Editorial Notes

United Front in Practice

(February 1932)

Written: February 1932.
Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 8 (Whole No. 104), 20 February 1932, p. 4.
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We have heard a lot of twaddle about this united front from critics of the Left Opposition who have described our struggle for principle as “sectarianism”. But for all that, the first concrete example of the united front which has not involved a sacrifice of principle – the marine workers’ defense committee – was initiated by the “sectarians” of the Opposition. So far all of its activities have been of a positive character and we have no reason to regret our participation in it. What the future will bring we cannot know, but this much, is already clear: the formation of the committee, carried into life an almost forgotten principle, it rendered a timely service to persecuted workers and therefore to the class they represent. Thereby it is justified.

The event may have a certain effect on future developments in the Left wing labor movement. Hopes – as well as fears and speculations, depending on the source – are spoken of all around in this regard. But in our opinion the hopes as well as the fears are considerably exaggerated. We think now as we thought before that the problem of the united front, taking all the circumstances – and primarily the splits and relation of forces in the Communist ranks – into consideration, is a long way from solution. The work of the marine workers defense committee is at best only a contribution, by way of example, toward that solution.

Most empty and groundless of all is the talk about our participation in this joint struggle signifying a “change of policy” on the part of the Communist League. Those who draw this conclusion show that they know no more now than they knew before about the question of the united front. The defense committee is in a sense a political combination. It is not a union for joint struggle on a wide front of the class struggle. It is a simple agreement to cooperate on a single concrete issue, the most obvious one and the one having the widest appeal to the honest workers in all camps, and in a case which would brook no delay You cannot stall around and negotiate very long when workers are facing trial; you must either help to defend them or desert them. We chose the former course without any illusions as to the possible results and without altering our fundamental conceptions on the subject of the united front in general.

Another point needs to be considered in appraising this conditional, limited and – from our point of view – unavoidable united front action. That is its experimental character. Our part in the endeavor was conceived as a class duty at the moment. We never guaranteed the results of the effort. So far they are good, far better in fact than was to be expected. But we are willing to leave predictions as to the final outcome to others. We will draw our conclusions at the end of the experiment.

Nevertheless the experience up to date has all tended to confirm in practice the conceptions we held in advance regarding the difficulties of carrying through a united front action without the participation of the official Party. The logic of the situation works against its success, and it is only the exceptional circumstances and the limited character of the issue, which we naturally took into consideration beforehand, that prevented a disruption of the present action.

The rude provocations of the Stalinists could only have the effect of nourishing and strengthening the anti-Communist elements, which are present in this case as they will always be. The Stalinists, by their whole course, prepared the ground for the transformation of the defense committee into a concentration point against Communism. This did no happen, and it is not likely to happen. There were and remain certain safeguards against it. By the nature of the case and the origin of the movement the Communist are in a position to fight more effectively against such a distortion. The principle of unity – against the capitalists and not against the Communist Party – has been firmly established in the policy and work of the committee and will not be easy to change. And finally, this direction is strengthened by the attitude of the prisoners who have a decisive word and have spoken it clearly for this policy.

All of this goes to show that we are dealing here with an exceptional situation from which it would be most unwise to draw hasty and general conclusions for the future. We must rather concentrate on the problem of the moment. The treacherous maneuvers of the Stalinists have been branded as they deserved to be. The task now is to hold the defense movement to the basis of principle upon which it has worked up to now, which alone could maintain its class unity and justify its existence.

Last updated on: 24.4.2013