Saturday, 29 August 2009

Proletarian Military Policy

The last few weeks have seen a large number of British Troops being killed in Afghanistan. It has raised questions amongst the Public about what Britain is doing there, with about half the population believing that Britain should pull out. But, an even bigger concern has developed about the way in which the British State has equipped and taken care of the troops it has sent into battle. Some of that is simple political point scoring by the Government’s opponents, who have jumped on to a bandwagon. For, example, all of the talk, about the need for helicopters, misses the point that, when the USSR was in Afghanistan, its use of helicopters just provided the Taliban with the opportunity to kill large numbers of troops, in one go, by shooting those helicopters out of the sky, using, US supplied, Stinger Missiles. There seems no doubt that, if British Troops were transported, in helicopters, the Taliban would similarly change their tactics away from IED’s to shoulder launched missiles. Nevertheless, the essential criticism about ensuring that troops are properly equipped, to be as safe as anyone can be, sent to fight a war, remains. The last few days have seen reports that the Ministry of Defence has “lost” several billion pounds worth of equipment, and the Gray Report apparently criticises the Ministry of Defence for the fact that equipment is taking five years to procure, and is 40% above the estimated cost.

The Inadequacy of the Left

The attitude of the Left is generally to ignore these issues, in large part because in opposing the War, and opposing the British State, as an aggressive imperialist state, it has little interest in dealing with the needs of British troops sent to fight on behalf of that state. Indeed, large sections of the Left, who can see no further than a crass anti-imperialism, and who misunderstand and misrepresent basic Marxist principles in that regard, and in relation to “Revolutionary Defeatism”, have ended up taking the attitude of “My enemy’s enemy is my friend”, and so ended up as the military and political allies of forces which are the enemy of the working class and of socialists. In so doing they have frequently confused the actions of the British State, and the actions of the individual soldiers sent to fight on its behalf. Even if they have not themselves lined up with those forces, that have grotesquely gone to protest when British troops have returned, as a result of the cross class nature of the anti-war movement, they have allowed themselves to be tarred with the same brush.

I would argue that this position has nothing to do with the politics of Marxism, nor with the politics, on these issues, of the revolutionary traditions of Lenin and Trotsky. The Left’s position has been a mish-mash, a combination of Ultra-Leftism, Moralism, and Pacifism, which is nothing more than the political expression of that Moralism. As a consequence, it cuts itself off from large sections of the working class, in Britain, and gives the opportunity for Nationalist and fascist forces to intervene opportunistically in that space. Moreover, it boycotts its own politics in providing a working class solution and response to issues, which deeply concern the working class, not just in relation to questions of Defence, but in relation to day to day issues such as Terrorism, short of a millenarianist call for Socialism.

Engels on The Military Question

The idea that Marxists should not be interested in such questions of how their own bourgeois state organises in this manner can be countered simply by referring to Engels excellent pamphlet The Prussian Military Question and the German Workers' Party where he makes this statement that would be anathema to today’s pacifists of the Left,

“Universal conscription — incidentally the sole democratic institution existing in Prussia, albeit only on paper — marks such an enormous advance on all previous forms of military organisation that, having once existed, even if its implementation left much to be desired, it cannot again be permanently reversed. An army today must be based on one of the two clearly defined systems: either the recruitment of volunteers — which is antiquated and only possible in exceptional cases such as England — or universal conscription. All conscriptive systems and ballots 33 are after all no more than very imperfect forms of the latter. The basic idea behind the Prussian law of 1814 is that every citizen who is physically capable of bearing arms thereby has the obligation to do so personally in defence of his country, during his years of military fitness; this basic idea is far superior to the principle of purchasing substitutes which we find in every other country having a conscriptive system, and having existed for fifty years it will undoubtedly not succumb to the bourgeoisie's burning desire for the introduction of the "trade in human flesh", as the French call it.

However once we accept that the Prussian military system is founded on universal, compulsory service without substitution, the only way it can be further improved without its own spirit being breached is for its basic principle to be put increasingly into practice. Let us consider how things stand in that respect.”

Engels goes on to take the opportunity of pointing out how the workings of Capitalism meant that large numbers were unfit for service, but also says in relation to draft dodging,

“All that is needed is to insist strictly and without mercy that men who have avoided recruitment should make up the time afterwards, and then the whole rigmarole of harassment and paperwork would be unnecessary and there would be more recruits than previously.”

Again pointing to the inefficient means by which the Capitalist state dealt with this issue.

He makes clear why for a socialist this is important.

“Whether reorganisation means some slight increase to the military burden or not, will make little difference to the working class as a class. On the other hand it certainly cannot remain indifferent to the question of whether or not universal conscription is fully implemented. The more workers who are trained in the use of weapons the better. Universal conscription is the necessary and natural corollary of universal suffrage; it puts the voters in the position of being able to enforce their decisions gun in hand against any attempt at a coup d'état.

The only aspect of army reorganisation in Prussia which is of interest to the German working class is the increasingly thorough Implementation of universal conscription.”

Once again demonstrating how far Marx and Engels were from today’s Statists who masquerade as Marxists, Engels adds,

“It seems that the most advanced workers in Germany are demanding the emancipation of the workers from the capitalists by the transfer of state capital to associations of workers, so that production can be organised, without capitalists, for general account; and as a means to the achievement of this end: the conquest of political power by universal direct suffrage.”

If we look at the other question, which occupied a great deal of Marx and Engels attention, Ireland, we find that although, they give support for the struggle of the Fenians, for Irish liberation, their emphasis, from beginning to end, in achieving that aim, is to win the British workers over to that goal. In opposing the role of the British State, in oppressing Ireland, there is nothing in their writing, which suggests opposition to the ordinary British soldiers required to implement that policy. How could there be, when those soldiers were drawn almost exclusively from within the ranks of the British working class that Marx and Engels sought to win over!

The Great Schism

The great schism in the “Marxist” movement arose over the attitude to the First World War. Although, all Marxist parties had opposed the War prior to its commencement, the main Social Democratic Parties of Europe, along with the Labour Party in Britain, all lined up behind their own ruling classes at the outbreak of War. Only a minority continued to oppose the War, and to argue that for the working class, “The Main Enemy is at home”, as the German socialist Karl Liebknecht put it. Even amongst the “revolutionaries”, of the Russian Bolsheviks, that position held, as their representatives in the Duma lined up with the Mensheviks to support the War, despite Lenin’s protestations.

The opponents of the War were represented by eight Left organisations at the Zimmerwald Conference. However, it should be recognised that this opposition to War, was not a Pacifist opposition. In one speech Lenin commented,

“Coming out for peace does not mean much in itself. David also writes: we are not for the war, but only against defeat. Everyone wants peace. Taking account of the new situation, we should use new and specific means of struggle which should not be similar in any way to the old German or Russian methods.”

And Karl Liebknecht who had made the statement, “The Main Enemy is at home”, was unable to attend the Conference, because he had himself been conscripted. The opposition to war, was as Lenin pointed out predicated on the idea that the world had entered a revolutionary phase,

“The Basle Manifesto of 1912, adopted unanimously in anticipation of precisely the kind of war between the great powers which has in fact come about, definitely recognised the reactionary and imperialist character of the war, and clearly announced the approach of a proletarian revolution in connection with such a war. In effect, the war has created a revolutionary situation, and has generated revolutionary sentiments and discontent. It is the task of Social-Democrats to maintain and develop these, help to clear the revolutionary awareness of the masses and purge their minds of the falsehood of bourgeois and socialist chauvinism, promote every effort at revolutionary mass struggle against imperialism, for socialism, and to work to transform the imperialist war into a civil war for socialism.

To intensify their revolutionary agitation, Social-Democrats must make use of the growing massive desire for peace, which expresses the disappointment of the masses and the clearing of their revolutionary consciousness. But in so doing, Social-Democrats should not deceive the people by holding out hopes for any kind of stable democratic peace, that would rule out the oppression of nations, and that would come soon and without the revolutionary over throw of the present governments.”

See: The Zimmerwald left

Revolutionary Defeatism

This fundamental difference between then and now has to be taken into consideration by Marxists in shaping their tactics and strategy in relation to military policy. It is also within this context that the concept of “Revolutionary Defeatism” has to be understood. Revolutionary Defeatism did not at all signify a desire for the military defeat of your own State at the hands of its enemies. It did signify the need for a revolutionary struggle by the working class against the ruling class of your own state despite the existence of an external threat, of turning the War into a Civil War in each of the bourgeois states. And part and parcel of that policy of revolutionary defeatism was precisely to demonstrate – in the same way that Engels had done in his pamphlet on the Prussian Military Question – that the ruling class was incapable of truly defending the State effectively, that its military policies would always be restricted and constrained by its own immediate economic and class interests at the expense of the ordinary workers conscripted to go and fight for it. There is no part of Lenin’s policy or the policy of any of the Zimmerwald Left that calls either for a Pacifistic policy of draft dodging, of desertion, and certainly no suggestion of blaming and attacking the workers and peasants so conscripted, for taking part in the fighting.

It is inconceivable, for instance, that the Bolsheviks would have organised protests to greet returning Russian troops when they arrived in their towns and villages on leave! Far from it, the Bolsheviks themselves were carrying out their revolutionary duty within those forces fighting alongside the working class – sticking with the workers as Bolshevik policy required – and attempting to build support within their units for the idea of turning the War into a Civil War against the bosses.

Trotsky Against Pacifism

Later Trotsky was to write about how the Bolshevik sees this duty,

“We must of course fight against the war not only “until the very last moment” but during the war itself when it begins. We must however give to our fight against the war its fully revolutionary sense, opposing and pitilessly denouncing pacifism. The very simple and very great idea of our fight against the war is: we are against the war but we will have the war if we are incapable of overthrowing the capitalists.”

See: On Conscription

And he wrote,

“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.”

See: Proletarian Military Policy
He elaborates in his article, “On The Question of Workers Self Defence”

“We Bolsheviks also want to defend democracy, but not the kind that is run by the sixty uncrowned kings. (NB. Trotsky was writing to his US supporters, and this reference is to the 60 top financial families) First, let’s sweep our democracy clean of capitalist magnates, then we will defend it to the last drop of blood. Are you, who are not Bolsheviks, really ready to defend this democracy? But, you must at least, be able to the best of your ability to defend it so as not to be a blind instrument in the hands of the sixty families and the bourgeois officers devoted to them. The working class must learn military affairs in order to advance the largest possible number of officers from its own ranks.

We must demand that the state, which tomorrow will ask for the workers’ blood, today give the workers the opportunity to master military technique in the best possible way in order to achieve the military objectives with the minimum expenditure of human lives.

To accomplish that, a regular army and barracks by themselves are not enough. Workers must have the opportunity to get military training at their factories, plants and mines at specified times, while being paid by the Capitalists. If the workers are destined to give their lives, the bourgeois patriots can at least make a small material sacrifice.

The state must issue a rifle to every worker capable of bearing arms and set up rifle and artillery ranges for military training purposes in places accessible to the workers.

Our agitation in connection with the war must be as uncompromising in relation to the pacifists as to the imperialists.

This war is not our war, the responsibility for it lies squarely on the Capitalists. But, so long as we are still not strong enough to overthrow them and must fight in the ranks of their army, we are obliged to learn to use arms as well as possible….

Just as every worker, exploited by the Capitalists, seeks to learn as well as possible the production techniques, so every proletarian soldier in the imperialist army must learn as well as possible the art of war so as to be able, when the conditions change to apply it in the interests of the working class.
We are not pacifists. No we are revolutionaries. And we know what lies ahead for us.”

See: Writings 1939-40 pp104-5.

And, in a series of discussions, in June 1940, with US comrades, Trotsky outlined his position further, which whilst recognising the continuing degree of patriotism that infused the workers, keyed into it without making any concessions to principle.

“We must oppose sending untrained boys into battle. The Trade Unions not only must protect the workers in peaceful times and protect their industrial skill, but they must now demand the possibility of learning the military art from the state.”

“For instance, in the Trade Unions we can argue like this: ‘I am a socialist and you are a patriot. Good. We will discuss this difference between us. But, we should agree that the workers be trained at Government expense to become military experts. Schools should be set up in connection with the trade unions – at government expense but under the control of the trade unions.’ This kind of approach would give us access to the workers, who are 95 to 98% patriotic even at the present time.”

“But, we place our whole agitation on a class basis. We are against the bourgeois officers who treat you like cattle, who use you for cannon-fodder. We are concerned for the deaths of the workers, unlike the bourgeois officers. We want workers officers.”

And tying into the present conflict in Afghanistan, and the lack of support provided by the British Capitalists and their state to the troops sent to fight to protect their profits, one of Trotsky’s supporters at the discussion, the Trade Union leader Farrell Dobbs, says,

”Men were drafted in May and within two or three months were dead in France. They were not properly trained to take care of themselves. We can compile material on how officers have wasted material.”

And, following Engels comments,Trotsky says,

“As for the escapists – including those in our own Party – we must speak about them with full contempt. They are deserters. Likewise with the conscientious objectors who accepted everything in peacetime but don’t want to accept war. Escapists are deserters from their class and their revolution.”

And for Trotsky, the revolutionary in the armed forces, had a specific role, just as they did as Bolsheviks in the Tsar’s Army.

“In the union I can say I am for the Fourth International. I am against War. But, I am with you. I will not sabotage the war. I will be the best soldier just as I was the best and most skilled worker in the factory. At the same time, I will try to convince you that we should change our society.”

(ibid pp 253-8)

In these writings and discussions Trotsky outlines the real meaning of revolutionary defeatism not as being in favour of the military victory of your opponent, but working for the revolutionary overthrow of your own Capitalist class, recognising the limitations on being able to achieve that under the given circumstances, but using those circumstances in a way that enables the development of the forces which will in turn change those conditions.

That concept was developed elsewhere by Trotsky in criticising the Pacifist policy of the Stalinist Comintern in relation to War, and control of the military. He wrote,

"Where and when has an oppressed proletariat “controlled” the foreign policy of the bourgeoisie and the activities of its arm? How can it achieve this when the entire power is in the hands of the bourgeoisie? In order to lead the army, it is necessary to overthrow the bourgeoisie and seize power. There is no other road. But the new policy of the Communist International implies the renunciation of this only road.

When a working class party proclaims that in the event of war it is prepared to “control” (i.e., to support) its national militarism and not to overthrow it, it transforms itself by this very thing into the domestic beast of capital. There is not the slightest ground for fearing such a party: it is not a revolutionary tiger but a trained donkey. It may be kept in starvation, flogged, spat upon it – it will nevertheless carry the cargo of patriotism. Perhaps only from time to time it will piteously bray: “For God’s sake, disarm the Fascist leagues.” In reply to its braying it will receive an additional blow of the whip. And deservingly so!"

See: Trotsky - An Open Letter to the French Workers.

This is essentially the criticism of the strategy of organisations like the Stop The War Coalition whose protests and demonstrations amount to nothing more than this kind of Pacifist sloganeering. They seek to influence and control the Military Policy of the Capitalist State i.e. “Stop The War”, “Troops Out” etc. without pointing out that such control can only come about if the bourgeois state controlling those troops is overthrown! Moreover, because such campaigns are cross class campaigns seeking to mobilise a wide range of bourgoeois Public Opinion, drawing in various bourgeois and petit-bourgeois forces, the clergy etc., and indeed in the case of STW allying with reactionary Islamist forces, the kind of clear proletarian policy and strategy outlined by Trotsky, Lenin and Engels above is impossible, precisely because these bourgeois forces are never going to adopt a strategy that revolves around class action not just against War, but against the fundamental cause of War in the age of Imperialism – Capitalist society!

Building A Workers Alternative

Practically, then what conclusions can be drawn from this about how Marxists should relate to current conflicts in which British workers are being asked to fight and die for the greater glory of British Capitalism? A number of points immediately arise.

1. Marxists are opposed to wars conducted by imperialist states whether they be wars between such states as was the case in WWI and II, or wars conducted by such states to subjugate non-imperialist states e.g. Iraq, Afghanistan.

2. However, we recognise that short of overthrowing the Capitalist State, we are powerless to prevent such wars where the State is determined to undertake them. We make that point clearly to the working class, in contrast to the various genera of Pacifist and reformist whose politics imply the class neutrality of the State.

3. In the meantime we conduct our activities on the basis of class. We point out that the Capitalist State systematically fails to properly train those it sends to die, that it systematically does what it does in the realm of industry i.e. cuts costs at the expense of the workers whose lives it places little value upon. That Capitalist State talks about defending the country, but the main thrust of its military activity is geared not to a defence of Britain, but to an extension of British military power overseas, in ways, which can only antagonise the inhabitants of those foreign lands, and thereby encourage retaliation, putting in danger not protecting the lives of British workers.

Both Britain and the US have explained the terrorist attacks upon them by claiming that they are a response to the prosperity and democracy of the UK and US. But, that is clearly false. Switzerland has both a higher per capita standard of living, and a greater claim to democracy than either the UK or US. Yet, it has faced no such terrorist attacks. That fact can hardly be divorced from the fact that it has not been involved in the repeated invasions of other countries that has marked the foreign and military policy of the UK and US.

4. As Marxists we insist that any policy of Defence should be precisely that a policy designed to defend the rights and freedoms of ordinary British workers. We have no faith in the bourgeoisie or its State implementing such a policy. Our position as with our politics in general is based no on a reliance on or misguided belief in the bourgeois state, but in the necessity of the working class looking after its own needs and interests through independent working class action. On that basis, and in the tradition of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky as set out above, we believe in the need for Universal Military Conscription for the purpose of defending workers interests against their enemeies at home and abroad. But, such conscription cannot be left in the hands of our class enemies. All such conscription must be undertaken by the working class under democratic, Trade Union control.

The consequences of this are clear that all British troops should be withdrawn from foreign lands and returned to Britain where they can be engaged in actual defence rather than offence. The present standing army should be phased out as Universal Conscription provides the forces necessary to create a National Militia under Trade Union control. Even the US Constitution states that there should be a right to bear arms for all as part of a well-regulated militia. There is nothing outlandish about such a demand it is a basic bourgeois democratic demand.

5. In fact, the development of Co-operative housing, and the Co-operative management of estates provides the basis for the policing of such estates to be brought directly under the control of the workers on those estates, and taken out of the hands of the Capitalist State, and its Police Force. Participation in such activity should be a Civic Duty of each citizen, in the same way that is serving on a Jury. Such organisation at a local level can form the basis for the development of a National Militia under Trade Union Control.


An understanding of the strategy and tactics to be adopted can be gained by looking at how workers have resolved these issues in practice, and how Marxists have approached them in the past. In WWI, in 1917, Russian soldiers having overthrown the Tsar, shouted across to their German counterparts in the trenches,

“We have overthrown our Tsar. If you do the same with your Kaiser, we can end the War, and all go back to our families.”

In his History of the Russian Revolution Trotsky relates the solution provided in practice by the Russian Troops.

‘“The soldiers are definitely expressing the opinion,” reports the chief of the Grenadier Division on the 23rd March , “that we can only defend ourselves and not attack.” Military reports and political speeches repeat this thought in various forms. Ensign Krylenko, an old revolutionist and a future commander in chief under the Bolsheviks, testified that for the soldiers the war question was settled in those days with this formula “Support the front, but don’t join the offensive.” In a most solemn but wholly sincere language, that meant defend freedom.’

(Trotsky. “History of the Russian Revolution” p278).

In other words the working class resolved this question for themselves in practice by saying we have no interest in the imperialist ambitions of our own bourgeoisie, we do not seek your land and property, we hope you take the same attitude, as our brothers and sisters, but if you do not, be aware we have no intention of becoming slaves of your rulers, we will defend our freedom.

And in France, Greece, Yugoslavia etc., the main fighting force for the Partisans and Resistance fighters came from the “Communists”, who laid down their lives in small actions against the overwhelming might of the German army. In fact, its interesting to compare the actions of the Communists in attempting to offer up such defence against invasion compared to the actions of the bourgeoisie, who were quick to save their skins and their property once the Germans invaded. Capital, in Occupied states, continued to exploit the domestic workforce equally, if not even more brutally, under the German jackboot as it had done previously. Its no wonder that amongst sections of the French bourgeoisie content with the Vichy regime, that even the forces of DeGaulle and the Free French army were not applauded, let alone those of the Communists and resistance fighters.

That, of course is the nature of Capital, which is very strong on requiring the workers to demonstrate their patriotism, but which is less keen to do so itself when it threatens its own property. Not only did, the various Capitalist states jockey for position in deciding who to enter an alliance with during the 1920’s and 30’s, free from any concern about whether its partners were “democratic” or “dictatorial”, but concerned solely with what was economically advantageous, but even when the War began attacks were initially prohibited on German arms factories, because of the Capitalists concern that property was sacrosanct. Up until the US entered the war, the German plants of General Motors and Ford continued to produce military vehicles for the Nazis, and the US sued the UK for damage caused to those plants in bombing raids!

Tom Wintringham

In Britain, there is an even more interesting story. During the 1930’s repeated demands had been raised, by Tom Wintringham, for Britain to introduce adequate Air Raid Protection (ARP) measures. Wintringham had been a founding member of the British Communist Party. On the outbreak of the First World War he had given up his studies at Oxford University and signed up for the Royal Flying Corps. His politics are somewhat eclectic. Long before the policy was adopted by the Comintern he argued for cross class Popular Fronts. But, Wintringham also seems to have developed fairly early on some unease at the polciies being adopted by Stalin, and his Popular Frontism seems also to have been driven by a concern that change should be driven from the bottom up, rather than from the State down, as his later political activity demonstrated.

In the 1930’s he went to fight on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, and became the Commander of the English Battalion of the International Brigade.
See: Wintringham .

There he learned guerilla tactics, and as WWII loomed he argued not only the need for ARP measures, but also that the British people should be trained in such tactics to fight against any invaders. He argued strongly in favour of the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV), which was to become the Home Guard. But, when the LDV was first established it was a haphazard affair, much like the portrayal in “Dad’s Army”. Wintringham was brought in to organise proper training at Osterley Park.

See: Wintringham and the Home Guard .

Wintringham worked for the Picture Post, and when the film “The Life and Times of Colonel Blimp” was made it was Wintringham whose role was portrayed.

See: Picture Post

Ironically, although a large part of the initial organisation and training for the Home Guard is attributable to Wintringham, he was not allowed to join it himself, because he was a member of the Communist Party!!!! Again, this demonstrates the real nature of the bosses patriotism. A similar thing could be seen after the War in Germany. The Allies completely turned a blind eye to the Nazi industrialists, because they were more concerned to ensure that German Capitalism once again began to function as part of the world Capitalist system. At the same time Nazis were allowed to take up positions as judges, and Civil Servants. Yet, those forces in Germany in the Communist underground that had continued to fight the Nazis throughout the War were the ones who were blacklisted. A policy called “Berufsverbot” was introduced that restricted Communist activity, and even into the 1960’s opposition to the attacks on democracy by the State could get you murdered as happened to Rudi Dutshcke.

See: Here ,


Rudi Dutshcke.

In Spain, Wintringham had an affair with an American Trotskyist, Kitty Bowler, who became his wife. His refusal to leave her led to his expulsion from the Communist Party. Wintringham’s political trajectory then led him to advance positions close to what would today be called Libertarian Socialism. His Popular Frontism led him into an alliance with Liberals, and together with J.B. Priestley he set up the Commonwealth Party, which sought to advocate politics based upon Co-operation. Having said that, at a time when the LP itself was in a Popular Front, National Government with the Tories, and the Communist Party was banned, the Commonwealth Party, did stand candidates in elections against the National Government candidates, in order to provide a socialist choice for workers, and did achieve some degree of success.

See: Commonwealth party

For more information on Wintringham and his writings see:

Wintringham Index

Tom Wintringham .

Democratic Rights and Marxist Politics

This shows how, under conditions of War, Marxists can determine their politics in such a way as to address the immediate concerns of workers, advancing a Proletarian Policy of Defence, that offers the potential for workers to assert their own class interests, and to demonatrate why workers can never rely on the bourgeoisie to provide such defence. It demonstrates how, under these conditions, the potential exists for undertaking class struggle politics within the armed forces, and all sections of society mobilised for Defensive purposes. The main requirement here is that Marxists have correctly oriented themselves to the conditions, and created the conditions under which they can engage in action to organise, and develop the working class in these areas around such a class struggle perspective.

Under current conditions, its necessary to recognise basic facts and frame tactics and strategy accordingly. Although, the development of Co-operative Housing and Estate Management – perhaps through a development of existing Tenants and Residents Associations, and their closer linking to Trades Councils, and other Local Labour Movement bodies – offers the potential for developing local workers defence as the bais of a Militia, we are clearly a long way from such a development. Although we are in favour of Universal Conscription, we are not in favour of that outside the context set out above. And, although we argue for the basic rights of troops, we recognise that the reality of the current military, as a professional army under the direct control of the bosses state, is that it is the physical force intended for use by that State against the working class, whatever the politics or intentions of the individual soldier. We cannot then, under current conditions, be in favour of a Military Trade Union, or its integration into the Labour Movement, when part of its function is to act AGAINST the Labour Movement. We have to differenetiate between our attitude to the military as an organisation, as an arm of the State, and our attitude to the individual soldier on whose side we must be as against that State. Our task is to change those conditions.

We can then demand that the same rights be applied to soldiers as to any other worker in regard to, for example, Health and Safety. Just as no worker should be asked to perform any duty without the necessary safety equipment and clothing, so no soldier should be asked to undertake actions without similar protection. Soldiers should have the right to establish their own Health and Safety representatives and Committees to determine what such equipment should consist of, and should have the right to refuse any activity without the provision of the equipment they deem necessary. In the same way they should have the right to determine what training is required to undertake particular types of activity, and to demand that it be provided prior to any soldier being asked to undertake such action.

Soldiers should have the right to hold regular mass assemblies to discuss action they are being asked to undertake, and the review those they have undertaken. Partly in order to ensure that from such experience the best officers are selected, and to remove those that have proved inadequate, and partly so that soldiers should feel free to express their views without fear of reprisals from above, they should have the right to elect their immediate commanders.

Clearly, operationally, it is not possible to engage in fighting on a democratic basis. There has to be a clear chain of command, but that is precisely why the individual soldiers need to have the utmost confidence in those giving the orders. This was one of the main strengths of the Red Army created by Trotsky. The effectiveness of that was demonstrated by the fact, that despite the terrible devastation that Russia had suffered during WWI, despite the attempts of the old Tsarist rulers and the bourgeoisie to sabotage production and the fucntioning of the State, despite the crushing war weariness that weighed on the Russian people, the thousands of workers and peasants that flocked into the Red Army, were able not only to defeat the forces of the counter-revolutionaries, but also to defeat the armies of the 18 imperialist powers that invaded Russia to try to overturn the revolution.
Similarly, society as a whole should have the right to elect the Military Top Brass, and given the links between the Military and defence companies that exists in every Capitalist State as demonstrated by Galbraith, society should demand the opening of the books of all Defence contractors, and the disclosure of all such links in the same way that we are now demanding that MP’s come clean about their expenses.

On this issue as on many others the Left needs to move away from the Statist, and petit-bourgeois conceptions that have debased it for too long, and to return to the path of proletarian policy, and its scientific elaboration according to the principles of Marxism. On this issue as on others we do not have to simply accept that all that is possible is to call for reforms by the existing State, which sow illusions both in the neutrality of that State, and the fallacy of being able to control its actions short of its overthrow. We can advance an independent working class solution that not only is not dependent upon that State, but is in opposition to it! We do not have to settle for simply hanging on to the coat-tails of the Moralists and Pacifists, but can address the real fears and concerns of the working-class in a way that undermines the Nationalists and Fascists, who otherwise play upon and exploit those fears. In fact, in so doing, in orienting towards a proletarian military policy of the kind outlined here, we set the basis for its extension across borders, building on the natural co-operative instincts of the working class and its desire for peace and security. In fact, we provide the basis for establishing the kind of international working class force that can intervene to assist workers facing oppression at the hands of vicious dictators and militarists without relying on intervention by some supposedly “progressive”, or “democratic” imperialism.

We lay the basis in military terms for implementing the basic idea – “Workers of the World Unite”, and thereby of preventing those workers being slaughtered in some new conflagration.


SteveH said...


You are always complaining that socialists do not put forward concrete proposals that can address the workers immediate interests.

Ok how about this for a proposal (I hope you recognise how this ties in with this article), disband the House of Lords and replace it with a workers parliament that basically performs the same scrutiny function that the old outmoded second chamber performs.
This would be a fixed term house, maybe 6 months (though the finer details need to be worked on) and would operate similar to jury service. In an advanced society I would foresee an agency workers cooperative filling in the gaps left by the lost worker to the parliament.

I feel this could be a popular idea, with the expenses scandal and all, and I am sure some of the concerns of the soldiers would be aired more purposefully.

By the way, while your article provides a basis for socialists to develop a strategy, the actual practical ideas need 21st century solutions.

Boffy said...


My complaint is not that socialists fail to put forward concrete proposals - look at the various papers and websites and you will see plenty of those - but that these proposals require workers to rely on forces other than themselves under current conditions for their implementation, or else are simply propagandistic essentially resolving into nothing more than a call for "Socialism Now".

Take the realted demands for Nationalisation and Workers Control. The only force capable of bringing about Nationalisation is the Capitalist State. Raising the demand for Nationalisation then means telling workers to rely on the Capitalist state to come to their rescuse, even though we know that if that State does Nationalise it certainly will not be to act in workers interests.

Now take the demand for Workers Control often tagged on to it. The Capitalist State here and now has no reason whatsoever to grant Workers Control, for the same reason that if it nationalises it will not be to meet workers interests. It has no more reason to grant Workers Control over Capitalist property than any individual Capitalist has to do so, or even any individual has to invite some stranger to control their private property. Why on Earth would you do that unless you were forced at gunpoint?

That is the point workers can udner certain conditions hold a gun to the bosses head and force Workers Control, but only for short periods. But, we are not anywhere like in a situation where workers are going to do that!


Boffy said...


The same I'm afraid applies to your proposal. The only force at the moment capable of disbanding the House of Lords is the Government. It shows no sign of being slightly interested in doing so, let alone introducing some kind of Workers Parliament in its place.

There are organisations out there already like the AWL who have been raising the call not just for such a Chamber to replace the H of L, but for a Workers Government. Its pissing in the wind, fantasy politics. Not only is there no political party or organisation that could currently provide the MP's for such a Workers Government, but as hte disastrous performance of Leftish candidates in elections demonstrates whenever they stand, there is absolutely no chance at the moment of workes voting for them if they did exist!

Its more likely we will get more hardline Tory bosses Government at the moment than a Worekrs Government.

But, we can have Worekrs Democracy here and now that is practical, that does not require appeals to the bosses state. We can develop Tenants and Residents Associations into real democratic committees of workers in their communities. We can attempt to rebuild local TRadres Councils and Labour Parties, and link them closely to the TRA's. We can build on each shopfloor, rank and file organisations of workers in or outside Trade Unions, and tie these again to the Trades Councils, Labour Parties and TRA's. We can all join the Co-op for a quid, which is paid out of your divi, and get a vote in its numerous activities, including its Community ventures, and begin to build direct resourcing of such activity, as well as develop Co-op organisations requiring workers democracy.

By engaging in such activity we can strengthen not just workers democracy, but we can strengthen the economic and social posiiton of the working class within society here and now. By doing so we lay the basis for such organisation being linked organically on a district by district basis into a national organisation built from the bottom up, which would also provide the basis for workers intervention into the parallel institutions of bourgeois democracy.

Its in that vein that the Military Policy is set out. It does not seek to provide a detailed set of instructions, because it is the job of committees of soldiers, sailors and airmen to determine that democratically themselves. In the same way it is the job of workers themselves to determine democratically the details of how they will develop their local defence forces and militia.

This is the method of Marx rather than of the Leninists. It is to be instructive not prescriptive.

SteveH said...


I have put this idea to you because I don’t expect the utopian or statist bollocks you’d get from others on the left, so please do me the courtesy of commenting on my proposals on their own terms and don’t lump me in with the AWL etc.

I am not calling for a workers government.

My proposal is for a workers second chamber (a non elected fixed term chamber, chosen at random like jury service), with a scrutiny role. A genuine holding the ruling class to account.
I deliberately stopped short of a workers government because it was too fantastical.
My proposal doesn’t overthrow the system in one fell swoop but undermines the current democracy deficit and doesn’t appeal to the bosses state but carefully scrutinises everything they do.

My proposal isn’t a detailed set of instructions as you claim but simply creates an institution for workers to propose ideas, comment on policy etc.

By just putting this proposal forward we will see the state and its apologists squirming to find excuses against such a system and expose them to the workers as their enemy.
We will be able to tell the workers that the true nanny state is the bourgeois state and that socialism represents the beginning of the end for the nanny state.

Just raising this demand is a revolutionary act!

I could also imagine a link between your TRA’s and the workers parliament, where issues raised by the TRA’s could be aired.
Where do you think the army councils would send their issues to, it would be the workers parliament. This would create solidarity amongst the workers and raise class consciousness. The workers would see they have their own interests, separate and in opposition to the bourgeoisie.

Boffy said...


I thought I had commented on your proposal in its own terms. I wasn't lumping you with the AWL, but trying to respond to your point that I criticise the Left for not putting forward concrete proposals.

The only sense in which I was putting your proposal in the same category was from the pespective of who is it that actually abolished the House of Lords, who is it here and now that establishes this Workers Second Chamber?

My point is that I have no objection to the idea itself - the fact is that in a situation of dual power your Second Chamber is essentially what the Supreme Soviet is - but that we do not yet have even effective grass roots committees of workers, let alone a Supreme Soviet.

Under current conditions demanding that the Government set up such a body is a bit like demanding they establish Socialism. I actually don't think workers would even be surprised let alone learn much from their inevitable refusal to do so.

As for where do soldiers send their demands to, the committees of soldiers would decide on their interests, and determine their actions accordingly themselves, in the same way that workers in any workplace do. In the same way that a Trade Union cannot provide a complete solution for workers, because they imply bargaining within the system - and only Workers ownership of the means of production can provide such a solution - in the same way Committees of soldiers cannot provide a complete solution for them, for the same reason - ultimately they are subject to the control of he bosses State. Only a Workers Militia can resolve that problem.

But, that does not mean that working towards Committees of Soldiers, and the putting forward of demands for their democratic rights, or the putting forward of the idea of building worekrs committees of other kinds - like TRA's - cannot begin to deal with workers needs and problems now, whilst also acting as a bridge to those more complete solutions.

SteveH said...

Who raises this demand? Socialists and workers.

Just like the bourgeois raised demands of aristocrats and won, then I cannot see why a campaign to establish such a chamber couldn’t be started. After all, we have already seen reform to the House of Lords. If this campaign were to gather pace then pressure would be put on the ruling class to give in, they have been forced into concessions in the past and will in the future.

In the wake of the MP’s expenses I would have thought the time was right for the left to push for this demand. I was amazed that this wasn’t done anyway or some similar demand, maybe this indicates the weakness of the left at the moment.

Isn’t it time for the working class to flex its muscles, doesn’t this proposal raise a demand to a class level.

Also, I didn’t mean we would force the soldiers to go to the workers parliament. I was merely speculating that this is where they would choose to go, as they would have some trust in the institution. Class solidarity in action.

Boffy said...


I wasn't asking who raises the demand, I was asking who here and now has the power to bring it about. If you or anyone else wishes to raise a demand that there should be a Second Chamber made up of workers selected by lot, I have no problem with that. I simply don't beleive you will rally many workers to such a demand at the present time, and without that it has no chance of being brought about, because the Government simply will not do it because they think its a good idea!

The reforms to the House of lords have not been as a result of pressure from the working class. They have been minimal, and they have einforced the position of the ruling class, because it is its representatives not workers representatives who are appointed to it.

The bourgoisie had to fight a Civil War against the old ruling class, and a long running seeries of skirmishes, including the Glorious Revolution. Even up to the end of the 19th century the Landlord class were trying to assert their separate interests. And that is despite the fact that during that time the bouregosiie had a shared interest with the Landlords in them both being exploiting classes, despite a growing integration of the two classes by marriage, as well as by economic position. Bourgeois ideas were able to infuse first the intellectual elite, and from there the State. The working class is unlikely to have those benefits, and certainly doesn't have them now.

For those reasons I don't think your proposal is wrong as much as simply trying to run before you can walk. We need to build those basic organisations at grass roots level, and then the idea of some upper level Chamber will flow naturally from the integration of these lower level bodies.

The way to deal with the troop issue is through essentially Trade Union action, though there are clear limitations. But Trade Unions outside the military can take action in their support - as they have in the past in support of nurses - to demand adequate equipment etc, to support demands for troops to have democratic rights and so on. But, that too has to be developed in stages. Such links would also help build support from the troops for workers in their communities to develop their own local estate policing, defence squads and ultimately militia.

Llin Davies said...


I agree with the general thrust of your argument. The Left or at least some of its largest organisations has both collapsed into a crude anti-imperialism, and almost in its entirety ha adopted a pacifist policy that is in contrast to the positions of Lenin and Trotksy. Some even now openly reject the Proletarian Military Policy set out by Trotsky and the FI. However, I think to be fair you should have pointed out that the Weekly Worker (CPGB) have been raising the demand for a militia over the last few months.

I am also confused about your argument in reply to Steve here where you say that your objection to his proposal is more that it is trying to walk before you can run, rather than outright opposition to the demand. Surely, as you say such a demand could only be introduced by the bouregois state at the moment in the same way that nationalisation can only be so introduced. So, if the demand for nationalisation is wrong - and having read your arguments over the last year or so I have become increasingly convinced that it is - then the same applies to Steve's demand.

Boffy said...


You are correct to point to the fact that the CPGB have been raising the demand for a Militia. Indeed, they made this a point in their criticisms of No2EU. But, it rather stands out like a sore thumb. Its as though this demand is simply part of a shopping list.

My point is that we have to raise demands that workers can fight for and impleemnt here and now, which do not rely on some other force for their implementation. In the words of the Communist manifesto these demands have to be such as to deal with the workers needs of today, whilst also providing a base from which flow further demands which take care of the needs of tomorrow.

Building TRA's, housing and estate Co-ops, or even where necessary utilising other structures such as Neighbourhood Watch groups not only takes forms which workers have themselves created, but also provides the basis for dealing with their immediate problems such as crime and anti-social behaviour, the actions of absentee or Rachmanite landlords, and the dereleiction of workers needs in their communities by local Councils.

I have in the past given examples in different places of how such organisations have worked. And I'm not just sucking this idea out of my thumb, I've been actively involved over 40 years in helping to set up such groups. But, this is more than individuals can deal with. It requires Labour Parties, and Trades Councils to be actively orientated to such work of building these independent working class forms based on collective action and Co-operation. More than that it requires a thought out Programme of how such groups can be extended, and integrated.

Locally some time ago a group of residents set up a Residents Patrol on an estate which suffered a lot of crime and anti-social behaviour. Of course, it was decried in the press as vigilantism etc. But, it was succesful. Maybe, yes, organisations like the BNP might infiltrate such organisations, but that is precisely why the left and the Labour Movement has to take the initiative, and use its greater resources to prevent that - which will happen anyway if the Left does not take the initiative, ebcause on many working class estates the BNP are ALREADY taking an active part in TRA's and so on.


Boffy said...


On the issue of Nationalisation and Steve's argument, I agree with your argument, but disagree with your conclusion. In a way there is no difference with the question of Nationalisation. I am not opposed to the idea of demanding Nationalisation per se, I am opposed to demanding it of the Capitalist State, under conditions when that State will only Nationalise for and in a way that meets the needs of Capital.

Suppose, there was a stituation where workers had created a wide range of Co-operatives, where Workers economic and social position was strong, where from that position they had built a powerful Workers Party, wholly accountable to the working class. Under those conditions, or some set of similar conditions of dual power where we were talking about a Workers Government in the true sense - i.e. not just some Left Social Democratic government of the Allende type - then it would be quite reasonable to raise a demand for the nationalisation of remaining lagre industries udner Workers Control, personally I would still favour the formulation put forward by Engels whereby such Nationalisation really meant the establishment of a Co-operative with the title deeds held by the State.

In that sense the opposition to nationalisation as a demand is an opposition based on trying to run before you can walk. There is, however, another slight difference. Even here in the case of Nationalisation a Workers Government would still have to contend with the Capitalist State, which would try to subvert any such Nationalisation as it would the Government itself. The demand is still in essence one that calls on some other force to implement it. But, a national network of TRA's and other democratically based workers organisations could naturally and organically create its own "Parliament" without the say so of any other force.

Boffy said...

There is a great article in this week's Weekly Worker about the contradictory role of the French Communist Party during the War Lions Led By Donkeys .

Although, the article is a detailed acocunt of the actual role of the French CP from its initial position after the Hitler-Stalin Pact where it acted to oppose a War on Germany, to its role during the War when it faced internal dissent over using essentially terrorist tactics, through to the More succesful tactics of the Maquis, it does raise some of the issues discussed in my original post.

The CPGB, need now to link the lessons discussed in their article to their position of advocating a Workers Militia. Moreover, as I've suggested above that demand itself cannot simply stand on its own, but has to be an integral part of a Programme that seeks to build on existing workers organisation within their communities, to empower and strengthen those organisations as lungs on a ladder leading up to the more advanced call for such a militia. It also needs to address the wider questions about the attitude of the left towards the workers in uniform as discussed above.

anon said...

"We cannot then, under current conditions, be in favour of a Military Trade Union, or its integration into the Labour Movement, when part of its function is to act AGAINST the Labour Movement."

While I agree with most of what you write, I find myself disagreeing with this. Wouldn't a military union both split the loyalty of the rank and file soldiers and make them more resistant to carrying out orders they disagree with (ie. refusing to fire on striking workers/revolutionaries), therefore weakening the capitalist state?

Boffy said...

Who would be in the union? Would it include officers, Generals, what would be its aims?

There always used to be a problem with a union like NALGO that included the Local Government bosses within its ranks. Frequently, they were the ones who also held the dominant positions in the union. If officers dominated a military union, their aims could be essentially those of the state whose armed wing they represent, but operating directly inside the labour movement.

The objectives of aligning rank and file soldiers and sailor and airmen with workers can just as easily by the Trade Union movement supporting demands for democratic rights for them, for them to have democratic assemblies etc. The Labour Movement should demand that troops have the same full rights to Health and Safety protection as other workers and so on.

However, there is another aspect to this, which requires some consideration. Revolutionaries have always opposed the idea of Trade Union rights for the military on the grounds I have set out i.e. that it would be potentially an agent of the state within the ranks of the labour movement. Yet, today, unlike when these ideas were first considered and the issue did not arise, the capitalist state extends far wider than just the bodies of armed men.

The capitalist obtains legitimacy, and appears neutral because of the role of the velvet fist, of its ideological arm, and the welfare state. These organisations of the capitalist state are in fact more effective means for most of the time for controlling and socialising the working class than is the military, which is only required when the velvet fist has failed in that function.

Yet, today, the largest elements of the Trade Union movement are represented by Trade Unions that represent workers in precisely these regiments of the capitalist state apparatus. That acts as a direct means of the ideas of the capitalist state, and the capitalist class, for example of Welfarism and statism, being inserted directly into the dominant ideology of the labour movement itself.

It is a question that arxists perhaps need to address alongside he question of Tade Union rights for the military. The fact that Trade Union rights for troops is generally rejected by Marxists, and yet welcomed for the most powerful sections of the capitalist state, might itself reflect how powerfully the insertion of those bourgeois ideas have already been implanted.