The following article is from Proletarian Revolution No. 66 (Winter 2003).
Two Democratic members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Charles Rangel of New York and John Conyers of Michigan, are introducing legislation to resume the military draft. Writing in the December 31 New York Times, Rangel says he is doing so on democratic grounds:
A disproportionate number of the poor and members of minority groups make up the enlisted ranks of the military, while the most privileged Americans are underrepresented or absent.
As well, he notes that he voted against the resolution authorizing the president to wage war against Iraq, and suggests that a draft would make war less likely:
I believe that if those calling for war knew that their children were likely to be required to serve – and to be placed in harm’s way – there would be more caution and a greater willingness to work with the international community in dealing with Iraq. A renewed draft will help bring a greater appreciation of the consequences of decisions to go to war.
In reality, like other “anti-war” Democratic politicians, Rangel wants to carry out imperialist policies with a better cover. And to prove his respectability, he tries to out-tough Bush on the need for a strong military:
The administration has yet to address the question of whether our military is of sufficient strength and size to meet present and future commitments.
Rangel’s proposal has already run into opposition from Black nationalist figures. They note that even with conscription, the burden of the fighting and dying would still fall on the poor and people of color: witness the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War. Droves of upper- and middle-class youth, including radicals and even “socialists,” inevitably cop out of the draft. Reviving the draft will undoubtedly also be opposed by the leaders of the anti-war movement, on the grounds that it would serve to strengthen American militarism.
As revolutionary Marxists, we oppose all bourgeois armies, conscripted or mercenary. But we understand that any capitalist country, above all an imperialist one, relies for its very existence on military force. As Lenin and Trotsky stressed, a mass conscripted army has the virtue of training the working class for its survival in the violent class struggles approaching and for its future revolutionary needs. Moreover, in an unpopular war, a drafted army poses a clear danger for capitalist stability: again, witness the U.S. Army in Vietnam.
So we do not join efforts against a draft. Given the reality of imperialism, either they are in effect campaigns for a “voluntary” army of mercenaries, or they foster absurd pacifist illusions. Since our ruling class must have an army, we prefer that it be drafted – not, like Rangel, because an all-out mobilization is necessary to fulfill imperialist goals, but because a “professional” army is more easily disciplined and more loyal to its bourgeois paymasters.