few weeks ago,
“The Docile American (The Nexus of God, Labor, Health Care and the
Fear to Strike)” was posted at
Dissident Voice and subsequently at other sites on
the web. The responses ranged from “huzzahs” to some pointed
skepticism about the viability of a general strike in the United
States. Because many of the comments raised valid issues not directly
addressed in the original article, I want to address some of them
Geography -- Does Size Really Matter?
Is the United States geographically too big to hold a general strike?
My answer is no. From a practical perspective, general strikes happen
in urban, industrial and transportation centers. The strike that shuts
down the shipping and rail centers of coastal Italy, for example,
affects the entire country, including the interior. A strike by
Canadian rail workers shuts down all production centers in Canada.
Similarly, a strike on the East, West and Gulf Coast port cities of
the United States (an admittedly tall order) would effectively shut
down the entire United States.
It is not the geographic size of a country that makes it vulnerable to
a general strike, but the degree to which it is commercially
integrated. The US economy is now completely interwoven. That is why
when shipping and oil refineries in Louisiana and Texas went down due
to Hurricane Katrina, the economic ripples were felt everywhere. For
that matter, the globalized nature of capitalism has made the US and
all western “democracies” more susceptible to a general strike
anywhere on the planet if it were to shut down major centers of
finance, manufacturing or energy production. So whereas size matters
for Internet spammers, size does not matter in terms of bringing the
global economy to a halt.
Who Needs a General Strike When We Have the Peace Movement and
Is a general strike necessary in America where we have a viable peace
movement? I do not believe that any peace movement, in and of itself,
has stopped any war. More importantly, no “peace movement” has yet to
prevent any war from starting (as in the impending assault on
Although the Vietnam era peace movement in the United States
contributed to the ultimate cessation of the war, it gained
traction because of the ferocious determination of the Vietnamese
people themselves to rid themselves, at their own extremely bloody
personal cost, from the yoke of foreign occupation. The armed
resistance of the Vietnamese people, together with the GI resistance
movement, the economic destabilization caused by the war, and the
peace movement collectively ended the conflict. However, it
might have ended sooner if American labor, students and peace
activists had had the ability to coordinate a national strike.
Likewise, the primary credit for the shift in American public opinion
regarding the occupation of Iraq belongs to the Iraqis who have
sacrificed themselves by the hundreds of thousands for the principal
of self determination. Their willingness to shed their own blood (and
the blood of their occupiers) has given the impetus to the domestic
peace movement that it would not otherwise have. It is sheer hubris to
deny primary credit to those who have sacrificed the most for the sake
of their own resistance movements.
Not for one moment do I denigrate the sincerity and good intentions of
the peace movement. I question tactics of permitted weekend marches in
parts of town where mild acts of very civil disobedience are not seen
and quickly forgotten. A demonstration has to marshal a huge number of
participants and have (or threaten to have) a significant economic
impact for it to register on the rock-hard consciousness of the
ownership class. Somehow, one gets the sense that the ownership class
has “figured out” the peace movement, learned new tactics and learned
how to let people harmlessly let off steam through harmless parades in
obscure “free speech zones.” Meanwhile the American peace movement, as
though nostalgic for the '60s, seems to have learned nothing new.
Politics, although it is very serious business, is played by the usual
game rules. If your opponent evolves and changes tactics, then so
might you, too, have to evolve and change tactics.
Americans, particularly those in thrall of “liberal” religious
doctrines, seem immobilized by the canonization of Gandhi and his “non
violent” approach to anti-colonialism. Mr. Gandhi's tactics, however,
though technically “non violent”, deliberately incited violence
by the British occupiers and mass civil disobedience by the
Indian people in order to increase media pressure for an end to the
occupation. A general strike would be similar to Gandhi's targeted
salt strike of the 1930s. But what worked for India and a post-WWII
Great Britain that was militarily and economically prostrate may not
work for a bellicose United States where, as in the old USSR, the
Administration is deaf to public opinion and the media work hand in
glove with business and government to pimp for war.
Is a general strike unnecessary in the United States because voters
can change their government through the ballot box? I disagree, even
assuming, for the sake of argument, that all votes are counted, that
no voters are discouraged from casting their ballots, and that nobody
tampers with the voter lists.
In the first place, elections matter only if there is a real choice of
candidates to choose from. Due to political gerrymandering by both the
Democratic and Republican Parties, most congressional seats are simply
uncontested affairs. They are more like coronations than elections.
In the second place, elections in the United States will matter only
if there is a plethora of alternative political parties.
Unfortunately, it is on that issue -- the destruction or
marginalization of any third parties -- that both the Democrats and
the Republicans agree. Moreover, the cost of running for national
public office is prohibitive unless you are independently super
wealthy or you have sold your soul to corporate Mephistopheles.
Lastly, national elections tend to suck the life out of anti-war
movements. In 2008, just as happened in 2004, the pressure will be on
activists to line up with one mainstream candidate or the other in
order to elect, yet again, the lesser of two evils. Even now,
otherwise earnest anti-war candidates like Dennis Kucinich (who knows
his party will never nominate him for executive office), serve more as
the Pied Pipers of Denver. Like at Boston 2004, they will lead the
little lefty mice to the Democratic Convention . . . where, just like
in Boston 2004, they will be turned over to fat cat political bosses
and brow-beaten into getting with the program.
A general strike, on the other hand, is tough business. Practicing for
one also makes one tough. European socialists and unionists, for
example, through years of experience and education, have learned how
to negotiate with their political class. Most importantly, they have
learned when to stop negotiating and when to go out on strike.
Americans in this century, and especially labor unions, students and
working class people, have either forgotten or failed to learn that
type of hard nosed negotiation. It does not grow out of being the
volunteer grassroots water bearers for the mainstream parties. It does
not come from humbly begging for political breadcrumbs. True
democratic strength comes from exercising it. Peacefully, yes. But as
aggressively as circumstances require. And experience teaches that
strength often translates into a general strike, a deliberate,
universal withholding of one's labor.
Media Matters – or Does It?
Is a general strike impossible in the United States because of the
soporific effect of the corporate mass media? Ten years ago I might
have thought so, but not now.
It is true that a majority of the media serve to entertain and
distract. They are the modern equivalent of the Roman circus. Like the
Roman circus, the major commercial networks also strive to barbarize
the general population and thus acclimatize them to a culture of
hatred, violence and self-indulgence. Self-indulgent people are
egoists and they tend not to organize politically. Therefore, they are
the ownership class's ideal antithesis of democratically engaged,
Although the mass media targets one segment of society, other
specialized media target another segment. There are definite opinion
makers among the corporate media, like The Washington Post,
The New York Times and, especially, The Wall Street Journal.
Their primary target audience is the leadership cadre of society. They
speak for the ownership class to the management class.
These “newspapers” (I use the cautionary quotation marks around the
word “newspapers” because of their predilection for uncritical
amplification of official government policy and for blatant
propaganda) seek to shape the opinions of the upper “management”
echelons of society: the mid-level business executives, professors,
lawyers, judges, teachers, doctors, other regional news editors and
publishers, and government administrators. They, in turn, are expected
to disseminate these approved opinions down into society in general.
Although that has been the pattern for many decades, something new has
evolved: the Internet and the Web. I am not a starry-eyed futurist who
spouts inanities about how technology has changed the world. Neither
am I a back-to-the-Stone-Ages Luddite. All of us must recognize,
however, that technology, notwithstanding its abuses, has given us a
tool for communicating with one another much more powerful than the
military progenitors of the world wide web ever anticipated when they
first created it.
Many of us daily read news from around the world. (2)
We have access to encyclopedic knowledge at the scroll of the mouse,
courtesy of the Wikipedia and thousands of similar sources. Some have
direct RSS news feeds from far flung sources and know long before the
Mainstream Media what is happening where, and why. We know which radio
programs to listen to, and which to eschew. Many of us receive news,
information and analysis from trusted sources who have mini
distribution networks of their own. The readers of this website are
themselves participating in an exercise in alternative communication.
Better still, although the bloggers of the Web are a mixed lot in
terms of wisdom, garbage-mongering and communication skills, they are
undoubtedly a highly democratic phenomenon. Like
Arlo Guthrie's “Alice's Restaurant”, you can, indeed, get
anything you want from the Web, and it is entirely up to you to pick
and choose from the huge a la carte read-all-you-want menu.
So-called “experts” and “pundits” and highly credentialed talking
heads mean very little in this free-for-all cafeteria of ideas.
Justifiably so. If there is one “free market” concept that we can
endorse (and which the Wall Streeters and established political
leadership deride) it is that we all can educate ourselves to figure
out for ourselves what makes sense and what does not. The anonymity of
the Web is as democratic as the world wide
software movement in which the quality of the programming is
evident in the product itself, and not in the size or advertising of
the company that churns it out.
Although the number of people who regularly read this particular
website are vastly fewer than those who subscribe to the mainstream
infotainment networks, one suspects that you who read this website
tend to have a lot of opinions of your own... and you tend to
communicate these opinions to others. In short, the highly democratic
nature of the Internet has permitted each of you to become small ink
splotches on the dirty fabric that represents your world, real people
providing real content of your own. Sometimes these ink splotches
spread. They do not always spread too far, but when there are many of
you, reposting, forwarding, linking people together, spreading by
osmosis, sometimes the ink splotches can transfigure the whole
In a nutshell, the mainstream corporate media still dominates and
propagandizes, but it is no longer absolutely dominant over the
formation of public opinion. Indeed, the anonymous web users and
bloggers are now a sufficient part of an alternative opinion-shaping
media to actually have an incremental, but statistically significant
effect on politics. Thus, too, will the American attitude toward a
general strike eventually be shaped from below and not from the top by
the traditional media venues.
Precisely because of this, there is an ongoing effort from the top to
consolidate the Internet into the hands of the largest corporations.
All members of the ownership class regard absolute Internet dominance
as equally, if not more essential than the manipulation of the actual
election process. The overall effect of aggregating the control of the
Internet and of regulating the speed of its delivery based on content
or provider, would be a political body blow to the very democratic
possibilities that the ownership class most dreads. “Net democracy” is
a better term than “net neutrality” to describe this technical
phenomenon that now is a small counterbalance to the previous hegemony
of the anti-democratic corporate media.
Does the Lack of Community In America Preclude a General Strike?
Yes and no. From one perspective, nothing makes a general strike more
difficult than the fact that, in the USA of the past fifty years or
so, people have no “roots”. Unlike in Europe where people may live and
work among colleagues that they have known since childhood, Americans
tend to move all over the place. Business interests describe this as
“flexible labor”, that is, they can make you move wherever they want
you to go in order to get a job. The only “community” that the
ownership class wants you to have is lonely communion with your
television set or while sitting in the highly choreographed spectacle
of a sports-temple where folks are trained en mass to scream, stand
up, sit down and salute the flag on command.
Nowadays, however, for the reasons described in the preceding section,
“communities” are actually more meaningful than they used to be.
Precisely because of the explosion of information, you can become part
of like-minded communities wherever you live in the United States.
Whereas a “community” used to be geographically defined, it no longer
needs to be. This website is a community and we have never met. The
entire network of like-minded people reposting articles and emailing
viewpoints and opinions to their friends and acquaintances is a
The notion of “communitarianism” also has some potential dangers
against which we should all be on guard. A “community”, of course, can
be nothing less than nationalism on the local level. If the sole
criteria of your “community” is where its members live, then it has no
more rationality than a nation of people bound by the accident of
where they were born. It must be an idea that glues a community
together, rather than any accident of race, religion, work or
residence, otherwise it can slide into politics of exclusion. Many of
us believe, in fact, that our community is not just “local”, but
includes the international community of all like-minded people
wherever in the world they reside. You and I may have as much (or
more) in common with someone living in Mumbai or Buenos Aires or
Munich or Barcelona than we have in common with our next door
So long as the Internet, as it is, is permitted to exist, there is
greater potential for true “community” to emerge than ever before. It
is that type of community that is fertile ground for a general strike.
We Can't Agree On Anything in America Let Alone a General Strike!
Clarity of purpose, resolve, coordination and planning are essential
for any general strike to succeed. A general strike that fails for
lack of adequate preparation only demoralizes and is worse than no
strike at all. Although it may be impossible for the national
community to unify on the essential strike criteria, it is not
necessary that everyone agree to participate for the strike to take
effect. In the Industrial Age, it was sufficient for coal miners or
steel workers to strike, or for railroad employees, longshoremen or
teamsters to go out on strike.
In our times there is one -- albeit mostly unorganized, generally
apolitical -- professional group that unknowingly holds the most power
in our society: the computer programmers, hardware engineers, web
masters, hackers and system analysts. Veritably nothing functions
anymore in the 21st Century if these people withhold their services.
Everything from the world banking system to retail commerce to
manufacturing to the federal government to college campuses to air
traffic control to intelligence operations to the military depends
absolutely on the daily massage therapy of the world's millions of
computer geeks. If they do not work, then nothing, absolutely
nothing works. Indeed, short of Nature herself whacking humankind
upside the head with catastrophic global climate change and petroleum
depletion, nothing other than the international community of digi-sophisticates
has the power to redirect the course of humanity.
I do not pretend for a moment that this is a homogeneous group -- its
personality and politics range world-wide from all flavors of
libertarian free marketeers to anarchistic Black Hats, from socialists
to capitalist freebooters, from sexually insecure alter egoists to
arrogant flamers, gamers and crackers. Nevertheless, those who are
interested in the dynamics of the general strike should understand
where the critical pressure points are in their society and who has
their laboring hands and minds on those pressure points. In the
information age of the 21st century we should ask: who would
constitute the equivalent of the coal miners, steel workers, railroad
employees, teamsters or longshoremen of the past century? The answer
is staring you in the face from your computer screen.
Practice Makes Perfect.
My purpose in writing “The Docile American” was not to provoke an
ill-conceived general strike. My purpose was to identify some (though
certainly not all) of the historical factors that have led to the
impotence of America's citizens and which need to be addressed before
an effective general strike could be organized. (5)
One hugely important factor that coincides with overwhelming current
public opinion is the need to radically change the health care system
in the United States.
We should not be charmed by either the Democratic or Republican
parties and their game of musical power chairs. However, to the extent
that either party needs our votes or our money, then socialized
medicine, not incremental fixes to the existing privatized health care
system, must be one of the first non-negotiable demands we make. It is
one of the most economically emancipating steps toward creating the
next democratic tool: the power to make a general strike.
In the meantime, Americans should consider how to exercise their
democratic muscles. Like a fighter who trains by lifting weights and
shadow boxing to build strength and stamina, so should we, as
citizens, be training, laying the groundwork for seeking fundamental
changes in the future that will require more strength and stamina than
we now have.
Zbignew Zingh can be reached at:
article is CopyLeft, and free to distribute, reprint, repost, sing at
a recital, spray paint, scribble in a toilet stall, etc. to your
heart’s content, with proper author citation. Find out more about
Copyleft and read other great articles at:
www.ersarts.com. copyleft 2007.
1) These thoughts are loosely borrowed
from the writings of C. Wright Mills, author of the classic text
The Power Elite (1956).
2) Some news is harder to get than others. Google, for example, has
stopped indexing news headlines from Uruknet.net apparently
because it is too stridently opposed to the American occupation of
Iraq. My perspective is that informed citizens need exposure to all
points of view and it is
highly improper for a search engine like Google, which
seeks to establish its own flavor of pervasive Net culture, to
exercise censorship over what we can read.
3) Neither, however, should we fall into the antithesis of jingoism by
believing that everything American is bad and everything non-American
is good. People are people. They are good and awful, and everything in
between, in equal measures across all cultures and societies. There
are saints and bloodsuckers in every religion, in every political
system, in every community on earth. Although some economic, religious
and political systems have proved to be consistently worse than others
in that they naturally lead to extremes of injustice, the essential
thing is to pick and choose the best from all societies and systems
and to discard the detritus.
4) Nothing published in clear on the Internet is confidential and we
should assume that this site, and every other interesting website in
the world is being monitored. That is why no one should write or post
anything these days that s/he would be embarrassed to see offered as
an exhibit at trial. On the other hand, there is nothing that prevents
you from reaching out even to those on the other side of the divide.
Most police and nearly all soldiers come from the working classes.
They should be your natural allies. Even the folks who are paid
to monitor this site may not necessarily identify with their
paymasters. The concept of democracy is truly ecumenical. Those who
know how to bear arms are as entitled to participate in it as are
those who loathe them. And the day could one day come when the one
will need the other.
5) One significant shortcoming of “The Docile American” that some
readers pointed out was the choke-hold of consumer debt and how that
contributes to the economic shackling of the people. I totally agree.
It is a significant topic that I want to address in a separate article
dedicated to that one issue.
Other Articles by
American: The Nexus of God, Labor, Health Care and the Fear to Strike
Collide at the Watada Court Martial
* A Report
on the Citizen's Hearing on the War in Iraq
the Line Between Justice and Reconciliation
Tooth: A Mol(ar) in the White House
* The Iraq
Study Group Study Group
Zingh: One Size Fits All Universal Politician for Every Office
* Ask Not
For Whom the Wall is Built (It's Built For You)
Pakistan's Musharraf Have His Ears Trimmed by the Bush Administration?
* Plan C --
The People's Morning-After-the-Elections Contraception
* Snakes On
a Plane, Bush in the White House
Your Stakes and Fires
* How the
Left Repeatedly Gets the Wind Knocked Out of Its Causes
* The Daze
of the Living Dead
Subsurface World of Inflation, Cannibalism and the Plight of the
* Cracks in
the Coalition of the Crackpots
George... Have I Told You How Much I Appreciate You?
Dialectic: The Irony of the Super Bowl in a Supercilious Nation
Nuclear “Threat” At the End of the Age of Petroleum
Roberts' Rules of Order
for the New American Colonies (A Neoconned American Revolution)
Pat Robertson's Fatwah and the Emergence of Medieval America
Neocon Cookbook: Savory Recipes for the Power Hungry by the Power
President Bush Supports Alternative Fuels Research Instead of
Wants Answers: Did Chavez, Castro and Bin Laden Lead Embassy Siege in
University's Biocontainment Lab: Coming to a Neighborhood Near You!
Political Descent of Mankind
OUT OF BUSINESS SALE!
* New Dogs
for the New American Century
* Vive la
Dennis, We Hardly Knew You
2004 Political All-Star Game
Bush, Destroyer of the Faith
Statue of Liberty is Missing
Monuments To The New American Century
* What Are
We Trying To Achieve?
Administration Relents: American Style Elections Promised for Iraq
Researchers Publish Findings of Widespread Mad Cow Infection