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International Socialism, Spring 1963


Barry Gorden

After Oxford What?


From International Socialism, No.12, Spring 1963, pp.12-14.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Barry Gorden, 21, is an American currently studying at Cologne University, West Germany. Before coming to Europe he was a National Council member of the Student Peace Union and an alternate member of the Young People’s Socialist League Executive Committee. He used an extended stay in Britain last winter to gather material for this article.

The major progressive challenge to our social order comes today from the peace movement. But, paradoxically as it may seem, the principal impediment to its further success is its own character. All sectors of the peace movement from the CND ‘nuclear pacifist’ to ‘non-violent direct actionists’ lack a political basis for their rejection of nuclear war; a perspective to meet the challenges that the modern structure of capitalism presents as peace attains the status of a mass movement.

Before about 1957, there was no real independent peace movement at all, only a few (sometimes atheistic) religious sects. Outside of two student organizations, the Zengakuren of Japan and the Student Peace Union of the United States, there still exist no movements primarily oriented on political struggle.

Such a movement can only grow organically, finding out from its own experience why it must remain strictly independent of all national interests and bloc alignments, why it must fight both American and Russian bombs consistently, why it must turn from the Bomb to a full-scale attack on the industrial war-making potential of both blocs, why it must fight this power where it is weakest, that is, industrially, and why it must eventually attack the whole capitalist mode of production which maintains itself via the war economy and fight all theories of arms control, general disarmament, reduction of tensions, peaceful coexistence and other illusory theories which are liable to arise in its ranks, postulating a bloc agreement protecting the world balance of power while ‘banning the bomb’. To this it must counterpose international co-operation of all peoples in a movement fighting the bomb and the class society which produces it.

Efforts towards international co-operation are at last beginning to appear and represent a new stage of development for the peace movement. In November of last year a conference of direct action groups, dominated by the Committee of 100 and Zengakuren, or the Federation of All-Japanese Student Autonomies, was held in Amsterdam. As a result the larger peace movement has been galvanized into action. Peace movements from Europe, Asia, the US and Canada, Ghana, Australia, and New Zealand were invited to a conference which would crystallize the ‘non-aligned’ peace movement into an international body. The Conference was called by the European Federation Against Nuclear Arms, itself a vague confederal body, and was held on January 4-7 at Summerville College, Oxford.

I. Lesson of Oxford

The Conference defined its tasks as follows:

  1. definition of ‘non-alignment’ as a basis for membership,
  2. consideration of a framework, or structure, for the new organization,
  3. a statement of aims, or program.

It achieved two things: a Statement of Aims and Principles, and the election of a Conference Continuing Committee, to act (by correspondence) in the name of the International Confederation for Peace and Disarmament (as the new organization is called), and to call a new conference next year.

The Statement of Aims itself describes the dangers of war, accuses leaders of ‘policies which threaten to make it inevitable’, and prescribes ‘popular action on an international scale’. It makes a vague reference to anti-militarism and expects that ‘disarmament will mean fundamental, social, economic, and political changes.’ Probably the best section of the document is the one which lists the four points which constitute the ‘basic minimum’ for each movement membership, having to show active opposition to:

  1. the testing, manufacture, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons by all countries including their own.
  2. All nuclear bases, including the use of their own territory for this purpose.
  3. All countries’ membership of all nuclear alliances.
  4. The spread of nuclear weapons to any new countries or blocs.

However, if this was a step forward CND Chairman, Canon Collins, to the dismay of all, did his irresponsible best to block it.

First he announced the conference as one for independent peace movements only, then invited World Peace Council delegates to attend. The Conference thus began with an elaborate ritual wherein both sides sought the correct face-saving formulas for justifying the least co-operation with the WPC consistent with the Canon’s earlier indiscretions.

Time and again Conference was swayed by appeals for ‘unity in the peace movement’, meaning common work with the WPC. These appeals by Collins and his supporters tacitly subsumed the WPC into the manifold ranks of the peace movement, and this went unchallenged. Their appeal had nothing explicit to do with the supposedly all-solving ‘desire for peace’ of the Russian bureaucracy. Their main appeal, and it threw confusion even into those who have rejected the double standard for Russia that the WPC represents, was to friendship, the simple moral virtues of brotherliness, of ‘our moral duty as hosts’, and a stern opposition to ‘the cold-war spirit’ of those who had political objections to the WPC’s presence. This would suggest that the Oxford Conference, and with it, the peace movement, has failed to understand what the peace movement means, and what the dynamics of its growth will be.

The symbol of this failure, as his role at the Conference indicates, was Canon Collins. His presence on the Continuing Committee (it was originally planned to leave him off, but further manipulations of the prevailing moralistic mood of the Conference, including, ironically, threats of disunity, re-won him his place) not only strengthens the conciliatory tendencies in the Confederation, but gives Collins another chance to embarrass the movement publicly.

The continued existence of the Confederation is problematic. It has great problems to solve: who will take the responsibility for running the organization and maintaining it in a responsible fashion? what will be the role of Canon Collins? what attitude will the new organization take towards the world struggle and the WPC? and what will the movement do to broaden its activities and social base? What the movement will have to do to set up a real International can only be seen when the mess made at the Oxford Conference has been cleaned up, and it is possible for the real political discussions to start.

II. Their Peace Movement

That same reliance on moral criteria and appeals which nuclear disarmers claim is the necessary lowest common denominator which ‘will avoid splitting the movement’ and pacifists insist on as the only possible basis for their ‘witness’ becomes self-defeating when the peace movement takes the first halting steps towards setting itself up as an alternative to the Cold War. The tendency to conciliation, to seeking to moderate the conflicts between the two great world powers, leads only to a movement which seeks an illusory ‘reduction of tensions’ without investigating the causes of those tensions and attacking directly the class society in which those tensions are rooted.

At best the theorists of peaceful co-existence and reduction of tensions can only oppose the more adventuristic and deterrent-minded ‘cold-war forces’ (e.g. de Gaulle, Mao, the American ‘Right’). At worst such thinking provides a rationale (co-existence, ‘peace’) for supporting imperialist forces against popular revolt should a future Hungary or Cuba break out.

Despite the ambiguities revealed by Canon Collins’ appeals at the Conference and his presence on the CC of the Confederation, the new International has, thanks be, rejected this reactionary adherence to the world status quo implied by the ‘peaceful co-existence’ of the Messrs K, postulating instead the somewhat more moderate theory of ‘reduction of tensions’, or moderation and ‘peaceful resolution’ rather than suppression, of conflicts, thus admitting at least of gradual, if not revolutionary, change. But the old ways of thinking, based on the patriotic assumptions of national power politics, die hard (nowhere harder than among veteran defenders of the Russian [degenerated] workers’ state!). The ‘third force’, for most adherents of this theory, is still imagined in vague national terms: will the force for peace be a unilateralist Britain? perhaps at the head of a revived Commonwealth? sheer Labour Imperialism. A Social-Democratic Europe? Absurd. The neutralist bloc? More captives than captors. The ‘underdeveloped’ nations? What! bite the hand(s) that feed them? If the peace movement is to assert its force effectively for peace, and organize an international third force based on mass opposition (to which it made a vague effort at Oxford), this is the discussion that the Oxford Conference should have opened. It is not too late to begin now.

III. What Next for the Peace Movement?

The more the peace movement grows, the less impact its actions seem to have. Its basic forms of action – marches, sit-downs, etc – are irrelevant to the continued functioning of a society which depends upon the arms economy. The general task of the peace movement must be to change its own nature, to broaden its base of support, and enter more freely into varied forms of political action, from electoral campaigns to strikes.

The basic principles on which a peace movement that sees working-class support as a desirable goal must be based on a realization that the day-to-day struggle of the working-class attacks the whole system at its weakest point. Political tactics of the day-to-day variety must be thought of within the context of a larger strategy of winning a base for working-class support for CND. This broader strategy should include a recognition of:

  1. The inseparability of the fight against unemployment and the fight against the bomb.
  2. The importance of a real majority in the labour movement – as opposed to illusory resolutions at Labour Party conferences.
  3. The necessity of expanding CND organization by forming industrial branches pledged to industrial action.

All other activities – electoral campaigns, lobbies, resolution-passing at Conferences, must be subordinated to building a viable peace movement with a working-class orientation. The peace movement should support and participate wherever possible in trade union actions of a more prosaic sort-strikes, factory stay-ins, work-to-rules, etc. Although this movement seems to have no connection with the bomb, it is the way working people protect themselves from a society which would not be possible without the bomb.

IV. Industrial Action: the last warning

The important thing about the peace movement is that it represents the one popular movement which presupposes alternatives to our current social order. In questioning the bomb, it questions the economic rationale of modern capitalism – the permanent arms economy – and protests against a social order that institutionalizes war, and the insanity of nuclear war, as an integral part of social life. It is this revolutionary potential of a movement whose fundamental aims are incompatible with class society in any form which makes the peace movement of prime importance to revolutionary socialists.

But the peace movement itself wages only a partial struggle against the bomb – at attacks the blatant external aspects of ‘nuclear idiocy’, and neglects the inner rationale of cold-war efficiency. It attacks the waste inherent in modern military spending, and overlooks the logic of a society which needs that waste in order to free capital for investment while maintaining an expanding market. It is an unequal race – between retooling and full employment – and the conditions of material alienation in class society prevent capital ever from winning it. But it is one thing to record the downfall of capitalism and another to fight on the issues through which the struggle is won.

As the debating and decision-making roles of legislative bodies (e.g. Congress, Parliament) become more and more irrelevant to the decision-making centres in capitalist society, it is becoming obvious that ‘peaceniks in Parliament’ will do very little to challenge class power at its roots. Electoral activity, then, can have only propaganda value, although in America, where the peace movement is unremittingly middle-class and precariously under-manned, the enthusiasm of such campaigns has given young people invaluable training in peace activities. Peace Campaigns are in order only where they serve to attract workers to the principles of the peace movement. Given the growing apathy of workers to elections (‘politicians are all the same’), other methods such as strike, solidarity actions of various kinds, are even more useful in convincing the more active workers that the aims of the peace movement are inseparable from the workers’ aims. No attempt should be shunned to increase contacts with workers who can form a nucleus for industrial CND units. As long as the Labour Party remains an instrument for contacting workers it should be used, but strictly to that end.

Industrial action encompasses a broad range of political actions which the working class already uses to fight for wage increases, but mostly for control of work rules and against redundancies. Slow-downs, stay-ins, work-to-rules, blacking of hot cargoes, selective strikes (day-on, day-off), and full-scale downing of tools are tactics which all could be applied by workers protesting against the bomb, once they are convinced that (1) the Bomb, like somebody else’s unemployment, affects him directly, and that (2) because the increasing statification of capitalism, makes the point of production the crucial battleground of class struggle, what he does in his shop is effective. We will be relevant insofar as we convince workers of these things.

V. Whither?

More peace conferences will be held – one was held in February by the Direct Actionists. International co-ordination means the peace movement is growing up. The fight against Collins, and how it turns out, will indicate how far CND is willing to meet its responsibilities in Britain and provide a basis for a real international movement. Eventually an International should have debating and policy-making functions and will be able to strike directly at the war-making capacities of governments through mass disobedience and industrial action. But internationally co-ordinated demonstrations will be a good starting point.

Peace movements must attempt, by whatever means, to attract working-class support. In most countries this is scarcely feasible as yet and needs to be supplemented by relying on the tremendous and more easily tappable forces of middle class revolt, particularly among the youth. The Oxford Conference has proven that such a movement can exist in opposition to both war machines. Its eventual goal is the socialist revolution, but every form which it takes can be related to this end and therefore justified, so long as it does not detract from, weaken, or seek to separate itself from the workers’ movement. If the peace movement can be used to bring socialist consciousness to more workers, its further advances and retreats are of importance in the struggle of socialists to get from here to there.

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