popular front

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popular front

History any of the left-wing groups or parties that were organized from 1935 onwards to oppose the spread of fascism
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Popular Front


a form of organization of the broad popular masses (the working class, the peasantry, the urban middle strata, and the progressive intelligentsia), which evolved in a number of countries to unify the masses in the struggle against fascism and war and for democracy, social progress, and national independence and to defend the fundamental economic interests of the working people. The foundation of the popular front is a united workers’ front. The principles for its establishment, which were developed by V. I. Lenin, were formulated in a number of decisions of the Communist International. The task of establishing popular fronts acquired paramount importance during the first half of the 1930’s, in conjunction with a number of factors, including the offensive by capital at that time, the seizure of power by the fascists in Germany (1933), and the consolidation of the fascist dictatorship in Italy. Other factors necessitating the establishment of popular fronts were the growing strength and activity of fascism in France, Spain, and a number of other countries and the rising threat of war.

The idea of the popular front was first put into practice after an attempted fascist coup in February 1934 in France. In 1935 a popular front made up of the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, the Radical Socialists, Social Democrats, and other organizations was formed in France on the initiative of the Communists. In the same year popular front committees emerged in Spain and Chile. Overcoming vestiges of dogmatism and sectarianism, Communist parties in a number of other countries also joined popular fronts. They were influenced in this decision by the Comintern, in whose leading bodies the tactical experience of the popular front was the object of profound study and generalization.

A comprehensive substantiation and deep analysis of popular front tactics, which for many years determined the line of the communist movement, were provided at the Seventh Congress of the Comintern (1935) in a report by G. Dimitrov (“The Offensive of Fascism and the Tasks of the Communist International in the Struggle for Unity of the Working Class Against Fascism”). This report constituted the basis for decisions made by the congress, which pointed out that the establishment of popular fronts to unify the working class with all the nonproletarian strata interested in fighting against fascism and war might result in the formation of popular front governments. Moreover, the congress observed that under new conditions the popular front, as a most important means of struggle for peace and democracy, prepares the preconditions for the advance to socialism. For colonial and dependent countries the congress proposed the idea of creating a unified anti-imperialist front that would unite all forces capable of waging a struggle against colonial oppression.

The use of popular front tactics by Communist parties led to major successes. In April-May 1936, the Popular Front won the French parliamentary elections. Popular Front governments, which were in power in France from 1936 to 1938, passed laws increasing wages, introducing a 40-hour work week and paid vacations, expanding the rights of trade unions, granting credit to petty merchants and craftsmen on favorable terms, partially nationalizing the war industries, prohibiting fascist organizations, and improving the position of the peasantry. (The Communists supported but did not participate in the French Popular Front governments.) The implementation of popular front tactics, despite the split caused by socialist and radical leaders in 1938, prevented the establishment of a fascist dictatorship in France.

A popular front consisting of the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, the General Union of Workers, and other organizations, was established in Spain on a national scale in early January 1936 and won the elections on Feb. 16, 1936. Under the leadership of the Popular Front, the republican forces of Spain fought against the Spanish fascists and the Germano-Italian interventionists for three years (1936–39). During these years Spain was transformed from a bourgeois democratic republic into a new type of democratic republic.

In 1935 the Communist Party of China, guided by the decisions of the Seventh Congress of the Comintern, adopted measures calling for the end of the civil war and the creation of an anti-Japanese popular front. Under pressure from the mass movement, Chiang Kaishek, head of the Kuomintang government, agreed to create an anti-Japanese front in 1937. However, he continued to pursue a line aimed at subverting the unity of those participating in the struggle against the Japanese expansionists.

In Chile in 1936 the Communist and Socialist parties, together with the Confederation of the Working People of Chile and democratic and radical parties, formed a popular front, which was very successful in the municipal and presidential elections of 1938. On the basis of the Popular Front, a government was formed, with the participation of Communists. It lasted until 1941.

The struggle for the establishment of a popular front unfolded on the international as well as on the national level. In September 1936 the International Peace Congress was held in Brussels. Delegates from 35 countries, including the USSR, participated in the congress. Most of them were representatives of various political parties and currents, including Communists and Socialists. The Comintern repeatedly asked the Labor and Socialist International to join in establishing a united antifascist front. Invariably these suggestions met with refusal from the leaders of the Labor and Socialist International. This had particularly dire consequences at a time when the fascist bloc was unleashing World War II.

During the war the popular front policy was developed further. The resistance movement took shape in the occupied countries and the countries of the fascist bloc. Popular front organizations, which united all patriotic elements for an active struggle against the Hitlerites and local fascists, were established in a number of these countries under the leadership of the Communist parties.

During and after World War II popular fronts in a number of countries in Europe and Asia (Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic, Hungary, Poland, Rumania, and Yugoslavia; China, the Korean Democratic People’s Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam) played an important role in the victory of people’s democratic and socialist revolutions. As the popular front movement in these countries progressed from a democratic and liberation movement to an anticapitalist one, it was abandoned by certain elements that refused to embark on the path of socialist transformations. Democratic parties and organizations and trade union, women’s, youth, and other organizations were united in the popular front. In some countries the working people also joined the popular front as individuals. The unity of democratic forces was of great significance for the victory of the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and for the subsequent socialist development of Cuba.

After the war a new stage in the policy of unification of democratic, anti-imperialist, and antimonopolistic forces was reached in the developed capitalist countries. The rise of state-monopoly capitalism confronted the Communist parties with the task of creating and strengthening a united antimonopolistic front in the name of peace, democracy, national freedom, and social progress. The Communist parties of France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Austria, the USA, and other countries pursue the tactics of antimonopolistic fronts. In France in 1973, Communists, Socialists, and left-wing radicals presented a joint government program in the parliamentary elections. This resulted in a major victory for left-wing forces. In 1974 they nominated a single presidential candidate, who received about half the votes.

In the Latin American countries (for example, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, Uruguay, and Venezuela) organizations of the popular front type established in the 1950’s and 1960’s launched the struggle against the dominance of foreign monopolies and domestic reaction and for social transformations and the democratization of politics. In 1969 the Popular Unity coalition, which included the Communist and Socialist parties and other political parties and organizations, was established in Chile. In 1970, as a result of the coalition’s victory in the presidential elections, a Popular Unity government came to power in Chile and began to carry out profound socioeconomic transformations paving the way for the socialist development of the country. The activities of the Popular Unity coalition enriched the popular masses with the most valuable experience, which is being used by them in the struggle against the reactionary forces that temporarily seized power in Chile in a military revolt in September 1973.

In a number of countries of Asia and Africa the struggle for national independence, which developed, after World War II, has united the broadest strata of the population in anti-imperialist fronts: the working class, the peasantry, the urban petite bourgeoisie, the patriotic bourgeoisie, the intelligentsia, and even patriotic feudal circles. The initial goal of these alliances was liberation from colonial rule. However, as these countries have been gaining political independence, the composition of the national fronts have been changing, as the tasks of achieving economic independence receive priority and the issue of choosing the noncapitalist path of development arises. The working class, the peasantry, and progressive strata of the petite bourgeoisie and intelligentsia interested in the revolutionary democratic development of their countries play more important roles and become more active. Revolutionary democratic parties, uniting broad strata of the population in a way similar to popular front organizations, have developed in some countries.

Diverse experience in creating and strengthening popular fronts have been reflected in the programmatic documents of the international Communist and workers’ parties. The final document of the International Conference of 1969 (“Tasks of the Struggle Against Imperialism”) defined a program of joint action by all anti-imperialist forces. This program provides a foundation for a united international anti-imperialist front against colonialism and neocolonialism, in support of the national liberation movement, for disarmament, against the danger of world thermonuclear war, and for the affirmation of the principles of peaceful coexistence of states with different social systems.


Lenin, V. I. “Zamechaniia k tezisam o edinom fronte.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 44.
Lenin, V. I. “My zaplatili slishkom dorogo.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 45.
Rezoliutsii VII Vsemirnogo kongressa Kommunisticheskogo Internatsionala. Moscow, 1935.
Programmnye dokumenty bor’by za mir, demokratiiu i sotsializm. Moscow, 1961.
Mezhdunarodnoe Soveshchanie kommunisticheskikh i rabochikh partii, Moskva, 1969. Moscow, 1969.
Dimitrov, G. M. Nastuplenie fashizma i zadachi Kommunisticheskogo Internatsionala v bor’be za edinstvo rabochego klassa protiv fashizma. Moscow, 1935.
Kommunisticheskii Internatsional: Kratkii istoricheskii ocherk. Moscow, 1969.
Mezhdunarodnoe kommunisticheskoi dvizhenie: Ocherk strategii i taktiki, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1972.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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