Solidarity was formed in 1986 by seasoned socialist activists who acknowledged that the small forces of the U.S. revolutionary Left faced an acute crisis. We hoped to create a revolutionary socialist organization that could avoid sectarian maneuvering, lack of internal democracy, hostility to outside ideas, and unrealistic expectations of social upheaval in the short term. These pitfalls had limited the impact of many vanguard-style groups. Most of the founding members developed this critique through their own involvement in one of a few predecessor organizations.
While holding a range of opinions as to the exact character of the Soviet state, these founding organizations agreed that the USSR was definitely not a model for socialism. Solidarity’s decision to remain “agnostic” on some issues, in order to prioritize common tasks, was a departure from the legacy of destructive splits and faction fights within the revolutionary Left. Instead, Solidarity’s founders developed twelve key points of agreement to serve as a guidepost for analysis and action, rather than having a position on every issue under the sun. We also hoped that this policy would aid in the goal of further regroupment with other organizations and collectives of revolutionaries. Solidarity also recognized the need for self-organization and democracy within a revolutionary socialist organization. Therefore, Solidarity has caucuses open to comrades of color, women, queer people and youth. For more information, check out our Founding Statement.
Where does Solidarity come from?
In the 1970s, a whole constellation of organizations formed on the basis of what they believed was a “correct political line,” expecting that the revolutionary possibilities of the 1960s would open up profound social struggles. They believed that a tightly disciplined application of their perspective could win them leadership of unions and social movements – and eventually of a social revolution inside the United States. The decline of US economic superiority, ongoing endemic racism, and other contradictions were predicted as key points of cleavage in the social order.
However, by the time Solidarity was founded, capitalism had responded to its system-wide crises by broadly restructuring itself and aggressively mounting offensives against organized labor and the social movements. This crisis could not be overcome by ignoring the reality, by retreating into even more programmatically “pure” sectarian organization, or by simply supporting struggles in other countries. Neither could revolutionaries afford to ignore hard-earned lessons about the bankruptcy of “strategic alliance” with union bureaucracy or the pro-capitalist Democratic and Republican parties.
Instead, Solidarity members emphasized organizing on the shop floor and grassroots level as a starting point to rebuild a socialist pole in this country. Through conscious participation in daily struggles we hoped to increase militancy and develop ties of solidarity between various struggles – at home and internationally.
What do we do?
This focus led to some notable successes. Over the past two decades Solidarity members, organized through the Labor Commission and industry-specific fractions, have played crucial roles in laying the groundwork for the successful 1997 Teamster strike against UPS; opposed waves of two-tier contracts, and built reform caucuses in unions of teachers, transit workers, and more. Solidarity members participated in some early “workers centers” and continue to support new forms of organizing. Solidarity’s activism in the labor movement is highly regarded across the Left.
In the early 1990s, Solidarity was a part of the “clinic defense” movement that pushed back violent attacks against women and healthcare workers, and mobilized with others against the physical blockades of reproductive health clinics. We supported affirmative action policies and campaigned for their survival against right-wing ballot initiatives. Solidarity comrades have been active in the global justice movement, in building opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in defense of Palestinian self-determination.
This activist work is at the core of Solidarity’s purpose. However, the movements we’re part of are often disconnected from one another, and at times contradictory in purpose or practice. Solidarity’s founders believed that part of the purpose of revolutionary socialist organization is to coordinate our activist work in disparate movements, revise an analysis of global capitalism, and train new generations of militant activists. Through a long political period characterized by retreat and defensive organizing, socialist organization connects otherwise isolated revolutionaries and helps keep individual victories or defeats in perspective.
Towards this end, Solidarity has attempted to create a lively political culture. All members are encouraged to contribute to internal discussion bulletins, the online discussion on Solidarity’s website, and attend retreats and workshops focused on strategy and “big picture” political and economic analysis. Biannual conventions put discussion and decision making about collective tasks on the table and elect a national leadership. “Summer Schools” focus on the theoretical development of Solidarity members in between conventions. Solidarity also produces Against the Current, a bimonthly magazine featuring articles by members as well as revolutionary activists and intellectuals from social movements globally. Some members are also organized in a caucus of supporters of the Fourth International, which has sections in many countries.
Challenges and Opportunities for Socialism in the 21st Century
During the more than twenty years of Solidarity’s existence, much has changed, but much remains the same. The implosion of so-called “socialist” regimes in the USSR and Eastern Europe – and the unprecedented growth of capitalism in “communist” China – came as no surprise to an organization based on the rejection of Stalinism. Likewise, the deteriorating welfare states of Western Europe, and the political bankruptcy of Socialist and Labor Parties, demonstrate the limits of reformist approaches to socialist politics.
Despite our disagreement with these models, the decline or outright collapse of apparent challenges to the capitalist world order has been a setback for the Left. Along with ideological confusion, significant material defeats have weakened the capacity of the working class to fight back. Important labor struggles that seemed to offer a renewal of militant unionism – a strike at a Hormel meat packing plant in the mid-‘80s, and the Staley “war zone” strike in 1992, and the Detroit newspaper lockout in the mid ‘90s – were flash points snuffed out in the long decline of U.S. unionism. Economic restructuring has ravaged urban communities through gentrification, nibbled away at public services, and reversed the limited social safety net that had been won in the 1930s and extended in the ‘60s.
Internationally, things changed too: apartheid was defeated in South Africa, and Americans who’d boycotted the racist regime rejoiced. Yet that victory was tempered by the reality that the new government “talked left” but “walked right,” adopting policies which further entrenched Black and working class poverty. The popular movements and electoral party that brought Brazil out of dictatorship followed a similar road. The Nicaraguan Revolution of 1979 went down to electoral defeat in 1990, the result of both Reagan’s “low-intensity” war and the Sandinista leadership’s missteps. Palestinians, having launched a movement of mass disobedience, found themselves pinned down once again by repression and unemployment, then surrounded by settlements and walls.
Alongside these defeats, unanticipated social movements and forms of organizing have sprung up to challenge the innovations of capitalism. In 1986, the environmental justice movement hadn’t yet been born and socialists were by and large unconcerned with issues of ecological disaster. At that time, too, student activists who supported workers struggles on U.S. campuses or organized to expose sweatshop conditions in the global garment industry were rare, not a nationally organized force. In the mid-eighties, the idea of a coalition of union members, environmentalists, and radicals shutting down the World Trade Organization meeting (as it did in Seattle, 1999) would have seemed like an optimistic utopian fantasy. And just a year after the biggest surge of U.S. patriotism in generations, the anti-war movement of 2003 brought record numbers of people into the streets in the historical, globally coordinated demonstrations.
Meanwhile, possibilities for the development of powerful social movements continue to emerge, in the United States and internationally. Wisconsin Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner’s proposed 2005 congressional bill, which read like a 21st century Fugitive Slave Act for undocumented workers, sparked political protest of millions of immigrants and their allies. The resulting wave of demonstrations, boycotts and strikes was the largest since the post-World War II strike wave. Following the bill’s withdrawal, the movement has suffered repression, demoralization and disunity. Nonetheless, these actions revealed the power of immigrant workers, especially well-organized Latin@ communities. In Latin America itself, many countries are attempting to forge an alternative to the World Bank’s neoliberal model of development, and social movements and elected leaders debate the meaning and strategy for Socialism.
A part of each of these movements, Solidarity members have contributed, and learned, valuable lessons. In Solidarity you will find sharp, experienced socialists from a wide variety of political backgrounds. At the 2007 US Social Forum in Atlanta, we helped bring together a panel of revolutionary organizations to begin a broad discussion of revolutionary strategy and organization for this century. We look forward to rebuilding the Left through these discussions as well as maintaining (and deepening!) roots in our communities, workplaces and social movements. Whatever the future holds, the insight, abilities and creativity of new generations of socialists is as important, and relevant, as ever!