ANARCHIST SOLIDARITY: A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE
Summary of my talk in our workshop on "Anarchist Solidarity - What makes it unique?" in Left Forum 2011 in New York City.
In this workshop, we attempt to define what anarchist solidarity is and what makes it different from the other politically engaged forms of solidarity. There seems to be two popular ways to discuss this issue. Either, we can discuss it from a theoretical perspective, or we can focus on the real life examples.
First, I will briefly discuss why the former way is not suitable for anarchism. Second, I will give some examples of anarchist or anarchistic solidarity actions.
Let’s start with the theoretical approach to anarchist solidarity. In my opinion, what distinguishes anarchist solidarity from the others is that anarchism puts humanism (or sympathy with other’s suffering) before the ideology and politics. Namely, it is very well conceivable for an anarchist individual / group to be in solidarity with a group in need or being oppressed even if:
- The group has no strategic / revolutionary significance for anarchist goals, or maybe even against the anarchist principles,
- The solidarity action is not solely out of charity or moral sense of duty,
- The solidarity action is not out of self-interest or does not solely depend egoistic reasons,
- The solidarity is not out of an expectation for a possible future reciprocity between that group and anarchist group (“you scratch my back, I will scratch your back”).
My favorite example is the anarchist groups who show solidarity towards the religious groups who are being oppressed by governments. In those cases, anarchist are in solidarity even if the those religious groups may be totally against the anarchist ideals. Such cases satisfy the restrictions I mentioned earlier, and there usually seems no way of possible future cooperations for actions. Then the question pops up: how far can we go? Should we show solidarity towards, say, Scientology/Mormonism if they are witch-hunted? Should we show solidarity towards the members of Islamic revolutionary organizations praising them as political prisoners? In short, can we possibly have general guidelines as to which (possibly authoritarian) groups should we be in solidarity? In other words, should we be in solidarity with our possible future enemy when they are in need now?
My perspective in this issues is that any theoretical framework would be restrictive linguistically and politically, and there will always be some other groups that’d be left out. Reasons are simple, defining terms restrict the meaning, and I believe meaning comes after the essence. Therefore, whatever anarchist solidarity is, labeling it with some linguistic terms cannot be sufficient to convey the meaning. What we need to look at to grasp the meaning of the term anarchist solidarity is to consider how it has been constructed. Namely, actions and praxis that led to the idea of anarchist solidarity should be our focus.
Moreover, anarchism means variety: an endless variety that depends on different situations and conditions in different cultural and political and temporal conditions. Therefore, any possible guideline would be a restriction which has the potential to leave out some possible groups that we’d like to be in solidarity with, yet do not conform with those guidelines. For example, there are some religious groups that may have some anarchist tendencies: Sufi Islam (Sheikh Bedreddin) and early Christianity are perhaps the most famous example.
Therefore, since I will not pursue this line of discussion by suggesting a theoretical framework, let us have a look at some practical examples.
Food not Bombs is perhaps one of the most famous example. In my opinion, however they do not officially endorse it, the group is founded based on simple yet powerful anarchist principles. As you may know, they offer (preferably vegan) food to people. The group offers food to everyone, even if you are rich and not homeless or carnivore. Yet, some FnB groups sometimes offer solidarity to many groups in need unless they are fascist, racist etc Therefore, it is an interesting kind of solidarity.
Anarchist offering solidarity to Palestinian national liberationist groups is another example. This is also a good example showing that anarchist solidarity is about people, and multi layered. This can be generalized to national liberation struggles and anarchist perspectives on it. Yes, we do not seek for a newer or more just government or a state. Yet, perhaps some of us may support national liberation movements considering them as the first step of a resistance towards imperialist tyranny. Some of us, on the other hand, may think that imperialism or neocolonialism may facilitate the real revolution by making people more unhappy underlining the deep class conflicts. National liberations, they may maintain, give people false-hope. In any case, we observe that anarchists are in solidarity with the people - even if those people are not there for an anarchist society.
One of my favorite example comes from conscientious objection (against military conscription) movement which I spent so much time in. People can be conscientious objectors for many reasons. Some are pacifists, some are all for armed struggle, but would not want to fight for the state, some are anarchist, some have religious reasons for resisting to join the army. Yet, with all these plurality, conscientious objection movement shows solidarity to all objectors. We show support to religious people, we show support to people who are all for armed struggle (although most us are pacifist). Therefore, this is also a good example illustrating the point that anarchist are sometimes in solidarity with people, not with their ideology.
Yet another good example I want to underline is the prison solidarity. Sure, when it comes to politically correct prisoners, there is no question, we should be in solidarity with them. Yet, in contrast to most left, anarchists are largely against the prison system. Does that mean that we should be in solidarity with other criminals? Namely, apart from the political prisoners, should we be in solidarity with rapist, child molesters, murderers etc? This definitely does not mean that we agree with their action, or approve of it. Yet, this may mean, we do not approve of the treatment to those people. This is a good example of multi layered structure of anarchist solidarity. I remember, some years ago in my anarchist group, we were corresponding with many Maoist guerillas who were imprisoned for being a member of “terrorist” organization.
In my opinion, these examples show that, I’d boldly like to underline, we value people’s suffering more than our actual political or ideological agenda. This is, in my opinion, the most important anarchist perspective on the issue. For some people, this can easily be merged with Buddhist ideas on suffering (there will always be suffering, we will always be there), and Taoist ideas on change (how to make the change without actually making the change).
Moreover, I’d like to make a small remark. Considering the church groups, Hare Krishna etc one may suggest that the very idea of solidarity is essentially a spiritual charity. It makes us feel good, and we may act out of a moral sense of duty. In my opinion, that’s perfectly fine. One may or may not have a political mind setting when she is helping the people in need. Therefore, political solidarity sometimes does not have to be politically motivated. Considering most political movements from a morality and ethics perspective, I think that anarchism is the one which has strong ties with ethics and morality. Therefore, with its strong emphasis to morality, anarchist solidarity may be offered out of a moral sense. After all, this moral sense is reflected in our political and ideological actions and thoughts.
Before I conclude, I’d briefly mention that the very idea of solidarity and cooperation sometimes suggest that we, anarchists, have an underlying order of urgency or importance for immediate actions. Namely, we first help, then try to build our utopia.
In conclusion, in my opinion, the following makes the anarchist solidarity unique:
- Humanitarian needs are more important than the ideological agenda. In other words, anarchist solidarity does not solely depend on ideology.
- Anarchist solidarity is multi layered. We do not have to be in perfect agreement with the people with whom we are in solidarity. Moreover, we do not even have to approve of their actions.
- Anarchist solidarity is not charity. We do not offer solidarity just because we have such a big heart. We do it because we see it as a practice for the future anarchist society. In other words, we acknowledge the very fact that in an anarchist society, there will be non-anarchist people, and yet we will still be in solidarity with them.
- Anarchist solidarity does not hope for some future solidarity in return. In that case, we’d call it cooperation or a coalition, not a solidarity.