[Marxism] Critique of Solidarity in one piece

Mark Lause markalause at gmail.com
Tue Jan 7 21:22:01 MST 2014

 I write to confirm Joaquín's experience as concisely as I can.

I happily participated in the founding convention of Solidarity and was,
with my wife, a member of the Chicago chapter before we moved from the
city.  After coming to Cincinnati, I participated in several efforts to
launch a chapter here.  I brought to this a record of activism going back
to the SDS and including years in the YSA and the SWP, including the
tendency wars of the 1970s, as well as a brief membership in the early ISO
until it dropped almost the entire Chicago branch for reasons I never quite
understood.  Through all of these venues, I urged a regroupment of the
socialist left.  So participating in Solidarity came naturally enough, but
I told everyone who'd listen to me from the beginning calling for a
regroupment or talking about a regroupment could not set it apart form the
rest of the left.

It had to demonstrate the validity of a regroupment strategy in practice.
However, it never did and never really seemed to be concerned that it never
did.  By the time we left Chicago, I had already come to think of the group
as a social circle of dear old friends who had been to the wars together
but had little practical desire to be more.  Still, I hoped, events change
things and might here.  Probably for this reason, I became involved in
trying to start a group here in Cincinnati.  There were eight, maybe nine
of us who made the first try, including a few local trade unionist, but it
quickly devolved into a small circle of white people, mostly guys and all
with hair in the gray to white range . . . and centered in the trendiest
neighborhood near the campus.  It seemed to replicate the worst aspects of
Chicago, and I concluded that I thought the existence of such a group would
be a positive discouragement to any new young people coming around.

After I expressed this view, I was never contacted again by Solidarity for
anything . . . ever, rather similar to Joaquín's entry into non-personhood.

I did begin gravitating to the local ISO, which had its own problems, but,
at least, was actually recruiting people who were young enough to have not
grown gray with self-satisfaction.  The ISO's success rose and fell over
the years, but it owed some of its success to the fact that everything
Solidarity did was by invitation only, and those young people invited
generally responded predictably.  Of course, the chapter got some young
people, notably the two sons of a member.

Throughout, I continued to describe myself as a sympathizer of Solidarity
and of the ISO.  I was invited to be on the national email list for
Solidarity, accepted the invitation, and then had the invitation
retracted.  I am an experienced historian with a tenth book manuscript at
the publishers right now.  I could be of use in speaking or writing on
behalf of either or both of these groups.  Periodically, over the last 15
years, I've suggested this to them.

I never even once received an answer from either of them.  There is no
explanation for this consistency other than the institutional belief in
both organizations that those who are not members of the club aren't
serious.  It was simply an extension of what I had seen for years in the
SWP--an approach that contributed so much to making the SWP what it now
is.  Still, I continued to express my sympathy for both organizations,
neither of which would have anything to do with me officially.

The responses to Occupy opened my eyes to the same kinds of shortcomings
Joaquín pointed out.  I don't know the details of what happened in the Bay
Area or New York or Boston, but I suspect that what happened in Cincinnati
was probably closer to that of the hundreds of communities in which Occupy
surfaced.  As soon as the large numbers of people were clearly involving
themselves, a few union officials began showing up.  Immediately, the
inexperienced began saying that they had brought the working class into
motion.  It seemed obvious to me that they were there simply to hijack the
movement in the interests of the Democrats and get it off the streets and

I quietly approached people and suggested we should consult and begin
formulating a strategy to keep the movement independent and active.  In
particular, I said that we needed to get Occupy out into the neighborhoods,
particularly those of African American participants and those threatened by
gentrification beyond the city center.  Everybody tended to smile and nod
but a disturbing number actually parroted what the inexperienced people had
been saying . . . that Occupy had drawn the working class into motion.

Later, it transpired that Solidarity had formed a secret invitation-only
"radical front" into which it drew the few members of the ISO around at the
time.  I was, of course, not invited, along with many others concerned
primarily about the broader movement.  The result was that no radical
alternative to demobilization ever emerged and that the bizarre clubbiness
proved to be a positive hindrance to developing one.

The organization will surely continue, because its members--many of them my
friends (and hopefully will remain so)--are comfortable in a circle
composed in such a way as to replicate an idealized version of an
experienced past.

However, didn't Occupy test whether it could convey the most elementary
lessons about keeping a real movement moving.  Not one of the grievances
Occupy raised had to be addressed to demobilize it in hundreds of
communities.  The union officials whose presence was cheered as a sign we
had somehow moved "the working class" smothered the entire thing without
having to face the least trouble from a radical alternative to keep it in
the streets.

I generalize the suggestion that we could not have come out of it worse if
no socialist groups even existed.  Indeed, without the masonic rings and
old school ties, the exigencies of the day might have created open-ended
networks of serious socialists who'd discuss strategic questions with each

Mark L.

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