Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Carl Davidson

What lies ahead for the nuclear freeze campaign?

First Published: Unity, Vol. 8, No. 17, December 6, 1985.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Upon his return from the Summit meeting, President Reagan demonstrated his intention to continue the high-tech arms race. Despite his talk of a “fresh start” and possible “future arms reductions,” Reagan held to all his basic goals in Geneva.

He refused all appeals to shelve his development of “Star Wars” (Strategic Defense Initiative – SDI) weaponry. He signed no agreements limiting existing weapons, made no reaffirmations of existing arms control treaties, and offered no response to the U.S.S.R’s unilateral test ban. The only bone thrown to arms control was a proposal for both sides to instruct their negotiators to come up with a plan cutting “offensive” and “strategic” weapons by at least 50%.

What lies behind this stubbornness? Despite claims to the contrary, the dominant policy in Reagan’s White House remains that of regaining nuclear superiority and a first-strike capability. This is a key aspect of the objective situation peace activists must keep in mind while developing tactics over the next period. It means achieving the most minimal goal, such as a nuclear freeze, will require a prolonged effort with no easy victories.

The freeze campaign had a positive impact on the events around the summit. Together with other peace groups and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, it sent a delegation of 50 people to the talks along with more than a million signatures on petitions. While Reagan refused them an audience, their meeting with Gorbachev was widely publicized.

The freeze convention itself was also successful. More than 600 delegates attended, representing freeze groups and affiliates in nearly all 50 states. The decisions made defined some of the main tasks in the next year, not only for the freeze, but for the disarmament movement generally. They include the following:

The freeze placed a top priority on its legislative efforts for an immediate test ban, alongside its overall efforts to pass the comprehensive freeze bill. On testing, it is spotlighting the Schroeder bill, which would cut off funding for nuclear tests as long as the Soviets maintained their moratorium. This has the widest appeal and the best chance for a partial victory.

Given the widespread confusion about SDI weapons and illusions about the purpose and practicality of the “peace shield,” the Star Wars program is the obvious focus on the public education front. Freeze activists in particular see the freeze proposal as the only practical and responsible alternative to SDI that can unite the majority of the population. The freeze campaign will make every effort to cut congressional funding for Star Wars research and development in the coming year.

The continued strength of the freeze will lie in its ability to mobilize the masses on the grass-roots level. Many local freeze groups are focusing on campaigns to win nuclear free zones while others are joining with anti-intervention and anti-apartheid forces in coalition projects. The freeze also endorsed the Great Peace March being organized by ProPeace. This walk by thousands of activists across the U.S. will last nearly a year and could have a dramatic impact in hundreds of local communities.

Considerable debate took place on the convention floor over all these issues. While many of the divisions reflected problems common to the entire peace movement, some are especially prominent in the freeze.

On the basic strategy for the coming year, for instance, a sizable minority backed a proposal that would have subordinated all other tactics to electing a 51% pro-freeze Congress in 1986. The proposal was defeated as too narrow and divisive, but it nonetheless expressed the frustration of many activists who had hoped five years of effort would have produced greater gains.

This frustration in turn is producing polarization. One tendency, if not moving to the right, at least wants to appeal to “mainstream America” by distancing itself from the left. It one-sidedly stresses elections and elevates this single-issue tactic to the level of principle.

Another tendency embraces civil disobedience. The national freeze campaign is among several co-sponsors of a nationwide American Peace Test where nearly 100 people have been arrested at the nuclear test site in Nevada. But the convention voted 118-98 to oppose sponsorship of civil disobedience by the national office. This could be seen as a retreat and could be potentially divisive as members of the freeze’s Direct Action task force now move to form a new organization.

A third tendency stresses the importance of forming coalitions with other progressive forces, especially the non-intervention and human rights movement.

“The freeze must not freeze out its allies,” declared Jesse Jackson in a speech to the convention that reflected this latter viewpoint. “We must be concerned with the immediate victims of the arms race as well as its ultimate victims.”

Jackson stressed that Reagan and Gorbachev were both “minority leaders” in the sense that they officially represented only one-eighth of the world, while the vast majority was concentrated in the third world. Since world conflicts grow out of local and regional wars, superpower aggression in these areas creates a “deadly connection” with the arms race in increasing the danger of nuclear war.

The freeze convention was ambivalent on the deadly connection issue. It passed several resolutions reaffirming its support for alliances with other peace and social justice forces. On the other hand, a resolution calling for a specific education focus on the deadly connection was narrowly defeated.

Whatever its internal differences, there is certainly room within the freeze for many tendencies. The freeze must regroup and reunify to continue its pivotal role inside the U.S. peace movement and in the upcoming 1986 elections.

The freeze now faces new prospects for mobilization placed before it by the summit. Gorbachev’s visit to the U.S. for the next round of talks can serve as a focus for activity. New SDI research centers can be targets for a variety of protests. Time running out on the Soviet test ban will highlight the ongoing actions in Nevada. If this agenda is taken up by a united and determined peace movement, the conditions can be set for stopping the new escalation before its deadly deployment becomes irreversible.

Carl Davidson is an activist in the Illinois freeze. He is also a member of the League of Revolutionary Struggle (M-L), a contributing editor to Unity and one of the editors of Forward.