Peter Sedgwick

Socialism, the Bomb and Neutralism

(December 1960)

From Socialist Review, December 1960.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

A startling change in mass political attitudes in Britain was recently uncovered as the result of a survey conducted on behalf of Washington by the official United States Information Agency (which, it may be presumed, is reasonably equipped with the stuff and techniques necessary to the proper gathering of such information). Asked whether Britain should, in the present world situation, side with the United States, with Russia, or with neither, the largest single group (46 per cent of the sample) replied: Neither. The Administration was so alarmed at this proof of what is rightly called the spread of “neutralist sentiment” among its allies that it suppressed the report from publication.

What is even more interesting than the actual findings is the fact that it should have taken a survey commissioned by a foreign government to register the progressive sentiments of British working people. In the normal course of events it might have been expected that so marked a disagreement with the foreign policy of a ruling class would have been disclosed, expressed and fostered through the activity of a political party of Opposition. In fact, of course, up till now the “official channels” of political expression have been closed to any expression of fundamental dissent. The electorate has at no stage been asked to vote for or against NATO, the Bomb or a neutralist alternative; these questions have been decided in advance for them by the Right-wing (Labour or Tory) politicians. On foreign policy the British people has since 1945 always had to face a “single list of candidates.”

We do not exaggerate the scale of mass disillusionment with traditional imperialist solidarities. No doubt the Kennedy Administration will take energetic measures in the Public Relations field to reinstate the myth of the Western Alliance in the minds of the cynical working classes of Europe. While we are proud of the striking popularity of the slogan Neither Washington or Moscow! for which this journal has campaigned (sometimes in considerable isolation) for the last ten years, we are under no illusions that we are responsible for more than a limited growth of “Third-Force” Socialist consciousness, in certain sections of the committed Left. Nevertheless, the lessons are plain: it should now be clear that, in their zeal to preserve NATO at the expense of the Party Constitution, to save, not the Party that they love, but the H-Bomb that they love, Gaitskell and his clan are not, as they claim, preserving the Labour Party from the prospect of electoral “massacre” (a word which comes oddly from the lips of those whose only objection to Polaris is that they will not be “consulted” in the decision to launch annihilation.) On the contrary, they are now exposed as men determined to block the only channel whereby a clean, clear, socialist alternative to bourgeois foreign and military policy might be effectively offered. They, not the proponents of official Labour policy, are the apostles of impending massacre, whether electoral or thermonuclear.

Vigorous steps must now be taken to ensure the success of Labour’s anti-nuclear policy. The Appeal for Unity campaign, representing hundreds of Constituency Parties all over the country, must be supported to the hilt. Particular prominence must be given to the demand for official platform speakers against the Bomb as a necessary counter-balance to Gaitskellite speakers, and for official pamphlets and leaflets (and, especially, radio and TV broadcasts) stating the case accepted at Scarborough.

Secondly, the Gaitskellites must never again be allowed to get away with plausible arguments while Labour’s nuclear disarmers flounder in emotional slogans. Now, as never before, Socialist attitudes towards strategy and foreign policy must be developed and explained to the fullest extent of logic. In particular; Gaitskell’s trump card, the bogey of German nuclear armament (which he now opposes after years of acquiescence) can only be countered by an insistence on the necessary international character of the movement against the Bomb. This is not an idle, Utopian vision. Two years ago the West German Campaign Against Atomic Death reached a, degree of mass enthusiasm that has not so far been achieved by the British CND: demonstrations on the scale of the third Aldermaston March in each city. After a temporary eclipse, this movement is now reviving in new forms. A Labour Party, consistently committed to the abandonment of the Bomb and its alliance, and to a foreign policy independent of Washington and Moscow, its line unclouded and unhindered by the manoeuvrings of the Nuclear Bombardiers, would find ready allies within the Labour movements of Germany, France and other NATO powers. It is essential for Labour campaigners to recapture this sense of international solidarity. Sometimes the term “unilateralism” has been taken, by certain .of its supporters as well as by its opponents, to imply a kind of isolationism, a withdrawal by Britain from a dangerous world. The word “multilateralist” has now been coined as a self-description by the Right Wing in an effort to smear all the opponents of the Bomb with this insinuation.

But the simple truth is that “unilateralism” must mean the independent action of many peoples against the Bomb if it is to succeed. The division in the movement is not between “multilateralists” and “unilateralists”. It is between anti-Socialists, militarist dunderheads, and plain lunatics on the one hand, and internationalist Socialists of various hues on the other. It is as simple as that,

What is being attempted in the campaign against the Bomb is nothing short of revolution (i.e., a decisive change in relations of social power). This anti-nuclear revolution implies a socialist domestic policy (i.e., Clause Four) if its Socialist foreign policy is not to be sabotaged by economic vested interests. It equally implies, as we have stated, an orientation towards the encouragement of “neutralist” forces abroad, not only through diplomatic agreements with this or that ex-colonial state, but also through appeals to the Labour and anti-nuclear movements of advanced countries; where necessary, over the heads of their Governments. Socialist “neutralism” has in fact got to be thoroughly subversive. So far the Right of the Labour Party and the Tory press have appreciated these implications to a much greater extent than has the active Left.


Last updated on 25.11.2004