CND: No Safety in Numbers

The increasing threat of nuclear war has brought new life to CND. It enabled them, in late October, to stage one of the biggest and most impressive demonstrations London has ever seen. Other large-scale activity is planned for the future. To objections that it has all been tried before and shown not to succeed, CND reply that its campaign in the late fifties and early sixties did not have the widespread informed support from all sections of the population that it has now and that with such mass support and determined activity it can succeed in getting the British government to abandon its nuclear arms.


But can CND succeed this time? If there are certain differences between the last campaign and this one, what has not changed is CND’s concern not with the reasons wars break out but with the likely effects a third world war would have. This failure to look at the underlying causes of war is a fatal flaw in anti-war movements like CND — no matter how much support they may get.


If CND did look closely at the causes of war, they would see that a nuclear war — like other kinds — would not be started by irresponsible leaders or a clash of ideologies. A nuclear war would be caused in just the same way as other wars have been, and are being, caused in the modern world — by a government or governments taking military measures to protect the markets, trade routes or sources of raw materials owned by the small privileged minorities which own most of the wealth in their countries. In short, a third world war would be caused, as were the first two, by economic rivalries between competing capitalist classes and would break out when other means (diplomacy, threats, and so on) of settling these rivalries have failed. Governments will give reasons based on personalities, individual incidents or ideologies to justify fighting wars; but when examined closely this can be seen as camouflage. The true motivations are economic — protection of the interests of their capitalist class.


If CND saw this, perhaps they would see the futility of asking governments which function — as they must — to look after their owning class, to give up their best weapons. To ask a government to get rid of its nuclear weapons is to ask it to get rid of its best means of being taken seriously by its competitors.


In these circumstances, to ask a government, as do CND, to declare itself “neutral” is to make a demand unlikely to be met. The owning class in Britain has too much to lose. But would even “neutrality” be a guarantee of safety in the event of a nuclear conflict between the big powers? History shows that it would not. The “neutrality” of Belgium and Norway in the last war, for example, did not save those countries from being invaded when the Germans found it strategically necessary.


Even if we indulge the CND fantasy for a moment and imagine not only Britain but all countries banning nuclear weapons, would this make the world safe? Rather than safe it would leave us armed to the teeth with deadly conventional weapons which, during the ‘peacetime’ period since 1945, have killed twenty million people in 130 different wars.


Instead of campaigning for the abolition of certain kinds of weapons within a system that is necessarily geared to war, we should be campaigning for a different kind of system, one that excludes the possibility of war completely. Instead of allowing their emotions to be stirred by being among massive crowds and hearing dramatic rousing speeches, CND supporters would do better to mull over whether their activity, whatever its sincerity, energy and commitment, serves any real purpose. They might also consider whether they wouldn’t do better to use their energies in a movement actively engaged in spreading the idea of a classless, frontierless world based on free access and voluntary co-operation, a world in which weapons and war, an inevitable feature of the present economic set-up, would serve no purpose and have no place.


Howard Moss