Solidarity was formed in 1986 by 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.
These founding organizations agreed that the bureaucratic Soviet state was definitely not a model for socialism. 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 conceivable issue. 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?
By the time Solidarity was founded, capitalism had responded to the crisis at the end of the by broadly restructuring itself and aggressively mounting offensives against organized labor and the social movements. The new regime of capital accumulation has been called “neoliberalism.” For the left, 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.
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 hope to increase militancy and develop ties of solidarity between various struggles — at home and internationally.
Solidarity members have participated in rank-and-file union reform caucuses in the auto, Teamsters, teachers and transit unions, opposing waves of tiered contracts and other corporate attacks. Solidarity members also participated in some early “workers centers” and continue to support new forms of organizing.
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 build links among disparate movements, develop our 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.
Solidarity has attempted to create a lively political culture. Members are encouraged to contribute to internal discussions, the online discussion on Solidarity’s website, and attend retreats and workshops. (Given COVID, we’ve moved our events online.) 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 socialist magazine featuring articles by members as well as activists and engaged intellectuals from social movements globally. Solidarity is a sympathizing organization of the Fourth International.
Challenges and Opportunities for Socialism in the 21st Century
During the more than 35 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 have changed global politics and economics. 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.
Important labor struggles that seemed to offer a renewal of militant unionism — a strike at a Hormel meat packing plant in the mid-1980s, and the Staley “war zone” strike in 1992, and the Detroit newspaper lockout in the mid-1990s — 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 surfaced. By 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 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.
Since the disastrous U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, new situations and challenges have emerged. As consistent anti-imperialists, Solidarity supports the struggles of the Global South against neocolonial domination and crippling international debt. We also support Ukraine’s legitimate resistance against Russia’s invasion, and Ukraine’s right to national independence and self-determination.
Both in the USA and internationally, the rise of authoritarian and autocratic politics and regimes present deadly threats to the most basic rights of women, oppressed nations, Indigenous peoples and Queer communities — highlighted by escalating police brutality against Black people in the USA. At the same time, while attacks on labor rights continue, a new period of worker activism and union organizing has emerged. And more and more people understand that the system of capitalist production is taking human civilization on a forced march to destruction. Building a mass movement for ecosocialism and freedom has never been more vital!
As a part of these social justice movements, Solidarity members have contributed, and learned, valuable lessons. In Solidarity you will find sharp, experienced socialists from a wide variety of political backgrounds. If you like what you’ve read, consider joining us to change the world.