The first ban-the-bomb march from Aldermaston to London took place at Easter 50 years ago. We reprint here a leaflet we put out for the 1961 CND March.
“Writing only a few years after the end of the second world war and witnessing on every hand the active preparations for another on an even more gigantic scale, it is not necessary to emphasise that war is literally an issue of life and death for men, women and children in every part of the globe. Nor is it necessary to prove at length that another war may be immeasurably more destructive of life and the means of sustaining life than were the wars from which the human race has suffered already during the present century. Everybody who takes even a casual interest in news of the atom and hydrogen bombs and other weapons of mass destruction of cities and peoples has received some impression of the agonising fate that may be in store for all the centres of civilisation if the Powers again come into armed conflict.” (From Socialist Party and War, June 1950).
Ten years ago the writer stood on a Socialist Party platform in a North London suburb, flourishing a copy of the “Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.” The atomic scientists had written with concern – many with disgust – about the horrible effects of the weapon (conceived in 1942), which in desperate haste, the American Government was developing in an attempt to maintain its atomic supremacy – the “Hydrogen Bomb.”
Few stopped to listen. People did not want to hear about nuclear weapons or war or politics. They had had their fill. The piteous agonies of the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were relatively unknown and their import not understood. Such knowledge tormented only an insignificant few who lacked the resources to make known all the terrors of the past and the perils of the future. Others even more knowledgeable, such as the Labour Cabinet, under Mr Attlee, whose representative was present at the bombing of Nagasaki, quietly arranged the making of a British atomic bomb – thereby smoothing the way for nuclear weapon development under the Conservatives. The so-called Communists who in 1945 had called for further attacks on Japan, were engaged in nullifying the Western monopoly of atomic striking power by a hypocritical “Ban the Bomb” campaign.
Later, in 1954, the tragic incident of the Japanese fishermen aroused the anger of millions in Japan and stirred many thousands in other countries to protest. In Britain information about the nature of atomic weapons was gradually assimilated and after a number of false starts, the National Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapon Tests came into being. From it, in 1958, sprang the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Long before the emergence of the anti-nuclear movement, members of the Socialist Party had become aware of the problems associated with nuclear warfare and weapon tests. Did the use or testing of nuclear weapons make it necessary to modify our political standpoint in any way? Must we deal with the nuclear menace first in order to make the world safe for Socialism? Much discussion ensued and in this article, therefore, we put forward a point of view which is neither a dogmatic response to a new situation nor a hastily conceived compromise designed to gain political support.
As there are still a number of “Campaigners” who are attempting to change Labour Party policy, it may be useful to comment briefly on the Labour Party’s actions in the past. In its history it has supported several major wars; it was in office when the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. It has supported the testing of nuclear weapons and in fact, is committed to the use of hydrogen bombs in an “all-out” war.
Those who support the Labour Party – which is alleged to have been struggling for Socialism and the “Brotherhood of Man” – are now reduced after fifty-four years of “Socialist” thinking and re-thinking, to seek CND support on grounds which, were the issues not so tragic, would be laughable. After having played a vital part in the making and using of atomic weapons they have the effrontery to claim a sympathetic hearing from “Campaigners” on the grounds that a minority of the Labour Party are now wholly or partly opposed to nuclear weapons – and this is supposed to be a “Socialist” Party!
Do not fall under the spell of left-wing orators who one minute talk feelingly of a world socialist community and who, in the next breath, admit that the Labour Party is hardly ‘socialist’.
Whenever the deeds of the Labour Party give rise to dismay among its active minority, wherever there is the possibility that numbers way break away, there always appears to be on hand, a ‘militant’ left-wing leader to challenge’ the leadership, to thunder against capitalism or “the Establishment” and to give fresh hope to the doubtful.
When, however, it is time for voting, it is not unknown for these ‘militants’ to seek support for the Party whose policy they had bitterly opposed!
We do not question their sincerity. We merely point out that this kind of action is inevitable while these left-wing leaders give their support to parties which are prepared to administer capitalism.
What is required is not a trust in leaders and their promises but an attitude of self-reliance and a determination on the part of ordinary people to understand the nature of world problems.
The Communist Party?
In 1945, two days after the bombing of Hiroshima, the Russian Rulers fearing, perhaps, a belated American attempt to deprive them of some of the spoils of Yalta, hastened to declare war on Japan. A right to participate in the final share-out of the Far Eastern loot; a desire to safeguard their sphere of influence, these were the real concerns of the Russian Government. No protest at a sickening outrage. No sorrow expressed at the agonies of the Hiroshima victims, the seared, stunned survivors; the radio-active remnants of what had been men, women and little children! So much for the party of Lenin and Stalin in the glorious fight for Peace!
The Russian Government has not hesitated to test high-yield nuclear weapons when it has considered this necessary, and it has contributed its share of Strontium 90 to the atmosphere. It Is obvious that the major H-Bomb Powers have carried out sufficient large-scale nuclear weapon tests for their Immediate needs – this is the main reason for the suspension of such tests. It should be noted, however, that in common with the Western Powers, the U.S.S.R., in spite of its propaganda sallies, did not commit itself to unconditional, unilateral cessation of these tests – it reserved the right to resume if it deemed that its security was in jeopardy. Time-honoured diplomatic double-talk!
It must not be thought that Russia comes into conflict with the other powers because of. ideological reasons; because its social system is alleged to be “Socialist.”
Russia is a capitalist country. All the basic features of capitalism exist there; class monopoly of the means or production, backed up by a powerful state apparatus, the dominance of commodity production and the profit motive, the subjection of the majority to wage-labour, the “anarchy or production” called “state planning;” all are there.
All modern nations have these basic attributes. They may have particular features arising from the different national and economic backgrounds from which capitalism developed in each country. Each emerging capitalist class was born into a certain historical situation. The new industrial capitalists of England in the nineteenth century had the world at their feet; the later arrivals to the capitalist jungle, while having advantages in being able to learn and apply the latest techniques, found themselves surrounded by already entrenched rivals.
It is not what men think or say about themselves that is crucial to the analysis of a social system. It is how they are related to other men about the means of production, what role they play in the productive process, what, in fact, they do. In struggling with the traditional capitalist groups of the world, the top representatives of Russian capitalism, are different in no fundamental way. They are all as helpless to prevent war, and all as ruthless in its prosecution when diplomacy has failed.
What have we to say about the Campaign itself? To Socialists, to see so many people expressing their displeasure, after a long period of political inactivity, at the stupidity and recklessness of their rulers, was a refreshing change. Discontent, however, if it is not to undergo an eventual decline from determined idealism to a hopeless cynicism, must partake of sound theory. What has held “Campaigners” together, so far, has been a common revulsion against one of the weapons of mass-murder and a belief that even if the movement was divided in its aims and methods, it was the only means by which the semi-apathetic majority of ordinary people, on whom the pro-Bomb parties relied for support, could be shaken from their dangerous lethargy.
When one examines the propositions of the Campaign (“Sanity or Suicide” Page 8), its inadequacies can clearly be seen. CND says that all wars, even if they did not start as nuclear wars, would become nuclear wars, because the losing side would use nuclear weapons. If it accepts that all wars are going to be nuclear wars, then it follows that it should oppose all wars. It does not take up this position, however, at no time has it advocated opposition to conventional programmes.
The fundamental weakness of the Campaign is emphasised in one of its own comments on the subject of nuclear weapons, for it says: “Even if they had been outlawed and stocks destroyed, the knowledge would be there in the heads of the scientists and they’d be made again.” In other words, even if the Campaign achieved its aim it would soon have to start all over again . . . and again! If, as it suggests, however, society would not survive another war, it would be wiser to take sound political action rather than wait to see the awful results of an admittedly futile policy.
Some “Campaigners,” while agreeing that capitalism is the cause of war in the modern world, maintain that although a new social organisation may be necessary, a nuclear war would prevent the establishment of this, perhaps for all time, and therefore the anti-nuclear movement should be given priority over Socialism. This argument is logically unsound; it assumes that which has yet to be demonstrated. It presupposes that the campaign will be able to prevent a nuclear war occurring. For the Campaign to “succeed” it must have a majority of people who are opposed unconditionally to nuclear weapons, in the major countries of the world. These majorities must be prepared to oppose their own governments, to put aside all nationalistic or racial feeling, and be immune to all attempts of their rulers to influence them during periods of international crisis and tension. Is it possible that such international solidarity could be achieved by a movement which is composed of so many fundamentally diverse elements and which lacks any clear conception of an alternative to our inhuman social system? Only a revolutionary Socialist consciousness could ensure such a united unshakeable attitude and in that event the question of opposition to nuclear weapons alone would be redundant.
Some members of CND are conscious of its lack of a positive social policy and they have devoted much effort to examining the causes of war and other current social problems. It does not seem, however, that the depth and value of the genuine Marxist analysis of society have yet been understood. The leaders of the Campaign still have many illusions about the effectiveness of the United Nations Organisation as an instrument for peace, although they are not unmindful of the economic and political pressures which can be brought to bear on it by the two great power blocs. Sincere attempts to initiate a serious discussion within their movement seldom go beyond a humane liberalism; even the contributions of its associates in the New Left movement are devoid of any ideas radically different from their political predecessors of past decades.
It is worth recalling that, during the last General Election, the CND was reluctant to demand of its members that they should abstain from supporting candidates who were not unconditionally opposed to all aspects of nuclear weapon policy.
The S.P.G.B. is opposed to war, and is opposed unconditionally to all weapon tests of any kind by any government. We do not seek support at election times on specific issues other than that of Socialism in the sense that we mean, i.e. a world-wide system without frontiers, where the means of production and distribution are held in common and production is carried on solely in order to meet human needs.
In our election literature we write to ensure, as far as possible, that only people who agree with our fundamental position will vote for our candidates. No advantage can ever accrue to a genuine socialist party from vote catching.
Members of the S.P.G.B. vote only for S.P.G.B. candidates or, where there are none, they abstain or spoil their voting papers. Our view is that there is no way out of the contemporary dilemma other than by the building of a new kind of society.
Conditions favoured the rapid growth of the CND. Who could foresee the results of active, determined, knowledgeable support of genuine socialist ideals, by those who have become disenchanted with the political parties and groups that sought to lead them?