Volume 23, Issue 1, 2020
Strategies of Resistance
“Pure Means” and the Possibilities of the Past
Walter Benjamin, Strikes, and the Intersections of Theory and History
In his essay “Critique of Violence,” Walter Benjamin argued that only certain types of strikes can be considered revolutionary, while others—i.e., most bread and butter, or “political” strikes—tacitly rely on the violent logics of the state. This paper suggests, however, that by reading Benjamin against himself and applying his discussion of “pure means” to those “political” strikes, the extent to which even these basic collective actions represent effective “strategies of resistance” becomes evident. This framework requires an interdisciplinary approach to radical labor studies, combining political theory with history in order to identify and analyze past instances of joyful community-building during strikes. Relying also on a historical case study—the 1926 miners’ lockout in South Wales—and Benjamin’s own writings on the discipline of history, this paper contends that strikes, and the “alternative communities” they encourage workers and their families to build, present enormous revolutionary potential. When theory and history are studied together, and when we pay close attention to the actual tactics of solidarity that make up strike actions, this potential is uncovered.