What is to be done? Popular front and the spirit of the Left

BY:Brian Nuckols| May 21, 2024
What is to be done? Popular front and the spirit of the Left


This piece is a contribution to the Pre-Convention Discussion for our 32nd National Convention. During Pre-Convention Discussion, all aspects of the party’s program, strategy, and tactics are up for consideration and debate. The ideas presented here are those of the author or authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Communist Party USA, its membership, or their elected leadership bodies. — Editors

The Communist Party USA (CPUSA) is engaging in pre-convention discussions to review and improve party policies. Numerous comrades are focusing on forming a popular front to combat what they see as a threat of fascism represented by Donald Trump. This intervention ensures our commitment to the popular front does not dilute the revolutionary spirit of the left, as articulated by Karl Marx and critiqued by Leszek Kolakowski.

Historical context and Marx’s influence

Karl Marx famously stated, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” This call to action was rooted in the revolutionary upheavals of 1848, where demands for political reform, national independence, and social change were paramount. Marx’s analysis emphasized class struggle and historical materialism, advocating for proletarian revolution and international worker solidarity.

Lenin and the Bolsheviks in 1917

Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks further developed revolutionary strategies, focusing on vanguardism and the necessity of a disciplined party to lead the proletariat. The success of the October Revolution in 1917,  underscored the importance of maintaining revolutionary principles while adapting tactics to the political landscape.

 The Rise of Fascism in the 20’s and 30s

The 1930s presented new challenges with the rise of fascism. The socialist response included strategies like the United Front and the Popular Front. The United Front aimed to unite working-class organizations to fight fascism without compromising revolutionary independence. In contrast, the Popular Front included broader coalitions with bourgeois parties, leading to potential compromises. The successes and failures of these strategies illustrate the complexities of coalition-building in leftist movements and the risks of diluting revolutionary goals.

One critical historical mistake was the Comintern’s policy of “social fascism” in the late 1920s, which condemned social democrats as fascist collaborators, preventing effective unity against the actual fascist threat. This divisive stance contributed to the rise of Nazism in Germany, highlighting the dangers of ideological purity over practical alliances.

With that said, there is a risk of a massive overcorrection and a lack of imagination and risk taking on the left. Let us now return to some core basic principles of a left wing project that cannot be liquidated in service of coalition building. To do so, we will examine some categories  developed by ​​Leszek Kołakowski in his text The Concept of the Left. 

Kolakowski’s analysis: core concepts

Leszek Kolakowski’s critique of the left is pivotal in understanding the potential pitfalls of broad coalitions. His core categories include:

  • Negation: The left’s tendency to define itself by opposition, often leading to fragmentation and inaction.
  • Utopianism vs.reality: The balance between aspirational goals and pragmatic politics. Kolakowski warns against utopian ideals that ignore practical realities, leading to disillusionment. In the history of philosophy, this can be parsed as idealism and materialism.
  • Creative destruction and construction: The necessity of not only dismantling oppressive systems but also constructing viable alternatives. Revolutionary movements must offer clear, actionable visions for the future.

Kolakowski’s analysis warns against the dangers of losing ideological clarity and revolutionary fervor in the pursuit of broad coalitions. As we form a popular front, we must preserve the integrity of our revolutionary goals, ensuring that our alliances strengthen rather than weaken our commitment to systemic change.

Applying Kolakowski

To strengthen the progressive movement we must demand concrete solutions to problems posed in our society. There must be both a negation of the threat of Trump while also addressing the root causes that allow his rise. We must propose and implement concrete solutions to the issues like deaths of despair, rising housing costs, and demanding the abolition of medical debt. Forming a popular front must point towards a horizon of socialism. If we fail to articulate this positive vision we are doomed to march with the liberals into a swamp of barbarism.

Ensuring revolutionary spirit in the Popular Front

As we engage in creating a popular front to combat the  threat represented by Trump, it is crucial to remember the lessons from these historical contexts. Our commitment must not lead to the liquidation of the revolutionary spirit of the left. We must maintain the principles of Marx’s call for proletarian revolution and worker solidarity, Lenin’s disciplined vanguardism, and the strategic adaptability seen in responses to fascism.

By grounding our strategies in the historical lessons of our militant  ancestors we can stay true to the revolutionary spirit of the left. Our popular front must not compromise our core principles but rather reinforce our struggle towards a society that produces collaboration and care not violence and competition.


    Brian Nuckols is an activist for workers' power and socialism.

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