James Mensch argues that the paradox between national solidarity and universal solidarity is solved by recognizing the multiple solidarities in which we are already engaged:
Our different situations of race, language, religion, and cultural preference involve us in differing networks of solidarity. These, unless artificially suppressed, provide a natural system of checks and balances within the solidarity that is based on the past. – James Mensch “Beyond Abstract Solidarity”
Mensch’s comments at first glance are sober and realistic, if overly liberal. It is true that recognizing the manifold ways that we already depend on co-operation and solidarity with different groups can act as a check on a singular form of solidarity taking over, moving towards extreme nationalism. It probably is true honest evaluation of the situation we find ourselves in can always act as a countermeasure to extremism. However, Mensch’s suggestions ignore an important possibility: what if the multiple solidarities one is already implicitly engaged in are largely immoral? What if the implicit shared projects one is participating in include racism, colonialism, imperialism, and the general oppression of the poor and the non-white? In that case, sobert reflection on the solidarities one is already engaged in might not result in an abrogation of extremism, but an affirmation of many small extremisms. And this isn’t an idle threat – it is common in liberal discourse to affirm imperialist positions as the only one’s available. For example, many treat the Guantanamo and drone strikes issue as a question about whether we should support illegal detention or illegal killings – as if doing neither were not an option.
Given the average everydayness of implicit involvement in immoral projects, the move beyond “abstract solidarity” should not only include reflection on implicit already existing solidarities, but actively practiced solidarities with the oppressed, with those that you are implicitly involved in the oppression of. Active practice means learning the history of, meeting with, and engaging in some kind of concrete activities to support worthwhile struggle – but not in a way that undermines locally based actions.
Mensch suggests that recognizing the solidarities we are already engaged in has little to do with altruism, as is in fact “a matter of self-interest”. But the self-interested hypocricy of support for the colonizer is exactly what moving beyond abstract solidarity should expunge – concrete solidarity for first-worlders wishing to undo their own hypocrisies is self interested only in the sense that we all have a self-interest in undoing and undermining the selfish basis for our own hypocrisies. Concrete solidarity often means opposing your own national interest and your own class interest in favour of a universal ideal that excludes you, or includes you only by the active fact of involvement in the struggle against your own background.
So instead of thinking of “moving beyond abstract solidarity” as a kind of passive reflection, we should think of it as active engagement in concrete solidarity work. What that can mean is varied, but what it can’t mean is a reflection on your situation which doesn’t actively set out to change your involvements, your relationships, and your projects.
Concrete solidarity which involves yourself in a struggle