Peter Gelderloos: International solidarity when things are not black and white

The internationalist left often fails to transcend facile polemics, even when effective solidarity can mean the difference between life and death. We can do better than this.

As 2020 is off to a rebellious start, a wave of struggles with growing intensity continues to sweep across the globe, from Chile to Hong Kong. People are rising up against government repression and austerity measures, or trying to defend themselves from right-wing coups. None of these uprisings are simple or homogeneous; some include elements anti-capitalists may strongly disagree with, and the necessity of self-defense against the advances of the far-right often puts us in a position of defending left-wing governments we may have well founded criticisms of.

When these complexities and critiques are brought up, the ensuing debate usually devolves into a total polarization in which one side denies any possible criticism and the other side prioritizes their criticism over solidarity. As an end result of this kind of posturing, each side denies legitimacy to the other and claims their own position is above reproach. But criticism is oxygen for the struggle. Revolutionary movements that do not honestly consider their own weaknesses are setting themselves up for failure. And when a movement cannot develop relevant responses to a situation of growing misery and exploitation, when it betrays the dreams that launched it in the first place, it is paving the way for the right to come back with a vengeance.

We can do better than this. In order to extend effective solidarity, we need to identify some principles and patterns that will help us achieve this.


When people are dying in the streets, questions of survival need to take priority. This means understanding the alliances people make in context. A progressive political party making a tacit alliance with a far-right party to stay in power another term — as happened after the last elections in Barcelona — is an entirely different kind of pragmatism than Kurdish fighters accepting US aid in a fight for their very survival against ISIS and Turkey, or anticapitalist protesters in Hong Kong, facing a brutal onslaught by police and an extradition law that promises future repression, fighting alongside those who want a liberal political system in the US sphere of influence.

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