Farce or Tragedy?
In 1901 at the French Trade Union Congress, the delegates, by an overwhelming majority, decided to inaugurate a general 8 hours strike on the First of May, 1906. At the time of writing this the period is near at hand when the unions will be expected to put to the test this anarchistic idea of which they are enamoured. The wretched betrayal of the workers by Millerand and the compromising policy that was pursued by the bloc in the Chamber had its effect by throwing the militant proletariat into a fierce anti-parliamentary campaign. One can only admire the spirit of revolt which animates these wage workers who are tired of the dilettante performances of their “Socialist” reformers ; still, in spite of, or perhaps because of, that admiration, we must not overlook the means by which, they are going to try and get the 8 hours’ day.
The General Strike as such, without being backed up by a political force (and an armed force at that), has never been successful. And although some may point to Russia as a refutation of this position, the fact is that even there it has simply been used in conjunction with an armed political movement. In Italy recently the general strike did not last long, and notwithstanding that on the railways the “passive resistance” of the employees, severely hindered the work of the railroads, it did not prevent them being used. After all, our comrades of the working class of France at this juncture only contemplate a general strike for an 8 hours day, and afterwards, presumably, whether won or not, they go back to work for their masters just as before. An 8 hours day, if attained, does not necessarily mean any permanent reduction of the unemployed. Machinery is used when it is cheaper than human labour, and a restriction of the hours of labour will only mean an impetus to the introduction of machinery, and a greater intensity of labour for those at work, with a quicker wearing out of the wage slaves.
An 8 hours day is not high enough goal for the workers to try to gain, by pitting their empty stomachs and pockets against the full ones of their masters. To enter into a prolonged struggle in this manner, and for such, an object, is somewhat foolish. They are going to strike by walking away from the workshops and factories and leaving them as the full and undisputed property of their masters to be kept by them till the workers return to be still farther exploited.
The French workers have not a sufficiently extensive economic and political organisation at present for a general strike to be a success. They will have to organise as a class on the political as well as on the economic field. There must be no division, no walling-off of skilled and unskilled, employed and unemployed, no splitting up of the workers in one industry into a number of antagonistic autonomous units, but their organisation as a whole in one body. When the workers are organised as a class, understanding what the aim of a militant body of workers should be (viz., the overthrow of the capitalist system of the private ownership in the means and instruments of producing and distributing the necessaries of life), they will not attempt a general strike for an eight hour day, but working intelligently with, and as part of, a revolutionary class party, they will use their organisation, not to the exclusion of their members from the workshops and factories, but to the end that the workers may run them in their co-operative capacity as the property of the working class. It will not be a general strike but a general lock-out of the master class.
The economic arm alone is not sufficient, it needs the political arm to break down the ramparts capitalism has erected in its defence. The political is not sufficient unless it has the economic to lay the foundation of the co-operative commonwealth. As the French workers are not organised in this wise, as the strike contemplated is not with the active co-operation of a revolutionary political force, and as the workers have evidently not yet grasped their mission, things point to it being a farce. A farce it will be unless the armed forces of the government are brought down on the strikers and convert a farce into a tragedy.