This entry reviews some lessons from Paul Buhle’s “The legacy of the IWW” in this June 2005 Monthly Review, as well as the Norweigan Steinar Stjerno’s Solidarity in Europe (2005). In a larger project I’m currently working on, I’m trying to discuss the changing modern meaning and uses of solidarity–especially vis-a-vis outsider groups like immigrants.
While in Europe some contemporary social democrats congratulate themselves on effectively adopting the Christian democrats’ johnny-come-lately appropriation of solidarity (dropping worker solidarity and dropping the “belief in the lowest ranks of workers” in favor of an electorally-driven, middleclass-fetishizing, mostly-nationalist, and charity-based definition of solidarity) as “modernisation,” I’m interested in what happens politically when the praxis-fueled sense of (to paraphrase) “working people who understand their own power and the capacity to act and share with other workers across the world” is lost.
The main thing it seems to me right now is that, in the capitalist historical era, if a society doesn’t put together a discrete socialist party & a solidaristic (beyond business unionism) labor movement to keep the soc dems (or other lefty-capitalist political organization) honest over time, the slogan “solidarity” comes to be simply used as a gesture back to a lost period of time in which working people played a dynamic role in social formation.
In many European countries such a gesture has proven a risky basis on which to differentiate soc dem parties from liberal parties in electoral competition. Without socialist organization and counter-hegemony, the political-economic system reverts to liberalism/conservatism. Even though Soc Dems in Sweden deny this (and though they do have the long-range political savvy to protect the Left Party from bourgeois attacks), liberalization is patently observable and can’t be disguised as “modernization”… even more so in the other soc dem countries and parties. It’ll be interesting to see how Chavez develops a counter-neoliberal infrastructure in capitalist Venezuela (see Gott, Richard. 2005. “Chavez shows how to lead.” The Guardian Weekly, June 3-9: 5).
There’s a really great history article I was reading a few months ago about ecology, the northern MN timber workers (obviously many Finnish and Ojibway), the socialist MN governor, and the Wobblies (I’ll retrieve the reference in a few days). It covers a rare instance in US history when the Wobblies were surprised to find that their view of what was possible in terms of labor movement was too restricted. The difference was in how Wobblies met for one of the first times in the US the accumulated work socialists and communists had done to build statewide cultural programs and political organization. (Pinchot’s Pennsylvania was also uniquely facilitative to labor, but that was based on Pinchot’s personal politics and elite power.)
Then we recall Jennifer Delton’s fascinating history of how it all imploded. East Coast political keynesians came to MN, colonized the strong race- & rural/urban-solidaristic socialist organizations and the socialist-farmer political party, and eviscerated them, transfering the socialists’ voters and anti-racism initiatives into the keynesians’ newly-formed DFL Party. Delton argues that on a national scale, the keynesian Democrats (HHH, Mondale, Freeman) then took the anti-racism modernization platform into the Democratic Party and induced the transfer of white Southern elites & their followers into the Republican Party. Minnesotans were left to drift from then on into the upswelling tide of right-wing organization and hegemony.
There’s another interesting point in that I found that revisionist Republican hegemonists attack the current “Happy to pay for a better Minnesota” campaign as ahistorical, claiming rather disingenuously that MN was always a Republican state, dedicated to inegalitarian, imperial neoliberalism, and the absolute power of the filthy rich. Well, it’s true that the Democratic Party in MN (the DFL) is an invention of outside intervention in the mid-twentieth century. However, to imply that the same political forces existed in the past as exist today in MN is a rather big, fat lie.
No, historically, Minnesotans weren’t Democrats at the time when the Democrat Party was the party of Southern slavers and conservative Catholic immigrants. Besides the rapacious, pro-elite, Anglo Republicans, most Scandinavian and other non-Anglo Minnesotans were in fact radicals. They were socialists, Nonpartisan Leaguers (radical farmers), social democrats, Trotskyites, and communists, all struggling for a political and economic citizenship society not based on ownership (see the illuminating history: Millikan, William. 2005. A union against unions: The Minneapolis Citizens Alliance and its fight against organized labor, 1903-1947. Minneapolis: Minnesota Historical Society Press). They were damn sure happy to pool resources and work together to produce the social infrastructure, public goods and culture, quality of life, and opportunities that working people can’t afford when they’re isolated.