It is important to be aware that collectivity does not immediately equate with solidarity. Although it is a widely used term and big buzzword, solidarity is a contested concept. We seem to still be unclear as to what counts as solidarity, even when it holds great political importance. In this article, we will explore this issue, tracing a short history of ‘solidarity’ and using Amsterdam Alternative as an example to better answer the question: what do we really mean when we talk about being in solidarity with each other?
What is the difference between collectivity and solidarity?
When speaking of collectives, a certain idea of solidarity already comes to mind, almost immediately. For instance, in order to perform collective action, like strikes or protests, it feels obvious that individuals will have shared objectives that they are aiming for — with each group member understanding the importance and interdependence that everyone holds to each other. But solidarity is not confined to the same boundaries that a closed community might have. It can work through an affinity, an allyship. It can transcend the boundaries of identity or belief.
Solidarity is said to go beyond collective association, implying a stronger bond and meaningful connection. Although a collective emphasizes group membership, solidarity is the factor that involves a sense of unity, shared responsibility and empathy. In addition, a collective may also form for reasons such as enjoyment and shared interest without necessarily sharing a purpose or mission, while, with solidarity, groups often address social, economic or political issues in order to achieve their common goal. Generally, collectivity and solidarity often coexist and the depth of people’s connection can vary depending on specific circumstances, but both aspects are important for social cohesion and human interaction.
In an era of late-stage capitalism such as now, this idea of solidarity functioning due to empathy rather than a quid pro quo agreement feels quite radical, since everything otherwise is based on (monetary) exchange. For many, mentions of solidarity will be reminiscent of leftist politics, in how it seems to function as a force of resistance to dominant structures of governance and society. It is a horizontal and non-hierarchical approach as well, as otherwise we might be referring to a sort of charity work. This is not to say that it can’t be transactional, or involve reciprocity; it is a sort of negotiation involving an interplay of similarity and difference, where individuals take into account their own needs and limitations.
History of solidarity
It is not easy to describe the concept of solidarity. Although some might consider it to be universal, it is incredibly broad, and understandings differ between groups and individuals around the globe. Some might also think of Émile Durkheim, a French sociologist who developed his own theories on the concept. Durkheim saw a moral unraveling in Europe around the turn of the twentieth-century, which he blamed on capitalism. He thought it an abnormal phase of European society, and saw solidarity as the only treatment. He divided it into “mechanical solidarity” based on similarities and common affinities, and “organic solidarity” based on complementary differences, namely: “you can do what I cannot and I can what you cannot — and thus it might benefit us to be in community.”
Anarchist philosopher Peter Kropotkin, who wrote Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution in 1902, believed that solidarity and cooperation were an instinct existent in humans and many other species. Just as Durkheim considered capitalist tendencies to be unnatural, Kropotkin also thought that solidarities based on mutual aid were far more just and harmonious than this oppressive force which he saw exploiting groups and workers. Tied to his anarchist beliefs, he also believed that a society built on cooperation and solidarity would lead to a non-hierarchical, stateless and more equitable form of governance. Both Kropotkin and Durkheim provided alternative ideas that challenged the social and political theories of their time and continue to influence conversations on social organization.
Solidarity in contemporary times: Amsterdam Alternative
Nowadays, although minority groups are generally quicker to support each other due to lived experiences of discrimination and other common ground, it should not be difficult to understand that liberation for some will result in liberation of all. In short, we are not free until all of us are free.
An interesting case is that of Amsterdam Alternative (AA), a newspaper and cultural hub whose main mission is, in its essence, to create a network of solidarity, always striving to become bigger and better-known, and attempting to spread its papers far and wide to reach those who want to fight for what's needed to come to a desirable future “for the many, not the few”. Starting in 2015, AA was a collective made up of different collectives. Nowadays, it also includes individuals who — although they might not share the same perspectives or backgrounds — make up the “less mainstream” and generally unheard parts of Amsterdam. AA provides an outlet for the voices that make the Dutch capital open, liberal, rich, free, green, diverse and creative. Again, the things which favor the majority, and not just those who can afford it.
Effective journalism should be solidary by its very nature, already working to amplify the voices of those who most need to be heard, who have long been pushed to the background.
The volunteer basis at Amsterdam Alternative is another highly important part of its functioning “in solidarity”. The abolishment of the salary system implies that all members of the newspaper deem their mission important enough to dedicate their time, as well as feel a care and motivation towards their tasks.
Not only that, but powerful and effective journalism should be solidary by its very nature, already working to amplify the voices of those who most need to be heard, who have long been pushed to the background.
Solidarity in itself is already gratifying by allowing us to believe that we can enhance the lives of others. Is that not the gateway to pure joy and growth, to feel like you have done something good in your life for others? Of course, this is not to ignore the violence that can be involved in collective action when aiming for effective change. Speaking of solidarity as born of affection and closeness might induce a feel-good sentiment for movements performed in solidarity, yet peaceful protests may not be successful when it comes to deeply entrenched matters within society.
The political importance of solidarity
Within the European context, solidarity makes up one of the six chapters of fundamental rights of the European Union, which were established in December 2000, but only took legal effect from 2009. It encompasses articles 27 through to 38, which mention different matters, most of which relate to labor. They ensure fair and just working conditions, a right to parental leave and prohibitions of child labor, but also other issues such as social security, access to health care, environmental protection and consumer protection. Article 28 curiously enough mentions the “right of collective bargaining and action” which awards workers and employers the “right to negotiate and conclude collective agreements at the appropriate levels and, in cases of conflicts of interest, to take collective action to defend their interests, including strike action.” It is interesting how even when talking about an act that might occur in opposition to higher powers and political systems, it is still constituted as a socio-political right by powerful organizations such as the EU.
We should maintain a focus on addressing systemic issues and root causes rather than solely offering short-term assistance.
So, what is solidarity?
Looming over our heads also stands the inevitable question: what really counts as solidarity? Especially at a time where lives are so dominated by social media, it is easy for things such as performative “activism” to take place where we are faced with the instant gratification of feeling as though ‘we have done something’. And out in the physical world, what happened after we attend a demonstration? Have we done enough?
I believe that this is the work that each of us has to do within ourselves. We have to remain close to those we are supporting in order to understand if we are really making change. It seems like solidarity without a clear objective can easily result in overlooking the issue's roots and underlying causes. Therefore, to make sure we are doing right by a community, we should maintain a focus on addressing systemic issues and root causes rather than solely offering short-term assistance.
And ultimately, solidarity will not come just through having a common enemy, but through the connections we make with each other. AA manages to enhance those strings of connection not only internally, as it is run by volunteers who make sure to each put forward their best ideas, but also externally, by expanding the bond through stories and propagating the events that will take place around the city. AA has it clear: there is an alternative to the new capitalist ways of Amsterdam that seem to only favor the rich and white, and we can all create that new future together.