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Nuclear Disarmament

Powell’s 1968 speeches, this has been the approach
that has organised Tory responses. The fact that it
is not shouted out loud at the moment should not fool
us. For it js there within common-sense thinking all
the time, and it is to be found at work in the
critical places. Also in June of this year, the
Scarman inquiry into the Brixton ‘festival of the
oppressed’ opened. Interviewed beforehand about what
he had learned from a visit to Brixton, Scarman
commented that he had learned something he had known
all along: ‘Black people and white people as individuals can get along perfectly well, it’s when they get
into groups, when the herd instinct takes over, that
trouble starts.’ Can you see the connection between
this casual statement, and the discussion above of
multiculturalism? If it isn’t obvious, then we have

not done our job properly. For Scarman was unthinkingly expressing a pure Powellite position in which
blacks and whites formed opposed herds – and hardly
anybody noticed.

For many years now, black people have increasingly
faced official racism in every situation where they
are defined a problem to be coped with. As teachers,
students and intellectuals on the left, we should not
shun the obvious contribution we can make in thinking

racism properly.

Martin Barker and Noel Parker
(Martin Barker’s book, The New Racism – Conservatism
and the Ideology of the Tribe, is due to be published
in September 1981 by Junction Books, London.)

Nuclear Disarmament
Democracy and Internationalism
Martin H. Ryle

Many Radical Philosophy readers will no doubt have
seen the TV debate (Panorama, September 1980) between
the multilateral ‘disarmers’, led by ‘Lord’ Chalfont,
and, representing CND, Edward Thompson, Mary Kaldor
and Bruce Kent. Many, too, may have shared my regret
that Thompson and Kaldor found themselves drawn, in
the early part of the programme, into a debate on
force levels and NATO/Warsaw Pact strategic intentions
which offered a fine parade-ground for Chalfont’s
brand of ‘rationality’ to go through its manoeuvres.

It was clear that the pro-H-bomb lobby, once they had
been able to fix those terms for the debate, were in
their element.

The other day, the representative of a local
nuclear disarmament organisation, asked by Radio
Brighton whether her position was not ‘airy-fairy’

given the levels of Soviet weaponry, replied: ‘To
disarm will, I admit, be an act of faith.’ This
answer kept her clear of the strategists’ labyrinth,
and invoked the essential dimension of moral choice
(if ever an issue showed the absurdity of trying to
disinfect politics of moral ‘contamination’, nuclear
disarmament is that issue). But to many listeners it
must have seemed a bald response; seemed, too, an
opting out of political debate. I felt, as I had
done when watching Panorama, that the nuclear disarmament movement, refusing the corrupt terms of its
adversaries, must develop forms of argument which,
while retaining the force of moral conviction, also
shift the discussion onto new political terrain. It
is time we set up, and made explicit, our own premises
for future argument.

In doing so, we are certain to invoke democratic
ideals. We are goinB to appeal over the heads of ~he

elites to the mass of the people – certain victims of
any nuclear war. Recent disclosures have highlighted
the extent to which the nuclear decision-making
process has evaded such measures of democraticparliamentary control as do exist (I am thinking of
Callaghan’s Gang of Four approving the Chevaline programme, and of the cruise missile decision made ‘on
our behalf’, but behind our backs, in Brussels). It
is also clear (see New Statesman, 2 and 9 October
1980) that ‘Home Defence’ plans are being developed
which will allow our political-military leaders to
help themselves, if war seems likely, to the most
frankly totalitarian measures: appointment of unelected Controllers, use of troops to crush demonstra- •
tions, strict state management of all news and
information, and retreat of Top People to heavily
guarded secret bunkers where they will be able to
implement the holocaust without being inconvenienced

by the mob whom it will destroy. The distinction
between the rulers and the ruled, problematic though
it may be in principle, will here be given the most
absolute and concrete expression.

But to publicise this possibility is also, as we
are seeing, to evoke a resurgence of democratic
forces against its realisation. The arguments of the
disarmament movement must appeal to, and foster, this
democratic consciousness.

Another theme of the coming struggle will be the
creation of a European solidarity in resistance to the
threat of nuclear war. The politics of disarmament
are implicitly jnternationalist – nowhere more so
than in relation to the unilateral nuclear disarmament which the movement in Britain will be striving
to impose on its own government.

I believe that these two themes of democracy and
internationalism are intimately linked. In what
follows, I try to indicate their interconnection, and
to sketch some lines along which the necessary
political arguments may be developed.

The Nature of Nuclear War
Until recent times, wars were fought between specialised groups – soldiers; and military convention, as
expressed for instance in the code of the International Red Cross, used to lay upon those soldiers the
obligation of respecting the neutrality of civilians.

Pillage, rape and indiscriminate slaughter often
enough made a mockery of all that; still, it might be
said that the bureaucratisation of war, its integration with the other activities of the sovereign
state, formerly went along with an attempt (though
the phrase blazons its own absurdity) to keep war
humane. 1939-1945 saw an appalling growth in the
destructive power of weaponry – saw, in particular,
the ‘technique’ of aerial bombardment; and there was
a corresponding erosion of the principle of the
neutrality of civilians. This double process, which
can’be traced through the saturation bombing of
European and Japanese cities, reached its satanic
culmination at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since then,
chemical weapons have increasingly been used; in its
defoliation of great tracts of land, its merciless
blitz upon Hanoi and Haiphong, and its massive use of
‘anti-personnel’ (anti-people) weapons against the
population of South-East Asia, the USA military has
maintained, on a barely reduced scale, the tradition
of 1945, and has demonstrated that when the modern
‘advanced’ state goes to war, no notion of distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants will
fetter its pursuit of victory. And if victory for
all that eluded General Westmoreland’s bloody grasp,
this is now attributed, in influential US circles, to
his reluctance to use the ultimate, thermonuclear

Modern warfare involves, then, the erasure of the
line between different kinds of ‘personnel’. In the
theatre war of the nuclear strategist’s fantasies,
one heap of corpses, on the plains of Germany or
Poland, will be troops, ‘legitimate’ targets; but
another, far bigger, will be victims of ‘collateral
effects’ .

When we compare this with previous wars, we see a
differ’ence not of degree, but in kind. Armed forces
can no longer be said to protect or defend civilians;
instead, they plainly threaten the civilians of
either side with a violence against which there is
no defence. Indeed thermonuclear war inverts the old
relation of civilian to military ‘personnel’, for
while the citizens of either side would be helpless,
in the event of such a war, beneath the hail of bombs
and missiles, those who visited this fate upon them
would at least enjoy such meagre protection as our
technology has devised against its own cataclysmic
powers. In the warfare of machines, the one with the
best chance is the one who is most nearly assimilated
to a machine. The flesh of soldiers, if war happens,
will be lost to sight beneath grotesque protective
clothing (see Radio Times, 11 October 1980; and
Sanity, October 1980). The bomber pilots will scream
along the stratosphere while the earth blazes. And
the ultimate controllers will be buried beneath layer
upon layer of concrete.

The relative immunity of the Top Brass is naturally
a well established principle of war: no military
tradition is more significant. What is new, today,

is the scale on which the Generals are preparing to
sacrifice their victims: we are talking about the
death of tens or hundreds of millions, at the bidding
of perhaps half a dozen. Another novelty: the High
Command no longer needs people to fight its war; a
handful of picked men can prepare the warheads, press
the buttons (the engines of destruction are already
built); and the multitude are called upon only in
that other role, the role of target, which has always
been the least advertised aspect of a conscript’s
duty. In one sense, this means a terrifying accession of power to the military: as with the labour
process, so in war too the refinement of technique
reduces almost to nothing the role of human agency,
which begins to reside solely in the will of those
‘in charge’. But there is another side to the matter,
and it is here that space has perhaps been cleared
for our arguments, and for a historic change in human
consciousness: for war now stands deprived of that
fatal glamour, that complex subjective meaning, which
it had (at least prospectively) when armies of human
beings confronted armies of others who themselves
wore guns, and whose broad human like1ess had been
lost beneath a narrow obtrusive likeness, a reciprocal readiness to kill. The technical ‘advances’

which have rendered our participation superfluous,
and which mean that war (if it happens) will be a
matter of our compulsory acquiescence in our own
destruction, show war clearly as something that is
done to us. The mass of the Russian or Polish
people would no more be active agents, at the crucial
moment, than would their counterparts in America or
Britain. We know, today, our common humanity with
the Berlin bus-driver, the Moscow schoo1kid, the
Cracow waitress … and we know that they may be
declared our enemies, tomorrow, and exterminated on
our behalf before they have been through that formerly transforming rite, the donning of a uniform.

Now that it is only by technological proxy that they
are preparing to slaughter one another – now, too,
that they must confront the prospect that no-one will
survive – perhaps the peoples of the ‘developed’

world will remark something else they have in common:

their mutual terror beneath their mutual threat.

In the new context, where they are so visibly no
more than victims, where war offers no scope for acts
of heroism (or of cowardice), millions perceive an
old truth: that the enemy is the military machine
itself, the controlling elite and the structure which
supports it.

This does not absolve us. We are anything but
innocent, since it is we who maintain that structure.

Collectively, internationally, we are potential victims of our own machinery of murder. It is we who
must dismantle it.

This leads us from the realm of military hierarchies to the political realm. War has hitherto, and
increasingly, been resisted by the recalcitrance of
conscripts (whether formally, as conscientious objection or draft-card burning, or in the less articulate
modes of desertion and ‘cowardice’). Now that there
is no need for conscripts, the resistance has to take
the form of political and social struggle. Also, it
has to begin, and succeed, before war starts.

Our arguments, in stimulating and vivifying the
struggle, have to grasp a paradox: we (the non-elite,
the mass of the people) are responsible for a situation in which we are deprived of responsibility. And
if that seems to leave us powerless, we can only
seize power back by asserting, and demonstrating,
that we already have it.

But this dialectic must not deprive us of today’s
liberal truth, and today’s slogan: We are many (those
of us who have our fingers on no button), while they
are few (those who might destroy us all).


One objection to the slogan ‘We are many, they are
few’ would begin from the claim that we (in Britain)
are already exercising our political control. It is
we who chose Mrs Thatcher, with her Trident missiJes
and her appearances in full-page arms advertisements
in the Wall Street Journal (see Daily Mirror, 8 Oct
1980); we may not have our fingers on the buttons,
but we pay the salaries of those operatives; we pay
for the subs and the bombs, and we are fellow-unionists with those who design, build and service them.

Therefore don’t the Poles (for instance) have every
right to see us as materialised in Trident and
Cruise missiles ( … and don’t we, for our part,
have a more than equal right to speak of the ‘threat’

from the Warsaw Pact nations, since there really is
no sign, in the East, of popular dissent from Soviet
defence policies)?l
In answer to this, we must certainly point out
that the likes of Mulley and Pym, when they push
through their decisions on Chevaline or cruise
missiles, have in fact preferred to circumvent
Parliament, and indeed the Cabinet, Nor must we
forget how the reality of political conflict is
obliterated in the media fiction of ‘consensus’, by
which highly controversial decisions, provided only
that the government has made them, are announced,
prior to any debate on them, with all the dead
objectivity the TV voice can muster (see E.P.

Thompson, Writing by Candlelight, Merlin, 1980,
pp.248, 260ff.). So long as we are silent, we are
assumed to assent; and it takes 70,000 of us to fill
Trafalgar Square before a swelling volume of protest
merits two minutes of ‘the News’.

Still, the consensus does support the adopted
poljcy: independent British deterrent (though a
recent poll showed 70% opposed, anomalously, to
Trident); full and abject NATO membership; general
willingness to act as unsinkable USAF aircraft
carrier. This, it will be said, is what we voted
for; this is our collective choice, and the outcome
of our power.

Before pursuing this argument, let us consider
these two propositions:

(a) Britain is a democracy.

(b) At any time, the decisions of perhaps half a
dozen people (not necessarily British, for what
that’s worth) could lead to the mass murder of
‘enemies’ we have never met, and to the mass murder
(‘pre-emptively’ or in retaliation) of ourselves.

Now proposition (b) is the case. It is easy to
rehearse the ‘justification’ for this: we must be
ready to respond instantly to a Soviet attack; military hierarchies are never democratic, that would make
them hopelessly unwieldy; their leaders certainly
won’t take time to consult the populace as to whether
it wants the holocaust; so our ‘security’, the
defence of our ‘vital interests’, forbids such consultation on the ·part of our leaders. Here we see
very clearly how nationalism traps the people of both
sides within a reciprocal/mutual logic – a logic,
too, which (‘defence’ being at the heart of the
modern state) feeds back into the entire political
structure, fostering and ‘justifying’ the intensi~ica­
tion (in the East) or the extension (in the West) of
frankly arbitrary state power. And we also see
clearly what would be the condition for the destruction of this justifying logic – the unilateral conquest, by the peoples of one bloc, or (as a first
step) of some part thereof, of the control of the
defence of their own country which currently lies in
the hands of ‘leaders’. And unilateral nuclear disarmament (for there is no sense in which the H-bomb
can be a ‘people’s weapon’) would be the sign that

such a conquest was effectively being made. 2
Placing ourselves again within the frontiers of
our own country (though we should note here how our
arguments cannot remain within those frontiers),
what are we to make, given the truth of (b), of our
first proposition – that Britain is a democracy?

We can only say that the implied definition of
‘democracy’ is of a peculiar and narrow (though
perhaps widely accepted) kind. Popular power is
reduced to the point where it becomes a matter of
choosing our leaders. In place of any continuous
exercise of control; we acquiesce in a process by
which our collective authority is from time to time
handed over to representatives who are then authorised in principle to take even the steps which will
lead to the destruction of those they represent. We
have seen how these leaders then push the process of
delegation further – push it, so to speak, away to
the far side of the wall they have built up, and
blithely infringe even the limited definition of
democracy within which they have won power: they hand
on ‘our’ authority to the Gang of Four, or to NATO’s
Nuclear Planning Group. We have seen, too, how in
the run-up to war, those in power would isolate themselves physically from the pressure of public opinion
– from us; and it can be argued that the totalitarian
procedures which would then be instituted are the
extension of tendencies already operative. The point
lies less in the possible suspension of normal routines than in the fact that our ‘democracy’, as perceived by those whom it has put in power, already
offers the political and ideological preconditions
for such a suspension.

Even within the set-up, there are countervailing
forces. It is not fortuitous that the challenge,
within the Labour Party, to the supremacy of the NATO
apologists (Healey and Owen were both ~_n the Chevaline Gang; as for Rodgers … ) goes along with, or
indeed takes the form of, a determined struggle to
rewrite, within the parliamentarian arena, the
definition of democratic control and accountability.

Nor can any radical movement turn its back disdainfully upon Parliament and what it represents: power
does lie there, and also the electoral system
amounts, historically, to a genuine and vital extension of popular power. Within its limits, it does
institute a form of democracy. 3 But it is at the
same time clear that ‘defence’ offers the most
glaring instance of a tendency by which Parliament
is becoming the instrument, not of our control over
the state, but of the State’s control over us. It
is this tendency, I take it, with its concomitants of
official secrecy and official (dis) information, to
which Thompson refers when he speaks, in Protest and
Survive, of the degeneracy of our political culture
under the dead weight of ‘deterrence’.

Now it is within this deformed culture that we
chose Mrs Thatcher, and that we have been choosing our
whole defence policy. It is stupid to write off (as
‘false consciousness’ or whatever) the popular will
as expressed in general elections: part of our
struggle is a struggle to change that will, and then
to oblige a more accountable Parliament to enact it.

But it is worth reflecting on the truth in the anarchist graffito: ‘Whoever you vote for, the government
will get in’. ‘Voting for the Government’, if that
is all we have, is not enough; and it is a profoundly
degenerate democracy whose electors are deprived, at
the crucial moment, of the choice between life and
death. We are entitled to ask, when we think of
Thatcher’s government and of its majority at the
polls, how far the specific choices we make are
affected by the narrowing of the horizon within which
all choice is made. A truly democratic society cannot
by definition be one whose people cannot choose


between life and death. The nuclear disarmament movement will be striving to politicise and democratise
(how far should one write: repoliticise, redemocratise?) our culture – to give people the sense of their
own power. We must show how Home Defence means
nothing less than the reinforcement of the elites in
their theft of our most vital right; how its hellish
‘scenario’ depicts a whole population powerless to
avert its own extinction. And we must explode the
fiction which is implied, the Tory-bureaucratic
fiction of our impotence: we must assert our power,
now, before it is too late. 4

Writing of the importance of establishing an international movement for disarmament, one is in a tradition of honourable defeat.S The premises of the
argument are too plainly a series of truisms, truisms
whose rational and human force have repeatedly proved
the merest impotence against the force of circumstances, of history. Here they are:

(1) War brings no advantage to the troops, or the
great mass of the civilians, of the combatant nations.

When the war ends, millions of them are dead, and
almost everyone is poorer and hungrier.

(2) The political-financial-military-diplomatic
elite not only runs the war; it contrives to prevent
any common initiative for peace which ordinary people
maybe making. Thus (now) ‘Lord’ Chalfont, Muskie
and Gromyko meet, they claim, to pursue the disarmament we all desire. But we know well enough that they
and their predecessors have not reduced our common
arsenal by so much as one megaton.

(3) But if those elites in part owe their power to
the disposition of economic and political forces
within the state, a crucial role has also been played
by the ideology of nationalism, which has blinded the
people of one side or another, often of both, to the
truth of (1), and by which we have endorsed the
credentials of the most bellicose ‘representatives’,
and tolerated the erection of vast military machines.

‘We’ have needed the military because ‘they’ have had
it, or because we have believed ‘we’ could gain by
destroying ‘them’ – and it is nationalism which has
written the definition of ‘we’.

More extraordinary, nationalism has sometimes
fired the murderers/victims of the carnage with an
enthusiasm for their own inhuman role.

It is with this last factor – the ideology of
nationalism – that I am here concerned. I believe
that the nuclear disarmament movement should make
nationalism the target of a sustained ideological

There is a real sense in which wars begin in consciousness. I am not so naive as to ignore the
connections between capitalism/imperialism and war,
or the concrete economic pressures which have in that
sense ‘produced’ war. We know that the military might
of the superpowers guarantees their hegemony over
client states in Europe and elsewhere, and that the
whole globe is the scene of struggle between rival

interests, a struggle which currently takes the form
of war in many places. But this does not mean that
capitalism/imperialism have led to war of themselves,
by an automatic ‘law’ which we can do nothing to
affect. War involves a complex of human agencies,
which has crucially included the willingness, in the
end, of soldiers to fight – a willingness which now
becomes, as I have argued, a generalised political
acquiescence in state policies, quite particularly
nuclear weapon policies, which tend towards oblivion.

I have already sketched the thermonuclear context
in which that acquiescence, and the nationalist ideology which underlies it, have nowadays, and with evergrowing difficulty, to subsist. It becomes impossible
to maintain that’ war will advance anyone’s interests,
however narrowly construed, when we will all perish
miserably if such a war occurs. The very existence
of nuclear weapons, because it adds immeasurably to
our common peril, begins to engender a common pressure
for survival; and as against this, nationalism, since
all parties in a nuclear war are infallibly defeated,
can no longer hold out its one concrete incentive,
the prospect of victory. When Chalfont (or was it
Hill-Norton?) – for the Radio 4 ‘debate’ of which I’m
thinking was between Tweedledum and Tweedledee pronounces that ‘this idea of a European nuclear-free
zone will not work’, he dismisses, as if it were some
bit of ‘political’ or diplomatic bricolage, what will
be, insofar as we can create it, an authentic response
in consciousness (that kind of ‘idea’) to a terribly
altered material reality.

To the extent that it is precisely their reliance
on militarism and nationalism which affords to the
elites their purchase on internal power (and this
seems to me primarily an ideological question6 ) – to
that extent, those elites can be expected to subvert
and neutralise internationalist initiatives. The
demand for unilateral disarmament is an instance of
just such real internationalism, and we know what
forces will be resisting it. Thatche;’s administration clearly cherishes the belief that to promote a
Cold War will be well worth the arms ‘investment’: it
will make it easier to sell vicious class policies to
the electorate, and to distract attention (as Tony
Benn argued in Trafalgar Square) from the disastrous
failure those policies are encountering. But the
ideology of nationalism to which Cold War rhetoric
appeals has never rested on weaker supports. It
probably flourishes as noisomely as ever in certain
‘influential’ quarters, well frequented by military
gentlemen and other VIPs. But here as elsewhere the
Tories may come to regret that they have cut themselves off so effectively from contact with the mob,
who fought the last war, and who may have holidayed
since then in Italy, Germany, Yugoslavia; who have
seen their football team play against Russian or
Czech sides; who insisted on watching those beastly
Moscow Olympics. Everyday facts like these are
dissolving the basis for nationalism – a basis,
always, of ignorance. The idea that British selfinterest is justified by the innate superiority of
the Briton does not stand up to the experience of
international travel, the development of electronic
media with their leaping of map-drawn boundaries, the
growth of cultural, academic and sporting links. The
nature of modern weapons itself renders militaristic
nationalism absurd. And it is directly challenged by
non-governmental international meetings (such as the
recent Sofia conference, with over 2,000 delegates;
such as the forthcoming international conference of
mineworkers, set up by the NUM in London for next
June) which make disarmament and peace their primary
concern. As well as developing arguments against
nationalism, the nuclear disarmament movement will be
demonstrating in practice how far nationalism is

already dead.

Of course, there is more to it than that. The
passing of aggressive nationalism in Europe is on~y
the precondition for the birth of internationalis~.

The populations, and not just the possessing classes,
of the ‘developed’world, and quite particularly of
the USA, enjoy a material standard of life whose
basis is the world economy which plunges millions
into starvation. In this sense, their allies benefit
from the joint nuclear hegemony of the superpowers we benefit, when we eat meat three or four times a
week, turn up our central heating, drive around one
to a car … A European popular movement based solely
on common solidarity against common terror will not
be addressing itself explicitly to the global injustices from which Europeans collectively do so nicely.

On the other hand, military spending (£250,000,
000,000 for 1980) is itself the factor which more
than any other distorts the world economy, and in
that sense any move which halts and reverses the arms
race makes for a less hungry world, and also begins a
process (in consciousness as well as in the economy)
which can lead to global internationalism.

Humanism and Class
As CND again becomes a mass movement, it is inevi t··
able, and right, that this will provoke political
discussion on the left. The debate, which has already begun,7 will revolve around the question of
whether, or how far, the issue of nuclear weapons can
be considered outside the framework of class relations. It will be apparent that I am of Thompson’s
view, and agree that ‘the bomb is not a class issee:

it is a human issue’. I cannot properly develop this
point here, for it cannot be dealt with in a few paragraphs, but I should like to conclude by saying something about the vocabulary which I have used, and
which I regard as consistent with the emphasis that
the campaign should place on democracy and internationalism.

There are pitfalls here in the matter of tone and
style: a recitation of facts may make up the justest,
and most effective, narrative of Hiroshima and
Nagasaki, and an over-reaction is doubtless possible
even to the chill ‘neutrality’ of scientistic euphemism: ‘collateral effects … ‘ But if we must show
delicacy in our handling of a humanistic vocabulary,
that does not mean we should eschew it altogether.

The left has long been ambivalent about humanist
terminology – about invocations of our common humanity, or of our ‘rights’; references to ‘ordinary
people’ (rather than to the proletariat); the frank
use of morally laden terms; a stress placed upon the
stuff of experience itself (suffering and deprivation,
or for that matter joy and love). The objection is
that such language, just because it appeals to what
people have in common, obscures (in theoretical discourse) the centrality of class, and leads (in
political rhetoric) to confusion and vacillation
about the nature of the enemy. There is a sense in
which these objections hold good in the case of
nuclear weapons: certainly these exist, East and
West, as elements in the structures of class/bureaucratic power of whose degeneracy they are the sign,
so that to ‘theorise’ them properly would be to invoke those structures (and not just as empty generality); certainly, too, we need not waste time appealing to the ‘humanity’ of those who control the
weapons – the Thatchers, Healeys, Brezhnevs and
Carters whose decisions threaten our humanity.

But I am at once aware of the problematic elasticity of that phrase: ‘those who control the weapons’.

Here, might not a Marxist want to say, ‘But it is the

bourgeoisie as a whole, the State on its behalf,
which controls them’, – from which it follows that we
must show this, and demand nothing less than the overthrow of the state. Again, space does not allow me
to discuss the validity of the claim itself. 8 What I
would say, however, is that to put the argument in
those terms is to reject the participation in the disarmament movement of thousands who may be ‘guilty’ of
contradiction in that they do not believe themselves
to be revolutionaries, while yet being committed to
the struggle against nuclear weapons. To appeal, on
the other hand, to the principles of democracy, and
to moral and humanitarian feeling, is to accept terms
which (for better or worse – for better and worse)
have, in our political culture, and among the working ,
class at least as much as among the middle class, far
greater currency than do the terms of class war.

I am conscious of what may seem the opportunism,
even the unprincipled opportunism, of this view. But
there is another side to it: principle, too, upholds
my position. For it is clear that a successful
campaign on the issue of nuclear weapons will have to
confront, and defeat, the power of the State, or at
least of entrenched elites within it. To that
extent, disarmers are engaged in a revolutjonary
project willy nilly. Many of them, indeed, clearly
recognise it as such: when Ian Devison, vice-chairperson of CND, spoke at Trafalgar Square in October
1980, he said, ‘If we cannot bring the Establishment
to see sense, we shall have to break the Establishment’. And that remark was greeted with the afternoon’s loudest and most sustained applause.

But this revolution, if we can make it, is not one
whose form and course our study of history allows us
to predict. The alliances which are being forged,
the strategies which are being developed, the way
people are meeting and talking and educating themselves and one another – this cannot be fitted into
patterns extrapolated from the class ~truggle in
19th-century Britain, or from the Russian and Chinese
revolutions. The Marxist and socialist left will
rightly want to bring its contribution of theory and
analysis; the organised labour movement will have a
decisive role to play. But the left will have to be
ready to learn as well as to teach.

If the language of humanism generates questions
within the boundaries of the class state, it is unquestionably appropriate in the international field
– appropriate, there, just because it is universal,
more universal than the language, not of class, but
of nationalism. When, canvassing, you knock at someone’s door and she or he says (talking about the
bomb, and about the Russians), ‘They have children
too’, this recognition of common humanity is clearly
a basis for relations between the British and Soviet
peoples; just as clearly, no such basis can be found ,
in the mutual terror which the weapons engender, and
which is maintained by the diplomats in their multilateral non-initiatives. The growing movement which f
calls for an end to weapons of mass destruction
responds to the imperative of simple passions: love
(for one’s lover, children, friends), and the fear of
death, their death and one’s own – a fear made unmanageable because nuclear death means death, too,
for the history and culture without which we cannot
imagine ourselves or our descendants. In that sense
– in its relation to our deepest physical and psychological needs – disarmament, like hunger, is a simple
issue in a complex world. Whatever else it is about,
the struggle is also about saving, and extending,
some space for human life itself.


Martin Ryle’ s The Polities of Nuelear Disarmcunent is due to be publ ished
shortly by Pluto Press.

Like most people, I ‘know’ about Eastern Europe only what I can glean/
decipher from my reading of the British press. On this basis, I would
suggest that these are some of the factors which will be taken into account
by those active in the new European Nuclear Disarmament initiative:

(a) The Soviet government has some claim to represent, vis-a-vis the USA,
the interests of peace and disarmament. That claim is anything but unquestionable; indeed it is altogether called in question by the deployment of
SS-20 missiles, and by the invasion of Afghanistan. Nonetheless, nobody
who studies the facts can avoid the conclusion that the West has consistently
set the pace in nuclear escalation. For a lucid (and frightening) exposition,
see Mike Pentz’ s pamphlet, Towaz>ds the FinaZ Abyss? (available from CND).

For a discussion of the international politics of detente, see John Cox,
‘Goodbye to Detente?’, Marxism Today, September 1980.

(b) It follows from (1) that the peoples of Eastern Europe are not aUogether
unjustified if, however reluctantly they find themselves incorporated within
the hegemonic Soviet bloc, they see the Soviets as also genuinely defending
them against Western aggression.

(c) The kind of democratic insurgence which is possible in this country, and
which from below the whole international posturing of ‘arms control’,
will be less likely insofar as these two factors (a) and (b) dominate, and
circumscribe, popular thinking in the Eastern bloc. At the same time, to
build any kind of popular protest movement is clearly harder in those countries – though not uniformiy so in all of them (we all l:now what has been
happening in Poland).

(d) The dissidents whom one easily regards as the likely initiators of antinuclear protest have their own reasons for caution or reluctance. It is one
of the effects of superpower domination that dissidents and protestors are
inclined to see the enemy as being first of all on their own side of the
‘frontier’. Some Eastern dissidents (so E.P. Thompson argued in a recent
letter to the Guardian) regard the West as their ally against internal
repression, and look with ambivalence or disquiet on initiatjves over here
which may seem to weaken their defenders.

These considerations emphasise the need for those who dissent from Western
nuclear weapons policy to explain carefully to our colleagues in the East
the grounds on which we do so. It is, at all events, very important that
popular protest against nuclear arms should be encouraged to develop ‘across
the frontier’. Once the two movements are moving forward side by side, the
logic of the situation means that they will at every step reinforce one
anotner against state power, East and West.

If we can abolish nuclear weapons, the first step will already have been
taken on the road which leads to the destruction of the military hierarchy
whose apex (or nadir) they are. There may nonetheless be circumstances in
which populations will be obliged to defend themselves against aggression,
whether from foreign armies or from internal repressors. We have already
seen (in Vietnam, in Zimbabwe) the form which this defence takes: it is based
on guerilla war, on the arming of the people. The ‘people’s war’ is, or at
least tends to be, democratic in its military structure. Its basis is not
coercion, but solidarity.

There are two grounds for my assertion that the H-bomb can never be a
‘people’s weapon’. First of all, the technology involved itself imposes a
hierarchical structure of command: these are not weapons that can be carried
by people. Secondly, I do not believe that there are any circumstances under
which the population of one country would democratically consent to use such
weapons against the population of another.

It is worth observing that the limit of parliamentary democracy as currently
concei ved was reached some fi fty years ago. From 1832 to 1928, we see a
progressive widening of the franchise; but (apart from the relatively unimportant lowering of the voting age to 18), there has latterly been no pro-

A socialist perspective of the way science
and technology are an integral part of the
system that controls, mystifies, represses
and exploits most of the popu lation of
this country and the rest of the world.

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gress along that road, and nor can there be. Nonetheless, virtually all our
‘politicians’ seem to believe that what we now have in Britain is the eternal
Incarnation of the Idea of Democracy: anyone who suggests change is seen as
threatening that sacred edifice. But then these same politicians similarly
believe that Money will always be with us, and that the needs of Money are
coincident with the needs of human beings.

In asserting that power, we will naturally be making use of existing political
institutions, particularly the Labour Party and the Trades Union movement.

Already the Labour Party conference has reaffirmed a unilateralist commitment;
the TUC general council has expressed its opposition to the cruise missile
programme; UCATT (Midlands Region) has called upon its members in the
construction industry to black all work connected with cruise.

But we need to widen our horizons, and to think in terms of possibilities
which have not been on the agenda for many decades. The potential is here
for the building of a mass movement of enormous dimensions. Already people
are joining the nuclear disarmament campaign who have never participated in
political action: they are educating themselves, mobilising friends and
colI eagues, learning/teaching/ creating the meaning of solidarity. CND
activists cannot rest content with operating by way of existing structures,
even where those structures are truly democratic; we must go out onto
doorsteps, and foster the grass-roots movement.

If such a mass campaign is built, British politics will be profoundly
changed. History will be made. If readers are sceptical about my enthusiasm,
I can only invite them to put their scepticism to the test by becoming
involved themselves.

It happens that I have recently been working on a number of journals dating
from the period immediately before the Second World War. Of course the
arguments against militarism and war which were advanced then bear a broad
similarity to those advanced today. But it is essential to take full
account of the historical developments, and especially the developments in
the weapons themselves, which place us now in a situation for which there is
no precedent. War has always meant suffering and death; never before has it
meant the certain extinction of human civilization.

By this I mean that the weapons cannot be used against internal dissenters.

They are rather too indiscriminate for that. But Thatcher’s militarism and
nationalism, by harping on the ‘possibility’ of a war which would destroy us
all, perhaps induces in some people a sense of powerlessness, torpor, fatalism. In the nuclear age, nationalist ideology turns back upon the people of
the nationalist state: we cannot export that violence (as Thompson puts it
Protest and SUI’Vive) , so it turns back on us in the form of terror.


But here, as elsewhere, the Tories have achieved the opposite of what they
intended. Just because powerlessness, against such a threat, is intolerable,
we are driven to assert our power. They have terrorised us, not into
acquiescence, but into revolt.

Some of the lines along which it will be taking place can be seen by comparing Thompson’ s article in the September 1980 New Left Review with the reply
to it in the SWP journaLSoaiaUst Review (1980/9).

I should acknowledge here what will already be clear to those who have read
Protest and SUI’Vive – that Thompson’ s recent writing has been constantly in
my mind as I have written this. It would be difficult to overestimate the
contribution he has made to the resurgence of the nuclear disarmament
campaign; and difficult, in my view, to pay sufficient tribute to the quality
of that contribution.

It should be said, however, that individual capitalists might quite consistently advocate nuclear disarmament, for the simple reason that while the
weapons exist, nuclear war is possible. After nuclear war, there will
certainly be no more capitalism. We may indeed have reaehed >the point where
the ideological ‘advantages’ of Cold War politics begin to seem too dearly
bought even to those they benefit, since their price is the current
possibility, and growing likelihood, of Hot War.

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