Joseph Hansen

Go Forward

(23 November 1940)

Source: Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 47, 23 November 1940, p. 4.
Transcription/HTML Markup: 2019 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2020; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

Eight Professional Pacifists Seek Jail Term

Eight students of the Union Theological Seminary have been sentenced by the federal court in New York to serve a year and a day in prison for refusing to register under the draft. All of them as members of an organization opposing conscription and war on the ground of religious scruples would have come under the classification of “conscientious objectors;” hence, under present interpretation of the draft laws, not subject to active participation in the future armed conflicts in which the United States will engage.

Their acceptance – even seeking – of a prison sentence was thus a planned effort of professional pacifists to make a dramatic political demonstration of their views. They oppose war in general because of their scruples over the shedding of blood in general. They are principled vegetarians in the field of politics.

By their example, they hope to influence prospective soldiers into seeking jail terms rather than military education. Their answer, to imperialist war is, jails not battleships!

In Keeping With Their Position

The refusal of these eight to register and their seeking prison sentence to underline this refusal flows with iron logic from their political position. If they oppose military training, then they cannot even carry a registration card. Anything else is cowardice, inconsistency, a fatal concession to the spirit of militarism. Like the fabled virgin they pray God to save them from becoming even a little bit pregnant!

Other pacifist groups who oppose military training in general and who yet make no demonstrations such as this one of the Bible students will have difficulty in demonstrating that they take their pacifist views either logically or seriously. These bible students are obviously honest and courageous. But they contribute nothing to the real struggle against war.

Their pacifism is not the pacifism of the oppressed – pacifism such as that mistakenly expressed by the Negro sailors who protested the Jim Crow conditions prevailing in the U.S., Navy. Their pacifism is the professional pacifism of such treacherous petty bourgeois politicians as Norman Thomas. Their pacifism is a perfidious snare designed to deliver the working class throttled and limp to the war-mongers.

In times of peace these pacifists accept all the class injustices, all the lies, the frame-ups, the perversions and distortions of truth imposed by the ruling class. But when the ruling class projects these injustices, lies, frame-ups, perversions, onto the field of battle, these pacifists make a demonstration: “No, We will have nothing to do with military training. It leads to bloodshed! We choose jail!”

“Force and Force Alone”

These pacifists who oppose military training must be rejected with the utmost contempt by the class-conscious worker, just as he would reject with scorn and hate a scab who said, “Unions? No I will have nothing to do with them. They lead to tear gas! I choose independence!”

The working class cannot exchange a year’s military training for a prison cell as have these professional pacifists. Even if the millions in the working class could make a trade like this, that would not convince Wall Street that wars from now on should be conducted without tears, dirt, and bloodshed. Nor would it put an end to war in general.

The cold reality is that the working class will inevitably find itself up to the neck in the reek and bloody slush of the battlefields of World War No. 2 – and no bomb shelters such as prison cells provide!

The task is to smash the capitalist system which the pacifists endure and support. War is nothing but the extension of peace-time capitalist institutions in a more violent and horrible form. The bloody institution of war against which the pacifists offer up weak protests can be ended only by ending the system as a whole.

The working class alone can lead the masses in carrying out this task but to do so it must be trained in the military arts. That is one of the requisites. As Krank Knox, Secretary of the Navy, declared with truth before a group of business men in Boston on November 14, “In a world like this ... force and force alone determines the fate of nations.”

The Real Opposition to War

The revolutionary socialist in contrast to the pacifist is a real opponent of capitalist war.

He starts not with some abstraction about the desirability of peace and non-violence in general, a proposition with which anyone will agree. He starts from the real world of the class struggle and he takes his stand at the vanguard of the working class where the blows fall thickest.

Whether the pacifists think it objectionable or not, military training of the masses is on the order of the day. The question is, shall it be organized like an open shop with the bosses in strict control, through their officers or shall it be organized in connection with the trade unions with the workers in control?

Other political representatives of the petty-bourgeoisie, such as the so-called Workers Party, declare that trade union control of military training is bad and to be rejected because the present heads of the trade unions are treacherous fakers! This answer is as pious as the sentiments of the pacifists who went to jail, but not quite as honest. The basic question is, which class organizations shall control military training, those of the bourgeoisie or those of the workers?

Only the petty bourgeois pacifists, who reject the class struggle altogether, or those who like Westbrook Pegler offer conditional support to the trade unions providing they “cleanse themselves” of racketeering elements can refuse an answer to this question.

The real opponents of capitalist war draw a sharp line of demarcation between the interests of the bourgeoisie, its agents, both labor fakers and professional pacifists, on the one hand; and the interests of labor on the other.

For the present period, this line is formulated in the slogan Military Training Under Control of the Trade Unions.


Last updated on: 14 November 2020