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International Socialism, Summer 1964

Bert Benson

Blowing on the Wind

From International Socialism (1st series), No.17, Summer 1964, p.29.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Mud Pie
Herb Greer
Max Parrish, 12s 6d.

At the start there was the Direct Action Committee (DAC) and the precursors of CND; small, middle-class ginger groups publicising and enlisting prominent figures including Members of Parliament. These nuclei were made up of those traditionally opposed to war for pacifist, socialist or humanitarian reasons. But it was the general public concern about nuclear hazards that was sparked into a movement of political importance.

The DAC became the Committee of 100 after a bitter fracture among Campaign personalities. Experimenting with direct action including civil disobedience, it misappraised the material effect of moral intentions. After a rousing demonstration in September, 1961, many were sure there had been an alternative government that day in Trafalgar Square; Whitehall would have to accept terms. Instead there were selective arrests and trials at which, ‘in the public interest.’ no evidence could be heard. There were security police visits to intimidate coach hirers and printers of Committee literature. There was wider use of anachronistic laws and the use of the Judiciary to get up to 18-month Common Law sentences for offences valued at two months under Statutory Law. There was a wider range of belief and method in CND but ‘at the top,’ with the direct action personalities out of the way, there was a consolidation and the CND National Executive along with the administration (Carthusian St), followed a Labour Left policy. From 1960, they had the embarrassing support of the Communist Party. After reluctantly agreeing to minimal constitutional reforms, the Executive ignored Delegate Conference decisions through 1962, declined to convene Conference that autumn and substituted its own initiatives. There was persistent obstruction of the more militant majority, rainy of which were young Labour Party supporters, and there are well-documented cases of unusual administrative methods used to suppress and discredit opposition

Conflict in the Campaign focused less on organisation than on policy. The big issue was unilateralism vs. multilateralism. A 1961 Conference decision favoured unilateralism—opposition to nuclear weapons in all countries. It never appeared in Carthusian St literature. A Conference decision calling for industrial action was re-interpreted by the Executive to mean lobbying TU officials.

Conference was the assembly where issues could be brought to light, yet in Autumn 1962, at the height of the conflict, instead of Conference, there were two Carthusian St initiatives conceived under threat of CND proscription by the Labour Party. The ‘irresponsible or unrealistic’ majority was not to be heard and Gaitskell was to be shown that he dare not and should not proscribe CND; they were too many and too loyal.

First, there was a recruiting-publicity drive, ‘Operation Peanuts’ (named after Gaitskell’s taunt). It was a one-year plan calling for mobilization of local groups to swell the ranks with ‘the middle group’ of voters. The theme was withdrawal from NATO and giving up the British bomb. Local groups were not consulted during the planning and ‘Operation Peanuts,’ once off the starting line, rapidly petered out. Then a multilateralist policy statement, Steps Towards Peace, was released to the Press. It did not need grass roots participation. It was not discussed bv local groups as a draft proposal for policy change. Objections to Carthusian St methods came even from those favouring Steps and an open rebellion was precipitated which had been sporadic at local group level for several years. Groups that had not dissolved and supporters who were not conservatively Labour or CP began to assimilate to movements like the Campaign Caravan, outside Carthusian St control.

At an international conference in Oxford organised by Carthusian St. in January 1963 foreign delegates got a full view of what British supporters were not supposed to know. Those who tried to attend were literalla thrown out. Then came Aldermaston 1963. What Peace News chose for years to avoid or ignore, what Carthusian St denied and deplored, could be seen on the streets: the official CND image of a moral movement based on revolutionary democratic principles was false and its programme was an unpopular, unimaginative Parliamentary lobby. Supporters disobeyed Carthusian St as well as the Parties and the Government that Easter.

Ar the top, Carthusian St negotiated with the Campaign Caravan (now called the Caravan Workshops) and a new deal was promised. A castrated Executive was to be retained but the Campaign would become an ‘Umbrella tor all groupings which were tributaries feeding the mainstream to the Centre.’ This would be ‘working’ democracy, in addition to the Campaign’s ‘formal’ democracy.

Annual Conference in October 1963, 17 months after the last one, was a quiet affair arranged by the ‘Centre’ in a smallish hall, filled half with delegates, half with selected supporters, observers and approved invitees.

To this American supporter of CND, management of the Campaign has seemed like the machine control of an American city under a boss politician. There was patronage for the deserving and exclusion for ‘wreckers’ of the machine. The casual maliciousness common in many human associations was an administrative institution in CND. Political Admass neologisms provide a new image but if Carthusian St is now the ‘Centre of the Umbrella,’ the old arrogance, incompetence and deception remain.

Nothing like the above will be found in Mud Pie although it too is extremely critical of the Campaign. A book about the British anti-nuclear Movement can take up several related themes. First, the various stands of its development; its purposes and personnel, its methods, organisations and tensions. Second, its influence on popular experience. And lastly, its relation to, and even effect on, great nation-state policy at home and internationally.

Little of this is dealt with pertinently by Herb Greer, another American, and Mud Pie is shot through with spectacular factual mistakes. A chronological history of the Movement is punctuated by notices of international happenings. Resumptions or cessations of testing and the Geneva talks serve as place markers or are handled like scene shifts in a horse opera (Meanwhile, back at Geneva, the shifty Russians were straining the patience of the sincere Americans to the limit ...

A multilateralist point of view is taken. The Movement should have been behind the Government’s effort to get an international agreement on test bans and disarmament. But it is Tory not Left multilateralism, related to Party loyalties and not to independent opposition to nuclear politics. The British Peace Committee favouring the Soviet bomb found a place in the Campaign (though not in the Committee of 100) while the Tory, favouring the British, American or NATO bomb, could not.

A picture is quickly drawn of disappointment with the Movement. The gist is this: The Movement had no political base, it made no impression on international bomb diplomacy, its emphasis about Britain’s role was guided by Soviet sentimentalist, Anti-American Labourites and well-meaning but politically ignorant pacifists. It became a danger both to national politics and to the credibility of Western nuclear deterrence so the authorities had to suppress it and the the public came to revile or ignore it. The goodness found is in the early stages before there actually was a Movement. Only mass protest carefully and fully organised by a leadership is effective, and protest against the physical hazards of testing was needed. It was right to call nuclear governments to task about this. But it was never right to call into fundamental question the deterrence posture of Western Governments faced with that of the Soviet government.

When protest and consciousness took the turn to new politics, the Movement, according to Mud Pie, became a failure as well as a danger. There is no more sympathy for direct action and parliamentary agitation. So the great fault is that the leaders failed to manage some kind of mass advertising campaign to get the Government to do something or other about the bomb. At best they failed to understand the Russian danger and the security afforded by the Western deterrent.

Something great could have been done during the Berlin Crisis to show support for the West against Russia. Instead the Committee of 100 mucked around in the Square. Russell approved, even Collins came along and the police behaved very badly. All in all, the events of the Berlin crisis, like others in the Campaign’s history, serve as a whopping big smorgasbord to satisfy the author’s appetite for exasperation while giving his reader few coherent, factually correct indications of what the Campaign was all about, even from a Tory multilateralist point of view.

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