No-Conscription Fellowship. Where We Differ
It may be wondered why we criticise an organisation, such as the No-Conscription Fellowship, which is formed for the sole purpose of opposing compulsory military service. But the necessity is forced upon us by the fact that with that organisation yet another element of confusion is introduced, to divert the attention of the workers from the true service of humanity.
It is true that the tribunals are a fiasco. It is true that militarism is a curse. It is true that the present war should never have been waged. It is true that the Government goes to ever-greater lengths of tyranny in suppressing the last remnants of individual liberty. But why do these things exist ? It is because of the control of the destinies of the people by the class that grinds the faces of the workers during peace for profit, and that adds to this in time of war the hounding on of men to murder each other in order to protect or increase that profit. It is not the slightest use to call upon the robbers to cease robbing, or the oppressors to cease oppressing. There is only one possible remedy. It is the union of all the workers for the end of the domination of the brigand class, and for the control of the destinies of those who labour, by and for those who labour. Consequently all organisation that does not devote itself to this essential task wastes the time and energy needed for the struggle to free humanity from the incubus of tyranny, exploitation, and murder for profit. Whatever the temporary conditions within capitalism, there remains but this one way out, and this is equally true in time of war as in time of peace.
We may therefore ask where were the bulk of the members of the No-Conscription Fellowship in time of peace ? Did their conscience fail to move them until their bodies were to be seized ? Were they not sensitive to the hellish conditions of grinding poverty and toil inflicted upon the many by the ruthless rule of despotic capital ? These are pertinent questions, for undoubtedly many genuine conscientious objectors have had discredit cast upon them by the many cases where members of the N.-C.P. belonging to no previous organisation, claimed a conscience that only manifested itself when the Military Service Act was passed.
We are most bitterly opposed to Conscription. And our opposition is even now more effective than that of the N-C.F., not only in itself, but also because it is an integral part of a larger and consistent policy. We are opposed to all capitalist war on the deepest moral and humanitarian grounds, expressed as the true interests of those who labour. And we have manifested this earnestly and consistently, not for the period of the war only, hut for all the years we have been in the Socialist Party, in peace as well us in war. This has been the case because we have been profoundly convinced that it is to render no service whatever to humanity to confine oneself to opposition to any mere effect of capitalism, such as conscription. The only intelligent course is to get rid of the system which inevitably breeds such evils. Nor are these the only points on which we differ from the N.-C.F. The very basis of their policy is anti-Socialist. Religion we have no use for : it is the hand-maiden of slavery. And in the resolution adopted by the National Convention of the N.-C.F. at Easter the divergence from the useful service of humanity is clearly marked. Here is the resolution :
“This Convention re-affirms its deeply held belief in the sanctity of human life, and declares its loyalty to the principles of peace and human fellowship. It therefore refuses to take any part in the war, and further declares that it cannot accept any form of alternative service, the result of which would be the more efficient organisation of the country for war, or the advancing of militarism as exemplified in the Military Service Act.”
Now while the Socialist worthy of the name has the deepest conscientious objection in its most real sense to laying waste the earth and murdering men in the interest of his greatest enemy, the exploiting class ; nevertheless, he cannot hold that the “sanctity” of the individual life transcends the good of human kind. Given the occasion to do so usefully in the furtherance of the real interests of humanity he would count the sacrifice of his own life as justified. The interests of his class, the interests of mankind, are greater than those of any one man. And since there is during the present epoch only one way to further these interests, and that is the Socialist way, he is, therefore, so far from being opposed to all war, that he is eager for the greater war, the war for the liberation of the toiling millions from the shackles of greed and murder that now crush them down. This has been the Socialist’s sincerest conviction before the war, and will be after it. On this also, therefore, we join issue with the N.-C.F.
The Socialist is to-day asked to battle against his deepest convictions. He, if any, has a real conscientious objection to fighting for those to whom he is most sincerely opposed, for a cause which he knows to be accursed, and in the teeth of his long and deeply held principles. And it is because of the sincerity of these convictions that he refuses to perjure himself with a declaration, that he is opposed to all war. Such a statement on his part would be cowardly. Such action, if general, would rivet eternally upon Labour the shackles that fetter it, and seal upon human kind for ever the untold suffering that .robbery and oppression inflict upon it. Thus it will be seen how widely we differ from the N.-C.F. Their attitude is fundamentally anti-Socialist, and is calculated to defeat the interests of humanity they profess to have at heart. In our view Socialism is infinitely greater than any temporary issue, and to Labour as a whole it is, rightly understood, the one thing worth living for.