Why I Left CND

I was one of the enthusiastic teenage supporters of CND who took part in the 1964 Easter March. That was the last year I marched, because by Easter 1965 I had ceased supporting CND and had become a member of the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

It is difficult to recall when I first became attracted to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. I think I was automatically thrown into sympathy with it by the foolish outlook of many of its fiercest opponents. 1 was visiting London one Easter, saw the March pass through Trafalgar Square and was surprised by the huge number of marchers. Later I bought CND pamphlets from a “Communist” bookshop. One in particular impressed me—Win We Must by Bertrand Russell. This decided me to join my local CND group.

I went on public demonstrations, sold the CND organ Sanity and frequently argued about war with members of the public. As well as arguments with supporters of the deterrent theory (the “we’ve-got-to-have-it-as-long-as-they’ve-got-it” gang) there were arguments within CND. One of the biggest blows to the “Peace Movement” was the Moscow Test Ban Treaty, after which it became an unsurprising experience to hand someone a pamphlet and be told; “Haven’t you heard, mate? They’ve already banned it?”

From the outset one of the biggest weaknesses of CND was that its supporters had no clear idea of what it was all about, and where they did have clear ideas, these were in opposition to the clear ideas of other supporters. I don’t mean that they were altogether ignorant of the facts of nuclear war. Quite the contrary: the public image of the CND supporter who wears the badge merely because of the dope-peddling and copulation on the Easter March is mostly fiction. I found the average active CND man was better informed about politics than his opponent. What I do mean is that the objects and principles of CND were not always very precise, and where they were there always existed sections of the supporters which were trying to extend them or tone them down. CND has no official membership, and supporters include Pacifists, Anarchists, “Communists,” Trotskyists, Conservatives, Labourites and Liberals—plus many other groups, and even more who have no party affiliation. Each of these sections accepts the principle of leadership, in fact approval of this principle is axiomatic to CND policy. Naturally, therefore, each section tries to pull in its direction the entire organisation.

Perhaps the main broad division is between what we could call the Pacifist-Anarchist wing, and those more interested in the preservation of Britain as a matter of expediency. I was definitely in the latter camp. On the Pacifist side it was pointed out that nuclear weapons were no longer the most fearsome available, and that as weapons of war could not be rigidly classified on the basis of destructive power it was not reasonable to see the banning of some weapons as more important than the banning of the rest of them. I can now see there was more in these arguments than I had supposed. H-bombs are NOT to be seen as divorced from other sorts of armaments. They have their own particular features but there is no longer anything peculiar about their destructive powers. They are simply weapons. They cannot be lifted out of the context of weapons as a whole, neither can weapons be lifted out of the context of the social system which produces them. This was one of the many awkward questions left to fester in my mind, slapped down for the moment with the stop-gap argument that nuclear weapons should be especially opposed because they were not only a means of war, but also—due to the “instant retaliation” policies of Russia and the US and the probability of war by accident—a possible cause of it.

The Committee of 100 (which is often confused with CND. There is no official connection between the two) began to crystalise an ideology, based on the concept of the “nonviolent society.’’ I dismissed this as mere idealism, though in fact it was the natural corollary of an obvious train of reasoning: we want disarmament. How are we to enforce it? Obviously by something more than a treaty, since treaties can be broken at will. We need something more fundamental. Go on thinking like this for a bit and you will start to consider the cause of war. Had I thought more analytically from the outset and gone straight to the question “What causes war?” instead of wasting time over silly red herrings like disarmament treaties, neutral initiatives, UNO etc., I should never have supported CND. What it comes to is this: if the human race is to survive in peace, the very antagonisms which create war, or even the machinery of war, must be removed.

However, my thoughts ‘didn’t follow this chain, because I didn’t accept the first link: that there is no way of enforcing disarmament between nations. I thought it could be done, as outlined in Russell’s Has Man A Future? by means of world government, or at least a super-UN. It should have occurred to me that if we can persuade nations to give up a tremendous part of their sovereignty to a world authority it should be an easy job to get them to perform the’ much less demanding task of refraining from annihilating each other.

But this point was glossed over by another piece of Russell’s reasoning which seemed to me perfectly valid at the time: that the interests of nations lay in co-operation. Russell used to say that Russia and America had ninety-nine per cent of their aims in common, and it was silly of them to destroy each other for the sake of the remaining one per cent. He called on the nations to treat the prospect of war as he thought they would the possibility of being exterminated by a comet from outer space—by uniting together to oppose what was threatening them all. By this very analogy he gives the real key to the situation. War is not a comet from outer space. The whole point about war is that it does not come from outer space, but from the social system which exists on Earth.

It is easy for the non-Socialist to fall into the error of thinking that it is in the nation’s interest to co-operate. This is because he identifies the nation with the people. In fact the nation is not the people; it is the capitalist class and its machinery of coercion. The people—ninety per cent of them —are not the nation. They are the nation’s employees, the working-class who have no country. It is certainly in the interests of all the peoples of the world to co-operate. But it is not in the interests of all the nations of the world to co-operate. It is not in any nation’s interest to combine with another nation, except to form a supra-national bloc in order more effectively to assault other nations or blocs.

CND supporters stress the importance of “escalation,” and quite rightly so. Escalation is the process by which relatively minor conflicts develop into major conflicts, because of the ever-increasing force which each side finds it necessary to bring into the field to equal and overcome the other. It is a pity people can’t take their realisation of escalation a stage further and see that it is present at the very genesis of war. Military conflict is an escalation from economic conflict. War, it has been said, is fought for vital interests. The trouble is that the same thing is likely to be a vital interest to more than one nation at a time. It is rather naive in these circumstances to discover which nation actually possesses the particular interest (i.e. which nation managed to steal it first) and label the other nation the “aggressor.”

A lot of people talk as though there is nothing really at stake in a war, as though wars were caused by “arrogance” or “hatred” or the desire not to lose face. Russell even compares brinkmanship policies to the American teenagers’ game of “chicken” on the motorways. Surely it should be evident that wars are fought over something, that they are not just misfortunes, that something is at stake.

However at the time when I came into contact with the Socialist Party I was a convinced follower of Russell, of CND and (with reservations) the Labour Party. I first heard of the Socialist Party about four years ago. 1 saw the name in a Central Government textbook giving voting figures for all the parties at general elections, then I saw the advert in Sanity. I asked a Communist Party friend of mine what the party was, and he replied inaccurately: “The Trots.” Later I met members of the Birmingham branch.

At first I was inclined to scoff. It is somewhat difficult acclimatising oneself to the idea that a party of 600-odd members can be right, and nearly everyone else wrong. I already called myself a Socialist, of course. By this I meant something rather vague, to do with support of the “left-wing” of the Labour Party.

My main objections to the Socialist Party were: first, I thought nationalisation was a step towards Socialism, I saw the increase of state control throughout the world as a praiseworthy thing I ought to support (whether through the Labour Party, the Communist Party or some other body I considered merely a matter of tactics). Second, I could not appreciate the Socialist Party’s opposition to CND and other disarmament groups, which I thought had great potential influence for peace. I would say (as scores of people have said to me since): “Let’s make sure of our survival first, then we can decide on the system of society.” (As though the two had nothing to do with each other.)

The answers to these points are, of course, first that state ownership is a device for running society more smoothly in the interests of the capitalist class; second that Capitalism is the cause of modern warfare. Capitalism without war is as absurd a proposition as a deciduous forest without dead leaves.

Any effort expended on reforms is effort unexpended on revolution. When we consider that parties which have started out for revolution and “immediate aims” have ended up with no revolution and immediate aims gone sour, we realise what a wild goose chase the pursuit of reforms is, even if they are connected with something as vital as the possible end of civilisation. The only way to prevent war is to establish Socialism.

David Ramsay Steele

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