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Lessons of United Front

Hugo Oehler

Lessons of the Leninist United Front Tactic

(July 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 35, 15 July 1933, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

(Continued from last issue)

Against United Front from Above

An opportunist deviation which is sure to land the revolutionist in the swamp is the united front from above. When the leadership of an organization comes together and decides over the heads of their membership or without the participation of the membership, except by bureaucratic decree, what to unite on and how to unite you can be assured that wrong start will not bring the desired results.

The united front between leaders, the united front from above, is a denial and violation of the united front of the working class. The united front of the leaders guaranties in advance the victory of the Right wing, the opportunists, and the labor fakers over the Left wing, the revolutionists, in the united action.

Against the United Front from Below

The Stalinist “Third Period” united front from below is the most harmful caricature’ and denial of the united front possible. If an organization desires a united front on some concrete issues and proceeds to send the call to all organizations it is sure it can control, mechanically or ideologically, but refuses to send the cull to other organizations of the working class, because the leaders, of the other organizations are fakers, because of fear of losing control – and instead invite the rank and file alone to unite, over the heads of their own leadership, the results will be a lasting service rendered to the misleaders and the fakers and a set-back for those who carry on the united front from below.

It would be excellent if the task of winning misled workers were so simple. If the united front from below were a short-cut to winning the rank and file from the misleaders, our task would already be an accomplished fact. This would imply a rapid transformation of a misled rank and file into an educated rank and file which has shaken off its misleaders and their petty bourgeois ideology. The education of misled rank and file work-e’rs is not so simple that it can be accomplished by telling them to unite with us over the heads of their leaders. The united front BETWEEN ORGANIZATIONS, when the leadership and the policies of the organizations can be put to a test, to enable the rank and file to see leaders and programs in action – that is the way to Educate and win the rank and file.

Workers belonging to organizations have faith in their organizations and often, their leaders. They are placed in a position where they must function THROUGH THE ORGANIZATION if they desire to continue as members because of faith, convictions, (no matter how false), or job control. By asking these workers to unite with us over the heads of the leaders and the organization through the united front from below, we are telling these workers to break with their organization on the one hand, and giving the misleaders an excuse for sabotaging united action, on the other hand. The united front from below strengthens rather than weakens the misleaders of the other organizations. When we invite the whole organization and the Left wing responds and the Right wing leaders decline, it is far more difficult for the Right wing leaders to fight the united front than it is when they have a chance to fight united action through the excuse of the “united front from below” – over the heads of the leaders and the organizations.

The Relation of the United Front from Above and Below

The united front with leaders and the united front from below are both wrong. A united front must be BETWEEN ORGANIZATIONS of the working class (or the working class (or between political tendencies, groups and factions, etc.) You do not appeal ORGANIZATIONALLY “from below”. You bring PRESSURE on the organization from below. You win the rank and file from below to force the ORGANIZATION into the united front. Have the other organizations elect delegates through their organizational channels to the united front regardless of who are selected as the delegates. You try to obtain Left wing delegates but you take what you ge – what they elect. If the organizations, send misleaders and betrayers they must be seated in the ignited front representing their respective organization.

The dialectics of the united front between organizations is to win the rank and file (below) and expose the leadership in action (above). This concept of below and above has nothing in common with “united fronts” put forward under those labels.

United Fronts and Individuals

The united front is not a tactic to corral a group of prominent individuals, liberals, and artists, who do not represent organizations or political tendencies.

A united front must have its foundation in WORKING CLASS ORGANIZATIONS. Such a united front can use as an auxiliary a few prominent individuals and friends of labor. They must play a subordinated role and in no case should they be given the leadership of the movement.

“Guarantee” Leadership of the United Front

“Join the united front against the capitalist class under the leadership of the Communists” (the Stalinist formula) – is the best way to formulate what is not a united front. We Communists hope to win ideological control and leadership through our superior program, but no one, not even those who have the prestige of the October revolution, can mechanically obtain leadership of the movement in advance. United fronts are not called under our leadership, or any other leadership.

It is wrong for one organization or political current to set up the provisional committee and adopt a draft program and call the other organizations to the united front. There are certain exceptions where emergency demands speed, but those who take the initiative must see to it that the program and leadership is lift open to be -decided at the conference, where all working class organizations have delegates, even though the conditions force the initiative upon one political current. In fact, one political current will always take the initiative, but this has nothing in common with the Stalinists, who interpret this to mean, “under our leadership”.

(To Be Continued)

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