Build Coalitions for Unity

"As I have said many times, and believe with all my heart, the coalition that can have the greatest impact in the struggle for human dignity here in America is that of the Negro and the forces of labor, because their fortunes are so closely intertwined." --Martin Luther King, Jr. Letter to Amalgamated Laundry Workers, January 1962

Communists work hard for unity in every situation. To a large extent, that means forming progressive coalitions with various forces within and outside the working class.

Ad Hoc Committees Are the Easiest

The simplest and easiest form of a coalition is a single-purpose ad hoc committee. Individuals or groups gather together for one single expressed purpose, and they disassemble after that purpose is completed. There are usually few arguments, because everyone agreed on the task before they joined in. An example might be an ad hoc committee to carry out a certain rally or public event. After the event, the coalition dissolves.

Single-purpose coalitions have power

Coalitions that form around one particular goal tend to be strong coalitions. As long as they agree on that same goal, they can go forward with minimum friction. However, it has been my experience that someone within the coalition always wants to "broaden" it to include other goals, whether it might detract from the original agreed-on goal or not. They argue that adding the second goal would strengthen the coalition by adding the adherents of that second goal. As often as not, adding the second goal may erode away the group formed around the first goal!

Think twice before giving up the ramrod strength of a single purpose coalition!

Broader coalitions require more insight

A broad coalition with several different goals requires more astute leadership. Phrases like "Give and take," "tradeoff," or "the art of compromise" describe the everyday process of holding the coalition together. The united front against fascism, described by George Dmitrov in his book "Against War and Fascism," is a good example of a successful broad coalition.

Although it may be argued that broadness makes the strongest coalitions, that isn't always true. Sometimes, a coalition's narrowness is its strength!

Good examples come from the anti-war movement. A given group might form to oppose a certain invasion, but it won't be long before somebody starts adding other anti-war demands from different parts of the world and concerning different aggressors. Before long, environmental concerns, health care for victims, legal status for the refugees, honoring or dishonoring veterans, outlawing of certain weaponry or practices, or other issues are added until, eventually, the coalition has lost all effectiveness for its original purpose. While each individual demand may have merit, they don't all necessarily belong in the same coalition!

The other side also coalitions

The capitalist class is relatively small in numbers. And yet, they win election after election. Their operatives in the capitalist political parties are able to bring together large coalitions from other classes. Although they hold all the advantages, their problems in forming and sustaining coalitions are similar to ours.

Things to look out for

Most organizations are self-perpetuating. They consider their own preservation their highest purpose. It's especially true if staff is charged with raising the money for their own salaries. Organizations are not likely to value coalition goals as highly as their own survival!

People lie. Individuals and organizations join larger coalitions for their own ends, even if it detracts from the strength of the coalition!

Economics is based on a theory of a "rational man." A rational worker, for example, might be expected to agree with the rest of his/her class. However, practical experience tells us that we aren't really that rational. The capitalists, with their control over information and culture, create a lot of irrational dissent among those who should logically be agreeing.

Basic Marxism helps

Communists know what we want. We want an empowered and unified working class with its progressive allies. It's easier for us to keep our "eye on the prize" than for individuals and groups with less certain goals.

Coalitions are usually temporary by nature. Marxists realize that everything is changing from one thing to another. Groups who agree on something today may not agree as well tomorrow. We have to analyze not only what a given group thinks and does, but also what it was thinking and doing before. If we didn't do that, we would have no idea what they might do in future.

Idealists don't make stable coalition partners. While materialists can commit to a goal and evaluate our progress realistically, idealists may not. Even though they like to think of themselves as being committed to eternal ideals, they actually tend to subjectivity. Also, they may not even care about accomplishing a goal, as long as they can posture their commitment to an abstract ideal!

It's not so easy

In summary, maneuvering our way through the political spectrum on behalf of our class and its allies requires a most conscious effort. Some groups and individuals can join together effectively, and others can't. New communists often see a simple-minded "marriage of the left" as a solution to our all problems. If all of "the left" shared the sane goal of informing and empowering the working class, that might be true. Perhaps one day it will.

Further study: George Dmitrov, "Against War and Fascism."

Joel Wendland, "Class, community and working-class consciousness."

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