Fifty years ago this Easter the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was effectively born from demonstrations held outside the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston, Twenty-five years on from Easter 1958, CND (and similar movements) had risen again, able to mobilise millions onto the streets of capital cities throughout Western Europe in response to a return to cold war US/USSR rhetoric.
During the 50 years of CND's history some things have changed: Trident has replaced Polaris and Faslane submarine base has replaced Greenham Common cruise missile base as the focus for protest. Meanwhile the global nuclear stockpile is now double what it was in 1958, and the number of nuclear states has also more than doubled.
And it wasn't just the badges with the distinctive CND logo that were recycled from the 60s to the 80s: the same kilogrammes of uranium or plutonium from scrapped and ageing warheads have been thoughtfully reused ten years later in the next generation of killing technology.
Despite the laudable aims then – as embodied in their title – the reality of CND is that it has been a front: a cover for the little-known CPPTSRNP (Campaign for Possible Partial, Temporary and Reversible Slowing of the Rate of Nuclear Proliferation). A bit more accurate, if a little clumsy when put on a banner, and hardly a good rallying cry for supporters of course. But CND has, by whatever measure you wish to use, failed. Not through lack of effort of course – no other issue dominated politics throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s.
The parties of the World Socialist Movement are unique in opposing all war – not just certain types of war or certain situations. This is based on a recognition that the interests of the working women and men who usually make up the cannon-fodder and collateral damage of war can never be aligned with states and governments. We oppose the monopoly that the global owning class have over ownership of the Earth's productive resources that are the usual spoils of armed conflict. We see little value therefore in pleading with our rulers to continue their capitalist battles, but to request that they use only this or that weapon.
In the Socialist Party we were sometimes told by CND supporters that there just wasn't enough time to work for socialism: there were only weeks or months left to stop nuclear annihilation and that objective had to be the priority. Thankfully that prediction proved to not be the case. But it is a common objection to the case for socialism, that there is some immediate more pressing campaign that – with just one final shove – will be won, and only then can we start to look to changing the basis of society.
The history of movements to reform one part or another of capitalism has been a history of failure in the main part. We can choose to tinker at the margins or to get to grips with the problem. We can complain about the symptoms, plead with our rulers, or make the decision to address the cause. The history of CND should give us no confidence that reformism is fit for purpose – certainly not with regard to trying to do away with weapons.
We predict that unless the war machine that is capitalism is politically challenged by a majority – armed with nothing more or less than an understanding of how it works – then in another 50 years we will still have wars raging round the globe, with ever more sophisticated weaponry. And of course, we will still have CND. The choice is between a world to win and a world to lose.