Critical Theory Round Table Abstract 2016

What is Critical About Political Solidarity?


In Sally Scholz’s Political Solidarity (2008) she develops the idea of political solidarity as a relation with others who act in opposition to oppression, domination, and injustice. I argue that her development of the concept of political solidarity is both individual and instrumental: more often than not requiring individual acts of so-called ‘ethical consumerism.’ In that sense, political solidarity is positioned as the extension of an economic mode of relation to the political realm. This paper develops a conception of what a truly political solidarity would look like.  I construct a conception of political solidarity from a Habermasian account of solidarity and a radical democratic account of the political. This positions solidarity as a process of inclusion aimed at what Fraser calls “meta-political democracy” (Fortunes of Feminism, 206). While at the same time meta-political debates about how we decide and who comprises such a ‘we’ exemplify what Mouffe calls the realm of the political, which “concerns the very way in which society is instituted […as] a space of power, conflicts, and antagonism” (On the Political, 6). As such, a solidarity which is political is not a political instrument, but itself the ongoing process of acting together in the face of intra-collective conflict.

Political solidarity, then, seems contradictory to its very core. For this reason, critical theorists turn toward social solidarity understood as a collective struggle for integration, recognition, or justification. As such, the solidarity is not, itself, political even if its chief aim is to create the right normative connection between social life and democratic rule (Pensky 2008). I argue that this is due to the seemingly contradictory aims of politics and solidarity: the political is framed as the space of conflict or power while solidarity is understood as the relation of acting or being together.

I argue that political solidarity is fundamental to the internal structure of social movements, even as social solidarity is fundamental to the external structure of social movements. Externally, political solidarity is more solidary than political: it presents a united front against oppression, domination, or injustice. It functions even if there is some on-going internal disagreement about the purpose, aim, or means of collective resistance. Internally, political solidarity is more political than solidary: it focuses on the very structure of the political movement itself and concerns its meta-political structure. This can be shown in a number of critical political debates and social movements on the left: i.e. the priority of leftist politics (identity versus labor) or the on-going debate concerning the relationship of feminism to queer and trans theory and practice  (Heyes, 2003). This shows that the meta-political project is itself a project of the negotiation of power, conflict, and antagonism in the face of shared political goals, commitments, or values. As such, we can see that even if political solidarity as I’ve theorized it causes trouble for the coherence of democratic procedures, it is an essential, if undertheorized, element to the project of developing a critical democratic praxis and theory.



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