‘Boy Scouts of America: A Capitalist Military Machine’ by Harry Gannes from The Young Worker. Vol. 3 No. 10. May 15, 1924.

‘Boy Scouts of America: A Capitalist Military Machine’ by Harry Gannes from The Young Worker. Vol. 3 No. 10. May 15, 1924.

Three great modern capitalist institutions that becloud and taint the minds of American workers, and especially the youth, originated in the Classical country of capitalism, England. They are the Salvation Army, the Young Men’s Christian Association and the Boy Scouts. When transplanted to the United States, all of these movements sank their roots deep into the exploited masses and grew to proportions far larger than their parent bodies in the British Empire.

We are for the moment mainly concerned with that organization in this country that claims 500,000 boys within its ranks, the Boy Scouts of America.

It is not widely advertised that the Boy Scouts were organized by Colonel Baden-Powell in 1908 as a military unit. During the Boer war in Africa, Colonel Baden-Powell discovered that the ill-trained, weak, battered-bodied English proletarians made very poor soldiers. The founder of the Boy Scouts conceived the idea of training the working youth while still very young to become efficient cannon fodder.

Begin as Military Group.

In 1910 the germs of the future boy army were planted on American soil, and the organization began to grow very rapidly. Colonel Baden-Powell paid a visit to the American branch of his military invention, and on that occasion he said to the leaders of the Boy Scout movement: “Gentlemen, it is more than gratifying to see how the organization is progressing immediately it is put in the hands of business men who are interested.”

So very, very early the boy military machine was put into the right hands, was put into the control of the men who own the country.

Right at its beginning the Boy Scouts received most of their money from capitalists, mainly from Wall street financiers. This is no! denied by the officials of the Boy Scouts, tho they try to cover it up. In a letter from one of the chief scout executives to a scout official we read that “in the early history of the movement (Boy Scouts) the limited budget for national work was met largely by contributions given by men of means thruout the country, but principally from New York City.”

“A Boy Scout—In the Making”, John Sloan, The Masses, 1911.

Since its initiation, the Boy Scouts of America has co-operated with every anti-labor organization in the country. The Rotary clubs, the Kiwanis, Lions, Y.M.C.A. and the Chambers of Commerce are particularly good friends of the Boy Scouts.

The boys within the Boy Scouts are mainly children of the working class. The boys of the toiling masses are tricked into joining the Boy Scouts by all sorts of inducements and promises. Co-operating with the Boy Scouts is nearly every institution of the government, the church and the press.

Get Reactionaries’ Support.

Recently, especial stress has been’ laid on the importance of building and fostering the Boy Scout movement. Every capitalist in the country who was not too busy counting his money at the moment joined in helping to militarize the youth than the Boy Scouts. Barron Collier of New York had 60,000 street car cards printed and in which General Pershing, Elbert, H. Gary, of 12-hour day exploitation fame: Charles E. Hughes, bewhiskered secretary of state and champion American anti-Bolshevik, joined with Sammie Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor, in calling upon the American noys to join the Boy Scouts, and asking the workers to give it their aid. Thousands of columns of newspaper publicity were and are given to the organization without charge.

Why are the capitalist press. Wall street and the American Legion so deeply interested in the development of the Boy Scouts? The war demonstrated that the Boy Scouts of America can be used as one of the most efficient military units available. In peace, the Boy Scouts make themselves useful as a scab organization as well as an instrument for anti-working class propaganda.

When first organized the Boy Scouts of America insisted that it was not military. But its military nature is becoming so obvious that it now hides under the phrase that it is not militaristic nor anti-military, but “it is, however, patriotic.” To state that it is not militaristic is in every sense of the word a direct lie.

Are They Militarist? Oh, No!

Congress permits the Boy Scouts of America to wear the uniforms of the United States Army, Navy or Marines; the Boy Scout drills are based on regulation army and navy manuals. During the war the Boy Scouts mobilized within 24 hours—for war! “Many scout officials, scoutmasters and scouts entered the army, navy or marine corps during the war…” The New York Military Training Commission recognized the military character of the Boy Scouts when it permitted the boys in that organization to be exempted from military training, “in view of the character of the work covered by the program of the Boy Scouts of America.”

Flags and uniforms.

Over 100 regular army and navy men are scoutmasters, and there are 361 government employes helping to organize Scouts. Training room for the Boy Scouts is provided in over 51 armories in the United States, while 43 Chambers of Commerce see to it that the embryo army has proper drilling quarters. Over 50 American Legion posts have Boy Scout units connected with them. The Boy Scouts have been requested by the War Department to co-operate with the citizen’s military training camps in an endeavor to enlist the possible 270,000 recruits.

General Leonard Wood says: “There is no doubt that a boy who makes a good scout will make a good soldier.” Lieutenant-Colonel Lister believes that “from the Boy Scouts the future soldier joins the junior reserve officers’ training corps in high school, then he becomes a member of the senior R.O.T.C.,” and so on until he becomes a full-fledged professional butcher.

Training for Murder.

In many parts of the country the boys take up rifle practice, and in Chicago they are given free ranges, but they must furnish their own bullets. Some day the bodies of the workers will furnish them free targets— unless the working class realizes the true nature of this menace.

Scouts selling ‘Liberty Bonds’ during World War One.

Are the Boy Scouts military? It makes one smile ironically to think of the hokum and bunk that is spread about the makeup of the Boy Scouts. In a few months the War Department will mobilize 400,000 soldiers as a war manoeuvre: in this mimic war the Boy Scouts are counted on to do their share. And when a capitalist war breaks out again, the Boy Scouts will be found in the front ranks.

What “Be Prepared” Means.

The entire psychology of the Boy Scout is the psychology of a slave, of a soldier whose duty it is to “do and die.” The Boy Scout laws are the sloppiest bunch of rot ever stuffed into the mind of boys. They can be boiled down to one word: OBEY. A Boy Scout must obey his master, whoever he be; a Boy Scout must love those who exploit him, and he must fear God. The slogan of the Boy Scouts is; Be Prepared. That slogan has an interesting history. In strikes it means, “Be prepared to break the strike”; in war it means. “Be prepared to fight for the capitalists”; in revolution it means, “Be prepared to stamp out the workers’ revolt in a sea of blood.”

Every section of the ruling class pays strict attention to the Boy Scouts. The factory, mine, mill and bank owners shower them with money. The Laura Spellman Rockefeller Memorial Foundation last year presented this young army with $100,000, and some mysterious source provided a single donation of $500,000. The army officers give the Boy Scouts the benefit of their training and war experience, and Sammie Gompers trails along like the monkey in the show.

Workers Must Fight Scouts.

But the working masses heed not. The average worker is too busy sweating his life away in toil for a livelihood to pay any attention to the youth. Many of the American wage slaves are glad to get rid of their kids in order to get a moment’s peace and rest. But let us hope and work toward the end that the American workers be not awakened by the prodding, blood dripping bayonets of their onetime Boy Scout sons.

The Young Worker was produced by the Young Workers League of America beginning in 1922. The name of the Workers Party youth league followed the name of the adult party, changing to the Young Workers (Communist) League when the Workers Party became the Workers (Communist) Party in 1926. The journal was published monthly in Chicago and continued until 1927. Editors included Oliver Carlson, Martin Abern, Max Schachtman, Nat Kaplan, and Harry Gannes.

For PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/youngworker/v03n10-may-15-1924-opt-yw.pdf

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