Easter Sunday and we are standing at the roadside between London Airport and Hounslow. Standing in spring sunshine edged by a cold wind blowing across the subtopia
of Hounslow Heath. The traffic is humming along in unending stream, intent upon its own Eastertide massacre.
Small, expectant crowds gather, staring down the road to Aldermaston. Suddenly, the marchers appear, black banners tossing
in the wind. They have the appropriate, pilgrimage atmosphere, with people falling in and out of the column, adding to the Indian contingent a lot of white faces and mixing young females with the section which, by its banner proclaiming “Eton Boys,” would have us believe that the famous school is in revolt. It is these youngsters who catch the eye. Are their funny hats, weird hairstyles and beards a substitute for argument? Or colourful manifestations of sincerity? Their political development seems to be youthfully low.
Yet there is some comfort in this march. After the barren years of the delinquents, large numbers of young people seem to be getting active in a movement of protest against a social problem. Comfort, yes. How much?
The marchers are a mixed bunch, ranging from Communists to Unitarians, but all united (at least on the surface) against nuclear weapons. We should remember that “Ban the Bomb!” is only the latest cry of the Communists, who have shouted their way from demands for “Second Front Now!” to ”Peace!” Anyway, they are only opposed to nuclear weapons this side of a line through Eastern Europe. Of the others, pacifist groups like the Quakers have at least stated an opposition to all wars. We are left with those who are more concerned with the Bomb than with war itself.
To these we say, simply and clearly: H-Bombs or blunderbusses, or any other weapons, are the expression of technical social skill manifested in the field of war. Wars are caused by the conflict between capitalist groups over raw materials, markets, zones of influence and profit. Get rid of capitalist society and we have rooted out the cause of war. Then social skills can be applied to society’s benefit instead of to its destruction.
For years, Socialists have been urged to neglect the case for a new society and join the general clamour against some current evil. This has been the argument of, among others, the tail end of the pro-Boer left wingers, the United Free lrelanders, the supporters of Colonial Freedom, the pro-Soviet-anti-Fascist groups and a host of movements for simple Peace and Plenty. In I960, after the De Valeras, the Nkrumahs and the Verwoerds, we can see how shallow were the arguments for these causes. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament will go the way of the rest.
For demonstrations, of course, are nothing new. The over-40’s will remember the many pre-war occasions, their slogans fierce and denouncing compared to the Aldermaston youngsters piping, “We ain’t gonna study war no more!” The police were more numerous in the 20’s and 30’s, now, they follow the anti-nuclear marchers in a motor coach. But for all the changes, the reformist arguments are the same.
And will these marchers go the way of the pre-war demonstrators? Will they become bemused by full employment, settle down with a little car, a little house and a large mortgage? Become humdrum ratepayers, respectfully voting for the respectable party? We have seen it all before.
The need for Socialist propaganda is greater than ever, to urge people to look deeply into the terrible problems of capitalist society, deeper than the slogans and the banners. As they swing away down the road, that is the thought the Aldermaston marchers leave with, at any rate, one of their observers.