Definitions

Azeri Popular Front

Popular front

A popular front is a broad coalition of different political groupings, often made up of leftists and centrists who are united by opposition to another group (most often fascist or far-right groups). Being very broad, they can sometimes include centrist and liberal (or "bourgeois") forces as well as socialist and communist ("working-class") groups. Popular fronts are larger in scope than united fronts, which contain only working-class groups.

In addition to the general definition, the term "popular front" also has a specific meaning in the history of Europe and the United States during the 1930s, and in the history of Communism and the Communist Party. The term "national front", similar in name but describing a different form of ruling, using ostensibly non-Communist parties which were in fact controlled by and subservient to the Communist party as part of a "coalition", was used in Central and Eastern Europe during the Cold War.

It should be noted that not all coalitions who use the term "popular front" necessarily meet the accepted definition for "popular fronts", and not all popular fronts necessarily use the term "popular front" in their name. The same applies to "united fronts".

The Comintern's Popular Front policy 1934–1939

In response to the growing threat of fascism in the 1930s, Communist parties that were members of the Comintern (then largely under the control of Joseph Stalin) adopted a policy of forming broad alliances with almost any political party willing to oppose the fascists. These were called "popular fronts". Some popular fronts won elections and formed governments, as in France (Front Populaire), the Second Spanish Republic, and Chile. Others never quite got off the ground. There were attempts in the United Kingdom to found a Popular Front against the National Government's appeasement of Nazi Germany, between the Labour Party, the Liberal Party, the Independent Labour Party, the Communist Party, and even rebellious elements of the Conservative Party under Winston Churchill, but they failed mainly due to opposition from within the Labour Party but incompatibility of Liberal and socialist approaches also caused many Liberals to be hostile.

The Popular Front policy of the Comintern was introduced in 1934, succeeding its ultra-left "Third Period" during which it condemned non-Communist socialist parties as "social fascist". The new policy was signalled in a Pravda article of May 1934, which commented favourably on socialist-Communist collaboration. In June 1934, Leon Blum's Socialist Party signed a pact of united action with the French Communist Party, extended to the Radical Party in October. In May 1935, France and Russia signed a defensive alliance and in August 1935, the Comintern's Seventh Congress officially endorsed the Popular Front strategy. In the elections of May 1936, the Popular Front won a majority of parliamentary seats (378 deputies against 220), and Leon Blum formed a government.

In Italy, the Comintern advised an alliance between the Italian Communist Party and the Italian Socialist Party, but this was rejected by the Socialists. Similarly, in the United States, the CPUSA sought a joint Socialist-Communist ticket with Norman Thomas's Socialist Party of America in the 1936 presidential election but the Socialists rejected this overture. The CPUSA also offered critical support to Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal in this period. The Popular Front period in the USA saw the CP taking a very patriotic and populist line, later called Browderism. According to some historians, Joseph Stalin used the concept of the Popular Front to solidify control of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) and to suppress criticism from those in the radical left after the Moscow show trials and subsequent series of executions and assassinations.

The Popular Front period came to an end with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between Nazi Germany and Russia, at which point Comintern parties turned from a policy of anti-fascism to one of advocating peace.

Critics and defenders of the Popular Front policy

Leon Trotsky and his supporters roundly criticised the Popular Front strategy. In the first place, Stalin had used the Popular Front as a tool to oppose Trotsky and other dissidents outside Stalin's immediate control. Additionally, Trotksy believed that only united fronts could ultimately be progressive, and that popular fronts were useless because they included non-working class bourgeois forces such as liberals. Trotsky also argued that in popular fronts, working class demands are reduced to their bare minimum, and the ability of the working class to put forward its own independent set of politics is compromised. This view is now common to most Trotskyist groups. Left communist groups also oppose popular fronts, but they came to oppose united fronts as well.

In a book written in 1977, the Eurocommunist leader Santiago Carrillo offered a positive assessment of the Popular Front. He argued that in Spain, despite excesses attributable to the passions of civil war, the period of coalition government in Republican areas 'contained in embryo the conception of an advance to socialism with democracy, with a multi-party system, parliament, and liberty for the opposition'. Carrillo however criticised the Communist International for not taking the Popular Front strategy far enough - specifically for the fact that the French Communists were restricted to supporting Leon Blum's government from without, rather than becoming full coalition partners.

Popular Fronts governments in the Soviet Bloc

After World War II, most Central and Eastern European countries became de facto one-party states, but in theory they were ruled by coalitions between several different political parties who voluntarily chose to work together. For example, East Germany was ruled by a "National Front" of all anti-fascist parties and movements within parliament (Socialist Unity Party of Germany, Liberal Party, Farmers' Party, Youth Movement, Trade Union Federation, etc). The People's Republic of China's United Front is a current (as of 2007) surviving system.

In Soviet republics

In the Republics of the Soviet Union, between around 1988 and 1992 (by which time the USSR had dissolved and all were independent), the term "Popular Front" had quite a different meaning. It referred to movements led by members of the liberal intelligentsia, in some republics small and peripheral, in others broad-based and influential. Officially their aim was to defend perestroika against reactionary elements within the state bureaucracy, but over time they began to question the legitimacy of their republics' membership of the USSR. It was their initially cautious tone that gave them considerable freedom to organise and gain access to the mass media. In the Baltic republics, they soon became the dominant political force and gradually gained the initiative from the more radical dissident organisations established earlier, moving their republics towards greater autonomy and later independence. They also became the main challengers to Communist Party hegemony in Moldova, Ukraine, Armenia and Azerbaijan. A Popular Front was established in Georgia but remained marginal compared to the dominant dissident-led groups, because the April 9 tragedy had radicalised society and it was unable to play the compromise role of similar movements. In the other republics, such organisations existed but never posed a meaningful threat to the incumbent Party and economic elites.

Republic Main ethnonationalist movement (foundation date)
Russian SFSR Democratic Russia (1990)
Ukrainian SSR Rukh (November 1988)
Belarusian SSR Renewal (Andradzhen'ne) (June 1989)
Uzbek SSR Unity (Birlik) (November 1988)
Kazakh SSR Nevada Semipalatinsk Movement (February 1989)
Georgian SSR Committee for National Salvation (October 1989)
Azerbaijan SSR Azeri Popular Front (July 1988)
Lithuanian SSR Sąjūdis (June 1988)
Moldovan SSR Popular Front of Moldova (May 1989)
Latvian SSR Popular Front of Latvia (July 1988)
Kirghiz SSR Openness (Ashar) (July 1989)
Tajik SSR Openness (Ashkara) (June 1989)
Armenian SSR Karabakh Committee (February 1988)
Turkmen SSR Unity (Agzybirlik) (January 1990)
Estonian SSR Rahvarinne (July 1988)

Examples of Popular Fronts

Popular fronts in Communist countries

Popular fronts in non-Communist countries

See also

References

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