Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Carl Davidson

Why oppose the draft? (and how to go about it)

First Published: The Call, Vol. 9, No. 12, March 24, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Should the draft be opposed and, if so, what is the best way to fight against it?

Thousands of young people have clearly answered the first question by organizing antidraft demonstrations in hundreds of cities and campuses across the country. They have set up many local and regional antidraft coalitions and are now marching on Washington to press their demands.

Many other people, however, have hesitated or taken a different view. They are particularly concerned about the expansionism of the Soviet Union and fear that military weakness on the part of the U.S. will only encourage the Soviets to launch new wars of aggression.

These kinds of concerns are not new. In general, the American people’s view of the draft has been closely linked to their assessment of the nature and extent of the war danger at any given time.

In peacetime especially, they have a long tradition of opposition to military conscription. They have tended to see a large standing army as a parasite feeding off their living standards and as a weapon of the rich that can be used against their liberties, such as the right to strike. Traditionally, the fight against the draft has been a component part of the peace movement in capitalist countries.

In times of war, however, things have been more complex. World War I and the Vietnam war came to be seen as unjust, imperialist wars, and both saw the emergence of large and militant antidraft struggles. On the eve of the U.S. entry into World War II, on the other hand, the main aspect of the conflict was seen as a just fight to defeat the fascist powers. There was very little opposition to the draft and the progressive forces, including the communists, did not oppose it.

The international situation today has its own features, even though thereare many similarities with the events leading up to both WWI and especially to WWII. And while there are valuable lessons to be drawn from the past, our policies must be based on the conditions today.

The main task of the world’s peoples today is to oppose hegemonism and defend world peace. It is especially important to oppose the Soviet expansionist drive and to build support for those, such as the Afghans, Kampucheans and Eritreans, who are under the gun of the Soviets and their proxies. At the same time, it is necessary to fight the general war preparations of both superpowers. A military engagement between them could rapidly lead to a wider conflagration and even a nuclear war. A key task of the anti-hegemonist and pro-peace forces, then, is to thwart or at least delay this conflict as long as possible.

These war preparations have a direct impact on the American people. As the imperialists prepare for war abroad, they also drive down the living standards of the working people in order to build their war machine. They must teach contempt of other peoples and political systems to promote jingoism and phony patriotism. They intensify the oppression of minority nationalities and women in hopes of dividing the people and heading off any united fightback. And they place a special burden on the youth, seeing them as cannon-fodder for the military.

Opposition to the draft today, then, is part of the overall opposition to the war preparations of the superpowers. The task of the anti-draft movement is to fight in the interest of the vast majority of the American people, especially the working class, and in concert with the developing international united front against hegemonism.

This requires, however, a fight for a political orientation within the antidraft movement that makes this struggle a component part of the fight against hegemonism and in defense of world peace. This means we must clearly expose the utter hypocrisy of those, such as the revisionist Communist Party and the Trotskyites, who are preaching “pacifism” out of one side of their mouths, but are actually working to build an “antidraft” and “peace” movement that is in favor of the hegemonism and aggression carried out by the Soviet Union.

As can be seen by their stand supporting the invasion of Afghanistan, these forces are actually dangerous apologists for war; they must be defeated and completely isolated. Otherwise the antidraft movement could be turned into a pawn for those whose real aim is to weaken the U.S. for the sake of strengthening the Soviet military buildup.

Naturally the antidraft movement, as well as the broader peace movement it is part of, includes people from many walks of life and points of view. It has a left wing, middle forces and even a right wing. It already includes anarchists and radical pacifists, who are opposed to war or armies of any sort, and conservative libertarian Republicans who are against any restrictions on individual liberty.

While unity can be built with these forces in action, the working class has a much different perspective on the draft. Instead of proceding from abstract principles, the perspective of the working class is to look at each war and the threat of war concretely, and likewise the draft.

The anti-slavery war in the U.S. and the war against Hitler fascism, for example, were necessary and just struggles. They advanced the overall aims of the working class against its main enemies in the conditions at hand. In World War II, the isolationists, Trotskyites and other pro-fascist forces who opposed U.S. entry into the anti-fascist front in the 1940s were completely isolated.

The Civil War provides an important lesson in this regard. The draft instituted by Congress was blatantly discriminatory in favor of the rich and against the working people, and a movement developed against it. This movement was seized upon by pro-Confederate bankers in New York who instigated large anti-draft riots that also turned into pogroms against Blacks. The anti-slavery forces and socialists of the time opposed this anti-draft movement and helped recruit soldiers for the Union armies, since their main task was to smash slavery.

There is also the question of what are the main tasks at various stages of a developing conflict. While the struggles of China, Ethiopia, and Spain against the Axis powers in WWII were progressive from the outset, the anti-fascist forces in the mid-1930s opposed U.S. military intervention in Europe at that time. They distinguished themselves from the pro-fascist appeasers, however, by concretely aiding the anti-fascist struggles in these countries. When the fascists broadened the conflict later, including threatening the very existence of the then-socialist Soviet Union, the policies of the communists changed accordingly.

All this suggests that building an antidraft movement today is vitally necessary and complicated at the same time. There are many contradictions and rapidly changing circumstances. There are a few points, however, that stand out quite clearly.

First, while fighting the militarization policies of the U.S. ruling circles, the modern-day draft resistance movement must oppose all forms of hegemonism and aggression and not allow itself to become a tool for any hegemonist. The majority of the American working people will have no sympathy with a movement that does not take a stand against the aggression of either superpower.

Second, it must be a movement that can link up with wide sections of the working-class and minority youth, including those who might not oppose the draft. Many of these have rejected pacifist and anarchist arguments against the draft, but still want to fight the war danger. This would include the many young people who have been compelled to enlist in the military out of economic necessity.

Third, the antidraft movement is only one component in a broader, worldwide front against hegemonism and in defense of world peace. The third world countries in particular are a powerful force in this struggle. Among their most pressing needs is solving the problems of economic backwardness, an effort which vitally requires world peace and an end to foreign domination and plunder. The antidraft movement, then, must be against any superpower attacks on these countries and defend their right of national independence.

The world’s peoples do not want war. They know who pays for it and who profits from it. But the superpowers are threatening to burn up the globe out of their lust for power and wealth. Finding a way to support the third world and prevent this disaster as well as challenge the system that produces war is the real test facing the antidraft movement today.