It’s a Front

In the days of Soviet communism, one commonly heard that this or that political organization was a “communist front.”  The word front had two meanings.  On the one hand, it meant that the ostensible purpose of the organization was a façade that concealed its real purpose as part of the international communist conspiracy; on the other hand, it meant that, by setting up this organization, the communist party had opened a new “front” in the grand and coordinated strategy of the global Cold War.

These fronts were normally political organizations, or even political parties, that were ostensibly founded to promote innocuous nostrums like world peace, educational opportunity, racial integration, or the mutual understanding of youth.  The humanitarian façade allowed the organization to operate in a liberal democracy without arousing suspicion that it was, in fact, an arm of the communist party.  It also attracted idealistic liberals who could be either recruited into the inner party, or, when not recruited, used as evidence that the front was not “just a bunch of communists.”

The mark of front organizations was that they moved together, just like soldiers drilling on a parade ground.  The did not wear uniforms or insignia that identified them as part of a united front,  but anyone who noticed the precision with which they did an “about face” could see that they were taking their orders from Moscow.

Communism operates somewhat differently nowadays, but still uses the basic model of the front.  These are organizations that appear to be disconnected, that have ostensible aims of the sort that appeal to idealistic liberals, but that nevertheless reveal a curious coordination to anyone who watches them with a wary and critical eye.

I was reminded of the old-style communist fronts when I today received an invitation to attend a meeting of the campus chapter of FREE, or Feminists for Reproductive Equity and Education.  FREE bills itself as “a direct-action student organization whose main focus is fighting for the reproductive justice movement.”  Reproductive justice means, of course, the right to enjoy orgasms in ways unrelated to reproduction—which right is, I must note, all but chiseled into the stone beneath the presidential faces on Mount Rushmore.

Interestingly, FREE is free, by which I mean “FREE has no dues to join.” And yet those who joint the penniless outfit are assured that “we support and train new leaders through advocacy experience, travel, and internship opportunities!”  The economists tell us that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and we must therefore suppose that there is also no such thing as a FREE lunch.

And this means the money for this outfit is coming from somewhere.

So let’s say you are an idealistic liberal college student who likes the sound of “reproductive justice” and does not feel suspicion at the promise of a FREE lunch.  To what world will you be introduced when you sign up for your free membership in FREE.

“Our previous meetings have covered environmental justice, LGBTQ+ liberation, Indigenous history and rights, prison industrial complex, and so many more!”

You will be introduced to all the other fronts of postmodern communism, or to what the old anti-communists had the wits to recognize as a “United Front.”

5 thoughts on “It’s a Front

  1. Pingback: It’s a Front | Reaction Times

  2. Not having lived through the time in question, but being professionally well-read on the subject, calling something a ‘front’ has for me another connotation, very closely related to your elucidated ones but I think worthy of its own emphasis.

    Calling something a ‘front’ further implied that it had a ‘back’; a presentable mask and a not-so-presentable face underneath. The ‘back’ is where the real work happens, while the ‘front’ is where eyes are meant to rest, much like the distinction between front stage and back stage.

    • Front stage and backstage, front office and back office. I take it you’ve read Goffman’s Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. There is no question that most people present themselves to the world in a someone improved form–more prosperous, agreeable, and intelligent than they actually are–but there are some people who present themselves in an entirely false form. We have discussed the New Testament meaning of hypocrite at this site before, and I think it properly refers to the later sort. I think it is wrong to accuse a man of hypocrisy if he is simply trying to make himself appear somewhat better than he actually is, and that the word should be reserved for men who are pretending to be something they are not.

      There used to be a “florist” down the road from my house. It had the strangest hours of any florist you have ever seen, most of its business being conducted very late at night. There were flowers in the window, but it was always closed. But the lights went on and the cars began to arrive around 10:00. I presume the florist’s shop was a front for some sort of drug peddling, or maybe gambling.

      • Tangentially related, but I’m fond of the adage, “Hypocrisy is the due vice pays to virtue.”

        I too am sure from your description that that florist was no florist. I am also sure, having been around plenty of military bases and their attendant shanty-towns, that I would much rather it go on pretending to be a florist rather than hang a shingle advertising its real services.

        Once virtue is no longer the social expectation, hypocrisy disappears, because vice needs no longer pay any dues. It has been my experience that those who are truly interested in virtue among their fellow men seldom accuse others of hypocrisy, whereas those from whose lips the accusation of hypocrisy regularly springs are interested in something else entirely.


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