The General Strike Against War and Capitalist-Sponsored Imperialism
The Demands of a Modern, Military Force
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
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...
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"...
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
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.
*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 .