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A Communist in the Military: Why I Joined the IMT

The Army is a copy of society and suffers from all its diseases, usually at a higher temperature. The trade of war is too austere to get along with fictions and imitations. The Army needs the fresh air of criticism.

Healthy young lungs find it intolerable to breathe in the atmosphere of hypocrisy.

Leon Trotsky, founder of the Red Army

I was in the Army for nine years. I had wanted to be an officer since I was 16. I spent countless hours and days in preparation for the moment I received that gold second-lieutenant’s bar. At the time, I felt strongly that the United States was a great country, even if it was flawed. The 2008 capitalist crisis was a major event that pushed me to pursue a military career. Back then, there were few professions that could offer the stability and quality of life comparable to that of a military officer. When I graduated, I received my commission and entered service.

Throughout my career I found like-minded individuals rare, and slowly realized I wasn’t necessarily smarter, but it wasn’t in the interest of officers to always think long term. This meant that in 2016, when Trump ran for president and won, I became a socialist. At the peak of the conflict in Yemen, while I was deployed, when the Houthis were carrying out ballistic missile attacks on Saudi bases, I became curious about more radical political solutions. I had been a longtime fan of the likes of Richard Wolff and Yannis Varoufakis, both self-declared “Marxist” economists. I decided to find out more about this Marxism stuff. I read The Manifesto of the Communist Party. It spoke to me almost spiritually. When I returned home, I began looking for a more radical organization to join, starting with the DSA, and I ended my search with the IMT.

My time in the military was not perfect. I was not perfect. Had things gone differently I might have made the military a lifelong career. Eventually, I made the conscious choice to leave the military with my honor intact, rather than continue in an institution I could no longer condone. I bear no ill will for those who choose to join, but I know that “defense of the US Constitution” is not its real purpose.

President Dwight D Eisenhower
The military works for the enrichment of the defense industry. Many decades ago, this phenomenon scared even the general-president Dwight D. Eisenhower. / Image: Office of the President of the United States

Contrary to popular belief, the military does not work for the public, or even the government; it works for the enrichment of the defense industry. Many decades ago, this phenomenon scared even the general-president Dwight D. Eisenhower. In the War on Terror, the defense industry found its “forever war.” A war that can never be won, but never truly lost, and consequently it found a source for endless profits. It was a truth I found hard to deal with, but an inevitable conclusion that I eventually accepted.

This is one reason the military is inherently a bastion of class contradictions. Officers and enlisted soldiers both come with their own contradictions. In the past there was a clear delineation between the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois roots of the officers, and the working-class origins of the enlisted. However, today’s ruling class has ceded its historic role to lead on the battlefield to the confused children of those layers of the working class with illusions in the system. Because of this, the military is filled with confused political arguments with no ideological clarity of purpose.

Officers are generally more socially homogenous the higher you move up the ranks, but they all play the same social role regardless. Officers treat common enlisted service members as expensive commodities, no different than artillery pieces or armored vehicles. They may see the volunteers as much better than the conscripts of yesteryear, but they treat them as little more than modern slaves, nonetheless. As a result, there is widespread distrust of officers among the ranks. This even extends to senior enlisted advisors who often play the role of sheep herders.

The top brass play an incredibly more reactionary role due to their position. Each bureaucrat with stars on their chest has their own fiefdom. Each has their own priorities. They pit the branches of the military off of each other in order to achieve their own personal and professional aggrandizement. In 2013, a series of articles detailed how top heavy the military had become. As an Air Defense Officer, I often felt we were on the short end of many of these machinations.

US Patriot Missile System
It took nearly 20 years for the military to begin to recognize they had overstretched the Patriot Missile System. / Image: US Army Europe, Flickr

During my time, the core of the air defense branch was the Patriot Missile System. It took nearly 20 years for the military to begin to recognize they had overstretched this branch of service. Time and again, the bureaucracy decided “now is not the time, it is too inconvenient,” and Air Defense numbers were cut in favor of other missions. Meanwhile, it was believed the Air Force could maintain air superiority. According to a recent congressional report:

As previously noted, in the early 2000s, the Army divested almost its entire Active Component SHORAD force structure to meet force structure demands elsewhere in the Army—largely predicated on the belief that US Air Force platforms could protect Army ground forces from air attack. However, as a result of global events over the past two decades, the Army found itself at high risk from aerial attack, as well as increasingly vulnerable to rocket, artillery, and mortar fire.

This is a symptom of a bigger problem: the philosophy of pragmatism that rests at the core of American bourgeois society. Due to its short-sightedness, the service waited too long to focus on the individual service members in air defense because top CEOs were too distracted by the record profits they were making off the Patriot Missile System—owned and produced by Raytheon, a defense conglomerate with upwards of $67 billion in annual revenues. The deteriorating state of readiness to meet emergent threats didn’t concern them because it wasn’t hurting their bottom line.

To highlight some of the concerns that drove me to these conclusions, I will explain what I witnessed. My first deployment, we embarked with a strength of 70%, well below the mandated 80% for tours in the Middle East. Years of personnel cuts left the Patriot battery at 70 authorized personnel from the original 100. Sitting in meetings I saw that nearly 60% of every brigade I served suffered from mental health problems. I was a consistent patient of military behavioral health too. Despite chronic problems, I was turned away at times due to the clinic being overwhelmed. The “esteemed” late Senator John McCain even tried to privatize the military health and grocery systems (unsuccessfully).

The capitalist system does not provide the best for everyone. It never did; and it never can. Quality of life in the military is always under attack as the bourgeoisie steal from everyone in search of profits. Just like millions of workers out of uniform, soldiers’ benefits are regularly cut without a commensurate raise. This is seen clearly by simply mapping health and housing benefits against pay raises. Even in their relatively privileged military, the capitalists do not provide consistent healthcare. They have completely hollowed out their own system in the name of profits. The military began privatizing housing on base in the late 1990s, and it’s only gotten worse, plagued with problems like mold due to old and unkempt air conditioning and bad management.

Black Lives Matter Protest Washington, DC
But when push comes to shove, the military cannot be relied on in a domestic crisis. The brass was keenly aware of this in 2020 and hesitated to unleash the National Guard against BLM protestors. / Image: Geoff Livingston, Flickr

As I explained earlier, the modern military is staffed above all with the sons and daughters of the working class. Consequently, their consciousness is divided between camaraderie and duty. Veterans and service members tried to form their own organizations in the past. The VFW, American Legion, and the like reflect the confusion of many service members themselves. In the 1970s, the American Federation of Government Employees even dabbled with forming a union for the all-volunteer service, but these efforts were stopped by Congress, which asserted that “the military is a service, not a job,” in order to blur the class lines.

But when push comes to shove, the military cannot be relied on in a domestic crisis. The brass was keenly aware of this in 2020 and hesitated to unleash the National Guard against BLM protestors, despite Trump’s exhortations. The military has enormous capacity for violence, but it is a tool of last resort because when soldiers are face to face with protestors there is no telling how they will react. Even junior officers and noncommissioned officers cannot be counted upon to follow orders blindly, as my own existence is a testament to. I am perhaps on the extreme end of those who have drawn class-conscious conclusions in the military, but I can guarantee there will be a lot of hesitation among others if they are asked to shoot at ordinary Americans.

Smedley Butler
Smedley Butler understood the essence of capitalist war: “War is a racket. It always has been … A few profit—and the many pay.” Image: USMC Archives, Flickr

Ultimately, veterans’ organizations like the Association of the US Army fall far short of their potential and the high hopes the likes of Smedley Butler had for them. Butler understood the essence of capitalist war better than most: “War is a racket. It always has been … A few profit—and the many pay. But there is a way to stop it. You can’t end it by disarmament conferences. You can’t eliminate it by peace parleys at Geneva. Well-meaning but impractical groups can’t wipe it out by resolutions. It can be smashed effectively only by taking the profit out of war.”

Butler railed against Mussolini and the “gangsters of capital.” He, and many from the Bonus Army even voted for the Socialist Party ticket in 1936 after a disappointing first Roosevelt term. He viewed the VFW as a force to fight against the business control of the American Legion. However, these organizations lack a revolutionary Marxist and class-war background. They fail to acknowledge that what is good for the American bourgeoisie is not in the interest of the American worker or service member—let alone the workers of the world.

This is why I say to my former comrades still in and looking for a way out of the constant crisis and pain: look to the working class! You can change units or deploy, but you cannot escape the way the military works as long as the capitalists are in power. You can stay and fight, or you can leave and fight. Either way, you will eventually have to fight. Only the working class can provide the strength and stability to end the growing crisis of capitalism. Only a revolution can end the forever wars!

As the crisis of capitalism deepens, even the military cannot gloss over the deep class contradictions that permeate every corner of society. We can be supremely confident that once the soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen begin to draw class-conscious conclusions on a mass scale, all bets will be off for the rule of capitalism and imperialism!

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