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Joseph Carter

The Problem of the People’s Militia

(November 1939)

From New International, Vol. 5 No.11, November 1939, pp.334-335. (letter)
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

To the Editors:

In the editorial notes to Rosa Luxemburg’s Socialist Crisis in France your commentator takes issue with the pre-war social-democratic demand for a people’s militia. In the July New International he writes that it should be remembered that Luxemburg’s defense of this demand was written forty years ago.

“It has long been clear – and, no doubt, became clear enough to Luxemburg herself during the war – that ‘democratization’ of the army means little so long as it is used to defend the bourgeois state, and that the content of ‘national defense’ has evaporated in the period of imperialism.” (p.202.)

A note in the October issue adds:

“The militia system, or the ‘people in arms’, as the social-democrats often phrased it, was regarded by the pre-war socialist movement as the solution of the problem of militarism. Lenin, writing during the World War, exposed the fallacy of this demand.”

Limitations of space do not permit extensive comment on the problem at this time. For the present the following will suffice:

1. The demand for a people’s militia as against the standing army was part of the general minimum democratic program of pre-war social-democracy. It was directed against the semi-feudal and capitalist armies (and militarism) which were independent of the respective national parliamentary bodies and formed the political centers of internal and external reaction, Like every democratic demand advocated by revolutionary socialists the slogan for a people’s militia had reformist, social-patriotic as well as revolutionary implications. That is why Marxists constantly reiterate the limited nature of any democratic demand and emphasise the indispensability of independent working class action for its achievement.

To cite a pertinent example: During the World War the Russian Mensheviks and Bolsheviks both called for the overthrow of the Czarist monarchy and for a democratic republic. Did that mean that Lenin expected to be a defensist when the democratic republic was established? On the contrary, he wrote even before the democratic revolution of February that in such an eventuality he would continue his opposition to the Russian government – though democratic – in the imperialist war – as he later did. The majority of the Mensheviks held the contrary view, and became defensists under Kerensky.

2. I don’t know of any writing of Lenin during the World War – or at any other time – wherein he "exposed the fallacy of this demand.” On the contrary, to mention only one example, Lenin raised this slogan with great force and detail under the Kerensky regime.

3. The Fourth International is for the demand of a people’s militia today. The program of transition demands adopted at the founding conference states:

“Substitution for the standing army of a peoples militia, indissolubly linked up with factories, mines, farms, etc.” (p.34. Emphasis in original).

4. Does this mean that the Fourth International is for “national defense”? The same document gives the reply:

‘Defense of the Fatherland?’ – but by this abstraction, the bourgeoisie understands the defense of its profits and plunder. We stand ready to defend the fatherland from foreign capitalists, if we first bind our own capitalists; hand and foot and hinder them from attacking foreign fatherlands; if the workers and the farmers of our country become its real masters; if the wealth of the country be transferred from the hands of a tiny minority to the hands of the people; if the army becomes a weapon of the exploited instead of the exploiters.” (p.32)

This is the concrete way in which we raise the demand of a people’s militia at the present time.


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