Letter: On Cross-Class Alliances - Cosmonaut

Date: 2022-08-02T22:19:53+00:00

Location: cosmonautmag.com

My thanks to Jack L for an intelligent and useful contribution regarding cross-class alliances/popular fronts-united fronts. I come from a tradition (US Socialist Workers Party in the 1970s) where we made precisely the distinction he does between the united front (coalition of working-class fores) and the popular front (cross-class alliance). Unlike Jack we also put a value judgment on these two forms of coalition: united front good, popular front bad. And yet we also pursued a cross-class alliance to build the anti-Vietnam War movement, called it a “united front,” and declared it to be good (a value judgment I believe was accurate).

As a collective the SWP never tried to reconcile this contradiction. But I have thought long and hard about it over the years, while also considering other positive experiences of cross-class alliances–such as the transitional governments in both Cuba and Nicaragua after the revolutions in those countries (1959 and 1979). The question in a nutshell: What makes some cross-class alliances positive for the working class and oppressed communities while others are decidedly negative? The conclusion I have come to is that the key element is in the program, the slogans and demands, or–in the case of governmental alliances–which forces have hegemony.

An anti-Vietnam War movement in the USA that raised the demand “Out Now!” was contrary to the interests of US imperialism and therefore a positive force which working-class revolutionaries could and should be a leading part of. The fact that even some bourgeois elements were persuaded to join the coalition did not change this reality, so long as the slogan “Out Now!” wasn’t compromised as a result. In both Cuba and Nicaragua it was the revolutionary forces who had hegemony and determined the fundamental course of government action. The presence of some who were not quite on the same class wavelength wasn’t decisive. Contrast this to the Russian Revolution, for example, and the cross-class alliance represented by the provisional government that took power after February. Here hegemony belonged to the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois elements. The task was not to join or support the provisional government, therefore, but to overthrow it.

The worst aspect of the CP’s popular-front policy in the 1930s was that it actively sought to subordinate working class forces to cross-class governmental coalitions that actively pursued bourgeois interests, in the name of forging an alliance with the “progressive bourgeoisie” to “fight fascism.” The clearest case study was the Spanish Republic, which pursued the interests of the bourgeoisie even though no bourgeois forces were actually participating in the popular front. Had the Spanish Republic taken the simple step of granting independence to Morocco, a large portion of Franco’s army, which was of Moroccan extraction, would have come over to the Republican cause. But granting independence for Morocco was an impossibility for a government that was ideologically committed to ruling in a manner that could include the “liberal bourgeoisie,” since independence for Morocco was something the liberal Spanish bourgeoisie (to the extent such a layer actually existed) could not tolerate.

Thinking in these terms can, I believe, help us to resolve a whole series of dilemmas which confront radicals in the USA–in particular the dilemma of electoral politics: Can anything positive come from participating in cross-class alliances on an electoral level in a formation, the Democratic Party, where the ruling class has a clear and definitive hegemony? Even if the answer is “yes” (something can be gained) what do we give up in order to win any positive reforms which might result? Personally, the answer I give to this is to apply Jack L.’s call to “retain working-class independence, and resist class collaboration that subordinates the interests of the working class to those of the state” by being an active supporter of the Green Party. It’s by no means an ideal solution, but it’s the best I can come up with given the present realities in the USA. Jack is quite right to insist that DSA must maintain its right/ability to criticize the Democratic Party. Is such a thing actually possible, however, for a political formation whose entire strategic orientation is to develop its influence in this cross-class alliance where ruling class forces have an absolute and unshakable hegemony?

-Steve Bloom

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