Published by the Industrial Workers of the World
Chicago, Illinois, USA, 1986
Thousands of thoughtful and class-conscious workers in years past have
looked to the General Strike for deliverance from wage slavery. Today their
hopes are stronger than ever. Their number has been increased with additional
thousands who are confident that the General Strike, and the General Strike
alone, can save Humanity from the torture and degradation of the continuation
of capitalism and the misery and privation of its recurrent wars and depressions.
The General Strike is the child of the Labor Movement. It is Labor's
natural reaction to a system of society based upon the private ownership
of the machinery of production. It is Labor's ultimate attitude in the
class struggle. It is Labor's answer to the problem of economic disorganization.
Logically enough the General Strike has become the rallying-cry of millions
of persons the world over who favor it simply because they do not wish
to see the highly industrialized modern world sink into chaos, and human
society sink to the level of savage survival.
The idea of the General Strike is here to stay. It came into being with
the perfection of the machine process and the centralization of control
which made it possible. And it will remain as a constant challenge to capitalism
as long as the machinery of production is operated for profit instead of
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
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 Amerika 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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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 republican, 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.
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
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
In capitalist society the acceleration of the machine process not only
changes the way men are grouped together in ordetr 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.
Go to Part II