1892-10 The General Strike [Guesde]
Le Socialiste, October 16, 1892
In an open letter he addressed to me through La Democratie de l’Ouest, Citizen Fernand Pelloutier of Saint Nazaire tells me that there “only three methods of substituting for the current oligarchy a democratic regime having economic equality as its base: universal suffrage, the general strike, and revolution.”
He is surprised that, like him “repudiating insurrection, I refuse, unlike him, the peaceful and legal arm of the general strike,” restricting myself strictly to universal suffrage which, in the best of circumstances, would require fifty years to succeed.
My correspondent adds: “Never will the soldiers of the great socialist army wait so long.”
We hope not, comrade. What is more, we in the Parti Ouvrier have never allowed the workers to believe that they can free themselves electorally. If, in opposition to the anarchists, we call for participation in elections, it’s as a means of propaganda, organization, and struggle. The class vote has as its goal the constituting of the workers’ army, its training through the small-scale war of the ballot, and its occupation of positions in elected bodies that, assisted by events, will allow them to crush the enemy en bloc and with one blow.
But we have never subordinated the taking of political power by the proletariat – which is the condition sine qua non for the emancipation of labor and society – to a socialist majority in parliament. Even if we wanted to put off till such a date the taking over and socialization of factories, mines, railroads, workshops and other means of production and transport, we would be carried away by the revolutionary current, which would force us to a February 24 or September 4 as soon as the Parti Ouvrier will have grouped a sufficiently large proletarian minority around its program of expropriation.
If we are obliged to dismiss as a mirage the general strike that hypnotizes Citizen Pelloutier and others along with him, it’s because it would take us even longer than universal suffrage to lead us to our goal. It’s not fifty years, it’s a century or two that this suspension of labor would require, and which would only cease being an empty word and become a victorious reality when the generality of workers consent and participate in it. And yet now, when with no effort and without any risk the working class can vote for itself, for its own candidates and against the candidates of the exploiting class, only a minority has answered the call of socialism. Let us then judge how much time it will take before, at the price of its bread and the bread of their families, the bread of their wives and children, not only the majority but the unanimity of workers will be led to vacate their workplaces.
To be sure, the Parti Ouvrier will not leave to that epoch as distant as it is undeterminable the exit from social hell. The party of revolution and of insurrection, when insurrection becomes more than possible and necessary, it is only treasonously that it could grant such a reprieve to bourgeois digestion and indigestion.
It was violently, by force that the Third Estate installed itself in power. It is violently, by force that with the bankruptcy of the governmental bourgeoisie that the Fourth Estate, organized in its elite, will put its productive hand on the present Republic.
Far from “repudiating revolutionary methods,” Citizen Pelloutier, we have always said they were inevitable, for history has taught us there are no other.
You speak of three methods that we are free to choose from. There are and there always has been just one. That’s the state torn from the privileged class and becoming, in the hands of the subject class, the instrument of its redemption and social transformation.
From this flows the method or the tactic of our party, which is the method or tactic of the socialist parties of all countries: the political expropriation of the capitalist class today, its economic expropriation tomorrow.