Towards a Workers United Front

Counter Attack Editorial Committee

You put the question—who shall enter the left wing? We answer, whoever is prepared to fight the bureaucracy… James Cannon, December,1925.1

In the introductory material of the first volume of this journal we emphasised the minimum requirements for joint work in the line of party construction. Precisely because of the low level of development of communist forces today, the specific question of party construction is usually irresponsibly equated with the general question of the construction of class organisations and the articulation of sequences of intervention within existing class organisations.

Work within the line of party construction must occur within the workers movement and all work within the workers movement must be subordinated to this line of construction. However, advancing along the line of construction is impossible without the formulation of a minimum basis of unity which allows for the joint intervention of proletarian and centrist forces against the bourgeois right. Those who make accusations of sectarianism do not understand the distinction between the articulation of various forms of unity of action within the workers movement on the one hand and the construction of an independent proletarian tendency within the process of this articulation on the other.

Our strategic proposal for work within the line of party construction can only be implemented within a concrete tactical orientation towards workers unity against capital. This tactical orientation is the workers united front. What do we mean by workers united front? In the following we will clarify three determinate aspects.

1: the site of the united front. Within what social terrain it is constructed. 2: the targets of the united front. What is the immediate enemy around which the front coheres. 3: the participants in the united front. Who we see as possible collaborators.

1: The Site

For us the absolutely privileged site of revolutionary intervention today is located internal to the wage relation. Entrism within cross-class social movements can only dissipate and degrade our already overwhelmingly weak political forces and will not allow for any gains beyond the recruitment of scattered sympathisers of dubious quality. As Trotsky noted long ago a prerequisite for effective hegemony over the petty bourgeois is the majority support of the working class2. Today when working class organisation of any kind has been decisively defeated, orientation of communist forces to cross class social movements is desertion from the field of battle. We have nothing to discuss with those who prioritise such activity over the organisation of workers around their interests as workers.


Therefore, we don’t intend to form a united front within the environmentalist, feminist, nationalist, anti-racist, civil libertarian, anti-war or similar mobilisations which further dissolves today’s atomised working class within the solvent of the “people”. Our force as communists is to be found first of all in the struggle of the worker against the employer which separates her from all intermediate strata. Not in the struggle together with some intermediate strata and fractions of capital against other strata and fractions. The latter struggle continually unites her with hostile elements and obscures the fundamental line of demarcation. Lenin emphasised the need for the workers to lead cross class mobilisations because in his period the democratic revolution was yet to be won. In ours it is the victory of the democratic revolution which suffocates the working class.

Our front is not a popular one calling one and all to fight against every kind of oppression and discrimination. It is a class front calling workers to united struggle over their particular class demands. Today’s revisionists would call it a class reductionist and “economist” proposal3. And in the current climate every sincere Marxist can only accept both labels with pride.

It is clear from the above that the primary site of our proposed front is the workers movement. On that terrain it includes all militants working in the labour movement. With one crucial qualification.

2: The Target

The working class has been in a state of defeat for more than forty years. Our capacity to struggle as workers has been systematically devastated and erased. This qualitative destruction of the working class as a social let alone a political force is immediately apparent quantitatively in the downward secular trajectory of strike statistics which no “red for ed” or “Striketober” meme artistry could obscure. The more recent flickers of activity pale before the historic setback which has produced a devastating enfeeblement reducing the working class to a status even below that of a subordinate estate within bourgeois society, a contemptible rabble of classless citizens. Who is to blame for this catastrophe?

The labour bureaucracy would have you believe it is objective conditions. In the current legal environment it is simply impossible for workers to defend their interests. Therefore, we must vote for “pro labour” politicians (almost always Democrats) in the hope that such kind people will eventually enact “pro labour” legislation. We on the contrary are materialists and not idealists. We understand that it is not law which produces the balance of force, rather it is the balance of force which produces law. Without the use of force by workers there will never be any “pro labour” legislation, however many votes you cast, phone calls you make or lobbyists you hire. It is a matter of indisputable historical record that all of that will be in vain.

The NLRA was not passed because of phone banking or union political endorsements. It was passed first of all because as James Cannon put it “the American worker is not a Quaker”4.

Unfortunately in the intervening period and especially since the Eighties it would seem the American worker has against her better judgement been converted to Quakerism. And who are the evangelists and pastors of this unhealthy new faith? The labour bureaucracy. It is the labour bureaucracy who in every confrontation do everything possible to paralyse and demobilise the workers and who demand adherence to the legality they themselves admit makes effective struggle almost impossible. But the labour bureaucrats don’t want an effective struggle; they want us to pay their salaries. That and that alone is the driving motivation of these fifth columnists in the worker camp.

Therefore, the workers united front can only be operational as a front against the labour bureaucracy. The development of a new orientation to mass action and the purge of the parasitic mass of functionaries and staffers is the only possible ground upon which any workers party worthy of the name can emerge. There will never be revolutionary workers' politics without a combative class unionism5. And there will never be a combative class unionism without a fearless frontal clash with the current labour leadership. Our workers united front is a front for combative mass action and against the labour bureaucracy. As such, it can only be a front against the DSA. Because the complexion of an organisation such as DSA, despite the honest minority within it, is determined by a core of staffers and functionaries who embody the capitulationist line of the bureaucracy. Our united front is not a front of, or with left liberalism any more then it is a front with right populist adventurers. It is a front for the uncompromising defence of worker interests against capital.

Any upsurge on the horizon cannot and will not result in lasting and substantive gains without the implementation of a comprehensive strategy for struggle against treason and collaboration.

3: The Participants

At this point it should be clear who we see as our allies in the current situation. All those whatever their ideological positions who defend and advance a line of combative class unionism in the workers movement today.

It is to them that we direct our contributions and it is with them that we hope in the future to build a new party through systematic ideological struggle. However, the basis of this struggle is unity. Unity in the struggle to develop combative worker initiative against the capitulationist union bureaucracy. To build new organisations of worker struggle and escape the forty years of defeat which a failed leadership has forced on our class.

To the capitulationists, with their NGO or union jobs and their DSA memberships we have nothing to say. They have chosen the other side of the class line and until they begin to reconsider that choice no dialogue is possible. For all those going against the tide to develop combative worker action and organisation in or outside of legally recognised unions we have the warmest regard. Though they may take ideological and political positions we consider deeply mistaken, today we fight on the same side, against the same enemy and we have everything to gain from unity. Not the false adventurist unity of building a “broad party” doomed to die a sudden death of eclecticism and empiricism but unity in action, in the immediate tasks of the class struggle.

Our unity is unity in the struggle for a new combative and class oriented unionism which will be able to develop worker initiative to the point that the question of the revolutionary party can be posed in the concrete terms of a perspective for power. It is within that process that the struggle over the line of party construction must be posed within the worker vanguard. And on the question of party construction no unprincipled combinations are admissible. But struggle around this question demands rooting in the broadest possible unity around the development of worker initiative to have any concrete content. This is what we mean by unity in action. And this is the unity we propose against all the eclectic and opportunist concepts of a “broad party”.

  1. In a summary of the Trade Union Resolution of a December 1925 Plenum of the Workers (Communist) Party,cited in Bryan D.Palmer, James P.Cannon and the Origins of the American Revolutionary Left 1890-1928, 311. 

  2. Consider the following observations:

    "The petty bourgeoisie, even when completely thrown off the conservative road by circumstances, can turn to social revolution only when the sympathies of the majority of the working class are for a social revolution."-Trotsky: The Turn in the Communist International and the Situation in Germany (September 26, 1930).

    “LI FU-JEN: My view of the proposal is that it reveals the impatience of our comrades. Our work is now very difficult and unspectacular. The comrades are tired of being a small group, isolated, issuing a small paper. They would like to jump over this period. Their proposal to form anti-Japanese organizations is a product of their search for easier contacts with the masses.

    TROTSKY: Such an attitude has its pitfalls: it can become dangerous. In the thesis I find little about trade union work: the necessity to organize them in order to spread trade union propaganda and in order to be ready to give leadership when a strike breaks out. That I believe is a thousand times more important than to create or discuss the creation of Salvation organizations.” -Trotsky: A Discussion on China, August 11, 1937. In Leon Trotsky on China, Pathfinder Press 1976, 706-7. 

  3. These characters measure economism by the yardstick of semi-feudal absolutism in an epoch defined by the completion of the bourgeois revolution and the generalisation of bourgeois democracy. 

  4. "The present generation remains true to the tradition of American labor; it is boldly aggressive and violent from the start. The American worker is no Quaker. Further developments of the class struggle will bring plenty of fighting in the USA."-James P.Cannon, Minneapolis and its Meaning, June 1934

  5. The term combative class unionism is used here to indicate a unionism which is combative insofar as it constitutes itself first and foremost through the utilisation of the strike weapon to impose its will and class insofar as its only concern is to defend workers material interests rejecting any responsibility for the economic or political viability of the capitalist enterprise or state. This proposal must be differentiated from misguided ideas of a “rank and file”, “democratic” or “independent” unionism which belong to the ideological universe of petty bourgeois democracy.