Vanguard November 1915

The Threat of Conscription

Source: J.D.M. (James D. MacDougall), Vanguard, November 1915, p. 6;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

For many months an organised and powerful group of capitalists in Britain have been agitating for conscription. Controlling as they do many newspapers they were able to make it appear that they had a great volume of public opinion behind them. The ordinary unthinking individual might be opposed for compulsory military service, but when he found day after day reiterated demands for its introduction in almost any newspaper he might chance to lift, he would begin to be doubtful of his own judgment, to feel that he was one of a small and steadily diminishing minority of the people.

Every set-back or reverse suffered by the Allies was attributed to a lack of men, which lack could only be made up by the introduction of conscription. It mattered not what problem arose at home or abroad, these people could find but one solution in conscription. The remedy for every military ill was to be found only by Britannia swallowing this tactical Beecham’s pill. Was there a shortage of high explosive shells at the front; these budding Bernhardis had no difficulty in explaining why. It was because we had failed to take the advice of that “lamented and much misunderstood man,” Lord Roberts, and introduce compulsion. If these slackers and skulkers who are hiding behind factory lathes had been forced into the Army then all would have been well.

Are the conscriptionists really as stupid as they appear to be? Not at all! They know, none better, that even from a “patriotic” point of view conscription is a disastrous proposition. The number of men who can safely be withdrawn from industry is too small to seriously affect the conduct of the war. As has been repeatedly pointed out by well-informed newspapers such as the “Economist,” the chief services rendered by Britain to her Allies are financial and technical. Were we to reduce the number of men engaged in production of munitions of war, then we would not only render victory difficult, but defeat almost inevitable. Everyone recognises that. Many eminent men have assured us that this is an engineers’ war; that the man at the bench is as useful as the one in the trench. Never before have we had such machine-made warfare, never have technical resources bulked largely as they do to-day. Then, as to the financial assistance rendered by Britain. One can readily see that such poor countries as Russia, Italy and Servia could not play their parts in this war without the assistance of Britain. And what form does this assistance take. That of loans and subsidies. But not of money in the popular sense; not in the shape of golden sovereigns. The loans are made and the subsidies given in the form of goods. Not only military material such as guns, ammunition, and so on, but also boots, clothing and other manufactures. So that for the successful conduct of the war the boot and shoe operatives, tailors, etc,, are absolutely necessary at home. Besides which other countries such as America and Japan are aiding Britain to supply the needs of the Allies. Needless to say they do so only for a consideration. They are paid either by shares in British or Allies’ War Loans, or actual commodities which, in the nature of the case, must come mainly from Britain as the richest of the Allies, and as the one whose industry is least directly disturbed by the war. All those miscellaneous workers, miners, weavers, spinners, etc., whose products either directly or indirectly help to pay for the advances of munitions made by neutral countries to us and our Allies are required at home.

The parrot cries of the conscription gang are merely meant for the deception of the people. They know perfectly well that any large proportion of the eligible workers still to be found in Britain should be sent abroad then military, industrial and financial ruin will descend upon this country and her friends.

Why do they want conscription? They desire it in order to destroy the liberties of the working class. Let the workers first be mobilised and, says the Simpleton, “sent to the front"! No, you fool! Sent back into the workshop under military law. Then indeed, we may say farewell to trade unionism. To-day it has reached the point of being almost completely shorn of its influence; under military law it will entirely disappear. Nothing will be the left for the workers but illegal organisations and secret plotting in cellars. Let it be repeated, again and again, these repressive measures are not merely for the “duration of the war,” but will maintained so long as they serve capitalist interests.

This is the reason why the attacks of the capitalist press upon those who oppose resolutely industrial and military conscription have become so savage. In this way is explained the action the Government in attempting to put out of the way such a vigorous and courageous fighter as John Maclean. They know well that in assailing Maclean for speeches in favour of peace, in defence of the interests of the working class, against all forms of conscription, they not only destroy the elementary political rights of the people, but pave the way for their reactionary plots against the people. Maclean stands in the way of conscription in Glasgow, of repressive legislation against the working class; he leads the fight against the house factors and all oppressors. Therefore – he must be eliminated, he must be deprived of his means of livelihood. While the Government uses its judicial machinery in order to gag him, the Govan School Board comes forward with a proposal to dismiss him – to separate him from the children of the people. They, however, are mistaken. Maclean will triumph together with the cause of the people.

Arouse yourselves, workers! Soon it will be too late. Do not rest content with congresses and resolutions. The war has placed power in your hands. Resort to action! Use your force wisely now and prevent conscription with its countless evil consequences from being imposed upon your class.