Tuesday, 17 August 2010

A united front against the cuts?

I've written a short introduction to an important concept in left-wing political strategy: 'Socialists and the united front', now up at Counterfire. I've limited myself to the emergence of united front strategy in the years following the Russian Revolution of 1917, rather than attempting a sweeping history of its application over nearly a century.

My own little contribution was designed to accompany a very illuminating archive piece already on the site: The united front and the Comintern by Duncan Hallas. My article hopefully provides the context needed to fully comprehend the landmark events Hallas wrote about.

It is also, however, prompted by a particular contemporary development: the emerging Coalition of Resistance is, like most examples of united fronts since the mid-1920s, a small-scale operation (at least for now) compared with the socially convulsive movements of the Comintern era. It is, nevertheless, an example of tapping into a widespread desire for broad unity in the working class to develop an active coalition on the central political issue of our times.

For revolutionaries, like me, this means working with people who largely accept reformist ideas and solutions. Unfortunately we revolutionaries are much smaller in number than the major Communist movements of 90 years ago, but the principles remain the same.

The urgent priority for everyone now is to forge broad opposition to the savage cuts pursued by the ConDem coalition. It would be sectarian for revolutionaries to remain aloof from a project designed to increase co-ordination and effectiveness of our campaigning, or to limit themselves to their own established, narrow front operations.  

It would also, though, be a mistake to simply tail-end larger forces, like the Labour Party or the TUC, in the misguided belief that such timidity and caution is a necessary part of unity. If we wait for them to act, we could be waiting a long time.

It is necessary for revolutionary socialists to work with others, typically on the political left, who also embrace the need for decisive action and a dynamic response - who are willing to show a little flair and initiative. Those who do not lead are destined to follow, lagging behind instead of shaping events.

For Lenin and Trotsky there was, as Duncan Hallas explained, a simultaneous need to build revolutionary organisation, and expand the influence of radical anti-capitalist ideas articulating opposition to the system as a whole and advocating socialist alternatives. It isn't a choice between broad campaigns or socialist argument - instead, the 'battle of ideas' takes place in the context of developing activism and resistance with people influenced by reformist ideas.

This remains true today. The growing opposition to austerity will provide revolutionary socialists, in organisations like Counterfire, opportunities to unite with others in common struggle - and, at one and the same time, creates an audience for discussions about how we abolish economic crisis, inequality and injustice once and for all.



  1. Good post Alex and sentiments that few could sensibly disagree with.

    The Callinicos piece in SW is a testament to irony. Oh dear, somebody else is wandering all over a patch we thought we owned. Sectarian splitters!

    The point though will be proven by the content, nature and dynamic of the Coalition of Resistance. Not just breadth on any 'top table' thats relatively easy to achieve, and to be fair Right to Work are about as broad as the CoR, with many signatories appearing to back both.

    No the much more substantive issue is whether CoR can be a spark for a genuinely popular movement way beyond that self-selecting bunch who will turn up for a conference, or for that matter a demo. Stop the War certainly achieved that for a moment, which however brief remains hugely significant. Yet that dynamic is now almost entirely exhausted. If CoR can help resuscitate it then we can start to look to the future with a degree of enthusiasm.

    I wouldn't get too hung up on labels if I was you but what Ilm describing is something that isn't just the united sum of its parts, far more importantly its popular too. Sounds familiar?

    Mark P

  2. Yep, the distinction between a 'united front' and 'popular front' is one I don't get into, either above or in my Counterfire article it links to - precisely because, whatever its relevance in the past, it's simply not relevant to this context. Although dogmatic fetishists on the left (there's plenty of those) will no doubt be mortified.

    The Callinicos article is verging on political suicide. Or at least the position the SWP has adopted at this conjuncture - as expressed by Callincos in SW - is near-suicidal. It represents a rather openly sectarian rejection of a genuine coalition, clinging instead to something which is widely recognised as, in practice, an extension of the SWP. The Callinicos piece also reflects a general confusion and incoherence in the SWP leadership (not to mention dishonesty).

    Yes, I agree the real challenges lie ahead. The opening salvo is important - make an impact at the start and your job is easier. The response to the statement in the last 2 weeks has taken everyone by surprise, and is clearly a turning point. But it's necessary to build on that.

    Momentum, as ever, is key. Firstly, the conference - still more than 3 months away -needs to be on the back of existing activity. It, in turn, needs to have major practical outcomes vis-a-vis a genuine national movement. And at every stage it needs to be thoroughly democratic and inclusive.

  3. But what is the way of the future? it's not clear. try commune thinking.