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Without Workers, There Cannot Be Soldiers

The General Strike Against War and Capitalist-Sponsored Imperialism

By Punkerslut

From RadicalGraphics.org
Image: From RadicalGraphics.org

Start Date: April 5, 2011
Finish Date: April 5, 2011

The Demands of a Modern, Military Force

"When a nation abounds in manufactures and mechanic arts, the proprietors of land, as well as the farmers, study agriculture as a science, and redouble their industry and attention. The superfluity, which arises from their labour, is not lost; but is exchanged with manufactures for those commodities, which men's luxury now makes them covet. By this means, land furnishes a great deal more of the necessaries of life, than what suffices for those who cultivate it. In times of peace and tranquility, this superfluity goes to the maintenance of manufacturers, and the improvers of liberal arts. But it is easy for the public to convert many of these manufacturers into soldiers, and maintain them by that superfluity, which arises from the labour of the farmers."
          --David Hume, 1777
          "Essays Moral, Political, and Literary," Part II, Essay I, "Of Commerce"

     Every army needs a constant stream of supplies to be effective. And every army needs that equipment in the first place to be considered a military group. Without their weapons, their organization, and their training camps, there is no army, but just a group of people. Without regular deliveries of food, clothing, and other necessities, the army wouldn't even be able to fight. Ultimately, without the workers who produce these things, there would be no army -- there would be no soldiers.

     In ancient times, it was possible for a band of marauders to form themselves into a mercenary army, taking its pay from pillage. The Barbary Pirates in the Mediterranean, the Cossacks from the Ukraine to Siberia, and the Mongolians led by Genghis Kahn represent this style of military. They were each warriors who considered themselves self-governing, generally considering each other as equals, except for the prey of the group.

     The counsels of Cossacks, in some cases, represented genuinely autonomous and anti-authoritarian movements, just like the Barbary Pirates. However, all of these above groups of mercenaries were just soldiers of fortune: for all their opposition to authority in their personal lives, they had no problem enslaving people and selling them to the authority of another. Such armies, however, have either crushed or threatened some of the most organized and powerful states that Europe has ever seen: the aristocracy of Poland, Ukraine, and the ancient empire of Rome.

     These types of armies, however, can only be found in the history books. Where did they gather their food from? Whomever they conquered. And their weapons, their clothing, their gold, and anything else? Again, it all fits under the title "the spoils of war." If a mercenary damaged their own weapon, then that would mean their way of earning a living was threatened. But, during this period, roughly 1200 to 1600, weapons were not very sophisticated. A battle axe could easily be replaced by a worker's axe. And, the regular interaction with the battlefield would naturally have provided other opportunities for replacing old weapons.

     The armies of today, however, do not resemble those ancient bands of soldier-entrepreneurs. Our modern militaries depend on missiles and submarines, tanks and aircraft carriers. The Mongolian mercenary only needed to look through fields of the dead to find a new weapon. A single tank itself costs millions of dollars and decades of design. In the 1970's, Chrysler was given a contract for making tanks for the military. It started producing in May of 1979, and by February, 1980, the company had only made two tanks. [*1]

     Armored, assault vehicles are absolutely essential to modern warfare. And, this is one of the reasons why "roaming bands of mercenaries" have become a thing of the past. They cannot simply grab a tool and use it as a weapon. And, they would not have either the ability or the funding to obtain modern weapons of warfare. It's unlikely that some mercenaries could join together, build a tank production plant, and after several years of self-discipline in their labor, produce an army that would threaten nearby states. It has simply become an impossibility given today's military technology.

     The production of a tank requires many laborers, each of them willing to work and benefiting by their participating in labor. This means it also requires a substantial number of farmers, who can feed both themselves and the military workers. But the farmers do not simply give away their production, just like the military workers do not simply want to eat. This necessitates another class, called "artisan," but simply a non-agricultural, non-defense laborer. They produce tools to improve efficiency or luxuries to make life more comfortable to the farmers and military workers. And finally, there will need to be the class of soldiers who use the armaments, which would mean an increase in farmers and artisans.

     Ultimately, this means that there is no way for any army of force to be created unless there is also an army of workers. The connection between economy and military has some meaningful use for those us who are opposed to violence. If there can be no soldiers without workers, then, also, there can be no war without workers. Should anti-war activism focus on protests, or should it focus on strikes?

The Military Traditions of Ancient Greece and Ancient Japan

Magistrate: "Is gold then the cause of the war?"

Lysistrata: "Yes, gold caused it and miseries more, too many to be told."
          --Aristophanes, 411 BC

     The Spartan soldier, like the terrifying Samurai warrior of Japan, finds the greatest glory in their moments of violence and war. They do not appear so fierce, though, when you consider that both the Spartan and the Samurai were mere government bureaucrats during peacetime, which was the majority of their existence. Sparta, for its rugged and "individualistic" character, was wholly dependent on widespread, massive slavery. As we read from Plutarch...

"It is confessed, on all hands, that the Spartans dealt with them [the slaves] very hardly; for it was a common thing to force them to drink to excess, and to lead them in that condition into their public halls, that the children might see what a sight a drunken man is; they made them to dance low dances, and sing ridiculous songs, forbidding them expressly to meddle with any of a better kind....sometimes they set upon them by day, as they were at work in the fields, and murdered them." [*2]

     We shouldn't be led to believe that the slavery was minor, such as the Spartans only had enough slaves as to feed themselves. That is, the Spartans were not very "Spartan," as the adjective today is used. Estimating the free population of Sparta at 40,000, David Hume suggests that there were around 160,000 slaves. [*3] Yet Sparta is most well-known as being a warrior-city, where every citizen was a soldier. With such a large military, of course there had to be tremendous amounts of workers, even if they were slaves.

     Samurai warriors are not much different from their Spartan counterpart on the opposite side of the globe. At first, probably like the Spartans, the Samurai were farmer-warriors. With military tradition, however, came the separation of classes. As we read from W. G. Beasley's "Modern History of Japan"...

"...with the increasing scale and complexity of warfare in the fifteenth century and sixteenth centuries fighting had tended to become a specialist activity so that the functions of the samurai and the warrior become distinct. In the end, the farmer was forbidden to carry arms...." [*4]

     The life of the bureaucrat Samurai during times of peace was like that of Spartan soldiers. As government administrators, their tasks involved everything from managing the use of rivers for transportation to the use of mountains for mining, as well as managing farms and rice fields. These economic tasks were coupled with other forms of state coercion, such as maintaining a court system and religious traditions. [*5] In this respect, they resembled the vassals of Feudalism in the Middle Ages of Europe: soldiers for the king during war, but exploiters of the workers during peace.

     These two forces of military strength in the ancient world, the Spartan legions and the Japanese Samurai, were armed with pen and parchment for the most part. They had to manage slaves, overseers of slaves, productivity of the land, commerce with outsiders, and every matter imaginable to a state based on slavery. The famous art depicts them standing up, glorious in battle, not sitting down, hunched over a desk. Even in that far-gone time, the exploitation of the working people by mercenaries was able to create powerful, militaristic states. As peace activists, our question to ask is What is necessary to end war? By now, we should have a good answer to the question What makes war possible? It is the working classes that provide the material support of the army.

The General Strike as Anti-War Activity

"See what gross inconsistency is tolerated. I have heard some of my townsmen say, 'I should like to have them order me out to help put down an insurrection of the slaves, or to march to Mexico--see if I would go'; and yet these very men have each, directly by their allegiance, and so indirectly, at least, by their money, furnished a substitute. The soldier is applauded who refuses to serve in an unjust war by those who do not refuse to sustain the unjust government which makes the war; is applauded by those whose own act and authority he disregards and sets at naught; as if the state were penitent to that degree that it hired one to scourge it while it sinned, but not to that degree that it left off sinning for a moment. Thus, under the name of Order and Civil Government, we are all made at last to pay homage to and support our own meanness. After the first blush of sin comes its indifference; and from immoral it becomes, as it were, unmoral, and not quite unnecessary to that life which we have made."
          --Henry David Thoreau, 1849
          "Civil Disobedience"

     Soldiers can only be soldiers because of the labors of the working class. The way to end war is to organize the workers in such a way that they can all cease laboring at a single time, thus instantly draining the state of the efficiency of its armed forces. In the beginning, such organization might attempt to end a single, particular war, and in the end, it may eliminate armed conflict as a method of exchange between peoples. The phrase for such an organization would be a federation of unions, its activity would be directed toward encouraging the general strike.

     This organization of unions would have to be willing to resist the state. In the United States and Europe, this is not the case. To quote Eric Arneson from Encyclopedia of U.S. Labor and Working-Class History, Volume 1, "AFL-CIO [American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations] President George Meany unwaveringly supported the Lyndon Johnson administration's Vietnam policies, as did the yearly AFL-CIO convention." [*6] America's largest union was pro-war when its government was fighting against the national independence of another nation. "Union democracy," the way the Barbary pirates had Democracy among themselves, but nothing of the sort over their slaves.

     In 2003, the AFL-CIO vowed not go down the same route it did during the Vietnam War: they opposed the Iraq War, and expressed their opinions by saying so, but that's all. [*7] Were they considering massive strike action in the arms industries? Among the sailors? Among the soldiers? No, it wasn't even contemplated. The history of British trade unions is even worse. When the AFL-CIO supported a war, it really supported the war: union-organizers were fired who were any way suspected of being either Leftist or anti-war activists. [*8] [*9] When the AFL-CIO opposes a war, it releases a statement saying so, and that's that. A reconsideration of tactics is painfully needed.

     If there was going to be a strike to end the war, it would have to be militant. It would have to involve the union organizers agitating for the general strike among the common people. This is unlikely, however, as they are rarely even involved in agitating for the strike among unionized workers, let alone the non-union working class. With just a significant minority of laborers organized around an anti-war strike, though, the influence can be massive. If the union were to throw itself into the struggle, to challenge state authority and to break so-called "labor laws" if necessary, then it might stand a chance of ending the war -- in the long-term, it may end all wars.

     The connection of the worker to industry has been recognized by union organizers when it comes to improving the wages and hours of the laborer. But, it does not recognize the connection of the life of the laborer to their life as a citizen -- the connection between place of work and place of community. Seeing only workers, it does not see the soldiers that are slaughtered through war. Seeing only human machinery working on tools of wood and metal, it only sees the stomachs of people, and not their minds. No human being would ever work, unless they had some culture they could develop in their personal life; and the sole reason why anyone is in the mine or factory is forgotten by the unionists.

     The General Strike has served so many humane ends, from the liberation of imprisoned comrades [*10] to the passage of the eight-hour work day. [*11] It is only natural to start to think of ways to use it in terms of ending state violence, especially its most universal and yet unpopular form, war. It would be impossible to keep such a massive federation of working-class groups and labor unions from discussing the General Strike in terms of any social issue, from poverty to unemployment to oppression to racism. For those who are serious about challenging state aggression in terms of war, it is the best place to begin.

"...the non-possessor will regard the state as a power protecting the possessor, which privileges the latter, but does nothing for him, the non-possessor, but to suck his blood."
          --Max Stirner, 1845
          Part 1, Chapter II, Section 3, Sub-Section 1



*1. "Programmatic Environmental Assessment for the Fabrication, Assembly and Manufacturing of Weapon Systems Platforms at Joint Systems Manufacturing Center-Lima," prepared by the Environmental Planning Support Branch, U.S. Army Environmental Command, Aberdeen Proving grounds, published July, 2008, AEC.Army.mil .
*2. "Parallel Lives," by Plutarch, Chapter: Lycurgus.
*3. "Essays Moral, Political, and Literary," by David Hume, edited by Liberty Fund, 1777, Part II, Essay XI: Of The Populousness Of Ancient Nations.
*4. "The Modern History of Japan," by W.G. Beasley, 1963, Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers, New York, Washington, page 9, chapter 1: "Japan in the Early Nineteenth Century: Decay of Feudalism -- Changing Role of the Samurai -- Growth of Merchant Guilds -- Rural Society."
*5. "The Modern History of Japan," by W.G. Beasley, 1963, Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers, New York, Washington, page 10, chapter 1: "Japan in the Early Nineteenth Century: Decay of Feudalism -- Changing Role of the Samurai -- Growth of Merchant Guilds -- Rural Society." Original Citation (#3): "Sources of Japanese Tradition, Translated by W.T. de Bary (editor), New York: 1958, pages 409-410: "It might be relevant here to comment briefly on the subject of samurai literacy. All samurai were encouraged to study the Confucian classics; and although many achieved only the sketchiest knowledge of them, most had an education of sorts and some became scholars of great repute. Certainly the society in which they lived set a great value on books and learning, so that their opportunities for reading were considerable. The technique of printing, which had been brought to Japan from China in very early times, was much improved by the use of movable type, learnt from both Europe and Korea at the end of the sixteenth century; and this helped to bring about a great increase in the number of books available. They were soon being printed not only by the Tokugawa and domain governments, but also by commercial booksellers, now emerging for the first time in the great cities. The libraries of feudal lords, usually open to samurai of their domains, were numerous and often large, while the poorer samurai and merchants were in a position as a rule to borrow books from their more affluent friends and neighbours. Even residents of the countryside were able to read the more popular works, by borrowing them from itinerant pedlars for a fee." - Archive.org .
*6. "Encyclopedia Of U.S. Labor And Working-Class History," Volume 1, by Eric Arneson, published by Routledge on November 16, 2006, ISBN-10: 0415968267, ISBN-13: 978-0415968263, page 475, Books.Google.com .
*7. "AFL-CIO opposes Bush on Iraq war," published by the AFL-CIO, March 2003, (From: Washington Post, Feb. 23, 2003) AFN.org .
*8. "The IWW in Canada," by G. Jewell, 1975, published by the IWW General, released by Spunk.org, Spunk.org . "During the same period the AFL and CIO began a mass purge of Communists in its ranks, an easy task, so riddled was the Communist party with opportunism and cowardice. Completed quickly in the US, the expulsions were slower and less thorough in Canada, lasting beyond 1955. Those unions the reactionaries could not purge they expelled and then raided. The Communists in Canada managed to hold only the United Electrical Workers, the remnant of Mine & Mill, and the United Fishermen in BC."
*9. "The History Homepage of the Department of Labor," by Jack Barbash, Chapter 6: "Unions and Rights in the Space Age," Date Unknown, published by the US Department of Labor (as it is otherwise unnoted), DOL.gov, "The CIO purged the communist dominated unions from its ranks.... The Federation's hard and unremitting anticommunist position in international policy--from which it has not been diverted by the easing of cold-war tensions in the post-Stalin years--also derived its main direction from Meany, as did the decision to remain neutral in the 1972 presidential elections."
*10. "Historical Dictionary of Syria," by David Dean Commins, published by Scarecrow Press, 2004, ISBN: 0-8108-4934-8, page 113.
*11. "Anarchism and the City: Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Barcelona, 1896-1937," by Chris Ealham, Prologue by Paul Preston, published 2010 by AK Press, pages 40-41, chapter 2: "Mapping the working-class city," section 2.2: "The anarchist-inspired workers' public sphere." To quote: "The most famous and dramatic mobilisation of the reorganised CNT of the post-World War One era was the 1919 strike at the Ebro Irrigation and Power Company, an Anglo-Canadian concern known locally as 'La Canadenca'. The conflict began in early 1919, when a handful of CNT white-collar workers were sacked. In reply, CNT power workers--blue and white-collar alike--walked off the job and appealed to the local federation for solidarity, transforming a fairly insignificant conflict over union rights into a protracted struggle between a vast coalition spanning the city and state authorities and national and international capital, on the one hand, and the confederal working class in the Barcelona area, on the other. Much of the state's repressive arsenal was mobilised; martial law was implemented, and following the militarisation of essential services, soldiers replaced strikers and up to 4,000 workers were jailed. Nevertheless, cuts in the energy supply paralysed most industries in Barcelona province for forty-four days. Amid food shortages, power cuts and torchlit army patrols at night, the Catalan capital seemed like a city at war. Finally, the authorities forced the La Canadenca management to bow to the CNT's demands, which included pay rises, the payment of the strikers' lost wages and a complete amnesty for pickets. In an attempt to forestall further class conflict, the government became the first in Europe to legislate the eight-hour day in industry. This triumph heralded the coming of age of the CNT--it had arrived as a major player in the industrial arena and a central reference point in working-class life."

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