By a member of NATA
The radical conclusions of Sorel were drawn from a distinct pessimism, in direct contrast to the spirit of the age. The industrial revolution had created a bloom of optimism that technical progress would render everyone happy in the near future, quite similar to how the techno-utopians of our own day and age, promise us a grand singularity where artificial intelligence will take care of everything and humanity will lead lives of leisure. This optimism flowed into the reformist spirit of the parliamentary socialists who believed that progressive legislation would eventually cure the social ills of France. In the face of this overwhelming confidence, Sorel casts a cold eye, as these exuberant legislators never came from the working class. They were spoiled by their wealth, decadent and degenerate, prone to spouting humanitarian platitudes. These socialists were beholden to newspaper intellectuals and Dreyfusard financiers, referring to the Dreyfus Affair that rallied upper class liberals against anti-Semitism. These socialists no longer wished to overthrow capitalism but to temper it, correct its abuses, all the while keeping the power in their own hands. In contrast to the optimistic sterility of the upper classes, the working class was thrown by the industrial revolution into revolutionary circumstances, the increasing deprivation they suffer breeds fervor, they start to dream of violence and the soothing words of the politicians can no longer quell them. Indeed, those who claimed to speak for them deserved a good beating, as Sorel states:
“I believe also that it may be useful to thrash the orators of democracy and the representatives of the Government, for in this way you insure that none shall retain any illusions about the character of acts of violence. But these acts can have historical value only if they are the clear and brutal expression of the class war: the middle classes must not be allowed to imagine that, aided by cleverness, social science, or high-flown sentiments, they might find a better welcome at the hands of the proletariat.”
The political classes must learn to mind their own business, as they must be told, through violent action, that they do not represent the people. In Sorel’s time, this would have suppressed the “parliamentary socialists” and thus granting the working class self-ownership. In our own time those who seek economic autonomy are once again manipulated by the same political forces. One can look at how the Occupy Wall Street movement, originally an expression of popular outrage, was hijacked by the collegiate intellectuals, who injected their abstruse theories of privilege into the discourse, drowning the concerns of the 99% under the sexual and racial politics of the academic bourgeoisie, a class that lives on the debt slavery of thousands of students, who power is guaranteed and defended by the arms of the American government. These “orators of democracy” deserved quite the trashing for their pretenses of speaking for the working man, they should have been sent packing to their nearest faculty lounge to console themselves with six figured tenured positions. The fact that they were given such an allowance to speak for a class they had never shared the slightest affinity with, moreover on the dime of that infamous Dreyfusard financier of our own time, George Soros, is more than ample proof of the necessity of Sorel's thought today.
The form of this necessary thrashing of these “orators of democracy” is addressed by Sorel in “Reflections on Violence” in the form of the general strike. Sorel states, “The revolution appears as a revolt, pure and simple, and no place is reserved for sociologists, for fashionable people who are in favour of social reforms, and for the intellectuals who have embraced the profession of thinking for the proletariat.” This strike must not compromise or settle for reforms, it is to be taken as the dawning of a new era, “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.” It cannot be rationalized or defined by science, it is pure faith and willpower. In the Syndicalist general strike, the people organize on a bellicose basis, “the proletariat organizes itself for battle, separating itself distinctly from the other parts of the nation, and regarding itself as the great motive power of history, all other social considerations being subordinated to that of combat ; it is very clearly conscious of the glory which will be attached to its historical role and of the heroism of its militant attitude; it longs for the final contest in which it will give proof of the whole measure of its valor. Pursuing no conquest, it has no need to make plans for utilizing its victories : it counts on expelling the capitalists from the productive domain, and on taking their place in the workshop created by capitalism.” The goal of the Syndicalist strike is to seize the means of production, and keep them in the hands of the workers. It is not to get better wages, more welfare, or shorter hours. It cannot be a tool of politicians who point to the strikers to justify the need for their pet programs, as if to say, “if only you had passed my bill, this could be avoided.” It is not an opportunity for young careerists to foist their vision of the future upon the people as Sorel warned, “There are plenty of young barristers, briefless and likely to remain so, who have filled enormous note-books with their detailed projects for the social organization of the future.” Let us beware what Sorel called the socialist financiers, who take the side of the worker on occasion to maintain their gains, who wish to use the workers' revolt to strengthen their own position and that of their political cronies. In our own day and age, we occasionally see men of very great wealth and power, like the aforementioned Soros, speak of the need for extended social safety nets and more equal distribution of wealth. They do not do this out of sympathy or any revolutionary instinct, they are doing it to prevent their utter and total destruction. Sorel remarks that this class will be swept away, “The general strike of the Syndicalists drives away from Socialism all financiers in quest of adventures.” The revolution has no need for such men, “the revolution will be absolute and irrevocable, because it will place the forces of production in the hands of free men, i.e. of men who will be capable of running the workshop created by capitalism without any need of masters. This conception would not at all suit the financiers and the politicians whom they support, for both are only fit to exercise the noble profession of masters.” Those who come offering to lead the working man to a utopia of their own creation should be met with fists.
The Syndicalist strike is not asking for new masters. It will not result in the formation of a new democracy, with new parliaments for the next generation of careerist politicians to grandstand in. The Syndicalist is not asking to “replace a malevolent hierarchy by a benevolent one.” It is not an attempt to hijack the government to bother the rich for the benefit of the poor. Throughout history we have seen seen states past harsh laws against the rich, only to benefit the state. The revolution will not be a cabal of mercenaries blackmailing the wealthy for their own enrichment. That has been the nature of demagogic politicians since time immemorial. The Syndicalist general strike “brings to the fore the pride of free men, and thus protects the worker from the quackery of ambitious leaders.” The resulting society from the Syndicalist is open ended, anarchic, mutable. Sorel states that instead of seeking to emulate the old middle class institutions embodied in parliamentary democracy, “it would be better for it to remain content for a time with weak and chaotic organizations rather than that it should fall beneath the sway of syndicates which would copy the political forms of the middle class.” In the wider social context, the organization can vary widely across regional, cultural, religious, and ethnic forms. To attempt to reconstitute the unitary state would be a betrayal. Instead the power should remain directly in the hands of the workers on the lowest levels, making their own decisions. Sorel states, “The free producer in a progressive and inventive workshop must never evaluate his own efforts by any external standing.” If by some grand strike, the power were to be seized across the United States by the people, there would be a multiplicity of visions. In the South the workers may raise the Rebel flag, while in Harlem, Pan-African colors will fly over the people's new conquests. Putting power in the hands of the people means that they will be free to pursue their own visions, not a singular one imposed by the will of the state.
The driving fire for this great uprising of the masses is a myth. It burns in the soul of all free men, it inspires him to risk sacrifice, even to the point of surrendering his own life, to attain the vision of glory he holds in his heart. The scientific prejudices that suggest it is unrealistic, it is not the right time, it is dangerous, hold no sway over the revolutionary. Revolution is not a creation of what Sorel derisively called the “little science.” Rationalism, of the Enlightenment era, is very much a part of the liberal capitalist worldview. For the Enlightenment liberal, scientific progress will solve all problems, the clockwork mechanism of the market will spur the growth of new tools to ameliorate the deficiencies of the current social system. Among the class of parliamentary socialists and their modern equivalents this so-called scientific thinking inevitably results in the construction of utopias, where by the implementation of their program, all the ills of the world will be cured. They think if only we tweaked some wages or interests rate that everything would just be perfect. The revolutionary does not think like that. His forebears are not economists but warriors and martyrs. The general strike must be taken as a myth for the proletarian warrior to march into battle with. He is like the early Christians who willingly accepted martyrdom. The revolutionary Syndicalist is more a Homeric figure living out a great drama, a quest for glory, rather than a mere automaton performing the calculated actions of some economist. He must not expect any material reward, no hero in war has ever expected such a recompense, only the glory of victory shall satisfy him. The general strike is a new moral paradigm that inspires the same ardor as the moralities that men in the past died for you. Revolution conceived as a salvation.
In this mythic conception of revolution Sorel did something very important. It represents a new turning point in the history of Western thought. It is a revolutionary form of the Counter-Enlightenment, it does not look to resurrect the moralities displaced by the Enlightenment, however it is in direct conflict with the prevailing scientific and rationalist viewpoint of the Enlightenment. Sorel overthrows the liberal worldview as the liberal worldview overthrew the Feudal world. In breaking from an economic view of revolution, he has superseded Marx, who subscribed to the clockwork universe offered by the capitalists of the Enlightenment. This makes Sorel the founding father of all modern non-Marxist forms of socialism.
For the American today, much has been made of socialism, generally in a negative sense. It is either the iron totalitarianism of the USSR or the tepid welfare state liberalism of Sweden. The idea of socialism as a means of people power is never heard in the United States. With Sorel we see a thoroughly anti-liberal, populist socialism. The socialism of worker's self-ownership. In the past, we saw some flares of this in American history. The IWW is the prime example of this current in the United States. The radical American labor activism of the early 20th century sought to seize mines and oil fields from the hold of their corporate masters. However, as the century progressed the labor movement fell into the hands of the American equivalents of Sorel's parliamentary socialists, the politicians and bankers, who sought to stave off the rage of the working man by throwing them crumbs from the Congressional table. Today we must recover that heritage. Sorel offers us a way to take control of our lives. Neither corporations nor states will free us, only the direct action of the people themselves will lead to the great American revolution that will liberate us from both.