Written: 27 January 1932.
Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 25 (Whole No. 121), 18 June 1932, p. 4.
Extract from What Next – Vital Questions for the German proletariat.
Transcription/HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2012. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.
(Continued from last issue)
According to the testimony of Communist workers (cf., say Der Rote Aufbau), there is a great deal being said in factories to the effect that the sectional strikes have no meaning at present, and that only a general strike could lead the workers out of their troubles. “The general strike” here signifies: the perspective of struggle. The workers are the less apt to become inspired by disparate strikes because they have to deal directly with the state power; monopolistic capital speaks to the workers in the language of Bruening’s emergency decrees. 
At the dawn of the workers movement, in order to draw the workers into a strike, the agitators often refrained from launching into revolutionary and socialist perspectives, in order not to scare the worker away. At present the situation bears just the opposite character. The leading strata of the German workers can decide upon beginning a defensive economic struggle only in the event that they are clear about the general perspectives of the subsequent struggle. They do not feel that these perspectives obtain among the Communist leadership.
In relation to the tactic of the March days, 1921 in Germany (to “electrify” the minority of the proletariat instead of capturing its majority), the writer spoke at the III. Congress as follows: “At the time when the overwhelming majority of the working class takes no account of the movement, does not sympathize with it, or is doubtful of its success; then the minority rushes ahead and by mechanical means strives to drive the workers into strikes, then this impatient minority in the guise of the Party can fall foul of the working class and break its own head.
Does this mean that the strike struggle should be renounced? No, not renounced, but it should be sustained by creating for it necessary political and organizational postulates. One of these is the restoration of the unity of the trade unions. The reformist bureaucracy, of course, is averse to this. The split has hitherto assured its position in the best manner possible. But the immediate threat of Fascism is changing the situation within the trade unions to the detriment of the bureaucracy. The gravitation to unity is growing. Should Leipart’s clique try under present conditions to prohibit the restoration of unity, this would immediately double or triple the Communist influence within the unions. Should the union materialize, nothing could be better; a wide sphere of activity would be opened to the Communists. Not half-way measures are urgent, but a bold about-face!
Without a widespread campaign against the high cost of living, for a short working week, against wage cuts; without drawing the unemployed into this struggle hand in hand with the employed; without a successful application of the policy of the United Front, the improvised small strikes will not lead the movement out to the open road.
The Left social-democrats chat about the necessity of resorting to the general strike “in the event that the Fascists come into power.” Very likely, Leipart himself flaunts such threats within the four walls. On this account, Die Rote Fahne makes reference to Luxemburgism. This is vilifying the great revolutionist. Even though Rosa Luxemburg overestimated the independent importance of the general strike in the question of power, she understood quite well that a general strike could not be declared at one’s whim, that it was prepared for by the whole preceding course of the workers’ movement, the policies of the party and the trade unions. On the lips of the Left social democrats however the mass strike is more of a consoling myth superimposed over sorry reality.
For many years, the French social democrats had promised that they would resort to the general strike in the event of war. The Basle Congress of 1912 even promised resorting to a revolutionary uprising. But the threat of the general strike as well as of the uprising assumed in these instances the nature of theatrical thunder. What is here involved is not the counterposition of the strike to the uprising, but the stillborn, formal and verbal attitude to the strike as well as to the uprising. The reformist armed with the revolution in the abstract – such in general was the Bebel type of social democrat prior to the war. The post-war reformist brandishing the threat of a general strike is again a live caricature.
The Communist leadership, of course, bears to the general strike an attitude that is much more conscientious. But it lacks clarity in this question also. And clarity is urgent. The general strike is a very important weapon of struggle, but it is not universal. There are conditions under which the general strike may weaken the workers more than their immediate enemy. The strike must enter as an important element into the calculation of one’s strategy and not as a panacea in which is submerged all other strategy.
Generally speaking, the general strike is the weapon of struggle of the weaker against the stronger; or, to put it more precisely, of the one who at the beginning of the struggle feels himself weaker against him whom one considers to be the stronger; seeing that I myself cannot make use of an important weapon, I shall try to prevent my opponents using it; if I cannot shoot from cannons, I shall at least remove the gun-locks. Such is the “idea” of the general strike.
The general strike was always the weapon of struggle against an entrenched state power, that had at its disposal, railroads, telegraph, police and army, etc. By paralyzing the governmental apparatus the general strike either “scared” the government, or created the postulates for a revolutionary solution of the question of power.
The general strike is the most effective method of fighting under the conditions where the masses are united only by revolutionary indignation but are lacking military organizations and staffs, and cannot beforehand either estimate the correlation of forces, or work out a plan of action. Thus, one may suppose, that the anti-Fascist revolution in Italy, after beginning from one or another sectional clash, will inevitably go through the stage of the general strike. Only in this way will the present disjointed proletariat of Italy once again feel itself as a united class and match the strength of the enemy’s resistance, whom it must overthrow.
One would have to fight in Germany against Fascism by means of the general strike only in the event that Fascism was already in power, and had firmly seized the state apparatus. But so long as the matter concerns the repelling of the Fascist attempt to seize power, the slogan of the general strike turns out to be just so much space wasted.
At the time of Kornilov’s march against Petrograd neither the Bolsheviks, nor the Soviets as a whole, even thought of declaring a general strike. On the railroads the fight was waged to have the workers and the railroad personnel transport the revolutionary troops and retard the Kornilov detachments. The factories stopped functioning only in proportion as the workers had to leave for the front. The industries that served the revolutionary front worked with redoubled energy.
At the time of the October overturn there was likewise no talk of a general strike. The factories and regiments already on the eve of the overturn were recognizing, in an overwhelming majority, the leadership of the Bolshevik Soviet. Under these conditions, to call the factories to a strike meant to weaken oneself and not the enemy. At the railroads the workers strived to aid the uprising; the personnel under the guise of neutrality aided the counter-revolution. The general strike of railroad workers lacked any significance : the question was decided by the preponderance of the workers over the personnel.
Should the struggle flare up in Germany through sectional clashes initiated by Fascist provocation, the call for a general strike would hardly meet the general situation. The general strike would first of all mean that city would be isolated from city, one section of the city from another, and even one factory from the next. It is more difficult to find and collect the unemployed. Under such conditions the Fascists, who have no lack of staffs, can obtain a certain preponderance thanks to the centralized leadership. True, their masses are so disjointed that even under these conditions the Fascist attempt could be repelled. But that is already another side of the matter.
The question of railroad communications, for instance, must be taken up not from the point of view of “prestige” which demands that everybody should strike, but from the point of view of military expediency: for whom and against whom would the ways of communication serve in the time of conflict?
It is necessary, therefore, to prepare not for a general strike but for the repulsion of Fascists. This means that everywhere there should be created bases of operation, shock troops, reserves, local staffs and central authorities, smoothly working means of communication and the simplest plans of mobilization.
1. Some ultra-Lefts (for instance, the Italian Bordigist group) holds that the United Front is permissible only in economic struggles. The attempt to separate the economic struggle from the political in our epoch is less feasible in our time than ever before. The example of Germany, where wage agreements and workers’ wages are cut by means of administrative decrees should instill this truth even in small children.
We shall add in passing that in their present stage, the Stalinists are reviving many of the early crotchets of Bordigism. Small wonder that the “Prometeo group”, which has learned nothing and which hasn’t taken a step forward today, in the period of the ultra-Left zig-zag of the Comintern stands much closer to the Stalinists than to us.
Last updated on: 25.6.2013