THE GENERAL STRIKE
by Ralph Chaplin
Published by the Industrial Workers of the World
Chicago, Illinois, USA, 1986
Craft Unions and the General Strike
The puropse of industrial unionism is to give the working class the
greatest possible organized power in industry. Unquestionably the General
Strike, either on or off the job, is the most perfect manifestation of
this power. If the craft unions of today are examined in regard to their
adaptability to this end it will put the revolutionary industrial union
movement in an entirely new light. Also it will reveal clearly the shortcomings
of conventional unionism in general and the craft union movement in particular.
After all, the full measure of power is the acid test of any labor organization.
A cursory glance at the craft union movement will reveal the fact that
it is constructed in such a way as to divide rather than to unify the forces
of labor. The craft union is not designed to enable labor to use its full
power. This type of union came into existence during the period of industrial
evolution known as small production when the tools of the craft and the
skill of the craftsman were important things. In those days the organized
power of the tradesman consisted in his having monopoly on the skill necessary
to make the tools of his trade industrially productive. The withdrawal
of this skill during periods of strikes was all that was necessary to force
the old-time employer of labor to terms. Thus it happened that the craft
union was organized around the, then important, tools of the tradesmen.
Tools and Skills Obsolete
But all this has been changed. The onward march of the machine process
has to a large extent made both tools and skill unnecessary. This great
advance in technical development has made the old fashioned trades union
unable to cope with modern conditions. Craft unions still carry on as a
matter of habit, it is true, but they are anachronisms in this modern world.
Some of them merely serve as pie-cards for the tired business men who are
their officials and all such unions serve more or less as props of the
existing order. But they are not unions in the modern sense at all. They
are merely the shells of once useful unions operating to secure advantages
for a few favored groups of workers without regard to the interests of
the working class as a whole. They are organized within the capitalist
system which they have been taught to take for granted, and they have no
thought or program of anything beyond this system.
In relation to the manifest weakness of the trade union structure and
concept the I.W.W. Preamble points out with telling emphasis: "We
find that the centering of the management of industries into fewer and
fewer hands makes the trades unions unable to cope with the ever growing
power of the employing class. The trade unions foster a state of affairs
which allows one set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers
in the same industry, thereby helping to defeat one another in wage wars.
Moreover the trade unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers
into the belief that the workers have interests in common with their employers."
Labor's Problem is Industrial, Not Craft
Labor's problem today is not a craft but an industrial problem. A labor
union at the present time, to be an effectual instrument of offense and
defense, must conform to the structure of modern industry. It must be industrial
rather than craft in form. But the craft unions have not kept pace with
the needs of a changing world. They have very largely remained just where
they were in the beginning. Far from being the helpful fighting instruments
they were in the old days, they have now become merely a further means
of effecting the enslavement of the class whose interests they are supposed
A General Strike of craft unions is an unthinkable impossibility. Being
organized for the sole purpose of enabling a few groups of workers to "get
by" under capitalism, they lack both the form and the spirit necessary
to make possible united action for a common objective against a common
foe. For this reason, as organized today, they would be of very doubtful
help to any unified effort of the working class to free itself from wage
slavery by industrial means. The modern industrial struggle demands modern
industrial weapons. And in this regard the craft union is as obsolete as
the dodo. Workers who conceive of the final struggle for emancipation in
terms of industrial power will have to look elsewhere for an organizational
form more suitable for this purpose.
The so-called independent industrial unions are in the same category.
It is true their rather loose industrial structure makes it possible for
them to think of their union in terms of a given industry. But, as in the
case of the U.M.W. of A. [United Mine Workers of America] and other similar
unions, they are divided into districts if not in crafts and are tied down
by contracts which make it impossible for them to act in unison. In no
case is there evidence of any attempt or desire on their part to ally themselves
for the purposes of solidarity with transport or other workers on One Big
Union lines. Organized railroad, clothing and many other workers in the
U.S.A. are similarly bound, similarly divided and similarly unable to get
together for united action of any sort.
As far as the interests of Labor are concerned these steps must be in
the right direction. They must not only be distinctly industrial, they
must also be unquestionably revolutionary. "Instead of the conservative
motto, `A fair day's wage for a fair day's work,' we must inscribe on our
banner the revolutionary watchword, Abolition of the wage system."
So states the I.W.W. Preamble. And in this historic slogan is found the
source of the strength and inspiration of the organized industrial workers
of all the world.
Political Parties and the General Strike
Working class political parties, while not unanimous in endorsing the
General Strike, are frank in admitting the need for economic power in any
program of revolutionary reconstruction. Socialists and Communists alike
seem to recognize the importance of industrial unionism but they don't
do much about it. They can't. Political parties are not organized that
On more than one occasion however, particularly in Europe, both Socialists
and Communists have appealed to the workers for a General Strike. This
is a thing which is more than likely to happen again. The trouble is that
these organizations, being political parties and not labor unions, lack
the machinery to put a General Strike into effect. After all other measures
fail they issue frantic appeals for what they should have thought about
in the first place-- industrial solidarity. Usually they are forced to
appeal to more or less unsympathetic conservative unions with which their
contact has been largely nominal. Such unions, neither in structure nor
spirit were designed to respond effectively to such demand.
A planned and consciously modern structure is as necessary for the labor
union as is a planned economy for society as a whole. To expect class action
from a trades union is at least as foolish as to expect revolutionary planks
in a conservative party platform. This haphazard and hit-or-miss method
of making eleventh-hour appeals for a General Strike does not indicate
the strongest possible confidence in the efficacy of political action.
The efforts of the politically-minded Socialists and Communists of Germany
in 1932 to call a General Strike in order to forestall Fascism is an example
in point. After 1914 they should have known better and should, long since,
have prepared for such an emergency by forgetting about the game of politics
long enough to build up a powerful industrial movement along One Big Union
lines. Then the story would have been vastly different from what it is
The I.W.W. from its inception has held before the workers the goal of
industrial democracy to be obtained by means of the General Strike. The
Preamble, of which hundreds of millions of copies have been circulated,
states in unmistakable terms: "These conditions can be changed and
the interests of the working class upheld only by an organization formed
in such a way that all its members in any one industry, or in all industries
if necessary, cease work whenever a strike or lockout is on in any department
thereof, thus making an injury to one an injury to all." Has ever
a statement appeared indicating more clearly the organic interdependence,
unity and potential power of the world's producers?
In spite of certain misleading surface similarities, which are unduly
stressed by shallow observers, the European anarcho-syndicalist movement
and the I.W.W. differ considerably in more than one particular. This was
made inevitable by reason of the fact that the I.W.W. was the result of
a later and more mature period of industrial development.
This accounts for the fact that European Syndicalism, unlike the I.W.W.,
is not organized into One Big Union on the basis of perfectly co-ordinated,
centralized industrial departments. It also accounts for the fact that
the form of the I.W.W. is designed to serve not only as a powerful combative
force in the everyday class struggle, but also as the structure of the
new society both as regards production and administration. Incidentally
the I.W.W. concept of the General Strike differs almost as much from that
of the anarcho-syndicalist as from that of the political or craft unionist.
In form, structure and objective, the I.W.W. is more all-sufficient, more
mature and more modern than any of its anarcho-syndicalist predecessors.
Technicians and the I.W.W.
It may be objected that the I.W.W. has not contacted and co-operated
with the technicians to the extent that the European Syndicalists have
done. If this is true at all it is due not to any lack of appreciation
of the importance of the technician in the industrial organism but rather
the fact that the I.W.W. has been embattled in the American class struggle
to an extent which has made sustained contact difficult.
The I.W.W. has always held the technician as a vitally necessary member
of the producing class. He is indispensable to any program of fundamental
economic reconstruction. His place, in the One Big Union Chart, corresponds
to his place and his importance in industry. The I.W.W. conceives of Industrial
Democracy as the technological managerial forces cooperating with the working
productive forces of the army of industry under the General Administration
of the One Big Union in the interests of the entire human race. Practically
from its inception the I.W.W. has welcomed the engineer into its councils.
Some of its outstanding educators have been technically trained men. The
non-political, anti-entrepeneur, industrially-minded engineer has always
been recognized by the I.W.W. as a blood brother. In 1921 an attempt was
made by the I.W.W. to build up a Bureau of Industrial Research under the
direction of a clear-thinking group of capable engineers with both social
vision and a sense of social responsibility. This ambitious project the
I.W.W. was forced to abandon because so many of its active officials had
at that time been sent to prison. Prior to that time and since, the I.W.W.
has preached and practiced that type of disciplined solidarity which, according
to the technician, is so vitally necessary to any plan of carrying on production
exclusive of the profit-grabbing Captains of Finance.
The I.W.W. is in full agreement with and committed, by a policy of nearly
a half of a century, to the idea that workers and engineers are the only
indispensable elements in modern productive processes. The technician is
in every sense of the word a fellow worker. He is the "other self"
of the man at the machine-- the managerial technological force in industry
which counterpoints the productive working forces in the army of production.
Both are equally necessary to any plan of carrying on production when capitalism
shall have been overthrown. Both are equally necessary to any plan of putting
an end to the profit system by means other than those of bloodshed and
destruction. This point looms big in the I.W.W. doctrine of the General
Strike. It is well for technicians, I.W.W. menbers, and students generally
to keep it in mind.
Real Rebels Meet on Common Ground
Nothing could be more natural than this bond of fellowship between the
I.W.W. and other industrially minded groups in the army of production or
among working class movements. It has been shown that craft and independent
industrial unions make the attainment and use of Labor's full economic
power impossible or difficult of attainment. It has also been shown that
revolutionary political parties, apart from educational and defensive activities,
complicate rather than simplify the situation as far as the General Strike
is concerned. Therefore the I.W.W. appeals to the workers in the world's
industries to put aside prejudices and differences of opinion as to race,
color, religion or politics and unite their economic power into One Big
Union regardless of national boundary lines in order to put a final end
to the hideous monster of world Imperialism which has enslaved and degraded
the workers of every nation. The General Strike is ONE program on which
all wage workers should agree.
What is the General Strike?
There has been a great deal of confusion as to just what was meant by
the term, General Strike. In the past any strike of considerable proportions
has usually been referred to as a "General Strike." But many
times this definition was not really applicable. Much of the misconception
results from an erroneous or limited conception as to what a General Strike
is and what it is supposed to do. The General Strike, as its name implies,
must be a revolutionary or class strike instead of a strike for amelioration
of conditions. It must be designed to abolish private ownership of the
means of life and to supplant it with social ownership. It must be a strike,
not of a few local, industrial or national groupings of workers but of
the industrial workers of the world as an entity. If we keep in mind that
there are four phases of the General Strike it will help to understand
clearly what we mean by using the term:
1. A General Strike in a community. 2. A General Strike in an Industry.
3. A national General Strike. 4. A revolutionary or class strike-- THE
It will be seen from the above that, while the first three are General
Strikes in the limited and commonly accpeted meaning of the term, only
the last, or revolutionary class strike, is a General Strike in the full
meaning of the term. The first three have been attempted at times with
varying degrees of success, but the last has yet to be organized and made
Thus, for instance, the display of industrial power by the workers of
Finland and Russia in 1905 or that in connection with the upheaval in Moscow
which resulted in the overthrow of the Kerensky government in 1917, or
the strike of the French Railroad workers in 1909, the great strike in
Sweden in 1909, or the strike in Germany when the administration of Von
Kapp was embarrassed in the same manner. There were also important General
Strikes in Belgium in 1913, in Buenos Aries in 1920 and again in Great
Britain in 1926. All these have been referred to as "General Strikes."
And they are General Strikes in the limited sense defined above.
Outstanding "General Strikes"
The so-called General Strike in Denmark which was called by the Socialists
to block the forming of an unpopular cabinet by the King is an example
in point, as is the now famous attempt of the Italian workers to take over
the industries in 1920.
The I.W.W. strikes of 100,000 lumber jacks or 40,000 copper miners in
1917 are fair examples of the industrial General Strike, while those affecting
Seattle and Winnipeg are examples of the community General Strike. Volumes
might be written about each of the instances cited. But in the end it would
be plain that in each case the strikes did not cover sufficient area and
were not supported by a sufficient number of workers in the various industries.
Nor was the abolition of wage-slavery the objective of these strikes. In
other words they were merely the foreshadowing of what Labor could do for
itself under greater provocation, inspired by a greater sense of solidarity
and with a more perfected organization at its disposal.
The conditions necessary for the successful operation of any of the
four kinds of General Strike enumerated above have never existed. But,
because it has not as yet been possible to use the economic power of Labor
to full advantage, is no sign that such conditions will never exist. It
has often been said, quite truthfully that, "one swallow does not
make the spring." It is equally true that swallows never visit us
in the dead of winter. The fact that Labor has succeeded to a limited extent
indicates that it can use its economic power to a much greater extent.
The General Strike, once clearly defined and understood, offers Labor
a weapon in the use of which Labor has shown great aptitude and willingness--
a weapon with which all other weapons in the class war are puny in comparison.
Just as gunpowder replaced the bow and arrow, so economic action will displace
Labor's cruder and less potent weapons in the final struggle for emancipation
from wage slavery. Only the most shallow-minded critics of working class
tactics will seek to discourage the use of Labor's greatest power for the
attainment of Labor's highest goal. And only the most superficial observers
can fail to see that the organizational plan of the I.W.W. is ideally constructed
to enable Labor to use that power.
The Constructive General Strike
The I.W.W. believes that the building of the new society, especially
during the period of crisis, is at least as important as the abolition
of the old. This is not merely a dogma; it is sound tactics. If the aim
of the social revolution is to achieve the socialization and democratic
control of industry, the time to make that achievement a fact is during
the revolutionary crisis, and with as little delay, red-tape or middle
class misdirection as possible. At all events it would be fatal to lose
track of the goal during the period of turmoil. It should be plain, even
to the most casual observer, that European tactics are not altogether suitable
for the needs of American labor. In the U.S.A. there is not one, but three
distinct types of culture-- the industrial east and middle west, the feudal
south and the still poineering west coast. In any of these it is apparent
that it would be an easy thing, under incitation, for the class war to
degenerate into a religious, political or race war. And it is even more
apparent that the impact of mob violence on the highly developed industrial
organism would result in a disaster which might result in universal destruction
and ultimate chaos. Sometimes one is forced to wonder at the temerity of
the leadership of the American Communist movement in thinking that they
can control and direct to constructive ends the sinister forces in the
Pandora box of civil war, which they seem eager to release upon a land
whose language they hardly know how to speak.
The I.W.W. has always taken the position that armed insurrection in
a technically advanced country like the U.S.A. would be quite a different
thing from an armed insurrection in a technically backward and largely
agricultural country like Russia-- particularly under conditions which
prevailed in Moscow and Petrograd following the armistice in 1918. What
American conditions demand is a large scale operation in the nature of
a well-co-ordinated lockout of the Captains of Finance by both workers
and technicians which would put an end to the profit system but leave the
production and transportation of goods unimpaired. This, coupled with the
program of picketing the industries by the unemployed, is what the I.W.W.
has in mind in advocating the General Strike. Anything less than this or
more, is simply adding confusion unto confusion. The logic runs like this:
A perfect modern timepiece can be kicked apart as easily as a tin toy;
but it is much harder to put together again.
The Fighting Vanguard
In America the I.W.W. is, and has been since its inception, the standard
bearer of revolutionary industrial unionism. From the very beginning the
I.W.W. has been industrially-minded. Largely as the result of its constant
insistence on the use of economic power, both Socialists and Communists
have been forced to admit that, in the revolutionary movement, the labor
union is the fighting vanguard. Both parties now seek industrial contacts
and both stand, theoretically at least, in favor of industrial unionism.
Both will admit, when pinned down to it, that the future society will be
organized on the basis of industrial administration rather than poltical
government. The trouble is both parties, due no doubt, to the generous
admixture of non-proletarian elements in their ranks, are top-heavy with
politics. They think in terms of political campaigns (and even more foolish
things) instead of strikes, picket lines and unions which make the attainment
of substantial economic power possible. Political parties being organized
within specific national boundaries, must of necessity remain nationalistic.
In the very nature of things it is impossible for them to conceive of international
solidarity save in terms of the federation of national units.
The I.W.W. on the other hand, ignores national boundary lines and views
the problem from the standpoint of the closely knit and organically related,
world-embracing interdependence of the producing class. The I.W.W. contends
that "hands across the sea" must be the hands of industrial workers
and not politicians. Nothing more forcibly proves the correctness of this
position than the two world wars. Four and a half millions of Socialist
voters in Germany, and additional millions of Socialist voters in France,
England and Belgium, were unable to stop the greed-inspired cataclysm which
started in 1914 and which has been progressing until the recent world holocaust.
Labor gained nothing from these wars. It lost heavily. It paid the cost
in blood, misery and substance and it will continue to pay for many years
to come. And the goal of Labor is even further now than it was at the start
of World War I. The I.W.W. claimed in 1914, and still claims, that, had
the workers of Europe been organized industrially, drilled, disciplined
and educated in the use of industrial power, not only would these imperialist
slaughterfests have been impossible, but the final victory of Labor would
long since have been achieved.
The Function of the Labor Union
If the political saviors of the working class in the U.S.A. would only
profit from this fatal mistake and, even now, seek to build up a powerful
revolutionary industrial union movement instead of huge, unweildy political
machines, the prospects for a clean-cut victory for Labor would be immeasurably
On the face of it the precise function of a political party with its
largely non-proletarian leadership in a labor union movement is difficult
to determine. The advantage to the rank and file in the union of control
by politicians is still harder to discover. To imply that the industrial
union, for instance, needs the leadership and domination of the political
party is to imply that union men are incapable of managing their own affairs.
To admit that the industrial union is and must be merely the adjunct of
the political party is to admit that economic power is of less importance
than political power and that the labor union is designed to be merely
the plaything of the ambitious politician or the tool of the designing
bourgeois leader. If this is to be the attitude why is it necessary to
have unions at all? Why not go back to the pre-war "yellow" Socialist
who believed that unions were much more of a hinderance than a help to
the workers inasmuch as the union distracted the mind of the worker from
the ballot box? If the term "Industrial Democracy" means anything
at all it means that the membership of the union-- the actual workers in
industry-- are entitled to and capable of controlling the affairs of their
own organization without interference from outsiders.
Workers Should Build Industrial Power
In teaching the working class the need for and benefits of revolutionary
industrial unionism political parties are doing necessary and valuable
work. But in seeking to dominate and control the industrial movement from
outside or inside political parties, knowingly or otherwise, they are making
a ghastly mistake. The I.W.W. still remembers the lesson of 1914.
It stands to reason that it does not and cannot come within the province
of a political party to organize or make effective either a General Strike
or any other kind of strike. They can advocate, encourage and call for
the full or partial use of Labor's industrial power, but only an organization
functioning in industry can make such action possible. The political party
lacks the machinery either to call or carry on a strike. If it had this
machinery it would be a labor union and not a political party. Only the
workers organized into their own unions can function either for purposes
of combat or administration in this capacity.
For this reason workers in all countries who wish to use their combined
industrial power to put an end to exploitation and wage slavery should
seek to build up an irresistable One Big Union movement along lines advocated
by the Industrial Workers of the World. And, unless they wish to give up
the principle of democracy for the principle of dictatorship, they should
refuse to give over the control of their organization to politicians or
non-proletarian leaders of any stripe or color.
The One Big Strike on the Job
It may be argued however that the General Strike might prove to be as
difficult to control and, due to the possible paralysis of transport, equally
productive of privation as civil war. If State power were not captured
by the workers would not the armed forces of the master class crush the
strike with military power? Would not the result in the long run be the
same as far as mass starvation and disorganization are concerned?
The answer is that, as the I.W.W. conceives of the General Strike, it
would be so perfectly organized by workers and technicians and effectually
used that the feeding, supplying and transportation of armed mercenaries
would be practically impossible. The strikes at Seattle and Winnipeg gave
some indication of the ability of strikers to organize, picket and police
their strike and, at the same time arrange for the adequate distribution
of food stuffs to the population. As for machine guns, tanks, airplanes
and bombs of asphyxiating or incendiary character, it is well to remember
that such things are only available when they are manufactured and transported
by labor and would be more difficult to use against workers stationed in
and about the nation's widely spread industries than against mobs massed
together in the labor ghettoes of the great cities.
According to the modern idea of the General Strike it would not be at
all necessary, during a well organized class movement of this sort for
the employed workers to leave their assigned places in industry at all.
On the contrary, the effort would be made to get workers into the industries
instead of out of them in order to keep the wheels of production going.
The General Strike, in other words would be a means of feeding rather than
of starving the people.
This is in keeping with the I.W.W. program of STRIKING ON THE JOB. The
only difference would be that the factory doors, under the direction of
the technical managerial staff of the productive forces, would be thrown
wide open to absorb the millions of unemployed. The wheels of industry
would operate in their customary manner only for the purpose of supplying
human needs instead of the enrichment of a profit-greedy Kept Class.
The General Strike therefore would simply mean that the army of production
under competent technical and managerial direction, would continue to man
and remain in the industries, producing and transporting goods for consumption
but refusing any longer to yeild up surplus value to the parasite class.
The General Strike would be a General Lockout against these idle drones
who now hold as their `private property' the machinery upon which the human
race depends for life.
Mass Opposition to Exploitation
The General Strike is conditioned upon the WILL of the workers to make
it effective and their stubborn determination to put an end to exploitation
by producing goods for USE instead of PROFIT. Unlike the small strike the
General Strike does not necessarily depend on the complete withdrawal of
productive effort from machinery, but rather their ability to withdraw
or withhold only such effort as will put a complete stop to the profits
of the parasitic `owners.'
The ultimate aim of the General Strike as regards wages is to give each
producer the full product of his labor. The demand for better wages becomes
revolutionary only when it is coupled with the demand that the exploitation
of labor must cease. Labor is exploited at the point of production, and
it is at the point of production alone that Labor can stop the idle, absentee
drones from receiving any more than they produce. Only the complete disallowal
of any share whatever to nonproducers will guarantee economic justice to
the working class. Working conditions under capitalism have occasioned
many bitter controversies but even the most necessary demands for their
betterment could hardly be called revolutionary. Even under Industrial
Democracy such things will be matters of expediency and consistently sustained
improvement, in keeping with recognized needs.
Short Hours, THE Revolutionary Demand
The demand for shorter hours however is decidedly a revolutionary demand.
On the basis of an eight hour day less than three hours are all that is
necessary for the worker to earn his wage; the rest of the day he is employed
in producing surplus value for the boss. Each hour of the shortened workday
means for the employer one hour's less profits from every man employed--
one hour less opportunity to exploit. This accounts for the fact that the
worker's demands for shorter hours have always been contested more vigorously
than demands for better conditions or even increased wages.
The reason is obvious: The difference between the six hour day and the
eight hour day is the difference between the three hours and five hours
given to the employer in which to sweat profits from the hides of his help,
each hour of reduction being made at the expense of the exploiter. The
difference between the six hour day and, say, the three hour day is the
difference between three hours of profit-sweating and none at all. Therefore,
if the employer wishes to continue to live off the labor of his wage slaves
he must (and does) guard jealously the length of the toiler's work day.
Upon it depends not only the amount of his unearned income but also the
continuation of his privilege to live without producing.
The chief demand of the General Strike would therefore logically be
a demand for an average workday of not longer than three hours or whatever
length of time is technologically necessary to carry on production on a
non-profit basis. This is the most revolutionary of all demands because
it dries up the possibility of class exploitation at its source. Under
a planned industrial system and with the perfected machinery of modern
production placed at the disposal of the human race even with the present
staff of competent directors there is no reason at all (apart from the
profit system) why anyone should be forced to work longer than two and
a half or three hours per day. Any workday longer than that required to
do the actual necessary work of the world simply serves to fatten the already
hog-fat parasites of industry. The General Strike for the three hour day
would not only put the millions of unemployed back to work, but it would
also put the Thieves of Big Business to work alongside of them. In this
regard it is well to remember that I.W.W. loggers in the northwest won
the eight hour day by the simple expedient of blowing the whistle at the
end of eight hours and then walking off the job en masse.
The General Strike and General Picketing
The I.W.W. is credited with having introduced two outstanding tactics
of industrial warfare into the American labor movement-- the strike on
the job and mass picketing by the unemployed. Both of these are of utmost
importance to the successful operation of the General Strike. In fact the
success of the move (apart from competent technological direction) would
depend upon the solidarity existing between employed and unemployed workers.
In a class strike this solidarity is indispensible, because only by joint
action and common understanding of this sort can the hours of labor be
shortened to permit all to return to work. The effect on the capitalist
system of millions of unemployed picketing the factory gates for a shorter
workday can easily be imagined. By so doing the jobless would not only
be hitting at the root cause of unemployment (long hours) but they would
also be hitting at the root cause of exploitation (the private ownership
of socially necessary machinery).
It may be objected that, admitting the General Strike to be a good thing,
there is still but slight possibility that it will ever be used. The answer
is affirmative. There is every reason to believe that a victory by the
General Strike is far more probable than a victory by either ballots or
bullets. It must be admitted however that its possibility is impaired by
the insistent promulgation by politicians, insurrectos and reformers of
non-industrial methods, just as it would be helped by an aggressive educational
campaign along revolutionary industrial union lines. Unless a great effort
is made to direct the growing discontent of the working class along industrial
lines for the attainment of Industrial Democracy by means of the General
Strike many other things are likely to happen. The only other alternatives
appear to be mob disorders and dictatorship of one kind or another. Workers
should make every effort to get what they want, but they should be mighty
sure they want it.
The New Society Not Inevitable
The capitalist system, rotten as it is, has resources which cannot be
overlooked. The armed forces of the state are not nearly so formidable
as the venal press and other avenues of publicity and class mis-education.
The capitalist press and class-controlled radio are perhaps the very strongest
bulwarks for the established order. By means of these, labor hatred and
mob frenzy can be lashed to fever heat at any time and against any individual
or group which dares to challenge the capitalist system. It will be recalled
however that newspaper workers have at times, notably in Seattle, refused
to set-up or print slanderous and inflammatory anti-labor editorial matter.
So here as well as in the manufacture and transportation of war material,
the economic power of the workers can be used to advantage.
The system of exploitation is still strongly entrenched and deeply rooted
in the economic ignorance as well as in the habits, customs and imbecile
individualism of the groove-minded electorate. But regardless of these
obvious advantages the upholders of the present order are fighting a losing
fight. Capitalism has outlived its usefulness as a social system. It has
become a curse to the entire human race. There is no further historical
justification for its existence. It has become an obstacle to further social
progress. It is doomed by the iron law of inexorable change. Just as chattel
slavery yeilded to serfdom and serfdom to wage-slavery, so the latter is
forced by evolutionary and revolutionary pressure to make way for scientific
industrialism-- Industrial Democracy. But even this is not inevitable,
for the present ruling class shows unmistakable willingness to plunge the
entire world into disorganization and chaos. They may succeed unless steps
are soon taken to stop them.
Let Come What May...
Already the world is a tumult of disorder and rebellion due to starvation
and misrule. No individial or organization can predict with blue-print
precision what course events may take in each of the civilized countries,
during the last days of the expiring social order. All that we are able
to see in the light of social science is that the industries must be taken
over by the ones who use them and need them and be operated for use instead
of profit. The socialization of the means of production, transportation
and exchange is now necessary for the survival of the human race. Only
the workers are in a position to do this and it is their duty AT ALL COSTS
to see that it is done. Properly organized and disciplined no power on
earth can stop the aroused working class from coming into its own.
The scientifically sound and thoroughly constructive character of the
I.W.W. program has never been stressed more forcibly than in the concluding
paragraphs of its Preamble: "It is the historic mission of the working
class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organized
not only for the everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry
on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing
industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the
shell of the old."
"Labor Shall Be All"
"Seize the industries," is at present a discredited slogan,
for, by inference, we are led to understand that this means to seize the
industries from the outside. But, frankly, is it necessary for workers
to "seize" something they already have?
Every day, on the job, workers are in possession of the industries.
The problem is not how to "seize" them, but how to keep from
giving them up. The scientific modern General Strike would have a much
simpler slogan and a much more sensible program: For the employed: "Retain
the industries, but refuse to produce for profit." For the unemployed:
"Picket the industries and refuse to scab or to let anyone else scab."
It is vitally necessary for the present "owners" that machinery
and resources be manned by labor. It is equally necessary, during the revolutionary
transition, that labor refuse to relinquish its hold on machinery either
to "owners" or to their scabs or mercenaries.
That labor will defend its own interests goes without saying. The I.W.W.
has taught and is teaching workers to fight, not to beg-- to demand, not
to plead for what they want. And in this final struggle to free the world
from social parasitism, courage, clear-thinking and fearless fighting spirit
are needed as never before.
Realizing that the control of industry can only come into the hands
of the producing class when the producers have sufficient power to keep
and to hold this control, the I.W.W. advocates the General Strike on the
job reinforced by formidable, determined revolutionary picket lines of
unemployed. The change from private to social ownership being inevitable,
only thus can the danger of serious destruction and bloodshed be minimized.
The workingclass should bend every effort to this end. The full current
of the revolutionary movement should be directed from the streets to the
industries. The revolutionary struggle should be thought out and fought
out in terms of industrial action-- control, defense, operation. The class
struggle, in the last analysis, must be a struggle to control the means
of production, transportation and exchange. It will probably be a bitter
fight, but one that can have but one ending-- complete victory for the
workers in the world's industries.
Let come what may, no worker should count the cost. Even at the worst
a General Strike could scarcely entail more privation and suffering than
one of capitalism's many and all too frequent depressions. The General
Strike is saner than insurrection and surer than political action. And
beyond it-- after the storm-- is a scientifically planned and ordered world
based on peace, plenty and security for martyrized humanity. What other
thing is more worth striving for by courageous men and women than the ideal
of this classless Industrial Democracy for which the I.W.W. has battled
so valorously and for so many years?
...and this from the back cover:
What is the General Strike?
When Ralph Chaplin wrote this pamphlet in 1933, fascism was on the march
in Europe and America. He saw the general strike not just as a broad work
stoppage, but rather as the occupation of industry by the workers themselves.
It was his belief then that only worker control of industry could combat
fascist repression and insure world peace.
This conception of the general strike influenced the stay-in strikes
of the '30s here and was modified by Japanese workers after World War II
when they occupied the industries to make sure they were kept running.
More recently, in the 1980s, workers in Bolivia, the Phillipines, Poland
and South Africa have militantly taken up the tactic. It remains to be
applied on a mass level once and for all to do away with the dangerous
foolishness of private or State ownership of production. It is an idea
both revolutionary and constructive, with a tremendous future.
Current IWW literature urges that workers the world over need to reach
an understanding among ourselves as to what we will make, where we will
ship it, and how we will distribute it in order to make optimal use of
our skills and Earth's productive resources without either raping the Earth
or making slaves of her people.
The text of The General Strike was borrowed from the Industrial Workers of the World web page. Visit them at http://www.iww.org.