Home > The 'Solidarity' Group > Solidarity (Glasgow) – Now we see it, now we don’t

Solidarity (Glasgow) – Now we see it, now we don’t

An ‘open’ letter so Solidarity (London)

We would like to express our deep concern at recent trends in the ‘Solidarity’ movement and at the implications these have for all involved in libertarian revolutionary politics.

There was something in the tone of the report on the National Solidarity meeting (in Sol. Vol.7No.6) which makes it important for everyone concerned to understand what is happening to Solidarity. While we know very little about the political views of the four people who are reported to have left the group at the meeting, we were appalled at the way they were discussed in the report. Apart from questioning the reasons for Solidarity washing its dirty underwear in public, which it hasn’t done in the past, a reader of the report would have great difficulty in understanding what brought about the disagreements or in learning anything about the views of the ‘four’. The report is reminiscent of the ‘denunciations the Stalinist press have always used against their ‘enemies’.

What is absurd in the report are the suggestions that a few people constituted themselves into a ‘Marxist faction’ and that (1) “they had gone to the wrong shop and bought the wrong goods” and that (2) “they entered a group hoping to win over some of its members”. These statements reveal much that is wrong with Solidarity’s politics and may help to explain why many more then four have moved away from Solidarity in the last year or so.

(1) The first statement entails the idea of politics as a kind of SUPERMARKET ………….. that socialist ideas are a commodity displayed on shelves to be bought or ignored by the public at large. If people don’t like them, they can go elswhere …..which is the standard capitalist answer to the problem of ‘choice’ Solidarity’s political practice seems to reflect this in its concentration on selling ideas rather than becoming involved in political struggle. “As We See it” for instance as a main statement of Solidarity’s ideas, fails entirely to outline any suggestions for political activity for revolutionaries. Instead it leaps straight from Point 4 which correctly states that workers must control their own struggles to Point 5 which describes Solidarity’s view of established socialism. How we get from one to the other is not discussed. The question is barely touched on in Points 6, 7 and 8 which reinforce the idea of “autonomous self management”… as a means of achieving political consciousness. The only task Solidarity seems to see for those revolutionaries who do become politically conscious is that of producing a newspaper or magazine in which revolutionary ideas as presented as a commodity.
While much Solidarity activity is concerned which commenting on events and writing about ideas, individual members are involved in political activity …. or at least some are. But the publications give us little guide to this. Most reports on political and industrial struggles are from the sidelines. Solidarity is almost, one might say “about the struggle” and thus is able to take a rather self righteous attitude to activists who appear to compromise their ideological purity by getting involved.
(2) The second statement suggests that the four comrades had entered Solidarity to win over others. This shows how static Solidarity’s view of political theory has become. The report implies that revolutionaries take up fixed ideological positions which cannot change and that Solidarity’s views are the final correct, be-all and end-all of revolutionary theory. It seems to rule out the possibility that people are attracted to Solidarity’s ideas, have become politicised by them but then become aware of further problems to which Solidarity does not provide a satisfactory answer. The issue of intervention has been mentioned, but there are others. An attempt to find answers to such problems requires an actively critical approach to all ideas including those of Cardan as well as those of Marx. The ‘four’ for all we know, may have moved ‘backwards’ to some for of outdated Marxism, but how are we [to] know from the unfair sniping in ‘Solidarity’.

The Solidarity report tells us that the ‘four’ produced a document which is “hectoring, nit picking and a systematic misrepresentation”. This is Solidarity thinking for us ……so much for political self consciousness. How can we form an opinion when the document in question is not published in all or part and we are not told where we can get hold of a copy. If anyone is hectoring is would seem to be Solidarity. The report seems a worthy successor to the pamphlet “Solidarity and the neo Narodniks” which provided a hysterical denunciation of the Big Flame group some time ago.

In the last couple of years Solidarity seems to have become more sectarian and rigid. It seems no longer able to genuinely debate questions which remain unsolved for many libertarian revolutionaries. By its inordinate stress on the ideas of Cardan, Solidarity has hampered meaningful theoretical development. By its stress on remaining aloof and being unwilling to discuss in any depth the issues of intervention, Solidarity has hampered the development of political action.

So much debate on the left takes place in the form of shadow boxing on declared or implied ‘positions’, rhetoric or lables. Concern with rhetoric can become so great that a group can stop thinking critically about its own political practice. We believe that this has to some extent happened to Solidarity. In this out own group in Glasgow has been as much at fault as any other.
What then is the answer to the question of political practice? We don’t pretend to have the complete answer. But one thing is certain, it should involve more than producing a newspaper or magazine which is just a commodity on the left wing market.

The first principle of political practice should be to work primarily in your own locality. That sounds rather obvious but for revolutionaries rushing from one national meeting to the next debating issues of which they have little experience, concerned with issues of administration and bureaucracy, it is a point which must be forcibly made. We must start from where we are – at work in our neighborhood, in all the agonising ‘non-political’ activities in out own districts. In this way we can build up a network of contacts, come to some understanding of the present consciousness of ordinary people and spread revolutionary ideas by both word of mouth and publications. In this way publications can have a meaning for people because we can discuss the contents with them rather than trying to impersonally sell them as a commodity.

We should also make contacts with people involved in particular struggles strikes, occupations etc. To have a hang up about intervention is to nullify one as a revolutionary. It is necessary to become involved, not just hanging about at the factory gates. To accept the rejection as outsiders by trade unionists is to accept their bureaucratic and divisive attitudes.

Many revolutionaries will say they agree with all this, but add that a national organisation is needed to keep in touch, to share experiences and make wider links. This is of course necessary, but it is useless as a substitute for local action. However much care and discussion goes into finding the right kind of machinery for such an organisation, it will be useless unless built on genuine commitment and involvement of local groups. The national organisation can bring people together to help develop political theory, but only if the organisation consists of people who are prepared to think critically, to honestly generalise from their political experience, to take part in genuine debate aimed at better understanding. Such a national organisation can forge links between local activists and help them learn from others, but only if the members are actively involved in their own areas.

The tragedy of the present situation in ‘Solidarity’ is that some people are involved in local activity which they keep separate from their membership of the Solidarity group. As libertarians it is essential to promote our ideas in political situations and in the way we work ourselves. It isn’t enough to talk of ‘workers councils’ as the magic solution to all revolutionary problems. Workers’ councils ( or people’s councils ) will have to be built from the local level by people taking matters into their own hands. National political groups dominated from London ( even if the say their members groups are autonomous ) will conflict with this way of doing things. They will merely reinforce peoples’ existing acceptance of the idea that they should do what our leaders …those in the ‘centre’ tell us. We have to sow the idea of working collectively where we are and then linking up. There is on point in forming a national org ( or taking power at a national level _ and then hoping to generate local activity or support. It is so easy for revolutionaries to form part of a tiny fraternity of people on a national or world wide basis talking to each other, and much harder to work with people who have different ideas ….but who may live next door. But it is the latter who have to be politicised if the task of giving ‘revolutionary proletarian consciousness an explicitly socialist consciousness’ is to be fulfilled.

In thinking about our own future development as a group we believe that in order to be effective we must develop out politics in out own locality. In doing this we still hope to contribute to and learn from the experiences of other on a national basis. At present however, the national organisation of the Solidarity ‘movement’ as well as its ideas, attitudes and practice, would actually be an impediment to genuine political work.

We see no possibility in changing its structure and attitudes at the moment, indeed such change would not be possible until a number of active and viable local groups were in existence. We decided, therefore, that while remaining together as a political group. We must withdraw from the Solidarity movement. We hope our reasons are obvious from the criticisms we have made. In withdrawing we do not with to dissociate ourselves with everything that Solidarity is or from all the people who make it up. Solidarity has given us a basis from which we hope to move on. We have taken the trouble to describe out views at length in the hope that we may get some response from other people who have had to face similar problems and also to try and get others to think critically about future plans for ‘Solidarity’.

May 1973

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