Stop the War popular front?

On February 16, 24 hours or so after the historic anti-war demonstration in London, the CPGB held a public meeting on the subject of 'The war and the revolutionary party'. Jack Conrad spoke about the demonstration and its significance, noting its historic importance, in that such a massive mobilisation of the British population, with a clearly leftwing thrust, signifies that we have at last emerged from the period of reaction following the collapse of the Soviet bloc into a new period where political advances are possible. The fundamental policy of the British ruling class since at least Suez - Atlanticism, or a junior partnership with the United States - has now run into an unprecedented mass opposition. The comrade addressed at some length the blunder made by the organisers in allowing a platform for the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy, who has done nothing to build the movement, but who also has the potential to split and betray it with his pledge to support war if and when Blair and Bush get UN endorsement. He also noted the democratic character of the mass movement, which poses the question of the need for a society where the population has the means to recall a government that is attempting to defy the popular will, as Blair is evidently planning to do by evoking the royal prerogative to drag Britain into a war over the opposition of the mass of the population. The discussion period was dominated by political debate with Alan Davis from the International Bolshevik Tendency, as well as Dave Craig from the Revolutionary Democratic Group, who argued in favour of his organisation's demand for a 'provisional republican government' in the current crisis. Comrade Davis, as was rather predictable, made a range of criticisms of our comrades' anti-war activity - from our willingness to build the Stop the War Coalition, which he dubbed as "popular-frontist" because of the presence in it of various left-reformist elements who have illusions in the United Nations, as well of course as Kennedy himself. Indeed, somewhat bizarrely in the course of his contributions in the meeting and later discussions, comrade Davis questioned whether the previous day's unprecedented mobilisation could be properly called both an anti-war and a pro-democracy demonstration. He also arraigned our comrades for our refusal to raise demands such as 'Defend Iraq', as do many orthodox Trotskyist groupings such as the IBT and Workers Power, calling for a 'military bloc' with the Saddam Hussein regime against US imperialism and in effect the subordination of the struggles of Iraqi workers to keeping Saddam Hussein in power. On the latter point, comrade Davis was challenged as to what his position would be on any working class uprising against the Hussein regime - previously he had said during an analogous discussion on the Afghan war that if such an uprising were to endanger the ability of the reactionary regime concerned to 'fight imperialism', it should be opposed and indeed, implicitly such an uprising should be crushed. The conceptions of comrade Davis are characteristic of what is wrong with much of the left, and hence have an importance rather greater than that of his own small and isolationist tendency. In a somewhat different form, this kind of debate has raged within the anti-war movement with the likes of the Socialist Workers Party: a similar 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' conception leads the SWP to refuse to condemn indefensible actions such as September 11, or to 'privately' agree with the likes of comrade Davis that the left should 'defend' the Saddam regime - positions it, however, considers it impolitic to boast about in public. Debate about what a popular front is and what it is not has raged in the letters column of the Weekly Worker lately: the rigid partisans of dubbing any united action with non-socialist forces who evidence illusions in the UN, or have pacifist illusions, as a 'popular front' are bizarre on the face of it and reflect really an inability to deal with developments in the real world. Popular fronts were a strategy of the Stalinised Communist International in the 1930s to cement an alliance with sections of the capitalists, to defend 'democracy' in capitalist society against fascism. The quid pro quo for such a deal was that the rule of the capitalist exploiters themselves was to be safeguarded against any agitation or movement against the capitalist system itself by the working class. Hence, the logic of the popular front was that the Stalinist parties 'safeguarded' particular capitalist states and in extreme circumstances - eg, Spain in the 1930s - did so by murdering revolutionaries and crushing the working class. The outcome of such betrayal was invariably the victory of reaction. For the IBT, though, any tactical bloc, even if complete freedom is maintained for revolutionaries to criticise the other forces involved, is equivalent to a popular front. Our criticism of the presence of Kennedy on the speakers' platform at the February 15 rally, for instance, is not on grounds of principle, but of tactics - in order to keep the momentum with the left and with consistent opponents of imperialist war, and prevent the likes of Kennedy attempting to lead the movement down the UN blind ally. Besides, there was no need to put him on the platform, as he had not lifted a finger to build the demonstration - from his point of view he was compelled to attend by the momentum already attained. The SWP, on the other hand, in allowing this to take place, only shows its opportunism and lack of strategic thinking, putting numbers - creating the biggest possible pool from which to recruit - above any other consideration, even shielding the movement from pernicious pro-establishment manoeuvrers like Kennedy. However, the accusation that the SWP's opportunism is dictated by a programmatic impulse to protect capitalist 'democracy' against reaction and the working class - popular frontism - is ludicrous. This is not analysis, but the recitation of biblical texts. If by some accident Kennedy had found himself in the incongruous position of leading a mass movement against the war, revolutionaries would have no compunction about making tactical blocs with him to ensure that we get a hearing among his mass base. That indeed, is the best tradition of communism, as evidenced, among other historic examples, by the Bolsheviks' blocking with the priest Gapon, who was thrust into the leadership of the mass workers' protest movement that led to Bloody Sunday, and the subsequent eruption of the Russian Revolution of 1905. Ian Donovan