Reply to Schmitt, by Victor Wallis

Richard Schmitt, in his original article, failed to discuss the social basis for solidarity. He still fails to do so.

No one denies that solidarity is a requisite to building socialism, but the question was how to extend it beyond a unifying sentiment grounded in the common experience of the working class so that it would become (in socialist society) all-pervasive, and would thereby provide the framework within which hitherto irreconcilable antagonisms could be resolved.

Working-class solidarity, as Gerald Meyer noted, is grounded in shared struggles. In trying to foresee the workings of socialist democracy, we are seeking to understand on what basis a sense of commonality can override differences among groups that were not divided by class-interest. I would not deny that such a process has psychological components, but these in turn need to be understood in conjunction with people’s social positions.

The challenge for socialists is to establish a theoretical basis for distinguishing issues on which reconciliation is possible from those on which it is not possible. This is the dimension that Schmitt, with his all-encompassing notion of solidarity, failed to engage. What I argued was that issues arising from relationships of domination cannot be reconciled and must be fought out (by whatever combination of means) to a conclusion. Only when those domination-related issues have been settled will it be possible to address – potentially in a spirit of solidarity – the remaining religious-type issues invoked for illustrative purposes by Schmitt.

The key point, then, is that the success of any appeal to solidarity depends on the context in which it might be raised. Solidarity is not a magic bullet; it can traverse certain lines of division, but not others. The political challenge is to expand the sphere of solidaristic relations by overcoming unnecessary antagonisms. Doing this requires attention to the actual processes through which capitalist domination is, in the first instance, maintained and then (later) overcome.

This is why it’s important to spotlight the way in which the reactionary religious impositions that are embraced by certain sectors of the working class are amplified by politicians at the service of capital. I said nothing about “left intellectuals” in this connection. What I argued, in essence, was that if the fundamentalists were to be stripped – via revolution – of the megaphone provided to their views by a particular sector of capital (ALEC et al.), then their positions would no longer enjoy the influence that they now have. In relation to other sectors of the working class, there would then be more of a basis for arriving at some kind of political accommodation.

Of course solidarity, as a sentiment, is “subjective,” and thus rests on “perceived class interest.” But this perceived interest must have an objective basis. The first step in overcoming the “difficulty” that Schmitt alludes to – “the difficult question of how the perception of class interest may be promoted” – is to recognize this fact. The perception of a common interest overriding disagreements over abortion or the Bible will grow to the extent that a class-based solidarity – objectively grounded in opposition to capital and its legacies – has developed.

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