A Regrettable Deviation From the Principles of Democracy

 'Democracy will remain an idle deceitful phrase, or merely a half-measure, unless the entire people is given a chance immediately and unqualifiedly to learn how to handle arms.' Written May 23 (10), 1917; published in Pravda No. 55 May 25 (12).

Today’s Izvestia carries a report of the meeting of the Soldiers’ Section of the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. This meeting, among other things,

“considered the question of whether soldiers could perform the duties of militiamen. The Executive Committee proposed to the meeting a resolution to the following effect:

“In view of the fact that soldiers must perform their direct duty, the Executive Committee of the Soviet of Soldiers’ Deputies declared against the soldiers’ participation in the militia, and proposes that all soldiers serving in the militia be immediately returned to their units.’

“After a brief debate, the resolution was passed with an amendment permitting soldiers discharged from active service as well as wounded soldiers to perform militia duties.”

It is to be regretted that the exact texts of the resolution and the amendment have not been published. More regrettable still is the fact that the Executive Committee proposed and the meeting adopted a resolution which is a complete abandonment of the fundamental principles of democracy.

There is hardly a democratic party in Russia that does not include in its programme a demand for the universal arming of the people as a substitute for the standing army. There is hardly a Socialist-Revolutionary or a Menshevik Social-Democrat who would dare oppose such a demand. The trouble is that it has become a “custom” “nowadays”, under the cover of high-sounding phrases about ’revolutionary democracy”, to accept democratic (the more so socialist) programmes “in principle”, but reject them in practice.

To oppose the participation of soldiers in the militia on the ground that “soldiers must perform their direct duty” is to forget completely the principles of democracy and involuntarily, unconsciously, perhaps, to adopt the idea of a standing army. The soldier is a professional; his direct duty is not social service at all—such is the point of view of those who are for a standing army. It is not a democratic point of view. It is the point of view of the Napoleons. It is the point of view of old supporters of the old regime and the capitalists, who dream of an easy transition backward, from a republic to a constitutional monarchy.

A democrat is opposed to such a view on principle. Soldiers’ participation in the militia amounts to breaking down the wall that separates the army from the people. It amounts to breaking with the accursed “barrack” past where a special group of citizens, detached from and opposed to the people, were trained, “knocked into shape” and drilled for the “direct task” of following only a military profession. Soldiers’ participation in the militia is a cardinal issue involving the re-education of the “soldiers” into militiamen citizens, the re-education of the population into public-spirited armed citizens. Democracy will remain an idle deceitful phrase, or merely a half-measure, unless the entire people is given a chance immediately and unqualifiedly to learn how to handle arms. Without the systematic, regular, and wide spread participation of the soldiers in the militia this will be impossible.

The objection may be raised that soldiers should not be deflected from their direct duties. No one said they should. To make a point of this is as ridiculous as saying that a physician engaged at the bedside of a patient who is dangerously ill has no right to leave that bedside in order to go and hand in his voting-paper, or that a worker engaged in production, which admittedly must not be interrupted, has no right to go away to exercise his political rights until he is relieved by another worker. Such arguments would simply be frivolous and even unscrupulous.

Participation in the militia is one of the cardinal and basic principles of democracy, one of the most important guarantees of freedom. (We might add, parenthetically, that there is no better way of enhancing the purely military strength and capacity of the army than by substituting the universal arming of the people for the standing army, and by using the soldiers to instruct the people; this method has always been used and always will be used in every truly revolutionary war.) The immediate, unqualified, universal organisation of a people’s militia and the widest participation of soldiers in that militia are in the vital interests of the workers, peas ants, and soldiers, that is to say, the vast majority of the population, a majority that is not interested in safeguarding the profits of the landowners and the capitalists.


Source: Marxist Internet Archive.