Friday, 23 July 2010

The Politics And Programme Of The First International - Part 8


[French and German subtitle reads: "Standing armies; their relation to production."]

(a) The deleterious influence of large standing armies upon production, has been sufficiently exposed at middle-class congresses of all denominations, at peace congresses, economical congresses, statistical congresses, philanthropical congresses, sociological congresses. We think it, therefore, quite superfluous to expatiate upon this point.

(b) We propose the general armament of the people and their general instruction in the use of arms.

(c) We accept as a transitory necessity small standing armies to form schools for the officers of the militia; every male citizen to serve for a very limited time in those armies.

I have already covered much of this topic in my blog Proletarian Military Policy. I will, therefore, restrict my comments to a basic summary of the background to the position set out here.
The idea that Marxists should not be interested in 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.”

This is another example of the attitude adopted earlier by Marx in relation to Education. We are not where we want to be, so we have to start from where we are. In the same way that Capitalism provided workers with the training and discipline, as well as the economic forms, Co-operative production and credit, which were the basic requirements for creating Socialism, so by providing universal training in the use of weapons it provided workers with the very simple method of enforcing their decisions made via Universal Suffrage, in the face of attempts to frustrate those decisions by the bourgeoisie. If only the Chilean workers under Allende all had weapons, all had had military training!

No wonder the bourgeoisie has adopted the method of creating for itself small, professional standing armies, only resorting to general conscription at times of extreme external threat. As Marx points out above, developing a Militia, is not something that can be developed overnight. The general arming and military training of the population, facilitates such a development, and means that a corps of workers can be developed with the necessary skills to be able to act as trainers for workers in such a militia, and to form its “officer corps”. In the US, the Constitution specifies the right of every citizen to bear arms, as part of a well-regulated militia, and many other countries have militia. In fact, the organisation of workers in their workplaces, and communities, facilitates the development of not just a militia, but of neighbourhood policing groups, defence squads etc. which can make the task of policing neighbourhoods, effectively combating crime and anti-social behaviour, a normal social function for all citizens.

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