Letter: Socialists and Nuclear Disarmament

Dear Comrades,
Although I am a supporter of the S.P.G.B. for the last ten years, it is not my usual practice to write to you whenever I happened to disagree with the Party on minor issues; but now I am compelled to write this letter, because the point I should like to raise here is a very important and a serious one—it is the Party’s relation towards the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (C.N.D.)—I have read your short “A Point of View” (May, 1959). I entirely agree on every point you raised and explained in relation to the cause of war and its remedy; but what I don’t agree, is your attitude towards C.N.D. It crystallizes in one single sentence in the first para. “We hold that the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is on an unsound basis and inevitably leads in the wrong direction.”

I think this tendency to disassociate with a movement of this character and make judgment that it is uon an unsound basis” is due to your incorrect or false evaluation of the social forces. Most of you may be probably still thinking that it is a movement started by a few non socialists like Canon Collins or Michael Foot or Bertrand Russell or perhaps they (the leaders) might be conscious of the dangers of the present situation, but the people in general who follow them have no clear understanding of our society. This view or any other similar view which is trying to picture that movement as if it is completely dominated and controlled by such a leadership, is superficial, grossly incorrect and an oversimplification of the whole social process which brought C.N.D. into being.

New Consciousness
In the first place I should like to point out that it is not the leaders that came before the movement, but the movement armed with a new social consciousness pregnant with a new force of energy, which appeared first and then a set of leaders are born out of that specific social situation. In the last ten years powerful nations on both sides were boasting that they have more effective and better weapons of destruction than the other side. Many influential politicians and military leaders in Britain, Russia and America repeatedly stated that they are developing bigger and better bombs.

Along with this all round boasting they were actually strengthening all their forces of destruction and arming up to the teeth. Almost every aspect of society was alerted. A new awareness or perhaps consciousness began to develop among all sorts of people of the seriousness of the situation in which they are involved. They began to be conscious of the weakness of their social and political institutions which hitherto they supported, to prevent a new world war. They began to doubt the chance of their survival in the nuclear warfare. They felt it is their duty to “revolt” against this ridiculous situation where two great rival nations threaten each other by clenching their fists. It is this new social situation which gave birth to C.N.D. But this new social consciousness is blind. It has no eye to see the barrier in front of it which is to be removed for their survival. As one of the leading members (sociologist?) of the U.L.R. (Universities and Left Review) pointed out it is a “leaderless” movement. Unfortunately what he implied, later in his speech, was that U.L.R. should try to assume its leadership if not of the whole at least its youth section. Hundreds and thousands of people, especially youths, turned up and joined the C.N.D. fully conscious that they need something new, yet they did not know what they wanted!

It is true various types of political factions in C.N.D. are trying to utilize this blind consciousness as a ladder to climb to political power or at least to strengthen their original position, being utterly unaware of the significance of this new development. But it is the Socialists’ duty to move along with them in order to provide them with an eye so that they can see the barrier which stands in their way. In other words, we should try to create a situation so that the Socialist concept, as an eye, should assume the leadership of this new consciousness.

I strongly hold the view that it was our duty, Socialists’ duty, either individually or collectively organized on a party basis, to march along with them with our own banners and slogans and take the opportunity of speaking to such a huge conscious gathering. We lost that opportunity! No Collins or Foots or Taylors can claim even the partial control or ownership of a movement of this character. Nor does it belong to them. It belongs to the whole society. In my view this kind of participation in C.N.D. is only a logical extension of what we had already been doing—selling our literature, discussing with non Socialist marchers etc. Now I begin to feel that it is this type of social isolation or regimentation of S.P.G.B. from the rest of the conscious and militant social forces (as Rosa Luxemburg indignantly pointed out about another aspect—the relation between the masses and the political leadership) which makes our unassailable case ineffective instead of being a powerful political force.
H. J. Panikkar.


We regret that Mr. Panikkar’s letter was too long to publish in full.

During its 55 years of existence, the Socialist Party of Great Britain has seen many organisations which like the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, have been pledged to abolish a particular evil of capitalist society. The hunger marchers and the pacifists of the 1930’s were described as movements “armed with a new social consciousness.” Today, members of Road Safety Committees can possibly be described in the same way— at least their death statistics are less in dispute than those of the C.N.D. In truth, as capitalism throws up problems, so it throws up organisations which try to deal with one or more of them in isolation. There is no doubt about the sincerity of some of these movements, or that they concern themselves with very real and terrifying matters. But because they do not demand an understanding of the roots of the problems, their efforts are doomed to futility.

Because of this socialists have no place in these organisations. But this does not prevent them stating, at every possible opportunity, the socialist attitude to such horrors as war. We do not isolate ourselves from our opponents, we are always eager to put our case to them. Mr. Panikkar cannot have missed, on page 78 of the May Socialist Standard, the account of our activities at the last Aldermaston March. This is typical of S.P.G.B. work, whatever non-socialist organisation we are dealing with.

Weapons of war are inseparable from war itself. To abolish them, we must get rid of war. These are caused by the clash of interests between groups of capitalists who want to protect or exploit markets and fields of valuable natural wealth. The need to do this is the result of the fact that, in capitalist society, goods and services are produced with the motive of profitable sale. Obviously, each group will strive to arm itself more powerfully—which means more destructively—than its opponents. Hence the development of modern weapons and the horrors of nuclear warfare. We can solve this problem by abolishing private property. Only a socialist movement can effectively advocate this.

In contrast, the C.N.D. is in favour of the continuation of capitalism. It does not even oppose capitalism’s wars, but wants them to be gentlemanly affairs in which people are killed by conventional armaments. Even on the score of nuclear weapons, the C.N.D. is confused. Many of its members support the return of another Labour government—yet the last one started the British H-bomb and missile programmes. This confusion is typical of organisations which may be well meaning, but lack the essential knowledge with which every socialist is equipped. Mr. Panikkar claims that C.N.D. members are “. . . conscious of the weakness of their social and political institutions . . . to prevent a new world war.” Our guess is that the next election will see them voting for the very political parties which administer the capitalist basis of those social and political institutions.

Marches and demonstrations are glamourous and exciting. Alongside, our insistence on knowledge may seem rather dull. But the marchers are going to dissension and futility. The socialist movement alone offers the world any hope.


Leave a Reply