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The General Strike - Part 2
The General Strike has allied in its service thinkers and men of action of many different schools of thought. For over a quarter of a century the Industrial Workers of the World have consistently advocated the General Strike as Labor's mightiest weapon in the class struggle.
At the present time there is scarcely a Socialist, or Communist Party or Libertarian group anywhere in the world which does not contain minorities, at least that are frank in admitting that the class struggle is largely an industrial struggle and that the final victory must be won by industrial instead of political methods. The many defeats of politically powerful Socialist movements in Europe in the face of war and dictatorship have convinced them of the inadequacy of political action, the futility of violence and of the irresistable logic and power of the General Strike.
It looks like a far cry from Bill Haywood to Thorsten Veblen, yet the non-conformist labor leader and suave and erudite professor meet on common ground in advocating the General Strike.
Not only is it true that Professor Veblen is in perfect accord with the industrial philosophy, program and methods of the I.W.W. in regard to the General Strike, but the preponderance of competent technological opinion of America favors that viewpoint also. The advanced technician has learned from experience to look upon the General Strike with favor. He sees in it the quickest and most dependable method of keeping the vital processes of production and transportation unimpaired during the impending breakdown of the system of production for profit.
Firm and Unshakable
The General Strike, compared with the transient ameliorative slogans and platforms of political parties is as firm and unshakeable as the Rocky Mountains. It is as basic as the instinct to live and as fundamental as industry. All the panaceas and nostrums of the politician and labor union reformer sound shallow and meaningless when considered side by side with industrial action of such magnitude and possibilities.
The politician who seeks to pervert the General Strike into a mere adjunct to a political party is like the tail trying to wag the dog. The logical and legitimate objective of the General Strike is the abolition of capitalism-- not reform or political trading of any sort. The General Strike is not the toy of ambitious politicians. It is the red rainbow across the sky of industrial desperation. It is a permanent warning to politicians to keep their promises, to Authority to be careful and to dictators to disappear. The General Strike is Labor's life insurance against betrayal.
Nothing can be more logical than that the General Strike offers a program which is excellent neutral common meeting ground for the two and seventy warring sects of the Labor movement.
If the time ever comes when the organized working class is capable of outgrowing or putting aside the ancient prejudices of political thought, the General Strike will be welcomed for what it is-- Labor's supreme weapon for Labor's supreme struggle.
There has never been a major labor struggle anywhere in the world in which the General Strike was not discussed and there has never been a labor union anywhere which has not at one time or another ardently desired to use it in the never-ending struggle against corporate greed and economic injustice.
Direct Action is Instinctive
The interests of the workers and employers are diametrically opposed and each side uses such weapons in the class struggle as are suitable for their purposes. The absentee owners of the industry, unlike the middle class, are too smart to take the politician seriously. And in this respect they are far wiser than many of the workers.
The real capitalists have a contempt for the politician and use him merely as a tool. Being rooted in industry by reason of ownership and deriving their incomes from the surplus value sweated from the hides of their wage slaves they tolerate no intermediaries in the struggle between the workers and themselves. If, for instance, they wish to cut wages, lengthen the hours of the work day or employ women and children in the place of men, they just go ahead and do it. They do not call upon a politician to help them. They do not have to. Every time they discipline, discharge or lay off a bunch of workers the employers are using direct action. Every time the black-list or spy system is used on the job, every time scabs, strike-breakers or gun-thugs are used, every time the speed-up system, poor conditions, long hours and low wages are enforced the employers are using industrial action against their slaves.
A depression is nothing but a lockout against labor. The owners of the industries simply close up shop and cease operations because they can no longer get their customary profits. And all the laws and politicians in the world, or all the armies in the world, could not force them to start up again unless it would pay them to do so. Business is business. The employing class knows full well what industrial power means. They use it all the time in the form of merciless lockouts, strikes and sabotage against labor. But, they are decidedly unwilling to have labor retaliate in kind.
Their defense is wide open only at one point: they get their profits out of the hides of the workers and no place else. And if the workers by a "conscientious withdrawal of efficiency" refuse to be exploited beyond a certain point or refuse to be exploited at all, the exploiters can do little. Their machinery will produce neither profits nor anything else until it is oiled with the sweat of human labor. They fear the General Strike more than anything on earth because they know that the General Strike would in reality be a general lockout-- the end of the present dominating class. Against this mighty industrial force they have neither cunning nor power to defend themselves.
The Scissorbill Worker
But they do have the cunning and the power to fool and mislead the workers and to keep the workers' forces divided so that united action is difficult of attainment. Due to capitalist control of the press, radio and avenues of publicity and education, the workers are effectively denied the right to call their minds their own. In fact the scissorbill workers have but little in their heads which they can call their own. Their minds belong to the last editor, speaker or politician who filled the aching void with insidious poison or anti-proletarian misinformation. Such workers not only play the sucker end in the shell game of capitalism, but they also are too dumb and blind to figure out what has happened when things go wrong. That is why they are called "scissorbills."
But, no matter how they suffer from insecurity and privation under capitalism this kind of worker can do nothing for their own interests until they learn to think for themselves. If you are a wage-slave with a capitalist mind, or a decaying middle class mind you will no doubt scratch your head and wonder what the General Strike can possibly mean to you. At first you will not like the idea. You will probably figure that it means turning upside down all the things you had respect for and had confidence in.
The Rebel Worker
But the class conscious worker is different. He has discarded the capitalist prejudices and submissiveness to exploitation and lies. He has shed his middle class faith in both politicians and the efficacy of political action. He knows what is wrong with the world and knows just what ought to be done to put an end to that wrong. He is no longer apathetic or indifferent to his class interests. He can no longer be fooled. He realizes that he, as a member of the working class, is rooted in industry and must unite and make common cause with all other workers in industry, and become an eager active fighter in the struggle to free the world from the age-long curse of social parasitism. He knows what the word strike means and does not have to be told that it is his strongest and surest weapon.
Rebel workers who have been drilled, disciplined and hardened in the class struggle recognize instinctively that the strike is labor's natural weapon. They know what industrial power is and know how to use it. They have been forced to use it all their lives in little things and are willing to use it for bigger things -- for everything. They have learned from experience that delegating their power into the hands of politicians is more likely to result in disappointment and betrayal than it is in profit to themselves. They have learned that even in their unions they must have real democracy in order to keep their officials straight. In the class war they are convinced that the strike is the thing.
Labor's Natural Weapon
The logic is simple. If wages are too low to meet the needs of life, if the hours of labor are too long or working conditions intolerable, the thing to do is not call some witch-doctor of a politician, but simply quit work in sufficient numbers and with sufficient solidarity to force a shut-down of operations until the evils are remedied.
Every workingman and woman knows these things to be true. They do not have to read about a strike in books or have it explained to them by a professor. When the time comes to strike they strike. And no one can convince them that there is anything else left to do but strike.Workers as a rule do not take politics very seriously unless they are paid to vote, which is often the case, or unless they are intimidated and herded to the polls by racketeering ward-heelers in the interests of a corrupt political machine.
As a rule they vote just as they would bet on a prize fight-- to see if they can pick a winner. But they do take striking seriously. And when it becomes plain to the workers that they can put an end to the interminable misery and uncertainty of capitalism by means of a big strike just as easily as they defeated a wage-cut with a small one they will strike with the same vigor and the same determination.
And this is the very type of mind which the advanced development of capitalism is forcing upon them. Strikes have a way of becoming bigger with each passing year. The workers' very association with productive industry suggests and controls the methods they must use in industrial struggle. Like their employers they are forced by their surroundings to think in terms of direct action. The strike grows in power and scope. The strike is Labor's natural weapon and the centralization of control in industry makes the prospect of a General Strike more than a mere possibility.