This is an edited version of ‘a critique of CND, with suggestions for new ways forward’, published as a Position Paper by Salisbury CND, June 1981. Extracts were used in ‘A Green View of Peace’, Green CND, 1982.

CND was my first active political involvement, and although I believed passionately in the cause of nuclear disarmament I never really believed it would come about through demonstrations and elections. I found myself in a movement with enormous potential for social change, but directed towards a single, and essentially negative, objective.
 It seemed clear that real ‘peace’ could be achieved  only through creative change in society and a fundamental shift in its values. ‘For Peace & Goodwill’ was my reaction to CND in the early eighties, an attempt at constructive criticism which went well beyond what the campaign – as constituted – was ever likely to do, but which did find resonance with members of the Green movement.

Over the past year the campaign has gained enormous numbers of new members, and a whole network of regional and local groups has come into being. This is wonderful, and being involved in it has been very exciting; but the honeymoon must end, and as a movement we must take time to see more clearly where we are, and what our direction should be.

It would be nice to think that we shall be able to elect a Labour  government (or any government) at the next (or any) election, who would debate the disarmament issue in parliament and pass a motion to rid ourselves of nuclear weapons, whereupon the Americans would say ‘there you go, that’s democracy’, and cart their missiles back across the Atlantic, whilst the arms dealers would simply abandon their enormous profits and go over to producing bicycles. But that, frankly, would be a delusion.

Exactly how, in practical terms, disarmament is to be brought about, and in what circumstances, and what will be the immediate effects upon society, are questions which CND has yet to face up to squarely.

That our economy need not be disrupted, our social order traumatised and our international alliances schismatised by the process of disarmament is perhaps true – but scarcely likely. Disarmament will only be achieved in the teeth of immense pressure from vested economic interests at home, and diplomatic – maybe even military – pressure from abroad. This will never be done within the context of party politics as we have them now, where there will always be other issues, other points of view demanding short-term compromise, and a fickle electorate. It will require a resilience born of a far deeper resolve. So my contention is not that CND should become an expressly political  movement, but that it should become far more than that.

It is a calm and positive frame of mind that is required; what we are and how we go about our campaign counts for far more than what we actually do or say. Leaflets enumerating predicted casualty figures and showing pictures of Hiroshima will have their short-term effect on at least some sections of the public; but when, six weeks later, nuclear war has not broken out after all and CND Activist arrives, haggard from constant organising, debating and demonstrating, upon Member of Public’s doorstep, saying ‘you were interested in CND – can’t you come and join us and help with the work, ‘cos I’m shattered’ the circumstances are not likely to turn the potential recruit into an active worker for disarmament.

When CND publicises itself, it should surely aim to take people up, to add to their lives rather than alarm them with horror stories – otherwise people’s total awareness will be diminished rather than increased, and CND’s cause, which must be based on mutual understanding will be lost. And there is the further danger that by making purely political issues of specific policies, such as Trident, we can play into the hands of those who are promoting such policies – people who are more experienced at the game, who work in secret, and who largely have control over the media.

The government may allow CND to work up public opinion over a particularly tangible and dangerous matter, such as land-based cruise missiles, which all the time they may only have promoted as a bargaining counter in the east-west game of bluff and deception. Then, when the time suits, these particular missiles could be magnanimously removed, taking the wind from CND’s over-blown sails.

But the greatest danger of all is that by becoming too deeply and exclusively immersed in the muddy pool of politics, CND will become esoteric and lose touch with the mass of young people on whom it depends for enthusiasm and energy. Most of these now have grown up in the shadow of atom bombs and doomsday-button politics; they already know, within themselves, that Damocles’ sword is hanging over their heads and the string is getting frayed. Technicalities  concerning ‘flexible response’, overkill factors and the futility of SALT or the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, can be interesting and useful in their way; but they are ramifications, not the substance of the matter. What we have to reach is people’s hearts.

Disarmament is essentially not a political issue, but one of common sense. It will become a legitimate matter of ‘politics’  when we have to decide the details of how to disarm, not the principle of sanity rather than madness. Therefore a political and intellectually  narrowing approach is always bound to fail; if we concentrate our minds on death, death will surely come. But if we look towards life, then we will find a creative process of self-discovery, and this is the only direction of success.

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CND has attracted the attention of many creative people; but it has not engaged their enthusiasm and whole-hearted involvement. Speaking of the virtual demise of CND in the 1960s, historian and CND veteran A. J. P. Taylor said:

“You have grand marches, you have meetings all over the country which show support, and what do you do next? You have the same marches all over again and you have the same meetings all over again and you carry the same resolutions, and what do you do next? And there comes a time when people say ‘We’ve done this’, and the whole thing fades away because they couldn’t think of how to, having mobilised the support, how to do it more.”

Bob Overy, in his pamphlet ‘How effective are Peace Movements?’ (1980) sums up both the problem and the best way through it. He has made a comprehensive study of various peace movements over the last two decades or more, including the anti-Vietnam war movement – which alone can make some real claim for ‘success’ – and it is worth quoting  him at length:

“Peace movements at this point in time have not succeeded in defining themselves in more than a narrow and oppositional way which is perhaps negative. But the concerns of peace movements … are almost always broader and more positive than opposition to war, and stretch right across the spectrum of political and social activity …

“This diversity, while it causes problems, is basically a source of strength…

“This distinction between the peace movement, seen narrowly in terms of its opposition to war, and the concerns of the peace movement, which are much broader, is helpful when we come to look at the  positive efforts of, for example, counter-culture people since the 1960s to build the ‘alternative society’ …

“The myriad growth of all sorts of crazy projects and living experiments in the late sixties, was the positive side to the opposition to the Vietnam war. The ‘alternative society’ provided in part a home base for the draft resisters, an area in which the positive values which had led them to confront the State and go to jail could become consolidated in new social forms …

“Its importance is that the nonviolent revolutionist movement is beginning to overcome the split between the narrow aims of peace movements and the wider concerns of many individuals who support peace movements. It is beginning to integrate their concerns into what can become a coherent perspective on how to make peace. The promise here is that the nonviolent revolutionist movement will  succeed in breaking out of what has been called the ‘pacifist ghetto’. If it does, the further challenge is to describe a nonviolent revolutionary ideology and programme to set alongside and compete with the Marxist revolutionary ideology and programme which often seems to be the only radical means of social transformation available to most groups brought up against the rigid cruelties of our world.”

But an abstract ‘ideology and programme’ is something outside the cultural values developed by the ‘alternative society’ to which he alludes. For reasons which can best be understood by experience and not through semantics, the truly peaceful society is bound to be practical and spontaneous, not intellectual and pre-planned. So when developing its ‘programme’, it will serve no useful purpose to follow set patterns of political behaviour. We must take each meeting, each encounter, each new day as it comes, spontaneously, as a fresh opportunity to build a world where peace is a dynamic reality.

Attempting to dissuade people of the risk, say, of Russian invasion if we unilaterally disarm will also serve no real purpose. People are fearful, and asking them to join CND is asking them to  take a risk – the far more immediate risk of social isolation, of breaking the structured pattern of life which gives them security, however illusory that security might be.  No one was ever persuaded to make a radical change in their basic points of view by intellectual reasoning alone, only as part of a wider change in their lives. So people must be encouraged to become their true selves, and not just the function that society requires of them. And this can never be achieved by arguing and cajoling; only by offering people the example and the opportunity, and allowing them to come of their own volition.

As long as we simply make demands upon the government to institute change, we are still basically caught up in the same syndrome as those who trust the government to preserve peace by means of deterrent. As long as we continue to place ultimate responsibility outside of ourselves, to petition or to blame ‘them’, then we still acknowledge ‘their’ power and legitimacy; and we therefore help to maintain that power, however much we think we are opposing it. It is up to us to accept our own personal responsibility and to do something. If we do it well, others will want to join us.

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John Lennon, interviewed by Sanity in 1969, was quite clear that “People should do things for peace. Anything! They can grow their hair for peace, they can give up their holiday for peace, they can walk for peace.” John Lennon sang songs for peace, and helped the ‘protest movement’ to become “part of our culture, the style of many young people”.

Twelve years later, these young people have children, homes, jobs. This ‘style’ has to be turned into a coherent way of life, and this is being done, of necessity. In this context, the potential transformation of individuals  and society, peace will have a chance. We need to make the idea of a ‘protest movement’ outdated.

Instead of just shouting “Jobs not Bombs” we should start trying to set up co-operative businesses. Instead of worrying over sparse attendance at business meetings, we should start trying to establish social centres where people can gather of their own accord, and ideas can arise spontaneously. Instead of merely campaigning against the bomb, we should be creating – and that means making – a society based on principles and ideals where there is simply no room and no time for such things as atomic weapons.

At the recent public meeting, a member of the audience suggested that both the ‘deterrent’ and CND were equally unlikely to bring about lasting peace, and asked whether nuclear weapons were not simply the manifestation of our corporate greed and fear – the logical outcome of the kind of society we have created for ourselves. His question provoked spontaneous applause, and elicited vague agreement but inadequate answers from both sides of the panel.

The professed aim of CND is “the unilateral abandonment by Britain of nuclear weapons” etc … “as a prerequisite for a British foreign policy which has the worldwide abolition of nuclear weapons … as its prime objective”. The politicians amongst us would do well to concentrate on this second, positive aspect of the campaign. People would be interested. Again according to Bob Overy: “Unilateral disarmament implies a new foreign policy stance for Britain, independent of NATO, building political and economic alliances with other nations in a policy which was termed ‘positive neutralism’. These ideas were never properly developed by CND and this was a great weakness in the sixties campaign.”

In terms of economics, the Lucas Aerospace Shop Stewards’ committee carried out an interesting exercise by producing comprehensive plans for turning the firm’s resources over from military production to socially useful projects. But it was only an exercise. The management turned their plans down flat. Many Trades Unions are critical of the way their industries are run; but what they do not do is invest their not inconsiderable resources in setting up the means of production themselves, in the ways, they say, that they should be set up.

So, if Management will not do it, and the Unions will not do it, it is up to individuals and other groups to find the ways and means to do what they can. Actions speak so much louder than words; and the right means do bring about positive ends – even if the ends become modified during the constructive process. Theories and programmes are only brown paper wrappings; it’s what you find inside that really counts.

Society is made up of people relating to one another; politically, economically, socially, emotionally, spiritually. It is in the social sphere that CND can be most active in bringing people together – for musical events, parties, even sports and games. The importance of such things is not just ‘fund raising’. Bringing people together, particularly  different types of people, to enjoy themselves, is working for peace. Any barrier broken down brings us nearer to One World. And if we cannot increase understanding between different social and political groupings within, say, one small English town, then what can we ever expect from the USA and the USSR?

If the logic of this is that we open shops, cafes, perhaps even social clubs, then so much the better. Let us find the means to do it. And if this in turn leads people to find ways of self-expression, whether in decorating, or making things to sell or to eat, or singing, dancing, making music, then so much the better again. When that starts to happen, simply because the opportunity is there and people want to take advantage of it, then we are on the way to success. For in the end, “the concern with nuclear weapons, and with ‘peace’, will become swallowed up or integrated within a larger movement to transform the conditions of our lives and to build a nuclear-free society” (Bob Overy). Let’s start building, from where we are, from the bottom up.

There are no restrictions on what we should do, where we should be to do it, or how high or wide we should set our sights; only on how we should go about it. For it is important that whatever we do, it should be done in a spirit of goodwill. This is the only yardstick; the only question (other than immediately practical ones) that needs to be asked. It is useful for people to look not only at society, but at themselves as well; to find ways of resolving  their own internal conflicts.

Whatever our opinions, past present or future, the way to the Creative Society is bound to be a voyage of self-discovery.

But here I have presented only words, another argument, intellectual, political in the broader sense of the word. The best that I can finish with is this, from Jack Kerouac: “But it isn’t as simple as that” warned Dean. “Peace will come suddenly, we won’t even understand when it does …”