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Through the gradual
evolution of the plans of action developed in all these conferences and
discussions, they have come to distinguish sharply between a really
general strike, _e.g._ a nation-wide railroad strike, when used for
revolutionary purposes, and other species of widespread strikes which
have merely a tendency in a revolutionary direction, such as the
Philadelphia trouble I have mentioned, and they have decided from these
deliberations, as well as considerable actual experience, just what
forms of general strike are most promising and under what contingencies
each form is most appropriate. Henriette Roland-Holst has summed up the
whole discussion and its conclusions in an able monograph (indorsed by
Kautsky and others) from which I shall resume a few of the leading
points.[271] She concludes that railroad strikes for higher wages,
unless for some modest advance approved by a large part of the public,
like the recent British strike (which, in view of the rising cost of
living, was literally to maintain "a living wage"), can only lead to a
ferocious repression. For a nation-wide railroad strike is paid for by
the whole nation, and its benefits must be nation-wide if it is to
secure the support of that part of the public without which it is
foredoomed to failure. Otherwise, says Roland-Holst, "the greater has
been the success of the working people at the beginning, the greater has
been the terror of the middle classes," and as a consequence the
measures of repression in the end have been proportionately desperate.
But this applies only when such strikes are for aggressive ends, like
that of 1910 in France, and promise nothing to any element of society
except the employees immediately involved.

If a nation-wide railroad strike or a prolonged coal strike is
aggressive, it will inevitably be lost unless it has a definite public
object. And the only aggressive political aim that would justify, in the
minds of any but those immediately involved, all the suffering and
disorder a railroad strike of any duration would entail, would be a
social revolution to effect the capture of government and industry. The
only other circumstances in which such a strike might be employed with
that support of a part at least of the public which is essential to its
success would be as a last resort, when some great social injustice was
about to be perpetrated, like a declaration of war, or an effort to
destroy the Socialist Party or the labor unions. Jaurès says rightly,
that even then it would be "a last and desperate means less suited to
save one's self than to injure the enemy."

These conclusions as to the possibilities and limitations of the general
strike are based on a careful study of the military and other powers of
the existing governments. "The power of the modern State," says
Roland-Holst, "is superior to that of the working class in all its
_material_ bases either of a political or of an economic character. The
fact of political strikes can change this in no way. The working class
can no more conquer economically, through starvation, than it can
through the use of powers of the same kind which the State employs,
that is, through force. In only one point is the working class
altogether superior to the ruling class--in purpose.... Governmental and
working class organizations are of entirely different dimensions. The
first is a coercive, the second a voluntary, organization. The power of
the first rests primarily on its means of physical force; that of the
latter, which lacks these means, can break the physical superiority of
the State only by its moral superiority." It is almost needless to add
that by "moral superiority" Roland-Holst means something quite concrete,
the willingness of the working people to perform tasks and make
sacrifices for the Socialist cause that they would not make for the
State even under compulsion. It is only through advantages of this kind,
which it is expected will greatly increase with the future growth of the
movement, that Socialists believe that, supported by an overwhelming
majority of the people, a time may arrive when they can make a
successful use of the nation-wide general strike. It is hoped that the
support of the masses of the population will then make it impossible for
governments to operate the railroads by military means, as they have
hitherto done in Russia, Hungary, France, and other countries. It is
thought by many that the general strike of 1905 in Russia, for example,
might have attained far greater and more lasting results if the peasants
had been sufficiently aroused and intelligent to destroy the bridges and
tracks, and it is not doubted that a Socialist agricultural population
consisting largely of laborers (see Chapter II) would do this in such a
crisis.

Here, then, are the two conditions under which it is thought by
Roland-Holst and the majority of Socialists that the general strike may
some day prove the chief means of bringing about a revolution: the
active support of the majority of the people, and the superior
organization and methods and the revolutionary purpose of the working
classes.

In the preparation of the working people to bring about a general strike
when the proper time arrives, lies a limitless field for immediate
Socialist activity. Both Jaurès and Bebel feel that it is even likely
that the general strike will also have to be used on a somewhat smaller
scale even before the supreme crisis comes. Jaurès thinks that it will
be needed to bring about essential reforms or to prevent war, and Bebel
believes that it will very likely have to be used to defend existing
political and economic rights of the working class; in other words, to
protect the Party and the unions from destruction. At the Congress at
Jena in 1905 the conservative trade union official, von Elm, together
with a majority of the speakers, argued that it was possible that an
attempt would be made to take away from the German working people the
right of suffrage, the freedom of the press and assemblage and the right
of organization. In such a case he and others advocate a general strike,
though he said he fully realized it would be a bloody one. "We must
reckon with this," he said. "As a matter of course, we wish to shed no
blood, but our enemies drive us into the situation.... The moment comes
when you must be ready to give up your blood and your property [here he
was interrupted by stormy applause]. Prepare yourselves for this
possibility. Our youths must be brought up so that among the soldiers
here and there will be a man who will think twice before he shoots at
his father and mother [as Kaiser Wilhelm publicly insists he must], and
at the same time at freedom." The reception of von Elm's speech showed
that his words represented the feeling of the whole German movement.
Bebel spoke with the same decision, advocating the use of the general
strike under the same conditions as did von Elm, while at the next
congress at Mannheim he declared that it would also be justified, under
certain circumstances, not only for protecting existing rights, but for
extending them, _e.g._ for the purpose of obtaining universal and equal
suffrage in Prussia. Bebel did not think that the party or the unions
were strong enough at that moment to use the general strike for other
than defensive purposes, but he said that, if they were able to double
their strength,--and it now seems they will have accomplished this
within a very few years,--then the time would doubtless arrive when it
would be worth while to risk the employment of this rather desperate
measure for aggressive purposes also.

While Socialism is thus traveling steadily in the direction of a
revolutionary general strike, capitalist governments are coming to
regard every strike of the first importance as a sort of rebellion. In
discussing the Socialist possibilities of a national railroad strike,
Roland-Holst, representing the usual Socialist view, says that it makes
very little difference whether the roads are nationally or privately
owned; in either case such a strike is likely to be considered by
capitalistic governments as something like rebellion.

But while this applies only to the employees of the most important
services like railroads, when privately operated, it applies practically
to _all_ government employees; there is an almost universal tendency to
regard strikes against the government as being mutiny--an evidence of
the profoundly capitalistic character of government ownership and "State
Socialism" which propose to multiply the number of such employees. Here,
too, the probable governmental attitude towards a future general strike
is daily indicated.

President Nicholas Murray Butler, of Columbia University, has written
that any strike of "servants of the State, in any capacity--military,
naval, or civil," should be considered both treason and mutiny.


"In my judgment loyalty and _treason_," he writes, "ought to mean
the same thing in the civil service that they do in military and
naval services. The door to get out is always open if one does not
wish to serve the public on these terms. Indeed, I am not sure that
as civilization progresses loyalty and _treason_ in the civil
services will not become more important and more vital than loyalty
and _treason_ in the military and naval services. The happiness and
the prosperity of a community might be more easily wrecked by the
paralysis of its postal and telegraph services, for example, than
by a mutiny on shipboard.... President Roosevelt's attitude on all
this was at times very sound, but he wabbled a good deal in dealing
with specific cases. In the celebrated Miller Case at the
Government Printing Office he laid down in his published letter
what I conceive to be the sound doctrine in regard to this matter.
It was then made plain to the printers that to leave their work
under pretense of striking was to resign, in effect, the places
which they held in the public service, and that if those places
were vacated they would be filled in accordance with the provisions
of the civil service act, and not by reappointment of the old
employees after parley and compromise....



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