let it all collapse, the icon for the www.punkerslut.com website
Home Articles Critiques Books Video
About Graphics CopyLeft Links Music

The Meaning and Purpose
of the General Strike

By Punkerslut

Image from Peace Libertad Blog
Image: From Peace Libertad Blog,
the "La lutte continue" Section

Start Date: September 6, 2010
Finish Date: September 12, 2010

"The power of the working class rests, in the first place, upon its members and upon the important role which it plays in the process of production. It constitutes an increasingly large majority of the population. Production proceeds upon a constantly increasing scale, and so is carried on more and more by wage-workers; and the relations of its branches grows constantly more complex. Under these circumstances workingmen find it possible through the strike to bring our whole social life to a standstill."
          --Anton Pannekoek, 1908
          "The Labor Movement and Socialism," International Socialist Review

     The General Strike is an event where every employed person refuses all of the commands and orders given to them by their employer. While every General Strike has its own conditions and historical setting, they are all in agreement on this single point: the mass refusal to work under any boss.

     In its deepest meaning, it is a genuine expression of widespread discontent. It is not simply a criticism of the current system and its abuses. It is an entire withdrawal from society. The citizens are not saying that they are tired of tyranny or that they want a new form of government. They are saying, "Anything is better than cooperating with this system, even if it means hunger and starvation. Anything is better than accepting the compromises of society's masters." It is the most honest sign of dissatisfaction, as the majority of the people refuse to give anything to those own society's productive powers.

     "But you'll starve without work!" the Capitalist and the state runs in to encourage the worker to return to work. Many seem to forget that the state and the Capitalist system, though owned by a few who hold no interest for the majority, is actually operated by those who genuinely believe in this system. Those who protest and complain are simply those who want more for themselves at the expense of others, at least, according to these Conservatives and Nationalists. This may be a lasting bigotry from being educated in an authoritarian environment, but they do genuinely believe that the current social order serves the needs of the people. At the least, it will be believed since people "accept their lot," by accepting the offers of the food-vendors, the rent-lords, and the wage-payers.

     When there is a general strike, though, nobody accepts anything. By receiving wages, by using these wages on food and rent, by living in this society and accepting the orders given to you, by doing all of this, you are consenting to the social order. It has so little to do with the vote and so much to do with the behavior that they can coerce out of you. But when every worker and consumer stops, when everyone refuses, then discontent is confirmed. The unrest will rattle its way to the highest echelons of society. Those dedicated civil servants, those church leaders, those police officers and military, they will all know, through their heart and in their mind, the people refuse the society that is given to them. They have, wholly and completely, withdrawn their consent to be ruled by the state and the Capitalist system.

     No other symbol of protest is as genuine a representation of the people's unrest as the General Strike. If just a few people refused to work, they would ignored and neglected as "good-for-nothing"s. And, if the people voted in mass for some political party or another, or went to a one-day protest, then this can bolster the confidence of some of those in government. "Ah, they're all voting, so apparently, this system serves the interests of the people by their own judgment, as they use it to achieve their own ends." Even if the masses vote for the Labour Party, the Socialist Party, or the Leftist Workers Party, it doesn't matter. Those parties have not created Socialism or given laborers mastery of rule in economics.

     Even the politicians of these parties are content with the idea that the people aren't at the right point of unrest: the masses, by compromising so much with Capitalism, must clearly be bound to it by need. Therefore, liberating the people in any way is impossible. This is the reasoning of the Socialist Party, whether of Britain, France, Ireland, Germany, Spain, or Italy. Not one single party has ever granted worker's direct management over industry, except in very superficial and meaningless ways, as the Yugoslav Socialist Party attempted. But, this too, was just taking state-run Capitalism and giving it the colors of worker self-management. The people are willing to capitulate and compromise with Capitalism, and so Capitalism cannot be threatened; this the view of every master of government, whether it is conservative, liberal, or communist.

     After all, if the people didn't vote, that would be the only show-of-force that the people themselves do not see any advantage for themselves in the parliamentary, Capitalist system. But they do vote, and they vote according to loyalties according to parties, candidates, coalitions, and "blocs." The people do believe in this system, or at least, they think there is some worth in voting. The Socialist Party, no matter how "revolutionary" it may be, would never destroy its source of legitimacy, whether it is the ballot or the bullet. The Socialist Party, having its authority from the peoples' vote, could not possibly see any threat to the Capitalist or the elective order. How could they, when it was these conditions that brought it to authority and power? How could they want more, when they see in themselves the highest expression of the revolutionary ideals of the working people?

     Where such mass unrest is clear and undeniable, the last remaining components that support the government will turn. Or, at the least, they will roll over, refusing to deny the power and strength of history being opposed to them. The police officer, seeing that the people refuse to work, will ask, "How do you expect to feed yourselves!? Without a form of employment, you can only expect to get food for your families by stealing from the Capitalist!" The politician will ask, "How do you expect to rule yourselves!? Without any structured and tax-dependent government, you will only be able to defend yourselves by voluntary cooperation!" And the factory boss will ask, "How do you expect to produce the goods and food you need to survive!? Without a form of property, you can only expect to produce by managing the factories and the mines for yourselves!"

     And to all of these accusations, we must say: exactly. We intend to take what we, as the workers, have produced, whether as common as a farm hand or as unique as a physician. We intend to rule for ourselves, without police or authority, believing that a people bound together by their common interest in freedom is more effective at self-defense than slaves drafted into their masters' armies. And, finally, we expect to organize and manage the economy on our own, through voluntary participation and worker self-management. There are no compromises. The General Strike demands everything.

     The General Strike is the strongest sign of revolution, because it claims every right for the people over those who have dominated them. Without any reference to Democracy or "Democratic theory," those who have shepherded the sheep as police, priests, and mayors will have to submit. For what can any of these groups imagine to gain for the honor and prestige of their faction, if they are opposed by the vast, absolute majority of the people? Can the priest really preach for subservience, when their his sons and daughters are breaking down the doors of the governor's office? Can the police officer really open fire on unarmed crowds of people, when they are looking at their brothers and sisters? Can the factory owner really pretend to have a right to property, when it has been seized and managed by masses that include their nephews and nieces, their aunts and uncles, and their mothers and fathers?

"...there will be a great difference between a strike of revolutionary workers and a strike of ignorant trade unionists who but vaguely understand what they want or how to get it."
          --Eugene V. Debs, 1905
          "Industrial Unionism"

     Any pretension to the old order of things has been dropped. But this is not something that can be done by voting, demonstrating, or petitioning. The mass disillusionment of society's abuses, to those who have always claimed to defend them, can only be achieved by the masses expressing their dissatisfaction totally and fully in a General Strike. The most professional groups, from the physicians to the engineers, to the most protected sections, such as the bureaucrats and the lobbyists, to the middle classes, from marketing agents to public relations departments -- even where some individuals are not in sympathy with the General Strike, will they deny its power? Will they refuse the fact that the significant vast majority of society are dissatisfied with the we they are living, and that we are going to use our strength to reorganize society according to our interests? Those who have followed their bellies into obeying kings will just as easily follow their bellies into obeying popular assemblies.

     Every established institution of society is going to be rocked by the thunder of the General Strike. Nobody will be able to deny its power. Food is no longer delivered, except at the decision of the autonomous groups who have seized control of the farms and the fields -- the workers themselves. Transportation no longer functions, either, except according to the collective decision-making of the truck drivers, the railroad operators, and the pilots. And the markets and distribution, likewise, are managed and controlled by those who do the stocking, inventory, and customer service. How will the military of the old government survive? How will its police, its executioners, and its governors live?

     They must order an end to the crisis. The troops must be ordered to kill the people who have taken control of society for themselves. If food is kept in the hands of those who produce it, and out of the hands of idlers, soon, the state's army will starve to death. But, it is more likely that its soldiers will desert, or it will mutiny against the state, than starve to death. The government, hoping on a quick collapse of the revolutionary seizure of society's productive powers, will not allow such a mutiny. Either the people will be suppressed by the state's violent strategies, or the armies themselves will have to revolt against their masters.

     The factories that make the guns, the fields that produce the wheat, and the railroads that ship these goods to every part -- this cannot remain for long in the hands of the people themselves. At least, it cannot, while the state lays some claim to be the absolute power over these parts of society. The crisis places all of society's people on one side and the very few who dominate and control on the other. In between are not just the soldiers and the police, but the physicians and the technicians, the civil servants and the professors, in a word, everyone who is economically more advantaged than the working class.

     Victory consists in swelling the masses opposed to the state to insurmountable strength -- to such a point that those who are in the middle, themselves also workers but at the same time empowered by Capitalism, must also join our side. For the engineer and the physician, without the farmers and the steel workers, are just as useless and helpless as the Capitalist who has no workers to labor on their property. The revolution begins where the people start to organize in such a mass upheaval against society's property relations today. It is complete when those groups propping up the state finally submit to the power and strength of a majority who has withdrawn from participation in their society.

     Of all Socialist ideals, the most cherished is that the workers themselves are responsible for all of society's productions. If this is true, then we can instantly stop the production of rifles and tanks, thereby putting a stop to soldiers and militarism; we can instantly stop the production of batons and prisons, thereby putting a stop to police and repression; we can instantly stop supplying food, clothing, and the needs of existence to those who are opposed to our interests. All it takes is a powerful, sudden withdrawal of labor of the working people themselves, not over a single industry, but over all industries -- all it requires is the strength of a General Strike.

     Every other form of attack or threat on Capitalism is capitulation. That is to say, it is a type of compromise that guarantees and allows Capitalism to live and thrive, if at least in some form. Unions, in their minor strikes, may succeed, but they only continue the system of exploitation. They get better wages, lower hours, and safer working conditions, all of which is good. But they do this so they can get more of the same. Their strike, against a single employer, or even against an entire industry, does not reach the proportion of a General Strike. It does not put the working people themselves in a situation to seize power from state and capital, and to manage society and economy for themselves.

     The "socialist," "workers," or "labour" party, likewise, tries to get a few scraps for the people at parliament. It gains concessions like work hours, wages, and work conditions. But, no matter what it has professed about "Marxism" or "Socialism" or "rule of the people," it has never established this. Improved work conditions and wages has been achieved so that the political party can achieve even more gains. It does not push itself toward the point where itself can be abolished in favor of a more cooperative form of society. Like the trade union, it makes small gains, not so that it can push toward a world without rulers, but so that the organization itself can push for more small gains. These organizations, being perpetually satisfied by their place in the system, have the same effect on the mentality of their members.

     This is not to say that the General Strike is easy. In fact, it will require years of organizing. The General Strike of Paris in 1968, the British General Strike in 1842, or the General Strike of Barcelona in 1919 each involved millions and millions of workers. In some cases, the state violently repressed the uprising. Even where this happened, though, the General Strike acted as a valuable lesson for the workers, who then became a little bit more aware that the state exists for the wealthy alone. The main difficulty for the organizer of the General Strike is this: how to create a loose organization based on revolutionary principles that every component of society would be willing to accept. This is, of course, excepting the ruling and Capitalist classes, as they are a barbaric, and not a social, aspect of modern civilization.

"But, my friends, think of it! Once you, who have nothing but a single waistcoat, should mutually shake hands with your comrades and quietly quit your work together. The gas and electricity that turns night into day shall not give them light and the city will become dark. If you should not work! Think! Would not the train, electric car and automobile stand still? Surely there will be no rice, potatoes, fish, wood or coal brought into the city. Then, though they be haughty and arrogant, how much would they think themselves above the working class? Yet shall they not after all starve, freeze and die of hunger and cold?"
          --Sen Katayama, 1914
          "The Japanese Manifesto"


join the punkerslut.com
mailing list!

copyleft notice and
responsibility disclaimer