The possibility of a general strike keep cropping up within the trade union movement. There have been many different types of general strikes in the history of the working class internationally. A general strike is a practical tactic or a token gesture, useful or detrimental, according to the conditions under which it takes place, the method it employs and the end it proposes. When we speak of the general strike we are not concerned with the general strike of a single trade union but of all workers. The movement is no longer, a trade union movement but has become a class movement.
For the general strike to succeed, the working-class must be convinced of the importance of the aim for which it is declared. It must be demonstrated that the purpose is legitimate and victory is realisable. The general strike must not be a disguise for revolution, but simply the right to strike on a wider scale and with a more clearly marked class character. The Socialist Party dismisses the idea that the general strike is the panacea of the proletariat. If the weapon of the general strike is to be used, then the organisation must be so built up that this weapon will stand ready for instant use. For the certainty of success in a general strike lies in its suddenness.
The Socialist Party oppose those who think that a general strike would be enough to bring on the social revolution and the fall of the whole capitalist system. The Socialist Party call for for participation in elections, as a means of propaganda, organisation, and struggle. The class vote has as its goal the self-emancipation of the working class. Yet, despite those who like to claim otherwise, we have never subordinated the taking of political power by the workers – which is necessary for the emancipation of labour and society – to a socialist majority in parliament. But we are also obliged to reject as a mirage the general strike as the only way to achieve socialism. We argue that the working class can vote for itself, for its own candidates and against the candidates of the exploiting class, with little need for the social disruption required to make a general strike as effective tool.
There are some who desire to transform the proposed general strike against austerity into a political general strike, using the opposition to the cuts as the slogans to mobilise around. They expect that because of a sustained general strike the normal economic life of the country will be suspended, rail and roads would be deserted, container ships unable to dock. Everywhere there would be a stoppage in distribution and in production. Naturally, this great discomfort would arise since workers would be depriving themselves, and therefore would be forced to adopt more forceful methods in order to live. They would seize food and other provisions wherever they could lay hands on them. The privileged classes, threatened, would respond in kind with repression and so the general strike is envisioned to escalate into a revolutionary character. That is the idea of the “revolutionary socialists".
This sort of strategy is a trick to delude the working-classes. It proposes to drag them far beyond what was proposed. By the attraction of certain concrete, definite and immediate reforms they are to be led to believe from the general strike they will be conveyed almost automatically to the Revolution. To imagining that a social revolution can result from misleading workers in such a manner is nonsense.
The idea of carrying through a social revolution by means of a folded arms policy is romantic. A stoppage of production and transportation is not enough to bring about the overthrow of a society. Strikers will stand outside the gates of the factories, and even if the workers occupy and take possession of the factory, it is a pointless exercise for the factories cannot function while the economy is suspended and production is stopped by the universal strike. The general strike is centred upon the economic and does not supply the working-class forces with a broader but more central aim by which they can unite. So long as a class does not own and control the whole social machine, it can seize all the factories and yards it wants to, but it really possesses nothing.
The general strike, although, quite powerless as a revolutionary means, is none the less important. It is a warning to the privileged classes, rather than a method of liberation for the exploited classes. It tells the governing class if they are mad enough to threaten or attack universal suffrage, if by the persecution of employers and the police they made the right to unite in trade unions and the right to strike empty forms, then a forceful general strike would be certainly the form that a labour revolt would take. It would be an act of desperation, more as a means of damaging the enemy to save ourselves than a means of liberation.