“Allez-Vous En !”, La Révolte : Organe Communiste-Anarchiste, 4 October 1890
The Congress of the Belgian Workers’ Party voted unanimously for the general strike. Convened to discuss universal suffrage and intended to be, in the thought of its leaders, an imposing expression in favour of universal suffrage, the Congress paid almost no attention to it. – “Universal suffrage? Well, it’s fine” – the workers’ delegates said to themselves. – “Let’s for vote for that and say no more about it, since there is something else that interests us infinitely more. That is the general strike.” And the dominant theme was the strike.
Instead of a political protest, the Congress has become an economic protest.
Another labour Congress has just done much the same thing. This is the German Miners’ Congress, recently held in Halle. It was to be a democratic-socialist event. That did not happen. The democratic-socialists – their leaders, at least – are republican politicians. And the 240,000 miners represented at the Congress are above all workers. So they took care of their affairs first. And thereupon they passed the following resolutions:
“Reduction of the working day to eight hours; minimum wage for a miner no less than 4 marks (5 francs); arbitration tribunals to be half composed of workers delegated by their fellow workers; a mine surveillance committee for the safety and health of miners; a management committee of the workers’ insurance fund made up of workers; restriction of the currently unlimited right of employers to dismiss their workers; prohibition of the financial incorporation of industrial exploitation, Companies of this kind having for a base the distribution of dividends, that is to say profits drawn from labour and collected by rentiers: immoral speculation.”
These demands will be presented in the form of a petition to the Reichstag. But as everyone knows in advance that the petition will fail – “it is therefore a future full of ominous possibilities, made even more worrying by the aggressive attitude of the bosses who unite against the workers” – the bourgeois press tells us.
The English trade-union Congress, which we discussed in a previous issue, furthermore has done the same thing. It came out unanimously in favour of measures that they do not think that the bosses would grant, and, although composed of completely disparate elements, it found itself in agreement on a declaration of war on Capital.
Here, then, is the working-class opinion in three great industrial countries: the formal opinion, of course – that is to say, the one on which all, conservative workers and revolutionary workers, can agree.
But if we wanted to know their private opinion; if we were to ask what the workers are saying aloud without putting it into resolutions which must be endorsed by all the delegates present – reactionaries included – we can affirm that the general opinion of the workers of all countries is this:
“Under no circumstances do we want to work longer than eight hours.
“We do not want there to be a single industry in which they work more than eight hours a day.
“We know perfectly well – and this is the main thing – we know perfectly well, add the workers, that if this measure is taken, a lot of industries must perish. They are based on relentless exploitation and long hours. Well – so much the better: let them perish! But then it is us who will seize them, it is us who take over their management.”
This, in our view, is the main idea, the true meaning of all these decisions.
Already during the strike of the workers at the London docks, when the bosses proved by figures that they could not accept the workers’ conditions [to return to work] without ruining themselves and shutting down a whole large branch of industry, workers continually replied to them:
– “So much the better; my dears! All the more reason to demand it! If you cannot run the industry without making it impossible for us to live – Go away! That is all we ask of you!”
Any every time you talk to English workers – non-socialists or socialists – you get the same answer; -- “Let them go! We ask for no better. We are sure that in every city we will be able to organise work without there being any need to reduce the workers to misery.”
And, without further ado, you are asked: – “Is it possible that we could organise here, in Liverpool, or in Southampton, the loading of ships and all trade, by municipalising the docks?”
That is the generally held idea. And we maintain that if you speak to any one of the working-class agitators who know their milieu well – all will answer you:
“Yes, that is what the English, German and Belgian workers are thinking at the moment. They no longer want to work more than eight hours and, by issuing this ultimatum, they hope to push the bosses to the limit, fire them, and take over the management of the industry.” There is only the small clique of misguided politicians in the labour movement who think otherwise and dream of the ministries of labour of the English empire, the German empire or the Prusso-Belgian empire.
Another thing. – The misguided politicians in the movement, or who seek to make a steppingstone out of it, have moulded working-class opinion so much that at the moment there are a large number of workers who cherish the dream of obtaining eight hours from parliaments by legal channels. But are these the strength of the labour movement? Do these have the masses with them?
No, definitely not! The workers want the eight hours by any means.
They are determined to extract it from the bosses. They believe in the strike – in the general strike. In Belgium, the Marxist general staff talked in vain about universal suffrage. They did not listen to them. They shouted: “the general strike!”
In Germany, the Marxist general staff (those whose servile tactics Marx himself very often disapproved of) wants to lead the whole labour movement into the tranquil waters of parliamentarianism. But the large trades, especially the miners, are for this strike, the general strike.
Everyone knows that the general strike can being about the revolution, and nevertheless everyone says: “so much the better!”
It is by the general strike that the workers want to get the eight-hour day. And this [work] day is for them only a means to say to the bosses: “Go away if you can only manage industry by brutalising us with overwork! Go away, we couldn’t be happier. Leave us industry and its tools – we do not need you, we will know how to make it work without you!”
This is – we are deeply convinced – the true meaning of this immense international movement, born spontaneously from the very depths of the working class and which at this moment is spreading, still spontaneously, in spite of the obstacles raised by socialist politicians, in spite of the counter-campaign of the Bourgeoisie and its intrigues, in spite of the inertia of the anarchists who have not yet glimpsed what they have to do in the face of this great movement.
As for us, it seems to us that our activity is clearly outlined before us.
We do not believe in eight hours. Eight, six, four or two hours working for the boss – that is two, four, six or eight hours too many.
We know that the misfortune of today’s society is not that the worker labours ten, twelve or fourteen hours, but that the boss exists.
We know that no matter how many hours you labour, as long as the bosses manage industry instead of the producers themselves – industry will remain exploitative.
But we also know that in every labour organisation there are a number of people who understand it as we do. And it is with them – with these strangers scattered in the mine, the factory, the construction site and whom we do not know yet – that we must find ourselves, reach agreement, join forces, it is to them we must adapt our ideas of anarchy.
And we know, moreover, that the eight-hour day in all trades is absolutely impossible as long as the whole of industry is what it is today. And we can say to the workers: “Do you want to work only eight hours? Nothing extravagant in your demand, far from it. Do you want it for all, or just for a few? For everyone, of course? So that will necessarily lead you to completely reshape industry, to seize it, to subject it to your management? Are you ready to go that far?”
Develop these ideas in front of every working-call audience. Demonstrate clearly this necessity and then ask your audience: – “Are you firmly determined to reduce your work even though this would require a complete transformation of society?”
And you already know the answer. It will be a mighty yes. But this “yes” – is expropriation.
This is what the permeation of ideas has done for the past twenty years. The workers no longer want to fatten the bourgeois thieves. And to put an end to it, the most intelligent amongst them do not shrink from expropriation, while the less aware amongst them no longer oppose it.
And as faith in the legal path disappears at the same time (and it depends upon us to definitely shake it), it is the general strike that the great mass is demanding to bring about the change. It is no longer to the king, no longer to the Republic, no longer to a Caesar, no longer to the radicals, no longer to the socialist politicians, that the masses make this demand. It is to the international coordination for the general stoppage of work on a given day – the next May 1st.
Can we hesitate under these circumstances? Our path is clear. Do everything, do the impossible, so that on that day the stoppage of work will be general; that all workers, well-off or living in poverty, in jackets or rags, are in the street.
Do everything to ensure that the streets are flooded with millions, not hundreds of thousands, like the past year.
Finally, do everything, do the impossible, do more than the impossible, so that, on 2 May 1891, not a single worker returns to the factory other than saying:
Eight hours to work, eight hours to sleep and eight hours to have fun! And if that doesn’t suit you
And they will leave! The broom will be there!
 “Le Mouvement Ouvrier En Angleterre”, La Révolte: Organe Communiste-Anarchiste, 13 September 1890. Translated as "The Labour Movement in England", Black Flag Anarchist Review, Vol. 2, No. 3. (Translator)
 Kropotkin continued on this theme – and referenced this article – in the three-part article “Le 1er Mai 1891”, La Révolte, 18 and 25 October and 1 November 1890. This is included as “1st May 1891” in Direct Struggle Against Capital: A Peter Kropotkin Anthology (Edinburgh: AK Press, 2014). (Translator)