If the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love, as Che said, the true solidarity individual is guided by a deep drive for Peace and Respect.
Presentation given at the Círculo de Formación "Robert Serra", Vancouver. 7 July 2016
Current situation in the world
What is the real meaning of solidarity? Lessons from Latin America
International implications of solidarity. More lessons from Latin America
Domestic implications of solidarity
1. Current situation in the world Today any hope of building solidarity for peace is being challenged in many parts of the world. The challenge comes in the form of total disconnect between people and governments, and the spreading of U.S. Empire hegemony through wars and forced regime changes in sovereign countries. Some analysts suggest that we are getting dangerously close to a World War III. Only a sense of peace-nurturing solidarity can prevent such a tragedy. Here are some examples of interventions:
Ukraine – A coup at the doorsteps of Russia
Greece – In response to their plea for the EU to change course, Greeks were financially asphyxiated and socially purged, with disastrous economic consequences. Are people’s referendums relevant?
Brexit – Discontent with the EU in the UK used as an opportunity to create confusion. Honest left-wing supporters of Leave were accused of being right-wing supporters of xenophobia and racism.
France – Workers under threat
Middle East – Creation of Israel on Palestinian territory 68 years ago has repercussions today: U.S occupation in Iraq, sanctions against Iran, war on Syria to force regime change, Saudi Arabia financing U.S. supported terrorism.
Latin America – Efforts to form regional integration is frustrated by U.S. interventions.
Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil – Latest cases on parliamentary coups.
Venezuela – U.S. sanctions and support of right-wing violence against the legitimate government elected by the majority of people.
Mexico – Disappearances, attacks on education and killings.
Honduras – Berta Caceres and other leaders are killed for defending rights of indigenous people and the environment.
Cuba – The U.S. blockade continues creating economic pressure despite new diplomatic relations.
NATO – A military union that is extending threats of military interventions at the borders of Russia.
2. What is the real meaning of solidarity? Lessons from Latin America
Quote: “The simple feeling of solidarity based on the understanding of the identity of class position suffices to create and to hold together one and the same great party of the proletariat among the workers of all countries and tongues.” [Engels (1885). On The History of the Communist League]
It is important to have the meaning of concepts very clear. The opposite meaning of the concept may help. There are similar concepts that can be used interchangeably once we know the context.
Unity: The opposite of unity is separation or division.
Solidarity: The dictionary opposite is antagonism, discord (discordia), and disagreement. But the social opposite is charity, while the political opposite is individualism.
Social cohesion – It’s a sociological term used in academic language void of a political meaning. I would rather call it “socialist cohesion”, if I could. Sociologists have identified a break down of social cohesion in certain societies, mainly in the U.S. Cubans prefer to use the term “social exclusion”, which identifies the social (political) problem. In fact, social exclusion runs parallel to individualism. In extreme cases individualism may cause dysfunctional behaviour when members of society develop feelings of isolation or exclusion. One of the most common causes of suicide is attributed to a sense of disaffection and alienation; random killers are often described as “loners”. In Spanish the word for loner is solitario, ironically close to solidario.
As activists we usually speak of solidarity for a cause or solidarity withan entity or group with which we have an affinity or empathy. Typically there is a political implication or ideology.
Solidarity is our language and we need to retain it. There are attempts to co-opt the word “solidarity”. For example the full (misleading) name of the Helms-Burton Act is The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act.
We need to reclaim the real meaning of solidarity and restore the original significance. While individualism has its origin as a basic human attribute, solidarity has its origins as a basic social attribute.
“Solidarity” as a concept is attributed to the French philosopher Pierre Leroux (1797-1871) who also introduced “socialism” as a popular idea. This establishes a clear association between left-wing thought and solidarity, which was consolidated later by the politician Léon Bourgeois (1851-1925) in his book titled “Solidarité”. Although this cannot be viewed as solidarity of the classes in a Marxist sense, these early ideas, born in the context of the French revolution, recognized the important role of the State in providing social welfare. Quite a dramatic change from the prevailing practice of compassion and charity associated with the capitalist notion of the proponents of the invisible hand in matters of the economy.
Solidarity is not the result of a natural social evolution but it is the development of a social conscience based on the conviction that social problems are resolved by the strength of unity and struggle for a common cause. Therefore true solidarity is contrary to individualism and it cannot subsist based on exploitation. Ultimately, solidarity transcends social cohesion by adding a political consciousness to it.
A caring (in solidarity) progressive society committed to the welfare of its members has no use for charity. The political writer Eduardo Galeano succinctly explains, “Unlike solidarity, which is horizontal and takes place between equals, charity is top-down, humiliating those who receive it and never challenging the implicit power relations.”
Political developments in Latin America vividly demonstrate the revival of solidarity as an important component for a dignified state of wellbeing for all citizens. There is no doubt that wellbeing is the main goal for Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Cuba as stated in their respective constitutions and as demonstrated by their actions in providing healthcare, education and social welfare programs.
By contrast, the U.S. constitution’s preamble states, “We the People…. promote the general Welfare … to ourselves and our Posterity…”. The American Heritage Dictionary associates two interpretations of the term “Welfare”: 1) the early meaning of “health, happiness, or prosperity; wellbeing”; but more interestingly, 2) “Welfare in today's context also means organized efforts on the part of public or private organizations to benefit the poor, or simply public assistance. The latter is clearly not the modern interpretation of the word in the U.S. constitution.”
It is important to stress the significance of these constitutions because to the extent that constitutions reflect national values, these are the kind of values they also promote in other countries through their foreign policy.
In Latin America wars and interventions are not part of the notion of solidarity of progressive countries. In fact, the Heads of State and Government of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) (gathered in Havana, Cuba on January 28 and 29, 2014) have proclaimed L.A. and the Caribbean as a zone of Peace. In particular they reaffirm, “that integration consolidates the vision of a fair International order based on the right to peace and a culture of peace, which excludes the use of force and non-legitimate means of defense, such as weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons in particular.” This is certainly not the attitude of Mauricio Macri who introduces a Trojan horse in Latin America by recently allowing two U.S. military bases in Argentina.
We must accept any steps towards real peace as a good step forward. Peace must be our ultimate goal!
3. International implications of solidarity – More lessons from Latin America The constitutions of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Cuba have another distinction that separates them from constitutions that have an imbedded capitalist-individualist ideology; they make explicit and emphasize the role of solidarity towards their nationals or towards other countries in the form of internationalism. I have not found a single reference to solidarity in the U.S. constitution. Incidentally, the United Kingdom does not even have a constitution!
The U.S. does not seem to have a culture of solidarity but it has a long culture of individualism. It is telling that the U.S. has rarely qualified any aspect of its foreign policy in terms of solidarity. It prefers the notion of “aid” (charity at the international level), which is usually not without some political condition, and establishes an imperialist foothold in other countries.
While progressive Latin American governments use social programs as an expression of solidarity between the State and the people, which reflects an anti-capitalist position of their domestic policy, international solidarity with other countries reflects an anti-imperialist position of their foreign policy. Solidarity across borders is also based on the same principles of unconditional support in recognition of the shared values of social justice and the commitment to mutual respect, collaboration and sovereignty in opposition to neoliberal globalization.
Cuba’s international solidarity has been part of its foreign policy since the beginning of the revolution and is frequently seen by some as the standard to which we must aspire in international relations. Cuba’s medical missions started in the early 1960s and have continued to this day (they have even sharply increased in the 1990s after the collapse of the socialist block). Today Cuba’s health collaboration has a variety of initiatives to include medical education, specialized services, disaster response programs, and trilateral collaboration involving a second country together with Cuba to provide aid to a third country.
The Venezuelan government is also an active practitioner of international solidarity as a tool of foreign policy. In fact, Venezuela and Cuba are strong natural partners in trilateral collaboration since Venezuela manages abundant financial resources and Cuba is rich in human and technological resources. For example, Venezuela and Cuba have come together to develop industrial plants in Western Africa to produce biological products to combat the vector of malaria in Africa. This relative advantage is also the basis for Venezuelan-Cuban fair trade.
We are not saying that international trade is equivalent to international solidarity. We are suggesting that “solidarity” can be a more humane “value currency” underlying trade transactions between countries. The social returns received by Venezuela from Cuban physicians’ services can be considered far more valuable than discounted Venezuelan oil paid to Cuba when measured in human lives. Similarly, Venezuelan aid to Bolivia, Jamaica and African countries is invaluable when the “dollar currency” is removed. This is truly concrete foreign policy that reflects the spirit behind the Bolivarian Alliance for the People of our Americas (ALBA).
ALBA, Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América, “is grounded on the principles of complementarity (rather than competition), solidarity (instead of domination), cooperation (not exploitation), and respect for sovereignty (instead of corporate rule). And ALBA is based on grassroots citizen participation, as the citizenry are both the implementers and the beneficiaries of the agreements.” Symbolically, the region has removed the “dollar value” to embrace a new “value currency”.
It is precisely on financial issues that the U.S. sees a Latin American policy based on solidarity as a threat to its ideology of capitalist individualism as well as a threat to its hegemony in the region. As author Noam Chomsky stated, "The U.S. will not permit constructive programs in its own domains, so it must ensure that they are destroyed elsewhere to terminate the threat of a good example."
A superficial look at solidarity could suggest that capitalism practices solidarity. What about the capitalist bailout of banks during the 2008 economic crisis? On the contrary, this was a crisis created precisely by a lack of solidarity between the banking institutions and their borrower clients. The bailout of American and British financial institutions shows that government intervention is possible and available but only when the “free” market is at risk. This is a tremendous contradiction. Apparently the capitalist rationality considers that a government role is acceptable for corporate welfare while at the same time it denies individual welfare.
Finally, it is interesting to notice the language used to dismiss the importance of international solidarity. Some reports refer to the practice of solidarity as “symbolic politics”, “ploy”, “tactic”, “ideological propaganda”, “opportunistic”, “rhetorical”, or even “anti-American”, just to mention a few expressions.
We must reclaim the real meaning of solidarity as a socialist notion but in order to do this we must practice solidarity in a socialist way!
4. Domestic implications of solidarity The emphasis on solidarity in the new Latin American constitutions is not only towards the outside world but also mostly towards its own people. It is precisely at this national level where we experience the greatest evidence of solidarity or lack of solidarity. The great divide is based on how much the State must be committed to the wellbeing of the people.
As activists we are very familiar with this issue that parallels the divide between right wing and left wing movements. I believe that people must be at the centre of economic decisions and social justice. No justice, no peace!
In 1960, in the early stages of consolidation of the Cuban Revolution Che Guevara stated, “We must begin to erase our old concepts and begin to draw closer and closer to the people, and to be increasingly aware. [All] we have done [is] practice charity, and what we have to do is practice solidarity.”
With free healthcare and education, together with participatory democracy, the Cuban State has established a link of trust in a truly socialist fashion: solidarity.
Cuba is not only practicing solidarity internationally through medical missions to other countries, but also domestically in the form of State support to its citizens through programs of social services. This has been unhindered by the economic crisis during the “Special Period”. Cuban author José Bell Lara wrote: “La seguridad social, a pesar de la aguda crisis de los noventa, ha mantenido sus características de ser un sistema universal, equitativo y solidario” [Social security, in spite of the severe crisis of the 1990s, has kept its characteristics of being universal, equitable and in solidarity]
Other Latin American countries are following the same example. The example is threatening enough that the Empire is paying attention and reacting by increasing its interventions through support for coups against democratically established governments in order to undermine all solidarity efforts that may weaken its hegemonic power.
I want to make a special note here that the Empire and its allies are not the only enemies. There are enemies within. I call those traitors. In Spanish they have a better name, “vendepatria”. We know who they are in Central America, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, etc. They are mercenaries for the U.S. against their own people, and we need to accuse them.
5. Conclusion Solidarity is a vital concept that we need to rescue from its misuse and restore it to its fundamental meaning made universal by the phrase: “La solidaridad es la ternura de los pueblos” (Solidarity is the expression of care of the peoples).
If the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love, as Che said, the true solidarity individual is guided by a deep drive for Peace and Respect.
Solidarity is important because it is the principle behind wellbeing and social justice. If all you have is military power, all you see is threats and fear. If all you have is solidarity, all you see is social justice. Solidarity must be a tool of foreign policy for the sake of cooperation, coexistence and peace. Solidarity cannot coexist with domination. And domination only occurs when solidarity is fragmented. But there is a difference between knowing what solidarity is and speaking the solidarity language, and practicing solidarity. I want to believe that solidarity is the glue that will keep together the new society of the XXI century.
I would like to end this presentation not with final ambitious conclusions, but rather with questions, because solidarity is always work in progress that needs our constant input. We can take these questions as a challenge to reflect on as we practice our activism.
How aware am I, as an activist, of the class struggle in the world, in my country and in my community?
How does the class struggle interweave with racism, xenophobia, homophobia, environmentalism, immigration, social injustice,…
Can I identify the power relations that create the power struggle?
Where do I place myself in the class struggle? Why?
What or who am I in solidarity with? Why?
Have I consulted fully with those who require my solidarity?
Do I understand fully what their needs are?
What are their solidarity priorities?
How can I best practice solidarity to give my support?
How much of my personal ideology coincides or is different from the ideology of others?
Do I place myself, and the interests of my group, above those who require my solidarity?
Is my solidarity unconditional, individual, coherent?
Is my solidarity ultimately building or dividing the activists that share my interest?
NINO PAGLICCIA has two Master’s Degrees from Stanford University and is a retired researcher on Canada-Cuba collaborative projects at the University of British Columbia. He has published many peer-reviewed journal articles and has contributed chapters to books on topics about Cuba, the Cuban healthcare system and solidarity. He has been a long-time activist and has organized groups to do voluntary work in Cuba for almost 15 years.