Anti-Militarist Propaganda and Young Socialist Workers’ Leagues

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It will be recalled that the International Socialist Congress in Stuttgart discussed the question of militarism and in connection with it the question of anti-militarist propaganda. The resolution adopted on the point says, in part, that the Congress regards it as a duty of the working classes to “help to have working class youth brought up in a spirit of international brotherhood and socialism and imbued with class consciousness”. The Congress regards this as aft earnest of the army ceasing to be a blind instrument in the hands of the ruling classes, which they use as they see fit and which they can direct against the people at any time.

It is very hard, sometimes almost impossible, to conduct propaganda among soldiers on active service. Life in the barracks, strict supervision and rare leave make contact with the outer world extremely difficult; military discipline and the absurd spit arid polish cow the soldier. Army commanders do everything they can to knock the “nonsense” out of the “brutes”, to purge them of every unconventional thought and every human emotion and to instil in them a sense of blind obedience and an unthinking wild hatred for “internal” and “external” enemies.... It is much harder to make an approach to the lone, ignorant and cowed soldier who is isolated from his fellow-men and whose head has been stuffed with the wildest views on every possible subject, than to draft-age young men living with their families and friends and closely bound up with them by common interest. Everywhere anti-militarist propaganda among young workers has yielded excellent results. That is of tremendous importance. The worker who goes into the army a class-conscious Social-Democrat is a poor support for the powers that be.

There are young socialist workers’ leagues in all European countries. In some, for instance, Belgium, Austria and Sweden, these leagues are large-scale organisations carrying on responsible party work. Of course, the main aim of the youth leagues is self-education and the working out of a distinct and integrated socialist outlook. But the youth leagues also carry on practical work. They struggle for an improvement in the condition of apprentices and try to protect them from unlimited exploitation by their employers. The young socialist workers’ leagues devote even more time and attention to anti-militarist propaganda.

For that purpose, they try to establish close ties with young soldiers. This is done in the following way. Before the young worker has joined the army, he is a member of a league and pays membership dues. When he becomes a soldier, the league continues to maintain constant contacts with him, regularly sending him small cash aids (“soldier’s sous” as they call them in France), which, however small, are of substantial importance to the soldier. For his part, he undertakes to provide the league with regular information about everything that goes On in his barracks and to write about his impressions. Thus, even after he joins the army, the soldier dots not break off his ties with the organisation of which he was a member.

An effort is always made to drive the soldier as far away from home as possible for his service. This is done with the intention of preventing the soldier from being tied with the local population by any interest, and to make him feel alien to it. It is theft easier to make him carry out orders: to shoot at a crowd. Young workers’ leagues try to b this alienation between the soldier and the local population. Youth leagues are connected with each other. When he arrives in a new town, the soldiers a former member of a youth league at home, is met by the local league as a welcome visitor, and he is at once brought into the circle of local interests and helped in every possible way. He ceases to be a new-coiner and a stranger. He is also aware that if any misfortune befalls him he will receive help and support. This awareness adds to his courage, he gains assurance in his behaviour in the barracks, and is bolder in standing up for his rights and his human dignity.

Their close ties with young soldiers enable the youth leagues to carry on extensive anti-militarist propaganda among the soldiers. This is done mainly with the aid of anti-militarist literature, which the youth leagues publish and circulate in great quantities, especially in France, Belgium and also in Switzerland, Sweden, etc. This literature is highly diverse: postcards with anti-militarist pictures, anti-militarist army songs (many of these songs are very popular among the soldiers), “soldier’s catechism” (in France it was circulated in more than 100,000 copies), all sorts of pamphlets, leaflets, appeals; weekly, fortnightly and monthly newspapers and magazines for soldiers, some of them illustrated. Barracks, Recruit, Young Soldier, Pju pju (a pet name for the young recruit), and Forward are very widely circulated. For example, in Belgium the newspapers Recruit and Barracks have a printing of 60,000 copies each. Especially many magazines are published at the time of the draft. Special issues of soldiers’ newspapers are mailed to the homes of all recruits. Anti-militarist literature is delivered to soldiers in the barracks and handed out to them in the streets; soldiers find it in coffee-houses and pubs, and everywhere else they go.

Recruits receive special attention. They are given a ceremonial send-off. During the recruitment, processions are staged in the towns. In Austria, for instance, recruits walk through the town dressed in mourning and to the strains of funeral marches. In front of them rolls a decorated red carriage. All the walls are plastered with red posters which say in large letters: “You will not shoot at the people!” Evening parties with ardent anti-militarist speeches are held in honour of the recruits. In short, everything is done to awaken the recruit’s consciousness, to ensure him against the evil influence of the ideas and emotions which will be instilled into him in the barracks by fair means and foul.

The work of the socialist youth is not in vain. In Belgium, there are almost 15 soldiers’ unions in the army, which are mostly affiliated with the Social-Democratic Labour Party and are closely allied with each other. In some regiments, two-thirds of the soldiers are organised. In France, the anti-militarist mood has become massive. During the strikes at Dünkirchen, Creusot, Loguivi, Monso-le-Min the soldiers ordered against the strikers declared their solidarity with the workers....

As time goes on, there are more and more Social-Democrats in the army and the troops become increasingly less reliable. When the bourgeoisie has to confront the organised working class, whom will the army back? The young socialist workers are working with all the enthusiasm and energy of the young to have the army side with the people.