Trotsky’s critique of Popular Frontism: Is it applicable for us?

(8 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Original article via

The term Popular Front (or People’s Front) was coined in the 1930s and referred to an alliance of the workers’ parties (Communist and Socialist) with so-called “progressive” bourgeois parties (Liberals, Republicans, Radicals, etc.). The two classic examples of this were in France and Spain. In 1931 and again in 1936, the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) joined a coalition with bourgeois parties. The same happened in France in 1936. the Communist parties were also part of these Popular Fronts. Both the Communist and Socialist party leaderships played a treacherous role in holding back the revolutionary movement of the working class. This prepared the ground for the victory of reaction. In Spain it lead to the terrible defeat at the hands of Franco.

The introductory piece here is quite interesting as a history piece. Now, the name of Trotsky will automatically have some turn off immediately, or immediately critique this entry for all of Trotksy’s failings. All well and good. For those willing to soldier on, I think that there are things to be learned from what the article says.

I think what the article says is applicable to the current political situation in the US. The analogy, of course, isn’t perfect. There aren’t any strong leftist or workers parties here in the US. However, it seems that some think that what Obama is trying to do is form a national consensus, formed of the great middle that supposedly exists in American politics, thus bypassing both the left and the right. This consensus, I suppose, would then reign in the rapacious nature of the capitalists while keeping the US safe from the extremes of the left. Say what you will, it would be a grand vision (if, as I think it is, greatly flawed) should it come to pass.

I’m of the opinion Obama’s thrown the left to the curb. If indications from his cabinet appointments are any indicator, he did so gladly. And why not? The left, right now, has nowhere else to go other than the Democratic Party. Obama’s got them, if only out of fear of electing more Republicans. So, let’s take the left out of the equation.

For this grand vision to work, Obama must keep the centrist Democrats. Once again, at least for now, the other choice is too frightening to contemplate, so they’ll be with him. I tend to think the same with centrist Republicans (what few there may actually be). For now, that gives him an electoral majority, but a frail one at best. If he is seen to have failed economically, those centrist Republicans and some centrist Democrats could be persuaded to vote for the Republicans out of fear of an even worse economy. What Obama has to do, if this consensus is to last longer than his term(s) in office, is to get another part of the Republican party to join him.

The section that he is aiming at, of course, is the business/corporate/financial/ capitalist section. Surprise, surprise.  We see this in the fact that he’s pretty much put the economy in the hands of the financiers already.  We also see this in the ‘stimulus’ package, with the heavy reliance on tax cuts in the Senate’s compromise bill (current as of this weekend).

Which gets us to the point I think Trotsky was trying to make for those on the left:  The business/corporate/financial/capitalist sect is out for itself, period.  Right now, at least a few are throwing in with the Democrats simply because the Democrats hold the reigns of power in Washington.   Should the political winds shift, they’ll go right back to their home base of the Republican Party.  Which, in our system, is a perfectly reasonable thing for them to do.

So, will this consensus work?  If things go even reasonably well for Obama, certainly for him.  He has a winning coalition, and the memory of W is probably enough to allow him to be elected a second time.  But what about for the rest of the consensus?  If the business/corporate/financial/ capitalist sect leaves, the consensus is shattered (and I think they would take with them the centrists Republicans and a fair chunk of centrists Democrats).

So, is the consensus worth pursuing?  I’m sure it depends upon where you fall in the political spectrum.  It will be interesting to see if it can actually form, and then equally worth seeing how long it could hold together.

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  1. …first of all, I think that the consensus ought to be on all of our parts that for all their failings, Trotsky (and Marx for that matter) were among the most brilliant minds of their time.  One hardly has to agree with them to take their thoughts very seriously and consider them worth reading.

    I think that this, however, is one of his lesser insights.  People who don’t share your goals, well, they don’t share your goals.  And they will work with you to a degree when you share common purpose, but they will always “sell out” your ultimate goals, because they do not share them.  

    In that sense, there are no strong leftist or socialist parties in America, not least because there is no strong leftist or socialist constituency in America.  In that regard, I think it is a misstatement to say that Obama has “thrown the left to the curb” – he was never an adherent to or a member of the left.  Obama appointed exactly who one would have expected him to, if they paid attention to what he said and did.

    Beyond that, I’m not sure what you are aiming at here.  The consensus certainly won’t last – nothing ever does.  There was no President ever as universally popular and powerful as LBJ in 1965.  That went swimmingly, didn’t it?  Lasted and lasted.  The consensus itself is an illusion – it doesn’t genuinely exist, but the facts of this particular moment are shaping a certain majority which will persist for a period of time.  

    Perhaps it is me misunderstanding.  But what point are you trying to make here?

  2. Yes, if the interests of the people are advanced by the coalition.

    And of course if we don’t buy their bullshit and stay awake to seize any opportunities that arise. We can’t afford not to advance our cause merely because of pure ideology.

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