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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 18. 27th July 1972

How OHMS Helps the Army — First Published in the "New Zealand Spartacist", No. 6

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How OHMS Helps the Army

First Published in the "New Zealand Spartacist", No. 6.

One of the newest and most fashionable "left-wing" pressure groups is the Organisation to Halt Military Service, which aims to abolish compulsory military training. The Spartacist League recognises the army as the key insitution (usually left in reserve) for the protection of the bourgeoisie and its state. Consequently the SL approves of actions which tend to undermine the army. But rather than having radicals defy the National Military Service Act and keeping them away from the army, which is what OHMS preaches, the SL looks forward to organised revolutionary activity to undermine the army from within.

Unfortunately OHMS appears to have attracted the support of a number of individuals whose rhetoric, if not thei actions, are radical. Even ostensible revolutionaries have offered their support. Peoples Voice Wellington correspondent, "F", has blessed OHMS with a solemn: "Communists will recognise OHMS as the boldest manifestation of hostility to ruling class militarism to have appeared so far among students... OHMS is still working through individual acts of defiance by a small sector of youth (students) and in terms of a bourgeois liberal world outlook. But in time OHMS will learn the need to use mass tactics and to see military service from the viewpoint of working class politics." That is how revolutionary the Communist Party is. Spontaneous evolution from middle class liberal pacificism to a perspective of working class revolution!

A close examination of OHMS' policies and tactics show it is a long way from working class politics.

Firstly, it uses pacificism as one of its arguments — absolute opposition to war and training for war. However, pacificism is usually associated with deceit, and always with pathetic illusions about the nature of society it is very easy to denounce violence when your own life is comfortable, but such pontificating ignores the violence of the imperialist system.

We live in an era of war — war as a direct outcome of the irrationality of capitalism in its imperialist epoch. The laws of capitalism force the imperialists into a militant protection of the markets they control, and into fighting for fields of investment and profit.

Consistent pacificism is impossible: it would involve total condemnation of capitalism and joining the struggle (necessarily violent at times) against it.

Pacifist Fallacy

Most pacifists however are quite content to enjoy the privileges gleaned from the exploitation of others, and few think their pacificism through to its logical conclusion. One OHMS supporter said that in times of war he would take a job "unconnected with the war effort". He like most others, do not realise that the parts of society are so interdependent that it is virtually impossible to have any job not connected with the war effort. In fact as pacifists are frequently well educated they will usually be more useful to the belligerent bourgeoisie in a job they think is unconnected with the fighting, rather than being sent to the front as "cannon fodder".

A major fallacy of the pacificist argument is that it is impossible to abolish war without abolishing its causes—imperialist capitalism. One argument presented by OHMS is that international conflicts will never be solved by national wars. But how will international conflicts be solved? Only by an international revolution which smashes international capitalism. The smashing of the causes of war requires a series of revolutionary class wars which will take place not because Communists love violence, but because the capitalist ruling classes will not forgo the use of violence to maintain their exploitation.

Drawing of soldiers marching along a rifle

Pacifism might be personally satisfying, but by precluding the use or armed struggle, the pacifists mislead the masses and objectively serve the interests of counter-revolution.

OHMS does not, however, limit itself to appealing to pacifists. It argues that conscription is an attack on "freedom of the individual," and points out that "In particular, members of the National Party, which has as one of its tenents a belief in limiting the powers the State claims over the individual, should be at least sympathetic to repeal of the Act." — gross opportunism? or stupendous naivety ? Probably a combination. The National Party's ringing phrases about "rights" and "freedoms" mean only that the capitalists have freedom to exploit the working class, and any other "rights" are dependent on the recognition of that.


Closely related to this argument are the claims that basic training leads to brainwashing and the implantation of a constricting and dehumanising military ethos. The soldier is led to a rejection of personal identity; he submits to the organisation and accepts values alien to his previous experience — values applicable to military ends rather than the individuals. This, we are told, is completely at odds with our "democratic principles".

All this tells us is that the processes are similar to those workers undergo in factories. No wonder then that people who face a lifetime of wage-slavery are a little bemused when the likes of Michael Thomas Murphy solemnly pronounce that "after due consideration of the National Military Service Act of 1961, I have come to the conclusion that the Act is illegal because it deprives the New Zealand citizen of his basic right, which is freedom of choice" (Salient, April, 1972); and when Michael Patrick McCashin reveals in the Wellington Evening Post (15 April, 1972) that "in the army he found that the minds of men were changed. Trainees are in a closed situation in which people can get hold of their minds for twelve weeks and change them."

OHMS also makes an appeal to those "who feel that training conscripts is not the most efficient way of spending the defence vote." This particular plea, an OHMS spokesman informed the National Antiwar Conference in April, was designed especially to appeal to the RSA! So OHMS wants to lead a common movement of radicals, pacifists and reactionary militarists.

There is already a significant opposition in the army and Defence Ministry to national service on the grounds of inefficiency. These hawks will be arguing that the state should give in to OHMS, thereby making a more efficient army and demonstrating how democratic New Zealand really is. Add to this a period of high unemployment (which is likely), and national service could be replaced by greater regular force recruitment. Since it is frequently the most resourceful of the unemployed workers who seek alternative employment in the army, the danger from worker unrest would be allayed by thus siphoning off some of the least docile workers and, of course, at the same time strengthening the army.

Forces Protect Profits

The ruling class has a very good reason to spend money on defence - the armed forces exist to protect its profits and its class rule and to expect the defence lobby to accept a cut in the defence budget is unrealistic. Only recently, Defence Ministry mouthpiece McCready said he hoped for increased spending on defence in the coming year and said the New Zealand defence forces were operating on a "minimum figure." (Dominion, 14 April 1972).

An army loyal to its command is essential to the ruling class, and it has to man it, if necessary by conscription. Even if conscription is abolished, it will roll back in as soon as the ruling class needs the troops.

Subversion or Student Crusade

OHMS' final argument is that "people on the political left can see no need for a future war in South East Asia They note that none of the training is geared towards fighting [unclear: t] a western country, but is clearly intended for use in the Asian jungles.

If such New Zealand intervention in an Asian war again becomes likely, it is vital to have revolutionaries in the army to aid the anti-imperialist struggle. It is vital to have revolutionaries fomenting mutiny and insubordination (look at the effect on the US Army in Vietnam), furnishing intelligence to the revolutionary forces, general sabotage of the ruling class's war effort and eventually desertion to the revolutionary army. And this is not just confined to an imperialist war against revolutionary forces, but to wars between imperialist powers as well. All these may be part of the class struggle to turn imperialist war into civil war.

Revolutionary defeatism, which is not the same as pacifism, is an imperative tactic for ending an imperialist war for the benefit of the revolution.

The class struggle must continue regardless of its effects on the bourgeois war effort, and without concern for the military defeat of the bourgeois state. Any other line leads simply to a victory of an imperialist dominated coalition, or a compromise at the expense of the masses.

OHMS says it will support individuals who feel they can no longer continue to co-operate with the present conscription laws and offers three alternatives: refusal to register; return of draft cards; and refusal to answer call up. Thus OHMS is for complete defiance, non-compliance and (non-violent) disruption of the National Military Service.

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Although OHMS claims it wants to promote mass dis-obedience, Chairman Reid says the crusade will be aimed mainly at students and nothing OHMS has so far done indicates it is really seeking to reach the working class, which is the only class with the power to bring capitalism and its wars to an end.

What should Revolutionaries Do?

Some OHMS members have realised that conscientious objection is essentially a privilege of the middle class and educated youth, but in opposing the class inequality of CO exemption, OHMS fails to see that defiance will also be the monopoly of the middle class.

What should revolutionaries do? The army is the chief instrument of bourgeois state power, and if it is operating at full strength the revolution can be crushed. The answer for a revolutionary is to undermine and propagate revolutionary sentiment. This was a major factor in the success of the 1917 October Revolution; it made the insurrection in the Dominican Republic in 1965 so successful prior to the massive US intervention; and note the attention the NLF has paid to propaganda in the army of the Republic of Vietnam.

Even in sub-revolutionary situations, the army often has a critical role as a professional strike-breaker and as a backup at demonstrations (remember the trucks and barbed wire at Wellington airport when the All Blacks left in 1970).

Draft resistance would be tactically correct only if it was likely that it would result in a successful outcome, that is such massive non-compliance that the army is truly crippled.

Specifically . . .

The ruling class prefers to have radicals in jail, rather than in the training camps mobilising the recruits against them. Moreover, at this stage, an escape from military service is unlikely to earn the respect of the unpoliticised masses. On the other hand there is much a revolutionary can contribute by accepting the draft:
  • He gains familiarity with weapons and military craft and is able to learn about the military approach of his class enemy;
  • He is able to carry out propaganda among the conscripts and the regular force. This is what is meant in point Four of the "Terms of Admission into the Communist International."
  • "Persistent and systematic propaganda and agitation must be conducted in the armed forces, and Communist cells formed in every military unit... failure to engage in (this work) would be tantamount to a betrayal of their revolutionary duty and incompatible with membership in the Third International."
  • (Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 31, p206.) He has common experience with working class youth and gains contacts with them. He is able to see the bourgeois state working at first hand, and understand better the processes that the working class must endure all their lives. In this way the barriers between middle class radicals and workers can be broken down.
  • He can continue the struggle in the army. Just because everyone wears a uniform it does not mean the class struggle has ended. He can mobilise and organise to end officer privileges, for freedom of speech, against racism, for democratic rights etc.

The Real Solution

Thus the army should be composed of as many revolutionaries, radicals and "undesirables" as possible. There is material to work on. The army is not just the officers and the elite thugs. Officers are normally the conscious representatives of the bourgeois state, but in post revolutionary situations some have joined the revolution. The rank and file comes overwhelmingly from the working class.

Imperialism and its atrocities in Vietnam or else, where will not be stopped by OHMS or by any other form of re-formist manoeuvering. The only real solution is to destroy international capitalism.

But it is not suggested that all revolutionaries and radicals should rush to volunteer as there are at the moment more important tasks. In time, as the revolutionary forces develop, the task of preparing for the revolution within the armed forces will be made easier by the extensive ties that both the soldiers and revolutionary leadership will have in the working class.

Prepare for the Day. . . .

For OHMS supporters, the choice is simple. They must decide whether they are on the side of revolution or counter-revolution. And if they choose the side of revolution, they must decide whether OHMS' present reformist approach (disguised by a confrontationist style) is correct. They should clearly realise that OHMS is certainly not revolutionary, and that gut reactions to imperialism are not always effective. OHMS serves as another example of how an attempt to appeal to everyone without developing a principled revolutionary programme ends up by serving the interests of counter-revolution.

Revolutionaries will accept military training at Her Majesty's expense in preparation for the day when it may be needed against whatever cops and soldiers remain loyal to her Government. OHMS and its supporters would do well to consider how they themselves are objectively serving, On Her Majesty's Service.

by Dave Scott