Where They Stand on Conscription

Labour Party, Liberals and Communists

The attitude of the Labour Party towards Conscription as shown by the votes at the special Conference in May was exactly what Socialists expected. The Executive’s resolution condemning conscription because the voluntary system has not failed, and at the same time approving the “participation in all steps necessary to secure the proper protection of the civilian population in time of war” was carried by 1,967,000 to 574,000 (Daily Herald, June 1st.) An amendment which deplored the action of the E.C. in according support to the Government’s National Service scheme and National Register, and called for a cessation of all further support of National Service schemes (with the exception of A.R.P.), was defeated by 1,767,000 to 729,000.

At the Liberal Party Conference, according to the Manchester Guardian’ report (May 13th, 1939), “after a long debate the Liberal Party Conference at Scarborough yesterday adopted a resolution ‘reluctantly’ accepting conscription.”

An amendment favouring uncompromising opposition to conscription “was overwhelmingly defeated.”

The Communist Party, as was also to be expected, came out in favour of conscription but not under a Chamberlain Government. Their official statement, published in the Daily Worker (May 24th, 1939), contains the following: —

“The Communist Party has fought Chamberlain’s Conscription Bill on the grounds that Chamberlain’s introduction of Conscription is designed, not for the purposes of strengthening the military forces of a Peace Front against aggression, but in pursuance of his reactionary policy of collaboration with Fascism abroad and attack on the working-class and democratic movement at home.
The question of Conscription cannot be treated as a question of abstract principle, irrespective of the Government which operates it.
. . . under a different Government which genuinely stood for peace and resistance to Fascism, the question of compulsory military training would take on a different complexion. The voluntary principle is no absolute democratic principle. . . .
In all the great struggles of the people—in the English Civil War, in the French Revolutionary Wars, in the Russian Revolution, in the War of Spanish Democracy—the principle of compulsory military service has been applied.”

The statement also calls on the workers to “decisively reject the pacifist propaganda which proposes the futile path of individual resistance to conscription.”

A few days later, June 3rd, the Daily Worker was quoting Lenin and Liebknecht in condemnation of Conscientious Objectors.

One quotation from Lenin has a special interest. Lenin wrote : —

“An oppressed class which does not leern the use of arms, to possess them, and to become practised in them, is only fit to be oppressed, ill-treated and handled like slaves.”

The interesting point is the demand that workers should “possess” arms. There used to be a Communist slogan “Arms for the Workers,” but when the Bolshevik Government had got firmly in the saddle it took the Russian workers’ arms away from them. Are we to understand that if and when the Communists persuade the Labour Party, the Liberals, and Mr. Winston Churchill, etc., to form a Popular Front Government, the Government will let the workers keep their arms ?

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