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Nuclear Disarmament

Nuclear Disarmament
Kate Soper

The Editorial Collective regards nuclear disarmament
as an extremely important issue at the present time.

It therefore decided that the following piece by Kate
Soper should be given prominence in Radical Philosophy
27. The views expressed are Kate’s: they do not
represent the unanimous opinion of the Collective.

While millions of people go hungry, the
rulers of the world double, treble, quadruple their destructive capacity.

In terms
of explosive yield, their nuclear arsenal is
now equivalent to a million Hiroshimas, or,
put in personal terms, to three tonnes of
TNT for every man, woman and child inhabiting the globe.

In an afternoon they will
spend on arms the sum required to finance
the entire anti-malaria programme of the
World Health Organisation.

In Britain, for
the cost of one Trident submarine, we could
build and equip four hospitals, or spare
each family £4-5 per week. As unemployment
passes the two million mark, the Prime
Minister offers her brilliant remedy:

increased exports to the Third World of
weaponry tailor-made for its ‘needs’.

Meanwhile, production of the most basic
foodstuffs for home consumption in the
countries of the Third World steadily
declines because of the forced increase in
production of luxury goods for export to
earn the foreign exchange needed to pay
their arms bills.

One could continue indefinitely to cite
the statistics of arms escalation, to pile

paradox upon paradox, to let the facts themselves state morals that there is no need to
make explicit.

But we are already too aware of the
horrific inversion of values that the ar~s
race represents.

We know that the nightmare
we might have assumed it had to be, is not
a nightmare, but the material context of our
lives, concretely realised in the hardware
that stands waiting in the silos, and in the
queues that wait for Oxfam hand-outs.

Unbelievable as it may seem, this insanity is
our daily existence.

The Left has steadfastly exposed and
opposed the causes that have brought about
this situation, and has never ceased to express revulsion for their effects.

That, in
a very general way, is what the Left is

And it is where Radical Philosophy
has always belonged. As far as disarmament
is concerned, it is doubtful whether those
who read and write for Radical Philosophy
have ever been anything but ardent supporters of the cause. Many of us, no doubt,
were members of CND in the 1960s, marched
from Aldermaston, participated in direct
action of various kinds, took heart in what
appeared for a brief period to be the movement’s very real chances of success, were
both comprehending of and despondent over
the divisions that afflicted it, and came to
regard its eventual decline as almost inevitable.

Responding to conjunctural forces,
we turned our attention to other political
issues (most notably Vietnam), to~writing
books, to producing Radical Philosonhy …

In the meantime, the Vietnam war has come
and gone.

The Non-Proliferation Treaty has
been signed by 112 countries, and the arms
have continued to proliferate.

The hypocritical warnings of the major powers on the
horizontal spread of nuclear weapons have
all come true: China, India, Pakistan, South
Africa, Israel, Iraq, either already possess
missiles or will shortly do so.

We have
been subjected to new strategies and new concepts – ‘limited nuclear war’, ‘theatre
war’, and new weapons to back these imagined
scenarios – Pershing, Cruise, the SS-20s,

the neutron bomb, MX, Trident … And now,
as a groundswe11 of protest surges again,
the theorists of the Left find themselves
anxious, pondering the terms of their analysis, the goals of action, the correctness
of their tactics.

This is not said in criticism: against the background of the experience of the 1960s and 70s, the concern is

It is arguable, in fact, that one
of the less obvious advantages of the resurgence of consciousness on the nuclear
issue is that it will restore the Left to a
better perspective upon the divisions by
which it is riven, and lead to a more realistic and sensitive appraisal of its analyses, the language in which these are conducted, and thus to some needed changes in
the ways it talks and thinks about the goals
and conditions of social change.

If the
issue of disarmament presents in these respects something of a crisis for the Left, it
is also an issue that can allow it to realise
in full its powers of sanity and reason, and
to acquire new strength, as it did in 1960.

The condition of this, however, is that
we try to avoid certain kinds of impasse.

In ~he first place, we must avoid getting
bogged down in assignations of blame for the
existence and expansion of nuclear forces.

We do not have to decide and agree upon our
exact interpretation of Afghanistan, on
whether it is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than Chile,
or in any way comparable, before we condemn
policies of nuclear expansion whether
hatched in the Krem1in or the Pentagon. We
do not have to pronounce on who in the US
and the USSR is guilty of more imperialist
aggressions, before we can denounced the
preparedness of both to (as Adrian Mitche11
recently put it) ‘skin a baby with a b10wtorch’ in the interests of their respective
causes of defending the ‘free wor1d’-or
protecting socialism.

We can certainly point to the lead that
the US has in general enjoyed over the USSR
in the arms race, and thus to the role it
has played as ‘initiator’ of Soviet res- •

And against the hysteria of the
Right about the ‘Soviet threat’, we must
continue to point to the overtures that the
Soviet Union” and her allies constantly
offer the NATO powers for negotiations on
arms reduction.

But at the same time, and more importantly, we must undercut the language of ‘them’

and ‘us’ in which discussion of the politics
of disarmament tends to get conducte~. We
must resist any suggestion on the part of
the nuclear strategists that the Soviet
people can be represented by their Backfire
Bombers and SS-20s, or that we for them can
be personified in Cruise missiles and
Trident submarines. We must begin to think
in terms of a new European solidarity based
on shared interests and oppositions.

Whether we 1 i ve ‘here’ or”j there’, none of
us wants to be fried, none of us wants to be
held in thrall to the militarists.

The second impasse we must avoid is that
of two opposite forms of fatalism.

first of these is the fatalism of psycho10gism.

In the face of the monstrosity of
the arms race and its paradoxes, there are
some who will always want to speculate upon
our ‘will to death’ or seek an explanation
in the collective possession by the human
race of some lemming instinct.

This is a

fatalism that is itself an effect of living
in the context of possible nuclear holocaust; it is not the reason why we do so.

It is not any simple aspect of human psychology that is responsible for a prospect that
it is almost beyond our psychological capacities to contemplate, and though the end of
the world, if it comes, will scarcely be
anything but a singular event, it will have
been the result of a multitude of causes
most of which have little or nothing to do
with psychology.

But the temptation to indulge in this
kind of fatalism has never been very strong
on the Left, and while the contemp1atory
Hege1ian may occasionally toy with it, the
materialist has little time for it.

Far more serious is another kind of
fatalism to which we are invited by the very
insistence upon the complexity and structurally integrated nature of the causes responsible for East-West policies of mutual

There is nothing wrong with
this insistence as such: it speaks a truth.

But if this emphasis on the complex, infrastructural causes reflected in the phenomenon of nuclear escalation is allowed to
proceed by stages to rejecting the urgency
of the struggle for disarmament, it must be

If, for example, it is argued
that here, as always, a Marxist analysis
shows us that we must attack at the roots
and not at the branches; that we must therefore struggle against the social relations
of production and social institutions that
breed an arms economy and are sustained by
it; that nuclear arms are a mere by-product
of the socio-economic formation, must be
revealed to be so, and must be ~ountered at
the level of class struggle; and that therefore, in the light of that, what matters and
what we must concentrate upon, is revolution
and the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’,
and not upon the fact that the decision of a
NATO subcommittee in Brussels means that
Britain will be dense with US controlled
Cruise missiles in 1983 – then, by the time
it has reached its conclusion, the argument
has simply become an excuse for inaction.

That makes things rather more comfortable,
of course, for those who employ it: having
settled their conscience on the issue of
nuclear war by dint of what their powers of
analysis have shown them – namely that to
seize upon the nuclear issue is to seize on
the wrong end of the stick – they can settle
back once again to await the moment when the
‘proletariat’ wakes up to the fact that it
lles at the base of the pyramid of determinations and finally sets the authentic ‘motor
of history’ rumbling along the path of
social revolution.

Even as an analysis, the adequacy of such
argument must be disputed.

It cannot, for
example, as it stanus, be invoked as the
single principle of explanation of the very


differing conjunctures presented by the
Warsaw Pact countries on the one hand, and
those of the NATO .all iance on the other, or
of the fact that, while the USSR and the US
diverge considerably in their economic and
social organisation they correspond rather
closely at the ‘phenomenal’ level of their
nuclear capacity, their development and
export of arms, their commitment to the
strategy of deterrence and their conviction
of the ‘need’ for nuclear arsenals. Furthermore, even were the analysis to restrict itself to the capitalist economies, it is not
at all obvious that an arms economy does
follow automatically from the logic or-capital accumulation and valorisation. The
very fact that Marxist economists themselves
debate the ‘correct’ analysis of arms production is significant in this respect. It
is arguable that the production of products
that are not valorized, but merely consume
social value is less than consistent with
the intrinsic requirements of a capitalist
economy, and that the hoarding of value in
the form of the stock-piling of missiles
must be at least in part explained in terms
of the ‘interference’ within the economy of
political and ideological objectives. And
if that is so, then a Marxist analysis itself implies an attack upon those objectives
conducted at the level at which they

But even if this form of argument were
itself beyond dispute, that would still not
guarantee the conclusion it implies – that
the correct starting point in theory is the
only point that you can or should intervene
in practice. In politics, whether we like
it or not, we may have to act wherever we
look to prove effective, and that means
campaigning on whatever issue seems most
likely to galvanise a mass movement of resistance; it means reacting to any occasion
of breakdown of public compacency, and to
the fears, resentments and suspicions that
are actually experienced in relation to
government. And there is a very high degree
of public concern at the present time about
our defence policy and its implications.

Those who argue that the issue of disarmament cannot be treated in isolation are
absolutely right. But if this truth becomes
the reason for not treating it at all, or
for withholding political energy from it,
the Left may well compound its political
impotence, and in doing so lend itself to
the forces leading us towards annihilation.

The point about the non-isolated nature of
the disarmament issue is that the small
successes in that area – the delaying of the
deployment of Cruise in Britain, for example – must have immediate sociAl and
political effects, if only because forcing
government policy on such and such an issue
must heighten political consciousness and
help to persuade people of their powers of
self-determination. And were such small
achievements to lead to larger ones – to the

cancellation of Cruise and Trident and eventually to unilat.eral disarmament, the range
and importance of their social and political
effects will be correspondingly greater and
must go hand in hand with significant economic changes. The outcome of any successes
will certainly be disruptive and in a sense
dangerous, which means that while we engage
in the struggle for disarmament we must
continue to think beyond it and to be realistic about its general social implications.

Likewise, on the international plane, we
should not underestimate the disruptive
effects and the dangers of a reversal of
British defence policy. Disturbing the
equilibrium of the NATO alliance is no
laughing matter, and the US establishment
is already nervous about the extent to which
Denmark, Holland and Belgium are stepping
out of line in resisting the Cruise deployment and refusing to comply with NATO
defence budget requirements. And, of course~
any fissures that appear in the NATO alliance have seismic effects upon the Warsaw
Pact. If we are already anxious about the
effects of cracks appearing in that monolith~
and where they will lead, we must be prepared for a period of even greater anxiety
about the effects both within the USSR and
upon her allies of continual mounting pressure for disarmament in the West. We shall
disarm in Britain and in Europe only at the
cost of major upheavals in the balance of
forces in Europe and in the forces that
govern its politics, and there are severe
risks attached to any such upheaval. None
of them, however, can be comparable to the
risk of nuclear obliteration that Eurooe
currently faces.

And finally on this issue, to whatever
extent the disarmament movement may offend
some in presenting itself, or wanting to
present itself, as capable of embracing all
classes and every spectrum of opinion, let
us not kid ourselves about the actual, de
facto, nature of its support, which is basically coming from those committed to socialist policies in general. It is the left of
the Labour Party and of the TUC that are
denouncing Cruise and Trident, seeking to
moderate the hysteria about the ‘Soviet
threat’, spelling out the connection between
public expenditure cuts and arms, between
the needs of the Third World and the consumption of the developed countries – and in
doing so at least giving the appearance of
breaking out of the narrowly economistic
perspective that has for so long dominated
their political programmes. The motion on
disarmament was carried overwhelmingly at
thw TUC this year, the only dissent to it
being on grounds that it should have been
even less equivocal about its unilateralism.

The exact commitment of the Labour Party
will become clear only after its Conference
this year, though it is true that its past
record must make us sceptical of any pledges
it makes. But the fact that campaigners for

unilateral disarmament are now twice shy of
the Labour Party may be the very reason why
it will be very difficult to bite them

It is not only along these lines, however,
that we must counter opposition to campaigning on the issue of nuclear disarmament; we
must do so without any anxieties about our
‘humanism’ on sheer moral grounds. It is
wrong even to contemplate the use of weapons
of such destructive power, arid there can be
no justification based on the ‘realities’ of
the current world situation that can even
begin to undermine the stiength of the
ethical objection to the possession of
nuclear weapons.

It is true that appeals to
the immorality of nuclear arms, and graphic
descriptions of the horrific effects of
their use, will not be sufficient to dismantle the arsenals.

If that w~re all what
was needed, imagination would have preempted
their construction in the first place; but
any political action that hesitates in
stating its ethical motivations, must reduce
its sphere of influence.

Bibliography on Nuclear Arms and Nuclear Disarmament
Professor Michael Pentz, Towards the Final Abyss?

25p. Especially relevant to the debate on the
Soviet/NATO force levels.

Dan Smith and D. Griffiths, How Many More? 30p.

Specially detailed on the international nllclear
power/nuclear weapons link-up.

SIPRI Brochu:r>e 1980 – annual summary of work of
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

E.P. Thompson, Protest and SUl?vive, 45p. This is
to be reissued shortly, together with other
articles, as a Penguin Special.

Philip Bolsover, Civil Defence: the cruellest
confidence trick, 40p.

John Cox, Overkill, Peacock Books, £1. Survey of
the development, testing and use of nuclear and
anti-personnel weapons, and account of the
contemporary situation on nuclear arms and

E.P. Thompson, ‘Notes on Exterminism, the last stage
of civilisation’, New Left Review 121, August 1980.

All the above are available from CND, 29 Great James
Street, London WCl – add l5p for postage.

Newsletter of the Arms and Disarmament Information
Unit – available free (but send l5p for postage)
from ADIU, SPRU, University of Sussex, Falmer,
Brighton, Susses. NB: This unit, which provides an
absolutely vital research service, will be forced
to close shortly if funds are not forthcoming.

A one d~y conference -sponsored jOintly
by the History and Sociology Departments



Saturday 28th March 1981
Morning Session:

Judith Okely (University of Durham)
‘Nature-Culture as used against and by

JonasFrykman (University of Lundt)
‘Nature and Culture in 19th and 20th
Century Swedish Society’

Afternoon Session – Panel Discussion:

Rita Goldberg ~’Literary History
Jeff Weeks – Historical Sociology
Karl Figlio – History and Psychoanalysis
Marilyn Strathern – Anthropology
For further details write to Brenda Corti,
Department of Sociology, University of
Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester, C04 3SQ,

M.A. in Sociology at Essex
A one year full-time, or two year parttime course, with a research commitment.

Core Courses in Sociological Theory .and
Research Methods, and
Optional Courses in
Sociology of Knowledge
Sexual Divisions
Medical Sociology
Of particular interest to Radical
Philosophy readers might be the
Sociology of Knowledge option with its
treatment of historical, philosophical
and sociological approaches to both
scientific and non-scientific forms of

Enquiries sent to
Department Assistant
Department of Sociology
University of Essex
Colchester, Essex C04 3SQ


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