Ernest Belfort Bax

The Accursed Word of Command

(8 July 1893)

The Accursed Word of Command, Justice, 8th July 1893, p.3.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

So Admiral Tryon has perished, and all his crew, for the sanctity of the “word of command.” The theory of military (and naval) discipline exacts that the word of command shall be obeyed to the letter – reason or unreason. It was obeyed to the letter, and the Victoria sank. Shall we pity Admiral Tryon? No. We pity his victims a thousand times, and we could wish that every one of those four hundred who perished through the word of command – the seamen who were powerless to resist – were replaced by gentlemen and gallant officers at home, who maintain the system which requires the brutalisation of men, nay, their reduction to automata. But for the distinguished admiral who signalled, “Why are my orders not obeyed?” we say, serve him right! There would be no cause to regret if a few more upholders of military and naval discipline and the “word of command,” sense or nonsense, were this moment struggling with crayfish and other interesting crustaceans at the bottom of the sea for the possession of their precious carcases. Let him who invokes the word of command perish by the ward of command! The only consolation for the torture of recruits by the military systems of the Continent, on the strength of the word of command at the moment, is the hope that one day those who build on the word of command shall be destroyed by the word of command, and shall drag with them the accursed cause they represent. Who knows but one of these days obedience to the word of command shall sink an Empire instead of an ironclad? Then, indeed, shall we laugh! Meanwhile, much as we lament the loss of the bluejackets, there is some satisfaction in knowing that Nemesis has overtaken the “word of command” in one case at least.

How different is the military and naval “word of command,” sense or nonsense,. Reason or unreason, from the discipline o£ Social-Democracy – based, not on the mind and will of one man but on that of all, on the voluntary submission of the whole class-conscious proletariat. This discipline submits to no nonsensical “word of command” as such, but it is yet this discipline which has won Germany for Social-Democracy.




Last updated on 11.6.2004