Solidarity: A word in search of flesh


Zygmunt Bauman in Eurozine:

As with other “movements of the indignant”, the occupation of Wall Street was, so to speak, an “explosion of solidarity”. Explosions, as we know, are sudden and shocking, but also short lived. And sometimes these movements were (and are) “carnivals of solidarity”. As Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin taught, carnivals are breaks in the monotony of the mundane, bringing a momentary relief from the all-powerful, overwhelming and revolting day-to-day routine. They suspend, declare the routine null and void, albeit only for the duration of the festivities. Once the energy is spent and the poetic exultation subsides, the revellers return to the prose of the quotidian.

Routine needs periodic carnivals as a safety valve – to release the pressure. From time to time, dangerous emotions need to be discharged, bad blood drained off, repugnance and aversion to routine unloaded so that its debilitating and disabling might can be restored. In short, the chances of solidarity are determined less by the passions and hubbub of the “carnival” than by the silence of the dispassionate routine. Do you want solidarity? If so, face and get to grips with the routine of the mundane; with its logic or its inanity, with the powers of its demands, commands and prohibitions. And measure your strength against the patterns of daily pursuits of those people who shaped history while being shaped by it.


To put it mildly, at least in our part of the world, day-to-day drudgery is inhospitable to solidarity. However, it has not always been so. For within the society of builders, which formed on the eve of the modern era, there was a veritable factory of solidarity. It was built upon the vigour and density of human bonds and the obviousness of human interdependencies. Many aspects of contemporary existence taught us a lesson about solidarity and encouraged us to close ranks and march arm in arm: the teeming platoons of workers within factory walls, the uniformity of the working routine regulated by the clock and imposed by the production line, the omnipresence of intrusive supervision and the standardization of disciplinary demands – but also the conviction of both sides of the class divide, that is the managers and the managed, that their mutual dependence was inevitable and didn't leave any room for evolution. So it was only sensible to work out a permanent modus covivendi and self-imposed restraint, which this compromise absolutely demanded.

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