Editorial: Conscription. The greater campaign

Despite all amendments, and notwithstanding Mr. Asquith’s “assurance,” there is no doubt that industrial conscription is included in the very essence of the Military Service Bill. Mr. Asquith’s word, indeed, is a by-word. The “Manchester Guardian” in an outspoken article has completely given the game away. It says respecting the Bill:

“Far from applying merely to 600,000 slackers, it deals with “every male British subject over 18 and under 41 provided that he is unmarried or a widower without children.” . . . All, with exceptions which it proceeds to set out, are deemed to be duly enlisted and are subject to the Army Act. . . . A man may be exempted on the ground that “it is expedient in the national interests” that he should “be engaged in other work.” This seems for the moment to restore to the starred man his civil status. But, on reading on, we find that this restoration is only conditional. The certificate may ba “absolute, temporary, or conditional,” as the authority “thinks best suited to the case.” It may at any moment be “reviewed,” and “withdrawn or varied” again at the discretion of the authority. . . . The Military Service Tribunals, tribunals hitherto unknown and to be appointed in a manner inadequately specified, become, for single men of military age, the arbiters of industrial conditions. A starred man’s tenure of civil status will be at their pleasure. They have no power given them to impose fair industrial conditions, but they can prevent any man or any class from rejecting such conditions as may obtain in the work they are permitted to do….. We have full-fledged industrial compulsion for the younger men, and the distinction between young and old, single and married, is in this respect so untenable that we may confidently expect its abolition in the near future. What the Labour members who voted for the Bill on Thursday will say now that they see it in the flesh we can only guess, and we should hardly like to print our guess.”

Regarding the last point, it is sufficient to state that the answer of the Labour members was to vote for the Second Reading with even fewer dissentients ! And respecting married eligibles, the following from a well-known military journal (“The Regiment”), under the heading of “Married Shirkers Next !” is to the point:

“Nobody need doubt that the married shirkers will, in turn, be compelled to realise their duty. . . . Fetching the single shirkers is the thin end of the wedge. . . . Single men are wanted first because they are less expensive than married men. It is not a matter of sentiment. When the married men are wanted they will be fetched.”

It seems to escape observation that married men are being “fetched” now. The Bill itself effaces the distinction between married man and single. It conscripts all eligibles who have married since Nov. 2nd, 1915 ; obviously, therefore, the distinction is a mere pretence, a temporary political expedient.

The “Sunday Times” on January 16th also emphasises the fact that, despite the excuses of Labour members, no pledge is valid regarding the immunity of married men, and Mr. Bonar Law on January 18th definitely foreshadowed this latest ministerial breach of faith. The Bill, therefore is another step in the world-wide movement for the greater enslavement of the whole working class. This movement has in England proceeded with accelerated pace since the advent of the Liberal-cum-Labour administration. Even under the Coalition Government Mr. Lloyd George has told us, as he told the Clyde malcontents, that Mr. Henderson and other Labour members were the authors of the Munitions Act. Not only were they responsible for that act of slavery, but the Parliamentary Labour Party (with three Labour ministers sharing the collective responsibility of the Cabinet) now openly supports conscription !

The Independent Labour Party, it is true, urges a campaign against the conscription Bill at the time of writing ; but the I.L.P. is partly responsible for the Labour Party. It has all along been its supporter—it is part of it ; and its policy of confusion and compromise, which we have since our inception always utterly condemned and opposed, led irrevocably to the present selling-out of the workers by the Labour Party. What is the good of helping it in another campaign only in order that its lack of Socialist principle may again result in the betrayal of the workers and the running of their energies uselessly to earth? To urge the workers to join them in an agitation against a thing into which their policy has already betrayed the workers, is the height of impudence. The I.L.P. has not changed its policy of compromise. Do the workers want to be sold again ? It is more than probable that its present campaign will have fizzled out even before this is printed.

Why, indeed, do many trade unionists and reformers now strain at a gnat who have already swallowed a camel ? The Munitions Act IS industrial compulsion. Under the “Voluntary” system of recruiting economic COMPULSION has been used with terrible effect. The workers were victimised, deprived of employment, and told to join the Army or starve ! The present legislation simply fills up the gaps and consolidates this capitalist practice. This practice we have consistently and vehemently exposed and opposed all along. We, at any rate, have never sat on the fence in this matter. Those who have taken one step into the toils of capitalist, compromise have been lost. But leaders and members of the Labour Party, the I.L.P., and tho to-called British Socialist Party, have supported the war, have spoken from recruiting platforms, and have betrayed the workers into the hands of the ruling class. They hare given hostages to the enemy. Their own arguments in favour of “finishing the war” now turn and rend them. Their own statements in favour of the Allies now brand them as traitors for standing in the way of “victory.” They have not a leg to stand on. Only the Socialist position provides a serene and logical basis for working-class action. The whole basis of pseudo-Socialist labour politics is a quicksand. Nothing else is either safe, or useful in the long ran than continued and consistent opposition to the whole capitalist regime, which is the cause of all those evils that it is sought to reform. The capitalists, with their hireling lawyers, are past misters in the art of political bargaining and trickery. The workers can only be masters at the straight game ; they cannot effectively work, nor follow, nor succeed in, any other than the clear-cut and consistent class policy of hostility to the capitalist class.

It is no use requesting a concession or begging a “share” for Labour in capitalist management. In all such bargains the capitalists gain and the workers lose. What on earth is the use of a “share” or a “voice” in the management while the control is still in the hands of the capitalist class? Your “share” only ties you to the system ; your “voice” only incriminates you, only makes you responsible also for the crimes of the management. Such confusion and compromise keeps the workers asunder, blurs the class antagonism, wastes efforts on mare effects, and leads the workers into supporting sections of the exploiting class. The present crisis is largely due to this very lack of a comprehensive Socialist policy by the workers. If they were organised as a class for victory over the masters, the latter would not dare to go the exasperating lengths they now go. But it is even now not too late. It is still the only way to deal effectively with the conscription menace. The great revolutionary campaign for Socialism unites all proletarian interests ; it transcends and includes all other campaigns against the effects of capitalist rule. The essential thing, as Marx and Engels have said, is to get the workers to move as a class. And since this is what the policies of confusion have always prevented, we have always opposed them, and have always insisted with damnable iteration on the bedrock fact of the class war.

In the present instance, indeed, we are bitterly opposed to conscription. But what are conscription, war, unemployment, poverty, overwork, and starvation wages but the direct results of capitalist class rule ? What hope of any permanent amelioration so long as the workers are the under-dogs ? What hope, indeed, of even a paltry concession in this matter so long as the exploiters are masters of the State and feel their controlling position unmenaced ? We, therefore, urge the workers to join in the real campaign against conscription ; for conscription, on the part ot the governing class, is only one item in the great war upon the workers.

The capitalist of every country scents afar off the coming of industrial democracy. He fears the proletarian menace. He looks upon war and patriotism as great antidotes to Socialist propaganda. He sees military discipline successful in making men tight each other against their will and interest ; and he makes haste to institute military organisation and discipline in industrial and other undertakings in order to prevent revolt against capitalism and arm the workers against themselves. Therefore the real campaign against conscription can neither begin nor end there : it must aim at the cause.

Under any circumstances it would be futile to agitate solely against this particular measure. Even if the ruling class judged it expedient to vary their programme, it would only mean that, since they control, they are able to attain the same end by other, and perhaps dirtier, means. The only way, then, is to go the whole hog. The great campaign against capitalism must be undertaken by the workers sooner or later. The longer it lasts the more desperate is the evil. For one thing that is agitated against now there will be a dozen presently, and so long as the fount of evil is left, so long as the capitalists are left in control, for so long will the workers efforts for redress be fruitless. To seek anything less than the establishment of working-class control is to get lost in the quagmire of capitalist intrigue and oppression—a verity which we have always, since the day of our inception, maintained, and which finds fresh support, and confirmation in every new experience the march of events presents.

This class struggle, must increase in bitterness. Every present indication proves this. Not for long will political charlatans be able to deny the class war without being laughed to scorn. This increasing sharpness of the struggle will spike the top of the fence whereon the I.L.P. so dearly loves to perch, and the political mountebank, like Othello will wake to find his occupation gone.

For the rest, all those who have supported the capitalist class in the present bloody business ; all those who helped to keep the workers attached to the capitalist parties ; all those who hampered the organisation of the workers as a class against their exploiters : all those, notwithstanding any eleventh-hour outcry at the last straw of conscription, will have misled and betrayed the workers, and will bear a share in the blood-guilt of Europe, and will be in part responsible for the murder of millions, and for the increasing oppression that the workers suffer. This stigma they cannot escape.

Conscription, indeed, is a blow to us—and it is one of many. Would that the workers had now the knowledge and sound organisation needed to end the cumulative oppression of class rule forthwith. Nevertheless, in the present juncture, despite the disunion and ignorance of the workers, very many have openly professed their determination to die rather than act as the bravoes of brigand capital. The individual will be compelled to make his own choice before the supreme sacrifice. Now, above all, is the time when each thinking man and woman must realise the utter hopelessness of anything short of the class struggle for Socialism and act accordingly. The mere threat of an effective fight for working-class supremacy would even at the present stage, wring concessions from the ruling class that they would not dream of making otherwise.

Join, then, in the greater struggle, in the only effective agitation, in the campaign that includes and transcends any merely anti-conscription movement. Join in the struggle in which every step is a definite step forward, which faces always towards its goal, and which alone offers any hope for the permanent amelioration of the common lot of labouring men and women, whether in England or Germany, France or Austria, Italy or Turkey, or any other capitalist country, the wide world over.

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