On the question of the united front tactic
March 1, 2013 Leave a comment
In short the policy of united front-ism is one of ‘march separately but strike together’ . This in itself does not however, explain the various possible variations of the united front depending on the objective strength of forces involved. In principle the party of the working class creates united fronts where there is a need for joint interventions around shared interests. The most notable example of a united front at work was the united front of the Bolsheviks with the menshevik government to save the provincial government of Kerensky from Kornilov’s reaction.
In this instance, the party engaged in united front retained it’s own independent organizational existence even while siding with hostile forces. The overarching importance of the most urgent democratic tasks was realized which formed the basis for a united front. It was to save the february revolution that the Bolsheviks made an alliance with Kerensky against Kornilov, all the while knowing the reactionary nature of both forces involved. But it was the necessity for such a united front that compelled the formation of the united front tactic, one where the bolsheviks could fight off the forces of reaction.
A Bolshevist united front and Stalinist popular front :
The foremost consideration for any successful united front is the independence of the revolutionary force with the parties it is in a united front with. This is contrasted with the policy of a popular front where class compromise is sought around an opportunistic premise for advancing the organizational interest at hand. Stalinism presents before the working class the prospect of certain defeat through the popular front where it’s power is diluted into that of the national bourgeoisie. When Lenin joined hands with the government of Kerensky, the Bolsheviks did not dissolve themselves into the government, nor dilute their revolutionary programme for the sake of the alliance. It was over a particular agenda of defeating the reaction led by Kornilov that the cooperation was forged. However, when Stalin and the troika had ordered the Chinese communists to align with Chiang Kai Shek in the revolutionary upsurge of the mid-1920s, they dissolved themselves for sake of keeping that alliance intact.
It must be born in mind that numerical or organizational dimensions were secondary to the success of the united front. The Bolsheviks were in an inferior position of power in relation to their respective allies when they engaged in the united front. However, the reactionary regime was on the verge of collapse under pressure of war. Most importantly, the regime was fast losing or had already lost mass support. At the same time, the forces of revolution were gaining influence. In such a situation revolutionary help extended to bourgeois-democratic reactionaries ( like Kerensky ) would be like using a rope to hold up a dying man!
The successes of these actions have important lessons for us today when revolutionary bolsheviks seek to engage in a united front.
Few basic principles :
Before any united front is undertaken two key questions must be asked :
a) For what is there a need for a united front ? What benefits will it bring ?
b) What is the strength of our own forces ?
The answer to the first question will lay the ground for forging any united front with other organizations whether we agree on fundamental questions of theory or not. The answer to the second will help us understand how to approach the united front and how deeply we should commit our resources to it. Only once a clear understanding is reached by balancing between both these questions, can a revolutionary organization approach a united front with a firm footing. A united front based on light and weak foundations will end in a failure.
Once the basic questions have been answered, the next question must be that of particulars of engagement. :
a) Whom do we align with ?
b) To what extent to we align ?
Of course, it is impossible to answer these two questions without first answering the basic questions of the united front. In chapter 4 of the Communist Manifesto Marx laid the foundation for such an alliance as support for democratic struggles world over. For this purpose the communists would be willing to align with any force that is fighting for a democratic revolution. In saying this however, Marx never compromised the need for maintaining an independent character of the communist movement. This brings us to the second question on the extent of our engagement. That again depends primarily on two factors :
a) The class character of our allies
b) Our own objective(organizational) and subjective(theoretical) strength.
An important third factor in this of course would be the objective we intend to achieve through this united front. The nature of intervention whether it’s military or civil in nature, or whether we intend to in future to merge with a group if there are fundamental programmatic agreements, or whether we intend to wage a defensive struggle where the entire interests of the class are under jeopardy ( as would be with the case of a fascist threat ) . Each instance will come with its own imperatives and will determine the tactics of the united front in action.
Flexibility in tactics :
One of the hallmarks of Leninist thought has been the flexibility of its tactics in class struggle. Lenin characterized class war as a war fundamentally more complex than any other war hitherto fought, and not without reason. From this conclusion, he states in his work on guerrilla warfare that Marxists must be open to the use of the most varied tactics as the situation demands. Thus, revolutionaries must be prepared to go underground when faced with a emergency situation. When democratic organizing becomes impossible it is naive to retain any pretense of absolute internal democracy, a centralized organization with strict discipline becomes indispensable.
Such a flexibility must be shown in approaching the question of the united front as well. The working masses will not always possess revolutionary consciousness. Right up until the decisive eruption of revolution, we will be dealing with a population which albeit rebellious and militant may continue to harbor every possible illusion in the machinations of the bourgeois state. In such a situation revolutionaries must refrain from a sectarian attitude towards the organizations of the class. While sharply criticizing every opportunistic step which they may take to harm the interests of the class, the revolutionary force must be ready to work with these organizations whenever and wherever the interests of the class struggle are involved.
Here we are faced with a dialectical question. How to retain independence in perspective, discipline and organization while engaging in work with organizations whose character is decidedly non-revolutionary ? The whole success or failure of the united front for the revolutionary party is contingent on this question being answered correctly. There are no black and white alternatives given beforehand, since the issue is one of balance between forces involved.
Variations of the united front :
We may either enter a united front with a similar organization or express unity in action. This choice depends much on whom we plan on aligning with. The difference between these two variations can be demonstrated using the example of our tactics towards the forces involved in the Afghan war and our tasks in that country.
The foremost task of the present Afghan struggle much like China at the time of the Japanese invasion rested on the expulsion of the imperialist forces attempting to subjugate and exploit that country’s resources. The problem we face in pursuing this overarching goal, is that we will be sharing our battles with the most vile, most corrupt and reactionary of armies in the Afghan Taliban. Their agenda is to establish a repressive islamic state, which would perhaps in the long run make just as bad an agreement with world imperialism as the present quisling Karzai government. But the core tasks of bolsheviks is not to speculate idly on what possible future may befall Afghanistan, the core task is to understand the democratic tasks to fight for and chart the road for the socialist revolution in South Asia.
It is as obvious as daylight that there cannot be even the remotest of agreements with the Taliban on long term agenda. Given the chance, they would be as committed to the evisceration of the revolutionary party as the imperialists. However, our first commitment is towards fighting for the liberation of Afghanistan from the ongoing imperialist occupation. For this we are fighting the same enemy as the Taliban. Here we call for unity in action with the Taliban on the point of agreement over the fight against foreign imperialism. Our troops in the field would coordinate their attacks against ISAF troops and proxy Afghan National Army troops with the troops of the Taliban. However, we keep not only our own discipline in fighting, but retain our own propaganda, our own programmatic agenda for the future of Afghanistan as well as our long term hostility towards the idea of theocracy.
Of course, given the reality of our peripheral existence in the world and undoubtedly in Afghanistan, it would be next to impossible to build such an alliance even one only restricted to ‘unity in action’. Our actions must therefore, be oriented towards propaganda activities primarily and the cornerstone of this is the attack on imperialism. We would thus continue to work on the united front principle and express a ‘unity in action’ with the Taliban. At the same time, we warn the Afghan people of the dangers of allowing the Taliban to lead the anti-imperial struggle and condemn any agreement they make with any imperial force.
The same principles may not apply when and if we engage in a united front effort with an organization who share fundamental agreements in regard to programme. If we unite with organizations of the working class, with whom differences are of a peripheral nature but agreements are fundamental *( if we agree on the Socialist revolution and its path ), incidental differences on tactics and strategies to combat imperialism are secondary in nature. Here we engage in joint work with a view towards possible merger of forces over a common party building agenda on the basis of a programme for revolution. This would be a deep united front which may go beyond simply working together around single issues.
The united front tactic gives a Bolshevik-Leninist force its power. Despite smaller numbers and organizational weakness, we can multiply our forces in conjunction with the resources of another force in conducting our intervention. Using this approach we retain our own discipline and our own political character and use the power of bolshevik theory to build our strength in the class struggle. Care must be taken however, that we never weaken the effort by compromising our stance even and especially with respect to those we align with. Our alignments with deeply hostile forces which are against our ideals are necessarily only be temporary and issue-specific. Once a front with such forces has accomplished its core objectives, we must be prepared with our own organizational strength to fight against them and stake our own claim to power.