Popular Front Policy

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Comintern policy during the mid-1930s that encouraged cooperation between communist and non-communist parties in order to stop the spread of fascism.

During the 1930s, Soviet foreign policy changed several times in response to the evolving political situation in Europe. At the beginning of the decade, Josef Stalin would not allow cooperation between communist and noncommunist parties. This policy had particularly tragic results in Germany, where enmity between communists and socialists divided the opposition to the Nazis. After Adolf Hitler's rise to power and his adoption of an aggressive anti-Soviet foreign policy, Stalin began to fear the spread of fascism to other European countries and the possible creation of an anti-Soviet bloc. In response to this potential threat, the Soviet Union changed policy and promoted collective security among non-fascist states. In 1934 the USSR joined the League of Nations and the following year signed a mutual defense treaty with France and Czechoslovakia. Stalin realized that the program of the Communist International had to be brought into line with the new Soviet foreign policy, and a Comintern congress was called for the summer of 1935 in order to accomplish this transformation.

The Seventh Comintern Congress met in Moscow in JulyAugust 1935. Five hundred delegates representing sixty-five communist parties participated and elected Georgi Dimitrov, a Bulgarian communist, as general secretary of the Comintern. In this capacity, Dimitrov delivered the keynote address and outlined the new policy. Declaring that "fascism has embarked upon a wide offensive," Dimitrov called for the creation of a united anti-fascist front that included support for anti-fascist government coalitions. While maintaining that capitalism remained the ultimate enemy, Dimitrov argued that the immediate threat to the workers came from the fascists and that all communists should participate in the campaign to stop the spread of this dangerous movement. Whereas communists and communist parties previously had opposed all bourgeois and capitalist governments, and considered fascism simply a variant of capitalism, members of the Comintern were now being told to support bourgeois governments and to postpone the struggle against capitalism.

The Popular Front concept had its greatest impact in Spain, France, and China. In Spain, the election of a Popular Front coalition in February 1936 led to civil war. After three years the forces of the fascist General Francisco Franco took power. In France, where the prospect of a fascist victory frightened the Soviet Union, a Popular Front government came to power in June 1936. Like all French governments of the time, it remained weak, and it fell after only one year. In China, the prospect of cooperation between the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek and the communist forces of Mao Zedong led the Japanese military to launch a preemptive strike during the summer of 1937.

In the end the Popular Front concept was not about an ideological shift in communist perceptions of the world, but a tactical Stalinist response to the specific threat of fascism as perceived during the mid-1930s. The defense of the Soviet Union took precedence over all other considerations, and in 1939 the Popular Front was abandoned with the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact.

See also: league of nations; nazi-soviet pact of 1939


Dimitrov, Georgi. (1935). United Front against Fascism and War; The Fascist Offensive and the Tasks of the Communist International in the Fight for the Unity of the Working Class Against Fascism. New York: Workers Library Publishers.

Haslam, Jonathan. (1984). The Soviet Union and the Struggle for Collective Security in Europe, 193339. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Tucker, Robert C. (1990). Stalin in Power: The Revolution from Above, 19281941. New York: Norton.

Ulam, Adam B. (1968). Expansion and Coexistence: The History of Soviet Foreign Policy, 19171967. New York: Praeger.

Harold J. Goldberg

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Popular Front Policy

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