First Published: Scientific Socialism, No. 1, 1973
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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You may already be aware that the Communist Unity Organisation and the Marxist-Leninist Workers’ Association recently united to form one organisation – the Communist Unity Association (Marxist-Leninist). However, the document ’Broad Fronts and United Fronts’ remains policy of the new organisation and will continue to be published, so we take this opportunity to reply to your criticisms in the name of the C.U.A.(ML).
The lateness of this reply to your draft document on the Comintern United Front Policy perhaps reveals with how much seriousness we regard your arguments. We feel this way not because of flippancy on our part to what are serious charges, but because in putting pen to paper to criticise the CUA document on broad fronts you appear to be shooting off half-cocked to criticise suspicions. However, a definite position is stated which we feel it necessary to criticise.
You begin by writing or should we say asserting that the CUA ’confines itself to a series of positions stated and points asserted’. But excuse us comrades, your whole document is based on the quite unscientific assertion that it is an historically self evident fact that the United Front Policy was wrong because there are no successes which can be attributed to it. It is a fact that a fascist coup d’etat was frustrated by a massive demonstration of communist and social-democratic workers held at a crucial time in France. The resistance was not only made up of communists, who undoubtedly were in the lead, but non-communists also.
In Britain, the call and pursuance of unity with social-democratic workers at the lower levels of the Labour Party, although obstructed by the leaders of the Labour Party, won some support and further facilitated the defeat of the Mosley fascists.
Your statement that the United Front Policy was not validated by success in preventing fascism or war is contemptible. Ask yourselves comrades: is it right that communists fight fascism and mobilise the workers against the threat of war? We would hardly expect any communist worth his salt to say no to either of these questions. It is the duty of communists to warn, unite and organise the workers against fascism and war which bring increased political and economic misery to the masses. Now, to pour scorn on a tactical policy which had precisely this aim by musing like a learned professor over whether or not the policy represented a theoretical development of Marxism is not a habit or method of thinking to be encouraged among leaders of the working class.
However, before we continue, we would like to draw to your attention the passage in the CUA document which states quite categorically:
...that a successful front against fascism requires a communist party based on a programme for revolution in Britain. No such party exists and must be formed (sic). Those that wish to fight for the dictatorship of the proletariat would do best by laying emphasis on the formation of such a party.’ The suggestion, or should we say assertion, that the CUA does not consistently stand by this because we support organisations and fronts genuinely set up to defend workers’ economic and political interests suggests on your part not taking seriously such work in the absence of a party. You present such curious arguments as the successes of fronts in the absence of a party are ’in the hands of reactioní. It is indeed no service to communism to replace the party with broad fronts. But we have never advocated this. In fact, you must know that this is what we have consistently argued against. We do, however, take part in practical activity which involves uniting and working with social-democrats and other non-communists, e.g. tenants’ work.
The basis of unity that we have insisted on and achieved is that the tenants’ main enemy is the City of London, opposition to the Labour Party, a vigorous campaign against racism and organising and relying on the mass of tenants not Parliament or the law. At present this is our main link with the working class and these minimum demands make it a link beneficial to communism. The Labour Party certainly sees it that way and greets such tenants’ aims with cynicism or hostility. When we talk of work in broad organisations having a correct relationship to party building, we mean that such work will suffer without a revolutionary communist party and programme. So, the formation of such a party must take priority. But in making this a priority, it is nonsense and treachery to talk of not building or, worse still, severing links with the working class.
What are we to understand by the statement that the United Front Policy by the ’very nature of its underlying theory...could not exist other than as a strategy’? What is meant by ’underlying theory’? Did or did not the unity of communist and social-democratic workers facilitate the struggle against fascism coming to or in power? We are not talking about the Communist Party sacrificing its organisation and programme but of an agreement which would further the aims of the Communist Party. Does not the exposure of social-democracy refusing to unite against fascism further the influence of and strengthen the Communist Party?
If such unity is successful in defending basic democratic rights k as against open terrorism as a form of government which consigns ’ communists and trade unionists to fascist dungeons and concentration camps, is this not in the interest of the Communist Party and its programme? This is not to despair and refuse to develop secret organisation and struggle even in conditions of relative democracy, but this is not the point we are arguing here. We are being told that such agreements as the United Front Policy naturally lead to a policy of class collaboration and revisionism because of its ’underlying theory’.
It is this that we cannot accept and would add that such views stem more from a fear of losing one’s communist purity than an analysis of revolutionary tactics. Incidentally, nowhere have we said that the decision of the 7th Comintern Congress applied following the 2nd World War and the defeat of fascism. Neither have we said, in the absence of a study and an analysis of the trend of British imperialism, that it represents our immediate tasks today. We have found it necessary to defend the United Front Policy at that historical juncture against such interpretations as your organisation makes.
We quote the three analytical postulates on which you consider the United Front Policy to be based:
First, that fascism is qualitatively distinct from other forms of bourgeois rule, the distinction consisting chiefly in the degree of direct terrorism employed by the fascist state.
Second, that social-democracy somewhere between 1929 and 1933 underwent or started to undergo a change in its essential class nature, its “left” at least becoming proletarianised.
Third, and more or less contradicting the first, that a new imperialist war had by 1935 ceased to be inevitable.
You offer no comment on these three points although you seem to have substantiated that there is a qualitative distinction between bourgeois democracy and bourgeois fascism. On this there can be no doubt. To say that there is no difference on the grounds that both are bourgeois rule is to commit the gross error of abdicating the responsibility of resisting the savagely increased oppression and exploitation which fascism brings. A policy which would leave any party isolated and divorced from the demands of the masses.
The second and third postulates are indeed presented in an extremely onesided manner. With regard to social-democracy...its “left” at least becoming proletarianised, we ask this question – did the mass of the membership of social-democratic parties or their following have any objective interest in the fascists coming to power? Of course not! So what is this talk about the ’essential class’ character of social-democracy undergoing a change? In most cases the response of the social-democratic leaders to communist proposals for unity against fascism was outright rejection and sabotage against such unity. But this did not prevent honest workers in these parties from condemning their leaders’ actions and uniting with communists against fascism. Further the disaffection in the social-democratic parties caused by the exposure of treacherous leadership strengthened the ranks of many communist parties.
It is a strange mentality which regards social-democratic parties like the Labour Party and the C.P.G.B. as monolithic in their sabotage and treachery to working class struggle while at the same time forgetting that their role is to dupe the working class and spread the illusion that they are socialist parties. We must presume some success in this direction. With regard to the exposure of social-democracy and revisionism this can best be achieved by making demands upon them which show up their demagogy. The demand for unity against fascism surely comes within this category.
On the third postulate, Leninism teaches that imperialism by its very nature leads to war. To this extent one can speak of the inevitability of the 2nd World War in 1935 and a 3rd World War in 1973. But only a charlatan would conclude from this that it is pointless, or (sic) denial that imperialism leads to war, to campaign against such an imperialist slaughter, with the aim of preventing it, by rousing the indignation of the masses against the capitalist warmongers. In fact Dimitrov never denied that imperialism leads to war. He did sharply criticise those that spoke of the inevitability of fascism and presumably war and would use such arguments to justify standing idly by in the face of such increased economic and political oppression of the masses. Marxism-Leninism does not only explain and interpret the movement of classes and contradictions but demands that such knowledge be used to change the world.
It is indeed a dishonest move on your part to depict the decisions of the 7th Congress of the Comintern as dominated by revisionism because the Soviet revisionists seek ’theoretical respectability’ by presenting their social-imperialism as an ongoing application of the 7th Congress. What are we to make of peaceful co-existence which has been used to justify social-imperialist collusion with the United States? There are two sides to everything. Just as members of the CPC interpreted unity with the Kuomintang against Japanese imperialism as ending struggle against that organisation, members of the western communist parties sought to cease struggling against social-democratic class collaborationism in the interest of unity against fascism.
Later, following the 2nd World War and the world victory against fascism, the same elements presented this victory plus a parliamentary majority as all that was needed to achieve socialism. It is our view that the majority of communist parties in the west failed to analyse correctly the situation following the war and did not use their increased strength in a struggle for state power and the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The charge of rightism under cover of centrism levelled against us is perhaps the most serious charge that you make. It is a charge which has brought about a fear of criticising sectarianism for what it is – leftist phrase making among many comrades. We wouldn’t argue with you that generally rightism is the main danger. But to presume from this that left opportunism (which is always right in essence) or sectarianism isn’t so bad as revisionism is a mistake. As Lenin said of such things when faced with a bad choice, ’they are both worse’. As for the phenomenon of substituting the broad front for the party – the issue under discussion in our document – this is a sectarian error and whether you like it or not it has been an obstacle to building a revolutionary Marxist-Leninist party in Britain for many years since the beginnings of the anti-revisionist movement.
But we are forgetting you are contemptuous of the CUA’s concern for unity and consider this to be another factor showing up our centrism. We are not ashamed of being for unity albeit on definite principles.
Everybody knows that Lenin advised the British socialists and communists to unite in 1920 and that he considered this preferable to holding back unnecessarily the formation of the communist party because of tactical differences. Of course conditions are vastly different today but we- do not understand what it is that makes you scorn our concern for unity. We stand for Mao’s formulation of upholding unity whilst persevering in principle. Your formulation seems to be one of upholding disunity under a cover of preserving principle.
We are bemused by the charge that the CUA still holds a federalist approach to party building. Since you seem to have gone to a great deal of trouble to misquote and misinterpret the views laid down in our pamphlet on broad fronts, we would hardly expect you to have noticed that the CUO came into existence following a struggle against federalism inside the CPB.
In fact a document on party building will be published in the future by the CUA which will among other things deal further with the question of federalism in party building.