Conscription Continued

When dealing with, the scheme known as the “Derby Group System” in THE SOCIALIST some months back it was pointed out that the capitalist class were being pushed on to the horns of a dilemma in the endeavour to find men for the Army. This simple truth is now being demonstrated by two prominent incidents. One is the threat of raising the age for military service to 45 years, though even the “”Daily Mail” admits that the army does not want men of this age; and the other is the cry to extend conscription to Ireland.

On the former point it is significant to note that though Mr. Asquith has stated that an army of over 5,000,000 men has been raised by the “voluntary” method, no statement has been issued of the number of men the Conscription .Act has brought in. With the single men this might be accounted for by the miserably small number that was available after the “voluntary” system was closed. The later application of the Act to married men does not seem to have brought much of a result if the official silence :is any guide. The scandal of the medical “examinations” is a further point showing how few fit men were really available.

Now we are told that there must be a “combing out” of the various munition and other factories to obtain the young men, while the fact that the “combing” process has been steadily, if quietly, carried on for months is coolly ignored. The result here, if munition work is to be carried on at its present pressure, will be exceedingly small.

It is in this dilemma that the turn is made to Ireland. This looks surprisingly hopeful. For generations Ireland has been a nation of women, children and old people. The young, vigorous manhood has been compelled to emigrate because of the impossibility of obtaining a livelihood in Ireland.

With a population, at the last census, of about 4,300,000 in the whole country ; with an unduly large proportion of this number consisting of non-military material ; with over 150,000 of its manhood already in the Army, we can see what a rich reservoir is here to make up what is so sweetly termed “the wastage.”

The difficulties already existing in Ireland, coupled with the feelings engendered by the ruthless use of the military both during and since the futile “rebellion,” would seem to make the game scarcely worth the candle. But, apparently, there are other reasons at work, and if one may take certain indications, it has -already been decided to apply conscription there. The “Daily Mail” howls for it. The Nationalist Party howls against it. In such a situation the position of a third section is a useful guide.

When conscription was being brought forward as “practical politics” in Great Britain the “Daily Chronicle” claimed it would never be applied here. For answer to this, as Sir Christopher Wren says in another connection, “look around.” Now the same paper states it is estimated that 150,000 men could be obtained from Ireland, which “is a very respectable total.” But it goes on to. state “No man with any real knowledge of Ireland or any experience of its government would ever dream of applying conscription to that country,” and later on we are told ” Even were it carried . . . it could never be worked.” (“Daily Chronicle,” 14.10.1916.) In the light of previous experience this looks ominous—for Ireland. It looks as though the “deal” has already been arranged .and the shrieking of the Nationalists and the “never” of the “Daily Chronicle” are mere window dressing exhibitions preparatory to the complete swallowing of the pill.

To complete the parallel it is suggested that a “Derby Scheme” be started in Ireland. This, of course, would be a “failure” just as it was here. Indeed, many complaints have already been made that Irishmen, joining the army on purpose to enter Irish regiments, have been placed in English, Scotch or Welsh regiments much against their will. Then the authorities complain that “Irishmen are not filling up the Irish regiments ” ! When the proposed “Derby Scheme” has “failed” sufficiently this “failure” will be used as one of the reasons for conscription as it was here. Just as Asquith deceived and swindled the workers here with his “promises” and “pledges” so the Irish workers will be swindled by Redmond and Carson.

While the results in men would be small, relative to the supposed requirements of the Army, the effect would be, practically, to impose martial law in Ireland as in reality it already exists here, though not in official terms. This enables the ruling class to carry out their wishes ruthlessly and rapidly in any direction they desire while apparently observing the usual constitutional forms. That it “never could be worked,” as the “Daily Chronicle” states, is mere nonsense, for though forceful resistance might hinder and bother the authorities for a short time, ultimately it would be quite futile as the last experience of this method has shown.

Not until the working class in Ireland clearly grip the essential fact that they are slaves to the master class no matter what nationality these latter may be ; fully realise that such slavery is confined within no national boundary but is world wide; throw off the mental shackles of either “nationalism” or “religion,” and join hands with their fellow workers the world over to abolish capitalism – the cause of modern wars—not until then will they be free from oppression and tyranny and be able to enjoy the results of their efforts applied to Nature’s resources.

J. F.

Leave a Reply