Manifesto of the Workers' Group of the Russian Communist Party 1923

5. The socialist united front

Before examining the essential content of this question, it is necessary to remind ourselves of the conditions in which the theses of comrade Zinoviev on the united front were debated and accepted in Russia. From the 19th to the 21st of December 1921, the 12th Conference of the RCP (Bolshevik) took place, during which the question of the united front was posed. Up until then nothing on this subject had been written in the press or discussed in the meetings of the party. However, at the conference, comrade Zinoviev unleashed some crude attacks and the conference was so surprised that it immediately gave way and approved the theses with raised hands. We recall these circumstances not to offend anyone but to first of all draw attention to the facts that: 1) the tactic of the united front was discussed in a very hasty fashion, almost "militarily"; 2) in Russia it was carried out in a quite particular fashion.

The RCP (Bolshevik) was the promoter of this tactic within the Comintern (CI). It convinced foreign comrades that we Russian revolutionaries had succeeded precisely thanks to this tactic of the united front and that it had been built up in Russia on the basis of the experience of the whole pre-revolutionary epoch and particularly from the experience of the struggle of the Bolsheviks against the Mensheviks.

Comrades coming from different countries simply knew the fact that the Russian proletariat had won, and they wanted to do the same to their bourgeoisies. Now they were persuaded that the Russian proletariat had conquered thanks to the tactic of the united front. They could do no other since they did not know the history of the Russian revolution. Once comrade Lenin had very severely condemned those who trusted in simple words, but he didn't really want anyone to take him up on these particular words.

What lesson can we thus draw from the experience of the Russian revolution?

In one epoch the Bolsheviks supported a progressive movement against autocracy:

"a) social-democrats must support the bourgeoisie in so far as it is revolutionary or even merely oppositional in its struggle against Tsardom;

b) therefore, social-democrats must welcome the awakening of political consciousness in the Russian bourgeoisie; but, on the other hand, they are obliged to unmask before the proletariat the limited and inadequate character of the bourgeois liberation movement, wherever this limitedness and inadequacy shows itself" (Resolution of the IInd Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, 'Attitude to the liberals', August 1903).

The resolution of the IIIrd Congress, held in April 1905, reproduced these two points in recommending to comrades:

1) to explain to workers the counter-revolutionary and anti-proletarian nature of the bourgeois democratic current, regardless of its nuances, from the moderate liberals represented by the vast layers of large landowners and manufacturers to the most radical current known as the "Emancipation Union" and the varied groups of the liberal professions;

2) to fight vigorously against any attempt on the part of bourgeois democracy to recuperate the workers' movement and to speak in the name of the proletariat and its various groups. Since 1898 social democracy had been favourable to a "united front" (as they say now) with the bourgeoisie. But this united front had three phases:

1) in 1901, social democracy supported all "progressive movements" opposed to the existing regime;

2) in 1903, it recognised the need to go beyond the "limits of the movement of the bourgeoisie";

3) in 1905, in April, it took concrete steps "in strongly advising comrades to denounce the counter-revolutionary and anti-proletarian nature of the bourgeois democratic current, of all shades", and to energetically combat its influence on the proletariat.

But whatever the forms of support to the bourgeoisie, it is without doubt that during a certain period, before 1905, the Bolsheviks formed a united front with the bourgeoisie.

And what are we to think of a "revolutionary" who, based on the Russian experience, would propose a united front with the bourgeoisie today?

In September 1905, the Conference convoked specially to debate the question of the "Boulyguine Duma" defined the attitude of the latter towards the bourgeoisie in the following way: "By this illusion of a representation of the people, the autocracy aspires to attach a large part of the bourgeoisie that has grown weary of the labour movement and desires order; in assuring its interest and support, the autocracy intends to crush the revolutionary movement of the proletariat and the peasantry."

The resolution the Bolsheviks proposed to the RSDLP Unification Congress (April 1906) revealed the secret of the Bolsheviks' change of policy, from its previous support for the bourgeoisie to a struggle against it: "As for the class of large capitalists and landowners, one can see their very swift passage from opposition to an arrangement with the autocracy to together crush the revolution". As "the main task of the working class at the current time of the democratic revolution is the completion of this revolution", it should form a "united front" with parties who also want this. For this reason, the Bolsheviks renounced any agreement with the parties to the right of the Cadets and signed pacts with the parties to their left, the Social-Revolutionaries (SRs), Popular Socialists (NS) and the Trudoviks, therefore building "a socialist united front" in the struggle for the consistent advance of the democratic revolution.

Was the Bolsheviks' tactic right at this time? We do not believe that among active combatants of the October revolution there are people disputing the correctness of this tactic. We therefore see that from 1906 to 1917 inclusive, the Bolsheviks advocated "a socialist united front" in the struggle for the consistent advance of the democratic revolution achieved by the formation of a Provisional Revolutionary Government which convened a Constituent Assembly.

No one ever considered, nor could consider, this revolution as proletarian or socialist; all well understood that it was bourgeois-democratic. Nevertheless, the Bolsheviks proposed and themselves followed the tactic of a "socialist united front" by uniting in practice with the SRs, the Mensheviks, the Populists and Trudoviks.

What was the tactic of the Bolsheviks when the question posed was whether we should struggle for the democratic revolution or for the socialist revolution? Did the struggle for the power of the soviets also perhaps demand the "socialist united front"?

Revolutionary Marxists still consider the party of the Social-Revolutionaries to be a "bourgeois democratic fraction" with "ambiguous socialist phraseology"; which has been confirmed in large measure by its activity throughout the revolution and up to the present. As a bourgeois democratic fraction, this party cannot take on the practical task of a struggle for the socialist revolution, for socialism; but it tries, using an "ambiguous socialist" terminology, to hold back this struggle at any price. If this is so (and it is so) the tactic which must lead the insurgent proletariat to victory cannot be that of the socialist united front, but that of bloody combat, without circumspection, against the bourgeois fractions and their confusing socialist terminology. Only this combat can bring victory and it must be done in this way. The Russian proletariat has won, not by allying itself with the Social Revolutionaries, with the Populists and the Mensheviks, but by struggling against them.

It's true that toward October, the Bolsheviks succeeded in splitting the SRs[01] and the Mensheviks[02] by releasing the worker masses from the captivity of their obfuscating socialist terminology, and were able to take advantage of these splits, but that can hardly be regarded as a united front with bourgeois fractions.

What does the Russian experience teach us?

1) In certain historical moments, a united front with the bourgeoisie should be formed in countries where the country or the situation is more or less similar to that which existed in Russia before 1905.

2) In countries where the situation is somewhat similar to that in Russia between 1906 and 1917, it is necessary to abandon the tactic of a united front with the bourgeoisie and follow the tactic of a "socialist united front".

In countries where there is a direct struggle for proletarian power, it is necessary to abandon the tactic of the "socialist united front" and warn the proletariat that "the bourgeois fractions with ambiguous socialist phraseology" - at the present time all parties of the Second International - will at the crucial moment march arms in hand for the defence of the capitalist system.

It is necessary, for the unification of all the revolutionary elements which have the aim of overthrowing world capitalist exploitation, that they align with the German Communist Workers' Party (KAPD), the Dutch Communist Workers' Party and other parties that adhere to the 4th International. All the authentic proletarian revolutionary elements must detach themselves from the forces that imprison them: the parties of the Second International, the Two-and-a-half International[03] and their "ambiguous socialist phraseology". The victory of the world revolution is impossible without a principled rupture and a relentless struggle against the bourgeois caricatures of socialism. The opportunists and social-chauvinists, as servants of the bourgeoisie, and consequently direct enemies of the proletarian class, become, more especially today, linked to the capitalists, to the armed oppressors in their own country and abroad (Cf. programme of the RCP Bolshevik). This is the truth about the tactic of the socialist united front which, as backed up by the theses of the Executive of the CI, is supposed to be based on the experience of the Russian revolution, whereas, in reality, it is an opportunist tactic. Such a tactic of collaboration with the declared enemies of the working class who carry out armed oppression against the revolutionary proletariat in their own and other countries is in open contradiction to the experience of the Russian revolution. In order to remain under the banner of the social revolution, we must make a "united front" against the bourgeoisie and its socialist servants.

As above, the tactic of the "socialist united front" retains its revolutionary value in the countries where the proletariat struggles against autocracy, supported by the bourgeoisie and for the bourgeois democratic revolution.

And where the proletariat still fights autocracy which is also opposed by the bourgeoisie, it should follow the "united front" tactic with the bourgeoisie.

When the Comintern requires the communist parties of all countries to follow at all costs the tactic of the socialist united front, it is a dogmatic requirement which interferes with the resolution of practical tasks in accordance with the conditions of each country and undoubtedly harms the whole revolutionary movement of the proletariat.


[1] Editor's note: the Left Social Revolutionaries ("Left SRs"), favourable to the soviets, separated themselves from the Social Revolutionary Party in September 1917.

[2] At the Congress of the Soviets on 25th October 1917, 110 Menshevik delegates, a minority (out of 673), left the room at the moment of the ratification of the October revolution, denouncing it as a "Bolshevik coup d'etat".

[3] Editor's note: the International Union of Socialist parties was nicknamed the Two-and-a-half International, "because it situated itself between the Second and the Third". See the critique made of this regroupment in Alfred Rosmer's Lenin's Moscow (Pluto Press, 1971), in the chapter 'The delegates of the Third International in Berlin'.