Since it is Hook’s aim to show both that Lerner is both rational and also mistaken, the next part of his ‘anatomy’ is to follow in that rationality, until it is proven to be..irrational…..wrong.
“It is admitted on this position that the decline of capitalism cannot be checked by political measures of any kind. It is also admitted that in any Popular Front government it is the policy of the most conservative wing, which is pledged to support capitalism, that must prevail. Without capitalist parties there is no Popular Front. With them the workingclass parties become hostages of fear, timidity, and class interest of their allies.”
Basically, Hook points out here that all the concessions that might be won from a Popular Front government could be won by working-class mobilisation of labor. SO there is no real need to support a Popular Front. Hook also agrees with Lerner that on this position, “that the first real step towards socialism will probably bring what Marx described as a pro-slavery rebellion to save capitalism. Could such a movement be effectively met with a key party in the government which is itself intent upon saving capitalism?” Clearly: not.
So, Hook argues, Lerner’s own analysis “leads to an invitation to disaster.”:
“Either he must withdraw his critique of capitalist economy admitting that it can be stabilised both nationally and internationally in an era of decline, or he must acknowledge that the Popular Front is a dangerous illusion which, precisely because it cannot undertake any fundamental change in the economic order, makes it easier for the Fascists to develop a mass base.”
Now, Hook turns to history to explore some related issues: first of all, readers should acknowledge that the Social Revolutionary period, under Kerensky, was from its start until just before the October Revolution a Popular Front government, which is why it failed “in every crucial test.”
“The menace of German militarism and the restoration of Czarism was as great a threat then as the menace of Fascism now. It had become a gigantic mass party of heterogeneous social composition, with factions ranging from the extreme right to let, which prevented it from carrying out its own principles.
The member of the Kerensky government most close to him was Chernov, who dithered about which sections of the mass party would be given the first concessions in a revolutionary situation. Chernov got caught on the question of giving land to the peasants. Chernov was not convinced, so began to abstain on votes…: ” SO strange and unwonted was Chernov’s silence that it enabled Trotsky to get off one of his brilliant quips: ‘Abstaining from the vote became for [Chernov] a form of political life.” The lesson Hook draws from this is: The program of the group farthest to the right prevails and must prevail for this is the purchase price of its alliance: Everything else is rhetoric.
Hook’s second example is from Germany. “During most of the life of the Weimar Republic Germany was ruled by an informal coalition of Social Democracy, the Catholic Centre and some of the smaller parties on the the right and the left. But it did not and could not take measures to transform Germany into a socialist economy. When an Arbitration Board decided an important dispute in favour of the Ruhr workers, the Ruhr industrialists refused to honour it. And the Social Democrats capitulated. And that gave the Fascists a new run at recruiting the unemployed and poorly paid.”
For his third example of the disaster of Popular Frontism, Hook turns to France, where the “Popular Front was able to win some reforms because the conservatives feared the mood of the masses. ..The rise in the cost of living soon nullified the gains made earlier..and the Popular Front sought ‘to restore confidence in capitalism’. Hook notes that the strikes kindled by these economic problems led to accusations that the strikers were described as ‘agent-provocateurs’ by the working class parties supporting the Government, particularly the Communists.”
But more important is his argument that the international politics of French imperialism was a big factor in the problems of the Popular Front:
Most fateful of all, the Radical Socialists refused to permit the Popular Front government, organised to defeat Fascism, to send aid and supplies which the Spanish Popular Front needed to defeat Franco. France and Russia joined the Non-Intervention (!) Committee.
The defeat of France’s General Strike, and with it the ‘back’ of the Popular Front: “At the present writing the French workers are in retreat, weaker than they have ever been. The menace of Fascism which was to be laid by the Popular Front looms larger than before.”
“WHAT WAS THE ALTERNATIVE? Had the working class parties made a United Front; had they stayed out of the Government and permitted the Conservative Parties, including the Radical Socialists, to take full responsibility for the failure to help the Spanish in their fight against international Fascism, if and when it triumps, will be able to attack France in the rear; had they permitted the Conservative Parties to take the complete onus for undermining the conditions of the life of the masses; had they laid the Munich Pact and everything that led up to it and followed it, at the door of the classes whose interests were not there betrayed — had they done all this, it is altogether likely that France would now have had a Socialist government supported by a majority of the people.”
nextweek: Hook on Spain, and Hook’s explanation of the ‘theoretical confusions’ that attend discussions of Popular Frontism.t