G. Moch January 1900

Military Reform


Source: The Social Democrat, Vol. IV No. 1, January, 1900, pp. 19-21;
Translated: by Jacques Bonhomme;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

I WILL give a short sketch of the principal points of the Swiss system, referring my readers for more details to my book on “L’Armée d’une Démocratie.”

Every citizen is called upon to take part in the defence of his country, either by personal service, by taxation, or by office work..

If war is declared he will serve where he can best render service; if he is unfit for military service then he must pay a tax which is proportional to his income.

The idea is, generally, that every citizen should do his best; if he is equal to the position of a colonel, then he shall be such. Rank is not conferred as a reward but as a duty; the better the man the more eager he must be to serve his country. As soon as a man is competent to do his work he is not to be kept under arms, for that would be absurd. It would be expensive for the country, hard on the man and also on the nation, which would be deprived of the man’s productive services.

It also follows that if a man is more intelligent he will have to serve longer; there is a progressive income tax on intelligence. This seems strange to our ideas, but it is in accordance with the laws of good citizenship.

But as a matter of fact military service is very light in Switzerland. Thus the recruits in the army service corps serve for 38 days, those in the ordnance corps 42 days, those in the infantry 45 days, those in the hospital corps 46 days, those in the engineers 50 days, those in the artillery 55 days, and those in the cavalry 80 days. There is thus no very flagrant injustice and the men in the cavalry have certain advantages to which I shall refer.

Here is an example of how the system is worked. An ambulance is mobilised in Switzerland for the manoeuvres. First of all the doctors are called for 19 days, then on the third day the orderlies come for 17 days, and when the ambulance is ready to join them the drivers and the horses are called up for eleven days only. Now if, as in France, all the men were called up at once then the drivers would lose six days’ work and the Budget would lose the money wanted for the keep of horses and men. Is not the Swiss system much more rational?

The care thus taken makes military service much easier and makes the money go farther. Money which would be wasted can be profitably employed. This is a leading characteristic of the Swiss army and of a citizen army.

There is no permanent army in Switzerland. This does not mean that there is no permanent staff which has to prepare for war. On the contrary, there is an efficient corps of military instructors, of fortress guards (these are workmen under military discipline, who look after the guns, & c.), and also Civil servants, who manage recruiting, re-mounts, warehouses, arsenals, manufactures of arms and ammunition.

But there is no permanent army. The army corps only exist on paper until they are called up for exercise, which may last between one and three weeks. When a Swiss is twenty years of age he receives his first training, and is called a recruit. Afterwards this training is repeated.

Now, these subsequent trainings are far more valuable than the manoeuvres of permanent armies, and the funds are not wasted, nor the men kept cooped up in barracks.

In Switzerland the formula is, either nobody is under arms or else everybody is. The troops called out are general mobilisations of interested units, which are each time on a war footing with the same men which would be employed in a campaign. In Switzerland every year half the élite (or active army) and a quarter of the landwehr (territorial) is mobilised; in France it has only happened once since 1871 that there was a “trial” of mobilisation of two army corps (the tenth of the whole), and it was considered marvellous!

In permanent armies there is only a reduced number of men in each company and this gives a false idea to all men employed. Sometimes men have to be fetched from another company, and in manoeuvres reservists have to be used to stiffen the companies.

This is evidently a bad system. In Switzerland a company is always just as it would be if war were declared, and every soldier does the same work as he would do in a campaign. This is a much better system, and the men do not form a national guard, but an army. Owing to the excellence of the system and to the men having their kit, troops can be mobilised very rapidly. The men are ready dressed, equipped and armed, and only need ammunition and food, and a regiment which only existed on paper in the morning is ready for service in the evening. Thus the federal army would be at its frontiers ready for fighting before the neighbouring armies were mobilised.

Measures are also adopted for guarding the forts, so that they could not be surprised by a coup de main.


It is said that a citizen army would be more expensive than the present army. I am surprised to find that the present system was defended by a delegate at the recent Socialist Congress at Hanover. Schippel praised the present German military system, saying that, as the population in the East of Germany was not very numerous, a new system would leave that region exposed to the mercy of Russia, and that, besides, the adoption of the Swiss system would not be cheaper for Germany.

I have already referred to this. We need not copy Switzerland but we should make use of the method. The organisation in Germany would not be the same as in Switzerland, but it would not be the same in East Prussia as in Saxony. Railways have not been invented for pleasure, and in a territory of which a country is the master, they make up for the smallness of the population by the facility which they offer for the movements of the troops. But this is Germany’s business and not ours. When they want to organise a citizen army they will seek and find the solution of the problems which are set before them by the nature of their country, as we have to solve our problems. What is interesting to all is the objection raised as to the cost.

Now it is evident that Schippel has not gone thoroughly into the question. If he had studied with care the Budget and the organisation of the Swiss army he would have seen that, if the military institutions of the Confederation were adopted by one of the great Powers, economies could be made on almost every item of the Budget.

This is evident à priori, and as a Socialist, Schippel should have realised this even if he had never looked at the Federal Budget. For Socialists are always calling attention to the fact that the expenses of management are relatively higher in a small business than in a large one. For example, the expenses of the clerical staff of our War Office, which deals not only with our home army but with that of Africa and the Colonies, come to four million francs, and if they cost as much per head as the Swiss army they should come to 9,300,000 francs. The Swiss therefore spend more than twice as much per man as our War Office. But it is clear that if we adopted their organisation we need not increase our expenses. Thus they have a Minister of War, a general in command of infantry, & c., but because we have a population thirteen times greater we shall not have thirteen Ministers of War, thirteen generals-in-chief, nor shall we give those officers thirteen times more money than their Swiss colleagues.

It is indeed certain that, relatively, the Swiss army costs a great deal, because the expenses of management must be heavy, and if we adopt that system we could work it cheaper than our system. If we, on the other hand spent as much in proportion as the Swiss our army would be more effective.

But it is important to note, and it is strange that Schippel did not do so, that expense is not everything. Even if a citizen army in France should cost as much as the present system, yet the country would still find that it would be more economical.

For the Budget only represents the direct and apparent military expenses but it is not shown in official statistics that there would be an indirect economy if a permanent army were suppressed, even if, which is improbable, there were no reduction of expenditure.

In the scheme which I have drawn up I have given an estimate of the number of days’ service per year which would exist under the new system. It will be found that there would be a difference to the good equal to the keeping up of 458,000 men during a year. In other words, this reform would give to Labour the services of 458,000 men in the prime of life, of the best men of the country, who are now producing nothing in barracks and are kept there at the expense of the nation. If we estimate at 1,000 francs (£40) the value of a man’s labour, and we cannot put it at less, this would mean that by suppressing permanent armies the national wealth would be increased by 458 millions of francs a year.

Add to this that the safety of the country would be increased, that every man, instead of being idle for three of the best years of his life, would become more efficient, and that population might increase, as men could marry earlier, and it will be seen how great would be the economical advantages of this scheme.

This reform, which might take place to-morrow, if the nation willed it, would be the most beneficient one possible at the present time.

G. Moch (translated by J. Bonhomme).

(To be continued)