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The Working Class And The Draft

Started by GREGORYABUTLER, July 06, 2007, 05:32:11 pm

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In Defense of Bolshevik Military Policy: Once Again on Conscription

The occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq are a nightmare for the peoples of those countries. They are proving to be a disaster for the U.S. ruling class as well. Thousands of American soldiers have been killed and tens of thousands wounded, while the anti-U.S. insurgencies continue to grow. With its armies slipping deeper into the quagmire, the imperialist U.S. ruling class is unable to credibly threaten military action elsewhere. Iran has so far been spared an attack that the White House had been planning. In the face of North Korea's testing of nuclear weapons, Washington is reduced to making threats of economic sanctions, not military reprisals. The threat of military intervention that has historically been used to intimidate the masses of Latin America has retreated. This may change as the U.S. ruling class becomes more desperate to re-establish its superpower authority, but the weakness of its military forces has been exposed.

Capitalist politicians of all stripes complain that the White House has failed to send sufficient numbers of troops to subdue the resistance in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the same time, they recognize that the U.S. essentially has no more troops to send. Re-enlistment rates are falling and recruitment efforts are failing. As a result, the Pentagon has been forced to rely on the "backdoor draft" -- compelling Army, Reserve and National Guard troops to serve repeated and extended tours of duty. They are also using, at great expense, huge numbers of mercenaries from guns-for-hire companies like Blackwater USA.

In this context, a few capitalist politicians, both Democratic and Republican, have proposed re-instituting conscription. But in spite of the military's desperate need for more troops, the overwhelming majority of ruling-class politicians oppose the idea -- at least for now. While defeat in Iraq is a major problem for America's rulers, they actually fear a draft could lead to worse. An Op-Ed commentary in the New York Post hinted at the reasons:

It's not just the civilian leaders [who oppose conscription]. Much of the military doesn't want the burdens of training draftees, arguing that volunteers are more motivated and professional. (They also aren't troublesome in unpopular wars, such as the current one.) The brass see a signature on the dotted line as a necessary safeguard against sagging morale. (Aug. 25.)

Allow us to explain what this bourgeois columnist lightly refers to as "troublesome." The ruling class knows that conscription, by forcing the youth of the nation to go to war, would encourage popular demands for the government to account for the aims and conduct of its wars. It would spark the further growth of anti-war sentiment and threaten to bring that struggle into the ranks of the military.

The capitalists' political and military leaders remember the last time the U.S. had a draft during the Vietnam war. Then, when mostly working-class youth were driven into the military, many brought with them their experience of the anti-war and Black liberation movements. Individual acts of insubordination soon grew into mutinous refusals by whole units to fight. Rank-and-file soldiers' use of fragmentary grenades and other means to kill their superiors became so common (killing from 600 to 2,000 officers, according to Pentagon records) that the term "fragging" found a permanent place in the national vocabulary. Left-wing and anti-imperialist literature circulated among the troops, and growing numbers became politically radicalized and organized. "Troublesome" indeed! No wonder the ruling class did not even try to reinstitute the draft immediately after the September 11 terrorist attacks, when patriotic pro-war fervor was running high. Such historical experience is central to how Marxists approach the question of conscription.

War and Revolution
The League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) has taken every opportunity to join and build actions against the U.S.'s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, from mass protests in the streets to demonstrations that have driven army recruiters from college campuses. These protests are crucial in spreading the anti-imperialist message, showing solidarity with the wars' victims and giving protesters a taste of the power that comes from mass action. They have the potential to grow to hamper the ruling class's war effort -- although for now the anti-war movement has been run into the ground by its pro-Democratic Party leaders.

We have also brought to these actions a very clear message: while protests are crucial, the horror of imperialist wars will not end until the capitalist system that breeds them is overthrown. Socialist revolution is the only solution!

Indeed, as the world economy deteriorates and rivalries between the major powers intensify, capitalism promises humanity only bigger and bloodier conflicts, leading toward a Third World War. The further and dramatic militarization of society, including moves to reintroduce conscription, is inevitable.

Marxists understand that the battles waged by workers against their exploiters at the point of production in industry and other centers of the economy are the key to the class struggle. But in this epoch of imperialism in which war and revolution are inextricably linked, a "Marxism" that can only guide the working class through its peacetime struggles and not through the horrors of militarism is no real Marxism and no use to the working class. It is crucial that revolutionaries prepare now with a theoretical understanding of imperialist militarism and a program of struggle that can put an end to it.

Revolutionary Military Policy
Since the overthrow of capitalism by working-class revolution is our fundamental aim, revolutionaries of course oppose the existence of the capitalists' armed forces and the rest of their repressive state apparatus. We maintain that the need to defend the working class against inevitable attack from the capitalists' state means that the workers' seizure of power will be anything but peaceful. Therefore, in the course of its revolutionary struggles, the working class will have to use force of arms to defend itself and smash the capitalist state in an armed revolution.

Marxists understand that the capitalist state's armed forces are not all the same. Capitalist ruling classes generally prefer to separate the two, reserving the police for domestic repression and maintaining their military for prosecuting their interests abroad. We know that whenever the ruling class's fundamental interests are threatened, it will not hesitate to try to deploy its armed forces for domestic policing. But we also recognize that the typical division between the police and military necessitates different approaches. The job of police recruits will be to enforce domestic law and order, but most military recruits would never imagine being asked to turn their guns on their brothers and sisters at home.

While we expect that a victorious revolution will have to destroy the police force from top to bottom without distinction between ranks and commanders, the army is a different story. Appeals to rank-and-file soldiers to not attack the working class, and even to rebel against their officers and political leaders and side with the workers, can succeed. Indeed, history has taught that no victorious working-class revolution is possible without a split in the military.

As the great Bolshevik leader Lenin summed up:

Militarism can never and under no circumstances be defeated and destroyed, except by a victorious struggle of one section of the national army against the other section. It is not sufficient simply to denounce, revile and "repudiate" militarism, to criticize and prove that it is harmful; it is foolish peacefully to refuse to perform military service. The task is to keep the revolutionary consciousness of the proletariat tense and train its best elements, not only in a general way, but concretely, so that when popular ferment reaches the highest pitch, they will put themselves at the head of the revolutionary army. ("Lecture on the 1905 Revolution," January 1917.)

Given this perspective, it is important to recognize that there are two basic types of capitalist armies: mercenary and conscripted. Mercenary armies are constituted of professional soldiers separated from the rest of the population. Conscripted armies, on the other hand, draw more broadly from the working class. Their ranks are much more intimately connected with, and influenced by, the daily lives and struggles of their civilian brothers and sisters. As a result, conscripted soldiers are far more likely to rebel against their leaders than those of mercenary armies, as the New York Post columnist we quoted earlier alluded to.

The U.S. army today can be characterized as a hybrid force, that is, a mercenary army with elements of a conscripted one. It includes many enthusiastic volunteers. It also recruits many poor, working class, and particularly Black and Latino youth who, in the face of poverty and discrimination, are subject to an "economic draft." They are lured into the military by promises of a steady income, the potential for upward social mobility through college tuition payments and the illusion of a color-blind military. While such recruits are potentially rebellious, this potential is undercut by the volunteer character of the army and its isolation as a "profession" from the rest of the working class.

Therefore, for as long as we face a capitalist army which we are unable to overthrow, revolutionaries prefer one that is a less reliable tool in the hands of the ruling class, one that is more prone to rebellion. For this reason, we prefer a conscripted rather than a mercenary army.

Conscription also has the advantage of giving broader numbers of young workers access to weapons and military training, material and skills that will be vitally needed in the coming revolution. Thus, not only do revolutionaries prefer to face a conscripted rather than mercenary army, but we look to take advantage of moves toward conscription to demand the arming and military training of the entire working class -- a demand that can become popular, and threatening to the ruling class, at times of war when the working class of a given nation fears invasion.

The Marxist Tradition and Its Opponents
Preference for a conscripted rather than mercenary bourgeois army has been the position of revolutionary Marxists for well over a century. But that tradition has been buried by many who regard themselves as anti-imperialists and even communists. To better prepare current and future generations of revolutionaries for the challenges of wartime, we have made an effort to resurrect and critically examine this tradition. Our pamphlet "No Draft" Is No Answer! and our article "Marxism and the Draft" , both written when draft registration was introduced under President Carter, reproduced and re-argued the views of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. And we returned to this issue during the most recent wars following September 11.

This approach to conscription sets us apart from the entire left in this country which, multiply divided on so many other questions, is remarkably united on this one. We have already had two rounds of debate with the Communist Voice Organization (CVO) and its support for anti-draft campaigns (see PR 69 and 73). Since then the CVO has continued to argue with us in Nos. 36 and 37 of their magazine (http://home.flash.net/~comvoice/). With their blend of selective quotation, illogic, repetition and pedantry, these articles add nothing new.

Our position has more recently come under fire from the Internationalist Group (IG) in their article "Which Side Are They On?", published in the Summer 2005 issue of their magazine, The Internationalist. As would-be Trotskyists, the IG feels more pressure to attempt to reconcile their opposition to conscription with the authentic revolutionary tradition than does the "post-Stalinist" CVO. In particular, they are forced to directly confront their opposition to Trotsky's approach to conscription, the Proletarian Military Policy (PMP). Defending the PMP will help us clarify how revolutionaries approach the capitalist military in the course of our struggle to overthrow it.

Unfortunately, the IG's style of polemic, true to the Spartacist heritage the group derives from, relies heavily on putting down its opponents by means of innuendo and outright lies while blurring its own position under the barrage. The method of not "saying what is" reeks of contempt for working-class consciousness. We will return to the underlying cause, middle-class intellectual elitism, below. We begin, however, by taking out some of the trash that the IG has carted in.

What It Means to Prefer a Draft
To start, not once does the IG refer to our preference for a conscripted over a mercenary army without placing ironic quotation marks around the word "prefer." In fact, they directly say that we are "for a draft imperialist army" and even claim that "the LRP yearns for a draft to send young workers into the army." Elsewhere they say that the LRP "favors a military draft," taking advantage of the fact that the word "favor" has a range of meanings from "prefer" to "desire" and "support." We have already thoroughly refuted the charge that we call for or support a draft by the bourgeois state in our responses to the CVO -- which the IG significantly avoids citing. Our position is also perfectly clear in the articles that the IG does cite, those in SV 9 and PR 66. The IG dismisses our point-blank statements as a "fig-leaf" and "empty rhetoric."

The fact that revolutionaries, confronted with life under capitalism, prefer certain forms of capitalist rule to others because they are more favorable to working-class struggle flows from how we understand society. Utopian socialists had pipe dreams of constructing perfect societies outside of capitalism. Sectarian socialists lecture workers from outside of the class struggle. But the working class has to live and struggle under capitalism as it exists. Thus genuine Marxism looks inside the system itself for the means to overthrow it, and therefore prefers some circumstances to others.

For example, we base our entire strategy for social change on the consciousness the working class develops through collective struggle. While we hate all forms of exploitation and wish to see them all end at the first opportunity, we prefer to see capitalists running big industrial enterprises rather than small businesses: the former bring together larger numbers of workers with greater potential power to fight back. For example, we do not join in the small-business-is-beautiful campaigns against Wal-Mart that are currently in vogue. Instead we look forward to seeing Wal-Mart workers organize themselves in mass struggles against their multinational exploiter, struggles that lone workers in mom-and-pop stores could never imagine.

For any ostensible Marxist, such a preference should be obvious. Our preference for large-scale industry rather than small business is essentially the same as our preference for a conscripted versus mercenary army, as it is essentially a preference for the best situation for working-class struggle. Because we want to destroy the capitalist military, we prefer they have one that is more conducive to its own destruction.

We will show later in this article that Lenin made exactly this comparison, in particularly blunt terms.

The IG takes their first swing at "proving" that the LRP supports a draft by quoting us (from PR 66) -- and missing the obvious point:

When black Democrats Charles Rangel and John Conyers came out for a draft on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, the LRP wrote:

"Since our ruling class must have an army, we prefer that it be drafted -- not, like Rangel, because an all-out mobilization is necessary to fulfill imperialist goals, but because a 'professional' army is more easily disciplined and more loyal to its bourgeois paymasters." ...

What grotesque concern for the needs of the ruling class!

The IG's logic here is bizarre. Having quoted us saying that we prefer a conscripted army because a mercenary army is more disciplined and loyal to the ruling class, the IG declares that this shows "grotesque concern for the needs of the ruling class!" Of course we are concerned about the needs of the ruling class: our concern is that their needs not be met! They need a loyal professional army; we prefer an army that is more likely to become disloyal. The IG is so contemptuous of its readers that they are prepared to write any nonsense in the hope of getting away with it.

What Is the IG's Position?
The IG's own position on conscription is never stated explicitly but has to be deduced from their arguments against ours.

1. Preference for a Mercenary Army
To begin, the IG cannot claim that we support imperialist wars, but it still tries to make a case that our position is pro-imperialist:

The LRP can claim to be for the defeat of U.S. imperialism in Iraq, but by opposing struggle against the introduction of military conscription in wartime, the LRP is adding its grain of sand to promoting imperialist militarism. All the more so when it repeats its pseudo-Marxist arguments today as mounting U.S. casualties in Iraq have put the Pentagon in a bind. The Joint Chiefs of Staff need more troops to kill and die in enforcing their murderous occupation of Iraq? The LRP declares its "preference" on how to supply the "cannon fodder." Trotskyists say instead that since the ruling class must have an army, in fighting for socialist revolution we fight against every means by which the imperialist war machine gets its manpower, whether by recruiters trying to hoodwink poor and minority students, or by a draft.

Of course, revolutionaries oppose the ruling class's military, whatever form it takes. But the IG evades our central point that a conscripted army is more dangerous for the bourgeoisie. Nor do they address the fact that the ruling class obviously recognizes this. The imperialists have a better understanding of what a drafted army represents than do the supposed Marxists of the IG.

The IG asserts that it fights all imperialist armies and implies that it has no preference. But this is a dodge to not take responsibility for their own position. The IG's argument that "since the ruling class must have an army ... we fight against every means by which the imperialist war machine gets its manpower," means that they prefer a smaller army until the revolution overthrows the bourgeoisie. That means a mercenary army, not a mass army of conscripts.

Let us be clear: we do not mirror the IG's approach and falsely say they are "for" or "support" a mercenary army. We only point out their unstated preference for it over a drafted army.

Moreover, right now there is no draft, and the issue between the LRP and the IG, as the IG itself puts it above, is whether to support "struggle against the introduction of military conscription in wartime." (Emphasis ours.) We say openly that we will not campaign against the introduction of a draft. But if the LRP is promoting imperialism by opposing struggle against the introduction of a draft when the Pentagon needs it, as the IG charges, then the IG clearly must support such a struggle. Like it or not, that means they prefer not having a draft -- that is, in reality they prefer to maintain the existing mercenary army.

There is a clear historical test to prove our point. In 1973, when the Pentagon abolished the draft because of the eruptions in the U.S. army over Vietnam, the Spartacist League (from which the IG descends and whose history it embraces) could have opposed the introduction of a purely volunteer army in order to stand against what the Pentagon needed at that time. They did not. For Marxists, practice is proof. Then as now, without acknowledging it, they preferred the ruling class having a mercenary army.

2. Pseudo-Militant Pacifism
The IG article continues:

Pacifists may push the illusion of "disarming" the bourgeoisie, but revolutionaries seek through protest and working-class action to hinder the bourgeoisie's ability to raise an army for imperialist invasion and colonial occupation.

They go on to condemn the LRP for not "fighting for concrete proletarian action in the imperialist countries, such as workers strikes against the war, 'hot cargoing' military goods, etc." In contrast, they boast "We call for workers strikes against the war, and for workers to refuse to handle military cargo."

The LRP is, of course, also for mass protests and working-class action that hinders imperialist militarism. But the IG is wrong to argue that this is the alternative to pacifist illusions of disarming the bourgeoisie. Such actions can hamper the capitalists' war efforts, but only temporarily. For as long as the military stands strong, it will find a way to arm itself. Any lasting success in mass action preventing the bourgeoisie from raising its army can only come when such action reaches into the military, splitting its ranks. To suggest otherwise is to raise pacifist illusions about disarming the bourgeoisie, and this is the essence of the IG's position. The question of splitting the army is key to a really revolutionary strategy against imperialist war. It raises the central question of what form of bourgeois army is more vulnerable to be split in such a way -- the very question the IG never addresses.

The IG hides their avoidance of this question with bluster about the many forms of anti-militarist working-class action it advocates. The LRP is also in favor of strikes against the war, hot cargoing and other working-class actions. But we recognize that at a time when the trade union bureaucracy hamstrings workers from striking even for basic economic demands, calling agitationally for political strikes is just hot air intended to sound super-radical rather than lead to any concrete action. It is, however, vital to propagandize for such strikes, to explain to the most politically advanced workers that the working class has the power and obligation to take action against the capitalists' wars. But to agitate for political strikes as if they have a real possibility of being carried out by the mass of workers today is precisely "empty rhetoric" and a "fig-leaf."

Genuine Marxists do not tail backward political consciousness among workers. But we must take into account current states of consciousness in formulating our calls for immediate action to actually take workers' struggles forward and help raise their political consciousness. Thus while we are for socialist revolution, only crackpots would agitate for revolution as if it could actually happen now.

Similarly, and in contrast to the IG, both in our publications and in our work within the unions, we have been fighting for working-class strikes over issues which militant workers can accept as possible, even when they don't agree with our specific demands. That is genuine agitation. We not only bring up the war; we stress that only working-class struggle can end imperialist wars. Since at the present time the mass of workers do not see mass action to stop the U.S.'s wars abroad as possible, our arguments are limited to propaganda: that is, ideas for struggle addressed to the more politically advanced workers to help prepare them to lead broad numbers of workers when such struggles are possible and when we can then agitate for them.

For over a century, revolutionaries have recognized that at the outset of most imperialist wars, the mass of the working class is almost always caught up in the bourgeoisie's patriotic fervor, so that successful anti-war strikes are impossible. The IG's bombast evades the real question. There will be a bourgeois army taking the field: which kind do revolutionaries prefer, so that when jingoism inevitably ebbs the struggle can best be advanced? Any working-class revolution will require a revolt in the bourgeois army, to undermine the state power of the ruling class. Revolutionaries openly proclaim their goal and work propagandistically towards this end even in conservative times. That preparatory work will be immeasurably more effective when young workers are being conscripted, trained and armed for imperialist wars and will rise up against their masters. The IG's empty calls, when there is no workers' movement even approaching our class's political potential, and not connected to a revolutionary strategy aimed at splitting the army in the course of revolution, amount to abstract agitation and can only mislead.

3. Against a Draft -- Until There Is One
The IG says that while they will fight the introduction of conscription, they oppose draft dodging. Complaining that "the LRP cynically equates all opposition to introduction of military conscription with calls for draft evasion," they insist that they oppose avoiding the draft. After quoting Lenin's statement that it is "foolish peacefully to refuse to perform military service," they say:

Where there is an existing military draft, Trotskyists explain that individual 'resistance' is not only powerless but means radically separating themselves from the mass of working-class youth. If drafted, rather than proclaim "we won't go," class-conscious workers encourage struggle against the war from within the ranks of the military, while gaining military training. ... using the opening to raise the revolutionary consciousness of workers in uniform and train the best elements is quite different from favoring the introduction of a draft in an imperialist war.

What a mess of contradictions and flip-flopping the IG position is! As we have seen, the IG says that while they will "struggle against the introduction of military conscription in wartime," once it is introduced they will oppose draft dodging and instruct revolutionaries to comply with being drafted. They make no mention of continuing their fight for the repeal of conscription, and one can only assume this means that they are for dropping their opposition to conscription once it is in effect. This is outrageous opportunism. What sort of revolutionary says something is horrible for the working class only to go along with it when it becomes a fact? The IG seems to have been forced into this ridiculous position by the fact that Lenin and Trotsky not only strongly argued against the "foolish" refusal to perform military service, but never once fought for the repeal of conscription.

Further, in an incredible admission, the IG describes the opportunity afforded by conscription to conduct revolutionary work inside the army as an "opening to raise revolutionary consciousness" -- an opening they say they will do everything to prevent! The more the IG explains their position, the more embarrassing it becomes.

Engels on Conscription
We have documented so thoroughly the preference for a conscripted army in the writings of Engels, Lenin and Trotsky that the IG had to take a break from chest-thumping and retire to the library to come up with more scholastic forms of posturing. However, an examination of their historical claims actually provides additional evidence for the Marxist analysis.

For example, the IG discounts the preference for conscription expressed by Engels in an article we quoted in SV 9:

The more workers who are trained in the use of weapons, the better. Universal conscription is the necessary and natural extension of universal suffrage [i.e. the universal right to vote]; it enables the electorate to carry out its resolutions arms in hand against any coup that might be attempted.

The ever more complete introduction of military service is the only aspect of the Prussian army reorganization which interests the German working class. ("The Prussian Military Question and the German Workers' Party," 1865.)

Engels' article, the IG complains, "was written in 1865, that is, in the pre-imperialist epoch when Germany was still divided into a plethora of semi-feudal principalities, and when the Marxists supported a war for German unification." This is nothing but a pseudo-scholarly effort at kicking dust into the face of revolutionaries trying to study the question of conscription. Engels recognized that arming the working class and teaching it military skills through conscription would backfire on the bourgeoisie and be of great benefit to the coming revolutionary struggles of workers. This was not based on the fight for German unification but on general considerations of the class struggle. Thus Engels repeated his preference in the book Anti-Dühring, his classic defense of materialist dialectics and scientific socialism, written in collaboration with Marx and published 1877, six years after the unification of Germany. As it happens, we cited this passage as well in our SV 9 article, so the IG's scholarly complaint is both deceptive and deliberately fraudulent. (In passing, the IG also accuses us of leaving out the words about an attempted coup from the 1865 quotation in SV 9, which we did not. These addicts lie in matters small as well as large.)

The passage from Anti-Dühring is all the more significant because here Engels states his preference in terms applicable not solely to Germany but to all the great powers of capitalist Europe, while foreshadowing the tremendous upheavals of war and revolution that would characterize the coming imperialist epoch. We requote this second passage at length, since it clearly distinguishes the Marxist method of opposing capitalist militarism from every attempt to evade it.

Militarism dominates and is swallowing Europe. But this militarism also bears within itself the seed of its own destruction. Competition among the individual states forces them, on the one hand, to spend more money each year on the army and navy, artillery, etc., thus more and more hastening their financial collapse; and on the other hand, to resort to universal compulsory military service more and more extensively, thus in the long run making the whole people familiar with the use of arms, and therefore enabling them at a given moment to make their will prevail against the warlords in command. And this moment will arrive as soon as the mass of the people -- town and country workers and peasants -- will have a will. At this point the armies of the princes become transformed into armies of the people; the machine refuses to work and militarism collapses by the dialectics of its own evolution. ...

What the bourgeois democracy of 1848 could not accomplish, just because it was bourgeois and not proletarian, namely, to give the laboring masses a will whose content would be in accord with their class position -- socialism will infallibly secure. And this will mean the bursting asunder from within of militarism and with it of all standing armies. (Anti-Dühring, Part II: Political Economy, Chapter III.)

Engels recognized that militarism was becoming a defining characteristic of capitalist society, not only in Germany but throughout Europe. The socialist proletariat could not stand aloof from it, any more than it could from the factories, schools, parliaments or other oppressive institutions of bourgeois rule. It would have to prepare to seize the opportunity to make sure bourgeois militarism is "burst asunder from within." And universal military service is what makes this possible.

Lenin on Conscription
The shift of capitalism from being an ascendant, progressive force, into its epoch of imperialist decay, and the accompanying transformation of imperialism from a mere policy of capitalist governments to the essence of capitalism in our age, does not change this strategic method but brings it forward to the order of the day. As Lenin summed up, this is "the epoch of war and revolution."

In our pamphlet "No Draft" Is No Answer and our article in PR 69, we quoted from Lenin's 1916 essay, The Military Program of the Proletarian Revolution, which provides his most extensive discussion of the question. Given its importance, we requote some central paragraphs here. The passage contains the comparison between industrialization and conscription, and Lenin's blunt preference for both, that we mentioned above:

The bourgeoisie makes it its business to promote trusts, drive women and children into the factories, subject them to corruption and suffering, condemn them to extreme poverty. We do not "demand" such development, we do not "support" it. We fight it. But how do we fight? We explain that trusts and the employment of women in industry are progressive. We do not want a return to the handicraft system, pre-monopoly capitalism, domestic drudgery for women. Forward through the trusts, etc., and beyond them to socialism!

With the necessary changes that argument is applicable also to the present militarization of the population. Today the imperialist bourgeoisie militarizes the youth as well as the adults; tomorrow, it may begin militarizing the women. Our attitude should be: All the better! Full speed ahead! For the faster we move, the nearer shall we be to the armed uprising against capitalism. ... The whole of social life is now being militarized. Imperialism is ... bound to lead to further militarization in all countries, even in neutral and small ones. How will proletarian women oppose this? Only by cursing all war and everything military, only by demanding disarmament? The women of an oppressed and really revolutionary class will never accept that shameful role. They will say to their sons: "You will soon be grown up. You will be given a gun. Take it and learn the military art properly. The proletarians need this knowledge not to shoot your brothers, the workers of other countries, as is being done in the present war, and as the traitors to socialism are telling you to do. They need it to fight the bourgeoisie of their own country, to put an end to exploitation, poverty and war, and not by pious wishes, but by defeating and disarming the bourgeoisie.

In their polemic against us the IG picks out different sentences from the latter half of this quote but omits its point-blank statement -- "Full speed ahead!" -- regarding conscription. Instead, they quote another passage from Lenin's article (which we also reproduced in our pamphlet):

We are not in favor of a bourgeois militia; we are in favor only of a proletarian militia. Therefore, 'not a penny, not a man' not only for a standing army, but even for a bourgeois militia, even in countries like the United States or Switzerland, Norway, etc.

The IG then rhetorically asks, "Was Lenin supporting conscription by the capitalist state to an imperialist standing army? Obviously not."

This is a deliberate confusion of two different questions. In the latter quote Lenin is stating his opposition to all forms of the capitalist military, just like he opposes all forms of capitalist exploitation. Therefore, he repeats the traditional Marxist position, summed up in the slogan "not a penny, not a man," to always vote in parliament against funding the capitalists' military and therefore its ability to enroll soldiers. This does not address Lenin's earlier very clear statement of what form of capitalist army he would prefer to see. Later we will cite other occasions where both Lenin and Trotsky raise demands for arms and military training from the capitalist state while at the same time opposing any vote for a capitalist military budget.

So we call the IG out: reproduce the above "Full steam ahead!" quote from Lenin in its entirety and then explain how it doesn't clearly express a preference for conscription. (We're not going to hold our breath for the IG to respond.)

And while we're at it, we note that Tsarist Russia introduced conscription during Lenin's time. Following the February 1917 revolution, the popular front governments that defended bourgeois power continued conscription, since they maintained Russia's participation in the First World War. So if the IG is right that Lenin opposed the introduction of conscription, it should be easy for them to find at least one time when Lenin called for a struggle against it. We challenge the IG, put up or shut up: show us one time when Lenin called for a struggle against conscription or its introduction.

The Proletarian Military Policy and Lenin's Demands on the State
The IG's opposition to the Leninist approach to conscription is not their own innovation. Their article refers approvingly to the pamphlet Documents on the "Proletarian Military Policy" published by the Spartacist League (SL) in 1989, when the IG's leaders were still prominent in its ranks. The title refers to Trotsky's work toward the end of his life to codify the lessons of the Russian revolution on military questions. He put forward a set of slogans and arguments with respect to the coming Second World War which became known as the Proletarian Military Policy (PMP).

The first appearance of the PMP was in the Manifesto of the Fourth International on the Imperialist War and the Proletarian World Revolution, drafted by Trotsky in 1940. Here is the section titled "Workers Must Learn Military Arts":

The militarization of the masses is further intensified every day. We reject the grotesque pretension of doing away with this militarization through empty pacifist protests. All the great questions will be decided in the next epoch arms in hand. The workers should not fear arms; on the contrary they should learn to use them. Revolutionists no more separate themselves from the people during war than in peace. A Bolshevik strives to become not only the best trade unionist but also the best soldier.

We do not wish to permit the bourgeoisie to drive untrained or half-trained soldiers at the last hour onto the battlefield. We demand that the state immediately provide the workers and the unemployed with the possibility of learning how to handle the rifle, the hand grenade, the machine gun, the cannon, the airplane, the submarine, and the other tools of war. Special military schools are necessary in close connection with the trade unions so that the workers can become skilled specialists of the military art, able to hold posts as commanders.

This and most of Trotsky's other writings on the PMP were reprinted in our pamphlet, "No Draft"Is No Answer.

The SL's pamphlet, which rejects the PMP as "shamelessly utopian," is illuminating. We start with one of its footnotes, where the SL concedes that Lenin's 1916 article on "The 'Disarmament' Slogan" "raises the demand for 'voluntary military-training associations, with free election of instructors paid by the state.'" But, the SL continues, "whatever one thinks of this demand, it is hardly relevant to the 'Proletarian Military Policy' since the workers militia envisioned by Lenin was clearly not auxiliary to the bourgeois army, but counterposed to it." (Documents on the "Proletarian Military Policy," p. 31.)

No, this is not clear at all. Since Lenin was demanding that the Tsarist state fund the instructors of the "voluntary military-training associations," he clearly did not presume that the latter was counterposed to the bourgeois army. The fact that such schools are not necessarily counterposed to the bourgeois state is key to the potential effectiveness of the demand. Both working-class soldiers and workers outside the army who were not yet won to the idea of overthrowing their rulers could join with revolutionaries in raising these demands. To the extent that the demands were won, the working class would be better armed and organized to defend its class interests. And to the extent that the ruling class opposed them, the more readily would working-class soldiers and workers be convinced of the revolutionary cause: getting rid of the ruling class.

Not only is Lenin's demand relevant to Trotsky's PMP, it is essentially the same as Trotsky's demand that the state fund "special military schools" for the working class. Indeed as we will see, Trotsky's PMP is little more than the statement of the traditional Marxist approach to militarism, enriched by the experience of the Bolshevik military policies that succeeded in splitting the Tsar's army and securing the victory of the October revolution.

That this was Lenin's approach becomes clear when we look at what he said in context:

We can demand popular election of officers, abolition of all military law, equal rights for foreign and native-born workers ... . Further, we can demand the right of every hundred, say, inhabitants of a given country to form voluntary military-training associations, with free election of instructors paid by the state, etc. Only under these conditions could the proletariat acquire military training for itself and not for its slave-owners; and the need for such training is imperatively dictated by the interests of the proletariat. The Russian revolution [of 1905] showed that every success of the revolutionary movement, even a partial success like the seizure of a certain city, a certain factory town, or winning over a certain section of the army, inevitably compels the victorious proletariat to carry out just such a program. (The "Disarmament" Slogan, 1916.)

Several of these slogans -- election of officers, abolition of military law, and military training under workers' control paid by the state -- form the core of the Proletarian Military Policy. The SL/IG argument rises and falls on the use being made of those slogans. Lenin is demanding freely elected instructors paid by the Tsarist state in order to expose the state in the eyes of masses who wanted to be armed and trained properly and yet hadn't been won to the idea of overthrowing the state. That method was put by Trotsky into the elaborated plan of the PMP -- and so, contrary to the SL, it is very relevant. The SL recognizes its problem, because it introduces Lenin's call for state funding with "whatever one thinks of this demand ...". Lenin and Trotsky understood the possibility of turning the militia demands on the state into demands which could be raised within the existing army. And the Russians in 1917 proved that the workers' militia could grow out of the Tsarist army itself to the extent that the working-class soldiers could be mobilized to overthrow the army's commanders.

The PMP and the Transitional Program
Where the SL and IG try to fashion a phony Lenin in their own image, with Trotsky they take a different tack. In an authoritative tone, the SL informs us that Trotsky was wrong:

Trotsky erred in attempting to raise a positive set of demands for the war in the absence of a revolutionary situation. As a general rule revolutionaries prefer to raise negative demands on the bourgeois state -- these are the most powerful vehicles for mobilizing the masses against the bourgeoisie. Positive demands on the core institutions of the capitalist state -- the army, police and courts -- are easily bent in the reformist direction of portraying the bourgeois repressive apparatus as somehow class neutral. (Documents on the "Proletarian Military Policy," p. 15.)

This "general rule" is a pompous fiction. If Trotsky erred in raising positive demands, then so did Lenin with his military program just cited. Likewise did the entire Fourth International at its foundation, with the adoption of its Transitional Program. As we wrote in PR 67 [available on this website: Spartacist Anti-LRP Polemics Backfire], in response to the SL on this question:

The Transitional Program is chock full of demands made upon the bourgeois state: public works, expropriation of key branches of industry and the banks, the statification of the credit system, full employment, etc. The point of such demands raised by vanguard workers is to show the mass of politically less advanced workers, with whom we fight side by side against the bosses, to see that: "every serious demand of the proletariat and even every serious demand of the petty bourgeoisie inevitably reaches beyond the limits of capitalist property relations and of the bourgeois state."

Trotsky pointed out that the essence of the communist program is socialist revolution; this always has to be stressed as our foremost message to fellow workers. The Transitional Program and its demands were the way to openly expose in struggle all illusions in the bourgeois state and thereby win our class to the necessity of socialist revolution. Transitional demands were not a substitute for the revolutionary strategy itself.

The IG attempts to dissociate the PMP from the Transitional Program, calling the PMP "a misdirected attempt to apply the methodology of the Transitional Program to an issue affecting the backbone of the capitalist state, the armed forces." In truth, every demand of the Transitional Program trespasses flagrantly on capitalist property relations, the defense of which is the purpose of the capitalist state. The whole point of the Transitional Program is that its demands can be raised by millions of workers on the capitalist state so that workers may learn through their own experience that their needs cannot be won without the overthrow of the capitalists and the building of a workers' state.

One could not tell this from the SL and IG's summary of the PMP as "trade-union control of military recruitment and training." This was a particular form that the demands took at the beginning of World War II, when Trotsky set himself the task of explaining the policy to the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the U.S. section of the Fourth International. The emphasis on the trade unions reflected the political situation in the U.S. at the time: the very militant U.S. working class had just experienced its own power by building the massive industrial unions of the CIO but had yet to turn that power to the political realm. At the beginning of conscription, far-reaching proposals were still possible, although the worker-soldiers were still patriotic and non-revolutionary. Propaganda for the PMP had to be addressed to the advanced socialist-minded workers at the outset, so that the basis would be laid for agitationally reaching the far larger number of worker-soldiers who would be radicalized in the course of the war.

The PMP was a further concretization of the teachings of Engels and Lenin on military questions. If the capitalists were going to "militarize the population," then revolutionary workers needed to raise tactics to organize working-class soldiers to fight for their rights and interests, independently of the bourgeois commanders -- the better to prove to them that they need to split the bourgeois army and support the cause of proletarian revolution.

Reality of the PMP
The Proletarian Military Policy's central demand toward undermining bourgeois control of the army is for the election of officers. The capitalist state trains a special, separate caste of military officers, tied to the ruling class and distinct from the ranks of the army, to whom the ranks are expected to show unconditional obedience. This caste uses the soldiers it commands as cannon fodder. Even when resentment and hatred of elitist officers is not as violent as it became in the Vietnam war, soldiers will seek ways to exert some power over the command, which can lead ultimately to their trying to put in officers they trust and control. The fullest application of this elective principle is possible only when training in the highest levels of military science is removed from the private control of an exclusive caste and is made accessible to the troops in general.

Hence the demand for universal military training under workers' supervision. Just as capitalist industry shows a tendential drive toward de-skilling the individual worker, capitalist militarism wants to keep as much military know-how away from the working-class "grunts." In the U.S.'s present-day army, there have been some countertendencies to this, efforts to cross-train troops for different elements of combat and support, but this is conditioned precisely by the desire to keep the armed forces "lean and mean" -- that is, to recruit "volunteers" from a limited circle of the population, so that soldiers are less prone to rebellious acts. The capitalists also want military training to remain at all times in the iron grip of drill sergeants, linked to attempts at patriotic brainwashing. Only in exceptional cases, as in the colonial-settler state of Israel where patriotic war hype has broad appeal, is widespread military training compatible with the stability that capitalists crave.

In U.S. history, workers with military experience have repeatedly played a significant role in the class struggle. For example, World War I veterans played a key role in the West Virginia "coal wars," mass strikes for union recognition that were only crushed by the combined power of the National Guard and hired thugs; and in the defense of the Black community of Tulsa, Oklahoma, against a white racist pogrom in 1921. Black veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam had similarly heroic roles in the Civil Rights movement and later struggles. At the end of World War II, GI demonstrations showing the mass unwillingness of troops in the South Pacific to remain abroad policing the world forced the bourgeoisie to bring them home far more rapidly than Washington wanted. This struggle was led by radicals, notably Emil Mazey, a militant CIO trade unionist.

In Vietnam, after the U.S. military was besieged by widespread dissidence and mutiny, reflecting the social ferment at home and the grievances of the ranks, bourgeois experts came to the consensus that a drafted military is not reliable. Their preference for a mercenary army reflects not only the internal problems created by conscripts (and by "volunteers" faced with conscription) but also the impact in the army of discontent at home on the troops abroad: the Vietnam years were an era of Black ghetto rebellions and waves of wildcat industrial strikes, as well as anti-war protests. The bourgeoisie also saw the accelerating effect that military training of young workers has on the class struggle at home. (See Vietnam: the "Working-Class War", PR 45.)

When the bourgeoisie is compelled to override this preference and institute a draft, the task of revolutionaries is not to submit meekly to military discipline but to seek at all times to promote the independent organization and demands of the working-class soldiers inside the military. In imperialist states, revolutionary workers, from beginning to end must take a defeatist stance with regard to "their own" nation in any war. Of course, when to use agitation and when to use propaganda are conditioned by the mood of the ranks. The soldiers' revolt in Vietnam, even though it did not lead to revolution at home, certainly aided the Vietnamese struggle against U.S. imperialism.

Lessons of the Russian Revolution
The fight for control of military recruitment, training and ultimately command by working-class organizations, while it can never be fully successful short of the smashing of the capitalist state, can win temporary gains that point out to workers and soldiers the necessity of revolution. Such working-class organizations may be unions, in situations like in the U.S. after the CIO upsurge. Or they can be other, new, broader mass organizations such as committees or workers', peasants' and soldiers' councils (i.e. "soviets"), as in the Russian revolution. The Bolsheviks pursued this strategy to destroy the imperial Russian army and with it, the Tsarist state. Trotsky, a leader in that revolution and the head of the Red Army itself, developed the PMP as a generalization of Bolshevik tactics in the First World War. It is impossible to understand the PMP otherwise.

When fundamentalists are forced to openly disagree with their prophet, they do so gingerly indeed. Thus the SL and IG implicitly concede the PMP's revolutionary origins, even as they dismiss it as "shamelessly utopian": "The working class cannot 'control' any aspect of the bourgeois army, except in a transitory revolutionary situation (e.g. one presenting certain elements of dual power)." (Documents on the "Proletarian Military Policy," p.15.) No kidding! The question is how to achieve dual power. A close examination of precisely such a situation in the Russian revolution proves our point, not theirs.

Dual power means the contradictory situation in a revolution in which working-class organizations have begun to exercise powers normally monopolized by the capitalist state but have not yet taken the decisive steps to smash the bourgeois state. It does not simply appear spontaneously: a revolutionary situation has to be prepared for. One crucial way is through propaganda directed at arming the most conscious vanguard workers, those who will be inside and outside the army, with the tactical approach necessary. For example, look at Lenin's popularly written article, explicitly directed to all European revolutionaries: Anti-Militarist Propaganda and Young Socialist Workers' Leagues, (Collected Works, Vol. 41; reprinted in PR 69). It was originally published on October 8, 1907, seven years prior to World War I and ten years before dual power in 1917.

Everywhere anti-militarist propaganda among young workers has yielded excellent results. That is of tremendous importance. The worker who goes into the army as a class-conscious Social-Democrat [communist ] is a poor support for the powers that be. ...

As time goes by and there are more and more Social-Democrats in the army and the troops become increasingly less reliable. When the bourgeoisie has to confront the organized working class, whom will the army back? The young socialist workers are working with all enthusiasm and energy of the young to have the army side with the people.

Once the advanced workers are prepared, they engage in an agitational dialogue with their less advanced working-class counterparts, demonstrating through shared experience (like the developing fight for the PMP) the impossibility of continuing to live under the old rule. The victorious resolution of a revolutionary situation hinges on two factors: whether the advanced workers have been adequately prepared through propaganda beforehand; and whether they have been organized into a compact, trained organization capable of winning leadership and preparing an uprising -- the revolutionary party. The most conclusive example occurred in the months following the February Revolution of 1917, which had overthrown Tsarist rule and inaugurated an unstable period of dual power. That culminated in the October Revolution led by the Bolshevik Party.

The chief mass organization arising from the February uprising, the Soviet of Workers' Deputies, could not become a genuine dual power organization until it had bodies of armed men under its own command. In practice, this came about not through a simple counterposition of a separate workers' militia to the bourgeois army, but by undermining the command of the old officer corps and independently organizing the working-class soldiers within the Tsarist army. Dual power was fought for by the now revolutionary-minded soldiers and the trained cadres of the revolutionary organizations.

Learning the lessons from these past creative efforts of the insurgent masses can better prepare us for the revolutionary situations of the future. For this reason, we will examine the fateful days that paved the way for the first successful workers' revolution. (For the following account, we are indebted not only to Trotsky's classic History of the Russian Revolution, but also to Allan K. Wildman's careful scholarly research in his two-volume study, The End of the Russian Imperial Army.)

Order No. 1
A decisive point in the development of dual power came with the publication on March 1 of "Order No.1" by the Soviet. This order gave the basis for relations between soldiers, officers and the working class for the following period: the formation of soldiers' committees; the election of soldier representatives to the Soviet; the subordination of the military "in all its political actions" to the Soviet; the invalidation of any orders given by the bourgeois Provisional Government that might conflict with those of the Soviet; the disarming of the officers and the control of arms by the committees; political and civil rights for all soldiers. As we have indicated, Order No.1 did not arise out of nowhere and suddenly appear in the dual power situation.

The revolution began on International Women's Day, February 23 by the calendar in use at the time, with protests for bread and against rising prices, initiated by women workers over the heads of the various party representatives. The government, anticipating trouble, had stationed troops it believed to be reliable throughout the city. Yet by the third day of the protests, all workers in the city had come out in a general strike, and the conscripted soldiers refused to fire on demonstrators or aid the police in arresting them. Trotsky cites examples of workers effectively persuading soldiers to bring their comrades over to the uprising, with their weapons. The building of the workers' militia was thus tactically connected to, and developed by, the encouragement of a split in the army.

The Bolshevik strategy of fraternization between the revolutionary workers and soldiers, having been elaborated over the years, now met with remarkable success. By the morning of February 28, the Tsarist government could not count on any substantial forces in the capital. As the Tsarist order fell apart, the bourgeois liberals in the State Duma (parliament), who with the support of the Mensheviks and other pro-war "socialists" had begun to constitute the Provisional Government, worked overtime to patch it back together. Rodzianko, president of the Duma, issued an order on the 27th for the ranks to return to their barracks, the officers to restore "order" and the commanders to report to the Duma for "instructions" the next morning. This posed a danger for the rebellious soldiers, which required a prompt response. The election of officers first arose as a defensive measure initiated by the most militant soldiers, to secure themselves against any reprisals for their participation in the uprising. It was documented as a printed demand in a leaflet distributed the night of February 28 and the morning of March 1, after many units had already held elections, with others still to come. (The leaflet was produced by the Mezhrayontsy, the group Trotsky led after he returned from exile and which subsequently joined the Bolsheviks.)

On the morning of March 1, the militant soldiers, demanding "the election of officers and ... the establishing of new relations between officers and the lower ranks," did not go first to the Soviet, but to the Military Commission of the Duma. Only when rebuffed did they turn to the Soviet, where the exact formulation of Order No. 1 was hammered out in hours of passionate debate. Distributed throughout the Petrograd barracks the next day and sent to the front by telegraph, radio and mail, its impact on the soldier masses was electric. Dual power became a reality. Sokolov, one of the Menshevik leaders of the Soviet, said at the time, "With the publication of Order No. 1 ... the Soviet suddenly perceived it was of a genuine magnitude, supported by a genuinely existing force -- the Petrograd garrison. Also recognizing us as a force were the 'friends' of the Revolution from the Right, the Kadets and allied elements, who until then had only 'tolerated' the Soviet in the Tauride Palace."

Having won "recognition" from the bourgeoisie, the reformist leaders of the Soviet were already preparing to sell out the soldiers' hopes, to which they had been compelled to give voice. Frantically, the Executive Committee of the Soviet ordered the confiscation of the Mezhrayontsy leaflet and worked overnight to negotiate a deal with the Duma. The next day they attempted to publish a further statement penned by Miliukov, one of the leading bourgeois liberals, calling for "the harmonious, coordinated work of soldiers and officers," as an antidote to Order No. 1. Though issued by the Soviet, the realization of Order No. 1 now required a struggle against the Soviet's reformist leadership. This was a necessary prelude to the October Revolution. In the span of a week, rebellious soldiers, with the aid of revolutionaries and in the teeth of their official leaders' resistance, achieved remarkable gains -- the election of officers, the self-organization of the ranks and control by a workers' organization over the army of what was still a bourgeois state.

This lesson from history is critical today. The PMP codifies gains won during the Russian revolution, which revolutionary workers can popularize and use to initiate the necessary dialogue with the ranks of the armed forces in the future, under conditions of heightened class struggle. By speaking to the democratic and class outlook (and the simple human desire to avoid being needlessly slaughtered) of the soldiers in the ranks, we can demonstrate to them that these gains can only be won through revolutionary methods -- and finally made secure only through the smashing of the bourgeois state and the creation of a workers' state. Though their realization is only possible in a revolutionary situation, convincing the more class-conscious workers and further popularizing them in advance are indispensable tactical weapons for achieving the onset of revolution. Only through the ongoing struggle for such demands, a struggle led by vanguard workers, can our class learn that its needs can only be fulfilled through socialist revolution.

Thus, the SL and IG's objection to the PMP, that its demands require a revolutionary situation for their realization, is absolutely correct -- and absolutely irrelevant. Revolutionary consciousness doesn't descend from heaven or the pen of rationalists. It has to be prepared in advance by the most advanced layer of workers and then fought for in struggle after struggle.

From the Third to the Fourth International
The world-wide assimilation of the lessons of the Russian revolution by the proletarian vanguard was one of the key tasks of the Communist Third International. A lasting testament to these efforts can be found in the proceedings of the first four congresses of the International, but these could not cover all conceivable questions of strategy and tactics. In particular, the question of how to respond to preparations for a second imperialist world war was not high on the agenda; at the time, Communists expected that the international spread of the revolution would prevent that war. The increasing bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet Union, and the accompanying rightward shift of the International's Russian section, tragically cut this political education short.

As the International transformed into an instrument of Stalin's nationalist foreign policy, each newly betrayed revolution -- China in 1925-27, Germany by 1933, Spain in 1936-39 -- increased the likelihood of a new world war, compounding the disorientation of the Communist parties. A key task for the International Left Opposition and the Fourth International was preparation for the likely imperialist war, and the re-education of the vanguard in the spirit of revolutionary defeatism. Even in those sections of the Fourth International which had some continuity of personnel stretching back to the early years of the Communist International, like the U.S. SWP, Lenin's methods had never been fully assimilated. Often they were confused with homegrown forms of petty-bourgeois radicalism.

In the United States, for example, the heritage of individualist protest was intense. During the First World War, the majority of the Socialist Party had refused to support the war and promoted draft resistance. Not only because of government suppression, but also because pacifism held little appeal to workers familiar with the unavoidable violence of life under capitalism, the pacifistic Socialists had little impact on the U.S.'s ability to carry out its imperialist war aims. To the left of the SP, many radicals were in the orbit of the IWW or anarchist groups. Recognizing conscription as a form of capitalist slavery, but having no perspective of splitting the army or preparing for the seizure of power, many took the route of self-preservation. After that war, "going to Mexico