The Clarion 1900
Written: by Robert Blatchford, under the pseudonym of Nunquam;
First published: in The Clarion, 28 April 1900, pp. 129-130;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford, for marxists.org 2008.
Our friends Liebknecht and Fletcher having written replies to my remarks on Militarism I am asked to answer them.
There is really very little to answer. Both our friends misunderstand me, for both represent me as an Imperialist and a Militarist, I am neither.
I am what is called a Little Englander and I am and have been all my life a vigorous opponent of war. I began to speak against war when I was 16, and I have gone on the same lines ever since.
In “The Puritan” for December, 1899, Mr. Fletcher said of me: –
For years past he has been one of our most eloquent preachers against the folly and wicked of Jingoism.
Now Mr. Fletcher warns me against the evils of Imperialism. When did I ever write a line in favour of Imperialism? When did I ever write a line in favour of war?
In the article of March 31, which Messrs. Liebknecht and Fletcher imagine they have answered, I did not speak in favour of Militarism; I only did the very thing, friend Liebknecht has done in his reply. I said that since we must have an army let it be an army of volunteers and not an army of conscripts.
The bulk of Liebknecht’s reply amounts to two statements, with both of which I agree. The first is that England will be driven to adopt one or other kind of Militarism. The second is that the Militia system is the best and the German system the worst.
When Liebknecht understands that ruse the word Volunteers as signifying unpaid citizen soldiers, he will see that our ideas are almost identical.
I am surprised to find A.E. Fletcher making the awful mistake of saying that conscription is better than volunteering because an army of conscripts is an army of citizens, his error is exposed by Liebknecht in his reply to me. But let me explain the difference in my own way.
Under Conscription a certain percentage of men are under arms as soldiers for a certain time. These men are not citizens any more than au: regulars are citizens. They are armed troops under orders of the Government or the Crown. And the rest of the citizens are not armed at all. Hence the Crown or Government has the public at its mercy.
But with a real citizen army of volunteers the one million men are actual citizens in civil employ, and with their arms in their own homes.
What happened under Conscription during the Paris Commune? Yet the army of France was, according to Mr. Fletcher, a citizen army.
I will now return to Mr. Liebknecht. He says in his reply that Militarism is the natural result of Imperialism. I know it. We all know it. He seems to think that we ought to give up all our empire except our colonies. Perhaps we ought. But that is not the question. I do not say whether we ought or ought not to give up our empire, or part of it. (It would be difficult to do that.) I say what Liebknecht says, that if we persist in holding the empire we must adopt some form of Militarism.
The whole trend of my article may be again expressed in a simple proposition. Whether we Socialists agree or not, the British people will insist upon holding the Empire as it stands today. The consequence of this, as Liebknecht says will be that we must adopt some form of Militarism. If we adopt a form of Militarism, it will be wise to adapt the beat form and reject the worst. Conscription is the worst. Liebknecht and I agree upon that. Which is the best?
Liebknecht recommends the Swiss Militia system. I say that may be an admirable system for Switzerland, but that it would not do for England.
The Swiss have only to defend their own country. We have to defend our own country and also our foreign possessions.
Mr. Fletcher suggests that the foreign possessions are not worth defending Perhaps not. I have sometimes said the same thing. But the fact is and, although Mr. Fletcher challenges the fact, he offers no rebutting evidence – the fact, is that the British people are resolved to defend the Empire.
Now, I believe that for purposes of foreign service we need an army of regular troops, but for purposes of home defence we need an army of volunteers – an army of citizen soldiers.
Mr. Liebknecht’s views as to the failure of regular troops as opposed to farmers defending their own homes are erroneous. The Boers have been considerably recruited from foreign sources, and largely led and trained by foreign officers. Their success, such as it is, has been due to the facts that they have been better armed and more mobile than the British, have known the country better, and have had the great advantage of acting upon the defensive in a country or natural fortresses. Under certain conditions they are powerful fighters, but no one who understands the subject will claim that they are better soldiers than our own. In attack they are very feeble. For months Sir George White held a weak position against a Boer force three times as large and much better armed than his own. At Kimberley, at Ladysmith, at Mafeking, at Wepener the Boers with overwhelming forces have been held at bay, and all their attacks repulsed. Much may be learned from this war. But it will be a mistake to assume that the Boer methods are the best for other armies.
To draw to an end with friend Liebknecht’s reply I will put some extracts from my article and his reply into parallel columns.
We want fighting men not fighting machines. And if your present military system fails and you are forced to adopt another one, by all means beware of conscription – beware of the baneful German system which now ruins the continent of Europe. Adopt the militia system.
A country in which every citizen, whether rich or poor, is a warrior, such a country is a free country and can never lose its liberty, because there is no power to oppress the people. All citizens are equal – everyone has arms, and Government has no means to enforce its will upon the people.
An army of conscripts is a standing menace to popular liberty but a citizen army is a standing defence of popular liberty. Under the Continental system the people are armed against their own liberties; under the volunteer system the people are armed in defence of their own rights.
These are points which it is essential that all Socialists should consider. Conscription is the deadliest danger to democracy a volunteer, or citizen army, is the surest prevention of conscription.
Some form of Militarism will assuredly be adopted by the people of this country. Let us endeavour to secure the best form, and to avoid a blind attack upon all forms, which can only tend to inflict upon us the worst.
What are we disputing about?
Now a few words with A. E. Fletcher. Let me use parallel columns again.
We Socialists are not quite powerless to interfere with it. We mean to interfere with it. Just as the abolition of slavery was the great work of the reformers at the beginning of the nineteenth century, so the abolition of Militarism will be the great work which reformers whether Socialist or Radical, will attempt at the beginning of the twentieth. In view of the great work in this direction which is already being done, chiefly by Socialists in Germany and France, in Italy and in Austria, in Belgium and in Denmark, to say nothing of the United Kingdom and the United States, we Socialists understand that our outlook for the Success of an anti-military crusade is far brighter than was the outlook of the Abolitionists a hundred years ago. We have the same forces to contend with that they had, viz time-honoured tradition, capitalism and landlordism in and out of Parliament, and paganism in the pulpit.
Let us speak and write against war; let us work to bring about universal brotherhood and peace; but let us recognise the fact that some form of Militarism will be established in this country very soon, whether we Socialists are willing or no.
And let us as sensible men try to evade and defeat the bad Continental form of Militarism by countenancing and assisting better English form.
Mr. Fletcher says I am finding out that I was meant for a man of letters and not for a professional slaughterer; and he warns me off the dramatic aspects of war. In reply I beg to refer him to my soldier novel “A Son of the Forge” in which I have tried to show the folly and the horrors of war, and to strip the tinsel glory from the dreadful fact.
Again, Mr. Fletcher asks whether it would not be better for England to disarm as an example to the world. It might. And it might not. It is ridiculous to pretend that the great European Powers are a reply to the armaments of England, France, Austria, Russia, and Germany have armed against each other. England has never encroached upon French, Austrian, German or Russian rights – at least, not within the last two generations. Let us avoid cant. England wants peace and trade (do not suppose I am in favour of the trading ideal), and does not covet the possessions of any European Power. England need not disarm. She has never yet armed – in the sense in which arming is understood on the Continent. We hear a great deal of the hatred of England on the Continent. How much of that hatred is due to, our sins, and how much to envy of our success? Let us be fair. We have been brigands. So. But what of Russia, of France, of Germany? Which of these Powers has not taken all it could get? And if the French and the Germans, and the Russians hate us, how much do they love each other? Does France love Germany? Does Russia love Germany?
Am I a Jingo? Read “A Son of the Forge,” read the files of the Clarion. Am I an Imperialist? Besides “Merrie England.” And here ends my reply to the replies of Messrs. Fletcher and Liebknecht. But I protest against the injustice of those Socialists who dub me Jingo and Imperialist. When I turn Jingo or Imperialist I will let you know. I usually make my meaning plain. At present I am neither the one nor the other, I am a Socialist and a man of peace and if any fellow tries to stick wrong labels upon me there will be trouble.