Wu and the art of ghetto revolution, pt. 2.2

20 Jul

I told you last time around that this post would look at Georges Sorel’s idea of faith, and its connection with some of the ideas expressed or implicit in the Tao of Wu.  I lied, at least in part.

This entry is all about Georges.

The central idea that Sorel fixes upon in Reflections on Violence is that of the General Strike (yes, the capital letters are deliberate).  Old lefties, the over-educated, and people who have been on a protest with either, will know exactly what this means.  Or at least they will believe that they do.

The conventional idea of a general strike is something like the episode which occurred in early May 1926 in Britain.  This was a nine-day long work stoppage by the biggest three of the trades unions, and most other trades unions too, with the aim of preventing cuts in mineworkers’ pay.  If the entire working-class downed tools, the miners would win.  But the Railwaymen’s union leader, J.H.Thomas, cut a deal with the government to bring the stoppage to an end.  And thus betrayed the miners, who were starved back to work several months later.

[We’ll leave the iniquity of J.H.Thomas to a blog entry in the far future, save to say that for years after, every working-class room that he entered started to fill with whispers saying “Jimmy’s selling you, Jimmy’s selling you”].

But even if the betrayal hadn’t come from Jimmy, it would have come from somewhere.  Because the trade unionists and the left of the time were simply aiming to win the miners’ aims within the debate as it existed.  At the point of winning within that debate, they would have agreed to return power to the enemies of the miners, meaning that the betrayal would simply have been postponed.

Sorel’s vision of the General Strike, by contrast, is not something designed to win an argument within the terms of capitalism – it is in the overcoming of both capitalism and of the leaders who define themselves by their opposition to it.  And, as you might gather from Sorel’s text being called ‘Reflections on Violence’, the General Strike understood in this way means a lot more than simply not going to work.  Although Sorel, frustratingly, isn’t about to tell us how much more.  As far as he is concerned, that is for the working-class, inspired by the myth of the ‘General Strike’, to work out for themselves in the act of striking. And presumably, in the acts of violence that will inevitably flow from it.  This violence is likely to be extreme, and offensive, rather than mild and defensive.  Especially given that he sees this radical working-class as remaking their world upon the basis of faith just as the Jesuits and the Reformation did – through faith as opposed to reason.  Conviction and lived experience will supply the details in time.  Or:

the general strike must be taken as a whole and undivided, and the passage from capitalism to Socialism conceived as a catastrophe, the development of which baffles description.

Unfortunately, it is precisely those things that ‘baffle description’ which need describing in order to encourage people to have faith.  This is the trick which has enabled religion, and religion-like systems, to trump reason on a regular basis throughout history – not least during the alleged ‘age of reason’.  And it’s this faith in ‘faith’ – without a willingness to spell out what there is to have faith in, that fatally weakens the Sorelian idea of the General Strike.

Next time I’ll join the dots back to the Wu-Tang.

 

 

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