The Last Aldermaston

Submitted by Reddebrek on October 30, 2017

THE LAST ALDERMASTON, the last great united humanitarian-and-left-wing unity rite, is upon us. It seems a suitable time to examine some of the discernible trends in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament which organises this four-day martial beanfeast.

The most encouraging thing about the CND has been its lack of rigidity, either in organisation or policy. Anarchists, pacifists, marxists have all been able to join on their own terms, local groups have had the freedom to act as they feel fit regardless of the wishes of the encrusted bureaucracy of CND HQ. The 'better' groups have managed a minimum of rigidity, a maximum of tolerance and co-operation. In such groups there has been a genuine and important dialogue between adherents of widely differing ideologies.

The CND has always had its fair share of hired thinkers and bureaucratic centralisers and it looks as though these people are about to win the day. So far the only factor which seems to have held CND back from formal membership was the belief that the Labour Party was the 'correct sphere of influence for unilateralists who were REALISTIC' and that the institution of formal membership by CND might lead to the dreaded stigma of proscription. However CND's new policy statement, the infamous Steps Towards Peace, is a notable retreat, amounting in effect to self-inflicted castration, and it is doubtful whether a Labour Party headed by the 'radical' Mr. Harold Wilson and acutely anxious to get 'into power', would deem it worthwhile proscribing CND should it become a "membership organisation". I feel that there is a tendency towards this and that it will happen fairly soon. There will be heresy hunts and loyalty oaths and the like (all conducted in best social democrat tradition). The whole tendency is to increased control wherever possible over supporters and the logic of this is Membership. At the time of writing (mid-March) CND are attempting to get us to

CHARLES RADCLIFFE, born 1941, worked as a journalist in the North East before moving to London. He was a member of various CND groups in Yorkshire and Durham and is a former convenor for the North East Committee of 100 in the South West Durham area.

march without banners of 'a political nature', and turn us into a liberal-minded procession of lollipop luggers.

CND has the features of many a membership organisation already. For example the 1962 Conference ended passing a motion in favour of proposed industrial action against the bomb. When this received publicity the Executive of CND equivocated at enormous length and finally admitted this disgustingly 'revolutionary' act when pressed to do so by the militant fringe. Pat Arrowsmith and the Rev. Michael Scott, the CND's two respectable "radicals" left the executive in protest. All this came well from an organisation which protested against the Parliamentary Labour Party's reaction to those who accepted conference decisions!

In many local groups the control which I visualise already exists and it may be relatively easy to transfer this from a local to national basis. I know of groups where Committee of 100 supporters have been excluded from local CND working committees, where decisions were made, thus preventing the airing of views in favour of direct action. Another group in my experience takes all policy decisions at local committee level and merely produces them in a gust of hot air for ratification by the wider circle of supporters at a (deliberately?) badly publicised and poorly attended 'public meeting'. The meeting was permitted to throw out any motion but not to replace any (Democratic centralism). Other democratic incidents spring to mind. A town was daubed with anti-nuclear 'positive neutralist' slogans and the secretary of the CND group called a meeting some time later and put out a cliché-ridden statement, condemning the daubing, which was intended to be endorsed by the meeting. The meeting rebelled, coming out in favour of daubing as a breakthrough policy, a defiant gesture in the midst of apathy might shock people into thinking (it did just that) but their view was never recorded and what apparently went on the group's records was something to the effect of "disapproval, unendorsed because of time lag between event and condemnation". Again in this group all the motions for annual conference were decided by a small committee and unknown by the rank and file until after the conference when they were presented as fait accompli.

Obviously there are going to be groups which will continue as thriving cells whatever CND decides. These are the groups which might form the basis, along with other similar 'growths' of a militant and radical body of social and political dissent. These groups are already disaffiliated in all but name and would obviously take the Open Letters in Tribune and so on, as a matter of course. Such groups as these are not my concern here.

This move towards membership may not happen. As I see it the other logical alternative would be for CND to attempt to impose such control on supporters that many of those who give fringe support to CND, such as radical pacifists, anarchists and not-east-nor-west 'communists' (as well as those who feel no emotional attachment to any political creed and are alike only in their common feeling of disgust at the politicians who are turning their world into a lunatic asylum) would be forced to leave active campaigning in the CND aegis. They will continue to hold their strong views but will probably find themselves without an organisation in which to practise them, since many of them will simply not be able to afford to support the Committee of 100.

I doubt whether my experience has been unique. I have worked in bad groups, good groups and mediocre groups, the latter being the majority. Even the Guardian has approvingly noted the trend towards greater central control, away from group and, even more so, individual autonomy. CND has changed a lot since the early days — it has now got to a stage where its leaders look at the world through the same spectacles as the power politicians, where it can impose a tight discipline on supporters, where it can effectively isolate the 'left'.

There has been 'rebellion' against this dominant line of thinking. I have heard of 'loyal' groups which have sent CND 'officials' packing at group meetings when official CND policy on such matters as the Russian bomb or the Aldermaston march has been put forward, telling them either to shut up or get out. But once the formal membership is imposed these groups are going to be powerless — they will be the first victims of the heresy hunt, disaffiliated (oh, dear!) for their pains. The same thing will happen to individuals. To start with there may be a sizeable individual 'exodus' though this may be compensated by other liberal-minded folk who feel a revulsion towards the atomic bomb and are prepared to join a polite movement when they wouldn't dream of being associated with the admirable beats, 'degenerates' and so on who make up an Aldermaston march. It is not the purpose here to say what will happen to such people but I believe many will be attracted towards anarchism and it is our duty to let them know about it. CND has praised and presupposed the fact that people can do their own thinking. For many who support CND it has needed a big mental breakthrough. I don't believe that these people have forgotten how to think and they may be sympathetic to anarchist ideas presented well — something perhaps on the lines of "Betrayed people need Anarchism".