E. Belfort Bax

The Armed Nation

(23 August 1923)

E. Belfort Bax, The Armed Nation, Justice, 23 August 1923, p.8. (letter)
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Proofread by Chris Clayton (May 2007).

Dear Comrade, The debate on National Defence at the SDF Conference seems to have been the only portion of our proceedings that the reporters expected to interest the public so a few words by a dissentient from this position may not be out of place. The dispute as to whether universal military service is correctly characterised as conscription I don’t propose to enter upon. It is enough for me that the majority of people regard the two expressions as equivalent, and that when they say they object to conscription they mean compulsory military service.

It may perhaps be asked if nobody compelled to adopt any other calling for which they feel themselves unadapted, such as coal mining, chemistry or meat porterage – which I take to be the freedom of choice recognised by most Socialists – why should the occupation of soldiering be the one about which no freedom of choice is allowed? Soldiering may under certain circumstances, the actual defence of the soil, be legitimate and necessary, but so are other occupations. Like other occupations this undoubtedly is congenial and attractive to a great number of persons, and likewise repellent to others. But in the case of other occupations the Socialist Commonwealth, it is supposed, will be prepared to assume that the necessary quota of miners or builders will be obtainable without resort to compulsion. Why not also with defensive soldiering? Military adventure undoubtedly has an attraction for a certain type of youth.

I often used to discuss this question of the Armed Nation with our dear old comrade Quelch who was gone on the idea, apparently because he thought a militarily organised proletariat would be in the position to make a revolution when it saw fit and at least could not be prevailed upon to shoot strikers. Well, I can only say that in Switzerland, where the system in favour with the majority of our SDF Conference has existed for many a long year, the results anticipated by our deceased comrade Quelch have not been realised. As a matter of fact the mere training in militarism seems to be demoralising at best and productive of a servile spirit in its worst form. The unswerving obedience to the word of command required necessarily engenders this.

So much, for the moment, on militarism itself. But there is a further point. We are told we are to militarise for defensive purposes only. But here I want to know the precise definition of defence. This is very important. Defence may be the actual preservation of the soil for those who dwell upon it, but, in the case of an imperialist power, it generally means much more than this, and I should like to know whether our comrades, or any of them, include the defence of the integrity of the overseas possessions of the British Empire as coming under the head of defence in their acceptation of the word: because, if so, I fail to see that the militarism exemplified in the Armed Nation has many points in its favour as against the present form of the article which has been the instrument of all our colonial and other wars of recent years. The thin end of the wedge is very vital here. Nothing is easier than for an interested group of persons through the agency of the Press and otherwise to persuade a nation that its existence is in danger over some dispute in Central Asia, South Africa, in the South Seas or elsewhere. Jingo sentiment is the easiest of all to arouse. Of this we have had illustrations galore – yours fraternally


E.Belfort Bax


Last updated on 27.5.2007