Marxism and the United Front Tactic Today: Chapter V

V.            The United Front Tactic and Petty-Bourgeois Nationalist and Populist Parties in the Semi-Colonial World


After providing an overview of the most important social and political developments of the working class and oppressed, as well as their organizations, we shall now move on to a discussion of several issues related to this revolutionary tactic.


We have shown that petty-bourgeois populist parties have become important forces in recent years, and it is therefore crucial for revolutionaries to apply the united front tactic towards such forces. Clearly this includes the call for joint actions against neoliberal governments, imperialist aggression, etc.


What should be the attitude of revolutionaries towards petty-bourgeois populist parties? And how should they apply the united front tactic to such parties during elections as well as when formulating slogans calling for the desired type of governmental control?


“Workers’ Party” or a “Workers’ and Peasants’ Party”?


While revolutionaries support progressive mass struggles led by petty-bourgeois populist parties against the ruling class and imperialism, they strive towards the creation of a workers’ party, not a cross-class party. We have repeatedly stressed the crucial importance of the alliance of the working class and the other oppressed classes and layers. However, this is an alliance of different classes and it would be a grave mistake to confuse the proletariat and the petty-bourgeoisie. Furthermore, this alliance can only lead to the liberation of the working class and the petty-bourgeoisie, if the former leads the latter and not the other way round. If the working class is the leading force, this alliance can open the road to socialism. If the petty-bourgeoisie dominates the working class, it will result in a defeat for both classes.


The Russian Revolution of 1917 was a powerful confirmation for this. Between February and October of that year the Soviets and, shortly after, the Provisional Government were dominated by the petty-bourgeois Social-Revolutionary Party as well the Mensheviks, which by that time had already been transformed into a bourgeois workers’ party. The Provisional Government not only failed to expropriate the capitalists, remove Russia from the war, and liquidate poverty, but also proved incapable of appropriating the lands of the big landowners and distributing them to the peasants, i.e., to satisfy the needs of the rural petty-bourgeoisie. This only could be achieved when the working class – led by the Bolshevik Party – took power in October 1917 and founded the dictatorship of the proletariat in alliance with the poor peasantry. They did so, in the first period up until the summer of 1918, in coalition with the left wing of the S.R. party.


The last decade in Latin America has illustrated yet again that, when petty-bourgeois populist parties take power without an alliance with a Bolshevik-type of party, particularly because such a force does not currently exist, the populist parties inevitably act as defenders of capitalism and ultimately become transformed into bourgeois parties related to a sector of the capitalist class. These recent illustrations are nothing new, but merely repeat what has already been demonstrated in Bolivia after Torres’ MNR came to power in 1952, or by the numerous petty-bourgeois nationalist movements in Africa and Asia when they took power after the colonial powers were forced to withdraw and accept the formal independence of their former colonies in the 1950s and 1960s.


It is a crucial axiom for Marxists that a revolutionary party must have a clear class character. It must be a party rooted in and based on the working class. This is necessitated by the central position of the proletariat in the process of production, i.e., as the only class which creates capitalist value. Thus, it is the only class which produces surplus value (i.e., the basis for capitalist profits) and hence is the creator of the wealth for the ruling class. The working class does not own the means of production as private property, and therefore must sell its labor to the owners of the means of production. Furthermore, by nature it is a collective class, as the very process of production involves the uniting together of the workers while production and reproduction are based on a division of their collective labor. This reality and these dynamics differentiate the proletariat from all other oppressed classes and layers, like the peasants or the urban petty-bourgeoisie, who are characterized by their desire to individually own a piece of land (even if only a small one) or a shop, or the salaried middle layers.


This class contradictions between the proletariat and the capitalists constitute the basis for the economic and political organization of the former against the latter. Marx elaborated this in his polemic against the French utopian socialist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon:


The first attempts of workers to associate among themselves always take place in the form of combinations. Large-scale industry concentrates in one place a crowd of people unknown to one another. Competition divides their interests. But the maintenance of wages, this common interest which they have against their boss, unites them in a common thought of resistance — combination. Thus combination always has a double aim, that of stopping competition among the workers, so that they can carry on general competition with the capitalist. If the first aim of resistance was merely the maintenance of wages, combinations, at first isolated, constitute themselves into groups as the capitalists in their turn unite for the purpose of repression, and in face of always united capital, the maintenance of the association becomes more necessary to them than that of wages. This is so true that English economists are amazed to see the workers sacrifice a good part of their wages in favour of associations, which, in the eyes of these economists, are established solely in favour of wages. In this struggle — a veritable civil war — all the elements necessary for a coming battle unite and develop. Once it has reached this point, association takes on a political character. Economic conditions had first transformed the mass of the people of the country into workers. The domination of capital has created for this mass a common situation, common interests. This mass is thus already a class as against capital, but not yet for itself. In the struggle, of which we have pointed out only a few phases, this mass becomes united, and constitutes itself as a class for itself. The interests it defends become class interests. But the struggle of class against class is a political struggle.” [1]


He and Engels further developed this thought in the Communist Manifesto:


But with the development of industry, the proletariat not only increases in number; it becomes concentrated in greater masses, its strength grows, and it feels that strength more. The various interests and conditions of life within the ranks of the proletariat are more and more equalised, in proportion as machinery obliterates all distinctions of labour, and nearly everywhere reduces wages to the same low level. The growing competition among the bourgeois, and the resulting commercial crises, make the wages of the workers ever more fluctuating. The increasing improvement of machinery, ever more rapidly developing, makes their livelihood more and more precarious; the collisions between individual workmen and individual bourgeois take more and more the character of collisions between two classes. Thereupon, the workers begin to form combinations (Trades’ Unions) against the bourgeois; they club together in order to keep up the rate of wages; they found permanent associations in order to make provision beforehand for these occasional revolts. Here and there, the contest breaks out into riots. Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruit of their battles lies, not in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding union of the workers. This union is helped on by the improved means of communication that are created by modern industry, and that place the workers of different localities in contact with one another. It was just this contact that was needed to centralise the numerous local struggles, all of the same character, into one national struggle between classes. But every class struggle is a political struggle.” [2]


Does this mean that only workers can be members of a workers’ party? Of course, not! Members of all classes are welcome in a revolutionary party; however under one pre-condition: they must identify themselves fully with the political position of the working class.


In our book on the revolutionary party, we have outlined how the Bolshevik Party in Russia – the most successful revolutionary party in the history of the workers’ movement – had been a party based on a primarily proletarian membership nearly from the beginning. Naturally, the party also had peasants and militants from the middle class in their ranks, but the workers were predominant. [3]


Hence, when in the 1920s Stalin introduced the idea that communists should build not workers’ parties but workers and peasants parties, this was a major revision of the orthodox Marxist position. Lenin and Trotsky had defended the necessity to build proletarian parties. Indeed, this was a major difference between the Russian Marxists and the petty-bourgeois populists of the S.R., as Lenin elaborated numerous times.


The petty bourgeois, the peasant included, is naturally closer to the liberal than to the proletarian; he is closer as a proprietor, as a petty producer. It would, therefore, be politically ridiculous and, from the standpoint of socialism, downright reactionary, to unite the petty bourgeoisie and the proletarians in one party (as the Socialist-Revolutionaries would like to do). [4]


’The alliance of the proletariat and the peasantry’, let us note in passing, should not in any circumstances be understood as meaning the fusion of various classes, or of the parties of the proletariat and the peasantry. Not only fusion, but any prolonged agreement would be destructive for the socialist party of the working class, and would enfeeble the revolutionary-democratic struggle. That the peasantry inevitably wavers between the liberal bourgeoisie and the proletariat follows from its position as a class; [5]


And in a polemic against the S.R., Lenin elaborated in 1909:


[T]he Social-Democrats maintained that the proletariat and the peasantry were distinct classes in capitalist (or semi-feudal, semi-capitalist) society; that the peasantry is a class of petty proprietors that can “strike together” against the landlords and the autocracy, “on the same side of the barricades” with the proletariat in the bourgeois revolution, and that in this revolution it can, in certain cases, march in “alliance” with the proletariat, while remaining quite a separate class of capitalist society. The Socialist-Revolutionaries denied this. The main idea in their programme was not that an “alliance of the forces” of the proletariat and the peasantry was necessary, but that there was no class gulf between them, that no class distinction should be drawn between them, and that the Social-Democratic idea concerning the petty-bourgeois character of the peasantry, as distinct from the proletariat, is utterly false. (…) [T]here was a Socialist-Revolutionary programme, and the whole difference between it and the programme of the Social-Democrats was that the fundamental, theoretical section of the former was based on the denial of the petty-bourgeois character of the peasantry, the denial of any class distinction between the peasantry and the proletariat. There was a revolution, my dear sirs, and the chief lesson it taught was that in their open mass actions the peasantry displayed a class nature of their own, distinct from that of the proletariat, and proved themselves to be petty-bourgeois. [6]


This principle of the Marxist party theory has been confirmed numerous times in history. The S.R. – first the right-wing and later the left-wing as well – went over to the camp of capitalist counter-revolution during the Russian civil war 1918-1921. Later the Chinese Kuomintang turned against the workers and peasants and slaughtered tens of thousands of communists. Trotsky summarized the lessons of this experience as follows:


Had the vanguard of the Russian proletariat failed to oppose itself to the peasantry, had it failed to wage a ruthless struggle against the all-devouring petty-bourgeois amorphousness of the latter, it would inevitably have dissolved itself among the petty-bourgeois elements through the medium of the Social Revolutionary Party or some other "two-class party" which, in turn, would inevitably have subjected the vanguard to bourgeois leadership. In order to arrive at a revolutionary alliance with the peasantry-this does not come gratuitously—it is first of all necessary to separate the proletarian vanguard, and thereby the working class as a whole, from the petty bourgeois masses. This can be achieved only by training the proletarian party in the spirit of unshakable class irreconcilability. [7]


He also drew attention to the fact that, before Stalin, it was precisely the social democratic opportunists who advocated the idea of “workers and peasants parties”:


It is fatal that in this question, fundamental for the entire East, modern revisionism only repeats the errors of old social democratic opportunism of pre-revolutionary days. Most of the leaders of European social democracy considered the struggle of our party against S.R.’s to be mistaken and insistently advocated the fusion of the two parties, holding that for the Russian "East “a two-class workers' and peasants' party was exactly in order. Had we heeded their counsel, we should never have achieved either the alliance of the workers and the peasants or the dictatorship of the proletariat. The "two-class” workers' and peasants' party of the S.R.’s became, and could not help becoming in our country, the agency of the imperialist bourgeoisie, i.e., it tried unsuccessfully to fulfill the same historic role which was successfully played in China by the Kuomintang in a different and "peculiar" Chinese way, thanks to the revisionists of Bolshevism. Without a relentless condemnation of the very idea of workers' and peasants' parties for the East, there is not and there cannot be a program of the Comintern. [8]


In summary, Marxists categorically oppose the populist conception of workers’ and peasant parties. The revolutionary party must have a proletarian character or none at all. In fact, the existence of a separate proletarian party is the precondition for the construction of an alliance of the working class with the peasantry and other oppressed non-proletarian layers, since such an alliance can only be successfully built if it is led by the working class, i.e. its party. Workers’ and peasants’, i.e. petty-bourgeois populist, parties on the other hand are an obstacle for the liberation struggle of the working class and the oppressed.


Entry Tactics in Petty-Bourgeois Populist Parties


What does this mean under conditions in which no workers’ party exists, or only a very small or very bureaucratically degenerated one does, while at the same time there are petty-bourgeois populist parties with a mass following among the working class? Of course, as we have already stated, Marxists have to call for the founding of a workers’ party (more on this below). However, as we have outlined in out Theses on the United Front, it would be completely sectarian for Marxists to limit themselves to purely denouncing such populist parties. They should also develop tactics towards such parties. Obviously this means to apply the united front tactic in various forms. This will include – given the numerical weakness of revolutionaries today – joining practical activities of the class struggle led by such parties and working side by side with their members.


Under specific circumstances this could also mean that revolutionaries should enter such parties in order to work more closely side-by-side with militant members of these parties and to win them over to a revolutionary perspective. Of course, revolutionaries must take care – as this is always the case when applying the entry tactic – that they avoid opportunistic adaption to the dominating petty-bourgeois leadership of the party. Rather, they must constitute a revolutionary wing with a clear platform. They must disseminate their independent propaganda and agitation and try to organize militant workers and youth against the petty-bourgeois leadership. Likewise such entryism can only be a temporary tactic, as Trotsky stated:


Entry into a reformist centrist party in itself does not include a long term perspective. It is only a stage which, under certain conditions, can be limited to an episode. . . To recognise in time the bureaucracy’s decisive attack against the left wing and defend ourselves from it, not by making concessions, adapting or playing hide and seek, but by a revolutionary offensive.[9]


The goal must be to use this tactic in order to help the formation of an authentic workers’ party without a petty-bourgeois leadership.


While various centrists oppose such a tactic in principle, Marxists refuse such dogmatism. As is well known, Marx and Engels deployed such a tactic during the 1848-49 revolution in Germany when they entered petty-bourgeois democratic forces. [10]


Revolutionaries have also made important use of such entry tactics during the 20th century. The pioneer of this tactic was the Dutch Hernik Sneevliet. Sneevliet was a Marxist in the left wing of social democracy in the Netherlands as well as an important trade union leader. In 1913 he went to Indonesia, a Dutch colony at the time, where became a leader of the militant railway union (VSTP) that had a number of Indonesian workers in its ranks. One year later he founded the Indian Social Democratic Association (ISDV). The ISDV – after the reformist wing split away – first cooperated with the Indonesian-nationalist group Insulinde and later with the Sarekat Islam. The latter was a petty-bourgeois nationalist and Islamist mass movement with a mass following among the lower urban strata and the peasantry and a petty-bourgeois semi-intellectual leadership. In 1914 it had a membership of more than 366,000 Indonesians. [11]


Sneevliet understood well the importance of Sarekat Islam and the ISDV began entry work inside this mass movement. He succeeded in transforming the ISDV into an organization of a few hundred cadres with a majority of Indonesian members. By the time they also gained substantial influence inside Sarekat Islam and formed a left-wing. The ISDV transformed itself into the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) in 1920. With the growing influence of the communists, the petty-bourgeois religious leaders of Sarekat Islam eventually initiated a split. As a result of its successful entry tactic, the PKI became the first communist mass party in Asia. [12]


Sneevliet himself was expelled from Indonesia by the Dutch colonial administration in 1918 because of his revolutionary activities. He went on to play an important role in the work of the Communist International in Asia. He had a number of discussions with Lenin before and during the Second Congress of the Comintern in 1920 and was elected to the important position as the secretary of the congress’ Commission on the National and Colonial Question with Lenin as its chairman. He was one of the key architects (together with Lenin) of the communist program of the anti-imperialist united front tactic. Later, in 1933, Sneevliet and his Revolutionary Socialist Party in the Netherlands joined the Trotskyist movement and stayed there until 1938. [13]


Later the communists in China – following the advice of Sneevliet who acted as a Comintern emissary – deployed a similar tactic. The communists were very small at that time and had to find links and roots to the working class and the rural poor. They correctly entered the Kuomintang party in 1922 and worked as a revolutionary faction. However, given the Stalinist turn in the Comintern they were instructed to turn a revolutionary tactic into an opportunist, liquidationist strategy which ended in disaster. As a result the communists did not leave the Kuomintang in 1925 when the workers’ strikes and the agrarian revolutionary movement were intensifying and failed to fight openly for the creation of soviets. They rather subordinated themselves to the right wing of the Kuomintang led by Chiang Kai-check until the latter was strong enough to defeat the revolutionary movement of the workers and peasants in 1927. [14]


Trotsky and the Left Opposition fought against this Menshevik capitulation of the Stalinist bureaucracy. They declared that the party should have left the Kuomintang in time and openly fought for a revolutionary strategy. [15]


Trotsky was not always certain that the communists’ entry into the Kuomintang in 1922 was wrong in principle or not and, hence, we have contradictory statements by him on this issue. However, there are a number of statements which indicate that he did not consider it an illegitimate tactic in itself. As he wrote in September 1926:


The participation of the CCP in the Guomindang was perfectly correct in the period when the CCP was a propaganda society which was only preparing itself for future independent political activity, but which, at the same time, sought to take part in the ongoing national liberation struggle.’ And he goes on to say that the ‘immediate political task’ of the CCP ‘must now be to fight for direct independent leadership of the awakened working class’: ‘The CCP must ensure its own complete organizational independence and clarity of political programme and tactics in the struggle for influence over the awakened proletarian masses. [16]


He repeated this assessment in 1928. [17] Later in the 1930s, when the Bolshevik-Leninists had acquired more experience with entrism, Trotsky again stressed that there was nothing wrong in principle with temporarily entering a petty-bourgeois populist party.


The temporary entry into the SFIO, or even the Kuomintang, is not an evil in itself; however, it is necessary to know not only when to enter, but also how to leave.“ [18]


The entering in itself in 1922 was not a crime, possibly not even a mistake, especially in the south, under the assumption that the Kuomintang at this time had a number of workers, and the young Communist party was weak and composed almost entirely of intellectuals (this is true for 1922?). In this case, the entry would have been an episodic step to independency, analogous to a certain degree to your entering the Socialist Party. The question is what was their purpose in entering, and what was their subsequent policy? [19]


Such an entry tactic can also be legitimate today under the condition that the vanguard sectors of the working class and the oppressed respectively organize to orient themselves towards entry in such petty-bourgeois populist parties. As historic examples for such movements, we could refer to the FLN in Algeria or the Black Panthers in the USA.


Marxists and Petty-Bourgeois Populist Parties: Electoral Tactics and Governmental Slogans


Is it legitimate to call for critical support for petty-bourgeois populist parties in elections? And when should Marxists call for such parties to take power? In our opinion, Marxists should also apply the united front tactic in election campaigns as well as in their sloganeering about the government which such parties can form or conditionally participate in. [20] The most important condition is that such petty-bourgeois populist parties are rooted among the workers and the oppressed, and that they are associated with mass struggles against imperialism and the local ruling class. Furthermore, and this is decisive, is whether, at the same time, there is a workers’ party around which the workers’ vanguard has rallied. In such a case, revolutionaries should direct their electoral tactics towards such a party rather than towards any petty-bourgeois populist party.


However, there are numerous cases in which no such workers’ party exists, but a radical populist formation rallying the vanguard of the workers and oppressed does. Examples of this are the MAS in the period after 2003 or Chavez’ MBR-200 movement in the late 1990s. Other examples might include Julius Malema‘s EFF in South Africa, the Palestinian Balad party, as well as the Joint List in Israel, or militant parties of the Tamils in Sri Lanka like the TNA.


In such situations Marxists should join workers and poor peasants who vote these parties. They should say to them: “You believe that your party can bring an improvement to your living conditions. As you might know we don’t share your hopes. We believe that this party will, once in power, not go the full way and ensure a lasting victory for the workers and oppressed. It will rather strike a compromise with the capitalists and the imperialists. However, since you don’t believe us we say: go on, elect your parties to office, force them to attempt such measures if you can, but you must make preparations and mobilize your mass organizations and your parties for the inevitable bourgeois declaration of civil war if your leaders will take any serious measures which threaten private property. We will critically support your parties’ electoral victory and defend them against bourgeois attack.


Based on the same method, Marxists should also carefully and precisely word their slogans regarding the type of government which such petty-bourgeois parties can conditionally form or participate in. For example, when the petty-bourgeois Sandinista FSLN party overthrew the Nicaraguan dictatorship of Somoza in 1979, instead of taking power by itself, it formed a coalition with bourgeois-liberal forces like businessman Alfonso Robelo and Violeta Barrios de Chamorro (the widow of the newspaper La Prensa's director, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro). Under such conditions revolutionaries, would have called upon the Sandinistas to dissolve any coalition with bourgeois parties and take power exclusively into their own hands. Naturally, it is crucial that revolutionaries also warn workers about any illusions in petty-bourgeois parties like the Sandinistas. However, in addition to such warning, revolutionaries should make demands on such a government, calling on it to implement radical social reforms, to expropriate the big landowners and the bourgeoisie, to renounce paying the country’s debts to the imperialist monopolies and Great Powers, etc. [21]


Such an approach is based on the method first elaborated by Marx and Engels and later systematized by Lenin and Trotsky.


When elections for the first Duma took place in Russia following the 1905 Revolution, the Bolsheviks – along with most of the vanguard of the working class – called for boycott them. However, when the revolutionary tsunami had receded in 1906, Lenin advocated that the party no longer boycott Duma elections. He insisted on this policy even though it was obvious that the Tsarist regime granted very few rights to this institution, and rigged and manipulated the elections. According to the historian Abraham Ascher, as a result of all the regime’s repression and manipulation, many workers and peasants didn’t bother to vote at all. In fact, only about 19% of the eligible voters (in 67 cities of European Russia) participated in the elections to the Third Duma in the autumn of 1907. In the previous elections (of 1906), voting participation had been 55%. [22]


Lenin and the Bolsheviks emphasized the need for social democrats – as Marxists called themselves at the time – to run as an independent party with their own list of candidates for the elections. This was particularly urgent in elections of the worker curia of the Duma. At that time, the social democrats had already become a mass party of the working class and were the hegemonic force in Russia’s large factories. [23] Lenin also emphasized the need to fight against the Cadet party – the party of bourgeois liberalism which then played an important role as the official voice of the opposition against the Tsarist regime. Lenin urged social democrats – despite Menshevik opposition to his call – to fight against the liberal bourgeoisie so that the working class can become the hegemonic force of the popular masses and lead them to revolution. [24] Consequently, Lenin argued that the Duma elections be used to create an alliance between the working class with the poor peasantry. [25] For this reason he emphatically rejected any electoral alliance or bloc with the Cadets (which is what the Mensheviks advocated) but favored for a bloc with the parties representing the poor peasantry (the Trudoviks and the S.R.). [26] Thus, we see that Lenin sharply distinguished between bourgeois and petty-bourgeois parties, and that he exclusively reserved the systematic application of the united front tactic to the latter.


Lenin explained these ideas in 1906, during the party’s discussions about the tactics to be used in the elections for the Second Duma.


To sum up. We must take into account the experience of the Cadet Duma and spread its lessons among the masses. We must prove to them that the Duma is “useless”, that a constituent assembly is essential, that the Cadets are wavering; we must demand that the Trudoviks throw off the yoke of the Cadets, and we must support the former against the latter. We must recognise at once the need for an electoral agreement between the Social-Democrats and the Trudoviks in the event of new elections taking place. [27]


The facts relating to the parties compel the following conclusion: no agreements whatsoever at the lower stage, when agitation is carried on among the masses; at the higher stages all efforts must be directed towards defeating the Cadets during the distribution of seats by means of a partial agreement between the Social-Democrats and Trudoviks, and towards defeating the Popular Socialists by means of a partial agreement between the Social-Democrats and the Socialist-Revolutionaries. [28]


In the cities, where the working-class population is mostly concentrated, we must never, except in case of extreme necessity, refrain from putting up absolutely independent Social- Democratic candidates. And there is no such urgent necessity. A few Cadets or Trudoviks more or less (especially of the Popular-Socialist type!) are of no serious political importance, for the Duma itself can, at best, play only a subsidiary, secondary role. It is the peasantry, the gubernia assemblies of electors, that are of decisive political importance in determining the results of the Duma elections, and not the cities. In the gubernia assemblies of electors, however, we shall achieve our general political alliance with the Trudoviks against the Cadets far better and more certainly, without in the least infringing our strict principles, than at the lower stage of the elections in the countryside. [29]


These ideas became the official position of the Bolsheviks as well as of other left-wing forces inside the Social Democratic Workers Party of Russia, and were summarized in an official resolution for a party conference:


The principal objects of the Social-Democratic election and Duma campaigns are: firstly, to explain to the people the uselessness of the Duma as a means of satisfying the demands of the proletariat and the revolutionary petty bourgeoisie, especially the peasantry. Secondly, to explain to the people the impossibility of achieving political liberty by parliamentary methods as long as the real power remains in the hands of the tsar’s government, and to explain the necessity of an armed uprising, of a provisional revolutionary government and of a constituent assembly elected by universal, direct and equal suffrage by secret ballot. Thirdly, to criticise the First Duma and reveal the bankruptcy of Russian liberalism, and especially to show how dangerous and fatal it would be for the cause of the revolution if the liberal-monarchist Cadet Party were to play the predominant and leading role in the liberation movement. As the class party of the proletariat, the Social-Democratic Party must remain absolutely independent throughout the election and Duma campaigns, and here, too, must under no circumstances merge its slogans or tactics with those of any other opposition or revolutionary party. Therefore, at the first stage of the election campaign, i.e., before the masses, it must as a general rule come out absolutely independently and put forward only its own Party candidates. Exceptions to this rule are permissible only in cases of extreme necessity and only in relation to parties that fully accept the main slogans of our immediate political struggle, i.e., those which recognise the necessity of an armed uprising and are fighting for a democratic republic. Such agreements, however, may only extend to the nomination of a joint list of candidates, without in any way restricting the independence of the political agitation carried on by the Social-Democrats. In the workers’ curia the Social-Democratic Party must come out absolutely independently and refrain from entering into agreements with any other party. At the higher stages of the election, i.e., at the assemblies of electors in the towns and of delegates and electors in the countryside, partial agreements may be entered into exclusively for the purpose of distributing seats proportionately to the number of votes cast for the parties entering the agreement. In this connection, the Social-Democratic Party distinguishes the following main types of bourgeois parties according to the consistency and determination of their democratic views: (a) the Socialist-Revolutionaries, the Polish Socialist Party and similar republican parties, (b) the Popular Socialists and the Trudoviks of a similar type; (c) the Cadets. [30]


Lenin also defended such an approach in the 1912 elections for the Fourth Duma, by which time the Bolsheviks had become the hegemonic force among the proletariat in the major industrial regions and consequently won the seats for deputies in the worker curiae of St. Petersburg, Moscow, Yekaterinoslav, Kharkov, Kostroma, and Vladimir Gubernia. Lenin explained the electoral tactic of the Bolshevik Party in 1912:


There remains the second urban curia. Here there are quite a few workers and voters close to the workers: shop assistants, worker tenants, pensioners, etc. (…) The liberals are thus more than three times as strong as the Rights, whose strength is practically equal to that of the democrats. As a rule, therefore, there can obviously be no question here of any danger of a Black-Hundred victory. It is further obvious that the main task of working class democrats in this curia is to fight the liberals. At the present juncture particularly, when, as even the liberals, Octobrists and Purishkeviches admit, there is undoubtedly a general swing to the left in the country, this fight must be put in the forefront. Obviously, in the first stage of the elections the working-class candidates must wage an absolutely independent struggle, putting forward a hundred per cent working-class election lists. In the second stage, at the second ballot, it will in the majority of cases be a question of a fight of democrats against liberals. (…) Inasmuch as the second urban curia is the one in which there will be the greatest number of cases of a second ballot, the principal line to be pursued by the workers at the second ballot is precisely this: with the democrats against the Rights and against the liberals.(…) In cases of a second ballot, primarily in the second urban curia, common cause is to be made more often with all democrats against the liberals and against the Rights; and only subsequently it may be necessary at the second ballot to join the general opposition bloc against the reactionaries.[31]


Quoting from his book Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, we have demonstrated that Lenin absolutely defended this approach to electoral tactics until his death. So did Trotsky who, as we have shown with the lengthy quotation from his Transitional Program (cited above), generalized from the experience of the Bolsheviks in their united front tactic towards the Mensheviks and the S.R., even after these latter two factions had already been transformed into social-imperialist parties, the relevant part of which we repeat here for the reader’s convenience:


[T]he demand of the Bolsheviks, addressed to the Mensheviks and the S.R.s: “Break with the bourgeoisie, take the power into your own hands!” had for the masses tremendous educational significance. The obstinate unwillingness of the Mensheviks and S.R.s to take power, so dramatically exposed during the July Days, definitely doomed them before mass opinion and prepared the victory of the Bolsheviks. The central task of the Fourth International consists in freeing the proletariat from the old leadership, whose conservatism is in complete contradiction to the catastrophic eruptions of disintegrating capitalism and represents the chief obstacle to historical progress. The chief accusation which the Fourth International advances against the traditional organizations of the proletariat is the fact that they do not wish to tear themselves away from the political semi-corpse of the bourgeoisie. Under these conditions the demand, systematically addressed to the old leadership: “Break with the bourgeoisie, take the power!” is an extremely important weapon for exposing the treacherous character of the parties and organizations of the Second, Third and Amsterdam Internationals. The slogan, “workers’ and farmers’ government,” is thus acceptable to us only in the sense that it had in 1917 with the Bolsheviks, i.e., as an anti-bourgeois and anti-capitalist slogan. But in no case in that “democratic” sense which later the epigones gave it, transforming it from a bridge to Socialist revolution into the chief barrier upon its path. [32]


After the founding of the Communist International, revolutionaries sought to generalize from the experience of the Bolsheviks. Of course, in most colonial and semi-colonial countries of the time there were no elections. However, from the case of Mexico we find an example of how the Comintern – in its healthy period before the Stalinists took power – was nevertheless able to apply the united front tactic to the field of elections in a semi-colonial country.


In August 1923, the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) sent a long letter to the Mexican party which was published in English by the US section as a pamphlet. In this letter the ECCI elaborates the method of the united front tactic and how it should be applied to the concrete conditions of the Mexican class struggle of the time. It calls upon the mass organizations of both workers and peasants (including their respective parties and leaderships) to undertake joint actions to defend the interests of the popular masses:


The tactic of the united front is the revolutionary fight of the' Communist Party to win the wide organized and unorganized working and peasant masses for a common struggle for common demands". The Communist Party therefore openly turns towards the leaders of the reformist, syndicalist, and so-called independent trade union organizations and requests their participation in a joint Committee of Action. The same thing applies to the laborites and the Agrarian Party. The object of the Committee of Action is organized centralization of the fight for definite demands. The Committee of Action does not bind any of the participating parties or trade unions to its political agitation and propaganda or to its activity in general Above all, the right of criticism of every Party will be fully preserved. [33]


Furthermore, the ECCI analyzed the conflict between the bourgeois government of De La Huerta and the petty-bourgeois democratic opposition led by Calles. It warns that if Calles comes to power he too will betray the workers and peasants. But the ECCI also urged that, in light of the mass support for Calles and the popular illusions in his petty-bourgeois movement, communists should call for critical electoral support for him, combined with critical warnings and a program of demands directed towards him. Such a tactic could assist breaking workers and peasants away from his petty-bourgeois leadership and help the small Communist Party – at that time it had about 1,500 members – win more influence among the masses. [34]


The first task of the Party must be to state clearly and plainly what the station is and how it will develop. Secondly it must be clearly realized that it is not a matter of indifference for the revolutionary labor movement whether Calles or De La Huerta betray the working classes, even though both will end in the same results The whole situation is not a comedy, as it might appear, but a real tight. It is an attempt on the part of petty-bourgeois democracy to keep its head above water, and it can do that only by possessing political power. The interests of the working class are also involved in this struggle, for the only allies on which the petty-bourgeoisie can rely, are the working class and the peasantry. Calles must therefore make concessions to these classes. It is already apparent that the overwhelming majority of the workers and peasants will support the candidature of Calles. If the whole working class participates in this struggle, the Communist Party must not stand aside and look on; it must fight with the others, for Calles today means protection for the masses from reaction and clerical domination But it is the duty of the communists to combat the illusions of the masses as to the ability of the Calles Government actually to give this protection. Throughout the period of Obregon's regime, Calles silently participated m the attacks of the Government on the working class Calles will behave on a national scale just as Felipe Carrillo behaved on a local scale in Yucatan. He will suppress the trade unions opposed to him and persecute the communists; he will not hesitate to shoot them down if necessary. In spite of this, the Communist Party must participate in the elections on behalf of Calles. Certainly not as enthusiastic followers of the coming government This tactic is merely a necessary halting place on the road to the Workers and Peasants' Government, on the road to the proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat. The result developing from the Calles Government will open the eyes of the Mexican proletariat to the impotency of reformism, to the powerlessness and corruptibility of opportunistic and petty-bourgeois anarchist phraseology. The Mexican workers and peasants will recognize that there exist but two kinds of politics; the one that leads to the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, and the one that leads to the domination of the proletariat, and which is represented by the slogan: All power to the workers and peasants. Many honest workers will say to the communists: If you are already prophesying the treachery of Calles, then your participation in the fight is nothing but a manoeuvre to compromise Calles. But such a statement of the question is incorrect and undialectical. That Calles will compromise himself does not depend on us, but on his opportunistic policy of compromise with the bourgeoisie. But we, on the contrary, point to the only path by which bankruptcy can be avoided, that is, the path to the realization of the proletarian revolution. But will Calles follow this path? We have sufficient reasons not only to doubt this but to answer in the negative. Calles, Morones, Felipe Carrillo, Soto y Gema, etc. are the Kerenskis, the Eberts, the Noskes, and the Scheidemanns of Mexico. They will wed themselves to Gompers and his whole treacherous clique. But in our propaganda we must as far as possible force the socialists and agrarians to the left. We must demand a declaration today from Calles on the disarming of the peasants which Obregon instigated; we must demand protection for striking workers; punishment for the officials guilty of the murder of workers in Vera Cruz and San-Angel; a ruthless struggle against the fascists; the regulation of Articles 27 and 123 ; measures against the housing crisis ; the division of large estates without recompense to the landlords, etc. [35]


Leon Trotsky and the Fourth International did not deal in detail with the application of the electoral tactic in semi-colonial countries. However, Trotsky did repeat the methodological approach of the Comintern when he emphasized in the Transitional Program the need to apply the united front tactic to the “parties of petty bourgeois democracy,” by which he meant both bourgeois workers’ parties (Stalinists, Social Democrats, etc.) as well as petty-bourgeois populist parties of the S.R. type in Russia (see the lengthy quote from the Transitional Program at the end of Chapter II, here). This is the most effective way to rally the workers and oppressed who still retain illusions in non-revolutionary parties around “anti-bourgeois and anti-capitalist slogans.


So in summary we note that both Lenin and Trotsky emphasized that the main task of revolutionaries is to build a revolutionary workers’ party. They also emphasized that revolutionaries have to try to win over the poor peasants for an alliance led by the revolutionary proletariat. To do so, revolutionaries must apply the united front tactic, including in the realm of elections. It can be applied both to bourgeois workers’ parties as well as to petty-bourgeois populist parties (especially in situations where no significant workers party, not even a bourgeois one, exists). Such electoral support must include placing demands on such parties, so that while fighting side-by-side with the reformist rank and file workers and oppressed, we warn them lest they have any illusions in the efficacy and consistency of their leaderships, all with the hope that they will ultimately join us as true revolutionaries.


We in the RCIT believe that such a method is extremely relevant today, in the wake of the significant and dramatic rise of petty-bourgeois populist movements and parties the semi-colonial world (but not there alone!). Of course, a precise electoral tactic can only be formulated after a concrete study is made of the specific national conditions. For this reason, here, in this document, we can only outline some methodological arguments regarding which political formations are potentially qualified for electoral support by revolutionaries.


We believe that the early phases of the Bolivarian movements in Latin America are good examples of such formations. By “early phases” we mean the period when they constituted petty-bourgeois populist parties which were opposed to the neoliberal governments and rallied the aspirations of millions of workers, poor peasants and urban poor. Specifically, we’re talking about Chavez’ MBR-200 movement in the late 1990s and Evo Morales’ MAS in the first half of the 2000s, when these parties acted as a catalyst for the rising class struggle of the workers and oppressed; it was then vital to politicize and radicalize the popular masses who were directing their hopes to the Castro-Chavista leaderships. However, as we will outline below, once such parties had come to power and were transformed into openly bourgeois, popular front parties, it would have been out of question for revolutionaries to vote them.


Another example in which such electoral tactics can still be discussed by South African revolutionaries is that of Julius Malema‘s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in South Africa. This party originated in 2012/13 resulting from a split from the ANC – the historical petty-bourgeois nationalist party of the black people in South Africa which led the liberation struggle against the Apartheid regime from the 1940s on. However, the ANC was transformed into a bourgeois popular front party when it became the largest party forming the government in 1994 and subsequently ruled the country in the interests of the big corporations. Julius Malema and the EFF defended the Marikana mine workers in 2012, and presented themselves, hypocritically, as a “revolutionary opposition against the ANC government.” While the EFF’s declared membership of more than half a million is certainly exaggerated, there is no doubt that this party has succeeded in rallying the aspirations of the workers and poor.


Sinn Fein in the Republic of Ireland is yet another example of a petty-bourgeois populist party which has recently become the vehicle for mass protests of the working class, particularly in the context of the Right2Water campaign. In the 2016 elections, socialists could have correctly called for critical electoral support for the candidates of centrist lists – Anti-Austerity Alliance (mainly SP supporters in Ireland) and People before Profit (mainly SWP supporters in Ireland) – in those districts where they had some mass support. In other districts, it would have been legitimate for socialists to call for support for Sinn Fein on the basis of the critical electoral support tactic outlined above.


The Transformation of a Petty-Bourgeois Populist Party into a Bourgeois Party and Electoral Tactics


We consider it as crucial to differentiate between petty-bourgeois populist parties and openly bourgeois, popular front parties. True, there is no Great Wall of China dividing the two: Every petty-bourgeois populist party is a potential popular front party (which is why it is easy to mix these categories). The petty-bourgeois composition – at least at the leadership level – predestines such parties to transform their character and to become open bourgeois parties.


Such a transformation can take place under various conditions. One such condition occurs when such parties enter the government of a capitalist state. In such a situation, the party eventually comes into close contact with the bourgeoisie ruling class and integrates into the bourgeois state apparatus. Usually this leads, after some time, to its fusion with a sector of the bourgeoisie. In Venezuela, this sector is called Bolivarian bourgeoisie or Boliburguesía.


Naturally, such a fusion with a sector of the bourgeoisie and the state apparatus can take place even before a party becomes part of the government or entirely takes power. It is also possible for such a popular front party to split (e.g., after being expelled from government) and one faction – maybe even the majority of the party – transforms itself once again back into a petty-bourgeois populist party. Examples for such splits and transformations are the Montoneros in Argentina, who were expelled from the Peronist party in 1974, and the South African EFF mentioned above.


Clearly, when such a party becomes an openly-bourgeois, popular front party, it is entirely impermissible for revolutionaries to give it any critical electoral support or to involve its members in the wording of slogans.


On the other hand, fighting against this “crossing the lines into the bourgeois camp” does not release revolutionaries from their obligation to defend such a popular front government against a counterrevolutionary coup d’état. [36] Lenin explained this in August 1917 when the Bolsheviks were faced with the need to defend the popular front Kerensky government against a right-wing coup d’état by the forces of General Kornilov.


Like every sharp turn, it calls for a revision and change of tactics. And as with every revision, we must be extra-cautious not to become unprincipled. It is my conviction that those who become unprincipled are people who (like Volodarsky) slide into defencism or (like other Bolsheviks) into a bloc with the S.R.s, into supporting the Provisional Government. Their attitude is absolutely wrong and unprincipled. (…)


Even now we must not support Kerensky’s government. This is unprincipled. We may be asked: aren’t we going to fight against Kornilov? Of course we must! But this is not the same thing; there is a dividing Line here, which is being stepped over by some Bolsheviks who fall into compromise and allow themselves to be carried away by the course of events. We shall fight, we are fighting against Kornilov, just as Kerensky’s troops do, but we do not support Kerensky. On the contrary, we expose his weakness. There is the difference. It is rather a subtle difference, but it is highly essential and must not be forgotten.


What, then, constitutes our change of tactics after the Kornilov revolt? We are changing the form of our struggle against Kerensky. Without in the least relaxing our hostility towards him, without taking back a single word said against him, without renouncing the task of overthrowing him, we say that we must take into account the present situation. We shall not overthrow Kerensky right now. We shall approach the task of fighting against him in a different way, namely, we shall point out to the people (who are fighting against Kornilov) Kerensky’s weakness and vacillation. That has been done in the past as well. Now, however, it has become the all-important thing and this constitutes the change.


The change, further, is that the all-important thing now has become the intensification of our campaign for some kind of “partial demands” to be presented to Kerensky: arrest Milyukov, arm the Petrograd workers, summon the Kronstadt, Vyborg and Helsingfors troops to Petrograd, dissolve the Duma, arrest Rodzyanko, legalise the transfer of the landed estates to the peasants, introduce workers’ control over grain and factories, etc., etc. We must present these demands not only to Kerensky, and not so much to Kerensky, as to the workers, soldiers and peasants who have been carried away by the course of the struggle against Kornilov. We must keep up their enthusiasm, encourage them to deal with the generals and officers who have declared for Kornilov, urge them to demand the immediate transfer of land to the peasants, suggest to them that it is necessary to arrest Rodzyanko and Milyukov, dissolve the Duma, close down Rech and other bourgeois papers, and institute investigations against them. The “Left” S.R.s must be especially urged on in this direction. [37]


Similarly, in the context of the Spanish Civil War, Trotsky explained the importance of defending a bourgeois democracy with a popular-front government from reactionary assaults while, at the same time, giving this government no political support:


Before 1934 we explained to the Stalinists tirelessly that even in the imperialist epoch democracy continued to be preferable to fascism; that is, in all cases where hostile clashes take place between them, the revolutionary proletariat is obliged to support democracy against fascism. However, we always added: We can and must defend bourgeois democracy not by bourgeois democratic means but by the methods of class struggle, which in turn pave the way for the replacement of bourgeois democracy by the dictatorship of the proletariat. This means in particular that in the process of defending bourgeois democracy, even with arms in hand, the party of the proletariat takes no responsibility for bourgeois democracy, does not enter its government, but maintains full freedom of criticism and of action in relation to all parties of the Popular Front, thus preparing the overthrow of bourgeois democracy at the next stage. [38]


At the same time, Trotsky considered it unprincipled for revolutionaries to vote for a popular front or to call for a popular front party to take power. [39] This also holds true in situations when such a popular front party or candidate runs against a fascist list or candidate in elections. For example, in March 1937 there was a by-election for a parliamentary seat from Brussels in which a fascist leader was opposed by Premier Paul van Zeeland of the Catholic Party. The Belgian Labor Party and the Communist Party helped van Zeeland by not running their own candidates. The majority of the Belgian section of the “Movement for the Fourth International” – as the Trotskyists called themselves at that time – decided also not to run a candidate and hence also indirectly supported van Zeeland.


Trotsky and the International Secretariat of the Fourth International sharply condemned this position: The attitude of the Belgian leadership during the by-election is a severe blow to the prestige of the Fourth International and especially to its Belgian section. On this question we are fully in agreement with the IS and the Paris Lutte ouuriere. [40]


Several days ago I received the statement of Comrade V. concerning the municipal elections. V.'s arguments against participation seemed to me false from beginning to end. You know that I considered and still consider our party's support to Van Zeeland to be an extremely serious and dangerous error. [41]


Trotsky opposed electoral support for a popular front party not only in imperialist countries, but in semi-colonial countries as well. When the Mexican trade union bureaucracy called to support the “progressive “ bourgeois candidate Ávila Camacho in the presidential elections of 1940, Trotsky rejected this. He explained that support for a bourgeois candidate was illegitimate: “At the present time there is no workers party, no trade union that is in the process of developing independent class politics and that is able to launch an independent candidate. Under these conditions, our only possible course of action is to limit ourselves to Marxist propaganda and to the preparation of a future independent party of the Mexican proletariat. [42]


When Diego de Rivera, a famous Mexican painter who had for some time been a supporter of the Fourth International, left the movement and advocated the formation of a new party in order to support a bourgeois candidate at the elections, Trotsky replied:


The idea that one can create a party “ad hoc" for a concrete conjuncture is absolutely incredible and opportunistic in its essence. A workers' party with a so-called minimum program is eo ipso a bourgeois party. It is a party which makes the workers support bourgeois politics or bourgeois politicians. A revolutionary Marxist workers' party could discuss the question of whether or not it was advisable in this concrete situation to support one of the bourgeois candidates' We are of the opinion that under the given conditions it would be false. [43]


In summary, while we consider critical electoral support for petty-bourgeois populist parties as legitimate under specific circumstances, communists can never call for voting for or the taking of power by parties or candidates of the bourgeoisie – neither in imperialist nor in semi-colonial countries. Revolutionary Marxists advocate a workers’ and peasant government and not a government of the workers, peasants and sectors of the bourgeoisie. The latter would be a popular front government. Electoral support for such a party would not represent a step towards class independence but rather a step backwards to the subordination of the workers and oppressed to the bourgeoisie.


[1] Karl Marx: The Poverty of Philosophy. Answer to the Philosophy of Poverty by M. Proudhon (1847), in: MECW Vol. 6, pp. 210-211

[2] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), in: MECW Vol. 6, p. 493

[3] See See also Michael Pröbsting: Building the Revolutionary Party in Theory and Practice. Looking Back and Ahead after 25 Years of Organized Struggle for Bolshevism, RCIT Books, Vienna 2014, pp. 81-84 and pp. 25-27,

[4] V.I. Lenin: The Bolsheviks and the Petty Bourgeoisie, in: LCW 12, p. 181

[5] V.I. Lenin: The Assessment of the Russian Revolution (1908), in: LCW 15, p. 57

[6] V.I. Lenin: How The Socialist-Revolutionaries Sum Up the Revolution and how the Revolution has Summed Them Up (1909), in: LCW 15, pp. 331-332

[7] Leon Trotsky: The Third International After Lenin. The Draft Program of the Communist International: A Criticism of Fundamentals (1928), Pathfinder Press, New York 1970, p. 222

[8] Leon Trotsky: The Third International After Lenin, p. 223

[9] Leon Trotsky: Lessons of the SFIO Entry (1935), in: The Crisis of the French Section, New York 1977, pp. 125-126

[10] See on this the books referred to above of David Riazanov: Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, August H. Nimtz: Marx and Engels and Otto Rühle: Karl Marx.

[11] On Sarekat Islam see e.g. Michael Francis Laffan: Islamic Nationhood and Colonial Indonesia. The umma below the winds, RoutledgeCurzon, London 2003; Tinur Jaylani: The Sarekat Islam Movement: Its Contribution to Indonesian Nationalism, Montreal 1959; Peter Lowensteyn: Indonesia between 1908 and 1928: The Sarekat Islam,

[12] See on this e.g.; Jean Duval: The First Period of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI): 1914-1926 - An outline,; A. Yu. Drugov: Relations between the Comintern and the Communist Party of Indonesia, in: The Comintern and the East, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1981, pp. 383-409; Herman A.O. de Tollenaere: The Politics of Divine Wisdom. Theosophy and labour, national, and women's movements in Indonesia and South Asia 1875-1947, Leiden 1996 (Part IV: The Labour Movement)

[13] On this see e.g., Dov Bing: Lenin and Sneevliet: The Origins of the Theory of Colonial Revolution in the Dutch East Indies, in: New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies Vol. 11, No. 1 (June 2009), pp. 153-177; Tony Saich and Fritjof Tichelman: Henk Sneevliet: A Dutch revolutionary on the world stage, Journal of Communist Studies, Vol. 1, No. 2 (1985), pp. 170-193; Tony Saich: The Chinese Communist Party during the Era of the Comintern (1919-1943), Article prepared for Juergen Rojahn, "Comintern and National Communist Parties Project," International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam

[14] See e.g. The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution, Revolutionary History Vol. 2, No. 4 (1990); Gregor Benton: China’s Urban Revolutionaries. Explorations in the History of Chinese Trotskyism, 1921-1952, New Jersey 1996; Wang Fanxi: Erinnerungen eines chinesischen Revolutionärs 1919-1949, Frankfurt a.M. 1983; see also: Damien Durand: The Birth of the Chinese Left Oopposition, in: Cahiers Leon Trotsky, No. 15 (1983) [translated by JohnArcher into English]; C. Martin Wilbur and Julie Lien-ying How: Missionaries of Revolution: Soviet Advisers and Nationalist China, 1920-1927 (Studies of the East Asian Institute), Harvard University Press, Harvard 1989; Helene Carrere D'Encausse and Stuart R. Schram: Marxism and Asia: an Introduction with Readings, Allen Lane, London 1969; Rudolf Schlesinger: Die Kolonialfrage in der Kommunistischen Internationale, Europäische Verlagsanstalt, Frankfurt a.M. 1970

[15] On this see e.g., Leon Trotsky: Leon Trotsky: The Third International After Lenin (Chapter 3: Summary and Perspectives of the Chinese Revolution). Another important work of the Trotskyists at that time is Victor Serge: The Class Struggle in the Chinese Revolution, in: Victor Serge, The Century of the Unexpected: Essays on Revolution and Counter-Revolution, Revolutionary History Vol. 5 No. 3, Socialist Platform Ltd, London 1994, pp. 54-141 (in German language: Victor Serge: Die Klassenkämpfe in der chinesischen Revolution von 1927, Verlag Neue Kritik, 1975)

[16] Leon Trotsky: The Communist Party of China and the Guomindang, in: Leon Trotsky on China, New York, 1976, pp. 114

[17] Leon Trotsky: The Opposition’s Errors – Real and Alleged (1928); in: Leon Trotsky: The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1928-29), p. 90

[18] Leon Trotsky: Against False Passport in Politics (1935); in: The Crisis in the French Section (1935-36), New York 1977, p. 116

[19] Leon Trotsky. Letter to Harold Isaacs (1.11.1937), in: Leon Trotsky on China, New York, 1976, p. 114; Schriften Vol. 2.2, p. 889

[20] A certain tradition has developed to call all united fronts that include petty-bourgeois or bourgeois organizations (i.e., organizations which are not workers’ united fronts) “Anti-Imperialist United Front”. This tradition has its origin in the Comintern’s use of this terminology in their Theses on the Eastern Question in 1922. The background for this was simply that most countries, which at that time were at the focus of the Comintern’s strategy, were in direct confrontation with imperialist powers. However, today there are also a number of cases of democratic struggles directed against a local dictatorship, against a racist law, or against a colonial war in imperialist countries, etc. In such cases it seems more appropriate to use the category “Democratic United Front” instead of “Anti-Imperialist United Front”.

[21] In elaborating such an approach here, we have improved upon the position which was elaborated by our predecessor organization – the League for a Revolutionary Communist International – in the United Front Theses adopted in 1994 (published in Trotskyist Bulletin No. 5, July 1994). Those theses had a “Eurocentric” tendency, in that they did not sufficiently take into account the conditions of the class struggle in semi-colonial countries. For this reason they did not also include a discussion of the application of the united front tactic by revolutionaries to petty-bourgeois populist parties in the semi-colonial world in the context of elections. A similar tendency towards inconsistency can be observed in an, otherwise excellent, article by Stuart King: Nicaragua under the Sandinistas, in: Permanent Revolution No. 7, Spring 1988, pp. 43-73. King’s article wrongly rejects a slogan calling for a Sandinista-only government.

[22] See e.g. Abraham Ascher: The Revolution of 1905. Authority Restored, Stanford University Press, Stanford 1992, p. 364

[23] At the time of the Fifth Congress in 1907, the Social Democratic Workers Party of Russia claimed a membership of 150,000.

[24] The Mensheviks – advocating their alliance, or better subordination to the liberal bourgeoisie – justified their stance by referring to the tactic of Marx and Engels during the revolution of 1848. Lenin replied to this:

Plekhanov quoted passages from the works of Marx, on the need to support the bourgeoisie. It is a pity that he did not quote from the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. A pity that he forgot how Marx “supported” the liberals during the period when the bourgeois revolution in Germany was at its height. Nor is it necessary to go so far to prove something that is indisputable. The old Iskra, too, frequently spoke of the necessity for the Social-Democratic Labour Party to support the liberals – even the Marshals of the Nobility. In the period preceding the bourgeois revolution, when Social-Democracy still had to rouse the people to political life, this was quite legitimate. Today, when various classes have already appeared on the scene, when, on the one hand, a peasant revolutionary movement has revealed itself, and there have been liberal betrayals on the other – today there can be no question of our supporting the liberals.“ (V. I. Lenin: Concluding Remarks on the Report on the Attitude towards Bourgeois Parties (1907), in: LCW 12, pp. 471-472)

[25] An excellent exposition of the development of Lenin’s thinking in 1906 and 1907 – after the peak of the first Russian Revolution – can be found in chapter 4 of August Nimtz: Lenin's Electoral Strategy from Marx and Engels through the Revolution of 1905. The Ballot, the Streets.

[26] In exceptional circumstances, in 1907 Lenin allowed the formation of a bloc with the Cadets to defeat the Black Hundreds, as the fascists of the time were called. However, it would be absolutely incorrect to conclude from this exception that Lenin’s tactic would allow for the inclusion of bourgeois candidates today. In the early 20th century, the liberal bourgeoisie – which was represented by the Cadets – was not the ruling class. The ruling class was rather composed as a coalition of the autocracy, the (semi-feudal) big landowners and the Octobrist (pro-monarchy) big bourgeoisie. Naturally, this is a very different situation from today’s, as the bourgeoisie has become the ruling class in all countries.

[27] V. I. Lenin: The Boycott (1906), in: LCW 11, p. 148