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Eight Ex-GIs Raise Objection to
Our Demand for Military Training
Under Control of Trade Unions

(July/August 1946)

From The Militant, Vol. X No. 32, 10 August 1946, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A Letter

Chicago, Ill.  
July 24, 1946


We the undersigned wholly disagree with Phase No. 7 in The Militant Program, which is as follows:

“Military training of workers, financed by the Government, but under control of the trade unions! Trade union wages for all workers in the armed forces.”

We sincerely believe this phase would be used for personal gains and ambition, by mercenary leaders in the various trade unions. This we believe would lead to fascism, under a new title.



Respectfully submitted,
E. Stack
F. Mauro
N. Thermos
R. Coccio
S. Rizzo
Wm. Klick
Paul Iaccino
Sig Dedo


And an Answer

The editors of The Militant have asked me, as a former soldier, to answer your letter and explain the meaning of the slogan with which you disagree. They tell me that you are not only ex-GIs, but also members of an important local of the CIO-United Auto Workers in Chicago. That means you and I have at least two things in common: We know what life is like in the armed forces. And we are concerned with the best interests of the labor movement.

Point 7 in Our Program (on page 5 of this issue) is a very condensed slogan of an idea hard to explain in a sentence or two, and we are glad of this opportunity to explain its meaning at greater length.

Our program as a whole – Point 7, and all the other points – is based on the fact that there is a struggle going on all the time between the two most important forces in our country; the capitalist class and the working class. In order for the working class to be successful in that struggle, it must follow an independent policy and create its own organizations.

On the economic field the workers have to create their own organizations, the unions. If they don’t do this, if they act alone and individually, then it is extremely easy for the employers to defeat them, cut their wages, lengthen their hours, speed them up mercilessly, and so on. Most workers have learned this from their own experience.

On the political field it is also necessary for the workers to have their own organization, an independent labor party. Without a party seeking to take power in the interests of labor, the capitalists are able by their hold on the government and their two parties to pass and enforce all kinds of laws weakening and crippling the labor movement. Many workers have begun to understand this, and that is why the sentiment for an independent labor party is today greater than ever.

Independent Policy Needed

But it is also necessary for the workers to have an independent policy in the military field. Not many workers understand this yet, but we are certain that experience will show them the need for this too. Let me try to explain why.

The capitalists have many ways of keeping themselves in power. They have the schools and the radio and the newspapers and the movies, where they get their propaganda across. They also have the government – the White House and Congress and the Supreme Court, which all look out for the best interests of the Sixty Families that rule this country. But that isn’t all. In case these aren’t enough, they also have the police and the courts and the prisons – and the armed forces, especially the General Staff.

There isn’t another institution in the country which is as anti-democratic as the general staff. By its very nature the general staff is dictatorial through and through. You have been in the armed forces, so you know that it is hard to distinguish between fascism and the way the Army and Navy are run.

Role of the Brass

The brass hats have no use for democracy. They are enemies of labor and everything the labor movement stands for. By their training, by their outlook the (generals become the fiercest defenders of the ruling class – and the more dictatorial the ruling class is, the better the brass hats like it.

This has always been the case. In Germany the officer caste was the first important group to back Hitler and bring him to power. In Italy too the generals sided with the fascists. The General Staff is no different in this country. After the workers have created their own party and try to establish a Workers and Farmers Government, the capitalists are going to try to overthrow it by violence, and their most dependable supporters will be the anti-democratic generals.

At this point, let me recall what happened ir. Spain just ten years ago, because that experience has a very direct connection with the slogan of military training under trade union control.

A new government was elected in Spain in 1936 by the overwhelming majority of the workers and poor farmers. It wasn’t a revolutionary government, but it did have a program of mild reforms (something along the lines of the New Deal). The capitalists refused to stand for such a government, even though its election had been perfectly legal. So they prepared to overthrow it. And they naturally turned to the most reactionary elements in the country to do their work for them – the generals.

The Lesson of Spain

These generals were headed by Franco, who had a position in the Army something like that held by Eisenhower in the U.S. today. They did not have much following among the population as a whole, but they did have complete control over most of the men in the armed forces. They organized a conspiracy among the generals, and used their control over the army to stage a rebellion against the government for the purpose of establishing fascism.

The government had only a small part of the army to support it. To fight fascism, the unions and the working class parties had to organize their own divisions and send, them to the front lines to fight the fascist troops. If not for these workers’ military units, Franco would have won in short order. How much better it would have been if the workers had received military training under the control of their unions before the fascist insurrection! Perhaps they could even have crushed Franco’s forces before Hitler and Mussolini were able to reinforce him.- Perhaps the whole world situation would have been changed by that.

As you have already noticed, we are not pacifists. We are living in a period when all the great Issues are decided by force or threat of force. Therefore we never tell the workers that they can solve any of their problems by pacifism, by refusing to fight.

On the contrary, we believe that the labor movement can solve its problems only through struggle. When the employers attack the conditions of the workers in a plant, we believe in fighting back, and we tell the workers that. When scabs or cops try to break through a picket line, we believe in self-defense. When vigilantes or the Ku Klux Klan attack workers’ organizations and meetings, we call on the workers to resist by forming workers’ defense guards. When the fascists will try to set up their dictatorship (and some of them are laying the groundwork now), we call for armed struggle to defeat them. The workers can never defend their gains, let alone win anything, by refusing to fight. And in order for them to be able to win, they must know HOW to fight. That is why we are in favor of military training for the workers.

But we are not in favor of capitalist conscription. We are opposed to giving the brass hats control over millions of young men. We don’t want to see the power of the militarists increased, the way it was in most European countries. We don’t want to give them the force for another imperialist war or to dominate colonial countries. We know that the militarists are anti-labor to the core, and that they will use added power against the labor movement. (Just a few weeks ago they were all ready to use the Army and Navy to break the railroad and maritime strikes.) For these reasons we opposed the extension of the draft.

Since we are in favor of military training and opposed to capitalist conscription, we worked out a bill which we want introduced in Congress, and will be produced there if any of our candidates get elected in November. This is what we propose:

Let the government appropriate the necessary money to give the workers military training. But instead of putting these millions of workers under the control of the brass hats, let their training be under the control or their own class organizations, the unions.

Furthermore we want this system of military training to be democratic – unlike training in the Army. We want the workers to retain all their democratic rights. In this way they will be able to point out and correct errors and likewise. take steps leading to the removal of officers who are incompetent, hostile or indifferent to the interests of the workers.

Another thing we dislike about the regular army is that most of its officers are drawn from the ranks of the capitalist class. Under these conditions, the same things could very well happen here that happened in Spain. Therefore our bill not only provides military training for the workers, but also officer-training for those workers who display leadership qualities and who are loyal to the interests of the labor movement.

These are the ideas at the bottom of the brief Point No. 7 in Our Program.

How to Pose the Question

So I ask you to think over the question of military training. You know what it was – and is – like in the Army, You saw what the caste system was – with the officers living an entirely different kind of life from the rank and file. You saw or heard of incompetent officers needlessly sacrificing the lives of men who could be court-martialed for even protesting ... You know about the court-martial system, where an enlisted man practically never has a chance, even when he is completely in the right. You know race discrimination and segregation in the Army was as bad as anything in the South.

We used to talk about it a lot in our outfit. Some of the men said there wasn’t much difference they could see between Army life and fascism. Others said they were sure of one thing – they didn’t want their kid brothers or sons to ever be in the Army. Once we had an “orientation” discussion and everybody in the outfit except one man was against peacetime conscription.

We think military training is a necessary thing today. The question then is: Who is going to control it – the workers (through their unions) or the enemies of labor (through the General Staff)? This is how the issue is really posed. I think that is the way you, too, should pose the question.

Is there a danger that certain ambitious and unscrupulous union leaders might try to use their leadership for their own selfish interests? Of course there is. But it will be far easier to fight against such a possible menace than it is to fight against the present and certain danger arising from brass hat control of military training.

One Great Difference

Because as we have already explained, one great difference about union control of military training is its democratic nature. The rank and file will be able to protest (which they are not able to do now.) The rank and file will have democratic rights and will be able to form their own grievance committees (which they are not able to do now). The rank and file will be able to vote misleaders out of their posts (which they are not able to do now). In that way, the workers taking military training under union control will be able to prevent such training from being used against the labor movement (which it is very difficult for them to do under the brass hats).

One thing is sure, workers receiving military training under such a system could not be used to break strikes. Nor help the fascists set up their dictatorship. On the contrary, workers trained under such a system would throw fear into the hearts of all strikebreakers and fascists!

No one will dispute the daggers arising from a corrupt leadership in the unions. But that is no argument against unions, is it? Suppose a worker told you he didn’t want to join the union because its leaders might use their office for selfish ends. Wouldn’t you answer him somewhat like this: “That may be true, but it is better to be in a union with a poor leadership than not to be in a union at all. Join the union and then fight with us to improve the leadership.” And that answer would be 100 per cent correct. The same kind of reasoning can and should be applied to our slogan.

The Source of Fascism

If you are troubled by corruption and mercenary leaders, then a good place to do something about it is certainly in the present military leadership. Read about the scandals coming out before the Mead Committee in Washington, and you will see that the worst union leaders are pikers alongside of the officers in charge of war contracts. The real source of fascism is not the union leaders, because the first thing fascism does is destroy the labor movement. The real source is capitalism and its political and military supporters.

I hope that my explanation has been convincing, and that you will think further about this matter. If you still have doubts or disagreements, I am sure that the editors of The Militant will permit us to continue this discussion in its columns. Meanwhile, if you want to read more about it, I recommend the pamphlet Socialism On Trial, which contains James P. Cannon’s very educational testimony on this and similar questions in the famous Minneapolis’ Labor Trial of 1941.

George Breitman

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