Sunday, 1 June 2014

In Solidarity or In Solitary

Remember the iconic photograph of the man standing alone in front of a convoy of tanks about to enter Tiananmen Square?

A symbol of the power of individual defiance? Or a reminder of the futility of acting alone?

It was June 1989. Young protestors had gathered in Tiananmen Square in Beijing to press the country’s leaders to adopt democratic reforms. On the fourth of that month, the government ordered troops to clear the square. The protestors were isolated. There was no visible support from the rest of China. Some fled, some surrendered, and many were shot.

But what if, instead of just the students gathered in an easily targeted area of the capital, numerous other citizens from all provinces and diverse sections of society had openly backed the demands for democratisation, would the outcome had been different?

On the other side of the world, on the very same day – June the fourth, 1989 – members of the Solidarity movement, which had for years been banned for daring to criticise the ruling regime, achieved widespread success in the open elections that were finally held in Poland.

Solidarity did not win democratic reforms overnight. It had built up support across the whole country over a long period of time, and true to its name, it was a mass movement that developed a clear, united front to challenge the iniquitous concentration of power in a few.

In the months following the triumph of Solidarity in Poland, collective demands for power redistribution became unstoppable, and one-party dictatorship vanished across Eastern Europe, culminating in the historic fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. Before long, the Soviet Union itself broke up and in its place came republics with multi-party elections.

Unfortunately, the dismantling of one party rule, though crucial, was not enough to guarantee that power would henceforth be spread amongst the citizens as equals. Power all too often ended up being concentrated in a plutocratic elite. Through their possession of the vast proportion of available resources and their privileged position to dictate terms on how future resources were to be distributed, they could make decisions to benefit themselves at everyone else’s expense.

Not only has this happened in both the established and newly formed multi-party regimes, it has emerged in China’s one-party system where, as in most parts of the global economy these days, it is not tanks, but banks, that hold the citizens to ransom.

The iron curtain may have been lifted in 1989, but in its place, there is now an electrified fence keeping us away from the gated communities of the wealthy elite.

The only way to counter predatory exploitation is to join forces as a progressive electoral force to reclaim our democratic power. Random protests and proliferation of parties that just keep splitting the vote, simply leave the plutocrats in charge.

We must act in solidarity. Or else, too many of us will be confined to a solitary future that will be wretchedly poor, nasty, and short.

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