Part 3: The distinction between united and popular fronts specified.
In the next section of his essay, Hook looks at the critical differences between a “United Front” and a “Popular Front.” He writes that there is a ‘basic theoretical confusion’ that goes along with discussions of the Popular Front. This confusion,
Consists in an identification of two propositions: (1) The working class and its mass organisations must be the basis of the socialist movement; and (2) the working class and its mass organisations can by themselves win power and achieve socialism.The falsity of the second proposition is obvious, especially when it is doubtful that the working class constitutes a majority of the population. But the falsity of the second proposition does not imply the falsity of the first. The socialist movement must be based upon the working class, to mention only one of many reasons, because in virtue of its situation in contemporary society there can be no solution of its problems. or even the plausible appearance of a solution, short of the abolition of the profit system. …The program of socialism can no more be taken away from the workers than capitalism can be taken away from the capitalists.
Despite this, it remains true that without allies from the farmers and the lower middle classes the workers can never enjoy socialism in our time,… To state it positively, the problem is to make their potential allies see that that the socialist solution proposed by the working class parties is ultimately the only solution possible for all producers and consumers.
Hook looks to the techniques of persuasion, organisation, and militant struggle for continuous improvements in living conditions.
It is simply not the case, as Max Lerner imagines, that it is impossible for a program which expresses the immediate interests of a class to receive the support of the majority of the population. It is precisely for this reason, i.e.,because it does want to win over sympathisers from all other classes, that the working class should not join the Popular Front of political parties representing different classes, not to speak of a National Front of all parties. For if it does, it thereby accepts and publicises a program of stabilising capitalism which, on its own economic theory, is doomed to fail, leaving its credulous followers easy picking for Fascism..
A United Front is an agreement between different political organisations with different political programs for joint action of a specific issue for a limited period of time. It is NOT an agreement of a common political program.
The moral of the whole discussion may now be drawn. A Socialist who calls for the formation of a Popular Front cannot do so without surrendering his socialism — no matter what he says in his heart.
You may have, as readers, become a bit weary of Hook’s argument. However, even now when we look at the history of the revolutionary movements of the first decades of the 20th century, it is easy to get mixed up about what the Popular Front strategy meant as a structure. But the precision of Hook’s discussion should, I think, make the liabilities of a Popular Front much easier to understand.
Next Week: W.H. Auden on W.B. Yeats