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Against Trotskyism: The united front

By J. Sykes

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Trotskyism disagrees with Marxism-Leninism on a number of important theoretical points. These disagreements aren’t limited to the field of theory but have a real practical impact on the movements of working class and oppressed peoples. In our day-to-day struggles, we see them come up again and again. Practically, the question of the united front illustrates very clearly the glaring difference between Marxism-Leninism and Trotskyism. This is a question of extreme theoretical importance, with tremendous practical consequences, so we should examine it closely.

What is the united front? It is the organizational expression of a broad unity of action by diverse forces against a common enemy. The purpose of the united front, the reason for its existence, is to unite the many to defeat the few.

In order to defeat the monopoly capitalist class – the imperialists who seek to plunder and rule the world through monetary influence and force of arms – the masses in their millions must unite broadly in order to attack the enemy from every angle. This requires a broad unity, beyond the tight, militant discipline demanded by revolutionary communists. We can and must unite millions of people – everyone whose material interests are opposed to those of the monopoly capitalists. One certainly doesn’t have to be a communist to understand that the interests of the monopoly capitalists are opposed to our own.

We can and must fight together with the mass organizations of the working class, such as the trade unions. And we must also unite broadly with classes outside of our own. Building the strategic alliance between the working class and the movements of oppressed nationalities is essential to building the united front against monopoly capitalism. Thus, we should build and unite with the Black and Chicano liberation movements, including uniting with the national bourgeoisie who wants to fight back against the imperialist system at the core of national oppression. We must also seek to unite with progressive forces among the petty bourgeoisie, a doomed class crushed daily under the weight of the monopoly capitalists.

The Trotskyites aren’t interested in this kind of united front, this uniting broadly with different class forces who are materially at odds with the monopoly capitalists. As always, they want pure proletarian revolution, and their understanding of the united front reflects that. To them, the united front should be a unity of socialist forces dominated by the Trotskyites. It is a unity of working-class forces arrayed against all other classes and strata. This is what we saw in how they addressed the Bolshevik revolution in opposition to the peasantry, and the Chinese revolution as well.

The united front, properly understood, means that there are many contradictory forces at work, all seeking to lead it based on their own material interests. Thus, the communists must strive to maintain the independence and initiative with the united front, and should strive to lead it in a revolutionary direction. But how should communists exercise leadership in the united front? Through persuasion and example, and through the use of the mass line.

Mao Zedong explained the mass line like this.

“In all the practical work of our Party, all correct leadership is necessarily ‘from the masses, to the masses’. This means: take the ideas of the masses (scattered and unsystematic ideas) and concentrate them (through study turn them into concentrated and systematic ideas), then go to the masses and propagate and explain these ideas until the masses embrace them as their own, hold fast to them and translate them into action, and test the correctness of these ideas in such action. Then once again concentrate ideas from the masses and once again go to the masses so that the ideas are persevered in and carried through. And so on, over and over again in an endless spiral, with the ideas becoming more correct, more vital and richer each time. Such is the Marxist theory of knowledge.”

Understanding the mass line is crucial to understanding how communists should relate to the mass organizations of the united front. We have to understand, as Mao put it, that the masses are composed of advanced, intermediate and backwards elements. The advanced are the activists who want to fight to make things better. The intermediate are the broad group who are not yet active, but aren’t opposed to progress. The backwards are the reactionaries who push back against change, oppose progress and champion the ideas of the enemy among the masses.

The role of communists among the masses is to organize and unite with the advanced, active fighters. These are the people who are articulating the masses' felt needs. Together with the advanced, we can develop organizations, struggles and campaigns around these felt needs in order to mobilize the broad intermediate section of the masses while isolating or winning over the backwards in the course of the struggle. By doing this, we can win important victories and land blows against the enemy. Through the course of these mass struggles, we can raise the level of consciousness and organization among the masses. By helping to lead and sum up these fights, we can win the advanced fighters over to Marxism-Leninism and build communist organization. This is the correct, Marxist-Leninist method of leadership.

The Trotskyites utterly fail to understand any of this. To the Trotskyists, what does united front organizing look like? They have two main, interrelated methods: entryism and commandism. What does this mean?

Because the Trotskyites fail to grasp the mass line in united front work, their idea of organizing among the masses isn’t “from the masses, to the masses.” They have no real interest in the felt needs of the masses, or in the ideas of the advanced. Instead, they go into the mass organizations from outside, to seize control of them, maneuvering to dominate them and force their line onto them. This “entryism” is completely at odds with any clear understanding of the mass line in the united front. The purpose of going among the masses isn’t to dominate them and make the mass organizations into mere extensions of the communists. The mass organizations should arise from the needs of the masses, fight for what the masses want to fight for, and should have a much broader level of unity than that demanded of communist cadres. To make the mass organizations into a mere “front” of the communists robs them of what makes them useful to the masses, and what makes them valuable as an element of the united front in the revolutionary struggle. Instead, it twists the mass organizations into a shell, occupied by the parasitic, Trotskyite entryists. Once this happens, the advanced and intermediate soon abandon the organization, leaving the Trotskyites alone in their ideologically pure “mass” organization.

If this fails, the Trotskyites have another option, one that they also frequently use. Their other method is to simply form these pure “mass” organizations whole cloth. These fake mass organizations are not made up of advanced activists from among the masses, but instead are composed almost entirely of Trotskyites. They use these organizations to try to command the masses. They stand in for the masses and speak for the masses, with no real connection to the actual struggles of working and oppressed people. From here they shout their slogans and peddle their papers, not as mass line tools of organizing, but as dictates from the sidelines of the struggle. Woe to the advanced activist who wanders into one of these Trotskyite “mass” organizations. They will quickly see that their options are to join ranks with the Trotskyites or be gone. This is the way the Trotskyites organize.

The purpose of united front work is to unite all who can be united to defeat the monopoly capitalist enemy. The role of communists among the masses is a dialectical one, while the Trotskyites are mechanical in their approach. The Trotskyites seek to enforce their pure, idealistic formulas, while Marxism-Leninism seeks to transform real people in the crucible of real struggle.

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