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The General Strike - Part 1
Why The General Strike?
Every intelligent person now realizes that there is something radically wrong with the social system under which we are living. Everyone, excepting the beneficiaries of this system, agrees that something ought to be done about it. The trouble is that people at present seem unable to agree on any common program of action. Some accept their unhappy lot with a patience and fortitude worthy of a better cause, others theorize ineffectually and do little, while still others complain bitterly and strike out blindly. Nearly everyone rushes hither and tither seeking escape but without having any clear-cut objective in view. Considering the control of the press and all media of misinformation and propaganda by the present ruling class this situation is not to be wondered at.
Let us examine briefly the things people in general are saying and doing about the desperate situation now confronting society: One group says: "Let us be patient until pressure of public opinion brings about a change or at least a betterment of conditions." Another group says: "As long as we have the ballot let us use political action to bring about whatever changes are necessary." Still another group states: "We cannot wait any longer. Only a violent upheaval . . . armed insurrection!"
These groups, regardless of their differences of opinion, are composed of men and women who have given some thought and study to the subject. They deserve credit for trying to find a solution for the baffling problem confronting them. No matter how mistaken they may be their efforts are at least directed toward making the world a fit place to live in. Unfortunately a majority of the population have not gone this far. The majority still lives and suffers in a condition of unthinking bewilderment. They simply do not know what it is all about. Just as they have done, for ages past, they are content to work like robots or starve like dumb beasts without daring to organize to put a stop to the system which is crushing them. And, what is worse they are actually misled into supporting this system.
Economic Illness, Economic Cure
But there is still another and far more significant group. This group represents the viewpoint of the awakened and class-conscious working class. Its opposition to the present order is unalterable and its methods and objective distinctly those of the world's revolutionary proletariat. This group takes the position that, in the face of the present disintegration of the profit or wage system, public opinion, political action and armed insurrection are too unweildly, too uncertain and too unscientific to serve in so great an emergency. This group advocates a General Strike of the world's army of production and its managerial staff as the means of putting an end to capitalism, and inaugurating in its place an era of scientific industrialism and industrial democracy.
The argument for the General Strike is based on the persistent and very logical working class conviction that the ruling class will refuse to permit itself to be dispossessed by any power weaker than its own and that public opinion, political action and insurrection therefore will not be permitted to be developed or used to any appreciable extent. It is further based on the firm belief that Labor alone can save the world from chaos during and following the period of transition. As long as the production of goods under any system depends on the disciplined solidarity of the producing class it is evident that this solidarity alone is capable of stopping the operations of the old order or of starting and continuing those of the new.
In this sense the General Strike is not only the hope of Labor; it is the hope of the human race. It is the one method which will be found trust-worthy when all other methods fail. If it is true, as many believe, that the economic maladjustments of modern society can be remedied only be economic measures, then the General Strike will become increasingly important with every passing day. The necessity of the collective ownership and democratic operation of socially necessary machinery is now conceded by technician, economist, student and class-conscious worker alike. There is diversity of opinion as to how the change is to be made, but there is no lack of unanimity as to the advisability of the change. In this regard the program of the General Strike is too important not to be seriously considered.
As a matter of fact any power less potent than that of a General Strike is bound to be of doubtful efficacy. Public opinion in America at its best is merely a means of registering the disapproval or indignation of an intelligent minority. At its worst it is all that the Powers that Be could expect of it-- mass hysteria and mob violence to be directed at will by those affluent enough to buy it on the market like any other commodity. Any public opinion which ignores the basic fact of the class struggle is bound to be a hypocritical gesture. In this regard the liberals are among the worst offenders. The weak cry of the conventional liberal for peace in a peaceless world is one of the most convincing evidences of the innate sterility of the liberal attitude. Due to their hopelessly restricted outlook these middle class muddlers are unable to see the inevitability of struggle and strife as long as society is divided into two classes with irreconcilable interests.
Unless the class struggle is used as a key, human history will remain a matter of guesswork. Unless the evolution of society is studied in the light of social science, social changes will remain inexplicable. How much clearer and less confusing is the position of the Industrial Workers of the World as expressed in its Preamble,
"The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among the millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class have all the good things in life."
This is submitted as a clear-cut statement of undeniable fact.
Reformers of all types are and must be primarily concerned with the patching up of the decayed and historically unjustifiable capitalist system. They are unable to see society as a process of change under economic pressure-- a continuous evolution from one stage of development to another, based on the iron law of economic determinism. Under chattel slavery or serfdom these myopic gentlemen would have believed as they do now under capitalism that the existing system was permanent, preordained and historically unassailable. To them riches and poverty are not the result of definable and remediable social maladjustments but the normal condition of human life. The invention of labor-saving, profit increasing machinery, as they see it, was not a part of an evolutionary process; they prefer to believe it was merely a convenient and very profitable accident. They are childishly amazed that their right to to monopolize the earth and her resources should ever be contested. There are even authors, editors and professors who support them in this fantastic illusion. On this point the position of the I.W.W. is as startling as it is scientifically sound:
"Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers organize as a class, take possession of the earth and the machinery of production, and abolish the wage system."
If any liberal is capable of seeing that far he is already cured of his liberalism.
Public opinion being largely at the mercy of the predatory interests through their control fo the press, radio, etc., is therefore largely out of the question as a means of effecting fundamental social change. Even the unusual program and personality of Ghandi would be helpless in the face of the private control of public opinion which exists in the U.S.A. Within a fortnight the mild-mannered Mahatma would be heaved into the hoosegow charged with planting a bomb or engineering a pay-roll robbery. Such things have happened before with the public being far from unconvinced.
And so the capitalist control of the machinery of publicity coupled with the economic ignorance of the much divided and long misled masses makes public opinion as the sole method of ending the nightmare of capitalism somewhat remote. Unless crystallized into definite and determined action of some sort or other, about all we can expect from public opinion is the registering of belated and somewhat pathetic disapproval.
Political action as a method of obtaining control of the machinery of production seems also peculiarly unconvincing. Only the most naive of politically-minded revolutionists believes that the ballot or constitutional amendments will induce the Vested Interests to give over control and title to the privately owned machinery of production. It is manifestly absurd to expect the class which has stained the pages of history red in countless labor struggles to give over complete control because the electorate (whom they despise) have seen fit to demand it. The parasite class of the U.S.A. can be relied upon not to relinquish their sacrosanct rights to 'property' until they are confronted with a power greater than that which they have at their command. Anything less will be scoffed at.
What is more probable, in the light of past experience, than their capitulation is that the right of sufferage will be revoked or curtailed the moment it threatens to be used for any purpose other than the customary horse-swapping. Even with the menace of the ever-present potential fascist dictatorship removed, there is little reason to believe that the rich will ever hand over their property to the poor just because the poor have decided to vote for it.
The program of armed insurrection is open to as many angles of criticism as that of political action. First of all the workers as a whole are not only unarmed, but they are untrained in the use of arms. Twelve airplanes can destroy a city and it is quite unlikely that a city of armed workers could control even so small a force of capitalist mercenaries. The technique of modern warfare has made the rifle and the side-arm, and even grenades and machine guns obsolete in the face of tanks, poison gas, planes and heavy artillery. The advocacy of armed insurrection is fatally misleading because it induces workers to believe that what was done in a backward country can be duplicated in a thoroughly modern one. In America the chances of mobs defeating highly trained troops are anything but even. Then there is the danger of premature revolution precipitated by fanatics or stool pigeons.
The advocacy of armed insurrection is misleading also because most of its protagonists, being politically minded and politically-trained, are more determined to capture State power than to capture the industries. The politician is utterly incapable of thinking in terms of industry. He is incompetent either to control or direct industrial processes. In a country like the U.S.A. with 48 state and hundreds of municipal and county capitals in addition to the federal capital in Washington-- all adequately guarded-- the problem is almost hopelessly complicated. At the worst an attempt at armed uprising would result in a series of unprecedented massacres, at best in an overtowering and very stupid bureaucracy or an equally stupid and far more cruel dictatorship of politicians.
It is far more probable that neither the ballots of the politicos nor the bullets of the insurrectos will ever have an opportunity to 'get to first base.' With the final struggle impending it is very probable that all weapons save that of economic action will have been taken out of their hands. For this reason it is more necessary for Labor to study and prepare itself for the General Strike than to trust its fortunes to either ballots or bullets as a sole means of effecting its deliverance from the toils of wage slavery.