Saturday, November 13, 2010

Been think of the Popular Front/United Front/Peoples' Front lately

The one sponsored by the Communist Parties in the '30s and '40s. The contradictions seem so obvious now--the policies that the Communist Parties applied in the world outside of the Soviet Union in order to build positive coalitions to fight Fascism, which entailed less hardline beliefs, were the same policies that people inside the Soviet Union in the '30s were being executed for having supported. The United Front did a lot of good in that the relaxation of hardline dogma and the effort to genuinely reach out to people produced a lot of good initiatives that actually helped real people, but when Stalin no longer needed aid in fighting Fascism he essentially canceled the program and went back to policies on the international scene that had been current within the Soviet Union all along. During the United Front, when folks were recruited who weren't completely pro-Stalin and hardcore about it, there was a campaign to prevent folks who were in international Communist Parties from finding out the truth about what was going on in the Soviet Union at the time. People believed it most likely because they saw the work that was actually going on around them, saw that it was productive, and didn't want to believe that they were part of something that could be committing atrocities like Stalin was doing. Once Stalin had died and Khruschev read his "Secret Speech" the last vestiges of deniability faded away and lots of people, in the U.S. and possibly elsewhere, left the Party, upset that they'd been tricked into supporting this.

But signs of what was actually going on, on top of being present during the '30s themselves, were also available in how Stalin, and then Mao, behaved in the post-World War II world. So-called "Popular Front" governments were installed in occupied Eastern and Central Europe, that then staged "popular uprisings" which lead to the adoption of an orthodox Soviet system of economy and government, of course in reality being coups engineered by the Soviet Union under the guise of popular action. In Mao's case, it turns out that little by little, or campaign by campaign, the promises that the Chinese Communist Party too gave to cooperation and coalition government in a modified Soviet system were betrayed, leading to the establishment of a hardline Soviet state in the post-war world, when Stalin was still alive.

In the U.S., Earl Browder, the very successful promoter of the general idea of a popular front, was kicked out as head of the Communist Party, ostensibly because of controversy kicked up by a hostile letter in the international Communist community generated by a member of the French Communist Party but more likely under orders of Stalin. He was replaced by a series of hardline, stupid, apparatchniks.

All of this shift, the huge difference between the policies stated by the Communist Party in the United States and the policies that were enacted after the war, fueled the idea in the U.S. that the Communists were really liars who wanted to secretly overthrow the government while saying that they were for cooperation. The events in Czechoslovakia and elsewhere were cited as well, although off the top of my head I don't remember just where I read the citation, etc.., so can't cite their cite myself. It wasn't just because of the popular front that the red scare happened, not by any means, but it provided fuel for the fire. William Z. Foster's very clumsy and not that intelligent or sophisticated book "Towards Soviet America", which was written before the liberalization of the Party, was reprinted by a conservative book club as proof about what the Communists supposedly really meant and were concealing.
"The Book the Communists Wanted to Destroy" was the subtitle of their edition. No, actually, it wasn't a smoking gun, but they made it out to be one.

Stalin of course gave the OK for Kim Il Sung to invade Korea, with a report (again, I don't have the cite), saying that this was under Kim Il Sung's initiative, not Stalin's, and that the Soviet Union only gave permission and some small support, with China, a client state at that time, giving direct military support. It can be inferred that if the hardliners had staid in power after Stalin's death that fights like Korea would have become the norm, and would have given at least some credence to some of the Cold War anti-Communist fears, but history evolved otherwise. Khruschev reversed many of Stalin's policies, dismantled the gulag system, liberalized the media, and backed off from a goal of directly using Soviet military power to spread socialism. Even after he was gone and Brezhnev came to power, the tide wasn't turned back. So the classical idea of the Cold War was not in fact in existence for all of the post-Stalin era, even though relationships between the Soviet Union and the rest of the world rose and fell in terms of hostility.

In the end, the folks who wanted to help people in a more moderate way were betrayed, many people's lives were crushed by the Red Scare, and the Cold War itself became a more theoretical construct removed from reality than anything else. Who on the Left exactly won from this?

No comments: