Organisation and General Strike

Michael Bakunin

Égalité, 3 April 1869

Workers, keep your utmost calm. If your sufferings are great, be heroic and know how to bear them still; attentively read what the newspaper L’lnternationale tells the workers of the Charleroi basin, all of which we too should learn.

Listen, then, to the wise advice our Belgian brothers give us:

“May our Swiss brothers be patient for a while longer! Like us they are obliged to wait until the signal of the social collapse comes from a large country, either England, France, or Germany. In the meantime, let us continue to gather all the forces of the proletariat, let us help ourselves as much as we can amidst the ills that the present state subjects us to, and above all study the solution of the great economic problems which will arise before us on the day following victory, seek how we can best proceed with the liquidation of the old society and the establishment of the new.”

Be patient, be patient, “the day of justice will come”; in the meantime, close your ranks and strengthen your organisation.

* * *

The news concerning the European labour movement can be summed up in one word: strikes. In Belgium the typographers strike in several cities, the spinners strike in Ghent, the upholsterers strike in Brussels; in England the imminent strike in the manufacturing districts; in Prussia the strike of the zinc miners; in Paris the plasterer-painters strike; in Switzerland the strikes in Basle and Geneva.

As we advance, strikes multiply. What does this mean? That the struggle between labour and capital is more and more on the rise, that economic anarchy becomes deeper every day, and that we are advancing with huge steps toward the inevitable result of this anarchy: Social Revolution. Certainly, the emancipation of the proletariat could be accomplished without shocks, if the bourgeoisie wanted to hold its night of 4th of August, renouncing its privileges, the rights of capital to increase at the expense of labour; but bourgeois egoism and blindness are so ingrained that you must still be an optimist to hope to see the solution of the social problem by a common understanding between the privileged and the disinherited; so instead the new social order will emerge from the very excesses of the current anarchy.

When strikes spread, they gradually connect, they are very close to turning into a general strike; and with the ideas of emancipation that now prevail in the proletariat, a general strike can only lead to a great cataclysm which would renew society. We are not yet there, no doubt, but everything leads us there. Only, the people must be ready, it can no longer be distracted by talkers and dreamers, as in 48, and for this it must be-strongly and seriously organised.

But don’t the strikes follow each other so rapidly that the fear is that the cataclysm will arrive before the proletariat is sufficiently organised? We think not, first because strikes already indicate a certain collective strength, a certain agreement amongst the workers; next, each strike becomes the point of departure for new groups. The necessities of the struggle impel workers to support each other across borders and across trades; the more active the struggle becomes, therefore, the more this federation of proletarians has to expand and strengthen. And then narrow-minded economists accuse this federation of workers, represented by the International [Workers’] Association, of fomenting strikes and creating anarchy! This is quite simply taking effect for cause: it is not the International that creates the war between the exploiter and the exploited, rather it is the necessity of this war that has created the International.