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New International, August 1934


A New Turn to the United Front

From New International, Vol. I No. 2, August 1934, p. 35–36.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


UNDOUBTEDLY the most important event in the international labor movement of recent times is the consummation of a united front agreement between the Socialist and Stalinist parties of France, the official text of which is reproduced elsewhere! in this issue. For the bureaucracies of both parties, the step represents a brusque turn-about-face from the position, held by both of them only yesterday. Its consequences may be of the most far-reaching significance for the working class movement of the entire world.

The German catastrophe gave most striking confirmation of the idea that the vanguard party which is incapable of uniting the bulk of the working class behind it against the extreme reaction of Fascism, is crushed together with the proletariat itself. The Austrian events a year later provided proof of the indispensable complement of this idea: that the unity of the working class (which existed to the highest degree, under the banner of the social democracy), is an invincible weapon only when the proletariat has at its disposal a determined revolutionary party. The working class of France, which is now confronted with the same problem as the proletariat of Central Europe a couple of years ago – the struggle against Fascism is now the first point on the order of the day in the Third Republic – can solve it only by drawing upon the experiences of the recent defeats.

“Everything has changed in the twinkle of an eye,” wrote M. Leon Blum in the socialist daily on July 8. Up to a few weeks ago, the French socialists adhered to the policy of all the parties of the Second International in rejecting the united front. Such a step was either regarded as a sinister manoeuvre of the communists, or else positive action was predicated upon a preliminary international agreement. The Stalinists, on the other hand, continued to cling feverishly to the dogma of “social-Fascism” and the “united front only from below”. One papal bull after another thundered forth from the Stalinist secretariat, excommunicating and consigning to eternal flames those traitors, counter-revolutionists and followers of the “social-Hitlerite” (i.e., Trotsky) who made the outrageous proposal that the Communist party should “sit down at a table with Wels and Renaudel” for the purpose of working out a fighting minimum agreement against the Fascist marauders. How, indeed, is it possible to join in a compact against Fascism with its “twin brother”, social democracy? And, moreover, what interest can the Stalinists have in defending the democratic rights of the proletariat – a sinister term invented by Trotskyism for the purpose of misleading the workers into the camp of social democracy! – when the thirteenth plenum has put the immediate struggle for Soviet power at the top of the agenda ? The very pact that has just been signed in Paris is pervaded with the odor of the expulsion from the CP of Jacques Doriot, who proposed – poor Doriot! – nothing that the Stalinists have not just put their signatures to.

The change of front of the social democracy is not difficult to understand. The tremendous wave of sentiment irt the ranks is universally acknowledged. The French socialist proletariat has learned more from the events of the past two years than its leadership, and it does not want to bow to Fascist servitude without a militant fight. “It was morally impossible for them to decline,” says Vandervelde about Leon Blum and Co.’s acceptance of the united front, and even Longuet understood “the impossibility of abstaining without condemning ourselves to death”. In the second place, as the Paris organ of the bourgeois Radicals points out,

“... in their rapproachment with the communists, no doctrinal concession has been agreed to. Those who claim that the socialists allowed themselves to be manacled by Moscow, are making a complete travesty of the reality of the facts. All the concessions – absolutely all – have been made by the communists, they have driven abnegation to the uttermost limits by renouncing what constituted after all, the whole originality of their propaganda” (l’Information Sociale, July 26, 1934).

The Stalinist somersault in policy is not determined by the equally powerful urge for the united front which undoubtedly exists in the communist ranks. The bankrupt bureaucracy snaps a contemptuous finger at what its followers may think or want. It was ready to break with its most powerful local organization, St.-Denis, rather than undertake a change in course from the idiotic dogma of “social-Fascism”. If it has tacitly buried it – at least for the day – the hero of the funeral is not Thorez, nor yet Cachin, but the Honorable Maxim Litvinov, Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union. With a cynicism which is unfortunately not unwarranted, Leon Blum almost approaches the truth when he writes:

“Faced with the danger of war in the Far East, the Soviet government knows that in the rear it will have to contend with Hitlerism. And, consequently, the instinct of self-preservation dictates to the Bolsheviks a new orientation both in the field of its class, or proletarian, policies and in the realm of diplomacy and international politics. Soviet Russia has now come closer to the French government and therefore is fishing for popular support among the French masses.”

The Stalinist theory of “socialism in one country”, subverting the communist movement into a border patrol for the Russian Soviets, is incompatible with a consistent revolutionary policy. We have argued this on more than one occasion. Proceeding from this theory, the Stalinists made a united front in China with the bourgeois nationalists and helped the counter-revolution to triumph, aiding neither the Chinese masses nor the Soviet Union. With the same motivation, which separates the interests of Soviet defense from the interests of the world revolution, the communists were subjected to the yoke of the British trade union bureaucracy which was going “to protect Russia from intervention”, and thereby the Third International became a silent partner to the betrayal of the general strike of 1926.

Now in France too the Soviet Foreign Office has intervened to impose a similar policy upon the French Stalinists. The inauspicious omens attending the birth of the united front in France (it exists now in the Saar too, and efforts are being made to extend it to other countries; what a picture it gives of the Third International today – Litvinov accomplishes with a turn of the wrist what Manuilsky has been damning for years to choral accompaniments by Heckert, Thorez, Browder and other choir boys!) render its future more than dubious.

At the very outset, it is instructive to compare the text of the united front pact finally adopted with the original proposals made by the Stalinists on July 2. Article II of the latter specified that

“The campaign against the decree-laws shall be conducted by the same means [meetings and demonstrations in the street], but also by bringing to bear the methods of agitation and organization appropriate for leading to a realization of a broad strike action against these decree-laws.”

The socialist bureaucrats, brothers-under-the-skin of the German capitulators, obdurately opposed the reference to strike action, and the Stalinists withdrew their point. Article IV of the original Stalinist text read:

“Doctrinal controversies, the comparing of tactical methods, far from being proscribed by the realization of unity of action, remain necessary for the elevation of the political level of the masses and for the development of the class consciousness of the masses.”

Blum and Faure, who make joint agreements and “united fronts” by the yard with the bourgeois Radicals without demanding a non-aggression pact, without demanding the suspension of criticism (they have little to fear from the Right), fought against Article IV as well (they have more than a little to fear from the Left), and the Stalinists withdrew it.

Article V of the original Stalinist draft read:

“In the interests of the success of the joint action, each party reserves to itself the right of denouncing those who, having undertaken clearcut engagements, seek to evade their application, as well as those who in the course of the action take an attitude or commit deeds which may do damage to the success of the undertaken action.”

Here the Stalinists were mildly seeking to reserve to themselves the right of criticizing those in the camp of the Socialist party (and of course granting the reciprocal right to the socialists) who betrayed the interests of the struggle against Fascism. But on this score also they backed water, and adopted instead the text (Article IV in the accepted draft) which gives the Socialist party the “right” to discipline its own flock, and the Communist party the “right” to criticize its own flock – but nothing more. The distinction is palpable: M. Blum reserves to himself – and to nobody else! – the right to check M. Blum, and in exchange is ready to concede that M. Thorez – and nobody else – should be empowered to examine into the conduct of M. Thorez.

The two bureaucracies have thus formed a joint protective association with mutual amnesty as its capital stock, and with anything else as its goal except the mobilization of the masses for an active and effective struggle against Fascism. Especially at the present junction in France, the Fascists cannot be eliminated as an increasingly imminent danger by means of meetings in the Palais d’Hiver or demonstrations at the Bois de Vincennes.

The temper of the elders dominating the present united front movement is adequately indicated by the, incident of July 8. The Fascist Croix de Feu demonstrated at the Arc-de-Triomphe, an impudent mob of a few thousand gilded youth. The joint committee of the SP and CP proposed a counter-demonstration – not at the Arc-de-Triomphe, god forbid! That would not only be a bit audacious for revolutionary working class Paris united under a common banner, but it would have put the Doumergue regime in the crotch of the fork – but miles away at the Place de la Nation. Even this distance was considered insufficiently remote by the police, and at the order of the Prefecture, the Parisian working class was meekly directed by its leaders to demonstrate in the Bois de Vincennes – as far away as you can get from the Arc-de-Triomphe without taking a train out of Paris.

While the Fascists are feverishly engaged in arming themselves, and in launching those experimental sallies upon workers and workers’ gatherings which are preliminary to more extensive assaults, the French proletariat is intoxicated with the illusion of imposing parades. Indeed, the Stalinists now devote themselves to violent attacks upon the French Bolshevik-Leninists for proposing a program of disarming the Fascists, organizing the workers into a Workers’ Militia, and preparing the general strike to oust the would-be Bonapartist regime of Doumergue.

It is a united front of inaction! If one looked with a microscope for one aspect of the old Stalinist position on the united front that had an iota of validity, it might be found in their demand for a “united front of action”. To the extent that this was counterposed to the social democratic conception of unity or united front for purely decorative and consolatory purposes, for parade ground meetings, for anything but active struggle – it was indubitably correct. But the measure of Stalinism is given by the fact that at each startling revolution of the kaleidoscopic wheel of its policies, it throws off that miniscular point which lent an ounce of sense to yesterday’s course and adopts in its stead something new, something senseless, something equally if not more deleterious to the proletariat than the whole policy which it just dropped so suddenly. Indeed a united front of inaction!

Not the least important aspect of the latest turn in French labor politics, however, is the growing trend towards organic unity, that is, towards merging the two existing organizations into a single party. At first blush, the very idea may seem preposterous. Yet, it is so, it is a fact. Not only socialist leaders, but Stalinists like Thorez and Cachin as well, have more than merely intimated that the united front is but the first substantial step towards an organic fusion into a single party. Of at least equal significance is the fact that among the masses following both parties there has arisen a widespread enthusiasm for the amalgamation of the two parties into one.

Without attempting to exhaust the question, or to express a conclusive and categorical opinion on the dispute which is dealt with on another page, one can agree from the very start with at least one salient idea from each contender. For the leaders of either (in this case, of course, both) of the two parties to speak of organic unity is an implicit avowal of the bankruptcy of their respective organizations, an admission that there never has been, or at least that there is not now, any fundamental difference in principle warranting the maintenance of an independent social democratic party or an independent communist (read: Stalinist) party. In this there is a sound heart of truth. Both Stalinism and present-day social democracy represent varieties of Centrism, often enough sharply antagonistic to each other, but varieties of Centrism nevertheless. The facility with which the former fused with Chiang Kai-Shek, with A.A. Purcell, with Pilsudski (a good 80 percent, at any rate), with the petty bourgeois pacifists of the Barbusse movement, etc., etc., is sufficiently indicative of its political nature.

Examining the problem from the opposite pole, the conclusion is evident that so far as the masses are concerned, their demand for organic unity is, at least in good part, a vote of non-confidence in both existing parties. The social democracy by itself – no. The Stalinist party by itself – no. The two together, forming a single, a new, party – yes. By this the masses are expressing in a still badly articulated manner, vaguely, uncertainly, their desire for a new revolutionary party different from those which exist, which breathe and poison the atmosphere with the defeats they pile upon the back of the proletariat.

To our mind, the Marxists can have but one view of the problem posed now in France and elsewhere tomorrow. “Organic unity” is not the solution to the burning problems of the proletariat. Even if there were no sound theoretical guiding lines, the crumpling up of the Austrian social democracy would be empirical evidence enough. In Austria, a “perfect organic unity” existed: one party, one trade union, one cooperative, one youth, one military movement – all under one roof and one banner. What was lacking was the revolutionary party, capable of uniting the masses and their organizations upon a revolutionary program. Its absence proved nothing less than fatal. Were one to go back further in history, it would be well to remember that the proletarian unity that existed before the war was shattered in and after the war,

Revolutionists cannot remain in the same party with reformists. The champions of the workers’ revolution and dictatorship, cannot remain in the same party with the champions of bourgeois democracy. The proponents of class struggle are the mortal enemy of the practitioners of class collaboration.

A merger in France, were it to take place, would be of the briefest duration: 1934 is not 1904. Thrusting upward through the crustified bureaucratic combination at the top would inevitably come the revolutionary ferment at the bottom, breaking through irresistibly and settling down into a new party, the party of international revolutionary Marxism.

The working class progresses, too often alas! by devious routes, and the revolution has more than once had to pay for the crimes of others. But even if it is compelled to retrace a step here and another there, the new party of Marxism will make its way. It is necessary only to hold firm to convictions and to fight for victory against all obstacles, under all conditions, and with unbroken ranks.

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