Are the Popular Fronts Necessary?

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By Raul Marcos

Member of the PCE/ML

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 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 grades 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 labor 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, in Denmark, Turkey, Morocco, France, Venezuela, etc. etc., there are different conditions and therefore, tactically there will be difference, 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 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 dialectic 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 or 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 out 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 fulfill that role, in the long run it will be left behind the petit 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 maneuvers, the Party should, as Lenin affirmed, lead everything. This forces us to carry out a clear labor which is sincere with the forces which make up the Front, to respect and meet the agreed upon commitments and programs, but without forgetting:

“…only the Party of the working class, that is, the Communist Party, is in the condition to bring together, educate and lead the vanguard of the proletariat and all the working masses, the only one capable to fight the inevitable petit bourgeois vacillations of the masses…” (Lenin, Project of resolution of the X Congress of the CPSU. Our underlines.)

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 defeating 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 how big and powerful a Party may be, we will always be a minority in society:

“…Communists are drops in the ocean, drops in the ocean of the people”, but “without a party of the proletariat we cannot even consider the defeat of imperialism, in 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 manifests itself especially in the exaggerated appreciation of the revolutionarization of the masses…” and he quoted Lenin, “…it is about not considering that the masses have not surpassed what we have already surpassed.”

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

“There is nothing more legitimate than to point out the constant and absolute need to deepen and broaden our influence over the masses, our rigorous Marxist propaganda and agitation, our approach to the economic struggle of the working class, etc. But precisely because it is legitimate to continually point this out, under any circumstance or situation, those guides cannot become special slogans, they cannot justify the attempts to base upon them a particular tendency of social democracy. There is a limit here, beyond which to convert these guides into a limitation which are undoubtedly necessary into something which hampers tasks and the advance of the movement, into something doctrinaire which relegates to the forgotten the political tasks which are essential and of the first order of the moment.”

“to broaden and amplify the influence over the masses whether after each victory or after a defeat, in moments of political gridlock as well as in stormy revolutionary periods, and precisely because of that, of the indication to realize that work we should not convert it into a special slogan without the risk of falling into demagogy and contempt of the advanced class, the only one which is really revolutionary.” (Confusion Between Politics and pedagogy. 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 towards precisely 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 intimate friends.

It is important to have a clear understanding of the lines of demarcation between Marxist Leninists and opportunists, Khrushevites, Maoists, including those who preach socialism of the 21 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 have 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 having in mind the evolution of these circumstances, and as Dimitrov warns with a great deal of reason: “…it is particularly dangerous to confuse wishes with realities, we must start from reality, from the actual situation, concretely.”

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 MCI, 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’ warning in his Critique of the Gotha Program: “no horse trading with the 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: “Make agreements in order to advance the practical objectives of the movement, but do not betray the principles.” (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; no 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 his Misery of Philosophy, Marx criticized opportunism. To quote the young Marx: “ Et propter vitam vivendi perdere causas”, in other words, “And to [conserve] life, we lose the causes [that are the reason] for living.”

Let’s not forget this old lesson.



Categories: Editorials, History, Imperialism, Imperialist War, Revolutionary History, Theory, Workers Struggle

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