ANTI-NUCLEAR-WAR PROTESTCategory: Politics
At a time when the nuclear threat has become palpable and the struggle against it has become the prime issue of the day, when the arsenals of nuclear and other armaments are more than sufficient to destroy all life on our planet, the Soviet proposals assume particular significance. They receive reasonable consideration of all concerned.
The issue of nuclear war and of British policy towards disarmament has come right to the forefront of political discussion and activity in Britain. There is not a town of any size that does not have its activists and peace organisation-usually a branch of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. This unprecedented movement-unprecedented both in breadth and scale - means that for the first time ever questions of defence policy, of nuclear weapons and their control are matters for mass discussion.
Peace movements are not new in Britain. CND itself first emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s with the Aldermaston marches that inspired a generation. The Communist Party itself has always seen peace as a central issue, including the need both for measures of disarmament and for cuts in the enormous arms burden.
However, it was undoubtedly the NATO decision on Cruise and Persh- ing-II in 1979 that led to the enormous and unparalleled expansion of the movement. 1 nere is a strong feeling that unilateral action is a component of the process of multilateral disarmament. Unilateral moves could give an impetus to international negotiations. Demands for unilateral action also provide a focus for a mass popular and autonomous movement, and make peace an issue of mass politics.
The deep concern about nuclear war also arises from the fact that Britain, a densely populated island, is a very vulnerable target in a nuclear war and one that would suffer total destruction.
However, the factor which above all else has made peace such a prominent issue is that the labour movement has been won for positive peace policies and a non-nuclear defence policy. This is unprecedented. The resolution adopted at the TUC in 1982 called for the removal of all nuclear bases from British soil and waters. The sentiment of the delegates was a rejection of the government thesis of nuclear deterrence as a means of guaranteeing peace: “Congress recognises that there can be no effective medical response after a nuclear attack and is convinced that the prevention of nuclear war offers the only possibility of protecting people from its devastating consequences”.
This declaration itself followed decisions by a number of unions to adopt such a policy and to affiliate to CND. This was by no means an automatic process but the product of considerable discussion. Defence policy, nuclear weapons, was a matter for wide public debate. This led to the historic decision of the Labour Party Conference to adopt unilateral nuclear disarmament as its policy.
Another key aspect of the growth of the movement in these years was the development of new forms of struggle. Firstly, there was its mass character with over 1,000 local CND groups with a total membership of more than a quarter of a million, plus other peace committees. In towns and villages up and down the country, to advertise a meeting was to be greeted with hundreds of applications to join. CND’s national organisation elected national council, holds annual conferences, provides cohesion and structure.
There has also been the declaration of nuclear-free zones by local councils which also developed partly in response to government plans for civil defence. In 1983 hundreds of thousands of women took part in International Women’s Day for Disarmament in 600 towns and villages throughout Britain. The section of the community to seize the headlines most dramatically has been the Women’s Peace Movement. Their Peace Camp and actions at Greenham Common are now known throughout the world. They have shown, too, that direct action could both express a very distinctive women’s approach to peace, as shown in the decorating of the perimeter fence with items of children’s clothing and toys, and also win mass support and participations.
To conclude, some points on the impact of the peace question on the general political situation in Britain.
Firstly, it has created a powerful and sustained mass pressure on the subject of nuclear weapons and disarmament, which has involved most diverse sections of the population. This is particularly marked amongst the young and amongst women, and has involved the trade union and labour movement in a big way. Mass demonstrations of a traditional nature are combined with new forms of activity. There is scarcely a democratic organisation that has not been touched by this debate and these activities. The government and the media response has largely failed in its attempts to denigrate the peace movement. The broad base of the peace movement is also shown in the involvement of such as Scientists Against Nuclear Arms, the Medical Campaign Against Weapons, and Architects for Peace.
Secondly, the peace movement has opened up for unparalleled public debate an area of policy that hitherto has remained a subject for “experts”. There is now much discussion on defence policy.
This debate also brings into question British foreign policy and role in the world.
A number of democratic questions have also been raised in a new way, starting with the question of the control of Cruise missiles, a concern much heightened by the considerable anxiety about American policy.
The mass peace movement will continue to grow, and to have a profound and lasting influence on political developments in Britain.
Peace Movement in Great Britain
In Britain, recent years have seen a vast growth of the peace movement, particularly in the ranks of and support for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). The emphasis of the campaign has been against cruise missiles being deployed in Britain against the Trident programme, as steps towards unilateral nuclear disarmament in Britain. The movement has roots in practically every town in Britain. The national leadership of the CND see the main threat as emanating from the United States. Activists in the movement have welcomed the peace proposals of the Soviet Union and the other socialist countries.
Joint Action involving East and West against nuclear weapons is of great importance. The British Government’s response to the growth of CND has been to attempt to smear it as Com- munist-led. Communists have played and are playing a role in CND, functioning openly, publicly and honestly. Some trade unions have campaigned against the company building the missile launching ramps. A number of labour councils have cancelled contracts with it.
British Communists have explained the source of the war danger. The experience of the anti-war fight-back will help to enhance the awareness among those who campaign for peace.
From: World Marxist Review, 1984