National Service or International Socialism

The ruling class have shown on many occasions that they are past-masters in the art of inducing self-deception among the workers. A typical instance is the attitude adopted on the subject of Air Raid Precautions and National Service.

Previous to the war crisis of last September, military and aeronautical experts were writing books, composing articles and making speeches, which described the advance made in the manufacture of poison gases and high explosives since the last war, and pointed the moral that, under such “improved” conditions, attack must always prevail over defence.

These views were confirmed by the mock air raids which were held each summer, the results of which inspired Conservative Premier Baldwin to remark that, in a future war, “the bomber will always get through.”

The September crisis changed all this. Our capitalist masters, realising the important part which the civilian population would have to play in the defence of private property if war was declared, set about “correcting” the notions of bombers getting through, and countered such alarming statements by an A.R.P. and National Service advertising campaign, the extent of which is obvious to everyone.

Obvious, also, is the volte face which has taken place. Pre-crisis: “Attack must win.” Post-crisis: “We must concentrate on defence.” The deception is evident. Both statements cannot be true. Before passing judgment, however, let us briefly examine A.R.P. The estimate for this body is thirty-two millions, compared with two thousand millions for armaments. From the class standpoint, deep, well-constructed, reinforced shelters for the capitalist; he can pay the bill. For many workers, tin huts, guaranteed (whatever this means) to be splinter-proof. Perhaps the utility of these objects can be assessed by the fact that, for most of the wage-slaving recipients, the shelters are provided free.

Let it be remembered that the occupants of these precarious guarantors of splinter-proof existence will be producers and distributors of the means of living. As for the master class—one seems to remember comments echoing from the Great War years—something about profiteering. The problem of concussion has evidently been ignored, so far as working class safety is concerned. Workers who served in the last War have strange tales to tell of dug-outs full of khaki-clad workers untouched by splinters, but killed by concussion produced by an exploding shell; and high explosives have become much more destructive since 1918.

Once again, then, we see the value of human life fluctuate according to the class position of the. persons concerned. To the contrasts between capitalist limousine and worker’s tuppeny bus ticket, between capitalist three-month sea cruise and worker’s annual week at Margate, between capitalist country mansion and worker’s big town barrack, can now be added the contrast between shelters for the capitalist and shoddy (once again) for members of our class. A.R.P. has no answer to problems such as this.

Incidentally, the number of workers who have rallied to the call for volunteers seems to have fallen short of expectations; one detects a note of anxiety in the posters which are asking for thousands more.

National Service needs little comment. The blatant attempt to organise, militarise and coerce the workers has been recognised by Socialists from the outset. We cannot over-stress the fact that in modern capitalist society the interval between one war and another cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be described as Peace. The struggle between the possessors of the means of wealth production and the dispossessed, between capitalist class and working class, transcends all circumstances of war or so-called peace; and along with this class antagonism runs the inevitable parallel (while the workers remain politically ignorant) of the allocation by the ruling class of ever larger proportions of their wealth for armaments, not forgetting the huge bill which must be met for war propaganda on a nation-wide scale; an essential weapon to a ruling class bent on protecting its interests against the threat of a foreign capitalist group.

Hence National Service, the up-to-date variant of King-and-Country, World Freedom, etc.

Now about ourselves. The Socialist Party has as its object the establishment of a social order based upon the ownership by the community of the means of living. We need a majority of our class, desiring it, to bring this about; but the workers in that majority will not be enrolled in National Service or A.R.P. Neither will they be supporters of the capitalist system, with its periodical quarrels between national sections of the international ruling class over the wealth produced by the workers.

The establishment of the Socialist society will result from the efforts of workers who understand not only the class antagonisms of the present system, but also the need for a classless society in which wealth will be produced only for use; the elimination of the class basis will also eliminate the profit motive.

Without this fundamentally class-conscious outlook, capitalist wars, and consequently working class slaughter, will always be a riddle to members of our class whose discontent with the present order of things need Socialist understanding to give direction and effectiveness to that discontent. We members of the Socialist Party proceed towards our objective, firstly, by educating ourselves, and, secondly, by passing on that education to our
1 fellow workers in the form of Socialist propaganda.

Therefore, applying our Socialist understanding to war preparation, we state our case.

While the working class tolerates the capitalist system, commercial and imperialist rivalries between capitalist states will always tend to find their expression in war, involving the destruction of countless workers’ lives. The greater the support given by workers to National Service and A.R.P., the nearer will war become. On the other hand, the greater the resistance by members of our class to war and its preparation, the greater will be the possibility of making the Socialist majority of workers, who, having decided to abolish the private ownership of the means of life, will take hold of the political machinery for that purpose. With political control, this further step will be possible: the armed forces of the capitalist states will become an anachronism in a social system where there are no markets to safeguard and no trade routes to protect.

The common ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution will necessitate other activities being found for the members of the derelict armies, navies and air forces of capitalism; activities based upon social utility, rather than wholesale mortality. But that, fellow workers, will be Socialism.


(Socialist Standard, May 1939)

Leave a Reply