Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Carl Davidson

Opinion: How Should Revolutionaries look at the nuclear freeze?


First Published: Unity, Vol. 5, No. 17, November 12-25, 1982.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Reagan, the Pentagon and a majority of Congress opposed it.

Both liberal New York Times and conservative Chicago Tribune thought fit to write editorials against it.

But the American people are for it – and in a big way.

“It,” of course, is the nuclear freeze – the clear-cut proposition that the U.S. and the Soviet Union immediately halt the further development, production and deployment of nuclear weapons in a manner verifiable to both sides.

The freeze initiative won by a substantial majority almost everywhere it appeared on the ballot this November. In fact, the hard work of grass-roots activists enabled some 25% of the electorate to vote on the issue – an unprecedented event in recent American history.

The turnout in Chicago was typical: more than two out of three voters cast ballots for the freeze. Out of nine statewide referendums, only Arizona failed to pass the measure.

These results are inspiring. They show the continuing ability of the freeze movement to express the American people’s opposition to the arms race and the danger of war. What is more, the vote shows the movement has yet to lose momentum, even after the mammoth mass action at the UN on June 12. The campaign is still sinking deeper roots and gaining broader support.

Questions for movement

The movement’s very success, however, poses some important questions and problems for revolutionaries. How do we help it stay on its progressive course and win new victories? What are the dangers to be avoided? How do we express our independent views and take initiative in the united front?

Some answers to these questions can be found by examining just how the policies of those responsible for the war danger in the first place – the rulers of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. – are being put forward within the movement.

It is no big secret, for instance, that the U.S. ruling class is divided over how to deal with the arms race and the freeze movement.

One side, headed by the Reagan Administration, is aiming for nuclear superiority and a first-strike capacity against the Soviets. They attack the freeze movement outright, falsely claiming it would strengthen the U.S.S.R. and increase the danger of war.

The other side, headed by Senator Ted Kennedy, wants to maintain nuclear parity with the Soviets and opposes the efforts to gain a first-strike capability as illusory, wasteful and dangerous. They support the freeze, but attempt to limit and control its direction. Mainly, they want to use it to regain the White House for the Democrats in 1984.

Don’t be used

This conflict is basically a positive factor for the movement and so far has been put to good use. At the same time, we must guard against being used ourselves. Just how does Kennedy try to divert us? Some key points come to light in his book, Freeze! How You Can Help Prevent Nuclear War, co-authored with Senator Mark Hatfield. They include:

No linkage. “The freeze applies only to nuclear weapons,” Kennedy says, adding that “there should be no linkage” with acts of Soviet aggression or intervention. The reason is not too hard to figure out. Even a liberal like Kennedy reserves the “right” for the U.S. to intervene abroad. Thus rather than hypocritically hitting the Soviets for doing the same thing, he covers over the issue.
Stronger conventional forces. “Non-nuclear systems,” says Kennedy, “would not be subject to a freeze.” In fact “the savings from a freeze can be reallocated to improve our conventional forces.” The freeze movement has demanded that any savings be directed to meeting human needs. Practice has shown that improvements in U.S. conventional forces are mainly aimed against the third world, such as the Rapid Deployment Force. They do little or nothing to strengthen the independent and legitimate defenses of countries threatened by the superpowers.
Avoid mass action. Kennedy’s book variously criticizes freeze demonstrations as promoting irrationality, emotionalism and irresponsibility. Its list of “twelve things to do” are all safely within the electoral arena and culminate with “voting for the right candidate.” On the other hand, one strength of the freeze has been its tactical flexibility, skillfully combining many tactics and rejecting none ahead of time.

Pro-Soviet forces

Clearly part of our task is to criticize and expose these policies. But Kennedy is not the only source of problems; the other danger stems from the assortment of pro-Soviet groups and grouplets which have entered the movement – the largest being the revisionist Communist Party USA (CPUSA). The pitfalls and diversions they advocate include:

Targeting only the U.S. The Soviet war machine is supported supposedly only for “defensive” war “peacekeeping” use. This position not only ignores the reality of Soviet intervention and aggression around the world. It would also, if adopted, reduce the movement to a small handful of pacifists and pro-Soviet apologists.
Resurrect the SALT Treaty. This is a favorite theme of the CPUSA, which, according to General Secretary Gus Hall, views negotiations with the Soviets as the “only path to nuclear disarmament.” The problem with SALT, however, is that it allows both superpowers to increase rather than freeze or reduce the level of nuclear arms. It plays into the hands of those advocating arms control rather than disarmament.
Use other issues to divide the movement. Rather than make a genuine effort to link the freeze campaign with other progressive forces and movements, this ploy consists of tacking on demands around issues like racism or women’s rights in a way that divides the peace forces. Instead of developing a peace coalition of left and center forces, this approach has driven away middle forces until nothing remains but a small block of left groups – “multi-issue” and “pure,” but isolated and irrelevant.

These are only a few of the present problems the freeze movement faces. There are more now and others will develop in the future: how do we vote in 1984? How do we link the freeze to opposing all foreign intervention, U.S. or Soviet? How do we strengthen its ties with the struggles of labor and the oppressed nationalities here in the U.S.?

We can develop unifying methods in good time, especially if we stick to the task of fighting on just grounds, to our advantage and with restraint. We will also be aided by the fact that the freeze movement is very likely to radicalize, especially since neither superpower seems responsive to real disarmament.

All the elements of a powerful upsurge are in the making. Hopefully, we will be organized and prepared enough in advance to meet the challenge and emerge from the struggle with a vastly stronger and newer generation of revolutionaries.

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Carl Davidson is a longtime peace movement activist and former writer for the CALL newspaper.