From Workers’ International News, Vol.2 No.6, June 1939, p.9.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The decision of the British bourgeoisie to conscript youth reveals that they are consciously preparing for the outbreak of hostilities in a matter of months. Because they wish to handle the pre-war diplomatic arrangements by means of the National Government, they have limited the scope of conscription to a small sector of the population – the 20-year olds.
The Tories have cunningly prepared the way by throwing the onus on to German imperialism. It was rumoured first that the announcement of conscription hinged on the answers Hitler gave to the peace proposals of the British ambassador sent to Germany for that purpose. In this way the British working-class has been induced to believe that Hitler, not Chamberlain, has conscripted their sons.
The other capitalist powers who oppose the axis have unanimously hailed conscription as the organisation before the war of another British Expeditionary Force to be thrown in the path of a German advance in Europe just as in the last war. French imperialism in particular, which has been agitating over a long period for British conscription, is jubilant; they are joined in their rejoicings by the French “Socialists” who reproach British Labour for its opposition, in spite of the fact that it was by means of using the conscription laws that Daladier broke the general strike in France last November.
But the Labour Party continues in its “opposition” to the conscription measure. The Labour leaders reproach Chamberlain for breaking his repeated pledges not to introduce such measures in peace-time. This opposition is utterly hypocritical and meaningless, because the Labour leaders, by supporting “National Service” on a “voluntary” basis, have themselves endorsed the capitalist war-plans and paved the way to their present actions. They have endorsed conscription by hunger, they have supported a “voluntary” system of National Service knowing full well that pressure is consistently used by the bosses to force workers to “volunteer,” and now, having swallowed these camels, they strain at the gnat of Chamberlain’s “broken pledge.” The opposition of the Labour leaders is a fake opposition designed to save their faces in front of the masses.
The Communist Party too, raises a great howl about conscription, about broken pledges. They, too, have never opposed “National Service” except under Chamberlain. They have asked as the price for their support of conscription that “Chamberlain must go.” They oppose, not conscription, but Chamberlain, as if British youth preferred being cannon-fodder for Churchill and Lloyd George.
In their present form, the cautious measures of regimenting the youth for the coming world slaughter are part of a long term plan. The National Government has one eye on the electorate, and wishes to face the next general election before the full brunt of conscription has fallen on the population. It has the other eye on the small powers in Europe and the colonial bourgeoisie. For them, conscription is, like the huge rearmament plan, an inducement to ally themselves with Britain in the coming war. The thin end of the wedge has been inserted, the old men have decided that the young shall as usual, be the first to die. And neither “Communist” nor “Labour” leaders have put up a genuine opposition to their war-plans. On the contrary, the rival sets of bureaucrats compete with one another in patriotic fervour, in waving the Union Jack, in demanding more sweeping measures of “defence,” in picturing the war to preserve British profits as the struggle for “democracy.”
The pacifists have lifted their voice against conscription and a “No Conscription” League is in existence. But the programme of this League is limited to the resistance of conscription, and as its name indicates, is entirely negative in character. The duty imposed on its members is that of refusing to participate in war or the preparation for war. While it is necessary to recognise that this attitude proceeds from a profound distrust of the system which breeds war, it is also necessary to point out that the fight against war is inseparable from the fight for socialism. Only the class war for the overthrow of capitalism can end wars by ending the cause of war capitalism.
Last updated on 29.10.2005