by Joseph Green
(CV #37, Feb. 2006)
"For this system, not a penny, not a man"
The armed nation
The class character of the armed nation
Attitude to the draft
Reconsideration of the armed nation
The military program of the proletarian revolution
Repudiation of the armed nation clause in imperialist countries
The Sixth Congress of the CI (1928)
LRP vs. the anti-militarist movement
The LRP'S reformist attitude towards the imperialist armed forces
Trotsky on the imperialist army -- the "proletarian military policy"
. The Trotskyist League for the Revolutionary Party prides itself on being one of the few left-wing groups that favors a draft. In the name of "proletarian militarism", it denounces agitation against the draft and opposes anti-militarism generally.
. To back up this unpopular stand, it talks of a "now hidden history of the communist position". They admit that Lenin talked about anti-militarism, but claim that this was because "Lenin was writing before World War I and had not yet worked out his theory of imperialism."(1)
. In this article, I examine this hidden history of the revolutionary working-class movement, hidden in part by the efforts of the LRP. It turns out that the best part of this movement has always been connected to anti-militarist agitation. This agitation was not abandoned in the name of anti-imperialism, but continued in the Communist International. True, communists recognize the use of armed force in revolutions and liberation wars, but they have a different view of the matter than militarists of any type. From the start of the socialist workers' movement in the 19th century, the clearest more serious section sought for a different type of military than the traditional armies, whether these were drafted or volunteer forces. The Second International, back in the days while it was still the organization of the revolutionary workers, believed it had found this form in a universal or popular militia which would represent the "armed nation" or "armed people", and it contrasted this militia to the militarist standing armies of its day. But when the communist movement separated away from the social-democrats, it dropped the general demand for a militia, holding that the rise of imperialism had eliminated, in the imperialist countries, the major difference between militias and standing armies.
. The LRP's open denunciation of the anti-militarist movement is unusual, even among Trotskyist
groups, but it is based on Trotsky's so-called "proletarian military policy". This policy repeated,
in different words, the old socialist demand, from pre-imperialist days, for the "armed nation".
But it repeated it in a worse fashion. While the communists of the past had called for universal
military training and a militia as an alternative to the traditional armies of the capitalist powers,
Trotsky and the LRP support conscription into the existing standing armies. They imagine that by
demanding reforms in these imperialist armies, they can transform them part way into proletarian
"For this system, not a penny, not a man"
. The development of mass working class socialist parties in the latter nineteenth century gave an impetus to the anti-militarist struggle. A good deal of information about this can be found in Karl Liebknecht's important pamphlet of 1907, Militarism and Anti-militarism. Liebknecht was a major figure in the left-wing of the German social-democratic party who stood up against the pro-war stand of the social-democratic leadership in World War I (1914-1918). He was the first socialist parliamentarian to vote against war credits in Germany; he became the standard-bearer of the struggle against World War I, declaring that "the main enemy is at home" and being imprisoned for his anti-war activities; and he was one of the founders of the German Communist Party. He took part in the uprising of January 1919, and he was subsequently murdered by the German military. The second part of his pamphlet sketches briefly the stand of the international congresses of the First and Second Internationals, and then gives a lot of information about the anti-militarist activities of various of the parties in the 1890s and up to when the pamphlet was written. (This pamphlet is available on the internet at the Marxist Internet Archive, www.marxists.org/archive/liebknecht-k/works/1907/militarism-antimilitarism/index.htm.)
. Karl's father, Wilhelm Liebknecht, was one of the founders of the German social-democratic party, and one of the figures responsible for the influence of Marxism in it. Wilhelm's declaration of 1871, "for this system, not a penny, not a man", became one of the slogans of the intransigent wing of German social-democracy. It linked opposition to the German empire with opposition to its military. When defeat led to the fall of the emperor Louis Napoleon off the French throne and the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1 became a war of aggression against the new French Republic, he and August Bebel moved from abstaining on war credits to voting in the North German Reichstag against additional war loans. For this stand, he and Bebel were arrested for high treason and imprisoned for two years. (3)
. For many years, the German social-democrats refused to vote for the budgets of the provincial
or national governments in Germany. When reformism rose up within the social-democratic
party, a struggle began over whether to continue to refuse to vote for the budget. Wilhelm
Liebknecht's slogan thus became a symbol of the original intransigence of the social-democrats.
It also played a part in specifically anti-militarist agitation; the pamphlet Militarism and
Anti-militarism refers to "that splendid slogan 'Not a man or a penny for the army'."(4)
The armed nation
. Thus, prior to World War I, opposition to standing armies was an important part of the anti-militarism of the social-democrats. They contrasted the ordinary standing armies of the bourgeoisie and the monarchies to the "armed people" or "armed nation". This was the general stand of the social-democrats, and the armed nation was demanded in party programs as well as in speeches. For example, the famous Erfurt Program of the German Social-Democratic Party, which was the model program of the Second International, included a list of immediate demands including "3. Training of all capable of bearing arms. Armed nation instead of standing army. Decision on war and peace by the representatives of the people. Settlement of international disputes by the method of arbitration."(5) Their support of the armed nation was part of the rationale for refusing a penny to the army.
. How did the armed people differ from the standing army? It meant the development of a universal militia. Everyone (at least every adult male of suitable age) was to be part of the militia. This meant there would be military training. The idea was to create a citizen-army, where "every citizen was a soldier, and every soldier a citizen". This didn't mean that every male was to spend all his time on military affairs, the phrase "every soldier a citizen" meant quite the contrary. Aside from training, they were only be called up to serve in time of need, or for periodic retraining. And their training was to include not just time in the militia itself, but also some military training in school, although this was conceived not simply as learning how to shoot a rifle, but also as gymnastics and physical education.
. Engels wrote that universal military service alone, even in a reactionary army, would pose a danger for the ruling classes. He wrote that "Militarism dominates and is swallowing Europe. But this militarism also carries in itself the seed of its own destruction. Competition of the individual states with each other forces them, on the one hand, to spend more money each year on the army and navy, artillery, etc., thus more and more hastening financial catastrophe; and on the other hand, to take universal compulsory military service more and more seriously, thus in the long run making the whole people familiar with the use of arms; and therefore making the people more and more able at a given moment to make its will prevail in opposition to the commanding military lords. And this moment comes as soon as the mass of the people--town and country workers and peasants--has a will. At this point the armies of princes become transformed into armies of the people; the machine refuses to work, and militarism collapses by the dialectic of its own evolution."(6)
. But universal service alone didn't constitute having an armed nation. Unrestrained militarism might lead to universal military training, but it would also lead to a series of disasters for the people. The popular militia was conceived as a way to have universal military training without militarism. So Engels and the social-democrats demanded various democratic reforms for the militia. This included abolition of military law, elimination of the barracks system, abolition of long terms of service (it was considered that training for most soldiers wouldn't take much more than a month, and even training for specialities would only take several months), officers chosen by merit or by election, and so forth.
. The creation of the militia was, as mentioned, an immediate demand. It was not conceived as something that could only be brought about by revolution. On the contrary, it was demanded that the existing governments replace their armies with a popular militia. This meant that the armed nation would still be under the command of the existing governments, and the 19th century Swiss militia was often used as a model of what was being demanded.
. The social-democrats believed that the armed nation would be superior to the standing armies in a number of different ways. On one hand, they believed that the popular militia would be loathe to either carry out aggressive war abroad or attack the people in its own country. For example, Wilhelm Liebknecht argued vehemently in the German legislature that "Now, gentlemen, where there is a militia system, where every citizen is a soldier and every soldier a citizen, an offensive war is impossible." On the other hand, it was held that the militia would be a far superior fighting force to the standing armies. Here's Liebknecht again: "The French people were victorious and their revolution resounded throughout the world until it was tamed by Napoleon, who carried the French eagle as far as Russia. And when Napoleon, indisputably the greatest military genius of the modern era, turned the French people's militia into a standing army, the winds of war turned against the French eagle, and his standing army was defeated by the people's militia of Germany."(7)
. Because the armed nation was an alternative to standing armies, it was sometimes seen as
disarmament. It was not complete disarmament, of course, and the revolutionary British socialist
Harry Quelch, in his interesting pamphlet of 1907, "Social-Democracy and the Armed Nation",
puts it forward as opposition both to "the champions of a corrupt militarism, and to the advocates
of the noble, if at present impracticable, policy of universal disarmament". (8) But it was hoped it
would cut down the size of the military establishment, and obstruct the waging of aggressive war.
In 1893, the German social-democrats asked for Engels' help in opposing increased military
spending, and he wrote the pamphlet, "Can Europe Disarm?" in response. In the Foreword, he
. ". . . I proceed from the assumption that is increasingly gaining general acceptance: that the system of standing armies has been carried to such extreme throughout Europe that it must either bring economic ruin to the peoples on account of the military burden, or else degenerate into a general war of extermination, unless the standing armies are transformed in good time into a militia based on the universal arming of the people.
. "I attempt to prove that this transformation is possible right at this moment, even for the present governments and in the present political situation. I thus take this situation as my basis and for the time being propose only such means as could be adopted by any government of the day without jeopardising national security. I simply seek to establish that from a purely military point of view there is nothing whatever to prevent the gradual abolition of standing armies; and that, if these armies are nevertheless maintained, it is for political and not military reasons--that, in a word, the armies are intended to provide protection not so much against the external enemy as the internal one."(9)
. Engels wrote this in the midst of what Lenin would later characterize as a relatively peaceful period of European capitalist development. Lenin wrote that 1848-71 was "a period of storms and revolutions", while 1872-1904 was "a period of 'peaceful' preparations for the changes to come."(10) Nevertheless, Engels didn't have much expectation that disarmament would actually be carried out. This is clear from his other writings of the time. And above we have seen that he pointed to the bourgeoisie refusing to abandon militarism because it wished to retain the ability to use military force in the internal class struggle.
. Examining the history of the demand for the armed nation, it turns out that the social-democrats
envisioned it both under the existing governments, and as the military force for the revolution.
They didn't distinguish between the militias in countries facing different conditions or under
different class rules.
The class character of the armed nation
. The replacement of the existing armies of the bourgeois governments by the armed nation would not, in itself, change the class character of this armed force. The militia of the armed nation would remain a bourgeois militia. Just as the existence of universal suffrage doesn't mean that a bourgeois government isn't the executive committee of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, the arming of the people doesn't mean that there no longer is a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. The demand for an armed nation, like the demand for universal suffrage, is a bourgeois-democratic demand. And bourgeois-democratic demands, no matter how important for the working-class movement, do not in themselves take one beyond the bounds of bourgeois society.
. Engels pointed out the class nature of the armed nation in a letter to Bebel about the preliminary draft of the 1875 Gotha Program. He asked ". . . how comes it that no less than seven demands are included in this programme which directly and literally coincide with the programme of the People's Party and the petty-bourgeois democracy? I mean the seven political demands, 1 to 5 and 1 to 2, of which there is not a single one that is not bourgeois-democratic." The first five of these demands were supposed to constitute "the free basis of the state", and the third demand of these five was "Universal military training. The standing army to be replaced by a people's militia. Decisions regarding war and peace are to be taken by a representative assembly of the people."(11)
. Similarly, Lenin referred to the bourgeois-democratic character of the demand for the armed nation. For example, he did so in commenting on a peace conference, held just prior to World War I, of French and German parliamentarians, a conference which many social-democratic and some bourgeois deputies attended. He wrote that ". . . Still less were they [the bourgeois delegates] capable of making a resolute demand for a militia, that is, for the replacement of the standing army by arming the entire people. This measure, which does not go beyond the bounds of bourgeois society, is the only one that can democratise the army and advance the question of peace even one step forward in a manner at all serious."(12)
. This is also seen in the fact that the 19th century Swiss militia was often referred to as a model, yet Switzerland was a bourgeois country with a bourgeois militia.
. Thus, the armed nation or popular militia not only doesn't go beyond the bounds of capitalism, but the demand, as it was put forward, did not go beyond a militia subordinate to the existing governments. A radical democratic revolution does not go beyond the bounds of bourgeois society, yet it involves overthrowing the various reactionary governments. During such a revolution, the working masses may come into power for the period of the destruction of the old institutions, although this power will not last unless the revolution proceeds towards socialism. But the popular militia envisioned by the demand for an "armed nation" was conceived as something that could be demanded of the present governments in bourgeois countries, even if it was unlikely to be achieved. Under such a government, the popular militia not only did not go beyond the bounds of bourgeois society, but was inevitably a bourgeois militia.
. Perhaps it may be asked why the social-democrats only asked for a bourgeois militia, and not a
proletarian one. Was this mere timidity or opportunism or the supposed sin of "stageism"? But
when the social-democrats demanded a militia, they demanded a people's militia, or the armed
nation, or the arming of the people, not a "bourgeois militia". The armed nation, including
universal military training, doesn't take one beyond the bounds of bourgeois society, not because
one uses the term "bourgeois militia", but because of the nature of the armed nation itself. If one
were to demand the universal arming of the people, but label this a proletarian militia, it wouldn't
change the bourgeois-democratic nature of this demand at all. It's the reality of the demand, not
the words attached to it, that determine its social nature. An actual proletarian militia is not a
universal militia, but a class militia that is not subordinate to a bourgeois government.
Attitude to the draft
. The demand for an armed nation and universal military training didn't mean support for the draft. The social-democrats of the 19th century regarded conscription into a standing army as very different from people being part of a general militia or having military training. The armed nation was, for them, the alternative to conscription. They were especially opposed to long terms of military service, as well as the brutal features of military law.
. For example, Harry Quelch, mentioned above, strongly advocated the need for universal military training. He held that "when the whole of the men of a nation are trained to the use of arms, even under a system of conscription, a military despotism cannot exist except by the consent of the majority. If, therefore, we are to have militarism, even the compulsory system of conscription would be better than the voluntary system . . ." Nevertheless, he continued, "We are utterly opposed to conscription. . . . What we advocate is not compulsory military service, but a compulsory and universal military training free from military law."(13)
. But where conscription existed, the policy of the social-democrats wasn't generally to refuse to serve. Denunciation of the standing armies is one thing; it's another question how one fights against them. Moreover, as we have seen, the social-democrats favored the wide spread of military knowledge and training among the working class.
. Karl Liebknecht, discussing the working class movement of the 1890s and first years of the twentieth century, pointed to the different trends that existed in the anti-militarist movement, distinguishing especially between anarchist and social-democratic anti-militarism. He wrote that anarchist anti-militarism "lays great stress on individual refusal to serve in the army, individual refusal to resort to arms and individual protest." And, as well, it placed its hopes in strikes against war and other methods, without considering the conditions needed for such strikes to succeed. Social-democratic anti-militarism, on the other hand, looked toward gaining influence and organizational contact among the troops, and bringing "about a gradual organic disintegration and demoralization of the military spirit". It regarded militarism in connection with capitalism. (14)
. In his survey of the movement in different countries, Liebknecht pointed to various
anti-militarist movements breaking free of anarchist influence and repudiating promotion of
individual refusal to serve as the solution to militarism. But he also mentioned Einar Li, one of
the editors of the Norwegian paper Socialdemokrat, who refused to serve and who took active
part in anti-militarist work in Norway. And he took a sympathetic attitude to workers who
refused to serve. For example, discussing the situation in France, he wrote ". . . we must not
overestimate the significance of the fact that here and there an officer openly expresses
anti-militarist opinions and takes the consequences in a spirit of great selflessness. Such
individual acts are not of great interest in connection with a purely proletarian class movement
such as we take anti-militarism to be in France (as opposed to Russia). More important is the fact
that the number of cases of desertion, of soldiers who refuse to serve or obey orders and who
make anti-militarist demonstrations is on the increase."(15)
Reconsideration of the armed nation
. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, questions were being raised about the popular militia from two different angles. From the right, the reformists and the revisionists (those who wanted to revise the revolutionary heart out of Marxism and turn social-democracy into a mild party of reform) lost the heart to challenge militarism. They reconciled to the existing armies and opposed the programmatic demand for the armed nation as impractical. The left-wing of social-democracy upheld the traditional demand against them. For example, Rosa Luxemburg wrote an article "Militarism and the Militia" defending the demand for the armed nation and universal military training. (16)
. As well, the main leadership of the German social-democrats toned down or even outright opposed the various proposals for vigorous anti-militarist work championed by Karl Liebknecht. This took place at Party Congresses in 1904, 1905, 1906 and 1907. Indeed, in 1907 Bebel backed down in front of government attacks and claimed that the pamphlet Militarism and Anti-militarism didn't reflect party views, which led to a debate on the subject at the 1907 Congress. This backing off from anti-militarism reflected a general malaise in the German social-democratic party, which was losing the spirit to confront the bourgeoisie and was afraid of the reaction of the government if it interfered with the army. The spirit of defiance, which had animated it during the Anti-Socialist Law of 1878-1890, was replaced by a fear of losing its established position. (17)
. But there were also worries about the militia from Karl Liebknecht himself and the social-democratic left-wing. Liebknecht observed, as militarism deepened in Europe, what was happening to the popular militias. The Swiss militia, once often pointed to as a model of what was wanted, was taking on more and more ugly features. This led to a tendency to reinterpret the demand for the armed militia.
. Thus Karl Liebknecht referred several times in Militarism and Anti-militarism to what was going on in Switzerland. His overall summary was that
. "In Switzerland there existed until recently a real popular army, a general arming of the people. Every Swiss citizen capable of bearing arms possessed a gun and ammunition permanently at home. This was the army of democracy, with which Gaston Moch deals in his well-known book. Since Switzerland has a multi-national citizenry, as does Belgium, it was natural that 'external militarism' could take on and preserve a particularly mild character here, to the success of which numerous other factors have contributed. But with the sharpening of class contradictions, 'militarism at home' changed its character. The need of the capitalist section of the population to consolidate its power caused the possession of arms and ammunition in the hands of the proletariat to be felt as a hindrance to the freedom to exploit and oppress, even as a danger to the existence of the capitalist class. Thus in September 1899 the disarming of the people began with the withdrawal of ammunition, while at the same time there was an attempt to extend existing militaristic tendencies according to the pattern of the great military states. Thus even in the famous Swiss militia the frightening traits which have made every standing army into a disgrace to civilization are more and more evident."(18)
. He also went into the history of the Swiss militia in suppressing strikes. He showed how the militia had been brought out in several cantons to suppress striking workers in 1869, and then again in 1875 to suppress two thousand workers who were striking against "the shameless truck system" (company store system). But especially in the opening years of the twentieth century, the Swiss militia was brought out repeatedly to suppress strikers. He related events in 1901, in October 1902, in 1904, and 1906. And he commented ironically "One can ask no more of a bourgeois republic or of a militia." I would note that some of these events occurred while the Swiss militia was "a real popular army", thus showing the class nature of the armed nation. But they occurred more frequently in the latter years as the class struggle sharpened. (19)
. Liebknecht thus searched for some condition to prevent this bourgeois use of the militia. He wrote that: "It is not enough that all citizens are equally armed and in possession of their weapons to safeguard permanently the rule of democracy. The equal distribution of arms in itself as events in Switzerland have shown, does not rule out the possibility that this distribution may be done away with by a majority which is about to become a minority, or even by a minority which is better organized and ready to strike. The general and equal arming of the population can only become a permanent and irreversible characteristic when the production of arms itself is in the hands of the people."(20)
. In fact, there is no way to prevent the bourgeois nature of the government militia so long as the bourgeoisie rules. Leibknecht's own general summation raised that an army hostile to the people might manifest itself through either as a standing army or a militia:
. "The capitalist stage of development is best met with an army based on universal military service, an army which, though it is based on the people, is not a people's army but an army hostile to the people, or at least one which is being built up in that direction.
. "Sometimes it appears as a standing army, sometimes as a militia force. The standing army, which is not peculiar to capitalism appears as its most developed, even as its normal form."(21)
. And then there was the major bloodbath of World War I (1914-18). In obedience to the criminal
orders of the bourgeois ruling classes, the mass conscript armies threw themselves at each other.
If, at the start of World War I, the sight of social-democratic parties voting war credits for their
own bourgeoisie to slaughter the workers of other lands signified the moral and political collapse
of the Second International, the march of conscript armies into battle may well have disillusioned
hopes that mass armies wouldn't engage in wars of aggression. There was no particular
correlation between how reluctant a country was to enter the war, and whether it had universal
military service. For example, the US didn't have a draft in the years leading up to World War I,
and yet it entered the war several years after countries with well-established systems of
. True, Switzerland, with its militia system, didn't enter World War I at all. But this was clearly due to special political and geographical circumstances. Whether a country had universal military service depended more on the plans and military circumstances of the bourgeoisie, then those plans and circumstances depended on the existence of a draft. The American bourgeoisie, in particular, has moved back and forth between having and not having a draft, as circumstances required. So the experience of World War I might have been another factor undermining belief in the old argument that universal military service would hinder war.
. At the same time, World War I showed the importance of work in the military for a revolutionary party and a revolutionary class. The attitude of the soldiers and sailors was a vital factor for whether there would be a revolution or not. And the work of revolutionary organization within the armed forces would affect how the mass discontent would manifest itself. But the mass discontent in the armies took years of bloodshed to build up. Clearly it was the war itself, and not the particular form of military service, which was key in generating discontent among the soldiers.
. All this would lead the communist movement to the repudiation of the demand for a popular
militia in imperialist countries. The first major article in this direction that I am aware of is from
Lenin. It upheld the demand for "armed nation", but only by reinterpreting it to mean a
proletarian militia, which is something quite different from the people's militia of a bourgeois
The military program of the proletarian revolution
. During World War I, another current of opposition to the "armed nation" arose. In 1915 Henriette Roland-Holst, then associated with currents leading to left communism, wrote an article "Militia or Disarmament?". While the "armed nation" had sometimes itself been put forward as disarmament, she counterposed disarmament to the militia and, presumably, military training of any type. I have been unable to get the text of her article, but it may have been along the line that the most consistent opposition to World War I would be to oppose all wars, all military forces, and all military training. The taking up by her and certain other left-wing social-democrats of the disarmament slogan showed motion in the direction of pacifism, something which would increasingly attract her in later life. Eventually her idea would be that people could achieve peace by simply disassociating themselves from conscription and all military activity, and that military force was too horrible for revolutionaries to use. This denies the existence of revolutionary wars, the nature of social revolution as civil war against the bourgeoisie, and, in general, the connection between wars and class exploitation.
. In response to the disarmament slogan, in 1916 Lenin wrote The Military Programme of the Proletarian Revolution. He sharply refuted the pacifist direction of Roland-Holst and others, writing that "An oppressed class which does not strive to learn to use arms, to acquire arms, only deserves to be treated like slaves. We cannot, unless we have become bourgeois pacifists or opportunists, forget that we are living in a class society from which there is no way out, nor can there be, save through the class struggle. . . . A bourgeoisie armed against the proletariat is one of the biggest, fundamental and cardinal facts of modern capitalist society. . . . Only after the proletariat has disarmed the bourgeoisie will it be able, without betraying its world-historic mission, to consign all armaments to the scrap-heap."(22)
. The left-wing advocates of the disarmament demand may not have taken all its consequences to their conclusion. So, Lenin pointed out, "the main defect of the disarmament demand is its evasion of all the concrete questions of revolution. Or do the advocates of disarmament stand for an altogether new kind of revolution, unarmed revolution?"
. At this time, he formulated his opposition to pacifism in terms of defense of "the old Social-Democratic minimum-programme demand for a 'militia', or 'the armed nation' clause in the programme". Yet he wrote: "On the question of a militia, we should say: 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 more so that in the freest republican countries (e.g., Switzerland) we see that the militia is being increasingly Prussianised, particularly in 1907 and 1911, and prostituted by being used against strikers."
. However the "armed nation" clause referred to a general militia under the existing government. This would, under normal conditions, be a bourgeois militia, as the Swiss militia was. But what Lenin had in mind was what the proletariat would do in a revolution, which was a urgent consideration in the midst of World War I, which was creating revolutionary situations in various countries. During a revolution, and sometime during a period of breakup of the system just prior to a revolution, the arming of the masses has a different significance than in times of ordinary bourgeois rule.
. Lenin thus sought a form for arming the proletariat, not for service under command of the bourgeoisie in a general national militia, but for struggle in its own right. He gave examples of demands that would facilitate the workers controlling the militia, but such demands, as a whole, could hardly be implemented except in extraordinary times or under a revolutionary government, nor would they in themselves create a proletarian militia except in a revolutionary situation. He wrote: "We can demand popular election of officers, abolition of all military law, equal rights for foreign and native-born workers (a point particularly important for those imperialist states which, like Switzerland, are more and more blatantly exploiting larger numbers of foreign workers, while denying them all rights). 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--JG] 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 programme."
. Thus Lenin not only took account of what had happened to the bourgeois militias such as the Swiss militia, but put to the fore tasks that would face the imminent revolutionary outbreaks. To do this in the name of the "armed nation" clause meant, however, reinterpreting this clause, which envisioned immediate demands made on a bourgeois government. Also, the "armed nation" clause doesn't deal explicitly with the class basis of the militia. Instead the social-democrats assumed that the universality of the militia will automatically guarantee the predominance of the working masses. But a proletarian class basis is not guaranteed by the demands, however important, for full universality, the rights of all residents including the foreign-born, etc. All in all, the attempt to include the proletarian militia under the "armed nation" clause represented a transitional point of theory.
. This reinterpretation of the "armed nation" clause is also reflected in the issue of disarmament. As pointed out earlier, the "armed nation" clause was previously connected with agitation for reduction of armaments, which was sometimes called disarmament although it wasn't total disarmament. The demand for a popular militia then appeared mainly as a demand to cut the military establishment down to size and to hinder it from undertaking aggressive or reactionary operations. In the articles from the latter 19th century defending the "armed nation", there might be references to earlier revolutions and the military forces in them, but this often had a mainly historical significance. By way of contrast, the demand for a proletarian militia directed the working masses to arm against the existing bourgeois militaries and ruling classes; it was basically an orientation for building up forces in opposition to the existing reactionary governments, not a demand for them to reorganize their military forces. Thus it appears not as disarmament, but as a call to prepare for military defense of the revolution or for revolutionary war.
. The LRP holds that Lenin's article The Military Programme of the Proletarian Revolution article shows that Lenin had abandoned the anti-militarist cause and now believed that the question was bourgeois militarism versus "proletarian militarism", and that bourgeois militarism had to be fought with "militaristic methods". But in taking up the slogan "not a penny, not a man", Lenin reiterated the slogan used by anti-militarists, extending it to include the national militias as well the standing armies. Thus, in May 1917, he denounced the imminent re-introduction of the draft in the US, writing that "The American people do enjoy considerable freedom and it is difficult to conceive them standing for compulsory military service, for the setting up of any army pursuing any aims of conquest. . . . The Americans have the example of Europe to show them what this leads to. The American capitalists have stepped into this war in order to have an excuse . . . for building up a strong standing army." He didn't advocate a general system of defiance and draft refusal, of refusal to go when called for service, but he strongly opposed conscription itself. (23)
. In The Military Programme of the Proletarian Revolution, Lenin strongly advocated that the
workers, when militarized by the bourgeoisie, should use this to gain military training. The LRP
use this as evidence that he abandoned anti-militarism and became a "proletarian militarist".
Actually it only means that the proletarian party must know how to undermine militarism from
within, as Engels also advocated. Similarly, Lenin also advocated that communists must take part
in mass anti-war demonstrations even if they were held under pacifist slogans. This did not mean
that he thought the revolutionary movement should adopt "proletarian pacifism". It only means
that "The slogans of the workers' class-conscious vanguard are one thing, while the spontaneous
demands of the masses are something quite different."(24)
Repudiation of the armed nation clause in imperialist countries
. The outbreak of World War I saw various social-democratic parties supporting their own bourgeoisie against the workers of other countries. This marked the political and moral bankruptcy of the Second International; its collapse as a revolutionary force. The revolutionary left-wing of the working-class movement gradually split off from the Second International, eventually dropped the name "social-democrat", and formed the Third or Communist International.
. As the split between social-democracy and communism deepened, and as the progress of the Russian revolution gave additional experience of revolutionary struggle, the military program would evolve. Within a couple of years, the demand for the "armed nation" would eventually be dropped from the communist program for developed bourgeois countries.
. At first, the formation of proletarian militias was still expressed as a realization of the armed nation clause. Thus, in backing the development of a proletarian militia after the February r evolution in Russia, Lenin wrote:
. "On April 14 our paper published a report from a correspondent in Kanavino, Nizhni-Novgorod Gubernia, to the effect that 'a workers' militia paid for by the factory managements has been introduced at practically all the factories'. . . .
. "The organization of a workers' militia to be paid for by the capitalists is a measure of tremendous . . . importance, both practically and in principle. . . .
. "At the present time, when the landowners and capitalists have come to realize the strength of the revolutionary masses, the most important thing for them is to safeguard the most essential institutions of the old regime, to safeguard the old instruments of oppression: the police, the bureaucracy, the standing army. They are trying to reduce the 'civil militia' to an institution of the old type, i.e., to small detachments of armed men standing apart from the people and as close as possible to the bourgeoisie and under the command of men from among the bourgeoisie.
. "The minimum programme of the Social-Democrats calls for the replacement of the standing army by a universal arming of the people. Most of the official Social-Democrats in Europe and most of our own Menshevik leaders, however, have 'forgotten' or put aside the Party's programme, substituting chauvinism ('defencism') for internationalism, reformism for revolutionary tactics.
. "Yet now of all times, at the present revolutionary moment, it is most urgent and essential that there be a universal arming of the people." (underlining added)(25)
. Soon thereafter, in writing a draft of a revised program for the Bolshevik Party, Lenin retained the armed nation clause. The old program, talking about the democratic republic that was to be set up after the overthrow of tsarism, demanded "12) Replacement of the standing army by the universally armed people". Lenin proposed elaborating this further to "12) The police and standing army to be replaced by the universally armed people; workers and other employees to receive regular wages from the capitalists for the time devoted to public service in the people's militia."(26)
, But views had changed by the time that a new party program was finally adopted in March 1919 at the Eighth Party Congress. The armed nation clause was dropped and replaced by a discussion of military affairs such as the organization of the Red Army. Among other things, it stated: "The Red Army as the instrument of proletarian dictatorship must necessarily have a declared class character; that is to say, it must be exclusively composed of the proletariat and of the kindred semi-proletarian strata of the peasantry. Only when class has completely disappeared, can such an army be transformed into a socialist militia comprising the whole people."(27)
. Bukharin and Preobrazhensky's ABC of Communism elaborated on the party program. This work has to be evaluated critically. The ABC was written during the period of so-called "war communism", and reflected these views, as well as certain particular views of the authors. And it tended to regard every aspect of what was done at this point in the revolution as a general law. Nevertheless, it contained a good deal of information about how the revolution progressed and the communist views of that time. And it explained why the party program abandoned the armed nation clause.
. Chapter 8 of the ABC is entitled "The Program of the Communists in Relation to Army Organization". It pointed out that "The socialists of all countries, including the Russian social-democrats, used to demand the abolition of standing armies. Instead of a standing army, the socialists wanted the general arming of the people (a citizen army); they demanded the abolition of the officers' caste, and the election of officers by the rank and file."
. It criticized this stand from several different directions. For one thing, it stressed that the Second International "had no clear ideas concerning the nature of the society in relation to which their program was drawn up. For the most part, indeed, their program related to a bourgeois society. What the socialists usually had in their minds as model was the Swiss Republic, where there is no standing army but a national militia." But they envisioned this militia having features which were "unrealizable in bourgeois society" as the bourgeoisie would not consent "to the formation of an army which was intended to subvert its own regime."
. The ABC of Communism said that "the old army program is fully applicable" for a society in which "all will be workers". But it said that there is also the period in which the socialist revolution has to fight against the hostile bourgeoisie. The ABC criticized the social-democratic programs, saying "not one of the socialist programs voiced the need for the organization of the Red Army, that is to say, of an army consisting of the armed workers and peasants." It emphasized the distinction between the Red Army and the universal militia. For example, it said that the Red Army is not composed of everyone, since "While the struggle is still in progress, the proletariat, even though success is in sight, cannot venture to entrust rifles to members of the urban bourgeoisie or to the rich peasants." The exploiters "must fulfil their military obligations to the proletarian State by militia duties at a distance from the fighting front."
. Thus the ABC put forward the need for different military programs in different periods, and it also stressed the Red Army should have an explicit class character. It said that "The standing army of the bourgeoisie, although it is established upon the basis of universal military service, and although in appearance it is an army of the whole people, is in reality a class army. But the proletariat need not hide the class character of its army, any more than it hides the class character of its dictatorship."
. The bulk of the ABC's consideration of the military program went into the discussing the features of the Red Army. Here too it departed from various of the features that had been demanded of the popular militia. For example, it discussed whether army officers should be elected or appointed from above. It wrote that "When in our old program we demanded the election of officers, our aim was to ensure that the army command should be taken out of the hands of the exploiting classes. . . .
. "The Red Army, on the other hand, is under proletarian control. The workers administer it through the central soviet organs, which they themselves elect. In all grades of army life, the proletariat is in control through the instrumentality of the communist commissars . . . . In these circumstances, the question of electing officers becomes a question of purely technical significance. The matter of real importance is that we should know what will make the army, in its present condition, the most efficient fighting force. . . . . When we take into consideration that our Red Army is mainly recruited from the peasantry, when we recall the hardships to which it is exposed, its exhaustion by two wars, and the low level of class consciousness among the peasants who have joined the army--it will become obvious to us that the practice of electing officers cannot fail to exercise a disintegrating influence in our forces. Of course this does not exclude the possibility that in different circumstances the election of officers might do no harm . . . ."
. Thus the ABC altered the old program in light of its view of what the experience of revolution and Civil War had shown. The 19th century social-democrats had thought they had found the form of revolutionary armed forces in the popular militia, but the ABC raised the need for an explicitly proletarian force, the Red Army, organized in a different manner than specified by the old demands.
. ABC concluded, concerning the armed nation, that:
. "Passing now to consider the question of a national militia, we find that the example of Switzerland, the example of the most democratic of all the bourgeois republics, has shown the part which such a militia plays in the hour when the class struggle is accentuated. The national militia, the 'people's militia,' of Switzerland under a bourgeois regime proves to be precisely the same weapon for keeping the proletariat down as any standing army in less democratic hands. The arming of the whole nation will inevitably lead to this result whenever and wherever it is effected under the political and economic regime of capitalism.
. "THE COMMUNIST PARTY DOES NOT ADVOCATE THE UNIVERSAL ARMING OF THE PEOPLE, BUT THE UNIVERSAL ARMING OF THE WORKERS. ONLY IN A SOCIETY CONSISTING OF NONE BUT WORKERS, ONLY IN A CLASSLESS SOCIETY, WILL IT BE POSSIBLE TO ARM THE WHOLE PEOPLE." (Underlining added, emphasis via capitalization as in the original)
The Sixth Congress of the CI (1928)
. A more detailed working out of the stand towards the armed nation clause can be found in the documents of the 6th Congress of the Communist International. At this time, the CI was still following a basically correct international line; it was the 7th Congress in 1935 which marked a turn toward revisionism and reformism. There were certain rigidities and problems in the general line of the world communist movement during the period between the 6th and 7th Congresses, and it was important for certain adjustments to be made in the line in order to deal with the rise of fascism, but the 7th Congress went overboard and also threw out the revolutionary essence of the communist position.
. The documents of the 6th CI have to be evaluated critically, but they contain a good deal of valuable material and set forth the communist views of their time. They included a more detailed discussion of the issue of the popular militia. This appears in Section III. "The Proletariat's Attitude Towards the Army" of "The Struggle Against Imperialist War and the Tasks of the Communists", which is one of the resolutions of the 6th CI.
. The Resolution repudiates the armed nation clause for imperialist countries. With respect to these countries, it points out that:
. "Bourgeois militia, universal military service, the military training of the youth, etc. , were all at one time advocated by revolutionary democracy. At the present time, however, they serve as ordinary reactionary instruments for oppressing the masses and preparing for imperialist wars. Consequently, they must be combated as strenuously as possible. This applies also to those countries where the bourgeoisie has abolished conscription and adopted the voluntary system (for example, in Germany). Although universal military service would facilitate revolutionary work and would provide the workers with opportunities for learning the use of arms, the Communists in imperialist countries must not demand the introduction of the system; they must oppose conscript armies in the same way as they oppose volunteer armies." (From pt. #45)
. Thus, it held that the existence of imperialism hadn't made fighting militarism obsolete. Indeed, it raised that such issues as conscription had to be looked at from the point of view of their role in militarization. And it held that this could, and must, be done in a way different from that of the pacifists. Thus the Resolution continued:
, "The slogan: Transform imperialist war into civil war, indicates how the Communists must fight against measures for mass militization (introduction of conscription). By militarizing the workers and training them in the use of arms, imperialism creates the prerequisites for the victory of the proletariat in the civil war. Hence, the revolutionary proletariat must not combat mass militarization with the arguments advanced by the pacifists. In conducting the struggle for revolution and for Socialism, we do not refuse to bear arms. The aim of our struggle is to expose the militarization the imperialists introduce for the benefit of the bourgeoisie."
. It described "the armed nation" as now being a part of the mass militarization of imperialism, writing that "Although imperialist armies are a part of the bourgeois State apparatus, nevertheless, owing to mutual rivalries and wars among the capitalist Sates, modern armies are tending more and more, directly or indirectly, to embrace the whole nation and to militarize it ('the armed nation', the militarization of women, military training of the youth, etc. )." (From pt. #44)
. Thus it emphasized that, with respect to militarization, there was no difference any more between standing armies and the militia. The LRP claims that opposition to one form of imperialist army objectively means support for another form of imperialist army. But the CI resolution held that one could, and must, oppose all forms of the imperialist army:
. "No matter what their form of organization may be, armies are a constituent part of the bourgeois State apparatus, which the proletariat, in the course of its revolution, must not democratize, but break up.
. "In the light of this task, the organizational difference between standing armies and militia, between conscript armies and volunteer armies, etc. , disappears. The slogan: 'Not a man, not a penny for the army,' i.e., relentless struggle against bourgeois budgets, etc., holds good.
. "This attitude must be maintained equally towards standing armies and democratic militia, for both these forms of military organization represent the armed forces of the bourgeoisie held against the proletariat." (From pt. #43)
. The Resolution also discussed the issue of proletarian militias. It did not advocate that the armed nation clause could be corrected simply by calling for the formation of proletarian militias instead of national militias. Instead it pointed out the incompatibility of a proletarian militia with an ordinary imperialist government:
. "Under no circumstances must it be forgotten that the existence of a proletarian militia, or a Red Guard, in imperialist countries, under a bourgeois State and in a state of 'peace' is absolutely impossible." (From pt. #51)
. It held that a proletarian militia might be formed in "an immediate revolutionary situation" or as part of the fight against fascist gangs. As such, the call for a proletarian militia was mainly an appeal to the working class, not a demand on the imperialist government:
. "The demand for a proletarian militia (a militia consisting of toilers, a workers' and peasants' militia) in an imperialist country is merely another way of formulating the demand for arming the proletariat and can be put forward only in the inevitable transitional stage in the military policy of the proletarian revolution, in the period prior to the organization of the Red Army. Where there is no immediate revolutionary situation, this slogan can have only a propagandist significance. Nevertheless, it may become an immediately practical slogan in the fight against fascism.
. "At all events, the demand for a proletarian militia, or for a militia of the toilers, can only be put in the form of a direct appeal to the proletariat and not as a demand upon the bourgeois government. This being the case, this should be made to governments, or to parliaments, only in exceptional circumstances (for example, where there is a Social-Democratic government, or where there is a Social-Democratic majority in parliament, or among the masses). Under such circumstances, the demand must be put forward only as a means for exposing the Social-Democratic Party." (From pt. #50)
. While regarding the proletarian militia as important, it denied that this was only form of military force that the proletariat should use. It held that "In the period prior to the seizure of power, and in the first period after the seizure of power, it ["the arming of the proletariat"] takes the form of a proletarian militia--a militia of the toilers, the Red Guard, and also Red Guerilla detachments. The Red Army is the form of military organization of the Soviet Government, i.e.,, it is the army of the dictatorship of the proletariat."
. With respect to the Red Army, it held that "To demand from the dictatorship of the proletariat, when it is surrounded by a capitalist environment, the immediate and complete transition to the militia system, is petty bourgeois and the counter-revolutionary stupidity." (From pt. #51)
. While denouncing the armed nation demand for imperialist countries, it recognized that it had had value at one time. This discussion occurred in the passage where it pointed to "the bad legacy" of the Second International "which, while never ceasing to declaim against imperialist wars, never carried on any work in the armies. (28) Indeed, it described Karl Liebknecht as an 'anarchist' because he demanded that such work be carried on. Instead of carrying out a revolutionary war policy, and instead of working in the armies, the Second International advocated the 'abolition of standing armies,' and their substitution by a 'national militia. ' The slogan: 'national militia,' which was suitable for the period in which national States were struggling into existence in Europe, had some revolutionary significance in connection with the demand for the abolition of standing armies, so long as Tsarism and Absolutism represented a menace to revolution (up to the end of the 19th century). But with the growth of imperialism, this slogan became inadequate and finally became a chauvinistic slogan (Hyndman in 1912). The resuscitated Second International abandoned the demand for a 'national militia' only in order to subordinate itself entirely to the political interests of the bourgeoisie in the various States. In France, under the guise of supporting the old slogan of a 'national militia,' the Second International is advocating an imperialist 'national army'; in Germany and Great Britain, on the pretext of advocating disarmament, it is supporting mercenary volunteer armies." (From Pt. #41, underlining added)
. It also recognized the armed nation demand as important with respect to colonial and semi-colonial countries. It held that "The slogan for a national army must be advanced when the concrete situation is suitable for it and put forward in such a way as to prevent it being misused by the imperialists and their flunkeys (complete independence of the army from the imperialists, organization of the army on the widest democratic basis, election of officers, etc. )." (From Pt. #240)
. "Unlike the position in regard to the imperialist States, the slogans: universal military service, the military training of the youth, a democratic militia, a national army, etc., must be included in the revolutionary military programs in colonial and semi-colonial countries. In the present historical epoch, however, the tactics of the national revolutionary movement must be subordinated to the interests of the world proletarian revolution. Revolutionaries cannot advance such a program in oppressed countries which are themselves oppressors and act as the vassals of the imperialists in a war against proletarian, or national revolutions." (From Pt. #55)
. Moreover, it wasn't sufficient, in working out the military program, to distinguish between imperialist and oppressed countries. One had to take account of the particular economic and political conditions of a country:
. "56. In laying down the military program for oppressed countries, consideration must be given to the stage of economic and political development of these countries.
. "(a) In those countries in which the democratic revolution has not yet been accomplished, the slogan of the armed nation (national militia) must be adopted, particularly in those countries where the class rupture between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat is not yet strongly expressed (Syria, Morocco, and Egypt). This slogan must be linked up with democratic demands directed against feudalism and the feudal and bourgeois officers. In countries in which class differentiation is strongly expressed, but where the bourgeois revolution has not yet been accomplished, for example, in Latin-American countries, this slogan must bear the class character of a workers' and peasants' militia.
. "(b) In countries passing through the stage of democratic revolution, the slogan for militia will prove inadequate and must therefore be expanded into the slogan: Organize a revolutionary army. This, of course, does not prevent the militia slogan from being advanced at the same time, particularly in preparing for rebellion. It must be noted that arming the proletariat does not contradict the demand for the armed nation; in fact, the armed proletariat is a fundamental part of the armed nation. While participating in the general organizations of the armed nation, it is absolutely essential to set up special, proletarian, armed units, commanded by officers elected by these units.
. "(c) In countries passing from the stage of democratic revolution to proletarian revolution, the military program of the Communists in imperialist countries may be adopted, with certain concrete modification.
. "The slogan proletarian militia (a militia of the toilers, a workers' and peasants' militia) takes the place of the demand for a democratic militia. When, in the process of the revolution in the colonies, the question of armed seizure of power arises, the question of organizing a Red Army must be brought up simultaneously with the organization of Soviets. The old, revolutionary, democratic forms of army organization must be substituted by class forms, dictated by the proletarian revolution." (Point, #56)
. Since the Sixth Congress there has been a lot of additional experience of the revolutionary
movement with military matters, including national liberation wars and underground anti-fascist
struggle. But this brief survey suffices to show the issues raised by the "armed nation", the
connection of the "armed nation" to the anti-militarist struggle, and the reasons for the
abandonment of the "armed nation" as the overall military program of the communist movement.
LRP vs. the anti-militarist movement
. While the Trotskyist LRP had complained of the "now hidden history of the communist position", it turns out that it is the LRP who is keeping this history hidden by turning their backs on the historic connection of the communist movement with the anti-militarist struggle. The LRP had claimed that communists stopped talking about the struggle against militarism in order to talk about anti-imperialism. But it turns out that, as capitalism became monopoly capitalism, there was an increasing participation of the working class in the anti-militarist struggle in the 1890's and early years of the twentieth century. Then, after the communist movement started talking about the imperialist stage of capitalism, the issue of anti-militarism continued to be crucial for understanding communist tactics towards the armed forces of the imperialist states.
. The Trotskyist LRP pretends that the communist movement had never opposed conscription. But it turns out that not only are they ignoring Lenin's opposition to the reintroduction of the draft in the US, but the long history of the communist movement opposing both the conscripted and volunteer armies of imperialism. Instead the LRP confuses the question of whether the communist movement had opposed conscripted armies with whether they had given a general call for refusing to serve in the armed forces.
. And the LRP doesn't even get right the communist attitude to pacifism and other negative trends
within the anti-militarist movement. They exaggerate the struggle against pacifism to the point of
boycotting the anti-militarist movement, and confuse opposition to erroneous trends with a
sectarian attitude to the anti-militarist activists; they denounce the anti-militarist movement as a
whole as a bourgeois movement. Karl Liebknecht, by contrast, had described the differing trends
within the working class with respect to anti-militarism, and Lenin had pointed out that it was
compulsory for communists to take part in the mass working class anti-war actions during World
War I, even if they often came up under pacifistic slogans.
The LRP'S reformist attitude towards the imperialist armed forces
. In one aspect, however, LRP's arguments do repeat, but worse, the old views from the history of the working class movement. Many of their arguments about favoring a universal draft resemble arguments given by the social-democrats in the 19th century in favor of the "armed nation" and replacement of the standing armies of the bourgeois and aristocratic governments with government-led popular militias and universal military training. Prior to World War I, the social-democrats not only advocated the "armed nation", but believed that a universal militia would be loathe to engage in aggressive war abroad or to attack the people at home. Sometimes it was held that universal military training along, even into a standing army, would have these results.
. But the harsh experience of the twentieth century disappointed these expectations. In the imperialist countries, conscript armies, volunteer armies, militias, and universal military training were all used for the purposes of militarization. The ordinary armies of imperialist countries often were based on universal service -- certainly service that was fairly universal for the working masses. This did not, in itself, prove to be a major obstacle to tyranny or wars of aggression. The wars and militarism of the 20th century underlined the importance for revolutionary parties to carry out work in the armed forces, and for the working masses to gain experience of military matters. But to be effective, this work had to go beyond the 19th century military program of the social-democratic movement.
. LRP not only ignores this experience, but their views are worse than those of the Second International and the early working class movement. The 19th social-democrats demanded the militia and universal military training as a way of opposing the existing standing armies, while the LRP argues about the virtues of universal conscription to show that revolutionaries should abstain from anti-militarism and instead "favor" a conscripted army in the US and indeed "organize a campaign . . . for universal military training."(29)
. The LRP presents the matter as if the conscripted armies can, through various reforms, be turned partway into proletarian militias. The problem, of course, is not that the LRP advocates that there should be a struggle for various reforms in the military. The problem is their orientation for this struggle, and some of the demands they advocate. For example, they say that their policy in the future will be to advocate "workers' control over conscription" in the US. This presents the matter as if workers could control the imperialist army, as if one could achieve a proletarian militia by a reform of the imperialist army. And indeed, they hold that the measures they want "the working-class movement to fight for in the bourgeois army" would "show the way to a workers' army". (30)
. Serious agitation that the American army could be made into a workers' army through
democratization would lead to nothing but outright chauvinism and illusion-mongering. It would
orient soldiers towards trying to perfect the imperialist army and imagining that they might bring
this army to their side. This goal would obscure the role of the army in the class struggle. In
reality, the nature of the army as an imperialist army can only be shaken as revolutionary ferment
builds up in a country. Even then, the army doesn't so much change its nature as disintegrate; this
is part of the smashing of the old state machine. The old army disintegrates, and a revolutionary
military force is built up.
Trotsky on the imperialist army -- the "proletarian military policy"
. The LRP's reformist view of the military is copied from Trotsky. The LRP has prepared a small compilation entitled "Trotsky on conscription". (31) These writings, produced on the eve of World War II, are part of what many other Trotskyists call Trotsky's "proletarian military policy", although I don't recall seeing the LRP use that term and although other Trotskyists may not necessarily agree with the "proletarian military policy".
. In these writings, Trotsky said the following about a proposal for reintroducing an American draft: "We are absolutely in favor of compulsory military training and in the same way for conscription. Conscription? Yes. By the bourgeois state? No. We cannot entrust this work, as any other, to the state of the exploiters."
. What does this mean? Literally, this should mean that Trotsky was against the introduction of conscription, since it was precisely the bourgeois state that was introducing it. But actually, Trotsky was speaking in favor of conscription, but pretending that somehow the working class could control it. And indeed, Trotsky advocated that the American bourgeoisie and its state should set up "special military schools . . . in close connection with the trade unions". Thus he imagined that getting the trade unions involved in military training would change the character of the military; he wrote that "we must try to separate the workers from the others [in the army] by a program of education, of workers' schools, of workers' officers, devoted to the welfare of the worker army, etc." This would be prettification both of the nature of imperialist society and of the pro-imperialist leadership of various trade union federations.
. And what were the working class and the trade unions supposed to do if they controlled conscription and received military training? One would think that Trotsky would be sure to raise issues concerning connecting the soldiers with the masses, the political training of the workers, etc. But no. He raises only the technical side of military training. He wrote that "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."
. Indeed he stressed "the necessity of the workers being good soldiers and of building up an army based on discipline, science, strong bodies and so on, including conscription", and he implied that this would be a blow "against the capitalist state which abuses the army for the advantage of the exploiting class." He thus obscured the class nature of the imperialist army: the imperialist bourgeoisie abuses the common soldier, but it builds up the army itself as its tool. And, in these discussions on conscription, he didn't even hint that the discipline, methods and organization of the revolutionary, proletarian army would be different from that of the imperialist armies.
. Since Trotsky set forward his proletarian military policy at the start of World War Two, in scattered comments in 1939 and 1940, it might be thought that it was only supposed to deal with World War Two. Since anti-fascism was a real issue in this war, World War Two differed from World War One, and militant workers had to take full account of this and adjust their policies accordingly. So one might imagine that the "proletarian military policy", flawed and reformist as it was, was simply an unsuccessful attempt to support military resistance to the fascist imperialist powers without creating illusions in the bourgeois-democratic imperialist powers. But Trotsky held that resistance to fascism was not an issue in the war. So presumably for him, the military policy in 1939 or 1940 would be the same as at any other time since the rise of imperialism; only the rhetorical way of presenting it might change. (32)
. Hence the LRP has good reason to believe that Trotsky wanted to apply his proletarian military policy to all wars waged by imperialist powers. This is why the LRP cites these writings of Trotsky with respect to the present time and hence the current and recent wars waged by US imperialism. The "proletarian military policy" is to apply to the Persian Gulf Wars, to the war in Afghanistan, to the invasions of Panama and Grenada, to US intervention throughout Central America, etc., etc.
. Thus the LRP is in line with Trotsky's views when it replaces anti-militarism with a reformist
attitude to the imperialist military. The LRP and Trotsky have repeated some of the arguments
used in the past in favor of the armed nation clause, but they have turned them on their heads,
from attempts at anti-militarist agitation into dreams of workers' control of the imperialist armies.
(1) For LRP on the "hidden history", see under the subhead "The Marxist Position on Conscription" in Proletarian Revolution #73 "Why 'No Draft' Is No Answer: Military Crisis Triggers Talk of Conscription". For their brushing off Lenin's support of the term "anti-militarism", see their introduction to Lenin's article Anti-militarist Propaganda and Young Socialist Workers' Leagues. (Return to text)
(2) The LRP defends its policy on the draft by, among other things, collecting a number of quotations in which Trotsky sets forward his military policy. See the section "Trotsky on Conscription", which is the last three pages of LRP's pamphlet "'No Draft' Is No Answer: The communist Position on Stopping Imperialist War". (Text)
(3) For Leibknecht's declaration, see Gary P. Steenson, 'Not one Man! Not one penny!' German Social Democracy, 1863-1914, pp. xi, 158. For the arrest and imprisonment of Leibknecht and Bebel, see Steenson, p. 24. Also see the introductory remarks to Leiknecht's speech "No funds for the war of annexation" in Wilhelm Liebknecht and German Social Democracy: A Documentary History, edited and compiled by William A. Pelz, p. 305. Note that, until the fall of Napoleon, there was considerable disagreement among the socialists about the nature of the Franco-Prussian war. (Text)
(4) See the section on "The international anti-militarist movement" in Militarism and Anti-militarism, Part II. Anti-militarism. Section 2. Anti-militarism Abroad, with Special Regard to the Young Socialist Organizations. (Text)
(5) Steenson, p. 249. (Text)
(6) Anti-Duhring, Part II. Political Economy. Chapter III. T he Force Theory (Continuation), p.189, International Publishers, 1970 printing, emphasis as in the original. (Text)
(7) With respect to aggressive war, see "No funds for the war of annexation (Speech and Motion in the North German Reichstag, November 26, 1870)", Wilhelm Liebknecht and German Social Democracy, p. 307. With respect to the military superiority of the militia, see "For a People's Militia (from a speech before the North German Reichstag)", Ibid. , p. 299. (Text)
(8) This phrase occurs at the end of his pamphlet, which is available at www.marxists.org/archive/quelch/1907/soc-dem/armed-nation.htm. (Text)
(9) See the Foreword to "Can Europe Disarm" in the Collected Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, vol. 27, pp. 371-2. Note that Engels distinguished his proposal from the Swiss militia. And see footnote 359 of the Collected Works for the circumstances under which the pamphlet was written. It explains that "Can Europe Disarm" was written in February 1893 and published in March during the debate in the German Reichstag on the Military Bill. This bill was defeated in May 1893, but a similar bill was reintroduced after new elections to the Reichstag, and it passed in July 1893. (Text)
(10) Lenin, The Historical Destiny of the Doctrine of Karl Marx, section II, March 1, 1913. (Text)
(11) See Engels' Letter of March 18-28, 1875 to A. Bebel in Marx and Engels, Selected Works in Three Volumes, volume III, p. 32. The emphasis on the word "bourgeois" is as in the original. And see footnote 16, p. 511, for all the demands in the draft of the Gotha Program. (Text)
(12) Lenin, "The Bourgeoisie and Peace," May 7, 1913, Collected Works, vol. 19, p. 84, emphasis as in the original. (Text)
(13) Quelch, Ibid. , emphasis as in the original. (Text)
(14) Militarism and Anti-militarism, Part II. Anti-militarism. Section 4. Anti-militarist tactics. (Text)
(15) Ibid, Part II. Anti-Militarism. Section 2. Anti-militarism Abroad with Special Regard to the Young Socialist Organizations (Parts 1 and 2). Subsections: Norway and France. (Text)
(16) See "Militia and Militarism," Feb. 1899, in Selected Political Writings of Rosa Luxemburg, Edited and Introduced by Dick Howard. (Text)
(17) Steenson, p. 76. (Text)
(18) Militarism and Anti-militarism, part I. Militarism. chapter 2. Capitalist militarism. section 4. The constitution of the army in some foreign countries. (Text)
(19) Ibid. , Part I. Militarism. Chapter 4. Particulars of Some of the Main Sins of Militarism. Section 4. The rule of the sword and rifle against strikes. Subsection. Switzerland. (Text)
(20) Ibid., Part I. Military. Chapter 1. General. Section 2. Origin and basis of social relations of power. (Text)
(21) Ibid., Part I. Militarism. Chapter 2. Capitalist Militarism. Section. Preliminary remarks. (Text)
(22) Lenin, "The Military Program of the Proletarian Revolution," September 1916, Collected Works, vol. 23, pp. 77-87. Emphasis in the quotes from this article are as in the original. Also see the similar article "The 'Disarmament' Slogan," October 1916, which has whole passages which are identical. (Text)
(23) LRP's assertions can be found in the section "Lenin on Militarism" in their article "Why 'No Draft' Is No Answer: Military Crisis Triggers Talk of Conscription" in their journal Proletarian Revolution #73, Winter 2005. Lenin's denunciation of the re-introduction of the American draft can be found in his lecture of May 1917 entitled "War and Revolution". See Collected Works, vol. 24, p. 417. (Text)
(24) "The Question of Peace," Collected Works, vol. 21, p. 292. (Text)
(25) Lenin, "A Proletarian Militia," Collected Works, vol. 24, pp. 179-80. (Text)
(26) Section 4 "Draft of Revised Programme: The old and new texts of the programme" in "Materials Relating to the Revision of the Party Programme", Collected Works, vol. 24, p. 473. (Text)
(27) The "Program of the Communist Party of Russia, Adopted at the Eighth Party Congress, Held March 18 to 23, 1919" is reproduced at the end of Bukharin's and Preobrazhensky's The ABC of Communism A Popular Explanation of the Program of the Communist Party of Russia. See page 384 for the cited passage on the armed nation, and pp. 384-6 for the entire section on military affairs. (Text)
(28) There were some soldiers' unions organized by the social-democrats of certain countries. But the key party of the Second International, the German party, refused to organize inside the army. (Text)
(29) For the advocacy of a campaign for universal military training, see the pamphlet "'No Draft' Is Now Answer! The Communist Position on Stopping Imperialist War", p. 11, col. 2. This pamphlet, which has a lot on Carter's policies, was apparently written in the 1980s, but it is still being distributed by the LRP. (Text)
(30) Ibid, "A Dialogue on Conscription", p. 14. It also says that "workers' control over conscription" isn't presently an "agitational demand". One might think that the LRP was holding back because there wasn't yet conscription. But actually the reason the LRP gives is because "War today is not inevitable as it was when Lenin and Trotsky argued for their policy." Actual, wars were, and are, actually taking place around the world. But the LRP was apparently referring to the "next world war". (Text)
(31) See the last three pages of the pamphlet "'No Draft' Is No Answer! The Communist Position On Stopping Imperialist War". All subsequent quotes from Trotsky are, unless otherwise indicated, from these three pages. (Text)
(32) See the full "Manifesto of the Fourth International on the Imperialist War and the Proletarian World Revolution", May 1940 (Writings of Leon Trotsky: 1939-1940, pp. 183-222), and not just the brief extract given by LRP in its pamphlet on the draft. Trotsky saw the struggle against fascism only as an imperialist war slogan, and said it was "a lie" that anti-fascism had anything to do with the war. (p. 191) He held that the consequences of victory or defeat of the fascist powers were pretty much the same (p. 196). Indeed, he claimed that "the distinction between decaying democracy and murderous fascism disappears" in the imminent collapse of world capitalism (p. 221). In line with this, he held that the immediate issue in the war was only "socialism or slavery", and "today it is a question of saving mankind from suicide" (p. 219). Moreover, he claimed that the socialists (who he identified only as the Fourth International) possessed "in numbers and especially in preparation . . . infinite advantages" over what existed "at the beginning of the last war [World War I]." And thus the war would result in socialist revolution throughout the world "in the next two or three years, or even sooner." (p. 220) That would have been 1942 or '43.
. However, in other places he wrote that Trotskyist policy should be phrased in a way to appeal to workers who feared Hitler's victory. The reasons Trotsky gave for supporting conscription apparently imply that he had come to support conscription into imperialist armies at all times and in all countries, fascist or bourgeois-democratic. But this policy would be presented to workers in the bourgeois-democratic countries in phrases that they might understand as saying that it was in order to defend themselves against the fascist armies that it was right to go into the army and learn how to fight well and be "good soldiers".
. In practice, throughout World War II the Trotskyists were faced with the mass anti-fascist sentiment, and the objective need to fight fascist oppression. As this clashed with Trotskyist theory, it resulted in the further disorientation of the Trotskyist movement. The proletarian military policy itself could be interpreted in various ways. This was encouraged by the vague and deceptive rhetoric of Trotsky's writings on the subject.
. After all, Trotsky had written-- and these are among the passages cited by LRP in their pamphlet -- that "The American workers do not want to be conquered by Hitler, and to those who say 'Let us have a peace program', the worker will reply, 'But Hitler does not want a peace program. ' Therefore we say: We will defend the United States with a workers' army, with workers' officers, with a workers' government, etc."
And he wrote "Without in any way wavering from our program we must speak to the masses in a language they understand. We Bolsheviks also want to defend democracy, but not the kind that is run by sixty uncrowned kings. 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." (Emphasis as in the original)
. Now what did this mean? It is easy to see how such phrases could be understood in different ways:
. a) The Trotskyists wanted to see the military defeat of Hitler.
. b) The Trotskyists didn't care about the military defeat of Hitler, and would only take part in the army in order to gain military training, unless the US first set up a workers' government and eliminated the capitalist magnates.
. c) The Trotskyists didn't care about any fight but the socialist revolution, but, in order to "speak to the masses in a language they understand", they would put forward the demand for a workers' army in the language of a fight to defend democracy.
. d) The Trotskyists thought the real point was simply to get the maximum amount of workers'
officers and military training, for that in itself would transform the class character of the army. If
the workers learned military affairs and were really good soldiers, that would ensure that they
were not a "blind instrument" in the hands of the bourgeoisie. Politics would supposedly follow,
once military proficiency was there. (Text)
March 28, 2006.