Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Phil Thompson, Communist Workers Party

Line of March’s United Front Against War and Racism – Strategy for What?

First Published: Workers Viewpoint, Vol. 6, No. 24, June 24-30, 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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There are two ways of viewing the present crises of capitalism and the danger of fascism. One view is to see only the dangers of fascism, which do exist, and to not see the opportunities and prospects of socialism which the present crises offer to us. This is a dangerous view, because it is only by grasping the opportunities presented before us in an all-sided way that communists can rally the masses of people to beat back the danger of fascism and win socialism.

The opposite view sees the present danger of fascism and war growing out of the destabilization of Western imperialism, but also sees the need to grasp the historic opportunity open to us. The capitalist crises have resulted in tremendous and growing impoverishment of the entire working class which has given rise to profound disorientation and frustration among the U.S. working class. The masses are increasingly open to communist leadership which presents us with an historic opportunity; but they are also susceptible to fascist demagogy of which the bourgeoisie will make use. The question is whether communists will grasp the opportunity and have the strength and determination to beat back the bourgeoisie’s influence over the working class and provide a socialist alternative.

Line of March actually gives up the fight from the word go. They argue that:

First of all, finance capital has succeeded in forging a sufficient ideological consensus among the masses on behalf of a program of militarism, racism and social ’austerity’ so that its political representatives are prepared to move with relative impunity towards its implementation.[1]

Does the election of Ronald Reagan signify an ideological consensus among the masses for militarism, racism and social austerity as Line of March postulates? He received 25% of the vote among eligible voters, and most of those voted for him because of his demagogic appeal to their need for economic improvement, not out of “ideological” consensus. Certainly the response of the miners to the first contract does not show any “consensus” for social austerity. Nor is the response of the elderly and soon to be elderly show a consensus for cuts in Social Security. Nor does the response of the 100,000 marchers on May 3, and the majority of workers, students, and the church to U.S. intervention in El Salvador, which forced the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to an overwhelming vote for restrictions on U.S. involvement in El Salvador, a sign of “ideological consensus” for U.S. militarism. The recent display of green ribbons in different cities on the part of many white workers also shows that there is not a racist ideological consensus either (more on this later).

Our point is not to say that racism or bourgeois patriotism doesn’t exist in the working class, or to underestimate its influence, which would be an excuse for not struggling against it in the context of the overall class struggle. Our point is that the election of Ronald Reagan did not give the bourgeoisie a “mandate,” nor has the bourgeoisie a “sufficient” ideological consensus among the masses to act with “relative impunity.” In fact, the bourgeoisie’s proposed cuts in Social Security, tax breaks for the rich, etc., have further isolated the bourgeoisie from the masses. It is important for communists not only to “take note” of this, but to utilize every flaw of the bourgeoisie for political exposure and training of the working class.

On this latter point there would appear to be agreement among all communists, but there is not, particularly not from Line of March. Line of March asserts that, on the issue of fighting high taxes,

The ’grassroots’ populist movements which sprang up with a great clamor for reducing taxes on the middle class were spawned, for the most part, by groups part of or close to the organized right. This ’tax revolt’ was racist in its political objectives (its program for reduced social spending was inevitably at the expense of the poorest sections of the working class, where most minority people in the U.S. are located), its ideological underpinnings (’they’ are all cheats or ’too lazy to work,’ etc.), and in its composition (the movement was conspicuously white).[2]

Here is a classic case of throwing out the baby with the bath water. It is the task of communists to grasp the essence of various movements and not get stuck on their forms. It is a gross oversimplification, besides being dead wrong, for Line of March to call the tax revolts a “bourgeois offensive.” First of all, the suburbanites, e.g. teachers, skilled workers, office workers, etc., who supported the tax revolt are not mainly middle-class but part of the modern proletariat. They are overburdened with taxes, that is why the movement caught fire. The main political objective of the people who supported the movement was a reduction in taxes. It is to this sentiment that neo-fascists like Jarvis demagogically appealed and offered up solutions which objectively let the bourgeoisie off the hook and pits whites against blacks. The conclusion from this is not that the tax revolt is a bourgeois offensive because it is bourgeois-led, or racist because it is “conspicuously white.” The conclusion is that unless communists give bold leadership to the masses against high taxes, crime, destruction of the family, etc., then the bourgeoisie will take leadership of these movements and steer them in a racist, potentially fascist direction. All the more reason then to work in them now. Any other view is anti-working class, a petty-bourgeois socialist abandonment of the working class to the bourgeoisie. It should be noted to Line of March that the “conspicuous” absence of communists in the tax revolt was more significant than the absence of blacks.

Abandonment of Working Class: Strategy or Tactic?

Before getting into Line of March’s UFAF (united front against fascism) strategy, it will prove helpful to get a Marxist definition of strategy and tactics as scientific concepts.

The strategy and tactics of Leninism constitute the science of leadership in the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat. “Strategy is the determination of the direction of the main blow of the proletariat at a given stage of the revolution, the elaboration of a corresponding plan for the disposition of the revolutionary forces (main and secondary reserves), the fight to carry out this plan throughout the given stage of the revolution.

Tactics are the determination of the line of conduct of the proletariat in the comparatively short period of the flow or ebb of the movement, of the rise or decline of the revolution, the fight to carry out this line by means of replacing old forms of struggle by new ones, by combining these forms, etc…” (Stalin, Foundations of Leninism)[3]

The first striking thing about Line of March’s UFAF is that it accepts the victory of fascism as a given, it discounts the possibility of socialist revolution although the possibility of achieving socialism is increasing with the downfall of Western imperialism. This pessimistic and one-sided view of the present situation is rooted in Line of March’s petty bourgeois disdain for the working class, an underestimation of their suffering and revolutionary potential. Because of this narrowness, their outlook is necessarily tailist and reformist.

The main revolutionary force in the U.S. is the multinational working class. The main bulk of a revolutionary strategy in the U.S. must be the mobilization and disposition of the U.S. multinational working class and its primary reserves: the national movements, the woman’s movement, youth, intellectuals, etc. That is, the bulk of a strategy in the U.S. must be Party work among the masses. Nowhere in Line of March’s strategy do we have a plan for Party-building, for communist propaganda-agitation-organization in the working class, against budget cuts, against high taxes, crime, Atlanta, and other issues on the minds of the masses. Where is their plan for the disposition of the main force? In their entire article on trade unions there is not a single iota on taking up the fight against government and company attacks on communists and militant activists, which is a heated battle taking place in the NASSCO shipyards in San Diego, and an issue for all communist organizers in the working class. Line of March tell us that,

There can be no doubt that the struggle to unite the working class as a whole – particularly the advanced workers and the broad middle strata of the working class – around the line and program of the communist is a permanent feature of communist work. But this is not the same as the call for united front which explicitly means the attempt to unite different political tendencies and definite political forces in the working class movement. (p.33)

Here we are told that “no doubt” independent communist work among the working class is a “permanent feature.” But we are not told what the purpose of this work is, nor how it fits into their UFAF strategy, nor how to do it concretely. In fact, we are not told how communists can “forge” a united front in the working class movement without any base in the working class. All we get from Line of March on this point are evasions, such as:

In the long run, of course, our capacity to forge such a united front will correspond directly to our capacity to forge our trend into a party and our ability to make the line of the party a material force among the masses. (p. 40)

This is “of course,” all Line of March has to say on the subject of how to build a united front without an independent communist base in the working class. The whole question of how to build a party and how to make the line of the party a material force among the masses is treated as though it was a given, “of course.” But this is the critical question, the strategic question, upon which Line of March admits communist ability to forge a united front “will correspond directly.” This being the case, why doesn’t Line of March’s strategy deal with the question of how to build the party into a material force among the working class? The answer is because Line of March does not broadly organize in the working class, because they liquidate the immediate and strategic importance of doing it. Their UFAF is not a real proletarian strategy but a formula for coalition hopping, which Line of March is good at. Precisely because a UFAF is composed of “different political tendencies” representing different classes and class interests, the proletarian party cannot base its strategy on united front.

While the UFAF is a necessary tactic in this period to isolate the bourgeoisie and help build a movement against government repression, UFAF cannot serve as a strategy. Communist strategy in this period must be based, not on the vicissitudes of coalition building, but on the deepening of the party’s base in the proletariat and its allies in the course of its mobilization and disposition against the bourgeoisie. Communists must fight for leadership in the united front in order to ensure consistent revolutionary direction and stability in the united front. The potential for a united front to rally the broad masses is greatest with a nucleus of strong working class leadership. The stronger the independent mass base and influence of the communist party, the more potential there is for broadening the united front.

Without a strong communist party with a strong base among the workers, it will be impossible to forge a strong UFAF or any other type of united front in this country. This is the relation between party-building and united front which Line of March avoids. Listen to this: “There can be no ready-at-hand formula beforehand as to the ’proper’ balance between the work in the united front and the ’independent’ work of communists or other forces except to note that both must be maintained and developed and that more particular questions will be of a tactical nature that will require great skill and political acumen to handle properly.” (p. 42) But Line of March does already have a “formula,” it is a formula for tailism. It is not the UFAF which is strategic and the independent work of communists (which they put in quotes – mind you) which is of a “tactical nature,” it’s the other way around. Communists’ independent work must be on-going and consistent. Communists must become respected to the workers as their foremost fighters and self-sacrificing leaders, on that basis; communists can form united fronts “of a tactical nature.” Line of March, whose strategy negates party work in the masses, will lead only to a tailest sect, a loss of any independence and initiative in the united front they hope to build.

Where does the basis lie for Line of March’s petty bourgeois disdain for the working class, the strategic loss of faith in the proletariat and certainty in the triumph of fascism? It lies in their idealism and mechanical materialism. Look here:

But ultimately the crucial strategic question is that of transformation of the U.S. working class into a class which grasps its revolutionary destiny and functions politically with that destiny in mind. This transformation will never occur until the U.S. working class breaks completely with the racist orientation that objectively unites the ’white’ section of the class with the bourgeoisie against the non-white section of the class.

Here we have it! The ultimate strategic question is that the U.S. working class must “break completely” with racism before there can be a revolution. The basis of the UFAF strategy, as opposed to tactic, is on this question. Line of March’s trade union position also boils down to ”bringing the line of opposition to war and racism to the labor movement.” (p. 88) Line of March has made a fundamental break with historical materialism. The masses make revolution not out of some mystical spiritual transformation, but out of historical and practical necessity. If revolution depended on a “complete break” with racism, there would never be a revolution. As long as capitalism exists, racism will continue to exist. Under socialism racism will continue to exist. If you were to tell black workers that under socialism the working class will “break completely” with racism, none would be so naive as to believe you. You will never convince the majority of white workers to make revolution out of feeling sorry for blacks. You must convince them that fighting racism is in their own interest, in the interest of fighting their foremost enemy, the U.S. bourgeoisie. That is why the communist strategy in the proletariat must include leading the defense of the interests of white workers against the bourgeoisie, be it job security, taxes, crime, or family, precisely those movements Line of March would leave to the fascists and Moral Majority. Communist strategy cannot be fighting racism and militarism alone, because it is precisely in the thick of the struggle of white workers against the bourgeoisie on issues most hurting to them that racism and militarism must be exposed as tools of the ruling class. Communists must organize white workers by fighting for OSHA, job security, and other basic economic issues, and win their respect. It is on the basis of fighting in the class struggle that workers will respect and respond to communist leadership to fight national oppression and racism. This is the real challenge which Line of March conveniently avoids. They would rather wage an ideological crusade to purify white workers, make them “break completely” with racism before they start strategically organizing them for revolution. This approach is extremely similar to Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee crusade in the Organizing Committee for an Ideological Center which instead of politically analyzing and solving the ways to win over workers and blacks to communism, “solves” it by an ideological crusade to purify and “proletarianize” their cadre. Line of March is even more ambitious, they want to purify and anti-racize the entire U.S. working class “completely.” They will have less luck. In fact their line will lead to a weakening of communist influence in the class, and will result (if practiced by those in the plants) to helping the working class to the right.

But why such a ludicrous proposal in the first place? It lies in the fact that Line of March still has not made the “break completely” with the white blind spot, white skin privilege theory. Let us show you what we mean: “.. .the bourgeoisie’s drive for greater productivity, enhanced capital accumulation and a stronger competitive position vis-a-vis its imperialist rivals must ultimately be at the expense of the entire working class. In this sense, the bourgeoisie’s attempt to forge a ’white’ consensus is only the opening assault in a heightened class war. But the bourgeoisie’s capacity to cushion materially the shocks of this assault for large sectors of white workers.. .In the absence of the capacity of communists to expose the process lays a foundation for such a ’white’ consensus actually to be forged.”(p.27)

If Line of March believes (and they do) that large sections of white workers have been “cushioned” from the effects of the crises, then they are missing the boat. Perhaps (more than perhaps) Line of March has not felt any “shocks” but the majority of workers, whites included, certainly have. It is precisely these ”shocks” which are disorienting the masses of white workers, presenting both the opportunity for communist agitation and propaganda as well as the danger of fascist demagogy gaining hold. It is not that the imperialist crises will “ultimately” affect the entire working class and white workers are now cushioned (substitute ’privileged’ = white skin privilege theory). The crisis is already having its effect and will continue to do so. If Line of March doesn’t see it now they will never see it. If by white workers being “cushioned” Line of March means they are better off than black workers, then white workers will always be cushioned under capitalism. This is because black workers will make sure of that. In that case, in this mechanical materialist conception, white workers will never be revolutionary. But this is mechanical materialism, not Marxism. Marxism holds that impoverishment is culturally relative, meaning, what’s meat to Sam is mush to Sally. For example, the present crisis is in many ways more profoundly disorienting to many white workers than blacks who are more accustomed to such hardship and instability. Saying that white workers are cushioned is only a petty-bourgeois philistine excuse for refusing to take up the fight for leadership in the working class, particularly among white workers. It is this “absence in the capacity of communists” that our strategy must address itself to and not more formulas for coalition hopping.


[1] Line of March Editorial Board, “A Communist Proposal for a United Front Against War and Racism,” Line of March, Vol. 1, No. 5, March/April 1981.

[2] ibid., p. 23.

[3] J.V. Stalin, The Foundations of Leninism, Foreign Language Press, Peking, 1970, p. 84, 86.