Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Len Ragozin

Stop the Draft!

First Published: Progressive Labor Vol. 5, No. 5, October-November 1966
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

The theoretical soundness of an “end the draft” campaign was developed in another paper. Here I briefly summarize some of the practical advantages of such a campaign. Of course, those who are in closer touch with mass work will revise this outlook in terms of their experience.

“End the draft” seems the obvious slogan to unite student and neighborhood peace work. Students will find it in their direct interest to rally workers and home-makers to this campaign, and should not find themselves faced with the unsympathetic gap which often arises when “get out of Vietnam” is broached abruptly. There should be some natural tolerance for a youngster speaking against the draft.

Of course, in campus work and in homes where it seems appropriate, a deeper understanding of imperialist war should be fostered. But a basic position of “I’m not sure what it’s all about, but me and mine don’t want to die for it” should often be attainable and is very desirable in itself as a blow against state power.

The latent conflict of interests between students (deferments, soft jobs) and working families (cannon-fodder) is warmly resolved when students and neighborhood workers join in pointing out the unfair toll which war takes of low income and racial minorities, and join in calling for an end to the draft. Here there is little room for neighborhood suspicions of: what’s in it for him? The young student has a frank interest in ending the draft.

Judging by the behavior of bourgeois politicians, this issue must have great potential appeal. Before the Vietnam escalation there were yearly rumblings in Congress about scrapping the “peacetime” draft–this in spite of its great services to imperialism.

Of course, it is because of the turmoil now raised by the Vietnam invasion that organizers of “end the draft” will be accepted into homes and on campuses. But once the movement gains a foothold, it may not be easy to dislodge. The time is favorable; the time to start is now.

Revolutions, Reforms and the Draft

Why does a revolutionary organization join in reform activities? Since we aim to win state power, why do we promote certain measures which would make life more bearable within capitalism? Some answers are: we participate in a limited struggle in such manner as to promote class-consciousness and understanding of real power; to raise the struggle to higher levels; to extend our base.

But there is an additional standard, bound up with these but often overlooked, which deserves increased attention. We should ask: what is the probable practical outcome of the campaign, and will this significantly weaken the state?.

For instance, in giving focus to the opposition to the Vietnam invasion, should we support an “end the draft” campaign? Some think that they have disposed of this issue by stating (a) “end the draft” is muddy theoretically–we don’t oppose all drafts at all times; (b) it is a poor framework for clarifying people’s understanding of power, or for extending our base. But suppose our best estimate is that the probable outcome of an end the draft campaign would be a very large movement which would actually threaten the draft system? Even if this movement were not clearly oriented on all issues, the fact that an actual end to the draft–which is a cornerstone of imperialist power–would seriously weaken the state, should certainly be given great weight in deciding whether to back such a campaign.

Let us pinpoint more clearly what it is that makes “end the draft” a revolutionary demand in this era. The essence of the matter is: it is a demand which can attract broad support but which the ruling class cannot willingly concede. Winning this demand will seriously weaken the imperialist state. In this it differs from housing or wage demands which can and often will be conceded by a rich state acting in its own interests. In fact, “end the draft” is perhaps as revolutionary a demand as “get out of Vietnam” – for the time may come when imperialism finds it expedient to get out of a specific adventure which has gone sour, but the time will not come when imperialism finds it expedient to disarm.

When Lenin’s party raised the slogan “Peace, Bread, and Land” they were not concerned that none of these is theoretically or eternally a revolutionary demand. There are times when a capitalist state can make peace, feed the needy, or concede land reforms. But at that point in Russia it was impossible for a non-socialist government to willingly concede these overwhelmingly popular demands. This is what made them revolutionary. Similarly, a demand to end the draft in the U.S. today is a revolutionary demand.

It is, of course, the widespread disgust with the U.S. role in Vietnam which makes it possible to arouse a response to this demand today. In quieter periods of the cold war the draft is tolerated as a minor nuisance by draftees and their families. But today all kinds of “non-political” people are frantic about being drafted. Launched at this time, when conservative voices are questioning the war, an end the draft movement can withstand the inevitable counterattack of “unpatriotic.” The moment should not be allowed to slip by.

Ours is the era of imperialist intervention in Korea, Cuba (which came close to full-scale war), the Dominican Republic, and Vietnam, not to mention numerous CIA plots such as Guatemala, Iran, British Guiana, Laos, etc., all of which contain the seeds of war. As far ahead as we can look–surely for the next decade or two-we can expect more of the same. The U.S. will not be fighting anti-fascist wars against South Africa, Portugal, Spain, Haiti, Latin American “gorillas,” or West Germany. Its battle line against socialism and liberation is clearly drawn. In these times, to weaken the state by threatening the draft system is surely a revolutionary task, and a foremost expression of international solidarity.

Let us consider the question of limited demands more generally. When specific campaigns are discussed, some say: “We don’t retreat on socialist-oriented clarity merely because the watered-down position will get more public support.” Is this always correct? If not, what is a test? I suggest the one developed above: What is the probable outcome of the activity, and will this significantly weaken the state? Will the movement be broad, and can the state conveniently concede the demand? Judged in this light, our joining the Washington peace march was surely correct and represented no retreat from revolutionary principle. Judged in this light, “end the draft” is a revolutionary demand in this era and does not need explanatory qualification to fit it into some eternal revolutionary framework before we can propose it.

Achieving power depends on two linked aspects: our strength, the enemy’s weakness. Surely the success of the Russian revolution rested as much on this weakness as on the party’s ability to raise the consciousness of the masses. Lenin struck at the “weakest link” in the imperialist chain. “Peace, Bread, and Land” is not a highly educational slogan–but it helped topple the state.

Now consider a contrasting situation–where the Party might definitely sharpen a certain demand, and use it successfully in educating and recruiting, but where the probable outcome of the campaign would be a reform which the state could easily find in its own interests to concede. Here again the test of “weaken the state” should be kept in mind. Naturally we cannot desert the people in their fight for a better immediate life. But we must be wary of expending great energy only to achieve reforms which strengthen and stabilize capitalism, no matter how popular such an activity may be momentarily. The history of the CPUSA is instructive in this regard. Today, the popular response to housing campaigns, for instance, must be used by the party to carry the neighborhood to higher understanding and struggle while achieving the immediate reform. If the tactic for achieving this cannot eventually be found, the entire activity must be questioned. Otherwise, the state will grant the reform and stabilize the situation with no loss of power –perhaps even some gain. Note the different aspect of a demand for neighborhood-controlled police review. Like end the draft, this is a demand which the state cannot willingly concede–a demand therefore revolutionary, since its achievement will weaken the state.

It is naturally easiest to generate enthusiasm in the Party for the campaign which soonest swings some people to our complete program. In many cases, this kind of campaign will also be the one which best passes a “weaken the state” test. (That is why this test is easily overlooked.) But almost all is not good enough. We must remember that the struggle for power is a two-sided relation: strengthen the people, weaken the state. As an immediate practical application of this concept, we should seriously consider an “end the draft” campaign.

What conclusions about an anti-draft campaign are suggested by the developments of recent months? Does the potential for a large movement exist, and does the government view this potential as a threat to militarist imperialism?.

The first question–can an anti-draft campaign be a large movement–is one whose answer comes mainly in practice. To completely prejudge the situation would be a mistake. But I will attempt hereto summarize some indications which have shown up in the first half of the year even in the absence of a concerted campaign. All the material is from the establishment press, which surely is not seeking to over-publicize anti-draft feelings.

Unrest about the draft exists today on a scale unparalleled since July 1863, when New York City’s working class, outraged by features of conscription which favored the rich, captured City Hall during three days of rioting, finally being put down by the transfer of troops which were sorely needed at Gettysburg.

Today’s unrest is focused again upon the “unfairness” of the system–but the attack comes from all sides. Those most favored by the system, the college students, are the most vocal in protest. At the same time there are rumblings from the ghetto-dwellers about being over-represented in the casualty lists. And various special groups each have their own special gripes.

This general attack on the “unfairness” of a system which served well enough for two previous major wars means that “unfairness” is not the real cause of the unrest. The protests take the form of protests against unfairness, but they have reached their present level mainly because this war is not popular. And indeed the most recent manifestations of refusal to serve are bringing this true motive more into the open.

The question is, of course, how much of this clamor about unfairness can be channeled into anti-draft activity instead of draft reform. That will be the task of leadership. But the raw material exists, and is growing.

(Time, Feb. 4): Even the average draftee who does not oppose the war in Vietnam does not completely understand it, and is moved by no strong motivation to join it. ’Today they are more interested in the future of man, in the abstract, than in the national interest,’ says Dr. Edmond Hallberg, dean of students at California State College at Los Angeles.

(Christian Science Monitor, March 14): Few really want to go. Vietnam is not a war that is yet evoking much patriotism. Draft boards everywhere report increasing requests for exemptions by conscientious objectors. ’There’s no patriotism connected with this war,’ one draft-board member declares. Another puts it this way: ’They just don’t want to go. Some of them will stand right there and tell you they got married just to avoid the draft.’

(New York Post, March 2): During World War II if a man tried to beat the draft he was a draft-dodger and mothers hid their children when he walked down the street. Times change. Today beating the draft is developing into a national sport and to call anybody a draft-dodger only shows how square you can get, Whether it’s legitimate draft deferments or deliberate draft evasion, the average young man of today is just not interested in serving in the Army and he doesn’t much care who knows it. Ned Gerra, a member of the Chicago draft board for 17 years, recently made this comment: “I would say that 99 out of 100 do not want to go into military service today. They feel they’re not obligated to this country in any respect.”

This attitude seems to go beyond the draft age. Doctors, employers, lawyers, educators and even ministers have been known to stretch a point on behalf of a youth in an attempt to win him a deferment.

(New York Daily News, March 31): The worst draft-dodging scandal in federal history exploded yesterday as 38 men in the metropolitan area were named in sealed indictments. Federal Grand Juries clear across the country launched investigations into similar abuses.

Spontaneous draft riots are probably a thing of the past. They broke out when men had to line up in large numbers for draft registration. The power structure has learned from experience–it now invites men individually. Thus the most overt mass actions against the draft have been on campuses, where large numbers of potential draftees are concentrated. The following excerpts are from New York Times articles, May 15 through May 20.

An anti-draft sit-in that began Monday afternoon with the seizure of Bascom Hall continued today on the University of Wisconsin campus. Its end appeared to be near, however, after the protestors were assured that the university faculty would meet Monday to discuss proposed changes in the university’s draft policies.

The students were expected to vacate the university’s administration building soon.

Robben Fleming, Madison campus chancellor, told some 10,000 students at an anti-draft rally about the faculty meeting. He said he would recommend that one or two representatives of the demonstrating group be permitted to appear and state their views. His report was greeted by prolonged cheers.

The rally was the largest student gathering since a memorial service to President Kennedy in November of 1963.

In another development, the seven-member steering committee of the Chicago University Council, a 51-member policy-making faculty group, decided to sponsor a national conference on the draft at the university this summer or fall. Behind this was a growing uneasiness among educators about the draft.

About 80 Cornell students and faculty members, led by the president of the University’s chapter of S.D.S., staged a protest today against the war in Vietnam and the Selective Service draft deferment examinations.

At Oberlin College 250 students staged a sit-in outside the test center in an effort to prevent the giving of the examination.
• Overnight sit-in at City College–over 100 demonstrators.
• Demonstration at Brooklyn College
• Tests picketed at Cornell.
•Anti-war leaflets at Columbia, Princeton.

Resolution passed by 350 of City College’s 800 full-time instructional staff members opposed use of class standings for deferments. The faculty members who attended the meeting also approved by a narrow margin the creation of a committee to coordinate efforts with other colleges in opposing the draft laws.

Student resentment has reached the point where at least one college president has come out for complete abolition of the draft. Early in June, Joseph P. McMurray, president of 20,000-student Queens College, said: “Let us stop pretending that enforced service is democratic.” He demanded that U.S. conscription be done away with, and service made entirely voluntary.

A graduation-time wrap-up of college attitudes was undertaken by Time magazine June 3, excerpted below:

Upset and anger and depression sum up the reaction of some 1,657,300 men in the Class of ’66 as they face their No. 1 nemesis: Conscription.

Around the country students are bothered and puzzled by the meaning of the Vietnam struggle. They are not Vietniks, or frenzied protestors. Indeed, they pay little or no attention to the thin demonstration fringe. But since it is undeclared and slow to take shape, the Vietnam war has hardly aroused the star-spangled fervor of World War II, when entire fraternity chapters tramped off to the post office to enlist en masse. The fight does not seem to have the relatively crisp delineations of Korea, where the United Nations underwrote the U.S. commitment and the Red Chinese invaders were more clearly an enemy. Says Gary Wilson (Time’s typical student): ’I’d have no qualms about going into the service if the U.S. was in a big regular war. If they were drafting a lot of guys for, say, a crisis in Berlin, I’d feel different. But Vietnam is so foreign, so remote. I think I’d feel better about a situation where you knew who was the enemy. It seems over there that the soldiers don’t know if the people standing behind them are with them or against them.’

Indeed, the attitude toward the war among a broad cross-section of collegians is both pessimistic and disappointed. To many of them Vietnam is by no means a battleground designed for noble death. ’It’s quite a thing to sacrifice yourself if you’re not sure it’s completely right.”

All over the country, graduate school applications are remarkably higher than last year. “It would be naive not to suspect that the draft has a great deal to do with this,” says Dean of Students Harold R. Metcalf of the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business.

The usually-shrewd politician Johnson has no fast answers for this situation–he is trying to duck it:

(New York Times editorial July 5): President Johnson has named a 20-member commission to study the draft system and make reform recommendations by January 1„ In setting up the commission and asking for its report by next year the President is obviously hoping to keep criticism of the present system from being an election issue in November.

The general level of response to patriotic appeals for support of the war is humorously suggested by an Art Buchwald pseudo-interview column:

A student said, ’I think we should draft left-wingers, malcontents and draft-card burners first. Those of us who believe in our country and will stand up for it as patriotic Americans should be allowed to stay home and finish our education.’

Effective Action Against the Draft

The foregoing material shows that unrest over the Vietnam war is manifesting itself spontaneously in unrest over the draft. Thus the campaign against the war will be greatly strengthened by fostering a campaign against the draft. Implicit in this conclusion, of course, is the assumption that effective action against the draft really will undermine the war-making potential of the U.S. If this is not the case, an anti-draft campaign would have only its broader popularity to recommend it.

Could U.S. militarism take in stride the abolition of the draft? After the earlier parts of this article were written, the long-delayed Department of Defense study of the draft was released (June 30). Since its main conclusions show that no real draft reform, far less abolition of the draft, is feasible during the next ten years, Consensus-Bird Johnson found the report a political hot potato. He released it six months after it was completed, and then only under heavy pressure from Congressmen who are in trouble with their constituencies over the draft issue.

In an interesting parallel to the release of the Warren report on the Oswald case, the mass of data contained in the Department of Defense study has not yet been released. Only the summary and conclusions were given out. Also, as noted above, Johnson has appointed a new Commission to do the job all over again. He wants to find some nice-sounding reforms he can tack on to the draft system to de-fuse the resentment. The only reform which the system can tolerate, according to the Department of Defense report, is a shift of the age pattern–concentrate on drafting men under 21 years old.

If the U.S. military structure is so rigid that it can hardly tolerate mild reform, let alone the sweeping change of wiping out the draft, evidently a campaign against conscription is a well-aimed thrust against the state.

Just what did the Defense Department study reveal? The excerpts following are all from the report, and cover all sections relevant to this discussion. Some abridgments have been made, but the sense of the text has been followed faithfully. (All emphasis is my own.)

–Our studies fully confirm the essentiality of the draft.

It has long been apparent that the pressure of the draft has a decided influence on the decision of many of the two-thirds (of our forces) who volunteer. The findings clearly indicate that an all-volunteer force under present policies would fall far short of any force level which has been required since 1950. A deficit of 1/2-million men might be experienced.

It is very important to note that here, as in the whole report, absolutely no examination is being made of the need for a greatly expanded force, such as continued expansion of the Vietnam war will require. The Defense Department study was begun before the policy of rapid escalation, and deals only with imperialism’s need for its usual standby world police force of nearly three million men.

–The qualitative deficits of military personnel would be much more severe than suggested by these estimates. The sharpest reduction in voluntary enlistments would occur among individuals with above-average educational attainment and with higher-than-average scores on aptitude tests. These individuals are the major source of trainees for the many highly technical military occupational specialities. Increasing reliance upon sophisticated weapons systems and equipment has greatly increased the relative importance of these skills, and this trend will continue in the future.

Similar problems of specialist shortages would be encountered in officer procurement programs. The medical and dental corps would experience particularly severe shortages in view of the heavy reliance upon the draft in staffing these professional positions.

Here is a dramatic argument confirming the value of a student base for the anti-militarism struggle. The U.S. armed forces need highly trained men. Their best source is students. And it is precisely these students who will refuse to volunteer.

After these revelations of the inevitable deterioration in the quantity and quality of the military machine without conscription, the study went on to examine the cost in dollars of maintaining an “adequate” all-volunteer force. Again I stress that this “adequate” force is the pre-Vietnam size of 2.7 million, while the figure today is already l/2-million higher and rising fast. Further, while the report shows the heavy expense of incentive pay needed to maintain the size of this volunteer force, it does not claim that its quality would hold up even if the money were available.

–As to pay incentives, the cost of sustaining an adequate all-volunteer force would be prohibitive. A 2.7 million man force would cost between 6 and 17 billion dollars yearly, assuming a 4% unemployment rate; or 4 to 10 billion dollars at a 5.5% unemployment rate. Still greater increases in the pay of reserve personnel would be needed: at least $1 billion. And in the medical field, it would be impracticable to induce 3,000 or more physicians annually–nearly 50% of those graduating each year–to voluntarily enter service through increased pay. Finally, the above estimates are representative of the costs required to sustain the pre-Vietnam force level. To obtain increases above this level would necessitate greater-than-proportionate increases for each increment added to the force.

So there it is. Without the draft they can’t buy even a standby world police force without spending past the point where it hurts, and even then the force might be shackled by lack of specialists. And as for volunteers to support the force needed for a large, long land war–forget it.

Following this, key section, the report examined the possible effect of improvements in soldiers’ fringe benefits; then it considered replacement of certain military specialities by civilian personnel. Neither of these measures promised any significant reduction in the “volunteer gap.”

The final remarks of the Defense Department report on the problem were:

We cannot look forward to discontinuing the draft in the next decade unless changing world conditions reduce force levels substantially below those needed since Korea.

Increases in military compensation sufficient to attract an all-volunteer force cannot be justified. Nor could they maintain the necessary quality of personnel.

What, then, does the official U.S. state structure itself have to tell us about anti-draft action? First, the rumblings in Congress and Johnson’s maneuvers fully confirm the fact that the draft question is “hot.” Congressmen are begging for reforms to serve as a smokescreen, to prevent the unrest from coming to a focus. Meanwhile, the Defense Department, a more direct representative of imperialist aspirations, plants its feet against any meaningful change. As for abolition of the draft, they find it an impossible prospect under conditions of imperialist “peace.” That it would completely undermine the war effort is unquestionable.

Tensions are rising. Against the background of growing disillusionment with the war, in which the Vietnamese refuse to be beaten, tension on the draft issue will continue to rise. We must channel it, lead it, instruct it, broaden it, deal with it flexibly and responsively. End-the-draft campaigns, refusal to serve, refusal to ship out, perhaps a United Front Against the Warfare State–many approaches deserve consideration. But the leading position occupied by the draft issue today must be recognized.