the French CP, those former Socialists and syndicalists who supported Lenin's break with social democracy during WWI and who immediately declared themselves for the CI who fought for the UF within the French party. It was those centrist elements whose break with social democracy was belated and who resisted affiliation with the CI and the purge of the social-chauvinist traitors from their ranks who also fought against the UF. Thus opposition to the UF produced its own "united front" running from Hermann Goiter and Bordiga on the left to Frossard on the right. Opportunist opposition to the UF like that of ultra-leftism is based on political passivity and conservatism. The opportunist projects his own opportunism on to the UF. He cannot conceive of alliances aside from the deals that are made in the back rooms of parliament and trade-union offices: mutual accommodation and non-aggression pacts. Trained in the school of social democracy where the party is conceived of as blocs of diverse tendencies, the centrist who holds a liquidationist conception of the party cannot conceive of the UF except as liquidationist. Reluctant to break with his reformist cronies, the centrist is now unwilling to turn around and do battle with them in common action. Hostility to the UF is simply an inverted non-aggression pact with the reformists, an implicit agreement not to fight them on their own turf.
Stalin and the UF
With Stalin's ascent to power and the conversion of the CI from an instrument of world revolution into an instrument of realpolitik diplomacy based on the narrow, conservative interests of the Soviet bureaucracy, the UF was degraded as a tactic for class unity and transformed into an instrument for class collaboration and counterrevolution. In China the "bloc from within" was transformed into the complete liquidation of the Chinese CP into the Kuomintang (KMT). The KMT was made a "sympathizer" section of the CI, Chiang Kai-shek was made a "fraternal" member of the I.E.C. and the KMT army was equipped with Soviet arms and trained by Soviet military advisors, but kept entirely in the control of the warlords like Chiang who ran the KMT. By the Second KMT Congress in January 1926 the Chinese CP held one-fifth of the total seats on the KMT Central Executive Committee, headed the Peasant and Organization Departments and (through Chou En-lai) Whampoa Academy which trained the leading military cadre. Even so, Chiang was able through his control over the army, beginning with the 20 March 1926 coup in Canton and culminating in the March 1927 suppression of the Shanghai uprising, to turn the "bloc from within" into the block upon which the Chinese CP was beheaded.
In Britain the CI UF policy was embodied in the "Anglo-Russian Trade Union Unity Committee" which was formed in May 1925 between the leaderships of the British and Russian trade unions. The Committee served to give a revolutionary cover to the British trade-union leadership's betrayal of the 1926 General Strike and the Committee broke up only after the British union leaders broke with it a year later. The position of the Trotskyist Left Opposition was that the original formation of the Anglo-Russian Committee was tactically defensible as the Committee represented a temporary alliance with British trade-union leaders who, under mass working-class pressure, were moving slightly leftward and were willing, for at least a short period, to come out for the defense of the Soviet Union and international trade-union unity, and it was necessary to hold them to these positions. Under the impact of the sharpening class struggle culminating in a pre-revolutionary situation it should have been anticipated that these reformist union leaders would be driven over into the defense of the bourgeois order. To maintain a bloc with them under these conditions was simply to lend the prestige of the Bolshevik Revolution and communism to these strike breakers.
The accumulating failures of Stalin's 1924-27 policies of conciliating the colonial bourgeoisie and trade-union reformists abroad and the kulaks at home led straight to the "third period" policies of liquidating the kulaks and completely undoing the work of the Third and Fourth Congresses in regard to the UF. The UF "from below" was proclaimed to be the only permissible tactic for the CI sections.
The UF: Strategy or Tactic?
There is a tendency to conclude from Trotsky's strong polemics in defense of the UF in his German writings that the UF is not simply a tactic but a strategy. For example, a 1966 International Committee document which was probably authored by the Organisation Communiste Internationalist states:
'"Class against class' is the very cement which binds together the transitional slogans as a whole. "That is why the Workers' United Front is not simply a slogan, but a strategic axis in the policy of Trotskyist organizations. The strategy of the United Front is embodied in various tactical expressions which range from limited agreements for united actions between different organizations to the Soviets, the 'natural form of the united front at the time of combat,' as Leon Trotsky said in Whither France?" —quoted in Spartacist Internal Information Bulletin No. 19
Trotsky repeats time and time again in What Next? (from which the "soviet is the highest form of the united front" quote is taken) that the UF is a tactic and not a strategy, and that to consider the UF a strategy rather than a tactic is the essence of centrism. What Next? is not only a polemic against the ultra-left sectarian policies of the Stalintern, but it is also a polemic against the UF and soviet fetishism of centrist groups like the SAP (Socialist Workers Party of Germany). For example, Trotsky states:
"In any case, the policy of the united front cannot serve as a program for a revolutionary party. And in the meantime, the entire activity of the SAP is now being built on it. As a result, the policy of the united front is carried over into the party itself, that is, it serves to smear over the contradictions between the various tendencies. And that is precisely the fundamental function of centrism."
—The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany
Even more succinctly Trotsky states in "Centrism and the Fourth International":
"A centrist swears readily by the policy of the united front, emptying it of its revolutionary content and transforming it from a tactical method into a supreme principle." —Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1933-34
In his polemic against the UF fetishism of groups like the SAP and the Brandlerites, Trotsky polemicized against the conception that the UF is for all times and all places, a kind of workers' parliament where the various tendencies hold endless debates and draw up endless resolutions (the fantasy world of the National Caucus of Labor Committees during its strike-support proto-soviet coalition days). The UF can only be a reality during periods of social struggle, when the need for sharp class battles makes class unity a burning objective necessity that shakes the ranks of the non-communist workers' organizations from their lethargy and day-to-day humdrum organizational parochialism, and places strongly before them the need for class unity that transcends their particular organizations; or during unsettled periods in the left movement when the possibilities of and necessity for regroupment clearly exist. Only then will the road be opened for the communist party to approach the non-communist worker and his organizations with the call for a real UF.
The trade unions, the workers militia, the Soviets are all forms of the UF precisely because they are organizations which stand above parties, and reflect the uneven development of the consciousness of the working class. At the same time they represent the needs of the class for unity in its struggle with capitalism. But to see only the class-unity side of the UF (whether in reference to unions or Soviets) is the mistake of centrism. The UF is equally important because it provides one of the roads for the communist party to conquer the class. "Class unity around a revolutionary program" necessarily means class unity led by the vanguard party which embodies that revolutionary program, or it is meaningless. Programs do not exist suspended in midair, they are necessarily embodied in parties. As Trotsky states in What Next?:
"The interests of the class cannot be formulated otherwise than in the shape of a program; the program cannot be defended otherwise than by creating the party. "The class, taken by itself, is only material for exploitation. The proletariat assumes an independent role only at that moment when from a social class in itself it becomes a political class for itself. This cannot take place otherwise than through the medium of a party. The party is that historical organ by means of which the class becomes class conscious. To say that 'the class stands higher than the party,' is to assert that the class in the raw stands higher than the class which is on the road to class consciousness. Not only is this incorrect; it is reactionary."
The question is not: What strategy for the party?—the UF. The question is: What strategy must be put forth in the course of the UF? This can only be answered by the struggle of parties. The answer to What Next? can only be programmatic and will be found in the party that embodies the necessary revolutionary program. As Trotsky points out, the Soviets by themselves are incapable of leading the proletariat to power. "Everything depends upon the party that leads the Soviets" (The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany).
The "People's Front"
It is important to answer certain questions that have arisen on the left concerning the relation between the popular front, which generally takes the form of a parliamentary bloc, and class-collaborationist non-parliamentary movements, like the Socialist Workers Party's (SWP) National Peace Action Coalition (NPAC). This question obviously has disturbed enough members of the SWP/YSA for the organization to issue an,"Education for Socialists" pamphlet entitled Alliances and the Revolutionary Party: The Tactic of the United Front and How It Differs from the Popular Front by Les Evans, and another pamphlet in the same series which included the first two chapters of James Burnham's The People's Front: The New Betrayal, which was first published by the SWP in 1937. What the SWP will no longer republish is the last chapter of Burnham's pamphlet which describes how the Stalinists applied the People's Front to the U.S. where they were not strong enough to bargain away proletarian revolution for ministerial posts. Burnham writes:
"Most significant of all is the application of the People's Front policy to 'anti-war work.' Through a multitude of pacifist organizations, and especially through the directly controlled American League against War and Fascism, the Stalinists aim at the creation of a 'broad, classless, People's Front of all those opposed to war.' The class-collaborationist character of the People's Front policy is strikingly revealed through the Stalinist attitude in these organizations. They rule out in advance the Marxist analysis of war as necessarily resulting from the inner conflicts of capitalism and therefore genuinely opposed only by revolutionary class struggle against the capitalist order; and, in contrast, maintain that all persons, from whatever social class or group, whether or not opposed to capitalism, can 'unite' to stop war."
The Trotskyist movement has long held that the application of the popular-front policy in the U.S. has always taken the form of "single-issue broad-based coalitions" against war, fascism, racism or some other injustice. The application of the "People's Front" strategy formulated at the Seventh Congress of the CI to countries where the CPs did not have sufficient strength to demand of the bourgeoisie ministerial posts, has always taken the form of "anti-imperialist," "antiwar," "anti-fascist," etc. coalitions.
The popular front is a political bloc, which may or may not take the form of a governmental coalition, in which the politics of the working-class component of the bloc are subordinated to the politics of the bourgeoisie, to the defense of the bourgeois state and capitalism. The bourgeoisie, as the ruling class, is supremely self-conscious of its own class interests. Any ongoing coalition or alliance with the bourgeoisie must necessarily take place on the bourgeoisie's own terms, and on the basis of their politics. It is not necessary for the bourgeoisie as a whole, or even a section of the bourgeoisie, to play an active role in the political bloc for the popular front to exist. Thus Browder, as a loyal technician of the popular front may have offered to shake hands with J.P. Morgan, but no one has ever accused Browder of breaking with the popular front when Morgan did not reciprocate. Likewise, during the Spanish Civil War, the bourgeoisie, by and large, supported Franco, not the Republican Popular Front. Azana and his Radicals were nothing more than a handful of lawyers and professors, nonetheless they constituted what Trotsky called the "shadow of the bourgeoisie," i.e., their presence in the popular front was the guarantee to the Spanish and world bourgeoisie that the Republic stood for the defense of capitalism and the bourgeois order:
"Politically most striking is the fact that the Spanish Popular Front lacked in reality even a parallelogram of forces. The bourgeoisie's place was occupied by its shadow. Through the medium of the Stalinists, Socialists, and Anarchists, the Spanish bourgeoisie subordinated the proletariat to itself without even bothering to participate in the Popular Front.
The overwhelming majority of the exploiters of all political shades openly went over to the camp of Franco. Without any theory of 'permanent revolution,' the Spanish bourgeoisie understood from the outset that the revolutionary mass movement, no matter how it starts, is directed against private ownership of land and the means of production, and that it is utterly impossible to cope with this movement by democratic measures.
"That is why only insignificant debris from the possessing classes remained in the republican camp: Messrs. Azafia, Companys, and the like—political attorneys of the bourgeoisie but not the bourgeoisie itself. Having staked everything on a military dictatorship, the possessing classes were able, at the same time, to make use of their political representatives of yesterday in order to paralyze, disorganize, and afterward strangle the socialist movement of the masses in 'republican' territory.
"Without in the slightest degree representing the Spanish bourgeoisie, the left republicans still less represented the workers and peasants. They represented no one but themselves. Thanks, however, to their allies—the Socialists, Stalinists, and Anarchists—these political phantoms played the decisive role in the revolution. How? Very simply. By incarnating the principles of the 'democratic revolution,' that is, the inviolability of private property."
—Trotsky, "The Lessons of Spain: The Last Warning"
The mere fact that the Italian CP courts the bourgeois parties, though it is unable to capture even one lonely splinter left Christian Democrat, is sufficient to brand the CP's politics and appetites as for the popular front. Even before the Radicals entered the recent French "Union of the Left," the CP-SP bloc was popular-frontist both in its program and its appetites.
NPAC, WONAAC, SDS and Pop Frontism
The reason that we characterize NPAC, Women's National Abortion Action Coalition (WONAAC) and SDS (after SDS had locked onto its "anti-racist textbook" campaign) as popular fronts is precisely because they attempted to reduce the program for struggling against fundamental aspects of capitalism—imperialism, sexual and racial oppression—to campaigns which consisted primarily of parades in the case of NPAC, parades mixed with legislative motions that were beneath parliamentarian cretinism in the case of WONAAC, and the SDS caricature of parliamentarian cretinism (i.e., calling on Congress and state legislatures to censure racist textbooks). Thus, the SWP and PL offered themselves up to the bourgeoisie as safety valves for the popular discontent with various aspects of capitalist oppression, channeling social discontent into avenues which were both socially impotent and diffusive but which would serve to reinforce illusions about capitalist institutions, capitalist politicians and academic liberalism.
When the SWP first adopted the "single-issue" coalition gimmick in the anti-war movement, they claimed this strategy was not popular-frontist because no section of the bourgeoisie accepted the "single issue" of "Out Now." However, as soon as the U.S. bourgeoisie realized that a decisive military victory was impossible in Vietnam, and the bourgeoisie became defeatist, it was precisely the program of the SWP/NPAC they adopted. As more and more capitalist politicians not only endorsed the "Out Now" slogan and also NPAC parades, the SWP suddenly discovered that the bourgeoisie had "capitulated" to the SWP. But what was fundamental was the question of program, and the program of NPAC was not revolutionary defeatism but bourgeois defeatism, not utilizing imperialist war to advance the class struggle, but ending the war so as to disrupt U.S. imperialist hegemony as little as possible.
Likewise, WONAAC's successive dilutions of its program (from opposition to abortion laws to opposition only to "anti-abortion laws" in order to keep up with the parliamentarian maneuvers of Bella Abzug) was an explicitly conscious effort to tailor program to the needs of their bourgeois allies. PL and SDS went from getting thrown out of the July 1971 NPAC conference because of their vocal opposition to Vance Hartke's presence, to printing articles in support of McGovern for President in the pages of New Left Notes. The "anti-racist textbook" campaign, like NPAC and WONAAC, led straight to Miami Beach and the 1972 Democratic Party Convention, where the SWP/YSA could watch on television the consummation of seven years of "single-issue coalition" politics as the Democratic Party sucked in both the "activists" and issues of past campaigns. Even more despicable was the sight of SDS, on its knees before the entrance to the Democratic Party Convention, begging McGovern to adopt its "anti-racism bill" as a plank in the Democratic Party platform. The difference between the SWP and PL and the CP in Chile, Ceylon, post-WWII France and republican Spain is that the SWP and PL did not have social power to send delegates to the Democratic Party Convention, though their politics were clearly represented by their erstwhile allies within the convention hall. Also, the bourgeoisie did not need a McGovern-Gus Hall-Linda Jenness-SDS government.
A descriptive distinction can be drawn between popular-front alliances among two or more separate political parties (e.g., the French Union of the Left) and popular-frontist groups (e.g., NPAC, WONAAC, SDS). One can point to the 1930s, where the European CPs, for the most part, entered into popular-front alliances, whereas the CPUSA, lacking the mass working-class base to sell to the bourgeoisie in exchange for ministerial portfolios, built various antiwar, anti-racist, class-collaborationist front groups paralleling the activities of the European CPs. The attitude of Trotskyists, of course, is no different toward these socially weaker popular-frontist formations. We are as opposed to entry into SDS [see "SDS Destroyed by Liberalism," RCY Newsletter No. 12, May-June 1972] as into the Union of the Left, whose size and social roots, however, make it a greater obstacle to the growth of revolutionary consciousness within the working class than the former. The People's Front was never conceived of as only a government coalition, although that is, for the Stalinists, the "highest form" of the People's Front. The People's Front has always meant the political subordination of the left to the program of the liberal bourgeoisie.
Excluding the Bourgeoisie
The "exclusion of the bourgeoisie" has been one of our key demands at anti-war and women's liberation conferences. The exclusion of the bourgeoisie from social movements which claim to fight the basic injustices of capitalism has been a fundamental position of the Marxist movement since Marx polemicized against those Utopian Socialists such as Robert Owen who thought the bourgeoisie could be won to socialism. Ending imperialist war and the oppression of women and blacks means ending capitalism, and what was simply Utopian for the predecessors of Marx, becomes in the mouths of those who claim to be Marxists rank opportunism.
The prerequisite for an organization to be characterized as part of the working-class movement, even if it is thoroughly reformist, is the exclusion of the bourgeoisie. Even here there are exceptions, for the European CPs may occasionally attract a petty capitalist into its ranks. However, this is most clear with an organization like the British Labour Party whose leadership has a perennial appetite to administer British imperialism, but whose formal politics claim to stand in the tradition of class-struggle socialism and whose by-laws exclude members of the bourgeoisie. Thus, we distinguish the reformist politics of the Labour Party program, which it will betray when it gets into power, from the explicitly capitalist politics of the popular front, which are beneath reformism, and which the popular front will carry out if it gets into power. Thus both the Labour Party and the French Union of the Left had the same appetite to administer their respective national capitalisms, but in order to do so the Labour Party must betray its program when in power, while the Union of the Left will carry it out. Thus, with the Labour Party campaigning in its own name and on its own program, we can give it critical support, pointing out that its program is partial, limited, reformist, etc., and that the Labour Party will betray this program once in power. But for the Union of the" Left there is no such contradiction to exploit. The Union of the Left will simply carry out the program it promises, for all it promises is to be better defenders of the bourgeois order than the explicitly capitalist parties. Critical support is an application of the UF, the counter-position of the program of proletarian revolution to that of reformism, a momentary pact from "above" to put the Labour Party into power, which very soon goes over to a UF "from below" when the Labour Party calls out the cops and army to defend the factories, when the workers through industrial action, try to collect on the Labour Party's electoral promises.
Click on the headline to link to the Communist International Internet Archives.
This article goes along with the propaganda points in the fight for our communist future mentioned in this day's other posts.
************** Leon Trotsky
The First Five Years of the Communist International-Volume 2-
On the United Front 
(Material for a Report on the Question of French Communism)
March 2, 1922
I) General Considerations on the United Front
1) The task of the Communist Party is to lead the proletarian revolution. In order to summon the proletariat for the direct conquest of power and to achieve it the Communist Party must base itself on the overwhelming majority of the working class.
So long as it does not hold this majority, the party must fight to win it.
The party can achieve this only by remaining an absolutely independent organization with a clear program and strict internal discipline. That is the reason why the party was bound to break ideologically and organizationally with the reformists and the centrists who do not strive for the proletarian revolution, who possess neither the capacity nor the desire to prepare the masses for revolution, and who by their entire conduct thwart this work.
Any members of the Communist Party who bemoan the split with the centrists in the name of “unity of forces” or “unity of front” thereby demonstrate that they do not understand the ABC of Communism and that they themselves happen to be in the Communist Party only by accident.
2) After assuring itself of the complete independence and ideological homogeneity of its ranks, the Communist Party fights for influence over the majority of the working class. This struggle can be accelerated or retarded depending upon objective circumstances and the expediency of the tactics employed.
But it is perfectly self-evident that the class life of the proletariat is not suspended during this period preparatory to the revolution. Clashes with industrialists, with the bourgeoisie, with the state power, on the initiative of one side or the other, run their due course.
In these clashes – insofar as they involve the vital interests of the entire working class, or its majority, or this or that section – the working masses sense the need of unity in action, of unity in resisting the onslaught of capitalism or unity in taking the offensive against it. Any party which mechanically counterposes itself to this need of the working class for unity in action will unfailingly be condemned in the minds of the workers.
Consequently the question of the united front is not at all, either in point of origin or substance, a question of the reciprocal relations between the Communist parliamentary fraction and that of the Socialists, or between the Central Committee of the two parties, or between l’Humanité and Le Populaire.  The problem of the united front – despite the fact that a split is inevitable in this epoch between the various political organizations basing themselves on the working class – grows out of the urgent need to secure for the working class the possibility of a united front in the struggle against capitalism.
For those who do not understand this task, the party is only a propaganda society and not an organization for mass action.
3) In cases where the Communist Party still remains an organization of a numerically insignificant minority, the question of its conduct on the mass-struggle front does not assume a decisive practical and organizational significance. In such conditions, mass actions remain under the leadership of the old organizations which by reason of their still powerful traditions continue to play the decisive role.
Similarly the problem of the united front does not arise in countries where – as in Bulgaria, for example – the Communist Party is the sole leading organization of the toiling masses.
But wherever the Communist Party already constitutes a big, organized, political force, but not the decisive magnitude: wherever the party embraces organizationally, let us say, one-fourth, one-third, or even a larger proportion of the organized proletarian vanguard, it is confronted with the question of the united front in all its acuteness.
If the party embraces one-third or one-half of the proletarian vanguard, then the remaining half or two-thirds are organized by the reformists or centrists. It is perfectly obvious, however, that even those workers who still support the reformists and the centrists are vitally interested in maintaining the highest material standards of living and the greatest possible freedom for struggle. We must consequently so devise our tactic as to prevent the Communist Party, which will on the morrow embrace the entire three-thirds of the working class, from turning into – and all the more so, from actually being – an organizational obstacle in the way of the current struggle of the proletariat.
Still more, the party must assume the initiative in securing unity in these current struggles. Only in this way will the party draw closer to those two-thirds who do not as yet follow its leadership, who do not as yet trust the party because they do not understand it. Only in this way can the party win them over.
4) If the Communist Party had not broken drastically and irrevocably with the Social Democrats, it would not have become the party of the proletarian revolution. It could not have taken the first serious steps on the road to revolution. It would have for ever remained a parliamentary safety-valve attached to the bourgeois state.
Whoever does not understand this, does not know the first letter of the ABC of Communism.
If the Communist Party did not seek for organizational avenues to the end that at every given moment joint, co-ordinated action between the Communist and the non-Communist (including the Social-Democratic) working masses were made possible, it would have thereby laid bare its own incapacity to win over – on the basis of mass action – the majority of the working class. It would degenerate into a Communist propaganda society but never develop into a party for the conquest of power.
It is not enough to possess the sword, one must give it an edge it is not enough to give the sword an edge, one must know how to wield it.
After separating the Communists from the reformists it is not enough to fuse the Communists together by means of organizational discipline, it is necessary that this organization should learn how to guide all the collective activities of the proletariat in all spheres of its living struggle.
This is the second letter of the alphabet of Communism.
5) Does the united front extend only to the working masses or does it also include the opportunist leaders?
The very posing of this question is a product of misunderstanding.
If we were able simply to unite the working masses around our own banner or around our practical immediate slogans, and skip over reformist organizations, whether party or trade union, that would of course be the best thing in the world. But then the very question of the united front would not exist in its present form.
The question arises from this, that certain very important sections of the working class belong to reformist organizations or support them. Their present experience is still insufficient to enable them to break with the reformist organizations and join us. It may be precisely after engaging in those mass activities, which are on the order of the day, that a major change will take place in this connection. That is just what we are striving for. But that is not how matters stand at present. Today the organized portion of the working class is broken up into three formations.
One of them, the Communist, strives toward the social revolution and precisely because of this supports concurrently every movement, however partial, of the toilers against the exploiters and against the bourgeois state.
Another grouping, the reformist, strives toward conciliation with the bourgeoisie. But in order not to lose their influence over the workers reformists are compelled, against the innermost desires of their own leaders, to support the partial movements of the exploited against the exploiters.
Finally, there is a third grouping, the centrist, which constantly vacillates between the other two, and which has no independent significance.
The circumstances thus make wholly possible joint action on a whole number of vital issues between the workers united in these three respective organizations and the unorganized masses adhering to them.
The Communists, as has been said, must not oppose such actions but on the contrary must also assume the initiative for them, precisely for the reason that the greater is the mass drawn into the movement, the higher its self-confidence rises, all the more self-confident will that mass movement be and all the more resolutely will it be capable of marching forward, however modest may be the initial slogans of struggle. And this means that the growth of the mass aspects of the movement tends to radicalize it, and creates much more favourable conditions for the slogans, methods of struggle, and, in general, the leading role of the Communist Party.
The reformists dread the revolutionary potential of the mass movement; their beloved arena is the parliamentary tribune, the trade-union bureaux, the arbitration boards, the ministerial antechambers.
On the contrary, we are, apart from all other considerations, interested in dragging the reformists from their asylums and placing them alongside ourselves before the eyes of the struggling masses. With a correct tactic we stand only to gain from this. A Communist who doubts or fears this resembles a swimmer who has approved the theses on the best method of swimming but dares not plunge into the water.
6) Unity of front consequently presupposes our readiness, within certain limits and on specific issues, to correlate in practice our actions with those of reformist organizations, to the extent to which the latter still express today the will of important sections of the embattled proletariat.
But, after all, didn’t we split with them? Yes, because we disagree with them on fundamental questions of the working-class movement.
And yet we seek agreement with them? Yes, in all those cases where the masses that follow them are ready to engage in joint struggle together with the masses that follow us and when they, the reformists, are to a lesser or greater degree compelled to become an instrument of this struggle.
But won’t they say that after splitting with them we still need them? Yes, their blabbermouths may say this. Here and there somebody in our own ranks may take fright at it. But as regards the broad working masses – even those who do not follow us and who do not as yet understand our goals but who do see two or three labour organizations leading a parallel existence – these masses will draw from our conduct this conclusion, that despite the split we are doing everything in our power to facilitate unity in action for the masses.
7) A policy aimed to secure the united front does not of course contain automatic guarantees that unity in action will actually be attained in all instances. On the contrary, in many cases and perhaps even the majority of cases, organizational agreements will be only half-attained or perhaps not at all. But it is necessary that the struggling masses should always be given the opportunity of convincing themselves that the non-achievement of unity in action was not due to our formalistic irreconcilability but to the lack of real will to struggle on the part of the reformists.
In entering into agreements with other organizations, we naturally obligate ourselves to a certain discipline in action. But this discipline cannot be absolute in character. In the event that the reformists begin putting brakes on the struggle to the obvious detriment of the movement and act counter to the situation and the moods of the masses, we as an independent organization always reserve the right to lead the struggle to the end, and this without our temporary semi-allies.
This, may give rise to a new sharpening of the struggle between us and the reformists. But it will no longer involve a simple repetition of one and the same set of ideas within a shut-in circle but will signify – provided our tactic is correct – the extension of our influence over new, fresh groups of the proletariat.
8) It is possible to see in this policy a rapprochement with the reformists only from the standpoint of a journalist who believes that he rids himself of reformism by ritualistically criticizing it without ever leaving his editorial office but who is fearful of clashing with the reformists before the eyes of the working masses and giving the latter an opportunity to appraise the Communist and the reformist on the equal plane of the mass struggle. Behind this seeming revolutionary fear of “rapprochement” there really lurks a political passivity which seeks to perpetuate an order of things wherein the Communists and reformists each retain their own rigidly demarcated spheres of influence, their own audiences at meetings, their own press, and all this together creates an illusion of serious political struggle.
9) We broke with the reformists and centrists in order to obtain complete freedom in criticizing perfidy, betrayal, indecision and the half-way spirit in the labour movement. For this reason any sort of organizational agreement which restricts our freedom of criticism and agitation is absolutely unacceptable to us. We participate in a united front but do not for a single moment become dissolved in it. We function in the united front as an independent detachment. It is precisely in the course of struggle that broad masses must learn from experience that we fight better than the others, that we see more clearly than the others, that we are more audacious and resolute. In this way, we shall bring closer the hour of the united revolutionary front under the undisputed Communist leadership.
II) Groupings in the French Labour Movement
10) If we propose to analyse the question of the united front as it applies to France, without leaving the ground of the foregoing theses which flow from the entire policy of the Communist International, then we must ask ourselves: Do we have in France a situation in which the Communists represent, from the standpoint of practical actions, an insignificant magnitude (quantité négligeable)? Or do they, on the contrary, encompass the overwhelming majority of organized workers? Or do they perhaps occupy an in-between position? Are they sufficiently strong to make their participation in the mass movement of major importance, but not strong enough to concentrate the undisputed leadership in their own hands?
It is quite incontestable that we have before us precisely the latter case in France.
11) In the party sphere the predominance of the Communists over the reformists is overwhelming. The Communist organization and the Communist press surpass by far in numbers, richness and vitality the organization and press of the so-called Socialists.
This overwhelming preponderance, however, far from secures to the French Communist Party the complete and unchallenged leadership of the French proletariat, inasmuch as the latter is still strongly under the influence of anti-political and anti-party tendencies and prejudices, the arena for whose operation is primarily provided by the trade unions.
12) The outstanding peculiarity of the French labour movement consists in this, that the trade unions have long served as an integument or cover for a peculiar anti-parliamentary political party which bears the name of syndicalism. Because, however the revolutionary syndicalists may try to demarcate themselves from politics or from the party, they can never refute the fact that they themselves constitute a political party which seeks to base itself on trade-union organizations of the working class. This party has its own positive, revolutionary. proletarian tendencies, but it also has its own extremely negative features, namely, the lack of a genuinely definitive program and a rounded organization. The organization of the trade unions by no means corresponds with the organization of syndicalism. In the organizational sense, the syndicalists represent amorphous political nuclei, grafted upon the trade unions.
The question is further complicated by the fact that the syndicalists, like all other political groupings in the working class, have split, after the war, into two sections: the reformists who support bourgeois society and are thereby compelled to work hand in hand with parliamentary reformists; and the revolutionary section which is seeking ways to overthrow bourgeois society and is thereby, in the person of its best elements, moving toward Communism.
It was just this urge to preserve the unity of the class front which inspired not only the Communists but also the revolutionary syndicalists with the absolutely correct tactic of fighting for the unity of the trade-union organization of the French proletariat. On the other hand, with the instinct of bankrupts who sense that before the eyes of the working masses they cannot, in action, in struggle, meet the competition of the revolutionary wing, Jouhaux, Merrheim and Co. have taken the path of split. The colossally important struggle now unfolding throughout the entire trade-union movement of France, the struggle between the reformists and the revolutionists, is for us at the same time a struggle for the unity of the trade-union organization and the trade-union front.
III) The Trade-Union Movement and the United Front
13) French Communism finds itself in an extremely favourable position precisely with regard to the idea of the united front. In the framework of political organization, French Communism has succeeded in conquering the majority of the old Socialist Party, whereupon the opportunists added to all their other political credentials the quality of “Dissidents”, that is, splitters. Our French party has made use of this in the sense that it has branded the social-reformist organization with the label of Dissidents (splitters), thus singling out the fact that the reformists are disrupters of unity in action and unity of organization alike.
14) In the field of the trade-union movement, the revolutionary wing and above all the Communists cannot hide either from themselves or their adversaries how profound are the differences between Moscow and Amsterdam – differences which are by no means simple shadings within the ranks of the labour movement but a reflection of the profoundest contradiction which is tearing modern society apart, namely, the contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. But at the same time the revolutionary wing, i.e., first and foremost the conscious Communist elements, never sponsored, as has been said, the tactic of leaving the trade unions or of splitting the trade-union organization. Such slogans are characteristic only of sectarian groupings of “localists”, of the KAPD, of certain “libertarian” anarchist grouplets in France, which never wielded any influence among broad working masses, which neither aspire nor strive to gain this influence but are content with small churches of their own, each with its rigidly demarcated congregation. The truly revolutionary elements among the French syndicalists have felt instinctively that the French working class can be won on the arena of the trade-union movement only by counterposing the revolutionary viewpoint and the revolutionary methods to those of the reformists on the arena of mass action, while preserving at the same time the highest possible degree of unity in action.
15) The system of cells in the trade-union organizations adopted by the revolutionary wing signifies nothing else but the most natural form of struggle for ideological influence and for unity of front without disrupting the unity of organization.
16) Like the reformists of the Socialist Party, the reformists of the trade-union movement took the initiative for the split. But it was precisely the experience of the Socialist Party that largely inspired them with the conclusion that time worked in favour of Communism, and that it was possible to counteract the influence of experience and time only by forcing a split. On the part of the ruling CGT (the French Confederation of Labour) clique we see a whole system of measures designed to disorganize the left wing, to deprive it of those rights which the trade-union statutes afford it, and, finally, through open expulsion – counter to all statutes and regulations – to formally place it outside the trade-union organization.
On the other hand, we see the revolutionary wing fighting to preserve its rights on the grounds of the democratic norms of workers’ organizations and resisting with all its might the split implanted from above by appealing to the rank and file for unity of the trade-union organization.
17) Every thinking French worker must be aware that when the Communists comprised one-sixth or one-third of the Socialist Party they did not attempt to split, being absolutely certain that the majority of the party would follow them in the near future. When the reformists found themselves reduced to one-third, they split away, nursing no hopes to again win the majority of the proletarian vanguard.
Every thinking French worker must be aware that when the revolutionary elements were confronted with the problem of the trade-union movement, they, still an insignificant minority at the time, decided it in the sense of working in common organizations, being certain that the experience of the struggle in the conditions of the revolutionary epoch would quickly impel the majority of the unionized workers to the side of the revolutionary program. When the reformists, however, perceived the growth of the revolutionary wing in the trade unions, they – nursing no hopes of coping with it on a competitive basis – resorted immediately to the methods of expulsion and split.
Hence flow conclusions of greatest importance:
•First, the full depth of the differences which reflect, as has been said, the contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, becomes clarified.
•Secondly, the hypocritical “democratism” of the opponents of proletarian dictatorship is being exposed to the very roots, inasmuch as these gentlemen are averse to tolerating methods of democracy, not only in the framework of the state, but also in the framework of workers’ organizations. Whenever the latter turn against them, they either split away themselves, like the Dissidents in the party, or expel others, like the clique of Jouhaux-Dumoulin. It is truly monstrous to suppose that the bourgeoisie would ever agree to permit the struggle against the proletariat to come to a decision within the framework of democracy, when even the agents of the bourgeoisie inside the trade-union and political organizations are opposed to solving the questions of the labour movement on the basis of norms of workers’ democracy which they themselves voluntarily adopted.
18) The struggle for the unity of the trade-union organization and trade-union action will remain in the future as well one of the most important tasks of the Communist Party – a struggle not only in the sense of constantly striving to unite ever larger numbers of workers around the program and tactics of Communism, but also in the sense that the Communist Party – on the road to the realization of this goal – both directly and through Communists in the trade unions, strives in action to reduce to a minimum those obstacles which are placed before the workers’ movement by an organizational split.
If in spite of all our efforts to restore unity, the split in the CGT becomes sealed in the immediate future, this would not at all signify that the CGT Unitaire  regardless of whether half or more than half of the unionized workers join it in the next period, will conduct its work by simply ignoring the existence of the reformist CGT. Such a policy would render difficult in the extreme – if not exclude altogether – the possibility of co-ordinated militant actions of the proletariat, and at the same time would make it extremely easy for the reformist CGT to play, in the interests of the bourgeoisie, the role of La Ligue Civique  as regards strikes, demonstrations, etc.; and it would simultaneously provide the reformist CGT with a semblance of justification in arguing that the revolutionary CGTU provokes inexpedient public actions and must bear full responsibility for them. It is perfectly self-evident that in all cases where circumstances permit, the revolutionary CGTU will, whenever it deems it necessary to undertake some campaign, openly address itself to the reformist CGT with specific proposals and demands for a concrete plan of co-ordinated actions, and bring to bear the pressure of labour’s public opinion and expose before this public opinion each hesitating and evasive step of the reformists.
In this way, even in the event that the split of the trade-union organization becomes permanent, the methods of struggle for the united front will preserve all their meaning.
19) We can, therefore, state that in relation to the most important field of the labour movement – the trade unions – the tactic of the united front demands that those methods, by which the struggle against Jouhaux and Co. has already been conducted on our side, be applied more consistently, more persistently and resolutely than ever before.
IV) The Political Struggle and the United Front
20) On the party plane there is, to begin with, a very important difference from the trade unions in this, that the preponderance of the Communist Party over the Socialist, both in point of organization and the press, is overwhelming. We may consequently assume that the Communist Party, as such, is capable of securing the unity of the political front and that therefore it has no impelling reasons for addressing itself to the organization of the Dissidents with any sort of proposals for concrete actions. This strictly businesslike and legitimate method of posing the question, on the basis of evaluating the relationship of forces and not on the basis of verbal radicalism, must be appraised on its substantive merits.
21) If we take into account that the Communist Party numbers 130,000 members, while the Socialists number 30,000, then the enormous successes of Communist ideas in France become apparent. However, if we take into account the relation between these figures and the numerical strength of the working class as a whole, together with the existence of reformist trade unions and of anti-Communist tendencies within the revolutionary trade unions, then the question of the hegemony of the Communist Party inside the labour movement will confront us as a very difficult task, still far from solved by our numerical superiority over the Dissidents. The latter may under certain conditions prove to be a much more important counter-revolutionary factor within the working class than might appear, if one were to judge solely from the weakness of their organization and the insignificant circulation and ideological content of their paper, Le Populaire.
22) In order to evaluate a situation, it is necessary to take clear cognizance of how this situation took shape. The transformation of the majority of the old Socialist Party into the Communist Party came as a result of a wave of dissatisfaction and mutiny engendered in all countries in Europe by the war. The example of the Russian Revolution and the slogans of the Third International seemed to point a way out. The bourgeoisie, however, was able to maintain itself throughout 1919-20 and was able, by means of combined measures, to establish on post-war foundations a certain equilibrium, which is being undermined by the most terrible contradictions and which is heading toward vast catastrophes, which meanwhile provides relative stability for the current day and for the period immediately ahead. The Russian Revolution, in surmounting the greatest difficulties and obstacles created by world capitalism, has been able to achieve its socialist tasks only gradually, only at the cost of an extraordinary strain upon all its forces. As a result, the initial flood-tide of vague, uncritical, revolutionary moods has been unavoidably superseded by an ebb. Only the most resolute, audacious and youthful section of the world working class has remained under the banner of Communism.
This does not mean naturally that those broad circles of the proletariat who have been disillusioned in their hopes for immediate revolution, for swift radical transformations, etc., have wholly returned to the old pre-war positions. No, their dissatisfaction is deeper than ever before, their hatred of the exploiters is fiercer. But at the same time they are politically disoriented, they do not see the paths of struggle, and therefore remain passively expectant – giving rise to the possibility of sharp swings to this or that side, depending on how the situation unfolds.
This big reservoir of the passive and the disoriented can, under a certain combination of circumstances, be widely utilized by the Dissidents against us.
23) In order to support the Communist Party, faith in the revolutionary cause, will to action and loyalty are needed. In order to support the Dissidents, disorientation and passivity are necessary and sufficient. It is perfectly natural for the revolutionary and dynamic section of the working class to effuse from its ranks a much larger proportion of members for the Communist Party than the passive and disoriented section is able to supply to the party of the Dissidents.
The same thing applies to the press. The elements of indifferentism read little. The insignificant circulation and content of Le Populaire mirrors the mood of a certain section of the working class. The fact that complete ascendancy of the professional intellectuals over the workers prevails in the party of the Dissidents runs nowise counter to our diagnosis and prognosis. Because the passive and partially disillusioned, partially disoriented worker-masses are an ideal culture medium, especially in France, for political cliques composed of attorneys and journalists, reformist witch-doctors and parliamentary charlatans.
24) If we regard the party organization as an operating army, and the unorganized mass of workers as the reserves, and if we grant that our operating army is three to four times stronger than the active army of Dissidents, then, under a certain combination of circumstances, the reserves may prove to be divided between ourselves and the social-reformists in a proportion much less favourable to us.
25) The political atmosphere of France is pervaded with the idea of the “Left Bloc”. After a new period of Poincaré-ism which represents the bourgeoisie’s attempt to serve up to the people a warmed-over hash of the illusions of victory, a pacifist reaction may quite likely set in among broad circles of bourgeois society, i.e., first and foremost among the petty bourgeoisie. The hope for universal pacification, for agreement with soviet Russia, obtaining raw materials and payments from her on advantageous terms, cuts in the burden of militarism, and so on – in brief, the illusory program of democratic pacifism – can become for a while the program of a “Left Bloc”, superseding the National Bloc.
From the standpoint of the development of the revolution in France, such a change of régimes will be a step forward only provided the proletariat does not fall prey to any extent to the illusions of petty-bourgeois pacifism.
26) Reformist-Dissidents are the agency of the “Left Bloc” within the working class. Their successes will be the greater, all the less the working class as a whole is seized by the idea and practice of the united front against the bourgeoisie. Layers of workers, disoriented by the war and by the tardiness of the revolution, may venture to support the “Left Bloc” as a lesser evil, in the belief that they do not thereby risk anything at all, or because they see no other road at present.
27) One of the most reliable methods of counteracting inside the working class the moods and ideas of the “Left Bloc”, i.e., a bloc between the workers and a certain section of the bourgeoisie against another section of the bourgeoisie, is through promoting persistently and resolutely the idea of a bloc between all the sections of the working class against the whole bourgeoisie.
28) In relation to the Dissidents this means that we must not permit them to occupy with impunity an evasive, temporizing position on questions relating to the labour movement, and to use platonic declarations of sympathy for the working class as a cover for utilizing the patronage of the bourgeois oppressors. In other words, we can and must, in all suitable instances, propose to the Dissidents a specific form of joint aid to strikers, to locked-out workers, unemployed, war invalids, etc., etc., recording before the eyes of the masses their responses to our precise proposals, and in this way driving a wedge between them and certain sections of politically indifferent or semi-indifferent masses on whom the reformists hope to lean for support under certain favourable conditions.
29) This kind of tactic is all the more important in view of the fact that the Dissidents are unquestionably bound up intimately with the reformist CGT and together with the latter constitute the two wings of the bourgeois agency inside the labour movement. We take the offensive both on the trade-union and political fields simultaneously against this twofold agency, applying the very same tactical methods.
30) The impeccable and agitationally extremely persuasive logic of our conduct is as follows: “You, the reformists of trade unionism and socialism,” we say to them before the eyes of the masses, “have split the trade unions and the party for the sake of ideas and methods which we consider wrong and criminal. We demand that you at least refrain from placing a spoke in the wheel during the partial and un-postponable concrete tasks of the working-class struggle and that you make possible unity in action. In the given concrete situation we propose such and such a program of struggle.”
31) The indicated method could be similarly employed and not without success in relation to parliamentary and municipal activities. We say to the masses, “The Dissidents, because they do not want the revolution, have split the mass of the workers. It would be insanity to count upon their helping the proletarian revolution. But we are ready, inside and outside the parliament, to enter into certain practical agreements with them, provided they agree, in those cases where one must choose between the known interests of the bourgeoisie and the definite demands of the proletariat, to support the latter in action. The Dissidents can be capable of such actions only if they renounce their ties with the parties of the bourgeoisie, that is, the ‘Left Bloc’ and its bourgeois discipline.”
If the Dissidents were capable of accepting these conditions, then their worker-followers would be quickly absorbed by the Communist Party. Just because of this, the Dissidents will not agree to these conditions. In other words, to the clearly and precisely posed question whether they choose a bloc with the bourgeoisie or a bloc with the proletariat – in the concrete and specific conditions of mass struggle – they will be compelled to reply that they prefer a bloc with the bourgeoisie. Such an answer will not pass with impunity among the proletarian reserves on whom they are counting.
V) Internal Tasks of the Communist Party
32) The foregoing policy presupposes, naturally, complete organizational independence, ideological clarity and revolutionary firmness of the Communist Party itself.
Thus, for example, it would be impossible to conduct with complete success a policy aimed at making hateful and contemptible the idea of the “Left Bloc” among the working class, if in our own party ranks there are partisans of this “Left Bloc” bold enough openly to defend this projected program of the bourgeoisie. Unconditional and merciless expulsion in disgrace of those who come out in favour of the idea of the “Left Bloc” is a self-understood duty of the Communist Party. This will cleanse our policy of all elements of equivocation and unclarity; this will attract the attention of advanced workers to the acute character of the issue of the “Left Bloc” and will demonstrate that the Communist Party does not trifle with the questions which imperil the revolutionary unity in action of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie.
33) Those who seek to use the idea of the united front for agitating in favour of unification with the reformists and Dissidents must be mercilessly ejected from our party, inasmuch as they serve as the agency of the Dissidents in our ranks and are deceiving the workers concerning the reasons for the split and who is really responsible for it. Instead of correctly posing the question of the possibility of this or that co-ordinated, practical action with the Dissidents, despite their petty-bourgeois and essentially counter-revolutionary character, they are demanding that our own party renounce its Communist program and revolutionary methods. The ejection of such elements, mercilessly and in disgrace, will best demonstrate that the tactic of the workers’ united front in no way resembles capitulation to or reconciliation with the reformists. The tactic of the united front demands from the party complete freedom in manoeuvring, flexibility and resoluteness. To make this possible, the party must clearly and specifically declare at every given moment just what its wishes are, just what it is striving for, and it must comment authoritatively, before the eyes of the masses, on its own steps and proposals.
34) Hence flows the complete inadmissibility for individual party members to issue on their own responsibility and risk political publications in which they counterpose their own slogans, methods of action and proposals to the slogans, methods of action and proposals of the party. Under the cover of the Communist Party and consequently also inside that milieu which is influenced by a Communist cover, i.e., in a workers’ milieu, they spread from day to day ideas hostile to us, or they sow confusion and scepticism which are even more pernicious than avowedly hostile ideologies. Periodicals of this type, together with their editors, must once and for all be placed outside the party and the entire working-class France must learn about this from articles which mercilessly expose the petty-bourgeois smugglers who operate under a Communist flag.
35) From what has been said, it likewise follows that it is completely inadmissible for the leading party publications to carry side by side with articles defending the basic concepts of Communism, other articles disputing these concepts or denying them. Absolutely impermissible is a continuation of a régime in the party press under which the mass of worker-readers find, in the guise of editorials in leading Communist periodicals, articles which try to turn us back to positions of tearful pacifism and which propagate among workers a debilitating hostility toward revolutionary violence in the face of the triumphant violence of the bourgeoisie. Under the guise of a struggle against militarism, a struggle is thus being conducted against the ideas of revolution.
If after the experience of the war and all the subsequent events, especially in Russia and Germany, the prejudices of humanitarian pacifism have still survived in the Communist Party; and if the party finds it advisable for the sake of completely liquidating these prejudices to open a discussion on this question, even in that case, the pacifists with their prejudices cannot come forward in such a discussion as an equal force but must be severely condemned by the authoritative voice of the party, in the name of its Central Committee. After the Central Committee decides that the discussion has been exhausted, all attempts to spread the debilitating ideas of Tolstoyanism and other varieties of pacifism must unquestionably bring expulsion from the party.
36) An objection might, however, be raised that so long as the work of cleansing the party of ancient prejudices and of attaining internal cohesion remains uncompleted, it would be dangerous to place the party in situations where it would come into close proximity with reformists and nationalists. But such a point of view is false. Naturally it is undeniable that a transition from broad propagandist activity to direct participation in the mass movement carries with it new difficulties and therefore dangers for the Communist Party. But it is completely wrong to suppose that the party can be prepared for all tests without directly participating in struggles, without directly coming in contact with enemies and adversaries. On the contrary, only in this way can a genuine, non-fictitious internal cleaning and fusing of the party be achieved. It is quite possible that some elements in the party and in the trade-union bureaucracy will feel themselves drawn more closely to the reformists, from whom they have accidentally split than toward us. The loss of such camp-followers will not be a liability but an asset, and it will be compensated a hundredfold by the influx of those working men and women who still follow the reformists today. The party will in consequence become more homogeneous, more resolute and more proletarian.
VI) Party Tasks in the Trade-Union Movement
37) Absolute clarity on the trade-union question is a task of first-rate importance, surpassing by far all the other tasks before the Communist Party of France.
Naturally the legend spread by the reformists that Plans are afoot to subordinate the trade unions organizationally to the party must be unconditionally denounced and exposed. Trade unions embrace workers of different political shadings as well as non-party men, atheists as well as believers, whereas the party unites political co-thinkers on the basis of a definite program. The party has not and cannot have any instrumentalities and methods for subjecting the trade unions to itself from the outside.
The party can gain influence in the life of the trade unions only to the extent that its members work in the trade unions and carry out the party point of view there. The influence of party members in the trade unions naturally depends on their numerical strength and especially on the degree to which they are able to apply party principles correctly, consistently and expediently to the needs of the trade-union movement.
The party has the right and the duty to aim to conquer, along the road above outlined, the decisive influence in the trade-union organization. It can achieve this goal only provided the work of the Communists in the trade unions is wholly and exclusively harmonized with the principles of the party and is invariably conducted under its control.
38) The minds of all Communists must therefore be completely purged of reformist prejudices, in accordance with which the party is regarded as a political parliamentary organization of the proletariat, and nothing more. The Communist Party is the organization of the proletarian vanguard for the ideological fructification of the labour movement and the assumption of leadership in all spheres – first and foremost in the trade unions. While the trade unions are not subordinate to the party but wholly autonomous organizations, the Communists inside the trade unions, on the other hand, cannot pretend to any kind of autonomy in their trade-union activity but must act as the transmitters of their party’s program and tactics. To be most severely condemned is the conduct of those Communists who not only fail to fight inside the trade unions for the influence of party ideas but actually counteract such a struggle in the name of a principle of “autonomy” which they apply absolutely falsely. As a matter of fact, they thus pave the way for the decisive influence in the trade unions of individuals, groups and cliques, bound neither by a definite program nor by party organization, and who utilize the formlessness of ideological groupings and relations in order to keep the organizational apparatus in their own hands and secure the independence of their own clique from any actual control by the workers’ vanguard.
While the party, in its activity inside the trade unions, must show the greatest attentiveness and caution toward the non-party masses and their conscientious and honest representatives; while the party must, on the basis of joint work, systematically and tactically draw closer to the best elements of the trade-union movement – including the revolutionary anarchists who are capable of learning – the party can, on the contrary, no longer tolerate in its midst those pseudo-Communists who utilize the status of party membership only in order all the more confidently to promote anti-party influences in the trade unions.
39) The party through its own press, through its own propagandists and its members in the trade unions must submit to constant and systematic criticism the shortcomings of revolutionary syndicalism for solving the basic tasks of the proletariat. The party must tirelessly and persistently criticize the weak theoretical and practical sides of syndicalism, explaining at the same time to its best elements that the only correct road for securing the revolutionary influence on the trade unions and on the labour movement as a whole is the entry of revolutionary syndicalists into the Communist Party: their participation in working out all the basic questions of the movement, in drawing the balance sheet of experience, in defining new tasks, in cleansing the Communist Party itself and strengthening its ties with the working masses.
40) It is absolutely indispensable to take a census of all the members of the French Communist Party in order to determine their social status (workers, civil employees, peasants, intellectuals, etc.); their relations with the trade-union movement (do they belong to trade unions – do they participate in meetings of Communist and revolutionary syndicalists? do they carry out at these meetings the decisions of the party on the trade unions? etc.); their attitude toward the party press (what party publications do they read?), and so on.
The census must be so conducted that its chief aspects can be taken into account before the Fourth World Congress convenes.
1. These Theses on the United Front, unquestionably one of the most important programmatic documents of revolutionary Marxism, were drafted by Trotsky lor the enlarged Plenum of the ECCI which convened toward the end of February 1922.
2. Le Populaire, founded by Leon Blum, was, as it remained, the central publication of the French Socialist Party.
3. The CGT (Confédération Générale du Travail – General Confederation of Labor) was the central trade union organization of France. Formed in 1903 it embraced all the existing trade unions. Prior to World War I the CGT was the most revolutionary organization in France. But with the outbreak of war in 1914, the majority of the leaders, headed by Jouhaux, became rabid jingoes. The official CGT leadership savagely opposed the growing left wing movement, which grew rapidly after the war and came under Communist influence. They engineered a split which led early in 1922 to the formation of the Unitarian General Confederation of Labor (Confédération Générale du Travail Unitaire or CGTU). This split was marked by a sharp decline in total union membership. In 1920 there were about 2,500,000 workers in the CGT. By 1923 the combined memberships of the CGT and CGTU fell under 100,000.
4. La Ligue Civique was a bourgeois anti-labor, strikebreaking organization in France. The closest counterpart to it in the US would be the National Association of Manufacturers.
Recently in Boston, as part of a nation-wide effort a demonstration was called for Saturday February 4, 2012 with a central slogan of “Hands Off Iran,” an appropriate action considering the incessant drum-beat coming from important imperialist sources about the need for someone, somehow to destroy Iran’s nuclear weapons capacity (Guess who?). Of course the “ usual suspects” showed up for the demo- the assorted peace groups well-known to this writer, the socialists of various hues also known to this writer, and new, well, fairly new, the now familiar contingents from the Occupy movement.
What was unusual was the presence of a contingent of supporters of Ron Paul, the Republican Congressman and current presidential contender. Unusual in that when push comes to shove we of the left be on opposite sides of the barricades (and in that same position with other more “leftist” elements as well). But not that day. That day the central slogan of “Hands Off Iran” applied as a draw to hardened anti-imperialist leftists and quirky right-wing libertarians alike. So while no one needed to buy into the Ron Paul rationale (see leaflet from demonstration below) for being there and the Ron Paul supporter who spoke received some boos, some justly deserved boos, this was a principled united front. See, on some rare occasions you can unite with the devil and his (or her) grandmother. Let that be a leftist politics 101 lesson for young, and old.
What Should Antiwar Progressives do in 2012?
By now most everyone at this Day of Action knows that Obama is not the lesser evil. He is in fact the "more effective evil" as Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report labels him since he has carried on and expanded the wars in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa while largely silencing opposition from progressives.
What is to be done then? Let us begin with the proposition that the highest duty of those of us living in the heart of the U.S. Empire is to stop the sanctions and endless wars that kill so many people - over a million in Iraq alone and that after hundreds of thousands more died there, 500,000 children among them, in the Clinton era sanctions. A second obligation is to preserve our civil liberties so that we can fight against war and for whatever we think is decent at home.
Only one candidate for the presidential race stands for these two principles and has done so consistently for decades. That candidate is Ron Paul.
But, you may say, Ron Paul is not a progressive and I am.
Elections must be approached tactically not theologically. First of all Ron Paul is not for eliminating Medicare or Medicaid or Social Security. So those who rely now on the social safety net are safe. But Paul does want to allow young people to opt out of these programs should he wish to do so. As long as we have our freedoms - of speech and assembly -he will not succeed in that. We will win that argument. And the Dems as an opposition might even start to fight for those programs rather than undermine them as they are doing now - with Obama's cuts in the payroll tax which finances these programs. People hang on to these programs once they have them.
So we have a moral obligation to support Ron Paul in order to stop the slaughter of innocents worldwide by the US Empire,
What should we do? Here in MA one should vote for Paul in the primary. There is no real contest in the Dem primary and no sense in voting for someone there. It is far better for Ron Paul to get the nomination than Newt or Mitt, the latter being a near perfect clone of Obama. And every vote for Ron Paul moves the Republican Party closer to principles of civil liberties and anti-interventionism.
You can vote in the Republican primary if you are registered as "unenrolled" or Republican. We should all do so as soon as possible. And it would be better to register as Republican since in that case one can have a voice in determining the delegates to the Republican convention. The delegates are pledged to the winner of the primary ON THE FIRST BALLOT at the nominating convention. After that they are free to vote as they see fit. If there is a deadlocked convention, Ron Paul can win if enough delegates are in his camp. Do you want to influence the process? Then REGISTER REPUBLICAN BY FEBRUARY 15. That is the first step. To find out more, contact John.Endwar@gmail.com
Finally this is not just a candidacy, but a movement with a plan to grow and a dedicated following of young voters. Help build this movement. Register "R" and support Ron Paul. Deadline is Feb. 15.
Join us in the Boston Chapter of ComeHomeAmerica. http://www.meetup.com/CHA-Boston/
No question today, 2011 today, Marxists in this wicked old world are as scarce as hen’s teeth. Leninists and Trotskyists even fewer. And to be sure there are so many open social and political wounds in the world from the struggle against imperialism in places like Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan, just to name the obvious America imperial adventures that come quickly off the tip of the tongue, to the struggles in America just for working people to keep heads above water in the riptide of rightist reaction on the questions of unemployment, unionism, social services, racial inequality and the like that it is almost hard to know where to start. Nevertheless, however dismal the situation may seem, the need for political clarity, for polemic between leftist tendencies, is as pressing today as it was going back to Marx’s time. Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto, after all, is nothing but a long polemic against all the various misguided notions of socialist reconstruction of society of their day. And Marxists were as scarce as hen’s teeth then, as well.
When I first came under the influence of Marx in the early 1970s, as I started my search for some kind of strategy for systemic social change after floundering around with liberalism, left-liberalism, and soft social-democracy, one of the things that impressed me while reading the classics was the hard polemical edge to the writings. That same thing impressed me with Lenin and Trotsky (although as the “prince of the pamphleteers” I found that Trotsky was the more fluent writer of the two). That edge, and the fact that they all spent more time, much more time, polemicizing against other leftists than with bourgeois democrats in order to clarify the tasks confronting revolutionaries. And, frankly, I miss that give and take that is noticeably absent from today’s leftist scene. Or is dismissed as so much ill-will, malice, or sectarian hair-splitting when what we need to do is “make nice” with each other. There actually is a time to make nice, in a way, it is called the united front in order for the many to fight on specific issues. Unless there is a basic for a revolutionary regroupment which, frankly, I do not see on the horizon then this is proper vehicle, and will achieve all our immediate aims in the process.
So call me sentimental but I am rather happy to post these entries that represent the old time (1973, now old time) polemics between the Spartacist brand of Trotskyism and the now defunct Guardian trend of Maoism that the now far less radical Carl Davidson was then defending. Many of the issues, political tendencies, and organizations mentioned may have passed from the political scene but the broader questions of revolutionary strategy, from the implications of Trotsky’ s theory of permanent revolution to the various guises of the popular front still haunt the leftist night. Argue on.
******* Carl Davidson"s "Left in Form, Right in Essence:United front against fascism"
The Trotskyists believe they are the only authentic practitioners of the policy of the united front.
Yet in practice. they have opposed full implementation, either from rightist or “leftist” positions.
The most apparent example of this role was the Trotskyist attitude toward World War 2, in which they took a “defeatist” position towards the capitalist governments fighting the fascists, called for the “revolutionary” overthrow of the Soviet government and opposed the united front with the national bourgeoisie in the colonial countries invaded by the fascists.
The fact that the Trotskyist line led them inevitably to these positions substantiated the charge that they objectively served the interests of the fascists.
Trotsky and his followers tried to justify their line with a “left” cover, stating that they called for a revolution in Germany, the “unconditional defense” of the Soviet Union (but not its leadership) and the defeat of the capitalists everywhere through socialist revolution. They then tried to back it all up by drawing a doctrinaire analogy with World War 1, where the Leninists called for the proletariat in all capitalist countries to work for the defeat of their own bourgeoisie by “turning the imperialist war into a civil war.”
“It is really ridiculous,” wrote Georgi Dimitrov in 1936, “when ‘left’ phrasemongers of various kinds oppose these tactics (of the united front), adopting the pose of irreconcilable revolutionaries. If we are to believe them, all governments are aggressors. They even quote Lenin, who, during the imperialist war of 1914- 1918. correctly rejected the argument of the social-chauvinists that’ we were attacked and we are defending.’ But the world at that time was divided into two military-imperialist coalitions which were equally striving to establish their world hegemony and which had equally prepared and provoked the imperialist war. At that time there were neither countries where the proletariat was in power nor countries with a fascist dictatorship.”
But now the situation is different. Now we have: (1) a proletarian state which is the greatest bulwark of peace; (2) definite fascist aggressors; (3) a number of countries which are in direct danger of attack by fascist aggressors and in danger of losing their state and national independence; (4) other capitalist governments which are interested at the present moment in the preservation of peace. It is, therefore. completely wrong now to depict all countries as aggressors. Only people who are trying to conceal the real aggressors can distort the facts in such a manner.
A number of main contradictions came to the fore during World War 2: between bourgeois democracy and bourgeois fascism between and within the imperialist powers; between the imperialists and the colonies; among the imperialist powers; between the working class and the bourgeoisie in all capitalist countries; between the first socialist state and all the capitalist countries, and between the first socialist state and the fascist powers.
Of all these, which was the principal contradiction whose development determined or influenced the development of the rest? In the period of World War 2, it was the contradiction between the Soviet Union and the fascist powers. The principal, immediate enemy – as opposed to the enemy in general – of all the world’s peoples was the fascist powers of Germany, Italy and .Japan and their lackeys.
What did this mean for proletarian strategy? First, that Marxists-Leninists everywhere called for a united front of all working class organizations against fascism, on the basis of which would be built an even broader popular front which was in contradiction to the fascists, including even the temporary and wavering allies to be found in the camp of the bourgeois-democratic capitalist governments.
The Trotskyists opposed this line under the guise of upholding the proletarian united front while rejecting its broader extension in the popular front. They believed that the capitalist camp could not be split and that efforts to do so on the part of proletarian revolutionaries in each country and the Soviet Union internationally amounted to so much “class collaboration.”
It was true that the capitalist countries initially wavered or opposed the Soviet Union’s call for a united defense against the fascists. Many elements of the bourgeoisie wanted the fascists to attack the Soviet Union first, while they stood on the sidelines watching the two powers exhaust each other so they could pick up the pieces later.
Trotsky, himself, believed that this was the inevitable course. In 1932 he wrote, “It would be sheer political stupidity to believe that once they came to power, the German National Socialists would begin with a war against France or even against Poland.”
The Soviet leadership completely understood that sooner or later, they would have to fight the German fascists. But precisely this question – sooner or later? – made all the difference in the world. Since the bourgeois democracies continued to stall on the question of the united front and the German fascists were in the process of making up their minds of who to attack first, the Soviet leadership waited until the last possible moment and then decided to force the issue.
The method chosen was the Soviet-German non-aggression pact, more popularly known as the Hitler-Stalin pact. Its signing sent the Trotskyists into a frenzied howl but in actuality it constituted one of the most brilliant diplomatic moves of the period.
It meant that the capitalist governments were attacked first, that the Germans would have to fight eventually on two fronts at once, that the Soviet Union would not have to fight alone and that the international popular front isolating the principal fascist enemies would become a reality. In short, it meant the defeat of fascism.
The Trotskyists, of course, saw it as only one more “betrayal” of the working class. In their view, it was the Communists who were primarily responsible for fascism’s coming to power in Germany in the first place.
In this way the Trotskyists cover up for the political force that actually paved the way to power for the fascists – the German Social-Democrats.
Refused united front
The German Social-Democrats refused at every point in the struggle to form a united front with the German Communists against the rising power of the fascists. Instead, they shared governmental power with the bourgeoisie, collaborated with them in suppressing the struggles of the working class and pursued the line of the peaceful, constitutional path to “socialism.” In both theory and practice, however, they were tools of the capitalists for maintaining the stability of bourgeois rule.
In Austria, for example, even after Hitler had come to power in Germany, the Social-Democrats begged for an agreement with the fascists. even going so far as to volunteer cooperation with a two-year suspension of the constitution and the parliament so long as it was done “constitutionally.”
For these reasons, the Communists correctly attacked the leadership of the Social-Democratic parties as “social-fascists,” that is, “socialists in words, fascist in deeds.” (Lenin had attacked the same parties during World War I as “social-imperialists” for defending their own capitalists.) In this way, the Communists sought to expose to the masses the actual implications of following the line of the Social-Democrats.
For Trotsky, this amounted only to so much name-calling. He pointed out the obvious fact that the Social-Democrats stood to be smashed with the victory of fascism and that this constituted an objective basis for a united front.
The problem. however, was that it was not obvious to the Social-Democrats who feared proletarian revolution more than the victory of Hitler. This factor proved decisive.
This is not to say that the German Communist party made no mistakes or that their errors were insignificant. One of their main weaknesses was a social-democratic or right error. This was seen in the building of their party primarily on the basis of electoral districts, rather than on factory cells. They also made a number of ultra-“left” errors, including a one-sided emphasis on the “united front from below,” rather than a more persistent effort at unity with the Social-Democratic leaders as well, even if this was turned down. They also at one point perpetrated the illusion that the Hitler government would be short-lived and that the proletarian power would quickly replace it.
The Trotskyists believe that the Communists’ errors were the decisive factor in preventing the united front from being embraced by the Social- Democratic leaders. But this is utopian. The Communists would have been able to strengthen their influence among the masses of the Social-Democrats but the leadership had objective ties to the bourgeoisie. To think otherwise is to deny the character of the labor aristocracy as the agent of the capitalists within the workers movement.
This is reflected in this country in the Socialist Workers party’s one-sided emphasis on the union leadership in the united front against the Vietnam war. While Trotskyists went all-out to get endorsements from trade union leaders for antiwar demonstrations, they did no organizational work among the rank-and-file for the struggle against imperialism. Despite their running debate with the revisionists on the single-issue, multi-issue question, this is where they share with the Communist party a thoroughly rightist approach to the question of the united front.
The Trotskyist movement in the 1930s went on to merge with the Social-Democrats and the Trotskyists in this country joined the Socialist party of Norman Thomas. This and other aspects of the Trotskyists’ history in the U.S. show what left phrases mean in practice.