1980s >> 1980 >> no-912-august-1980

Has CND learnt nothing?

The eminent historian, Professor E. P. Thompson, is not a very foolish man, although the eminent Catholic preacher, Monsignor Bruce Kent, undoubtedly is. Yet both of them have combined their energies to lead the re-enactment of what must be the most pious and futile reformist campaign of the twentieth century: the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. At its peak, in the mid-sixties, 100,000 marchers could be rallied by CND to express their opposition to nuclear arms. The result of the marching and the songs of protest and the moral cries for peace had all the potency of Canute before the waves: governments went on stockpiling arms of ever-increasing ferocity in their effort to expand and protect their areas of capitalist domination.

Leading Labour politicians were among the ranks of CND in the sixties, but what became of their pacifist sentimentalities when in office? The Labour Party, just like their Tory rivals, is forced to run the squalid military operations of the system it presides over when in power. While in opposition, opportunists like Joan Lestor and Michael Foot commit the next Labour government to all kinds of futile, but vote-catching reforms: they promise to remove Cruise missiles and to spend no more than at present on nuclear bombs. Even if the hypocrites break with tradition and do what they have promised, the world will be no closer to peace and security. Opposition to certain kinds of militarism is not enough. The widespread loss of civilian lives at Dresden in 1945 was no less atrocious because it was carried out by “conventional”, rather than nuclear, warfare; the military threat in Ireland is not diffused because only bricks and bullets are commonly used; all wars are damaging to the health and safety of the working class, whether they are based upon nuclear warheads or bows and arrows. Instead of attempting to eradicate militarism, CND merely seek to limit it.

The pleas of workers to their governments to stop nuclear armaments failed on the last occasion and they will fail this time. In 1960 the first issue of the journal, International Socialism claimed

The Campaign (for Nuclear Disarmament) has been successful in two ways. It has been outstanding in that, year by year, it has brought more people into the anti-Bomb protest, doing today what the slump did between the two World Wars in the matter of baptising (sic) a new generation with political realities. Less successfully but of at least equal importance, it has edged, be it ever so cautiously and suspiciously, towards the centre of alternative power in our Bomb-ridden society.

Naive idealism of this sort was harshly exposed in the years to come. For the Aldermarston marchers of the sixties strode on to the complacent reformism of the Labour Party, the pro-Russian unilateralism of the Communist Party, the adventurism of anarchism, the sentimentality of “flower power”, or mere cynical respectability. Most of the participants in CND learned little about what causes war: they did not go on to challenge the centre of social power (or even know where it was); they did not stop a single working class life from being lost in a war. Indeed, many of those whose moral pacifism took them into CND in the early sixties found themselves supporting one of the armies in the Vietnam war a few years later. There are currently 5,000 paid-up members of CND (Guardian, 23.6.80) and recruitment may be expected to rise rapidly in the months ahead. The recruits will generally be quite sincere workers whose attitude to socialism is that it sounds like a good idea, but that it is hopelessly Utopian. But their hope for a capitalist system without war is the real Utopia and as Karl Marx wisely observed in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, when historical events happen twice they happen “the first time as tragedy and the second as farce.”

A leading player in the CND farce Act II will be the Communist Party, the historical role of which has been to defend the turns and somersaults in Kremlin foreign policy. In 1945, when atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Communist parties of Europe unequivocally condoned that mass destruction of working class life as a means of defeating one of the national adversaries of Russia. L’Unita, the paper of the Italian CP, observed at the time, in an article entitled In The Service Of Civilisation,

The news that an atomic bomb was dropped by the American Air Force has made an enormous impression throughout the whole world, and has been received on all sides with a sense of panic and condemnation. This shows, it seems to us, a curious psychological perversion and a doctrinaire obedience to a form of abstract humanitarianism.

Earlier in 1945 The Daily Worker, paper of the British CP, was blatantly suggesting that

The employment of the new weapon on a substantial scale should expedite the surrender of Japan. Valuable lives in the Allied nations will have been saved by the new discovery.

 

No member of the Communist Party is entitled to cry in moral indignation about the callous murder of millions of Japanese workers in 1945, for their party had been the cynical advocates of such action.

 

It was only after 1945 that the CP changed its mind about the Bomb, but not because of any “abstract humanitarianism”. The reason was that once the Cold War commenced, the echoers of the Kremlin feared American superiority in military technology. Fear of Russian disadvantage in a war against America is why the Communist Party of Great Britain supported CND and the policy of unilateral disarmament. Those who oppose war have a duty to expose the grotesque expenditure of resources on arms by the Warsaw Pact no less than NATO.

 

Even some members of the CP have recently been forced to take up a more critical attitude towards Russian state capitalism. But such occasional criticism (however mild) has alienated many of the hard-line CP Stalinists, who split from the party in 1978 to form the New Communist Party. This new party is also pledged to support the revived CND, although one detects from their pamphlet, Anti-Sovietism—How To Tight It And Why, that their concern for disarmament is somewhat one-sided. The pamphlet tells us that the urgent task of the world working class is to defend the USSR from attack (p. 3), that the Russian tanks which invaded the streets of Prague in 1968 were merely intended to defeat “counterrevolutionary attempts to turn back the clock and reinstate capitalism” (p. 6) and that Russian workers “will never be drawn irresponsibly into war, or used as pawns in the interests of imperialism” (p. 11). The NCP is just the pro-Russian equivalent of the Tory party; all patriots, be they of the Left, Right or Centre, are betrayers of the working class interest.

 

Socialists oppose all war
It is a creditable boast that the Socialist Party of Great Britain is the sole political organisation in this country to have consistently opposed every war thrown up by capitalism. This is not because we are moral pacifists, but because as Marxist materialists we ask one question about all wars: In whose interest are we being asked to fight? In the wars of the profit system, we are urged — often compelled by law — to risk death and mutilation in a battle between rival capitalist interests over the ownership and control of raw materials, markets and strategic locations. As the working class does not stand to gain from the expansion of their masters’ power, the one policy for class conscious workers is to refuse to fight in any capitalist war. The socialist objective goes beyond the negative refusal to fight: we stand for the removal of the root cause of war—the system of capitalism which is the cause of all modern social problems.

 

Socialists share the fears expressed by many members of CND that sophisticated means of killing may be used to wipe out whole sections of the human race. Who can think without fear of the

 

fact that the British government — a relatively small military power — is currently spending £1.3 million an hour on so-called defence? Who can read the HMSO Civil Defence leaflet, Protect and Survive, and feel anything but hatred for a “civilisation” which can soberly contemplate such brutal destruction? In the section of the leaflet entitled Challenge to Survival we are informed that

 

Everything within a certain distance of a nuclear explosion will be totally destroyed. Even people living outside the area will be in danger from heat and blast and fall-out.

 

As for the “lucky” survivors:

 

After a nuclear attack there will be a short period before fall-out starts to descend. Go around the house and put out any small fires. If anyone’s clothing catches fire, lay them on the floor and roll them in a blanket . . .  If a death occurs while you are confined in the Fall-Out room, place the body in another room and confine it as securely as possible. Attach an identification.

 

Those workers who join CND want a future without nuclear fall-out. But they are hopelessly wrong if they believe that CND or any other peace campaign will avert the threat which they fear. The fight against warfare can only be practical if linked to the democratic political fight for a new social order in which the means of living are owned and controlled by the whole community. To die for capitalism would be tragic; to live in the belief that capitalism can be humanised is pathetic; to organise for socialism is our only hope.

 

Steve Coleman