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Alexander McKay

Jan 20, 2024

How Should We Regard The Workers Who Are Recruited Into The Armed Forces Of The State?

The question of how to regard the state forces, in imperialist countries especially, is an important one. These ‘special bodies of armed men’ as Lenin described them include the Armed forces, cops, special forces, border patrol and prison guards. The primary role of these forces, the job for which they are employed above all others is the security of the state itself which means (in practical terms) guaranteeing the property rights of the bourgeoisie. The state is there to manage the contradictions created by class divisions and also to sustain the conditions for capital accumulation. In terms of what this requires the individuals who make up the bulk of the state forces to be we get into the question of how these people are trained.

Give that the purpose for which they are ultimately employed is to guarantee the sanctity of capitalist property relations and the bulk of the army and police come from working class communities the most immediate need of these institutions is to ensure that the recruits to these forces lose any sense of class consciousness. There’s a reason that even basic trade union organisation is banned inside the British armed forces to this day and that is because the Generals realise that even the slightest advance of class consciousness could be fatal for their control over the rank and file. What has to be created is a sense of loyalty and brotherhood amongst the soldiery in such a way that even if the individual concerned either doesn’t care for or actively dislikes the government or even his commanding officers he will remain a loyal soldier out of this sense of loyalty to the members of his immediate unit or perhaps wider regiment. A very literal case of ‘espirit de corps’ in other words. There are a few notorious occasions when the military has been deployed to crush strikes in Britain, the most recent of these was the 1984-85 miners strike and to be able to use working class men against other workers like that means that you have to have drummed out any sense of class solidarity within them. This is what a lot of military training aims to achieve alongside the more technical aspects.

What does this mean in terms of the armies of US, British or French imperialism when they are deployed overseas? We must, again, start at the root of the issue here which is the purpose of these deployments and that is always about securing the ability of the imperialist nation to hyper exploit labour and resources or gain access to markets. The very nature of the relations that the armed force is deployed to protect are all about domination and control. That necessitates (again) an extreme level of chauvinism being fostered in the soldiery in terms of attitudes towards the subjugated population. In most cases this will manifest itself in the form of racialist attitudes and petty acts of humiliation towards the occupied people. In more extreme cases of course this feeds pre-existing psychopathic tendencies and encourages the very worst crimes such as murder, rape, abuse of children and torture which is then covered up by the military hierarchy.

The nature of an armed force ultimately has its roots in the system that it is there to protect. A system based on exploitation, protection of the property rights of the bourgeois and forcible suppression of occupied peoples is going to encourage the worst aspects of human behaviour reinforced by the above mentioned sense of group loyalty and destruction of class consciousness. The attitude of communists towards the state forces has to be one that is informed by this understanding. We must still endeavour to make appeals to such people however and whenever we can but it is the case historically that the state forces only start to defect to the side of the proletariat when the working class has already shown its ability to win and the level of class consciousness is rising across a particular nation.

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