Organizing a Counter-Economic General Strike: A First Pass
What is a General Strike?
There will be more than a few entries in this symposium expressing some ways that agorists can form meaningful alliances with either illegalists or syndicalists. I’ve had the latter idea going for a few years now and have a large (currently) unpublished paper dedicated to it. So I think I’ll speak more to the former albeit very briefly, for now.
One of the ways I think we need to provide connection between the agorists and the syndicalists is their choice of strategy. For agorists it’s counter-economics and with syndicalists its something called a general strike. Most of this article will focus on strikes because I presume the reader is likely familiar with what a counter-economic action is. But briefly, a counter-economic action is one that falls outside the purview of the state in an effort to defy it in some way.
More generally a strike is an economic tool used by workers against the capitalist in hopes of causing the short or long term cessation of work. There are different views on what the strike should be used for but the strike is mainly for the purpose of interrupting the capitalist’s production. Within this context the general strike is a larger act to create a situation wherein the cessation of work happens on a much wider scale.
The IWW member Ralph Chaplin in his 1933 work, The General Strike defines the general strike this way:
“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.”
Chaplin further clarifies that,
“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:
- A General Strike in a community
- A General Strike in an Industry
- A national General Strike
- A Revolutionary or class strike – THE General Strike”
Obviously there’s many challenges and quagmires to figure out here. How can agorists get behind social ownership? Could syndicalists somehow reconcile themselves to the presence of private property or money and markets still existing? These are all deeply ideological and theoretical problems that I don’t think can be easily hand-waved and should be discussed.
One possible solution is to try to convince the other of a kind of meta-anarchy whereby different anarchic societies cooperate and compete with each other to reach the best societal results. This too is tricky given the general syndicalist disposition towards “competition” per se’. Here, I think it’s prudent to remind syndicalists that often times cooperation and competition can (and do) go hand and hand amongst friends, family members and everyone else in communities.
The presence of competition doesn’t require us to hate each other or think less of someone so much as it requires that the production of goods is optimized by certain incentive structures.
And unlike under a state-capitalist system the incentives are not distorted by a capitalist work ethic or governmental barriers to entry. Instead we can rely on friendly competition and cooperation to provide for much of our goods and services through a mix of productive but playful autonomous activities that we freely choose for ourselves.
Is it a Useful Tactic?
Strikes and counter-economics are both useful insofar as they are radical. And I don’t mean that in some faux social-capitalist way where we can brag about how hip and cool our strategies are. I mean radical in a very literal sense with regards to how these strategies challenge and disrupt power relationships in fundamental ways.
In that regard both counter-economic activities and general strikes seek to challenge power in such ways. For instance in the introduction to the February 2009 republication of Chaplin’s piece a fellow left-libertarian and IWW member Charles Johnson wrote:
“Since 2001, after an economic collapse in Argentina and a wave of factory closures, “autonomist” workers have put in Chaplin’s ideas into working reality in hundreds of occupied factories in Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela and other South American countries. Bosses abandoned factories, leaving workers owed weeks of back wages; workers responded by cutting the locks, reclaiming the factories, and reopening the business under autogestion – workers self-management. These workers without bosses have revitalized once-failing businesses and made a living for themselves through cooperative ownership of the business, equal wages for all workers, and business decisions made by direct votes of the assembled workers.”
Is the General Strike a Libertarian Action?
The libertarian interest in supporting agency and legitimacy in contracts and the fact that state-supported industry such as big defense contractors that help directly and actively perpetuate the war machine means that libertarians have good reason to at least consider strikes more generally.
As Logan Glitterbomb noted in her piece Rothbard said that, “Konkin’s entire theory speaks only to the interests and concerns of the marginal classes who are self-employed. The great bulk of the people are full-time wage workers; they are people with steady jobs. Konkinism has nothing whatsoever to say to these people. To adopt Konkin’s strategy, then, would on this ground alone, serve up as a dead end for the libertarian movement. We cannot win if there is no possibility of speaking to the concerns of the great bulk of wage earners in this and other countries.”
And I think there’s something to this and as Glitterbomb pointed out, this sort of flaw is exactly why agorists should educate themselves about worker empowerment and resistance. And what better strategy to embrace and learn about then the biggest of them all?
One way to connect the dots between counter-economic actions and worker empowerment in strikes is the issue of “scabs”. Scabs are workers who replace workers who go on strike so as to keep capitalist firms from continuing to run despite the clear signals their workers are giving with their dissatisfaction. Obviously these scabs are quite an annoyance to workers because it renders their strikes far less economically and politically potent than they would be otherwise. This can lead to violence between the strikers and the scabs but I don’t think that need happen.
The intersection of using counter-economic or under the radar work to supplant their strikes can aid the strikers in getting money on the side while still not worrying about their reputation being harmed by vengeful employers. It can also prove to be much more flexible than a formal job which can let workers who are on strike be able to maintain their protests more effectively.
This is just a small way in which counter-economics can help better sustain strikes and perhaps even help them amass more political concentration. Counter-economics can help workers get in touch with classes of folks they may not otherwise interact with, and cultivate solidarity there and vice versa. This not only helps ameliorate the Rothbardian critique but makes cultivating the general strike that much easier, the counter-economic general strike!