Popular front

Marxist Dictionary

Stalinist tactic proclaimed at the 6th Congress of the Comintern. It presented the formation of electoral alliances with the democratic parties and, eventually, the formation of a government by these, as a way to defeat the counterrevolution in its fascist form.

The Popular Front was originally tested in France as a coalition with the socialists and the radical-socialists, while the theory of the Fifth Congress on the “third period,” the idea that social democracy had become an “appendage of fascism” and “the main enemy,” was still formally in force.

The Popular Front is a direct consequence of the fusion of “socialism in one country” and the maxim of anti-fascism. In the first place because it separates the Comintern definitively from the objective of a proletarian revolution, associating it with republicanism and social democracy in defense of the democratic state. In the second place because by doing so it acknowledges the definitive divorce of the Russian bureaucracy from the world revolution first enunciated with “socialism in one country”. The point was to establish “friendly” governments, with the presence of Moscow-controlled parties. As an inevitable coda, the Popular Front will gradually change the dominant social background within stalinist parties.

Whether the debates are substantive or hollow, the congress represents a stage in the evolution of a certain sector of the working class. It is important, if only because by legalizing the opportunist turn in France, it immediately transplants it to the rest of the world. We are before a curious specimen of bureaucratic thought which, while granting, at least on paper, a certain liberal autonomy to the sections, even ordering them to think for themselves and adapt to their respective national circumstances, its congress proclaims at the same time that all the countries of the world, from fascist Germany to democratic Norway, from Britain to India, from Greece to China, have the same need for a “Popular Front” and, where possible, a Popular Front government. The congress is important because it marks the definitive entry of the Comintern – after a series of hesitations and missteps – into its “fourth period”, whose motto is “all power to Daladier” [French Republican minister], whose flag is the French tricolor, and whose anthem is the Marseillaise, which drowns out the sounds of the International. […]

We would make a fatal mistake if we believed that the “self-criticism” of the leaders was enough to completely and painlessly liquidate the theory and practice of the “third period” and that the opportunistic and patriotic turn has already secured a smooth future. While the bureaucracy was able to throw everything it revered up into the flames with scandalous ease, the same is not true of the masses. The attitude of the masses towards the slogans is more serious and authentic. The spirit of the “third period” is still alive in the consciousness of the workers who follow the Communist International. And this spirit was evident among the French Communists in Toulon and Brest. The leaders were able to curb grassroots opposition only for a time, swearing to them “in secret” that this was a clever maneuver designed to deceive the radicals and socialists, to alienate them from the masses, and then, “we will show them what we really are”. On the other hand, the coalitional and patriotic turn of the Communist Party has gained the sympathy of new layers quite far from the working class, very patriotic and very dissatisfied with the financial decrees, for whom the Communist Party is only the most energetic wing of the Popular Front.

“The Stalinist turn.” Leon Trotsky, 1935

During the Spanish Revolution, from July 1936 and openly from 1937, the Popular Front will become the embryo from which the PCE will lead and organize the counterrevolution, disarming the militias, retaking control of the collectivized factories and reorganizing the government and its repressive bodies dismantled by the proletarian insurrection of July 19. The Popular Front materializes the real meaning of anti-fascism. It is its clearest nationalist and patriotic expression, the battering ram of the counterrevolution, the last resort of the bourgeois state and truly responsible for Franco’s triumph.

When the bourgeoisie, through the Popular Front, had succeeded in subjecting to its discipline the CNT, the FAI and the POUM, the organizations most likely to help the takeover of political power by the worker-led Government Committees, the march against the revolution was brazenly begun, starting with the destruction of the Committees themselves. Stalinism played the role of conductor of the counterrevolutionary orchestra. As long as the proletariat was armed and the remnants of the bourgeois coercive bodies were destroyed, neither it nor Social Democracy dared to open its mouth to say that the Committees had to be destroyed, the dying state strengthened, the collectivizations halted and all the revolutionary measures that contradicted the “new type of democracy” theory fought against in general.

The first concern of the “Government of Victory” was to secure the armed force necessary to disarm the workers. Inspired by stalinism, Largo Caballero began new recruits for the Civil, Assault and Carabineros Guards, disguised as the National Security Guard. When the government thought it was strong enough, it began the offensive to disarm the proletarians and peasants and liquidate the socialist conquests. In reality, the stalinist and socialist counter-revolutionaries were not strong except with the assurance that anarchism and the POUM would not take measures to prevent their attempt. If one or both of them, after publicly denouncing what was being prepared, called on the masses to destroy the remnants of the state and the bourgeois institutions and take all political power, the encircling maneuver of the “victory government” would have failed and the revolution would have followed the course that history determined for it. But the stalino-socialist maneuver was achieved thanks to the collaboration of anarchism and poumism. The bourgeois State had weapons with which to defeat the workers and disarm them.

Then, at the end of 1936, it publicly revealed its game. Our war was not a civil war, but a “war of national independence” ; in our area the aim was not social revolution, but a “new type of democracy” , that is, bourgeois society. The Unified Socialist Youth met under the stalinist aegis to assure the millionaires in Paris, London and Washington that they were not a party of class or social revolution. The filthy Carrillo ratified: Let it be known that we are not making a maneuver, while Comorera was calling the workers who had won against the fascist insurrection savages and the bourgeoisie’s expropriation committees thieves. Shortly afterwards the prisons were filled with revolutionaries and hundreds of them were killed by stalinism or the GPU.

“Historical significance of July 19th.” G. Munis, 1938

Interestingly, the PCE is also transmuted in its social composition. As the leader of the PCE Fernando Claudín reported:

Many petty-bourgeois elements join the ranks of the PCE, attracted by the party’s reputation as a defender of order, legality and small property. A large contingent of young people who have not yet been trained in the traditional trade unions and workers’ organizations are mainly drawn to the PCE or are placed under its leadership through the JSI.

José Díaz’s report to the Central Committee in May 1937 shows that, compared to the 150,000 wage earners that the party encompasses (including not only agricultural and industrial workers, but also civil servants and business management), there are already more than 100,000 small property owners (professionals and farmers), along with 20,000 women who have no social affiliation. External witnesses, linked to the PCE at the time, reinforce these data in their testimonies.

The Communist Party is today, in the first place, the party of the administrative and military personnel, in the second place the party of the petty bourgeoisie and certain well-to-do peasant groups, in the third place the party of the public employees and only in the fourth place the party of the workers.

Frank Burkenau. El reñidero español, 1971.

The sociological analysis of militancy reflects the extent to which popular front politics and the nature of the party as a “transmission belt” from Moscow have managed to attract social sectors whose aim is to save the democratic republican state from the ongoing workers’ revolution.

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