Eight Years of CND
For CND the great days are over. Nowadays, almost the only sign that it ever existed is the annual Easter demonstration. And yet, in its day the campaign made a terrific impact on the British political scene. Its slogan and adopted symbol were universally recognised; it was half of an argument which split the mighty Labour Party from top to bottom and which consistently hogged the headlines and correspondence columns of the National Press.
CND was the marvel of a time notorious for its political apathy, but the wonder is not that it happened at all, rather why it took so long to materialise. From the moment Rutherford split the atom it became simply a question of time before the warlike, capitalist society would utilise this new source of energy for its own destructive ends.
Nevertheless, those thirteen years between Hiroshima and the formal launching of CND need some explaining. After 1945, most people felt that the Bomb would never be used again. The “aggressors” had been vanquished and anyway only the USA possessed the secret. The outbreak of the cold war plus Russia’s entry into the Nuclear Club aroused fears which were aggravated by the Korean conflict and the development and subsequent testing of the vastly more powerful H-Bomb.
With the Lucky Dragon episode the volume of protest gathered force during the early ‘fifties. Later on, literature and the cinema reflected this trend; Robert Jungk’s book Brighter Than A Thousand Suns, set many a mind working, while the film, Hiroshima Mon Amour, evoked horror by its display of grossly mutated children born of parents who were radiation victims.
Anti-nuclear groups sprang up everywhere and the Suez affair in 1956, helped swell the ranks. The same year, Khrushchev’s revelations about Stalin’s Russia, followed by the brutal suppression of the Hungarian uprising, brought new recruits already well versed in the business of protest. Likewise, disgruntled “left-wingers” saw in the disarmers a lever with which to alter Labour’s defence policy. Add to these religious groups, Anarchists, etc., and we have the ingredients of what eventually emerged as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in February, 1958.
But the majority were not politically involved at all. Mostly, they came from what is wrongly called a “middle-class-background”—Teachers, Students, Clerks. They were not even social reformers, accepting the world more or less as it was, with one reservation—Nuclear weapons Many did not even oppose conventional weapons, considering these, at any rate, necessary to defend “our” country. Alex Comfort, a prominent Campaigner, summed up this attitude at the inaugural meeting when he said .. .
“If we are asked, as we will be, ‘What is your alternative? How else do you think this country should be defended?’ We may indeed propose alternative policies. But we are bound to reply, ‘Whatever policy may be right, this one (Nuclear weapons) is wrong’.” This simplicity of aim was epitomised in the slogan which, today. CND is trying to forget—“Ban the Bomb.”
So CND was united by the slenderest of threads and even then only sometimes. The Communist Party, for instance, was prepared to march against the Bomb—provided it was British or American. When Russia resumed testing in 1961, CND held a protest demonstration in Glasgow culminating in an attempt to hand a petition to a visiting Russian Diplomat. The Communists were conspicuous by their absence.
And although the British Party’s Report of its 1963 Conference could say … “We deplore the tendency of the peace movement to divide, to break up into rival groups on questions of tactics in the struggle,” it did not mention that the Japanese Party had just split the movement in Japan by refusing to condemn Russian tests as well as American.
It seemed to them that they must succeed, as even the famous—scientists, entertainers, clergymen—added to the clamour for Britain to unilaterally renounce nuclear weapons.
Indeed, the point was reached where CND could claim that a third of the population shared their view, but significantly this opinion was never tested at the Polls. The reason is not hard to find. Many of the campaign’s supporters were committed to the various political Parties and it was to these, in the final analysis, that they owed their allegiance.
A Mr. Feltz discovered this when he considered standing as an official unilateralist at Barnet at the General Election. He subsequently stood down because he found . . . “CND supporters’ loyalties greatly divided. After I had addressed them, I received a telephone call saying they had decided not to alienate themselves from the Labour Party.” (Guardian, 21/2/64). More recently, various CND’ers were engaged in a public squabble over whether or not to support the Labour candidate at the Hull North By-election.
This pre-occupation with the Labour Party provides the key to the Campaign’s efforts to win that Party over to its point of view. If 1960 was CND’s high-point then this was because of its “victory” at the Labour Conference that year, when a unilateralist resolution, backed by leaders of several of the largest Trade Unions, won a majority of votes.
Those CND supporters in the unions were illogical. They knew that, in this jungle-world of conflicting economic interests Nation and Nation, Employers and Employers, are engaged in an endless struggle. All very well Ted Hill of the Boilermakers prattling about Britain facing the world “armed only with moral dignity of purpose,” but he had no answer to his opponents’ invitation to try negotiating with the Employers on the same basis.
Predictably, Gaitskell and the majority of Labour MP’s, recognised a sure-fire vote-loser when they saw one, refused to accept the verdict and by organising a little more efficiently easily reversed the vote the following year. Many CND’ers, dismayed by this, turned to non-democratic action such as sabotage, and when this failed to produce results, dwindled away to the extent that a much-ballyhooed National demonstration at Faslane in 1964 could muster a mere seven hundred supporters.
To-day, CND simply does not know where it stands. The initial idea of unilateralism has been replaced by policies which are extremely vague; its one-time adherents are hiving-off to the futility of reformist politics or to frustrated inactivity.
Has CND achieved nothing, then? What about the Test Ban Treaty? Campaigners like to think that their activities influenced the great powers to agree to a cessation of testing, but the facts are that both sides stopped testing only because each saw it as being in its own interests to do so. Mr. MacNamara, the American Secretary of Defence, claimed that the Moscow Treaty meant that the USA . . . “can at least retard Soviet progress and prolong the duration of our technical superiority.’’ The Russian Government denied this, insisting that it was they who stood to gain in a military sense from the Treaty (Guardian, 14/8/63).
Whatever happens, if one side feels it is losing on the deal, then the tests will be restarted notwithstanding the most solemn pledges.
Can we not even agree that whatever its faults, CND fulfilled a useful function by drawing attention to one of Capitalism’s horrors? But the Bomb was too big an issue to be ignored forever and for CND to claim all the credit for the growing awareness is to emulate the Rooster who imagined his crowing brought the Sun up every morning.
And could we not, by joining the March, have used the opportunity to gain recruits? Actually, we did gain new members without marching a single step; we did this by simply selling our literature and discussing. More important, we played no part in perpetuating an organisation which we knew to be wrong and would inevitably lead to disillusion on a grand scale.
Always, there are groups in protest against some aspect or other of this social system. CND’ers come into this category. They leave intact the very thing which spawned nuclear weapons—the private property basis of Capitalism—so their cause is hopeless.
Supposing the Bomb could be banned. If two Nations, possessing the necessary technical knowledge, should quarrel seriously enough over the things wars are really fought for— markets, sources of raw materials, strategic Bases, etc—and even supposing they commenced fighting with “conventional,” “moral” weapons, would not the losing side set its scientists to producing nuclear weapons in order to stave off defeat? If history is anything to go by, the side which was winning would use the Bomb and justify this by claiming it had brought hostilities to a speedier conclusion.
It would require several volumes to deal with every “solution” which CND’ers have dreamt-up over the years. From World Government or alignment with the “uncommitted Nations” (some strange bedfellows in this lot), to “disengagement” and the farcical “Steps Towards Peace,” every straw has been clutched at.
Anyway, even if it were possible, Capitalism minus the Bomb would not solve the problem of war; a world based on the common ownership of the means of wealth production, alone, will do that. So, being after something fundamentally different, we have no alternative but to oppose CND.
One final point. We do not deny the sincerity of many campaigners; the energy and ingenuity they displayed in tackling a job they considered important provided further proof that once working men and women get on the right track Capitalism’s days are numbered.