When it Comes to Working-Class Solidarity, Mutual Aid is Step One
Reject the fake progress promised by corporate-owned politicians and jump-start the movement in your community
To the extent that we are able, our first and foremost responsibility within the movement for social progress is mutual aid, helping those most vulnerable and most oppressed by capitalism’s oppressive hierarchies. That’s step one: to strengthen the bonds of solidarity with the colonized, with the poor, with the exploited laborer. To look upon the houseless and say, “Your struggle is mine.”
This is what chiefly separates us from those who look away from the struggle of others, those who tell them now is not the time to end their suffering. The cowards who espouse incrementalism, who say the crumbs from the Democratic Party are the best we can get, and that we’d better be happy about it because it’s better than the GOP.
Beware of the liberal who enjoys his health care, his white privilege, and his comfortable place in the existing system, all while telling you that in your calls for liberation from the structures his privilege stems from, your angry tone is unbecoming and your pleas for freedom premature. Beware the person who tries to set the timetable for an end to suffering that he does not experience.
Beware, beware. And he won’t be a cartoon character twirling an evil mustache. He may not be a Republican but that doesn’t make him an ally. If he is a Democrat in this modern era he might call himself a ‘progressive’, but if he thinks a BLM protestor’s destruction of property is worth more condemnation than a cop’s destruction of a Black person’s life, one has to question the value of his definition of progress. One has to question his motivations for this tepid stance. And we rarely have to look far to see whose pocket they’re in.
Beware the person who tries to set the timetable for an end to suffering that he does not experience.
Corporate politicians are figuring out savvy ways to siphon some of the populist energy from the fallout of Bernie Sanders’s two presidential campaigns. We already saw faux versions of Medicare for All proposals in the Dem primaries, and we’re continuing to see the vagueness of the term “progressive” co-opted by corporatists with clever PR firms. Their job is to sell the status quo to people who want change by telling them to slow down and be ‘realistic’.
Progress comes from disrupting the system. If you protest in ways those perpetrating the injustice find acceptable, what progress can your protest achieve? Only an ungovernable people can meaningfully disrupt a corrupt government if the institutions themselves have been hijacked by the capitalist class, as has been done in the United States. Populist uprisings that don’t shake the foundations of the oppressive system are only an expression of pain — they are a whimper, a cry. But our pain is already known. It’s time to enact change.
We center the suffering of those most vulnerable in our moral and political worldview. The privileged center themselves, and they base what is acceptable, doable, and realistic based on that framework. They will not risk themselves to create change for you. But for any real movement of change to have a chance at success, those leading it must be willing to risk everything; this is why faith in the corporate leadership of the Democratic Party is a disastrous strategy for anyone serious about challenging the power of capital and attaining liberation of the people. Their ideology is capitalist and imperialist. They’ve weaponized merely symbolic progress (the first Black _____, the first gay _____, the first woman _____) and are masters at fooling people into believing this is the same thing as meaningful progress for the marginalized communities those symbols are intended to represent.
The truth is that if you put a BBIPOC person in charge of a machine that by its very nature oppresses BBIPOC people, you haven’t gotten any closer to addressing the actual mechanisms behind the people’s pain. You could elect a hundred Obamas in a row without meaningfully addressing systemic racism. This dynamic is a clever way for the system to adapt and protect itself while the people still suffer, and we should be vigilant about settling for it.
We get nowhere without strong communities and the solidarity born of simply helping one another cope with existence under this machine. The machine drives us toward a culture of alienation and frameworks of value based on lies about individualism and merit. It says, “Look away from the poor man — he didn’t work hard enough.” It says, “You can be rich too — just work harder.” It says, “Don’t analyze, don’t critique, don’t make trouble for the system.” It says, “Go it alone.”
We say, “Fuck you.”
The power of the people is in our numbers and in our labor. If the Jeff Bezos-types were Thanos-snapped out of existence, nothing happens to the productivity of the country. But if the working class stopped providing its labor, everything grinds to a halt — and it’s the unchecked exploitation of labor that gives the oppressors here much of their power.
We know that organized, collective action is our strongest weapon. But the imagination of most people is captured by electoral politics — efforts there are important, but we have many more actions at our disposal. We don’t have to approach progress as simply one election every four years. Strengthening our labor power through unions or strikes is an underutilized weapon. Mutual aid is another. Most people think “charity” or crumbs from meager state welfare programs are the only way for marginalized communities to get help. That isn’t true; we can also help ourselves. It doesn’t mean grinding harder as an individual, it means taking responsibility for the well-being of other oppressed people in our communities. Solidarity begins here, with us. Through us, between us, for us.
A quick search for “mutual aid” in your area will likely bear some fruit. Food Not Bombs is a wonderful organization that feeds folks and is a great option for anyone new to mutual aid. They are all over, protesting war and poverty by distributing food and supplies to those in need. If there isn’t one in your area, you could start your own, and it’s very doable.
MLK said this: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
If a politician calls themselves ‘progressive’ because they support a handful of issues that people like Bernie or AOC already popularized, then turns around and takes corporate donations from the military-industrial complex, they’re either lying to you or the term has no meaning at all.
Progress doesn’t come from above. Oppression comes from above. Progress starts with us, the working class. If there is to be progress in government, then it will be through the election of working-class people who hold working-class principles and have working-class solidarity. People who would see their election not as individuals rising out of the working class, but as the entire working class gaining more control of government.
The power of the people is exerted through our unity and ability to organize collective action. This starts with working-class love for one another, and there is no better expression of this love than mutual aid.