Abstract

This essay unearths an alternative genealogy of the general strike by tracing the concept’s first articulation back to the struggle against Atlantic racial slavery. The famed originator of the general strike idea, the English radical William Benbow, turns out to have adapted the revolutionary program of his associate Robert Wedderburn, a Jamaican-born Black abolitionist and “ultra-radical” communist. Wedderburn’s 1817 abolitionist text on the general strike, energized by the Haitian Revolution and calling for global rebellion across both the Caribbean and Europe, reveals the theory and practice of the general strike to have always been a weapon of Black radicalism, and one especially shaped by enslaved women. With this framework established through the recovery of Wedderburn’s importance, the essay offers theoretical reflections on some of the key issues that the general strike inherently raises around work, temporality, the idea of the proletariat, and communism, while engaging several important thinkers of the general strike (in particular W. E. B. Du Bois, Walter Benjamin, and Saidiya Hartman). Ultimately, the essay argues for approaching the general strike in the light of its convergence with abolition.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
This is an open access article distributed under the terms of a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).