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Susan Green

For a People’s Referendum
on Compulsory Military Training!

(12 November 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 46, 12 November 1945, pp. 1 & 2
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The decision on whether or not this country is to have peacetime universal military training is too important to be left to the politicians, the generals and the admirals. If ever there was an issue that the people themselves must vote on, this is it.

This question concerns every youth and every family. It means the militarization of the society we live in. It threatens the continuance of political democracy as we know it, and the freedom of labor’s economic and political organizations. Peacetime military training also signifies a definite step in preparing for World War III.

All this is involved in peacetime military training. Will the people let themselves be railroaded into militarism?

Let the People Decide

The fifty million working people who slaved fifty-two and sixty hours a week to turn out the instruments of destruction should have their say. The soldiers returning with and without arms and legs, with and without their friends and pals, should vote on the question. The soldiers still abroad, rotting in social disillusionment and in personal demoralization, should have the chance to say what they think of permanent militarization of the country. The relatives of the more than million war casualties should decide. The parents of the country should choose the kind of society they want their children to grow up in.

Let us go a little deeper into the effects of peacetime military conscription or compulsory training – whichever it is called makes little difference.

Militarism will reach out its bloody hand into every family. It was to escape from this touch of death that many of the European people who built this country, came here. They wanted their lives to be their own, and suffered untold hardships to leave behind them the militarism of their native lands. Forced military training will sit like a ghost of doom at every family board.

And what will peacetime conscription mean to the youth of the land? Military training will hang over the heads of our boys and girls, filling them with doubt and uncertainty. No longer will they base their lives on the pursuit of peace. No longer will they choose their careers as before (within the restrictions of capitalist society).

That year of military training may well determine their future. There is no doubt that the advocates of military training have two purposes in mind. One is to militarize the whole civilian population by training the youth. But just as important,, indeed if not more so, is the plan to get trainees, after the required year, to “choose” careers in the army, navy and air force in the pursuits of war. And plenty of pressure will be exerted to accomplish this end.

We Are Not Pacifist

Precisely because peacetime military training is aimed for a third imperialist world war and because the militarization of the youth is aimed against labor, labor cannot be pacifist. Labor Action therefore stands for military training only if it is under workers’ control.

Therefore, we believe the people should exercise their right to express their “Nay!” on the question of compulsory military training in the bosses’ army, through a people’s referendum.

The advocates of peacetime conscription talk as if this were not a step toward militarism – as if it will have no effect on the institutions of the country. History has proved this idea wrong. It is used as a sop to the people who fear militarism. In every country where the military has gotten a footing in peacetime and in the lives of the civilian population, progressively greater military domination in politics and throughout society has followed. The Axis countries are good examples of this obnoxious development. So are the countries of South America, dominated by military dictatorships. Peacetime military training means militarization and is a threat to political organizations of the workers, the farmers, the little, people.

Socialists have predicted that the growth of militarism is proportionate to the decline of capitalism. With intensified international conflicts and with deepening rifts at home between capital and labor, capitalist society resorts to the “Big Stick” – to be used in its interests both at home and abroad.

Shall the people stand with folded hands and see this happen? Or should they demand to be heard on the question?

A New World War

But the matter goes even deeper than the kind of society we will be living in. It goes to THE fundamental: existence itself. The hearings before Congress and the arguments of the proponents of peacetime conscription, make no bones about its being in preparation for the next war. Without batting an eye, the makers of World War II are mixing the brew for World War III. And what kind of war will it be? Scientists assure us that any city in the world can be turned to rubble in fifteen minutes. Scientists tell us that forty million Americans – or Russians or any other people – can be annihilated almost before you can say Jack Robinson.

The outcome of the dispute whether an army will or will not be necessary or useful in an atomic-energy war, is not important. The point is that the kind of war for which the powers are preparing menaces existence itself and threatens the continued civilized existence of man on this earth. Peacetime military training is undoubtedly a step in this direction.

Shall we allow the “war specialists” to decide this all-embracing issue? Or shall we give our own clear answer?

The demand by the American people for a referendum on peacetime military training will act as a clarion call to the peoples of the world. It will be regarded by the war-weary masses as a genuine move toward international peace.

Labor can take the lead. Labor has to take the lead.

Labor must counter all plans for the militarization of youth. It must demand a referendum on the issue.

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