Question about militias vs. militaries

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Lucky Black Cat's picture
Lucky Black Cat
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Aug 21 2021 18:45
Question about militias vs. militaries

In a revolution, anarchists support the use of voluntary, democratic, non-statist militias. I agree with the voluntary, democratic, and non-statist part, but why call this a militia? Is it because anarchists reject a professional armed force? Or some other reason?

Militias are usually defined as being non-professional, and militaries as professional. As I understand it, professional is defined as specializing in an activity, doing it full-time. If there were a revolutionary civil war that dragged on for years, as in Spain, it would be an advantage if those fighting for the revolution specialized full-time in the task of being a soldier. In other words, professional soldiers.

In that case, even assuming that it was democratic, voluntary, and non-statist (as it should be), wouldn't this be a military, rather than a militia? Or is there some reason why this would still be defined as a militia?

There is one reason which I think may be the case. According to Wikipedia, some militias

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act as professional forces, while still being "part-time" or "on-call" organizations.

In a revolutionary war it would be important for an organized armed force to be full-time, not part-time. But perhaps the on-call aspect applies. It would not be a standing army that exists during both peace and war. It would only be mobilized during the war and then disbanded. On-call for a crisis (even if that crisis is a war that lasts years), disbanded after. Perhaps this is the crucial distinction for why anarchists use the term militia, rather than military.

That's my best guess, but I'm not sure.

So again, why use the term militia? Is it due to rejecting a standing army, or rejecting professionalization, or something else?

freemind
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Aug 22 2021 12:29

Hi LBC
I think Militia is a loaded term that took on a new meaning in Spain 1936.The etymology I'm not sure of but deduced from military and non orthodox the term has become accepted.In a revolutionary war a la Spain in which a dual power existed on one side the ramifications for becoming official or full time are well known but in the event of defending an Anarchist society its role is more clear cut and can be specialised into a more specific role.Hypothetically if everything was fine and placid with no Counter Revolution on the horizon the outward full on role could be scaled down but its an interesting scenario.

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sherbu-kteer
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Aug 22 2021 13:04

Anarchists oppose professional soldiering, yes – though they do also oppose professional everything in the sense that the aim is to break down the capitalist division of labour and so on.

However usually the distinction is made to emphasise the breaking down of militaristic structure. During the Spanish revolution, militarisation meant turning the confederal militias into regular armies; that meant the imposition of command hierarchies, hierarchical discipline, transfer of control to the government, abolition of the election of officers, etc.

ajjohnstone
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Aug 22 2021 16:40

Perhaps you have come across this pamphlet, LBC

https://libcom.org/library/towards-citizens-militia-anarchist-alternativ...

I tend towards a less military confrontational concept of revolution as Freemind alluded to and suggest it the most likely scenario.

In the past, it was the general strike that would be the main weapon against the recalcitrant pro-capitalist resistance and their instrument would be acts of terror and we know that there is no military solution to such strategies as terror.

But i am no seer and closer we are to social revolution, the more clarity there will be on what needs to be done

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Aug 24 2021 17:31

Thanks everyone for your replies.

Militarization in the Spanish civil war swallowed militias into the state, so I 100% oppose that. And I of course hope for, as Ajjohnstone put it, "a less military confrontational concept of revolution". There are nonviolent methods of resistance to counterrevolution. The more peaceful the better -- but we don't always get what we want.

This militia vs. military question was inspired by a comment from a Marxist-Leninist that I got on one of my youtube videos:

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but do you actually think that militia forces could stand against modern state militaries? Anarchists' rejection of state power and proffesional armies is a severe military handicap

I'm aware of the evidence that militias can be effective in fighting state militaries, and I don't dispute it. But I think it's true that if someone specializes full-time in being a soldier, they will likely be better at it than someone who only does soldiering part-time.

I'm not saying there should be full-time soldiers as a permanent feature of an anarchist society, but if counterrevolutionary armies start attacking, and must be confronted in war, I think full-time soldiers would be an asset. I don't think anarchists would dispute this? (As far as I know, for Makhnovists in Ukraine and militias in Spain, although soldiers were drawn from the civilian population, after joining they became dedicated to soldiering full-time.)

This got me wondering whether or not an armed force of full-time soldiers would qualify as a militia or a military. It's basically a semantical question.

Usually I don't think semantics are that important, but because I'm writing video scripts for youtube, I try to think carefully about the words I use and whether they perhaps imply something I didn't intend. I prefer using the term militia since "military" has statist implications, but this youtube comment got me thinking the term "militia" might make people assume this consists of only part-time soldiers. Maybe I'm just overthinking this.

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Steven.
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Aug 28 2021 21:05

Yeah basically like many arguments on the left this one really might mean nothing at all depending on how people define terms.
So to avoid having a semantic argument, I think you would have to define your terms the first place.
So looking at practical examples is probably helpful in terms of defining terms, then after that determining your view on them.
Personally, as in the example in Spain I would see revolutionary militias as non-state fighting units, whereas an army would be under the control of a state, or proto-state.
So in the Spanish example, militias were made up of workers who had volunteered to fight, and had revolutionary democracy in them (things like equal pay, elected officers, and in some cases voluntary discipline).
When the Spanish Republican government wanted to militarise the militias, that meant implementing uniforms, non-elected officers, imposed discipline, pay differentials etc.
So those types of features are the key differences I think. Not whether someone is part-time or full-time – in a revolutionary civil war situation, militia fighters effectively become full-time, until the conflict is over.
Not the type of situation we would want to emulate, but recent events in Afghanistan are good example of a small, more informal militia (albeit one run by a proto-state) "defeating" a much larger conventional army. This was because the rank-and-file of the conventional army had no motivation to actually fight for it.
But again, I kind of think the issue is largely semantic, because you can also disagree over the definition of a state. Because you could also argue that a revolutionary militia – i.e. a body of organised violence controlled by one class to use against another class – is a state. I think for us, compared with Marxist-Leninists, is that for us it would have to be democratic, and run collectively by the class as a whole, as opposed to run dictatorially from above.

ajjohnstone
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Aug 29 2021 06:02
Quote:
But I think it's true that if someone specializes full-time in being a soldier, they will likely be better at it than someone who only does soldiering part-time. I'm not saying there should be full-time soldiers as a permanent feature of an anarchist society, but if counterrevolutionary armies start attacking, and must be confronted in war, I think full-time soldiers would be an asset.

Your point is one that is frequently highlighted by the SPGB throughout its history and in its arguments with anti-parliamentarians.

As its D of P says

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That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organize consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.

From my reading of history when there is a militarisation of civil disobedience and non-violent resistance, it necessarily has resulted in the intervention of rival foreign powers. Syria is a prime example.

And could the Taliban have existed without the sympathy and acquiescence of a 'friendly' neighbour, Pakistan.

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Aug 30 2021 04:44

Thank you for the replies!

Quote:
So to avoid having a semantic argument, I think you would have to define your terms the first place.
So looking at practical examples is probably helpful in terms of defining terms, then after that determining your view on them.

Good advice.

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Sep 6 2021 15:52

For a couple of days I've been wanting to reply to this thread, but my responses kept ballooning and quickly drifted off away from the discussion, so I've drafted and edited them into some more general thoughts and posted them here https://reddebreksbowl.blogspot.com/2021/09/militants-and-militaries.htm...

in case anyone's interested. It was initially a lot longer, including some topics that got my old class warned so I've cut it down a bit.

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Sep 10 2021 22:00

Thanks, Reddebrek, will definitely be reading this later.

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Sep 15 2021 05:53

Read it!

Quotes are from Reddebrek's article

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The New Model Army had its democratic agitators pushed out or locked up once Cromwell and the parliamentarians (mostly landowners and merchants, with a few Gentlemen and Lords) had secured control of the situation. The New Model Army then stopped looking very new and was used as a force for conquest and oppression. This is not an accident, had the New Model Army maintained its original composition and organisation the campaigns in Ireland could not have been fought, too many regiments were opposed to it and wanted to push even harder for further domestic reform.

I actually know nothing of this history. I'm assuming these were democratic and autonomous militias that were then brought under state control?

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A book I highly recommend on this subject of military organisation reflecting or rather driving social and economic relations to match it is Michael Howard's War in European History. It's a history of warfare in Europe, but instead of focussing on battles and generals its focus is on structural reforms and how European society had to adapt and change to support these new military institutions and forces.

Sounds very interesting. The concept that changes in how militaries are organized would be a driver of social and economic change, rather than an effect, is a new and wild idea to me. Though I see how this would connect to the historic origins of the state, as the first military power under central command would coincide with the birth of the state.

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Maoist military doctrine is essentially just a blueprint for state building, which is probably why of all the socialistic schools, it's been one of the more popular amongst the national liberation movement struggles. Its stages of people's war trace how you're supposed to take an irregular force made up of passionate volunteers and build it into a functioning professional military in anticipation of taking control of the state.

Stage One: The revolutionary forces must establish a defensible base area which allows the organisation to be streamlined and centralised.

Stage two: The organisation must spread to other areas with the aim of establishing a stalemate or equilibrium which will allow time to gather the resources needed to strengthen the people's army, and meanwhile start implementing policies that subvert and weaken the government in vulnerable areas.

Stage Three: capture and consolidation of the nation's key infrastructure and defeat of the official government's remaining forces, replacing the government with the new "revolutionary" one.

I'm not sure why these three stages would necessarily be tied to building a state? It could obviously be used for that, but they could also be applied to smash the existing state and build a non-hierarchical self-government of voluntary federations.

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The point I'm slowly stumbling towards here is there is no actual magic blueprint to success once social conflict becomes militarised. All we can say for certain is that the state is no magic solution

Seems like a fair conclusion.

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Sep 15 2021 18:10
Quote:
I actually know nothing of this history. I'm assuming these were democratic and autonomous militias that were then brought under state control?

Apart from a few regiments loyal to pro-parliament lords, the New Model Army was built out of volunteers who elected their own officers. This meant that positions were based on merit instead of status which was how the professional armies of the day assigned officers, it also gave political agitators who could read and write an advantage in selections. Multiple regiments essentially became mobile propaganda outlets for the political radicals. When they weren't in battle, they would be holding meetings or printing pamphlets to distribute in the towns.

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I'm not sure why these three stages would necessarily be tied to building a state? It could obviously be used for that, but they could also be applied to smash the existing state and build a non-hierarchical self-government of voluntary federations.

Well leaving aside that Maoists don't believe in that, a major obstacle is the centralisation aspect, the base area imposes its control on the other areas through military strength. So in those areas, the final decider for power is the barrel of the gun. There have been cases where a dominant politico-military organisation has established a rebel territory and allowed the population some autonomy, but they're also not remotely tolerant of explicitly hostile developments, there are limits, and the power relationship is clearly weighted in favour of the centre.

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Lucky Black Cat
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Sep 15 2021 20:08

Thanks for explaining.

I wonder if perhaps a central base may be important for logistical reasons if fighting a war. But I know jack shit about military (or militia) strategy so honestly have no idea. I guess I just feel hesitant to criticize it because of my jack shit level of knowledge.

There's a risk a militia could become a repressive force over civilian populations, even without a central base. I guess a central base would make repression easier but I don't think it would mean that repression would necessarily occur.

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There have been cases where a dominant politico-military organisation has established a rebel territory and allowed the population some autonomy

Would you consider the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine (aka the Makhnovists) an example of a politico-military organization? As we know they fought off capitalist nationalist and monarchist armies and then encouraged full autonomy for communities in the region. But maybe you wouldn't categorize them as this type of organization because of their democratic structure. But they were the only organized armed power in the region, right?

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Reddebrek
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Sep 16 2021 13:40
Lucky Black Cat wrote:
Thanks for explaining.

Would you consider the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine (aka the Makhnovists) an example of a politico-military organization? As we know they fought off capitalist nationalist and monarchist armies and then encouraged full autonomy for communities in the region. But maybe you wouldn't categorize them as this type of organization because of their democratic structure. But they were the only organized armed power in the region, right?

Well, there was already a large peasant and workers movement aligned with the Ukrainian Anarchists and Revolutionary Socialists before the fighting started. The original insurrectionary army was founded (before Makhno arrived) as a defence group for them, and it grew from that as the conflict escalated. They weren't usually the only military force within what became known as the Free Territory, but the main difference between the Ukraine situation and the Maoist strategy in my opinion is that in Ukraine, a quite large and well established movement was already in existence, and it built a fighting force once the war was forced upon them by circumstance.

Whereas the maoist way of war is the opposite, build a large and entrenched movement off the back of a military conflict. Regardless of ideology, any group that embraces this strategy is embracing growth through military expansion.

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Red Marriott
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Sep 16 2021 19:02

For info on how discipline was imposed in Mao's pre-revolutionary base areas, see; https://libcom.org/tags/yenan-literary-opposition