1940s >> 1945 >> no-485-january-1945

Letter: Socialism and Constitutional Action

Reply To A Correspondent.



In the October issue of The Socialist Standard under the heading “Last Days of the Barricades,” you state as follows: “With a Parliamentary majority it is the capitalists who will be faced with the prospect of illegal barricades, which the Socialist controlled army and air force will go through like cardboard, if they ever get put up. . . .”

It is true that the armed forces are controlled by Parliament, but it is also true that the armed forces can act in defiance of Parliament.


When you refer to a Socialist majority in Parliament, I suppose you mean anything between 51 and 100 per cent. It is therefore feasible that the armed forces will divide against itself, so that both sides would be fairly matched with the most up-to-date instruments of warfare.


To visualise a few capitalists armed with only small arms and barbed wire as being the only resistance to the establishment of Socialism may be a comforting thought, yet in my opinion it shows a lamentable lack of understanding and suggests that such is likely to be the position at the time of the Socialist revolution.
I am. Sir, Yours faithfully,
F. J. Andrews.


Romford, Essex.




The S.P.G.B. holds that, in order to achieve Socialism, it is necessary for a Socialist majority to obtain control of the machinery of government, including the armed forces. Control of the machinery of government is to be obtained by securing a Parliamentary majority. It should, of course, he emphasised that before such a majority can be achieved in Parliament there must exist a majority of convinced Socialists in the constituencies.


Our correspondent puts this proposition :—

It is true that the armed forces are controlled by Parliament, but it is also true that the armed forces can act in defiance of Parliament.

Strictly, the position is that constitutionally the armed forces only exist and function by consent of Parliament (which votes the money and annually renews the Acts by which discipline is legally enforceable), though the armed forces are directly under the orders of the Government and those whom it appoints to command the armed forces. Our correspondent asks us to accept the view that, though the armed forces are trained and accustomed to take orders only from authorities under the control of the Government., they “can act in defiance of Parliament,” and that in order to prevent the establishment of Socialism after a majority has, democratically voted for Socialism, a large part of the armed forces will refuse to take orders from the Government and will wage civil war in order to preserve capitalism.


This proposition makes a number of very big assumptions: (a) That these soldiers will be so enamoured of capitalism that they will go to extreme lengths to preserve it; (b) that they will suddenly throw overboard the traditional obedience to constitutional authorities to which they have been trained and are accustomed; (c) that though drawn from working-class families, they are so little touched by the Socialist convictions of the majority that they are not merely indifferent to the issue “Capitalism versus Socialism,” but are actually active supporters of capitalism.


We find these assumptions so extraordinarily out of harmony with past experience and with the political outlook that will necessarily exist among the workers generally before a Socialist majority becomes a possibility that we find it impossible to imagine any such attempted revolt taking on serious proportions, even if it happened at all. Our correspondent does not tell us about the motives which he assumes will lead workers in the armed forces to take part in such rebellion, or who will initiate it. how they will organise it, how they will supply themselves with the means of waging war. how they will overcome problems of transport and communications against the efforts of the Government backed by the organised Socialist workers, to prevent them.


If our correspondent will enlighten us as to the situation as he envisages it “at the time of the Socialist revolution,” we shall be pleased to deal further with his forebodings.


Editorial Committee