Eugene Holland on the Slow-Motion General Strike
--from Nomad Citizenship: Free-Market Communism and the Slow-Motion General Strike
Following 1640, 1776, 1789, 1848, 1917, and 1949, we have been fixated on the image of revolution—of punctual, violent, wholesale transformation—as the most desirable (and often the only acceptable) mode of social change. But revolution is not the only mode of social transformation: feudalism, for instance, arose piecemeal following the decline of the Roman Empire, in a process that took centuries to complete. Thoroughgoing social change can take place slowly, over countless decades, rather than immediately, in the few months or years of a punctual revolution. For affirmative nomadology, the concept of a slow-motion general strike emerges as a direct response to the Importance assigned by the reading of Marx to dispossession as a key feature of the capitalist system—or rather of capital's never-completed tendency toward systematization.... Change therefore doesn't have to happen all at once. Immediate and total social transformation of the revolutionary kind is not absolutely necessary for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that capitalism is not a total system to begin with. Alternatives are not only always possible, they in fact already exist. Inasmuch as the secret of so-called primitive accumulation is that it is actually first and foremost a process of dispossession—ongoing as well as primitive—one answer proposed by affirmative nomadology to the question of what is to be done is thus to initiate a slow-motion general strike. Seek out actually existing alternative modes of self-provisioning—they are out there, in Remarkable number and variety—and also develop new ones; walk away from dependence on capital and the State, one step, one stratum, at a time, while at the same time making sure to have and continually develop alternative practices and institutions to sustain the movement. To effectively replace capitalism and the State, a slow-motion general strike must indeed become-general or reach critical mass or bifurcation point eventually, but it doesn't have to be all encompassing right from the beginning or produce wholesale social change all at once: it can start off small and/or scattered and become-general over time (in much the same way that capitalism starts small and gradually becomes-necessary, in Althusser's view).
Social transformation conceived of in this way renounces what Richard Day has shrewdly identified as the "hegemony of hegemony"—the idea that truly important social change "can only be achieved simultaneously and en masse, across an entire national or supranational space." Hegemonic thinking (i.e., thinking that social change is always and only a matter of hegemony), Day argues, leads to the double impasse of “revolution or reform”: given its totalizing view of society, one must either seek the total and utter demolition of that society through revolution or settle for piecemeal reforms that ultimately have no decisive effect on it. But society is not a totality: it is a contingent assemblage, or assemblage of assemblages. Nomad citizenship thus proposes, in Day's terms, a variety of “small-scale experiments in the construction of alternative modes of social, political and economic organization [as] a way to avoid both waiting forever for the Revolution to come and perpetuating existing structures through reformist demands.” For Day, finally, as for affirmative nomadology, what is Important is to create alternatives to abject dependency on capital and the State... Beyond Gramsci and hegemony, then, there are three rather than two alternatives to simply accepting the status quo: struggle against the axiomatic (revolution); struggle within the axiomatic (reform); and struggle (to get) outside the axiomatic, which we are calling the slow-motion general strike....
...[T]he key difference between every ordinary strike and the general strike is that while the former makes demands on capitalist employers, the latter simply steps away from capital altogether and—if it is to succeed—moves in the direction of other form(s) of self-provisioning, enabling the emergence of other form(s) of social life—for example, nomad citizenship and free-market communism.
As a strategy for social change working outside the axiomatic, the slow-motion general strike is, in an Important sense, neither reformist nor revolutionary. It does not employ violence in direct confrontation with the capitalist State and is therefore unlikely to provoke State violence in return, yet neither does it rely on and thereby reinforce the existing practices and institutions of capital and the State. By directing the investment of energy outside the axiomatic, the slow-motion general strike avoids both the retaliatory violence of the state and the extraordinary recuperative capacities of capital....
...[I]n the refusal to work for capital, [the slow-motion general strike] represents a categorical and indeed terminal repudiation of wage slavery. It does not engage in armed conflict and does not make demands: it entails a disengagement from direct confrontation and a refusal of dependency and entreaties, while pointing society in the direction of fundamental social change, nevertheless. But fundamental social change does not have to happen all at once: the general strike as an increasingly widespread movement away from capital and the state toward other forms of self-organization and self-provisioning can take place over an extended period of time—in slow motion, as it were, in a long-term process of the becoming-general of the general strike. Vital to the success of a slow-motion general strike is its sustainability: the unrelenting process of dispossession of capital known as primitive accumulation must actually be reversed. For a minor marxism, this does not entail the “expropriation of the expropriators” via direct confrontation and violent seizure of the means of production or the State apparatus but rather the identification, exploration, and further development of alternative ways of producing and accessing means of life. Providing access to alternative means of life puts an end to abject dependency on capital, ensuring that the daring step away from capital that initiates the general strike is a sustainable step toward and onto something else.