Editorial from the June 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard
By its National Service Bill the Labour Government, abandoning the Labour Party’s long proclaimed objection to peace-time conscription, is continuing compulsory military service at least for several years. In the early part of 1939, when the Chamberlain government introduced the Military Training Act in order to prepare for the war that was seen to be likely, the Labour Party reaffirmed its “uncompromising opposition to conscription” and expressed its preference for the “voluntary system." Now the Labour Government, using precisely the same excuses, the failure of the voluntary recruiting campaign, the need to “maintain a reasonable state of preparedness in case we should be engaged in a future war” (Mr. Isaacs, Hansard, 31/3/47, column 1675) does exactly what it denounced the Chamberlain Government for doing. This has not been well received among members of the Labour Party, many of whom feel that something must be wrong with Labour Government policy that the detested expedient of conscription should be necessary. This uneasiness found expression in the refusal of a large number of Labour M.P.s to vote for the Bill while protesting their loyalty to the Labour Government and to its measures other than this one.
Surprising as it may seem to those who do not think clearly the action of the "rebel” M.P.s is entirely illogical. They support Labour Government, but seek to escape responsibility for what all its supporters are committed to doing.
The Labour Government is in office to administer the capitalist system and its freedom of action is strictly limited by that responsibility. Capitalism necessarily involves entering into the struggle for world markets, and for the control of colonies and strategic points, and that struggle leads in the last resort to war. “The cause of war is the struggle of vast private interests for markets,” (Labour Party pamphlet “Labour’s Call to Youth,” 1933). It is true that the Labour Party cherished the illusion that it could find a conciliatory foreign policy that would avoid international tension and rivalry but capitalism pays no heed to the good intentions of its administrators. The Labour Government is committed to maintaining the British colonial empire and is waging a life and death struggle to secure a vast increase in British exports—with the loyal support of most of the M.P.s who draw back from providing the means of war through conscription.
In the pamphlet quoted above the Labour Party declared
“We do not believe that patriotism involves the retention of vast armed forces in order that we can parade our power before the world . . . We repudiate the methods of imperialism and exploitation, and shall earnestly seek the freedom of those nations now subjected to the tyranny of arrogant empire-building governments . . . The elimination of competition and a policy of friendly co-operation with other nations to secure a fair distribution of markets and room for the expansion of population will alone make war an obsolete instrument of human policy.”
They were deceiving themselves as the past 18 months of Labour government have shown. The only means of ending war is to end capitalism and introduce socialism.
Early in 1939 when the Labour Party was proclaiming its uncompromising opposition to the peace-time conscription that it is now imposing, the S.P.G.B. also issued a statement, “The Socialist and Conscription.” The following extract from that statement show how different is the attitude of the socialist and show, too, why it has never been necessary for the S.P.G.B. to change its attitude on the spurious plea that circumstances have changed.
“The opposition of the Socialist Party of Great Britain is not that of the Pacifists, though all thoughtful men and women will recognise the weight of the observation that 'not one evil that is professed to be avoided by war is greater than war itself.’ The pacifist—unless he seeks the overthrow of capitalism—is in the position of accepting the competitive social system which necessarily breeds bitter rivalries and of thinking at the same time that the rivalries can be settled by amicable discussion at the council table. Nor does the Socialist merely object to that form of compulsion known as conscription. There is little difference between the compulsion of the law which takes the conscript and the compulsion of unemployment which drives 'volunteers' to enlist. It has been truly said by a well-known advocate of conscription that 'nearly all our so-called volunteers for the Regular Army are hunger-conscripts'."
"The Socialist is opposed to conscription because he is opposed to the capitalist war for which the armed forces, whether volunteer, professional or conscript, are wanted.”
"The Socialist Party declares its opposition not only to conscription but to capitalist war and to capitalism itself.”