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Popular front

A popular front is a broad coalition of different political groupings, usually made up of leftists and centrists. Being very broad, they can sometimes include centrist and liberal (or "bourgeois") forces as well as social-democratic and communist groups. Popular fronts are larger in scope than united fronts, which contain only communist groups.

In addition to the general definition, the term "popular front" also has a specific meaning in the history of Europe and the United States during the 1930s, and in the history of Communism and the Communist Party. During this time in France, the "front populaire" referred to the alliance of political parties aimed at resisting Fascism.

The term "national front", similar in name but describing a different form of ruling, using ostensibly non-Communist parties which were in fact controlled by and subservient to the Communist party as part of a "coalition", was used in Central and Eastern Europe during the Cold War.

Not all coalitions who use the term "popular front" meet the definition for "popular fronts", and not all popular fronts use the term "popular front" in their name. The same applies to "united fronts".


  • The Comintern's Popular Front policy 1934–1939 1
    • Critics and defenders of the Popular Front policy 1.1
  • Popular Fronts governments in the Soviet Bloc 2
    • In Soviet republics 2.1
  • List of Popular Fronts 3
    • Popular fronts in non-communist countries 3.1
    • Popular fronts in post-soviet countries 3.2
  • List of national fronts 4
    • National fronts in current communist countries 4.1
    • National fronts in former communist countries 4.2
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7

The Comintern's Popular Front policy 1934–1939

Cover of an American Communist pamphlet from the Popular Front period making use of patriotic themes under the slogan "Communism is the Americanism of the 20th Century."

In the weeks that followed Hitler's seizure of power in February 1933 the German Communist Party (KPD) and the Communist International clung rigidly to their view that the Nazi triumph would be brief and that it would be a case of "after Hitler - our turn". But as the brutality of the Nazi government became clear and there was no sign of its collapse, Communists began to sense that there was a need to radically alter their stance - especially as Hitler had made it clear he regarded the Soviet Union as an enemy state.

There were attempts in the United Kingdom to found a Popular Front against the National Government's appeasement of Nazi Germany, between the Labour Party, the Liberal Party, the Independent Labour Party, the Communist Party, and even rebellious elements of the Conservative Party under Winston Churchill, but they failed mainly due to opposition from within the Labour Party but incompatibility of Liberal and socialist approaches also caused many Liberals to be hostile.[1]

The Popular Front policy of the Comintern was introduced in 1934, succeeding its [2] In June 1934, Léon Blum's Socialist Party signed a pact of united action with the French Communist Party, extended to the Radical Party in October.

In May 1935, France and the Soviet Union signed a defensive alliance and in August 1935, the [2] In Italy, the Comintern advised an alliance between the Italian Communist Party and the Italian Socialist Party, but this was rejected by the Socialists.

Similarly, in the United States, the CPUSA sought a joint Socialist-Communist ticket with Norman Thomas's Socialist Party of America in the 1936 presidential election but the Socialists rejected this overture. The CPUSA also offered critical support to Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal in this period. The Popular Front period in the USA saw the CP taking a very patriotic and populist line, later called Browderism.

The Popular Front has been summarized by conservative historian Kermit McKenzie as

"...An imaginative, flexible program of strategy and tactics, in which Communists were permitted to exploit the symbols of patriotism, to assume the role of defenders of national independence, to attack fascism without demanding an end to capitalism as the only remedy, and, most important, to enter upon alliances with other parties, on the basis of fronts or on the basis of a government in which Communists might participate."[4]

This McKenzie asserted was a mere tactical expedient, with the broad goals of the communist movement for the overthrow of capitalism through revolution unchanged.[4]

The Popular Front period came to an end with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between Nazi Germany and USSR, at which point Comintern parties turned from a policy of anti-fascism to one of advocating peace.

Critics and defenders of the Popular Front policy

Leon Trotsky and his supporters roundly criticised the Popular Front strategy. Trotsky believed that only united fronts could ultimately be progressive, and that popular fronts were useless because they included non-working class bourgeois forces such as liberals. Trotsky also argued that in popular fronts, working class demands are reduced to their bare minimum, and the ability of the working class to put forward its own independent set of politics is compromised. This view is now common to most Trotskyist groups. Left communist groups also oppose popular fronts, but they came to oppose united fronts as well.

In a book written in 1977, the Eurocommunist leader Santiago Carrillo offered a positive assessment of the Popular Front. He argued that in Spain, despite excesses attributable to the passions of civil war, the period of coalition government in Republican areas "contained in embryo the conception of an advance to socialism with democracy, with a multi-party system, parliament, and liberty for the opposition".[5] Carrillo however criticised the Communist International for not taking the Popular Front strategy far enough — specifically for the fact that the French Communists were restricted to supporting Leon Blum's government from without, rather than becoming full coalition partners.[6]

Popular Fronts governments in the Soviet Bloc

After World War II, most Central and Eastern European countries became de facto one-party states, but in theory they were ruled by coalitions between several different political parties who voluntarily chose to work together. For example, East Germany was ruled by a "National Front" of all anti-fascist parties and movements within parliament (Socialist Unity Party of Germany, Liberal Party, Farmers' Party, Youth Movement, Trade Union Federation, etc.). At legislative elections, voters were presented with a single list of candidates from all parties. In practice, however, only the Communist Party had any real power. By ensuring that Communists dominated the candidate lists, it effectively predetermined the composition of the legislature. All parties in the front had to accept the "leading role" of the Communist Party as a condition of being allowed to exist. By the 1950s, the non-Communist parties had pushed out their more courageous members and had been taken over by fellow travelers willing to do the Communists' bidding.

The People's Republic of China's United Front is perhaps the best known example of a communist-run popular front in modern times.

In Soviet republics

In the

Further reading

  1. ^ Joyce, The Liberal Party and the Popular Front: an assessment of the arguments over progressive unity in the 1930s: Journal of Liberal History, Issue 28, Autumn 2000
  2. ^ a b 1914-1946: Third Camp Internationalists in France during World War II,
  3. ^ The Seventh Congress, Marxist Internet Archive
  4. ^ a b Kermit E. McKenzie, Comintern and World Revolution, 1928-1943: The Shaping of a Doctrine. London and New York: Columbia University Press, 1964; pg. 159.
  5. ^ Santiago Carrillo, Eurocommunism and the State. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1977; pg. 128.
  6. ^ Carrillo, Eurocommunism and the State, pp. 113-114.
  7. ^ Wheatley, Jonathan. Georgia from National Awakening to Rose Revolution, p. 31,45. Ashgate Publishing, 2005, ISBN 0-7546-4503-7.
  8. ^ Tsygankov, Andrei P.. Russia's Foreign Policy: Change and Continuity in National Identity, p. 46. Rowman & Littlefield, 2006, ISBN 0-7425-2650-X.


See also

National fronts in former communist countries

National fronts in current communist countries

List of national fronts

  • All-Russia People's Front Общероссийский народный фронт; created in 2011 by then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in order to provide United Russia with "new ideas, new suggestions and new faces". This Front is intended to be a coalition between the ruling party and numerous non-United Russia nongovernmental organizations.

These were established after the collapse of the USSR in 1991:


Republic Main ethnonationalist movement (foundation date)
Russian SFSR Democratic Russia (1990)
Ukrainian SSR Rukh (November 1988)
Belarusian SSR Belarusian People's Front (October 1988), Renewal (Andradzhen'ne) (June 1989)
Uzbek SSR Unity (Birlik) (November 1988)
Kazakh SSR Nevada Semipalatinsk Movement (February 1989)
Georgian SSR Committee for National Salvation (October 1989)
Azerbaijan SSR Azeri Popular Front Azərbaycan Xalq Cəbhəsi Partiyası; (July 1988)
Lithuanian SSR Sąjūdis (June 1988)
Moldovan SSR Popular Front of Moldova Frontul Popular din Moldova; (May 1989)
Latvian SSR Popular Front of Latvia Latvijas Tautas fronte;(July 1988)
Kirghiz SSR Openness (Ashar) (July 1989)
Tajik SSR Openness (Ashkara) (June 1989)
Armenian SSR Karabakh Committee (February 1988)
Turkmen SSR Unity (Agzybirlik) (January 1990)
Estonian SSR Popular Front (Rahvarinne) (April 1988)

These are non-socialist parties unless indicated otherwise.

Popular fronts in post-soviet countries

The French Front populaire and the Spanish Frente Popular popular fronts of the 1930s are the most important ones.

Popular fronts in non-communist countries

List of Popular Fronts


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