The Armed Nation

The jingo spirit—commonly known as patriotism—always latent in the bosom of the unthinking worker, ready to be fanned to flame by the wiles of the pressman or orator, the strains of a brass band or sight of a bright uniform, the verse of the poet or the doggerel song of the music-hall artiste, is being aroused for the purpose of saving Secretary Haldane’s “Territorial Forces” scheme.

The beatific unanimity with which all sections of the capitalist platform and Press, from the belted earl to the sainted layman, from the Daily News to the Daily Mail, unite in the good work of persuading the propertyless that their interest, is to defend the propertied and their property—”on the cheap”—is touching in the extreme.

There is one spot of green in the wilderness, however, one oasis in the desert, and that is—the S.D.P. Through the mouths of Harry Quelch, H. M. Hyndman, Will Thome, Sergt.-Mjr. R. Edmonson, and the columns of our “revolutionary” contemporary, Justice, we are given to understand that there is one alternative between Haldane and conscription, and that is the citizen army, as embodied in a Bill to be promoted by that sole result of 26 years of S.D.P. wirepulling, intrigue and compromise—Will Thome, M.P.

Between the downright Tory idea of conscription, and the Liberal idea of voluntarism, there is now this difference—the first stands for open coercion, the second for insidious compulsion, as witness Haldane’s high appreciation of the “patriotic spirit” displayed by Rothschild in connection with the Alliance Assurance Company, which has adopted a rule requiring all clerks entering the service to join the Territorial Forces. But when this Bill of Bill’s is examined it is difficult to determine which it approaches the nearer.

There is a pamphlet written by the latest star turn of the S.D.P., Sergt.-Mjr. Edmonson, entitled “The National Citizen Force Bill of Mr. Will Thorue, M.P. : An Appreciation and Explanation.” The writer’s knowledge of army matters is assuredly greater than his knowledge of economics, or his service in the army was, even from a military point of view, a lamentable waste. From amidst a fanfare of trumpets and a dazzling array of ”credentials” at the beginning we gather that a standing army is “an expensive toy for the ruling class.” From the working-class point of view this is a matter of no concern, but no doubt the capitalist class are grateful for the information, and will act upon it. Well, the Sergt.-Mjr. has examined Will Thome’s Bill, and has failed to put his finger “on any bad or doubtful points it may contain.” That’s unequivocal ! But maybe others can succeed where the gallant soldier fails.

The first clause, which proposes that, subject to certain exemptions, every man “shall be liable to military training” appears to leave room for revision—out of existence. The worker has no property to defend, therefore military training to fit him for defending that which he has not is rather superfluous—but where would Bill’s Bill be then ? This same clause “gives Ireland a chance of proving its patriotism,” and “enables Irish youth to take up arms in defence of the United Kingdom.” The Irish working man who thinks enough of the United Kingdom to put himself out to defend it must be a psychological phenomenon.

The information regarding the composition of the Administrative Council, in clause 2, is interesting, but as borough councillors and the like will not necessarily be altered to suit, this does not carry far.

We now “come to the more serious parts of the Bill,” but don’t be alarmed, ye braves ! as long as “we succeed in viewing it in an intelligent, patriotic light,” and make up our minds that “if a foreign foe attack us,” every male worthy the name of man would do all in his power to drive that foe “back from where he came,” our glorious Empire, of which we workers hold so large a share, will be safe.

And now for the call to the “aristocracy of labour.” “Trades-Unionist, you have something to defend and you know it.” So let your bosoms swell with pride, ye proud Britons, for ye have something to defend—the Sergeant says so.

The 6th clause is illuminating. “One of the duties of the National Citizen Force will be the protection of railways and rolling stock,” the other “chief duties,” presumably, will be the protection of the rest of the property of the capitalist class. That amongst other conditions should, according to the writer, “meet with universal approval.” Surely so ! Millions of working men and women have held railway stocks—or tickets—therefore every man must approve of a condition which gives him scope for the defence of his seat—or standing-room —in a third-class cattle truck.

After further elucidations the information is to hand that the labourer is worthy of his hire. That is a truism ; but when the Sergt. Mjr. informs his reader that “the soldier is very much a labourer,” that is a statement needing a great deal of qualification. The soldier performing no function necessary in an organised system of production and distribution, living, as he does, on the labour of others to whom he renders no compensating service, is to be numbered amongst the parasitic section of the community, however true it may be that he is recruited from the ranks of the working class.

There is apparently so much difference between the “free services of free men” and the “servile obedience” accorded by the rank and file to officers under the old regime, that under the proposed scheme, refusal to accord “free service” on the part of the “free men” is to be rewarded by as much as one year’s hard labour. The method of appointing officers under the Bill is by a ballot of the men, but no one shall be appointed who has not the approval of the Central Administrative Board. Consequently, the men may choose their officer, and the Board may exclude him by the conditions they impose. Staff officers shall be appointed by officers. These two rules strike our friend as democratic, and he opines that they will abolish “distinctions of class.” Proof as to how that or any other clause in the Bill can accomplish any such result is not forthcoming.

Will Thome is thanked for his endeavours in the following terms. “Thank you, Mr. Thome, for your brave and patriotic attempt to knock the present military law on the head in time of peace.” As to whether it would have been more or less patriotic in time of war we are not informed.

Clause 23 (and last) deals with the saving to be effected by the reduction of permanent expenses, and this is stated by the writer to be “a most important clause for the taxpayer . . . as well as from the democratic point of view.”

Now it is easy to understand the confusion of thought which has characterised the whole pamphlet. The “General” has tried to square the Bill with the interests of the working class and those of the capitalist class, seemingly in utter ignorance of the diametric opposition of those two class interests, and, naturally, he has fallen between the two stools.

The concluding paragraphs painfully accentuate this confusion, as the working class is alluded to as the “working classes” and “the masses,” and the capitalist class as “the classes” and the “dominant class,” all within one paragraph.

The tit-bit of all is the affirmation that “the National Citizen Force is the only salvation of labour.” This, coupled with a remark in an article in Justice, of February 6th, entitled “War Inevitable” by the same writer, to the following effect, is immense. “However, we are of opinion that he (the working man) would not be adverse to training under civil law, . . . but this would be too democratic for a capitalist Government to try.” If the leaders of the S.D.P. have any sense of the ridiculous they will retire, and thus remove a factor which is potent for the production of confusion in the working-class mind.

It is evident that if the citizen army is the only “salvation of labour,” Socialism cannot be so as well, therefore the S.D.P. can dispense with its affected object. Also, if it is “too democratic for a capitalist Government to try,” why does the S.D.P. accord its support to Will Thome, and sanction the appearance of articles on the subject in Justice ?

The “War Inevitable” lucubration did not, as might have been supposed, consist of exclusive information in the possession of the T.C.P. or the writer. It was the heading of a full-page criticism of a sensational novel by one Allen H. Burgoyne, entitled “The War Inevitable,” which title, minus the article, figured in large type on the contents bills of that issue of Justice, for the obvious purpose of stimulating sales, in the typical catchpenny style of “yellow” journalism. Such enterprise should cause the Clarion and the Daily Mail to look to their laurels.

There are some curious examples of erudition in the article, amongst them being a statement that wars are sometimes set on foot for the purpose of diverting the workers from the real issue, and incidentally, of “killing off a few thousands.” This cannot be described as anything but balderdash ! The capitalist class have no need to resort to such catastrophic measures for diverting the workers : old age pensions are cheaper and more convenient, and as to ”killing off a few thousands,” from the point of view of that section of the community, the more the merrier. Besides, wars are expensive, and must imply, for a time, an excess of wages to the wage-earning class. This is not the policy of the wage-paying class—elimination of waste, not the opposite, is recognised as more to the point, as witness the growth of trusts.

Thus may one occupy the anomalous position of having as an objective, the extinction of waste, and yet of recognising that in society as at present constituted, the more waste the less want. War is instigated through the economic interests of the capitalist class of one nation or group of nations clashing with those of another. It may be engineered, partly, by a group of financiers interested in the production of stores and munitions of war,—instance, Boer War—but this alone would not be sufficient.

The working class has to clearly understand that the taking up of arms against other nations means the straining of the bond between the workers of the respective countries. The foundation of Socialism, which must rest upon the international solidarity of Labour, cannot be built up on citizen armies, neither can it have part or parcel with any scheme of armed nations.

Let there be no misapprehension on the subject of the “Armed Nation,” be it called by that or any other name. Armed forces are maintained for the purpose of holding the property and position of the robber against the robbed.

When the workers are able to dictate to the master class as to whether, or upon what terms, they shall serve in the army, then will the Social Revolution be at hand ; until that day Socialists must concentrate upon Socialism, and leave soup-kitchens and army reforms to those who, no matter what their protestations, are in the enemy’s camp.

D. W. F.

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