IWW stance on World War I

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May 23 2016 01:16
IWW stance on World War I

Hey all,

I was wondering if you guys can point me towards any primary or secondary sources on the IWW's stance towards World War I? I want to write something on it. The moderate amount of digging on it I've done in the past reveals to me that on paper, the union opposed it, but never came to an agreement on what that opposition meant in terms of activity. In the end, the 'wait till it blows over/we can't prevent it' outlook won out over the 'actively disrupt the war effort' attitude.

This suggests nuance to what the anitwar stance actually was. Often, from what I've seen, histories of the IWW tend to lean towards 'heroic anti-war union' or 'they didn't oppose it'.

I realize that Foner pretty much says all this in History of the Labor Movement in the United States Volume 4, but I think it is worth restating. I'm reading Jacob A. Zumoff's The Communist International and US Communism: 1919-19291, and he suggests that the IWW did not oppose WW1.

  • 1. worth checking out for the chapter on the relationship between IWW and CP alone
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May 23 2016 02:23

FnBrill should post something, as he is extremely knowledgeable about this.

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May 23 2016 02:27

I've asked him and some other IWW history diggers, but thought there may be others on libcom with information, as well.

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May 23 2016 02:49

Resolution passed by the IWW at it's 1916 convention.

The IWW Position on War

Actually, this might be a bit more perfunctory then what your looking for but as I was aware of it I thought that I'd post in just in case.

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May 23 2016 02:56

Haven't read it but this might be interesting - The IWW and Oppositional Politics in World War I: Pushing the System Beyond its Limits, Radical History Review Winter 1996 1996(64): 74-94;
http://rhr.dukejournals.org/content/1996/64/74.full.pdf+html

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May 23 2016 03:29

Thanks, Sike. Yep I'm aware of that resolution. That, and many other anti-war and anti-militarist statements and sentiments were repeatedly put out by the IWW prior to U.S. entry into the war.

Pre-entry, the IWW did speak against the war and pledge active opposition to it. But so did most of the Second International. I don't think there's any debate about the fact that, pre-entry, the IWW opposed war and militarism. What is less clear is what, if anything, was DONE, after entry into the war. The Socialist Party initiated anti-conscription groups and spoke out publicly after entry. It's not clear to me, but it seems that, on an organizational level, once the US entered WW1, the union avoided antiwar statements, never came to an agreement about action, and for the most part, avoided the anti-conscription and anti-war movement. This is what I think people are referring to when they say the IWW didn't oppose WW1.

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May 23 2016 04:25

In a history of the IWW written in the International Socialist Organization-aligned International Socialist Review, Joe Richard says:

Following their insistence that the IWW was “non-political,” the IWW anticipated the intensity of the Red Scare and in an effort to avoid open repression by the federal government, actually refused to take a public stance against US entrance into the war.

This is either sloppy researching or outright dishonesty. There is absolutely no doubt that the IWW publicly opposed the war prior to U.S. entry. That statement posted by Sike above is probably the most well-known, but every history I've read of the IWW cites numerous antiwar leaflets and statements circulated by the union and its press prior to U.S. entry.

According to Eric Chester's The Wobblies in Their Heyday: The Rise and Destruction of the Industrial Workers of the World during the World War I Era, an antiwar leaflet called 'The deadly parallel' was printed and circulated in March 1917, right on the eve of U.S. entry.

In the The IWW: its first 70 years, it says

A minority [of members in the IWW] felt the IWW should concentrate on open opposition to the war.. . . The majority felt this would sidetrack the class struggle into futile channels and be playing the very game that the war profiteers would want the IWW to play. They contended that the monstrous stupidity by which the governments of different lands could put their workers into uniforms and make them go forth and shoot each other was something that could be stopped only if the workers of the world were organized together; then they could put a stop to this being used against themselves; and that consequently the thing to be done under the actual circumstances was to proceed with organizing workers to fight their steady enemy, the employing class. . .keeping in mind the ultimate ideal of world labor solidarity. There was no opportunity for referendum, but the more active locals took this attitude, instructing speakers to confine their remarks to industrial union issues, circulating only those pamphlets that made a constructive case for the IWW, and avoiding alliance with the Peoples Council and similar anti-war movements.

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May 23 2016 10:35

Interesting thread. Not sure about the US, but in Australia the IWW was heavily involved in the anti-conscription movement: https://libcom.org/library/memoirs-i-w-w-australia-bill-beattie

It was the same in New Zealand: https://libcom.org/history/reds-wobblies-working-class-radicalism-state-...

… and the UK: https://libcom.org/history/north-london-iww-1st-world-war-ken-weller

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May 23 2016 15:38

I thought this piece was pretty informative. While the IWW took a "principled" anti-war position in 1916, when the US entered the war the practical implementation of any anti-war activities was avoided on the important Philly docks, as it was throughout the union. https://libcom.org/history/war-waterfront-chapter-4-wobblies-waterfront-–-interracial-unionism-progressive-era-phil

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May 23 2016 15:47

Of course one can take many things away from this Cole quote and I often wonder how much is academic and how much fact:

Quote:
"Nevertheless, Local 8 maintained job control and the Wobblies performed their work admirably. Not a single work stoppage occurred after May 15, 1917. This policy even extended to their annual birthday strike. At one April 1918 meeting, the members voted “that we postpone the Celebration of the 15th of May which is our legal holiday ever since our Organization is in existence so as not to hamper the war work of the Government.” Clearly, the membership supported the war effort, shocking given the IWW's politics and the government's wartime repression — or perhaps not. Local 8's action combined one part patriotism (white hot by 1918), one part fear (of further arrests and raids), and one part pragmatism (almost all work was war-related). Rationales aside, when literally millions of tons of explosives and munitions were loaded and unloaded in the port, not a single explosion, accident, or shifting of cargo occurred in Philadelphia. In contrast, there were numerous explosions, fires, and accidents at other Atlantic ports, where ILA men worked. Incredibly, given the federal government's anti-IWW stance, the Navy did not allow any explosives to be loaded aboard a vessel in Philadelphia unless done so by Wobblies. Moreover, when a fire or explosion occurred on a ship loaded in New York (as when the Henderson caught fire at sea), it was sent to Philadelphia to be reloaded. Gompers claimed, without evidence, that such “accidents” on New York's Chelsea piers were sabotage conducted by pro-German Wobblies. Local 8 members were proud of their unblemished record and quick to point out that less efficient longshoremen were not Wobblies.37"

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May 23 2016 16:13

I wonder to what degree race did or didn't play a role in Philly though.There's some tradition in the US of black workers taking the opening that a war provides to gain a stronghold in industry, and try to defend it. There's also some tradition of the government/employers/racist unions looking for any excuse to try to push them back out.

syndicalist
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May 23 2016 16:23

^^^^. Philly is prolly an interesting study of many things
I was trying to narrow it down to the question of the IWW anti war viewpoints and the practice of a strategically place IWW local with job control

Obviously not the same union or traditions, but the ilwu during viet nam war never stopped loading the ships heading towards the conflict zone of Southeast Asia

In part, a look at union organizational history is what was the concrete
practice measured up to the resolutions passed at conventions and do forth
So I'm using that outlook here relative to the IWW and WWI

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May 24 2016 16:42

Checked out Ralph Chaplin's autobiography. He pretty much says what I keep coming across: pre-US entry, the IWW was vocally antiwar, once the U.S. entered, no decision could be reached. Antiwar material in circulation was recalled and material about to be circulated was stopped. Wobblies were told more or less to register for the draft. Frank Little was scathingly against the war.

Peter Cole's book on Philly says that Local 8 enthusiastically supported the war. They encouraged draft registration, waved initiation fees and back dues for returning soldiers and bought liberty bonds. Some of its primary organizers, such as Doree, were pro-Allies. Walter Nef was still against the war, but mostly kept quiet.

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May 24 2016 19:17

That's very interesting. I mean it's terrible, but interesting.

I don't know about the numbers of the Australia and New Zealand IWWs, but I wonder how much of the different approach was driven by the fact that the US IWW was probably a lot bigger, and so probably included a large number of non-internationalist, non-revolutionaries, whereas the Australian and New Zealand ones may have been "purer"?

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May 25 2016 15:52

Steven #14

I take your point regarding the size of the Australian and New Zealand IWW. Perhaps also it could have been easier for them to adopt an anti-war position as the Central Powers had not attacked or killed any of their nationals, so why should they get mixed up a far-away European war. Later, when the USA got involved, the war had spread and American nationals had been killed.

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May 25 2016 16:46

As a sidenote, reading into these events after just finishing "Ready for Revolution: The CNT Defense Committees in Barcelona, 1933-1938", it's just a jarring difference when it comes to internal union matters and membership involvement. The IWW has always been more centralist than its European syndicalist equivalents, but its sort of crazy to think that the IWW response to World War I was largely determined by less than a dozen people in an organization of tens of thousands if not around one hundred thousand.

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May 25 2016 17:26

There is some material in Frank Cain's 1993 book 'The Wobblies At War - a history of the IWW and the Great war in Australia' I have a copy picked up in Australia but second hand copies might still be available?

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May 25 2016 17:52

Passive anti-militarism would have to also be the opinion of many editors and contributors to IWW papers and magazines, as well as leadership in locals and IU's across the country, as indicated by your own earlier quote:

Quote:
A minority [of members in the IWW] felt the IWW should concentrate on open opposition to the war.. . . The majority felt this would sidetrack the class struggle into futile channels and be playing the very game that the war profiteers would want the IWW to play. They contended that the monstrous stupidity by which the governments of different lands could put their workers into uniforms and make them go forth and shoot each other was something that could be stopped only if the workers of the world were organized together; then they could put a stop to this being used against themselves; and that consequently the thing to be done under the actual circumstances was to proceed with organizing workers to fight their steady enemy, the employing class. . .keeping in mind the ultimate ideal of world labor solidarity. There was no opportunity for referendum, but the more active locals took this attitude, instructing speakers to confine their remarks to industrial union issues, circulating only those pamphlets that made a constructive case for the IWW, and avoiding alliance with the Peoples Council and similar anti-war movements.

I suspect there would have to be a more detailed and in depth study of a number of factors to determine not just who held the ambivalent attitudes toward war opposition (Haywood said that the incumbent war required no more special treatment than their normal anti-militarist stance, in Foner). On the other hand, Eugene Debs, socialist party presidential candidate was pretty unwavering in his opposition to the war, though he had departed at this point from the official membership in the I.W.W. Perhaps it was something in Haywood's own brand of syndicalism, or as Foner argues, a sort of short-sightedness about what would provide organizational breathing room.

But individuals were not barred from expressing anti-war aims and Foner quotes people writing into Solidarity I think to disagree with the oppositional patience tactics. Could they have organized anti-conscription efforts? What was the mood among workers? How effective would they have been? What route for possible outcome? Many Anti-war activists, those in the socialist party, those wobblies who took aggressive action (and even those who didn't) soon wound up in jail. Would they have benefited from going out on day one in direct and forceful opposition? However we feel, answering these questions demands a determined investigation how many members and leaders across the organization felt and acted. What was it in the debates and histories of the U.S. workers movement that would pre-dispose many of it's members toward this attitude? Was it a result of the 'anti-political' attitude of many in the IWW?

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May 26 2016 03:03
Steven. wrote:
I don't know about the numbers of the Australia and New Zealand IWWs, but I wonder how much of the different approach was driven by the fact that the US IWW was probably a lot bigger, and so probably included a large number of non-internationalist, non-revolutionaries, whereas the Australian and New Zealand ones may have been "purer"?

Not sure about that. It's possible, but that kind of sounds like 'one size fits all' anarchist communism criticism of syndicalism.

I need to learn more about the history of the Australian and New Zealand IWWs. The other day I checked out Revolutionary Industrial Unionism: The Industrial Workers of the World in Australia by Verity Burgmann and I'm supposed to be reviewing Fighting War: Anarchists, Wobblies and the New Zealand State 1905-1925 by Jared Davidson.

Pennoid wrote:
Passive anti-militarism would have to also be the opinion of many editors and contributors to IWW papers and magazines, as well as leadership in locals and IU's across the country, as indicated by your own earlier quote

No idea. The membership of the U.S. IWW passed a resolution that promised active opposition to the war pre-U.S. entry, but when the U.S. entered, the officers of the union couldn't agree on how or whether to implement it.

I know I posted the Fred Thompson quote, but I'd be cautious about his version of history. He had a tendency to paint disputes or decisions in the IWW according to his views on them, not necessarily how they unfolded. They also seem to rely more on his memory, or the memory of other Wobblies, rather than documents that described what happened. His quote is contradictory, as well. Without a referendum of the membership, how could he know what a majority or minority was? In any case, there was a membership decision. It happened in 1916, and promised active opposition to the war. Eric Chester's history claims that "it is clear that the overwhelming majority of rank-and-file IWW activists opposed the war and expected the union to implement the mandate of the 1916 convention". I don't his sources on this.

Quote:
I suspect there would have to be a more detailed and in depth study of a number of factors to determine not just who held the ambivalent attitudes toward war opposition (Haywood said that the incumbent war required no more special treatment than their normal anti-militarist stance, in Foner). On the other hand, Eugene Debs, socialist party presidential candidate was pretty unwavering in his opposition to the war, though he had departed at this point from the official membership in the I.W.W. Perhaps it was something in Haywood's own brand of syndicalism, or as Foner argues, a sort of short-sightedness about what would provide organizational breathing room.

Yeah, maybe. I'm trying to track this stuff down right now. I really recommend reading the chapter on the war in the Eric Chester book. My initial impression is that active opposition post-U.S. entry was avoided because officers, who called a lot of the shots in a centralized union, sought to protect the union from repression and had a naive belief that they could do this through the avoidance of implementing membership-decided policy that would be widely unpopular in the larger society and to the federal government.

Debs was only in the IWW for a very short time. I don't think people realize that he left very early on, around 1906-1908 from the few sources I've seen.

At some point, I'd like to learn more about the Socialist Party of this period. It is my understanding that the party did not officially support active opposition, but that this was done by local or individual initiative.

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May 26 2016 03:42

I've also been told by a labor researcher that most of the international labor movement was against the war before their respective countries entered. When that happened, they either became enthusiastic war supporters or shut up with the anti-war talk. So the U.S. IWW would not have been unique overall in the labor movement in this regard. Trades and Labour Congress of Canada (equivelant of AFL) threatened a general strike if Canada entered the war. Probably many other examples of these types of resolutions and promises that never happened.

Also related to this subject, the case of Louise Olivereau, an anarchist and stenographer for the IWW in Seattle. According to the Nick Heath biography in the library, she sent out anti-conscription material, was picked up by the FBI, and the IWW refused to support her.

syndicalist alerted me to 'Wobblies and draftees: the I.W.W.'s wartime dilemma, 1917-1918' which appeared in Radical America Vol.1, No. 2 (September-October 1967).

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May 26 2016 04:19

From what I gather, the going silent seems to have been a defensive reaction.

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May 26 2016 05:05

Eric Chester's book discusses the debate & decision-making that took place, and the stances of Haywood & Little. My impression is that Haywood may have been afraid of giving the government a reason to act in a repressive manner....as it did towards SP. So the stance Haywood took was that the class struggle would continue & they would not go along with the AFL no strike pledge during the war. So the IWW's stance was not as conservative as AFL which was officially pro-war.

It's true that overall policy decision-making was rather centralized in the IWW. It didn't embrace the kind of federalism characteristic of other syndicalist unions.

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May 26 2016 05:27

Sorry for coming to the conversation late. There's a lot to catch up on.

Just some brainstorming.
First its a problem to telescope back what we would do and know what should be done now.
Second: So my question would be what were the conditions that led the IWW to this sort of odd neutral stand.
Third: There had been no conscription before WW1. While there was conscription in the Civil War only 2-7% of union troops had been drafted.
Four: "In 1917 the administration of Woodrow Wilson decided to rely primarily on conscription, rather than voluntary enlistment, to raise military manpower for World War I when only 73,000 volunteers enlisted out of the initial 1 million target in the first six weeks of the war." - wikipedia
Five: So in the past experience, Americans fought against war by not participating. My surmise is the unprecedented conscription (24 million + registered through 1918) caught them off guard.
Six: If #Five is accurate-ish, the Class War - fight them in the workplace strategy of the IWW would have been logical and adiquate.

Steven: The IWW was larger (per capita) and more influential in Australia than in the US. The organizing there was hidden more because of the various dominion labor laws which mandated arbitration and limited union options.

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May 26 2016 08:55

Thanks, fnb, that was a really interesting post with some really good points, particularly five and six.

syndicalist
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May 26 2016 11:26

Juan -- "The American Socialist Movement " by Ira Kipnis is a good period book
on the American socialist movements, including the 1912 SP, Haywood bruha.

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May 26 2016 14:21

I should be clearer: I don't see what centralism' has to do with it. I mean, I know the IWW did not have the same 'secede-if-you-please' approach to the subordinate bodies in the organization, and I suspect this was to mitigate against the problems of amalgamation and unity that the WFM/ALU, ARU, etc. had seen with the AFL vs. ARU or AFL vs. WFM or for example the hard work that Debs did, prior to the ARU forming, of trying to piece by piece unite the existing railroad brotherhoods. But I'm curious what exactly the charge of centralism is applied to in this period - What body had outsized control/influence which stymied the initiative or activities of subordinate bodies? If anything, the IWW was exceedingly *decentralized* - Locals and halls often charted their own organizing strategy and policies. (Who determined, and when and how, that Free Speech fights were handy? Then who determined that they were useless?). Local 8 in Philly became notorious for charging high assessments as a a part of it's plan for job control (and it is in this respect that the GEB had a pretext for disciplining them iirc).

How did this play into the war policy? What I was getting at was that the IWW's policy seems to have meshed quite well with the sentiments of it's membership and even it's core of leaders (editors, local leaders, etc.) . That doesn't mean the policies or decisions weren't wrong. It just means they weren't wrong as a result of the failure of a few great men to lead, but perhaps for more complex reasons. FnBrill highlights some important aspects, which I hadn't thought of. The Radical America piece makes a good point - The draft was set to have people register by June 5th of 1917. By September IWW halls were raided and by November the mass arrests of IWW leaders had occurred. The author (can't find the name) also points out that during 1916-1917 the IWW had an important trial going on in Seattle that it did not want to lose,(Everett Massacre) and that two places where there HAD been anti-conscription efforts on a large scale, wobblies were involved (they cite the refusal of Miners from Mesabi area of Minnesota to register for the draft, arrests, and then subsequent protests of hundreds of supporters, with a similar incident in Rockford, Illinois).

Haven't got a chance to check out the chester yet, but I will.

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May 26 2016 18:52

Philadelphia Local 8 had its charter suspended ostensibly for loading war materials for intervention in Russia. Later that was shown to be a lie fostered by secret CP members on the GEB.

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May 26 2016 22:04

Chester also thoroughly discusses the whole affair of the accusations against Local 8 for allegely loading munitions. It was complicated because the MTWIU national board in New York was chaired by a secret communist. They demanded *immediate* cessation of loading the ship when showed up in Philly. Local 8 business agent and other officers, when contacted on piers where they were working, said couldn't have a representative meeting immediately, would take some time to do that. So the communists demanded immediate suspension of local 8 by GEB. Once local 8 was able to have a representative meeting, they decided to pull the loading of the ship. But what wasn't clear to me was what was CP lying about? were they lying in claiming that ship was carrying munitiions for Wrangel? From Chester's account, it seems to me the CPers were just messing with a local where CP didn't have any support. after all why not wait a day or two till a representative meeting could be arranged?

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May 27 2016 01:41

Respectfully, the issue of Local 8 and loading war materials destined to fight the new Soviet state happened in 1920 and is a different issue. Probably deserves a separate thread.

fnbrilll, not sure if that telescoping comment was directed at me or not, but I'm not as interested in appraising or condemning what happened as I am interested becoming more familiar with what happened and why. But I do think it is perfectly acceptable to critique past revolutionaries by their actions, although of course, context should be explored and understood.

That's interesting about conscription and how World War I was the first time it had been successfully utilized on that kind of scale. Was not aware of that. That as a possible explanation is compelling, but it's just speculation on your part, correct? Have you seen any primary source material that details the IWW's surprise at the scale of conscription? I'll take your word for it that Americans fought war by 'not participating', as in not enlisting. But that's not exactly what the membership of the IWW passed in 1916. They said they would strike.

Pennoid, you must be thinking my use of centralist is some sort of pejorative. I'm not using it that way. That's just the way the IWW was/is structured. It doesn't rely on layers of assemblies like many other revolutionary unions, but instead one large assembly and the rest is on officers.

In this case, the membership of the union passed a motion detailing what the reaction of the IWW would be to U.S. entry in the war. In the IWW of past (and present), Convention passes things, referendum affirms them, and then officers are responsible for carrying it out. The officers of the union did not carry out their responsibilities here. They instead convened to decide, among themselves, what the union should do. But membership had already decided what should be done. I think this is an example of the potential dangers of centralism, even though I generally don't have a huge problem with it.

You say it may have reflected the actual sentiment of editors and local leaders. That's possible. Neither of us have evidence to say one way or the other. Fred Thompson claims active opposition to the war was a minority position, Eric Chester says it was the majority position.

I'm interested in the reasons behind the inaction, but still think its important to note that membership approved a plan, which was then ignored by the officers of the union, who are responsible for implementing decisions of membership.

This seems to be a somewhat common theme when I've looked closer at controversial aspects of IWW history and I'm beginning to wonder how frequently such things have occurred.

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May 27 2016 03:09
Quote:
Steven: The IWW was larger (per capita) and more influential in Australia than in the US. The organizing there was hidden more because of the various dominion labor laws which mandated arbitration and limited union options.

I would concur with this. 'Direct Action' had a circulation in 1914 of about 20,000, significant given that the population of Australia was about 4 million. The the Australian IWW was openly against the war is clear from the content. Original copies are kept at the State Library of New South Wales for those of you who live in Sydney.

Another key difference when comparing the US and Australia was that there was never any conscription although the Hughes government tried twice unsuccessfully to introduce conscription by referendum. When the war began, the Commonwealth government had no shortage of volunteers many informed by Imperial sentiment but not a few motivated by a desire for adventure and travel.

However, by 1915 when the huge scale of casualties became apparent, volunteers were as rare as hen's teeth. Opposition to the war was great and widespread. The issue of conscription was the most divisive in Australian political history and informed the attitude of the ALP which had broader ramifications during the Second World War. The opposition of 'the Irish Church in Australia' under the tutelage of the Archbishop of Melbourne, Daniel Mannix, fuelled sectarian hatred particularly after April 1916. Catholic opposition was the deciding factor.

The issue split the ALP and the Prime Minister was expelled and went on to form the Nationalist Party. One vocal opponent was John Curtin, at the time a member of the Victorian Socialist Party, who was to become Prime Minister in 1941. Consequently, there was no conscription during WW2 with the exception of the Australian Militia which was used in New Guinea on the basis it was part of Australia (former German colony awarded to Australia as part of the settlement of the Versaille Treaty).

Most unionists and certainly the CPA opposed WW2 as an imperialist war. But this changed after 22 June 1941 whereupon large numbers of workers particularly from Melbourne and Sydney volunteered and from which the 9th Division was largely created.

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May 27 2016 04:28

Juan:

In no way was I criticizing your post. I had been thinking for several days about how the GEB then would have looked at their problem. Was mainly rambling/brainstorming after a long day, outlining my thoughts - so I was saying to myself not to telescope backwards.

I agree critique is important to animate what we do today.

Apologies for any misunderstandings.

Yes, the conscription idea is just an educated conjecture - there's lots of history of the US wars and draft dodging, desertion, rioting, etc.