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Debate in the Frente de Izquierda: United Front and electoral front

The Partido Obrero (PO – Workers’ Party) continues to develop its confusion around the concept of the United Front. PO deepens this confusion in his “response” to our new proposal for a common list to take to the PASO (first round of elections).

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Photo: Enfoque Rojo

Spanish version from La Izquierda Diario, 6/12/2015

The Partido Obrero (PO – Workers’ Party) continues to develop its confusion around the concept of the United Front. First there was Jorge Altamira’s speech at the June 5 rally at the Ferrocarril Oeste stadium where the presidential formula of Altamira-Giordano was launched, where he put a position that we have polemicized against previously . Now, Gabriel Solano deepens this confusion in his “response” to our new proposal for a common list to take to the PASO (first round of elections).

Real differences and excuses for refusing a united ticket

Among his arguments, Solano suggests that the actual problem of why it is necessary to go to the PASO is because the PTS wants to “arbitrarily” discuss the possibility of a candidacy by “Perro” Santillán. Solano considers this discussion “arbitrary” because the PO has “already signed an agreement [with Santillán] that goes a long way towards the defence of socialist principles”.

However, we have never considered simply swearing an oath to “socialist principles” to be a method of political integration into the Frente de Izquierda y Trabajadores (FIT – Left and Workers’ Front). Our stand on this question has always been clear. We start by welcoming the fact that currents such as that around “Perro” Santillán, Pueblo en Marcha [People on the March] and other organizations propose to support the FIT in the elections. But we also maintain that for their integration into the FIT it is necessary to “start both a common practice and a profound and serious debate around the program of the Front”.

According to the PO, this would be “arbitrary”. But for us it is called seriousness, because in reality it has everything to do with real programmatic disagreements – not just generic “socialist principles”. The PO even goes so far to say that these organizations have complete agreement with the program of the FIT, a position that these organizations themselves know not to be the case.

For example, from its foundation the FIT has clearly differentiated itself from the so-called “post-neoliberal” governments of Evo Morales in Bolivia or the Chavista government in Venezuela who speak of socialism, and it has pointed out the need to expose these governments.

“Perro” Santillan and his current have referred critically to these governments, as we have pointed out elsewhere. Yet at the delegate sessions of the Municipal Workers’ Union (SEOM) Santillan announced the launch of his “people’s party” with the slogan “Hacer como el Evo” (“Do it like Evo”).

Pueblo en Marcha has also clearly raised this discussion. Starting with their characterization of the “advanced experiences of struggle elsewhere, such as the Bolivarian process, Podemos or SYRIZA”, they suggest that a “differentiation” “with respect to the sectarian characterization on the part of the various forces of the FIT” is necessary. According to them it is “sectarian” to clearly point out the character of these governments. They also argue that the FIT “tends to interpret [these experiences] as being subjected to Bonapartist leaderships that hinder the self-organisation of the working class and popular sectors, retard their political maturation, generate confusion and create false expectations around political alliances that are incapable, due to their class composition, of moving to socialism”. Indeed, this is precisely what the program of the FIT suggests.

At the same time, it is not by chance that the PO hides the fact that members of Pueblo en Marcha support the “Cuidad Futura” (City of the Future) list in Rosario (in Santa Fe province), a list that is competing with the FIT and has a political profile that has nothing to do with upholding working class political independence.

Not to mention the current of Comunismo Revolucionario (Revolutionary Communism – a Maoist organisation) which explicitly says: “we adopt the tactical position of supporting the FIT in these elections, not on the basis of the founding program of the FIT – which logically is of a Trotskyist character – but of its campaign program. . .”.

It does not seem very “arbitrary” to say that we have programmatic differences which require both an in-depth discussion, as well as common practice, before these organizations can be incorporated into the FIT. What is truly arbitrary is PO’s desire to try to link this discussion with the need to go to the PASO with separate lists. This is because what we have advanced within the FIT over the last few days is exactly in accordance with the common method that has been developed regarding possible candidacies of groups or individuals that support the FIT.

According to Article Seven of the rules for the PASO, rules agreed to by all the parties of the FIT long before the publication of Gabriel Solano’s article: “no list may be submitted with candidates at the top of the lists or in prominent positions who belong to political organizations that are not members of the Frente de Izquierda y de los Trabajadores, except with the agreement of all the parties that make up the alliance”.

Having won a common method on this matter, the arguments of the PO can only be seen as a new excuse for their outright rejection of our proposal to take a united list of the FIT to the PASO.

Another of their excuses is the attack on the magazine Ideas de Izquierda (Ideas of the Left), the only ideological mass-circulation publication of Marxist debate linked to the FIT, a fact publicly acknowledged by allies, adversaries and enemies alike. According to Solano “the PTS facilitates a United Front in the only field where it is impermissible: in the theoretical and ideological field, where it is necessary to clarify positions and not confuse them in alliances with sectors outside of the class struggle and socialism”. Is not Ideas de Izquierda, in many cases, a united ideological front with anyone from ‘democratizing’ intellectuals all the way to liberals and socialists from the Chair of the Academy?”

We remind Solano that the editorial committee of Ideas de Izquierda is made up of, in addition to members of the PTS, intellectuals who have subscribed to the program of the Frente de Izquierda from its foundation. On the other hand, he would do well to read the magazine in order to verify that it contains important debates, and that writers from outside the editorial committee, always write their articles in the name of an “open forum”, which clearly does not imply any sort of “united front”.

The United Front and the political-electoral front

The Partido Obrero is sliding towards a more openly opportunistic interpretation of the United Front tactic elaborated by the Third International, which obliges us to clarify this question. Here, we are going to focus on two fundamental errors that Solano has raised.

First mistake: The PO says that “according to the PTS, ‘United Fronts’ are valid for the “class struggle”, but not for elections, thus announcing the possibility of a socialist politics that are not based in the class struggle. This is a blunder, on the one hand, and a concession to anarchism, on the other”.

The United Front is a tactic designed for intervention in the class struggle. It is not an invention of the PTS. Its origins and significance in the Third International were well understood by Trotsky, who pointed out in regard to the United Front in Germany in the early 1930s: “election agreements, parliamentary compromises concluded between the revolutionary party and the Social Democracy serve, as a rule, to the advantage of the Social Democracy. Practical agreements for mass action, for purposes of struggle [our emphasis], are always useful to the revolutionary party”.

As if this was not enough, he went on to emphasize: “No common platform with the Social Democracy, or with the leaders of the German trade unions, no common publications, banners, placards! March separately, but strike together! Agree only how to strike, whom to strike, and when to strike!” (“For a Workers’ United Front Against Fascism”, 1931)

For Trotsky, the appropriate arena for the United Front is not in electoral agreements but “mass action, for purposes of struggle”. Following in the tradition of the Third International, Trotsky clearly differentiates between the two: “strike together” and “march separately”, not as the PO seems to suggest: “strike (or not strike) together” and “march together”.

Second error: According to the PO “Trotsky called for the development of Committees of Action of the United Front for the election campaign (Whither France?). This is what socialist politics on the electoral field consist of”. Here the confusion reaches its highest point. It is necessary to clarify for the reader that the electoral campaign referred to by the PO is the French Popular (or People’s) Front of 1936 where the Communist Party joined with the reformists of the Socialist Party and part of the Radical Party, a party which had historically been responsible for French colonial oppression. The PO mentions this fact in the article but hardly notices its significance.

What do the Committees of Action of the French Popular Front (which Trotsky considered to be a “coalition of the proletariat with the imperialist bourgeoisie, in the shape of the Radical Party and smaller tripe of the same sort”) have to do with the Frente de Izquierda that is an alliance of parties for working class independence? Trotsky said that the pronouncement of the Stalinists in favour of the development of “elected Committees of Action as the mass support for the People’s Front” was “the only progressive idea in the entire resolution” on the Popular Front. He then clarifies: “But precisely for this reason the Stalinists do nothing to realize it. They dare not do so for fear of breaking off collaboration with the bourgeoisie”. (“For Committees Of Action, Not the People’s Front” from Whither France?, 1936).

As cited above, Trotsky was very precise on the contours of the United Front in Germany in the 1930s (“March separately, but strike together”) when he was fighting Stalinism which refused any sort of United Front. He was just as precise when it came to France years later when Stalinism fostered, in the name of the United Front, open collaboration with the imperialist bourgeoisie. [1]

It is without doubt a discussion taken out of context by “chance”, which at the very least demonstrates Solano’s inconsistency when it comes to theoretical discussion.

Contrary to what Gabriel Solano says, Trotsky never spoke of the need to “develop Committees of Action of the United Front for the election campaign” as a way of intervening in the “electoral field”. Committees of Action were precisely for breaking the paralysis of the class struggle that the Popular Front imposed on it. The question is one of forming “Committees of Action” that raise the United Front in the field of action in the class struggle, and raise it against the orientation of the Popular Front which leads workers to paralysis, subordinating them to the bourgeoisie and raising their illusions in electoral developments. The question consists of changing the field of intervention of the United Front from elections to the class struggle, with the same logic that we have mentioned in the first point, that is, by defeating the Popular Front.

Trotsky himself said: “However it would be a mistake to think that it is possible at a set day and hour to call the proletarian and petty-bourgeois masses to elect Committees of Action on the basis of a given statute. Such an approach would be purely bureaucratic and consequently barren [. . .] In question here is not the formal democratic representation of all and any masses but the revolutionary representation of the struggling masses. The Committee of Action is an apparatus of struggle”. (“For Committees Of Action, Not the People’s Front” from Whither France?, 1936).

Faced with this Solano can only repeat that intervention in the elections is a political struggle. Well OK, but when Trotsky (in the text quoted by Solano) speaks of “Committees of Action” as an “apparatus of struggle”, he does not refer to these “apparatus” as ones for electoral struggle, but of ones for fighting fascism. And yes, although Solano does not like it, Trotsky is speaking of “direct action”.

“Committees of Action” have nothing to do with mere committees for taking part in the election campaign of 1936. What were the tasks of these “Committees” according to Trotsky? “In any case the mass movement, that has today run up against the barrier of the People’s Front, will be unable to move forward without the Committees of Action. Such tasks as the creation of workers’ militia, the arming of the workers, the preparation of a general strike, will remain on paper if the struggling masses themselves, through their authoritative organs, do not occupy themselves with these tasks. Only Committees of Action born in the struggle can assure a real militia numbering fighters not by the thousand but the tens of thousands”. (“For Committees Of Action, Not the People’s Front” from Whither France?, 1936).

This is a long way from the ludicrous (and electoral) interpretation suggested by Solano, who incidentally, would do well to actually read the texts referred to above.

Having clarified these two errors, we need to ask: why is the arena of the United Front in the action of the class struggle and not in electoral campaigns? It is not because of some whim of Trotsky or the PTS. It is because the United Front tactic (which is not a strategy as Altamira seems to contend) directly poses the unity of the working class in its confrontation with the bourgeoisie, overcomes and goes beyond the divisions imposed by the bureaucracy (both political and union), is the form whereby workers can gain experience in action alongside their reformist and bureaucratic leaderships, and is where revolutionaries can demonstrate that they are the most consistent and decisive, and so can advance their influence as a product of this common experience. This is why Trotsky noted that agreements in the electoral field favor the reformists and agreements for action favor revolutionaries who have “everything to win”.

In the Frente de Izquierda there are no reformists; the Frente raises a program of class independence, calls for a workers’ government and differentiates itself from bourgeois currents such as those of Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez. This makes the FIT a progressive front. The PTS defends the program of the FIT tooth and nail against any attempt to dilute it, while at the same time, it is willing to develop any and all agreements that we can in the class struggle, that involve precise actions, with sectors or leaderships that do not and are not required to agree with the program of the FIT.

To confuse the United Front with a political-electoral bloc is to strip away everything that is fundamental to the United Front, whose key is joint action for precise objectives within the class struggle, from a political-electoral bloc that is defined precisely by its program. The consequence is to transform both in the direction of opportunistic politics.


[1] So much so that Perry Anderson, along with many of those who defend the struggle of Trotsky in Germany, believe that in France (and in Spain) Trotsky was sectarian and abandoned his defense of the United Front. These views are based precisely on their misunderstanding of the United Front and comparing it to political-electoral blocs. So Anderson says of Trotsky: “whereas his essays on Germany emphasized the imperative need to win the petty-bourgeoisie to an alliance with the working class (citing the example of the bloc against Kornilov in Russia), his essays on the Popular Front in France dismissed the traditional organization of the local petty-bourgeoisie, the Radical Party, as merely a party of ‘democratic imperialism’ that must on principle be excluded from any anti-fascist alliance”. (Considerations on Western Marxism)

Translation: Sean Robertson

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Matías Maiello

Matías is a sociologist at the University of Buenos Aires and a leading member of the Socialist Workers Party (PTS) in Argentina. He is co-author, together with Emilio Albamonte, of the book Estrategia socialista y arte militar (Buenos Aires: Ediciones IPS, 2018).

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