Are the Popular Fronts Necessary?

Raul Marcos


The need for Popular Fronts today in the situation of rising fascism across the planet is convincingly argued here. The original formations of the Popular Fronts which arose in France and Spain after the Seventh Congress of the Comintern in 1935 were prompted by the victory of Nazism in Germany in 1933. The Sixth Congress of the Comintern in 1928 had envisaged a period of revolutionary advance to the dictatorship of the proletariat and Soviet power. The balance of forces in the world changed with victories of fascism in Germany, Italy and Japan. From the offensive the international communist movement now orientated itself to the defensive (whilst envisaging advances in the future). Stalin and Dimitrov were instrumental in making this transformation before the Seventh Congress of the Comintern. Stalin later indicated to Thorez that the French communists through their united front with the socialists against fascism had shown the way forward. In Spain Jose Diaz played a pivotal role in forging the popular front against Franco and fascism. The popular fronts required the broadest possible unity against fascism and so incorporated the middle classes, the small property owners and their political parties. The correlation of class forces at the time did not permit victories of the democratic forces in France and Spain before the Second World War. The popular fronts did however provide a fund of political experiences which were utilised around the world. The anti-fascist fronts and the new democracies established in central and east Europe after the war drew from this political practice. Jose Diaz in 1937argued for the establishment of a new type of democratic parliamentary republic in which the economic foundations of the financial oligarchy, the bankers, the manufacturers, the semi-feudal classes and power of the Church were destroyed. Historians of the people’s democracies have traced their origins to Jose Diaz and the struggle for a Spanish revolutionary democratic republic. With the rapidly expanding and rising fascisation of the Indian state the experiences of the fascisised countries of the medium level capitalist development in the interwar eastern European and the Iberian states, where semi-feudalism and clerical fascism were pronounced are of particular value. The widest possible united front from below and above in society and in the electoral field are a categorical political imperative in contemporary India if the process of fascisation is to be halted and beaten back. The experience of Germany around 1931 reveals that it is necessary to fight the ultra-left errors, a subjective reflex of right- opportunist practices, of proclaiming the coming to power of fascism before the actual establishment of a terrorist dictatorship which violently liquidates the system of parliamentary democracy. In India the five decades- long history of individual terrorism, which denies the differences between the major bourgeois-landlord political parties, and negates the necessity of revolutionary parliamentarism of the Leninist type forms the background to this. The German communists aground Ernst Thaelmann were compelled to battle the erroneous theory and practice of ultra-leftism on the question of differentiating between fascism and fascisation. In current conditions there are many lessons also to be learnt from Dimitrov and Jose Diaz on the popular and united front against fascism.

Vijay Singh

Are the Popular Fronts Necessary? The answer is a resounding YES. They are necessary and indispensable given the condition of oppression and exploitation that are worsening, and which the people are suffering. The proletariat, with its party at the forefront, should be at the head of the popular masses, to organize and lead its struggles. It is not an easy task, but all difficulties can be overcome. For that to be, it is necessary to work to link up in a broad manner with the advanced masses, win their recognition.

The fundamental contradictions of the period in which we live and struggle, are perfectly defined: The contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie; the contradiction between capitalism and socialism; the contradiction between oppressed peoples and nations on the one hand and imperialism on the other; the contradiction among imperialist and financial powers. The last contradiction manifests itself in the local wars, the aggressions against the peoples, the disputes for geostrategic zones and the exploitation of the neo-colonies, the manipulation of the democratic and patriotic sentiments of the peoples. It is a rapidly growing contradiction.

We live in the period which Lenin defined, but with new characteristics and forms. Presently, we see the expression of a tendency towards fascism as organized groups of neo-Nazis carry out actions in various countries, and this should concern us. In many cases they are protected by the governments (such is the case in Greece, Hungary, Spain, etc.). Power and state apparatus, with some exceptions, are in the hands of parties and governments which are reactionary and anti-popular. The big powers and their puppet governments speak of democracy, of human rights, of peace among the people... while they are savagely subjugating and exploiting the people who are oppressed, in many cases through force of arms.

This is a general situation, not in every country: in different degrees and different forms and intensity; it is a general tendency. The communist parties must daily confront situations of repression, of struggles for social conquests, against laws which encroach and suppress labour and social rights which had been achieved through many decades of struggle.

In his report to the VII Congress of the Communist International (1935), and with a similar situation at hand, Dimitrov focused on the importance of creating popular fronts against the conditions which arose with the growth of Nazi- fascism (Italy, Germany, Portugal, Japan...). Despite the years which have passed and the events that have taken place, the report is still very relevant and can serve as a general orientation to parties. It is evident that the present circumstances are not the same as the 1930s. The context in which we live is very different from that period, and it is enough to recall the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, the opportunist degeneration of many of the parties then, and that today, with some rare exceptions, Marxist- Leninist parties are very weak, without much influence upon the broad masses.

The importance of Dimitrov’s writing is undeniable, yet we should keep in mind that the international situation is not the same, although there are problems of a similar nature (which are reflected in the fundamental contradictions), and it is also necessary to act according to the particular circumstances of each country and party. The work of a front cannot be carried out in the same manner in every country, since we have to take into consideration the inevitable unequal development of the political forces as well as the Party and of society itself. Its undeniable that we cannot compare the situation which Ecuador is living under (in all of the aspects pointed out) with that of Germany. For example, in Spain, Denmark, Turkey, Morocco, France, Venezuela, etc. etc., there are different conditions and therefore, tactically there will be differences, secondary differences, but in the end differences.

Defending the importance and the present aspects of Dimitrov’s speech should not lead us to apply every detail of each and every aspect which his text considers. To study, analyze and discuss the writings of great communist leaders, and Dimitrov is one of them, should not lead us to convert them into catechism, infallible doctrines, something which is opposed to the Marxist Leninist dialectic.

Each of our parties should consider these questions. There are no prefabricated answers. Only the dialectical examination, that is of the moment which can change from one day to the other, without separating ourselves from tomorrow’s strategy, the course of which cannot be predicted nor defined, will allow us to assume tactical positions and measures to confront and attempt to solve the problems.

The Important thing is to keep in mind at all times the reality in which our parties live and evolve, work and struggle. Therefore, we must keep in mind a decisive fact: In almost all countries, with different levels of development, the working class is the most revolutionary and its advanced members are at the head of the struggles for justice. But the working class is not the only class exploited by capitalism. There are sectors of the small and middle bourgeoisie which also suffer oppression. And although its mentality is not that of the conscious proletariat, we should take into consideration those sectors and try to get closer to them. We should keep in mind that if the working class and its party do not try to unite the other working classes, including certain patriotic and democratic sectors of the middle classes, these could be manipulated by some faction of the bourgeoisie. Undoubtedly, the working class must win over, in the ideological and political combat, the role of vanguard of all those exploited and oppressed sectors and defend their demands.

This could be the basis for forging tactical, momentary alliances. But we should not confuse or counterpoise those tactical alliances of a given moment, to the strategic alliances. That is, we do not subject establishing strategic alliances to questions of the moment, circumstantial, but neither do we subject tactical alliances to the establishment of possible strategic alliances, so long as this does not imply the abandonment of essential questions. To be more clear: we should be vigilant so as not to confuse tactical, partial, or momentary alliances, in many cases local or of a city, region or province, including agreements with special sectors, but which cannot include the most advanced general sectors.

The Popular Front should respond to the general needs of the struggle, to political questions which are proposed, and above all, to mobilize the advanced masses to incorporate them into action.

The working class, theoretically the proletariat, should be the principal force of the Popular Front. It means that in practice it should also be the leading force. We should keep in mind that theory without practice is just empty words, and that practice without theory is like blindly striking blows.

Given the broad political nature of the forces which become part of the Front, the Party should strive to be at the head, be the leader (in relative terms depending on the circumstances) so that the proletariat can exercise its influence as the main force. That leading role is not achieved by force of will or by a decree, it must be won by the daily practice, by the clarity of our political proposals, with the respectful and faithful application of agreements.

If the party does not fulfil that role, in the long run it will be left behind the petty bourgeoisie and that would be a grave error. Here we should keep in mind the ‘’law of unity and struggle of opposites”.

This leads us to the question of the ideological independence of the Party. A Popular Front, built upon minimum agreements (depending on the circumstances), cannot assume all our proposals. But that should not lead us to renounce our political and ideological positions. Within the framework of the tasks of the Front, communists are, and will be, very careful at the time of meeting our agreements even if these are not exactly what we would have preferred.

The policy of unity in any alliance, and also in the Popular Front, should not lead us to forget the class struggle. In fact, the alliances, agreements or tactical compromises with other political forces should help us to reinforce the strength of the Party and not the other way around. That is not always understood, so that if the Party, communists, become diluted as a result of some alliance, that would result in a grave weakening and possibly the disappearance of the Party.

With much ability and tact, and without prepotency or strange manoeuvres, the Party should, as Lenin affirmed, lead everything. This forces us to carry out a clear work which is sincere with the forces which make up the Front, to respect and meet the agreed-upon commitments and programmes, but without forgetting:

“...only the political party of the working class, that is, the Communist Party, is capable of uniting, training and organizing a vanguard of the proletariat and the whole mass of the working people that will alone be capable of withstanding the inevitable petty-bourgeois vacillations of this mass." (Lenin, Preliminary Draft Resolution of the Tenth Congress of the R.C.P. Our emphasis.)

We should be with the advanced masses, becoming more and better, mobilize in the heart of the Popular Front and in all the fronts created which include the masses. That requires overcoming the relative weakness of the parties (without forgetting the inevitability of unequal development), since without a strong party we can do very little; and It is also necessary to be conscious of the fact that regardless of how big and powerful a Party may be, we will always be a minority in society:

“...We Communists are but a drop in the ocean, a drop in the ocean of the people”, but “without a party of the proletariat we cannot even consider the defeat of imperialism, the conquest of the dictatorship of proletariat...” and also the Party “is the vanguard of a class and its duty is to guide the masses, and not to reflect the average mental state of the masses” Lenin affirmed sharply.

For communists it is a priority to carry out a constant and face-to-face work among the masses. But this must be well planned and we should not speak of the masses in a superficial way, without being precise: we should communicate with the advanced masses and keep in mind that there are various levels of understanding among them regarding the struggle. Dimitrov said that “Sectarianism finds expression particularly in overestimating the revolutionisation of the masses...” and he quoted Lenin, “...we must not regard that which is obsolete for us as obsolete for the class, as obsolete for the masses.”

Lenin, like Stalin, Dimitrov, the great leaders, was constantly concerned about the work towards the masses. Lenin specified and warned:

“There is nothing more warranted than the urging of attention to the constant, imperative necessity of deepening and broadening, broadening and deepening, our influence on the masses, our strictly Marxist propaganda and agitation, our ever-closer connection with the economic struggle of the working class, etc. Yet, because such urging is at all times warranted, under all conditions and in all situations, it must not be turned into special slogans, nor should it justify attempts to build upon it a special trend in Social- Democracy. A border-line exists here; to exceed the bounds is to turn this indisputably legitimate urging into a narrowing of the aims and the scope of the movement, into a doctrinaire blindness to the vital and cardinal political tasks of the moment.

“But for the very reason that the work of intensifying and broadening our influence on the masses is always necessary, after each victory as after each defeat, in times of political quiescence as in the stormiest periods of revolution, we should not turn the emphasis upon this work into a special slogan or build upon it any special trend if we do not wish to court the risk of descending to demagogy and degrading the aims of the advanced and only truly revolutionary class.” (On Confounding Politics with Pedagogics. 1905)

To overestimate the role of the masses is as dangerous as to underestimate it, since both errors misrepresent the role of the Communist Party. This also has to do with the Popular Front since its work is oriented precisely towards to the popular masses. One of the conditions for considering an alliance as a Popular Front is that it include, as a minimum, sectors of the exploited and oppressed classes whether they are organized or not organized.

It is necessary to pay attention, so as not to confuse, in all our activity, the Leninist Communist Party, leader of the proletariat, of the advanced sectors of the working class, with the “mass party” which is amorphous and includes the revisionists and right-wingers of every type. There exists a demarcation line which must not be underestimated. For communists, what we define as ‘’mass line” is to implement outside of the Party our politics and proposals in a manner which is decisive and capable. We should not limit ourselves just to our own members and close friends.

It is important to have a clear understanding of the lines of demarcation between Marxist-Leninists and opportunists, Khrushchevites, Maoists, including those who preach socialism of the 21st century. Does this mean that we should not have agreements, compromises, and unity pacts with all those who do not share our principles? Clearly, not! If we only unite with those who share our ideas and principles, we would not be talking about alliances, of popular fronts, etc. We would only be talking of unity with communists. And that is a different problem.

Presently, many of our parties have a problem which is a history of weak organizing, which is trying to fulfill the role of leaders. This is not achieved through decrees; there are no magic formulas. That will be achieved, depending upon the circumstances, through our work and dedication. Alliances are proposed to us, tactical agreements, etc. with other political forces or groups. We are not in a situation in which we can impose our position. However, we should not refuse the offer because of that. On the contrary, we should participate loyally in the discussions, present our political proposals; we should discuss and confront opinions and little by little go about winning political and ideological space.

A very simple question, but which we do not always keep in mind, is that alliances of broad fronts are not meant to last forever. They must be seen as developing; there are no static alliances; what today we propose and approve as just and valid, can stop being so in another moment.

The Popular Front is created depending upon the circumstances and we do not create circumstances; we find ourselves in them and we must assume them always keeping in mind the evolution of these circumstances, and as Dimitrov warns with a great deal of reason: “ is particularly dangerous to confuse the wish with the fact. We must base ourselves on the facts, on the actual concrete situation.”

The Popular Front is an important task which must be considered under all circumstances in which the political struggle is developing; it is not an option, it is a necessary task. To promote it and to advance in completing that task, the revolutionary party of the proletariat must elaborate a correct revolutionary policy which takes into consideration concrete conditions and always keeping in mind the strategic objectives. The application of that policy depends not only on its correctness, but also on the potential of the Party, of its forces. A just and correct revolutionary policy can remain as a proposal if there is not a firm decision to carry it out with the advanced sectors of the masses.

The experience of the International Communist Movement leads us to seriously consider the danger of deviations which can occur. Generally, the existing opportunism has been, and is, of the right. But we cannot forget that there is also an opportunism of the left; both are particularly harmful to the work of a broad front. It is convenient to remember Marx’s warning in his Critique of the Gotha Program: ‘'no bargaining about principles,"

Right-wing opportunism tends to appear with the following expressions or characteristics: make concessions of principles in order to make allies; reduce the level of the struggle for fear of the enemy; lag behind the level of consciousness of the masses instead of going in front of them; exaggerate the importance of national or regional peculiarities without taking into account the general principles; and liberalism in matters of organization, of which the most dangerous is to hide the Party as if it did not exist. We should always keep Lenin in mind: “enter into agreements to satisfy the practical aims of the movements, but do not allow any bargaining over principle." (What Is To Be Done?)

Opportunism of the left has the following main characteristics: the false criteria of all or nothing; not knowing how to make the needed concessions and the useful compromises for the development of work; not knowing how to adapt Marxism-Leninism to the particular conditions of the reality in which we live, allowing us to be influenced by the experiences of others, which leads to not knowing how to adapt or to making mistakes about the level and forms of the struggle and the objective conditions of the masses; in adopting rigid criteria in matters of organizing.

In The Poverty of Philosophy, Marx criticized opportunism. To quote the young Marx: “Et propter vitam vivendi perdere causas”, in other words, “And for the sake of life to lose the reasons for living.”

Let’s not forget this old lesson.

Note: Raul Marcos is a leader of the Communist Party of Spain (Marxist-Leninist).

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