Monday, March 25, 2013

Anti-War and Anti-Nuclear Protest: An Overview

Note by Alan Woodward circulated prior to the Radical History Network of NE London meeting, with Pat Arrowsmith, on 13 February 2008. Reproduced in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of Spies for Peace (Easter 1963).
 Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament at 50 years
This month RaHN examines the history of one of the most popular organisations for peace,  the CND, and is asking one of the earliest members, Pat,  to speak.  Of course the story of anti-war and anti-arms movements goes back before 1958. In the First World War, conscientious objectors  were treated with the cruelty that we have come to associate with the ruling class, both then and now.  Their treatment would qualify for a war crimes trial today  but it is hidden under the carpet most of the time.

The interwar years saw some considerable progress, with the War Resisters International  and Peace Pledge Union being formed, and Peace News being established.  The pacifist movement , remembering the slaughter of WW1, was strong and well supported.  But WW2 presented a drastic choice:  if Hitler did occupy Britain, then labour movement activists, Jewish people, gays and the disabled, etc.,  were likely to be sent to concentration camps.  This prompted  many to reluctantly accept a position of fighting in the war, not to defend a phoney democracy, or a so-called Socialist State, but purely in self defence -  the “working class policy”, as it was called.
All these considerations were dwarfed by the invention of nuclear power and from 1945, it was the survival of the human race at issue, despite the secrecy of the government’s plans.  In a few short years, there were enough A and H bombs  to destroy the whole world several times over.  The CND was
formed, consisting of traditional pacifists, labour  and trade union people, groups like the Quakers and countless individuals,  and from 1958  grew to become the most  powerful movement for decades.

Many of the more militant were critical of the CND mainstream approach. However big the annual Easter March to, or from, Aldermaston would become, they argued that this  display of people power could be ignored by government.  So the Committee of !00 was formed which carried out direct
action  - sit downs, occupations  etc - and local groups and special sub groups like the Industrial Committee carried out these tasks. In truth the resolution had got through the Labour Party Conference but was reversed the following year. Invading the ‘post war’ Regional Seats of Government sounded better [
RSGs – this is where Spies for Peace come in].

Active members of CND and Youth CND transformed local politics and revived many libertarian organisations  as well as others.  The Wilson government seemed to promise  change but it was soon embroiled, by association, with the American war in Vietnam.  Old Labour disappointed its supporters much as New Labour has done.  New campaigners joined old hands in the fight for banning the bomb.

Jumping forward some years, the nuclear arming of submarines and the use of rockets generally, saw a re-birth in the 1980s.  Many military bases were besieged  not just by the women at Greenham.  The total futility of government plans for protection  at the outbreak of nuclear war were exposed. Protect and Survive was overwhelmed by Protest and Survive.  New groups sprang up  as protesters  against the arms trade reflected the appalling consequences of third world societies with little resources,
killing off millions of civilians  with tin pot wars.  Anti-colonialism disintegrated into petty dictatorships.

Today many see the potential disaster of climate warming as the chief concern but the capitalist market is still as incompatible  with world peace as a sustainable society. War and its catastrophes could end the world before the consequences of  climate change come fully into effect.
So the struggle against both goes  on.

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