Solidarity in the thought of Pope John Paul II

However, Solidarity has much deeper roots in Catholic theology, in particular, and in the Christian Tradition, in general, than all of this might suggest. The key figure in putting the idea of ‘Solidarity’ centre-stage was, of course, Pope John Paul II, at the start of whose Pontificate Solidarnosc was itself born. The Pope’s second encyclical, Laborem Exercens – “On Human Work” (1981), is peppered with 10 references to solidarity – doubtless a gentle hint of encouragement to the Polish people, then under martial law, in their struggle for freedom. (D. Dorr, Option For the Poor. A Hundred Years of Vatican Social Teaching, Dublin, Gill & Macmillan, (1983), p248) But it was probably more a matter of the Pope influencing the nascent movement than the other way round, for Karol Wojtyla had written a paper analysing the concept of solidarity as far back as 1969. (Ibid, 245)

For him, arguing against an avowedly Marxist state ideology, the term, Solidarity, had this clear advantage: that whereas ‘Class Struggle’ (understood by Marxism to be the motor of change in society until such time as the triumph of the Proletariat should finally obliterate all class divisions) is a struggle against others, solidarity implies a struggle with others, with injustice (rather than other people) as the enemy. For Papa Wojtyla, it is collaboration which is the characteristic way of acting in a spirit of solidarity (John Paul II, Encyclical Letter For the Twentieth Anniversary Of Populorum Progressio, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis – “Social Concern” (1987), paragraph 39). Even in struggle solidarity remains open to dialogue (Laborem Exercens –“On Human Work” (1981) paragraph 8). Solidarity, of its very nature, provokes action (including, at times, confrontation) but it does so always on the basis of a vision of community and of calling to full membership of that community.