Harry Quelch 1907

Socialism, Militarism and Mr. Haldane’s Scheme

Source: The Social Democrat, Vol. XI No. 4 April, 1907, pp. 200-207;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Socialism is the one world-wide force opposed to militarism. The international Social-Democratic Party is an international peace party, and the only political party which really endeavours to “seek peace and ensue it.” These are mere truisms; but to appreciate them it is necessary to understand what is meant by Socialism and militarism, and why they are necessarily opposed to each other. Socialism implies the social ownership of all natural resources and the application of all social forces in co-operation for the satisfaction of all material social needs. It, therefore, involves not merely co-operation between individuals and groups of individuals, but also co-operation between nations. This would ensure peace; because the chief essential characteristics of such national and international co-operation would be thrift – in the true sense of the word, the conservation of wealth – and the elimination of all forms of waste. In a system of universal co-operation for production for use, all destruction of wealth, all waste, would be sheer loss. And all war is waste. Under the present system of capitalism – with its class ownership and control of all natural resources and all means of production – with universal competition and production for profit, waste means gain, and is not only inevitable but necessary. And war, in such circumstances, is indispensable. Production for profit involves the production of a surplus of wealth – over which those who have produced it, and who most need it, have no control – over-production, the glutting of markets, commercial and industrial crises, bankruptcy and ruin. The very abundance of the surplus wealth from which profit is derived prevents profit being made, clogs the wheels of production, stops mills and factories, throws men out of employment, and produces widespread misery and want – misery and want which can only be averted by the waste and destruction of this surplus wealth. Under present circumstances, therefore, the waste and destruction of war, with all its indescribable horrors, are blessings to mankind. Even if it were possible to eliminate war, therefore, under capitalism the horrors of peace would far transcend those of war. But it is not possible, because that very frenzy of production which results in a surplusage of wealth forces the competing producers into conflict with each other for the mastery of markets in which the surplus can be disposed of. So hideously, in the capitalist system, do all things work together to produce the conditions essential to capitalism that the very over-production of wealth which makes war and waste so useful also makes war inevitable.

Whatever may have been the case in relation to the wars of the past, and whatever may have been their causes – racial, religious, or dynastic – the wars of to-day are essentially economic in their origin and their object. However it may have been in the past, and with that I am not now concerned, there is no question that now all the cries which are raised to justify war – patriotism, empire, the flag, religion, and so on – are so much humbug, and that the real cause and object is the conquest of markets.

That being so, it must be quite clear that capitalism and international peace are incompatible, and that however sincere and well-intentioned bourgeois advocates of peace may be, their plans are foredoomed to failure, and international peace cannot be established while capitalism exists.

In these circumstances, the international Socialist Party has to consider how best to pursue its object. It is as idle and utopian to dream of establishing peace in the midst of capitalism as to attempt to establish the co-operative commonwealth. We have to work in the conditions and with the means which we find to our hand. Just as in all other relations, so in this, we have to consider what is possible in existing conditions and what will modify the worst features of those conditions, while at the same time helping on the social and economic development.

Bourgeois peace-mongers talk of universal disarmament. But any Socialist who has taken the trouble to understand the operations of the capitalist system must recognise that universal disarmament under capitalism is impossible. If, for instance, at the coming Conference at the Hague, the Powers there represented agreed to disarm, how is that agreement to be enforced? Imperative as are the reasons, as already set forth, for war under present circumstances, there is no Power in Europe which does not find the cost of armaments irksome and burdensome, or would not willingly come to some arrangement by which this burden might be reduced. But, suppose some such arrangement were arrived at, and assuming, further, that, acting on that agreement, every Power in Europe were to disarm. The causes of conflict still remain, and there is nothing in the way of any Power organising a predatory expedition against its neighbour, and nothing can prevent its doing so.

We are thus face to face with the inevitability of armaments under present conditions, and we have to consider what in these conditions is the best to be done for Socialism and against militarism.

Now, this is not a new question. It has been discussed over and over again in the International Congresses of the Socialist Party, and the conclusion always arrived at has been that the only way in present circumstances to promote peace and to combat militarism is not by disarmament, but by universal armament. By the abolition of all professional standing armies and the military training of all citizens, so as to render all professional armies unnecessary. have already shown that disarmament is out of the question in present conditions, and we are concerned with making the best of existing circumstances.

We Socialists advocate the military training of all citizens and the abolition of professional armies, as ensuring the maximum of military efficiency and the minimum of menace to democratic principles and popular rights. At the Conference Mr. Keir Hardie is reported to have said that in industrial disputes there was no difference between a professional army and the citizen force which we Socialists advocate. If he was correctly reported it is quite clear that Mr. Hardie has not taken the trouble to understand what it is that Socialists advocate. We propose that every man should undergo a thorough military training so as to be equal to any other man. No one suggests that with such universal training all strife would cease, or that the master class would lose their ascendancy. In advocating this universal training we are presupposing present class antagonism and the ascendancy of the master class. But the latter are infinitely more powerful with a small body of janissaries, of trained professional soldiers, in the midst of an unarmed, untrained people than they would be if all were equally well armed and well trained.

A professional army is maintained for a number of reasons, all of these representing, in the main, the defence and maintenance of the interests of the master class. A professional army is a specialised class or caste, divorced from civil life, hostile to the general body of the community and maintained as an instrument to serve the purpose of the master class. That purpose is as often the suppression of popular movements at home as it is aggression abroad. If it were possible to abolish all military organisation, the remedy would be simple. But we have seen that that is, under present conditions, impossible. Therefore, we urge that all citizens should be armed and trained to the use of arms, so that all reasonable military requirements may be met and professional soldiering be entirely dispensed with. With this universal military training nobody pretends that all abuses of force would cease; but it is obvious that the coercion of the whole working class by a small minority would be quite impossible.

As to the contention that such universal military training would encourage militarism and jingoism, the very reverse would be the case. With the responsibility for war brought home to every household there would be far less jingoism than there is to-day when “respectable” people put out their fighting, as they do their washing, for others to do, and consider that they are wasting the money they spend on the army unless there is some fighting going on.

Universal military training – every citizen drilled and armed – with no professional soldiery, would free us from the menace to civil liberty constituted by a standing army in the midst of an unarmed population; while it would provide, in the most economical manner possible, the most efficient means of national defence that could under any circumstances be required. It is at once the most democratic, the most anti-jingo, the most efficient and the most economical military organisation that could be devised under existing circumstances.

It may be objected that this proposal has so much to recommend it from a popular democratic standpoint as to constitute such a counsel of perfection that our rulers will never adopt it, and that to advocate it is little less utopian than to advocate total disarmament. That would be a perfectly sound argument if on the one hand universal disarmament were even conceivable in present conditions, or if, on the other, our rulers found the present military organisation satisfactory. As it is, however, neither of these hypothetical conditions exists. As we have seen, disarmament is impossible under existing circumstances, and at the same time army organisation in this country is in so unsatisfactory a condition that every succeeding War Minister comes forward with a plan of reconstruction, a plan which invariably breaks down and leaves confusion worse confounded. We, therefore, put forward our proposal of universal military training – the armed nation, and no standing army – not as a counsel of perfection, but as an alternative to the various schemes of army reorganisation put forward by succeeding War Ministers.

This brings us to a consideration of Mr. Haldane’s scheme. This has been formulated for precisely the same reason that has caused other similar schemes to be brought forward – the difficulty of meeting the admitted military requirements of the Empire on the present basis. The initial difficulty is the shortage of men. Now, there is little doubt that this difficulty could be met, and an ample supply of men secured if the inducements held out to men to enlist were sufficiently high. But to increase the inducements sufficiently to ensure a plentiful supply of recruits would be to enormously enhance the cost of the army. As it is, the burden of militarism has been a steadily increasing one, and army expenditure has grown enormously. Unsatisfactory as is the present army organisation from a military standpoint, the expenditure has gone up from 17,441,293 in 1891-2 to 28,430,000 in 1905-6, while the net estimates for 1906-7 amount to 29,796,000. Even these enormous sums, it is generally admitted, fall far short of the total actually spent, and it has been estimated that the army costs, at the present time, little less than forty millions a year. And we haven’t got an efficient army at that!

It is easy to understand, therefore, that any War Minister would hesitate before proposing anything which would naturally add to the cost of the army, even if there were any prospect of such proposals being agreed to. Moreover, Mr. Haldane is pledged to retrenchment, and has actually, by disbanding several battalions, and by taking advantage of economies carried out by his predecessors and the completion of artillery equipment, effected a saving on the year of something like a million and half.

With it all, however, Mr. Haldane finds himself in the dilemma of having to increase the number of men available to fill the ranks while at the same time reducing the cost. We Socialists are delighted with his difficulty. It is our opportunity. If he were able to provide a plentiful supply of men as food for powder, and yet save money, if he were able, that is, to organise an efficient professional army with an ample reserve, and with reduced expenditure, that would be a misfortune from a popular democratic standpoint. But this he cannot do. He cannot stiffen the regular army without spending more money – and he must not spend more money. His plan, therefore, for getting out of the difficulty is to decivilise the Volunteers and to make them, together with the Militia and the Yeomanry, part of the regular army.

The Volunteer is to be invited to enlist as a regular soldier, but without the regular soldier’s pay except when up for training. He is to be subject to the same military law, and the same conditions as the man with the Colours, is to undergo an annual training of not less than eight or more than fifteen days in addition to prescribed drills, and to be called up for six months’ training, as a preliminary to being sent to the front, on the outbreak of war. He is to be a regular soldier, practically on perpetual furlough without pay for almost the whole of the four years for which he enlists, and may not escape from the obligations he has undertaken except under a penalty of 5 and with three months’ notice.

It is unnecessary to consider the details of this precious scheme – the county associations which are to be set up and the machinery by which it is all to be worked. Few people regard it as a serious proposal. It is inconceivable that men who will not join the regular army out-and-out will voluntarily undertake all the obligations and responsibilities of a man in the regular army without the pay. Yet it is this ridiculous scheme, which proposes to turn the Volunteers into professional soldiers, that Mr. Haldane has the cool assurance to describe as the “nation in arms.” It is nothing of the kind. But everybody regards the scheme as foredoomed to failure, and as only intended to demonstrate the futility of the voluntary system and to pave the way for conscription. It is for Social-Democrats to take hold of this opportunity to oppose conscription and militarism and to push forward their own proposals of the Armed Nation, the real Nation in Arms – every man a citizen and every citizen a soldier.