New Republic - August 26, 2019

"In the absence of any coherent social ethos of solidarity, the rich will always ask why they should have to “give” to undeserving others, and balk at having to pay their fair share."

In the twentieth century, the term “solidarity” became more frequently associated with efforts on behalf of one group to express a commitment to another. We see the term used increasingly in conjunction with international campaigns in support of communities that are resisting either oppressive governments, or the oppressive actions of their own governments upon others. The Central American Solidarity Movement emerged in the 1980s, and recruited citizens of the United States to support the people of Nicaragua and El Salvador, fighting together against U.S. interventions in Latin America. The International Solidarity Movement was created to support Palestinians in their fight for recognition and statehood. In these cases, solidarity was not an expression of empathy or benevolence, but the response required by an understanding of one’s own unacceptable complicity.


In Poland, where the term is often associated with the movement “Solidarnosc,” solidarity was upheld as the thread knitting together workers, community members, and the Church. It denoted a concerted effort to bridge the many segments of society to create a movement against Soviet control of the state and for worker-led socialism. As Józef Tischner, the movement chaplain, wrote, “Solidarity means to carry one another’s burden.” Unfortunately, in Poland’s effort to adopt this social ideal, the “international community” encouraged the movement’s leaders to pursue a neoliberal approach to economic development—and ultimately, that initiative undermined the transformative potential of the movement.


Whether in Poland or here in the United States, the neoliberal model promotes the market as the solution to our political ills, the path to efficiency, prosperity, and individual freedom. Under capitalism more generally, our daily rituals of buying and selling and trying to get ahead become the only practices that unite us. And this has meant that, instead of solidarity connecting us across difference, the language of exchange, of spending and investing, has increasingly become our common tongue. Whereas the revolutionary ideal of democracy sought a way to connect us as citizens, now the market ties us together as consumers—and simultaneously pushes us apart. Profit is sacred. Poverty is profane. Solidarity disappears.


That is, of course, precisely the point. Political and economic elites fear nothing more than the plebs of the world uniting to challenge their rule, which is what sublime solidarity aims to do. Marx and Engels movingly envisioned a form of class solidarity extending across borders and nationalities, yoking together strangers alienated and exploited by the same economic forces. Sadly, this exalted, transformative version of solidarity has only fitfully manifested and proved difficult to maintain, in large part because plutocrats and politicians have mastered a strategy of divide and conquer. ...
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