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Geoff Carlsson

Y.C.L. (Young Conscription League)

(June 1954)

From Socialist Review, Vol. 3 No. 10, June 1954, pp. 7–8.
Transcribed by Mike Pearn.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In a recent issue of Socialist Review there was an article dealing with Paul Garland, the recently expelled Queen’s Scout. Comrade Garland had protested at his expulsion, stating that it was not incompatible for a Communist to be a scout and be loyal to god, Queen and Country, etc.

Paul Garland, the West of England secretary of the Young Communist League, was of course stating the Y.C.L.’s policy in relation to the Boy Scouts. More recently he has demonstrated at least part of the truth of his statement that Communists could be loyal to the Queen and Country. It is a pity that he cannot demonstrate his loyalty to the ideas of Marxism which he professes to follow.

At the Conference of the Junior Workers of the Amalgamated Engineering Union held on April 23rd, a resolution was moved and carried calling for a cut in national Service from 2 years to one year. An amendment for the complete abolition was unfortunately rejected.

Paul Garland, as an A.E.U. delegate, was one of the main speakers for the resolution calling for the cut of one year. Let it not be thought however that his opposition to complete abolition of conscription was just his personal opinion. It has in fact been the policy for many years now of the Stalinists (both young and old) to favour a period of military service, and to oppose at all times any move to abolish conscription.

Comrade Garland, it seems, must have developed most of his political ideas whilst he was in the Boy Scouts, for he was very concerned as to who was going to defend Britain. “Be prepared” was almost the watchword of the conference. According to the Daily Worker he said, “Who would defend Britain when British lads were in Malaya, Kenya and British Guiana.” “They were used not to defend Britain, but for imperialist adventures to suppress colonial peoples.”

Unfortunately, Comrade Garland, this is no new thing. Armed forces, whether they be British, American or German, regular or conscript, are always used in this manner on behalf of Imperialism. It is also an historical truth that the forces responsible for the Imperialist adventures are the same forces that are in control of affairs in Britain, which you are so worried about defending. Did the Communist Party not inform you, Comrade Garland, that the foreign policy of any given country is only a reflection of its domestic policy? Do you imagine that the State department responsible for the defence of Britain is a different body from that which sends “our lads” on Imperialist adventures.

Would the Brass Hats, who act on behalf of the Capitalist class, and who order the suppression of the Queen’s subjects in Kenya and Malaya act differently in Britain if the Queen’s subjects here threatened the economic basis of Capitalist society?

Remember, Comrade Garland, that you and the Young Communist League support conscription for one year, so don’t complain when these same conscripts are used to fight against the Malayan Communists, or when they are used as blacklegs to break the strikes of dockers and transport workers.

What do you do when a conscript soldier drives a petrol tanker? Do you enquire first whether he has served over one year in the army before deciding what attitude to adopt?

Let’s have first things first, Comrade Garland. The State was defined by Marx and Lenin as “armed bodies of men.” in a class system of society these armed bodies of men are principally concerned with defending that system of society. Defending the wealth and privileges of those who have as opposed to those who have not.

As a socialist or Communist you can have only one attitude on this question, that is, to oppose conscription of youth. There can be no half-way measures such as “not a day over a year.”

Before you, Comrade garland, can graduate from the political boy scouts and become a real socialist you must see that the Y.C.L.’s slogan of “Not a day over a year” be cut also, so as to read “Not a day,” or better still replace it with a positive slogan such as “Conscript Wealth not Youth.”

Incidentally the Daily Worker of April 24th, when reporting your speech, quoted you as saying, “British Youth had the longest period of service in the world.” even supposing this were true, it would not be a good argument to use in favour of only having one year of National Service. It seems that the Y.C.L.’s attitude is determined along mathematical lines rather than class lines. As a supporter of conscription you would do well to bear in mind the famous lines of poetry:

Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do or die.

I wonder, Comrade Garland, whether you really were under the impression that British Youth had the longest period of service in the world, or perhaps Scout Master Pollitt forgot to tell you that all men in the Soviet Union are liable to military service, either in the regular army or the reserve. The handling of the service liability law in the Soviet Union is delegated to committees in the various areas. On these committees sit the Military Commander of the area, a representative of the local government, physicians and a representative of the secret police (M.V.D.). the normal age for commencing service is 19, and the period of service varies from 2 years to 4 years, depending on whether the citizen is selected for military service or the M.V.D. Also as a matter of interest, there is no provision for Conscientious Objectors in the Soviet Union. So any Russian equivalent of a Boy Scout who believes in God and has conscientious objections to fighting and killing, has to maintain a discreet silence, in case he is mistakenly thought to be opposed to the Communist Party and therefore an enemy of peace, etc., etc.

The fact that conscription in the Soviet Union is for a period as long as in Britain, and in some cases longer, would have been very embarrassing for you if it had been known at the A.E.U. Youth Conference. It is sometimes said that “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing;” for you it seems it was a case of “Ignorance is bliss.”

The Daily Worker went on to repeat that “Some delegates tried to distort Paul’s remarks to mean that the Communist Party and the Daily Worker were anti-German.” I don’t intend to deal with this question now as it would take a separate article on its own, but it does lead me to ask you, Paul Garland, what your attitude is to the following passage, also quoted in the Daily Worker of May 11th: “Representatives of 200,000 Young West German metal workers (equivalent to the A.E.U.) Have firmly rejected the idea of military service and have called for general disarmament.” “The 154 delegates of the Youth Section of the Metal Workers’ Trade Union adopted a resolution to this effect at their conference at Braunschweig over the week-end.” Also, “at a meeting in Stuttgart 800 youths unanimously declared that they considered the West German Conscription Bill a threat to peace and to their freedom.”

Do you, Paul Garland, endorse their attitude or would you say they were wrong and that they should press for one year’s conscription in order to be able to defend “their” country, Germany, as you wish to defend “your” country, Britain.

In conclusion, Paul Garland, and all members of the working class youth, I would say that your best contribution to peace today would be to join hands with the young German Trade Unionists, and say, “No conscription of Youth, No defence of our respective countries when such defence means only the defence of Rent, Interest and Profit.”

When contemplating conscription, it is well to remember the words of Rosa Luxemburg, the German Socialist leader of the first world war: “In Imperialist War, Proletarians fall whilst Profits rise.”

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