You are here
The General Strike - Part 3
Webster defines the word 'weapon' as, "any instrument of offense or defense." Surely the machinery of production is capable of being used for offense and defense both by the employing and the working class. Every strike, every lockout proves that the control and operation of modern machinery has developed a new technique of warfare as well as the most powerful weapons the world has ever known. We are trying to show that control of this machinery is the weapon which gives the employing class dominion over all the world, and that use of this machinery gives the working class ultimate power over the so-called owners.
The invention of gunpowder altered the course of human history and so did the steam engine, airplane and radio. Military science concedes that the factory behind the lines is as important as the human cannon-fodder in the trenches for the winning of a war. God is no longer on the side of of the strongest batallions, as Napoleon said. He is now on the side of the most perfectly organized industries. Workers should keep in mind that the real weapons of the machine age are the machines themselves.
It has frequently been stated that in the next war there will be no non-combatants. This is but another way of saying that the machine is as potent a weapon as the cannon. Military forces are worse than useless unless they are supplied with food, supplies and transportation. Both in warfare and industry the individual counts less and the mass more. Individual power is nothing, collective power, everything. An army in battle that is not organized is merely a mob. Workers in industry who are not organized are in the same category. They must be organized by their technical directors and foremen in order to produce efficiently. They must organize themselves into industrial unions, just as they are grouped in the industries, if they ever hope to use the weapon of economic power in their own behalf.
The day of the small war or the small strike is gone forever. Labor, without organization and disciplined solidarity, without unity and singleness of purpose must of necessity remain in its traditional rut. Labor cannot emancipate itself until it learns to use the mighty weapons which contact with the machinery of production has placed in its hands.
Revolutions, Old and New
The onward march of the machine process has not only changed the method and tactics of warfare, it has also changed our concept of the methods and tactics of revolution. It has done this by making old weapons obsolete and by making new weapons available. Warfare used to be an art; now it is an industry. The ancient art of arms is now practiced chiefly for sport. Nowadays a nation does not settle down to the grim business of war until the wheels of industry start turning.
The onward march of the machine process has completely changed our concept of the methods and tactics of revolution. Modern airplanes, poison and incendiary gas, artillery and machine guns in the hands of highly trained specialists have put the unarmed and practically untrained worker at a decided disadvantage in the matter of military combat. But even if the odds were equal it would be an act of folly for workers in any highly industrialized country to take as their models the classical revolutions of 1848, the French Revolution, the Paris Commune, or, even Russia. Labor's power has been transferred from the street to the industry. Job action has displaced the outpouring of the people and the picket line the barricades. The supreme act of the present revolution will not be the raising of the red flag over the old town hall, but rather the continued and orderly operation of the machinery of production, transportation and exchange by the industrial workers functioning just as they function now; only involving a complete lockout of the parasite class and its upholders. The General Strike to break the final hold of the Parasites in Industry!
This is the modern alignment in the world-wide struggle of the working class to free itself from the curse of wage slavery and exploitation. The revolution of our day will be an industrial struggle and the weapons, to be effective, must be industrial weapons.
The Point of Production
Cannons, airplanes, submarines, mines and machine guns are designed for the use of capitalist class mercenaries. Such weapons are hardly suitable for the modern economic struggle to determine whether the workers or the parasites shall control industry. Here the fight takes place at the point of production and the workers have this one big advantage in the struggle: they are the producing army of industry. The machines are utterly valueless without the brawn and brain of the men who tend them.
The workers are stationed strategically in industry. Unlike the profit-grabbing "owners" they are an indispensable part of the industrial process. Workers are at the machines because they are needed to keep those machines in operation. By sheer force of numbers they already have possession of the industries. They are trained in the use of the machinery of production, transportation and exchange, upon which all the devices of warfare are dependent. In addition to this the workers' cause, having for its objective the extension of human happiness, has the approval of all right thinking people as compared with the cause of the Kept Class which of necessity can have no other objective save that of the continuation of social parasitism. The workers' power is greater therefore than the power of the capitalist class and its war-like mercenaries.
Capitalism can continue only so long as the working class ignorantly gives its consent and approval. The exploitation of the many by the few can continue only so long as the many do not know any better than to submit to exploitation. This approval or disapproval can nowhere be expressed so forcibly as in industry where the exploitation takes place. The General Strike will therefore be Labor's economic rejection of its economic enslavement.
Individually under capitalism the wage worker is weaponless. If he has a job and doesn't like it he can quit. If he doesn't have a job he can crawl into an alley and die of starvation. Also he is free to drink himself to death or to take poison or end it all with a bullet, thus doing the master class a favor. Any other private war or revolt of his own against the system is generally classified somewhere between the meaning of the two words, 'misdemeanor' and 'felony.'
The hope of the modern wage slave is in numbers. In class warfare only collective weapons count. He can have strength himself only by combining his individual strength with the massed strength of his fellow workers in industry. The class struggle demands class weapons. Fortunately his position in class society has forced the wage slave to think in terms of 'we' instead of terms of 'I.'
The modern wage-slave has been trained to think of power in terms of numbers. In contrast to the craftsmen of old times, whose outlook was of necessity limited to that of the individual or the craft, the industrial worker of today is forced to view his troubles from the standpoint of the industry in which he is employed. If he has intelligence at all he can see at once that his personal problem in industry is identically the same as the thousands of workers who are employed in the same plant. Instinctively, when confronted with the greed and ferocity of the exploiting class he thinks not in terms of voting, shooting, bombing and bayoneting (as his masters do), but in terms of striking.
This was true in the beginning when industry was small and it is true today. The only difference is that it is more difficult and takes longer to communicate the impulse of motion to a large object than to a small object. A small strike in the early days of capitalism was a comparatively simple thing. Any strike today under super-capitalism is bound to be bigger and more complicated. The strike impulse, instead of being communicated to dozens or hundreds of men, is comminicated to thousands or hundreds of thousands. This impulse, due to the checks and controls encouraged by the employers, may not always succeed in putting the large mass into action. But the impulse is always there and, in the end, large strikes are as inevitable as small strikes ever were.
Job Consciousness and Class Consciousness
From job consciousness to class consciousness, from job action to industrial action, from the job strike to the General Strike is only a matter of degree. Every strike under modern industrial condition, is a General Strike in embryo. Even the proposed decentralization of industry will merely alter the tactics and strategy of the General Strike. It will in no sense do away with the will of the workers to use the strike as a weapon of ever increasing importance in the class struggle. On the other hand it will weaken the position of the master class by giving them perhaps a dozen heavily picketed scab plants, where they now have but one, to be guarded by their limited army of mercenaries when the great struggle is finally under way.
Regardless of how much political dissatisfaction may exist at any given time the worker's bed-rock complaint against capitalism will continue to be economic. He is robbed at the point of production and at the point of production he must fight against continued exploitation. If it can be shown that anything at all can be done by means of political action to make the workers' struggle easier so much the better. But workers must not delude themselves about the efficacy of political action. No matter how red they vote on election day or whom they elect to office they will discover that their power struggle is but the shadow of their struggle in industry.
The danger of overstressing the importance of political action lies in the fact that the workers are thereby led to trust someone else (usually not a member of the working class) to do something for them which, with a little understanding and determination, they could have done a whole lot easier by themselves-- and without the danger of betrayal. Confidence in political action not only robs the worker of the initiative for independent action, it also leads him into that state of mind where he is willing to exchange one kind of dictatorship for another. The ultimate aim of the General Strike is not to substitute for the yoke of capitalism, the yoke of the red republican1, the fascist, the militarist--or any other yoke. The General Strike can just as well be used by the workers to institute real industrial freedom and democracy and to do away with all yokes save that of necessary social labor which is in the common obligation of everybody born into the world.
 i.e. state communist.
Evolution of Industrial Power
In the beginning of the capitalist era the craftsmen were hired either individually or in small groups by the individual employer or partnership. At that time there was no vast and highly specialized industries such as exist today. Neither were there centralized ownership and control of entire industries by a handful of plutocrats operating through interlocking directorates such as we know at present. The plant was a small plant, the boss a small boss and the strike, of necessity, a small strike.
But the small plants did not stay small. With the growth of population and the ripening of the capitalist system they became bigger and bigger. They were merged and consolidated under pressure of economic necessity. They became vast industries. The small shop became a factory, the weaving room a textile mill, the village smithy a foundry. Pittsburgh, Chicago and Detroit arose in all their dismal might and the tentacles of Wall Street reached to the remotest corners of the land. All the while there were fewer and fewer employers and vaster aggregations of wage-slaves. The actual direction and management of industry passed from the absentee owner to the hired technician and both technician and worker toiled to satisfy the insatiable greed for profits of the entrepeneur and the absentee parasite class.
Of course, it was not as simple as it appears but, in a general way, strikes became larger and the industrial power of the working class proportionately greater. The line-up in the class struggle was no longer between the small employer and the small group of workers but between workers in entire industrial areas and numerically smaller but infinitely more powerful corporations. The mines, mills and factories spread like a plague of vast prisons over the land. And the day of the small strike or small union was gone forever.
All this would have been well if the conscious power of the working class had grown in proportion to the growth of industry. Machinery did not perceptibly lift the burden of toil from the shoulders of the working class; it simply increased the profits of the parasite owners. The grievances of the wage-slaves became greater and their strikes bigger and ever more bitterly contested.
In capitalist society the acceleration of the machine process not only changes the way men are grouped together in order to work, it also changes the way they group themselves in order to fight. In each country workers react to the class struggle according to the maturity or immaturity of the machine process in that country. This accounts for the fact that combative proletarian tactics suitable for instance to a comparatively backward land like Russia, are of little value to workers under a highly advanced industrial system like the one prevailing in North America. This also explains why the I.W.W.-- the world's outstanding exponent of revolutionary industrial unionism-- originated in the U.S.A. where capitalism had reached its most mature and perfect form.