[Marxism] parties and united fronts

Jurriaan Bendien andromeda246 at hetnet.nl
Thu Dec 23 17:53:09 MST 2004

As far as I remember, the concept of a "united front tactic" dates back to 
about 1922. On an initiative of Lenin as leader of the new Russian 
government, a split had been engineered internationally in the social 
democratic parties, leading to the formation of communist parties united by 
a new Communist International in 1919. In part, that split was guided by 
splits in the German socialdemocratic party, which gave rise to 
organisations like the Spartakusbund and the USPD.

The new International had the perspective of revolutionary crises breaking 
out throughout the capitalist world, and that this would cause leftwing 
workers to rally to its banner, and to revolutionary politics. The 
initiative was however a failure, mainly because

(1) the great revolutionary conflagration failed to occur, apart from 
shortlived uprisings in countries like Germany and Hungary,
(2) in many countries, such a split made no political sense at all, and the 
communists gained few adherents,
(3) the International lacked the real ability to provide leadership and 
political unity in its own ranks beyond general slogans,
(4) the attempt to enforce the same general political line for all countries 
failed to address national peculiarities, and led to gross political 

Subsequently, after having attacked the social democrats for their 
"reformism", many of the fledgling communist parties in fact tried to rejoin 
the social democratic parties, but this attempt was also unsuccessful.

The united front tactic then developed as a way of united leftwing action 
between a communist minority and a socialdemocratic majority, based on the 
understanding that both were workers' parties. In the years of "third 
period" Stalinism such a united front became impossible, but it was taken up 
again when the threat of fascism called for the broadest possible 
opposition. Thereafter, the communists, being politically persecuted, 
operated from behind all sorts of "fronts", and the notion of a "united 
front" lingered on.

However, the concept of a united front is itself an abstraction referring to 
the desirability of unity of all progressive political forces. What really 
matters tactically, is just how exactly such a united front can be arrived 
at, or how it is actually implemented. All sorts of political unity 
initiatives are possible and conceivable, but merely reiterating the slogan 
of a "united front" by itself, without further specification, solves 
nothing, and is rather meaningless. You might as well hold on to your 

There exists no magic formula for achieving political unity, nor is it clear 
that clinging to a political language from 70 or 80 years ago is necessarily 
helpful. Presumably what tactics are appropriate today, is something that 
can only be evaluated on the basis of the real political situation that 
exists today, and the mentality of people such as they are now. Apart from a 
small minority cherishing a political tradition, my guess is that few people 
still identify with the political language dating from a period before they 
were born.

That language might in fact be constricting or counterproductive, insofar as 
it does not reckon with the new forms of association among people that have 
emerged meantime. If anything characterises the modern situation, it is that 
more and more people are disaffected by politics as such, as shown by the 
erosion of the memberships of most of the traditional parties. This means 
that it is often difficult to get people to volunteer for a political group 
as such, nevermind amalgamating different groups under one banner.

In turn, that means there are much more basic questions to be answered, i.e. 
what motivates people to participate in political action per se, what can be 
achieved by it, and how can a viable political culture or organisation can 
be created. At least in Europe, it would appear to me, as observer, that 
what does motivate them is much more direct "bread and butter" issues, 
insofar as governments keep cutting social expenditures, restricting civil 
rights and slashing jobs. I.e. people are motivated mainly by those 
political issues which affect them directly, and less by lofty political 
ideals, revolutionary or otherwise.

In that situation, what counts is not reiterating Marxist slogans, but how 
Marxian insights are actually applied. Another way of putting that is, that 
these days Marxist ideology itself is not a significant unifying factor 
anymore in most countries, and to pretend that it is, only leads to 
fruitless debates and actions.


More information about the Marxism mailing list