Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Is the united front a 'right wing' strategy?

This is an extract from the SWP Left Platform's perspectives:

For Lenin and Trotsky the strategy of the united front was essential to advancing the interests of the working class. A united front unites broad layers of people around shared demands and simultaneously provides the conditions for the revolutionary party to flourish and grow.

The united front is therefore integral to revolutionary strategy, unless the party is so small or the objective situation is so adverse that no such broad unity is possible. But what happens when the revolutionary party stops pursuing a united front strategy?

The lack of such a strategy can lead to revolutionaries accommodating to political forces to their right. This is because the party has no effective mechanism for changing the balance of forces in favour of revolutionaries.

At the same time the party is also prone to sectarianism and reliance on party propaganda. This is for precisely the same reason: no effective lever to change reality exists, so propaganda is all that is left.

In reality these two errors often co-exist. When propaganda manifestly fails to alter the real balance of class forces, panic sets in. Revolutionaries then collapse into accepting unity on terms dictated by other forces in the class.

The alternative to this vacillation is a structured united front, with reformists, in which revolutionaries can provide political and strategic direction to the struggle. For the SWP in recent years, Stop the War has been the most successful example of this.

The absence of united front method produces vacillation. Revolutionaries alternate between bouts of sectarian party activity (and ‘party fronts’, consisting of members plus our immediate periphery) and adaptation to conditions created by larger or stronger forces. What is missing is a systematic approach to class unity - the united front - and consequently revolutionaries’capacity for shaping events.

To put it in Marxist terms, we need a dialectical unity of opposed principles. In this case it is the unity of building an independent vanguard party with the need for working class solidarity (irrespective of party affiliation or ideological differences)in the united front. In the absence of this dialectical unity we are left with two wrong but mutually reinforcing poles: sectarianism (or propagandism) and liquidationism (or adaptation).


  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences in the comment above. Many other current members joined the SWP through united front work in recent years, whether Stop the War or GR or Respect or UAF. There is a wealth of experience of building campaigns and events, of working with others to achieve shared aims.

    Regarding your last paragraph, however, I have to point out that I didn't choose to leave the SWP. It's also erroneous to use the phrase 'could not compromise' - I compromised on a number of occasions. It is entirely reasonable to have different views on a number of issues, and this should be tolerated. Holding, and expressing, views which clash with the leadership does not mean working 'against the SWP'. Quite the opposite: expressing your opinions, even though you know you're in a minority, comes precisely from caring about your party's future.

  2. No offense luna, I just think that your contribution in your blog so far has immensely benefitted me personally and I find it a shame that you are no longer a member of the SWP. In case you wonder what I meant by compromise; My compromise was that I refused to be baited into an argument with the district organiser or her supporters despite being the one who was right on all issues in question. It is now her who has been found to be on the wrong because of her endless lies about me and so she is no longer the DO. For the sake of the Party, I would not wish her to be expelled from the Party because each one of us who has the Party at heart what ever our disagreements are remains a valued member. Your disagreement with the Party leadership is therefore something I cannot comment on. I just wish that you were not expelled, that is why I say I empathise!

  3. Hi Alex, Hi Florence (old friend)
    It's good to see honest exchanges like this, though I'm not sure this blog is the best place to carry on the conversation when it relates to individual comrades (even unnamed ones). However the issues at stake are important.
    Our movement doesn't grow in a linear fashion, we have had splits and expulsions and resignations, often based on personal differences or arguments about tactics and strategy that we should be able to conduct in a civilised fashion within the same organisation.
    The result is that in many countries there are individuals, groups and even entire organisations that identify fully with the IS tradition but are not members of the 'official' organisation. That's the situation in France where I live, for example.
    As long as we still share the same basic objectives and analyses we should be able to work together and even resolve some of the differences we've had in the past.
    Or am I being hopelessly naive ?

  4. Hi Colin,

    Thanks for your comment.

    A number of us spent 10 months repeatedly arguing that, whatever the differences, we should be able to discuss issues in a tolerant atmosphere free of put-downs, personal abuse etc. This is, sadly, not what happened. Back in February I sent a letter to the National Secretary raising concerns about the intimidating behaviour of a comrade, hoping he would discreetly persuade him to moderate his behaviour.

    This was instead turned against me. Lies were told - members of my own branch were informed I'd lodged a 'formal complaint' (no I hadn't), requesting disciplinary procedures (er, no) because I alleged the comrade had 'assaulted' someone (I'd never claimed that). This helped poison some people's minds against a number of us.

    In this atmosphere it becomes impossible to discuss anything. There was so much misinformation at a district meeting in June that Tony Dowling and I wrote a very long refutation which went through things point by point, but were then not allowed to circulate it. So people only ever got one side of the story.

    A highly confrontational approach has been adopted, in which the leadership and its supporters raise the spectre of consorting with 'anti-party elements'. This is ludicrous: activists NOT in the SWP aren't 'anti-party', they're just not in the SWP! It is one of the tell-tale signs of sectarianism.

    So, as always, I hope for shared work in wider initiatives, though in Tyneside it's probably hoping against hope. Nobody is on speaking terms with anyone any more, which is the sad result of a small number of people being allowed to spread lies and myths while people's legitimate concerns about conduct are ignored. It is also a symptom of the broader differences, which I think run deeper than most people realise - not at the abstract level, but in strategy, tactics and forms of organisation.