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The non-Socialist press
then came almost unanimously to the conclusion that an attempt must be
made to take away the sole weapon by which labor is able to protect
itself or advance its position as soon as "the public" is damaged by its
use--which amounts to reducing wage earners to the status of children,
soldiers, or other wards of the community. "If railroad and telegraph
strikes are many and violent," said _Collier's Weekly_, "they will
encourage government ownership without unionization."[274]

The _Outlook_ stopped short of government ownership, but announced a
similar principle: "The railways are public highways; they must be
controlled by the nation for the public good; the operation of the
railways must not be stopped because of disputes; and, as a corollary to
this last law of necessity, the government must furnish an adequate and
just method of settling railway disputes."[275] Every step in government
control is to be accompanied by a step in the control of labor, and
restriction of the power of labor unions. The right of employees to
protect themselves by leaving their work in a body is to be taken away
completely, while the right to discharge or punish is to remain intact
in persons over whom the employees can have little or no control.

Governments are evidently ready to proceed to illegality for the sake of
self-preservation--even from a perfectly legal attack, if it threatens
to destroy them or to transfer the government into the hands of the
non-capitalist classes. Of course a capitalist government can pass
"laws," _e.g._ martial law, under which anything it chooses to do
against its opponents becomes "legal" and anything effective its
opponents do becomes illegal. In the present age of general
enlightenment, however, this method does not even deceive Russian
peasants. But the French government is now turning to this device.
Briand explained away his sensational declaration above quoted, and then
proposed a law by which striking on a railway becomes a crime and almost
a felony. This met universal approval in the capitalistic press and
universal denunciation in that of the Socialists and labor unions. The
_Boston Herald_, for example, said: "The Executive must be armed with
greater authority than he now possesses. No Premier must be forced to
say, as M. Briand did recently, that, with or without law, national
supremacy will be preserved in case it is challenged by allied workers
for the State, as well as by other toilers." Here there is no effort to
disguise the fact that the new legal form is the _exact equivalent_ of
the illegal force formerly proposed.

Now the peasants and the lower middle classes of France, as well as the
working people (land and opportunities being more and more difficult to
obtain), are becoming extremely radical. Though they do not send
Socialist deputies to the Chamber, they send representatives who are
very suspicious of arbitrary, undemocratic, and centralized authority.
Only 215 members of the Chamber could be induced to approve of the
government's conduct during the strike of 1910, while more than 200
abstained from voting on this point, and 166 voted in the negative. The
proposed measures of repression were carried by a small majority, but it
is not likely that they can be enforced many years without bringing
about another and far more revolutionary crisis. Briand and his
associates, Millerand and Viviani, were forced to resign, partly on
account of their conduct in this strike, and it is possible that after
another election or two the Chamber will no longer give its consent to
this relegation of workingmen to the status of common soldiers. Only six
months after the strike, Briand's successor, Monis, with the consent of
the Chamber, was bringing governmental pressure to bear on the privately
owned railways to force them to take back dismissed strikers. In the
next ministry, that of Caillaux, the Minister of Labor, Augagneur, the
former Socialist, pursued the same policy of pressing for the
reinstatement of a large part of the discharged employees of the private
railroads while insisting that the employees of government railroads
could not be allowed to strike. And again, at the end of 1911, the
government secured only 286 votes in favor of this policy, to 193
against it.[276]

France is by no means the only country where the question of strikes of
government employees has become all-important. When the railways were
nationalized in Italy there was considerable Socialist opposition on the
ground that the employees were likely to lose a part of such rights as
they had had when in private employment, and it turned out just as was
feared. The position of the Italian Socialists on the subject is as
interesting as that of the French. The Congress at Florence in 1908
resolved that "considering the fact that a strike of municipalized or
nationalized services represents, not the struggle of the proletariat
against a private capitalistic enterprise, but the conflict of a class
against the collectivity, whence the difficulty of its success, the
employees in public service ought to be advised not to proclaim a strike
unless urged on by the most compelling motives and when every other
means have failed;" but "taking it into consideration at the same time
that in the present condition of society the working people in public
service have no other means to guarantee the defense of their rights,
and that in critical moments of history the suspension of public
services is among the most efficacious arms of which the proletariat can
avail itself to disorganize the defense of the government, any
disposition to bring into legislation the principle of the abolition of
the right to strike is dangerous" and "any attempt in that direction"
must be defeated.

The gulf between those who consider the collective refusal of the
organizations of government employees to work under conditions they do
not accept, as being "treason" and "mutiny," and those who feel that
such an organization is the _very basis_ of industrial democracy of the
future and the sole possible guarantee of liberty, is surely
unbridgeable.

The clash between the classes on this question of livelihood and liberty
is already momentous, but its full significance can only be realized
when the Socialist aim is recalled. As employees of railroads, of
governments, and of industries become Socialists, they will not only be
ready to strike to raise their wages, or to protect the unions and the
Socialist Party, or to prevent military reaction, but also--when they
have the majority with them--to take possession of government.

An editorial in the _New York Call_ (October 31, 1911) shows how most
American Socialists expect the general strike to work:--


"The failure of one 'general' strike, or any attempt to carry out a
general strike, does not bankrupt or destroy the working class, for
the reason that it is that class which holds the future in its
hands. Nor does such failure help capitalism--the decaying
system--in any way. On the contrary, it helps disintegrate it, and
the failure itself is merely the necessary prelude to a still
stronger assault by the same method. The general strike seems to be
like what is said of democracy, that the cure for democracy is
still more democracy. In the same way the cure for the general
strike is to make it still more 'general' in character. The less
'general' it is, the less chance has it of success, and the more
'general' it can be made, the more certain is it of success.

"And that success may not, and very likely will not, take the form
hoped for by those who advocate it as a means of immediate or even
ultimate social revolution. But even this, if true, is no argument
against its use. It will, however, bring the social revolution
nearer in other ways.

"We hardly, for instance, expect to see the capitalists, paralyzed
by the most 'general' of general strikes surrender their property
offhand to the victorious proletariat in despair of being able to
operate it themselves. Much as we would like to see the working
class march in and take possession of the abandoned factories and
workshops in this manner, and commence operations under their
collective ownership, the vision can only remain while other
factors are disregarded. There is possibly much more flexibility
and elasticity in the capitalist system than is usually imagined by
Socialists. As William Morris tells old John Ball, the 'rascal
hedge-priest,' 'Mastership hath many shifts' before it finally goes
down and out.

"If we were to venture an opinion, the course and procedure of the
general strike, with special reference to the railroads and allied
industries, will follow something in this order.

"General strikes will succeed one another intermittently, each
becoming more 'general,' the method finally establishing itself as
a settled policy of the workers in enforcing their demands. Some
may fail, but from time to time they will grow more 'general' and
more powerful, and will wrest more concessions from the owners,
until the point is reached where the railroad business will return
practically no private profits to its owners. And when this point
is reached, or the certainty of its being reached is plainly seen,
then mastership will make its next shift. There will be two
alternatives.

"The first is literal, physical suppression, by the armed forces of
the nation still under control of the capitalists, and greatly
augmented for the purpose. This, however, for a multitude of
reasons, is a most dangerous policy and much more 'impossible' than
the general strike. Instead of postponing social revolution, it
rather accelerates its approach.

"The other alternative, and the one by all means most likely to be
adopted, is government ownership of the railroads, with the
capitalists, of course, as owners of the government.



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Keywords: proletariat, unions, classes, briand, social, capitalists, revolution, another, becomes, failure
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