Arms training for whose army?

Portillo claims guns are safe in his hands

 “They play a marvellous role in our society. They help young people towards the good values of life, towards self-esteem, self-discipline, teamwork, respect for others.”

The words of Michael Portillo last week. Who is he referring to? Think for a while and it becomes obvious - why, the army cadets of course. The defence secretary wants kids aged 13-22 to join the ‘lads’ army’, in order to make them into good citizens. They do this by learning ‘adventure’ skills such as abseiling, flying, rock-climbing, orienteering and all manner of other socially useful activities. Most importantly, as far as Michael Portillo is concerned, the cadet swears to ‘honour’ his or her country. In other words, they learn to imbibe good patriotic values and, hopefully, might think about a Career in the armed forces.

At the moment, there are 24,000 former service personnel, teachers and Territorial Army members involved in the running of the 130,000-strong cadets force. In a fairly desperate move, the Tories plan to make the Portilloite ‘lads’ army’ a central plank of their election manifesto - and spend millions, if necessary, on expanding it.

New Labour is outraged by Portillo’s suggestion. But only by the cost of it. Naturally, it does not object to the imperial/patriotic motivations that lie behind it. The shadow chief treasury secretary, Alistair Darling, denounced this “ill thought out scheme which needs far more careful consideration and detailed costing”.

In an interesting role reversal, David Blunkett has accused the Tories of wanting to steal New Labour’s clothes. He has already advocated the creation of “millennium volunteers”, which will be a ‘softer’ version of the cadets. These volunteers would ‘help out’ in schools, hospitals, environmental projects, etc, and be open to 18-25 year-olds - in particular the unemployed, who will have their “moral and spiritual development” enhanced. Some of the lucky ‘volunteers’ will gain a ‘qualification’ while participating in the scheme.

Some have levelled the charge of hypocrisy at the Tories, in view of the post-Dunblane panic about the ‘gun culture’ and the subsequent Snowdrop petition to ban hand guns. In the words of Peter Miller, of the Secondary Heads Association: “I would worry fundamentally about connecting any military-style activity directly with schools, even more so in the wake of Dunblane.”

Such a charge is mistaken. The Tories are being perfectly consistent by backing the Snowdrop campaigners and the ‘lads’ army’. Both are endeavours to maintain the state ‘monopoly’ over weapons and ensure that only ‘responsible’ members of society are given weapons. If you swear allegiance to queen and country, then you can have a weapon - otherwise ...

Communists do not object per se to children engaging in “military-style” activity, and we think it is a good idea that everybody, including children, “learn responsible use of guns and the harm they do” (Portillo) - but not under the supervision and control of the bourgeois state. Portillo’s ‘lads’ army’ is a plan to boost militarism; arms training under our workers’ militias would be directed against militarism and imperialism.

By calling for workers’ militias, we are calling upon workers to confront the state and those who control it - ie, make the working class into a political class. This is why Workers Republic, bulletin of the Committee for Revolutionary Regroupment, could not be more wrong when it states that the CPGB has “not differentiated between [the] need of the working class to seize power by force of arms and the concerns of ordinary workers not to see their children murdered at schools like Dunblane” (No2 December 1996).

We do not raise the slogan, ‘Arm the workers’ in a Platonic fashion - as some ‘ideal’ to be reached in the future, after the workers have built their “organs of dual power and begin to challenge the rights of the capitalist state as a class” ( original emphasis), as the CRR believes. Communists demand the right of workers to bear arms to enable them to become agents of revolution. History will not do it for us.

Eddie Ford