Pieter Lawrence

The Case against CND

Source: Socialist Standard, June 1982.
Transcription: Socialist Party of Great Britain.
HTML Markup: Adam Buick
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2016). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.

An edited typescript of the opening statement made by the representative of the Socialist Party of Great Britain in a debate with CND at Islington in October 1981.

In thinking about the kind of world that CND apparently wants, and the world that socialists want, the central issue is one of social control. We don't like what is going on in society; self-evidently, it is not only an appalling mess but it is fraught with the most colossal dangers to humanity. The problem is, how do we bring this mess, with its accompanying dangers, under control, so that we then have a society where these threats no longer exist, where we have solved the problem of war, and where we control society in the human interest?

The possibility of this kind of social control is pre-supposed by our understanding of problems, so we are saying that we share the indignation that CND expresses, but more than that we say that this must be supported by a clear analysis of how these problems arise in the modern world. We argue that the cause of war is capitalist society.

Under capitalism we have a world which is divided into rival and competing nations, which struggle with each other over the control of markets, trade routes and natural resources. It is this struggle which brings nations into armed conflict with each other because militarism is the violent extension of the economic policies of propertied interests. War and the nuclear threat cannot be isolated from the economic relationships of production or the general object of capitalist production, which is to advance the interests of those privileged class minorities who monopolise the whole process of production.

It follows that no working class of any country has any stake or interest in war, and we have always said that workers should never support war. Our stand since we were established has been to oppose every war. Armed with this understanding of the cause of war we are committed to working politically with workers of all countries to establish world socialism, because that is where the interest of the working class lies. We have never participated in the hideous cause of capitalism at war.

Even amid the hysteria of the first world war, when the nationalistic pressures on the whole population to support the war were very intense, our early comrades sent out this message. "Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands, the expression of our good will and socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of socialism."

Socialism means democratic control of society in the human interest. This will be a society where the means of producing wealth and the whole of the earth's resources are held in common and at the free disposal of the whole human family. The object of socialism is fundamentally different to that of capitalism, and provides for a completely different social organisation.

Whereas under present world capitalism, the motive of production is to produce commodities for sale on the world's markets with a view to profit, so that privileged minorities in rival capitalist states can accumulate wealth, in a socialist society this will not be the case. Socialism will not produce commodities, but will simply produce useful things directly for human need; and there will be a shared interest between all members of the human family in that common object of production.

We are saying that socialism is the only guarantee that war will not take place because it will completely remove the cause of war. But we are saying more than this. All the time capitalism exists, war will remain because the threat of military force, and its use, is a necessary instrument of vested economic interests. All the facts of modern history show that this is why governments maintain vast "defence" expenditures, including the cost of nuclear weapons. It follows then that activity to get rid of war and the nuclear threat must essentially be activity to get rid of capitalism. When we have a look at CND and the arguments it presents, there is no analysis of the cause of war, and no attempt whatsoever to understand war as a social problem.

We have from CND this indignation about the effects of war, and some sort of policy, argued around some slogans, which aims to bring pressure to bear on governments to prevent them from producing nuclear weapons and to make them dismantle existing stocks. This superficial approach cannot possibly succeed, nor does it stand any chance whatsoever of guaranteeing a world free from war or the possible use of nuclear weapons. The superficial approach of CND assumes some general democratic political structure by which populations are able to bring effective pressure to bear on governments conducting a policy of, or preparations for, war. But wars are not planned or conducted along democratic lines. Think back to the last war and the development of nuclear weapons. These things were done in complete secrecy. All governments, in the planning and conduct of war, must retain for themselves a free hand, which is secret, and by its nature without democratic reference to the population at large. Democracy and the conduct of war are anathema to each other. The first casualty of war is democracy.

It must be obvious to anyone who is not politically naive, that no government undertaking or treaty has ever been kept for longer than it was expedient to do so. Even if it were possible to imagine a capitalist government, for their own political purposes, giving to CND some undertaking about nuclear weapons, it would not be worth the paper it was written on. In this connection you might think also how cynically Labour Party politicians have exploited CND sentiments for their own political purposes, when in practice they have acted quite differently.

It is important to remember that the technology of nuclear weapons is here to stay. You cannot now erase from the human mind and experience the ability to make nuclear weapons, and there can be no doubt that stocks will continue to proliferate under capitalism. What is required is such a degree of international solidarity that workers of all countries are firmly resolved not to support capitalist war. But CND is not working for this. It is the Socialist Party that is providing the arguments on which this can be solidly built. That is why members of CND, if they wish to be successful about their objective, should be working for socialism.

As if to suggest that in view of the gravity of the dangers almost any argument will do, CND says that they are in a hurry. Socialists have fewer illusions than anybody about capitalism and we are well aware of the dangers. Nor do we need CND literature to bring to our minds just how horrible weapons of war are, whether they are nuclear or not. The dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan is well within the memory of many socialists, and those who do not remember it are not less sensitive to the horrors of war than CND. Socialists are in a hurry too.

CND says that we have this appalling threat hanging over our heads and they do not have time to work for a different society. They are in the position of supporting capitalism but finding the consequences of their own actions repugnant.

We have had this kind of argument with reformist organisations and pressure groups similar to CND for a long time. We can go back to the beginning of the century when the workers were slaughtering each other and poisoning each other with mustard gas during the First World War. At the time, our early comrades sent out their inspiring message of fraternal good will. If they had been listened to then, all the vile developments since that time would not have taken place.

During the 1930s socialists had the same argument with the Peace Pledge Union, which also saw itself as monopolising feelings of outrage against war and yet continued to support capitalism. They collected millions of signatures and had tens of thousands of members organised in branches all over the country. They were putting a similar argument; peace was a matter of the greatest urgency, but it was not the time to build a society organised for human need.

Sincere individuals are swept up by movements such as the Peace Pledge Union and CND; but these movements have no substance and are not acting with a clear understanding of the nature of the problems. Because they do not understand that workers have no country, but instead have a common interest with workers of all other countries in taking over the world for themselves, they become easy prey to the propaganda and divisive sentiments of patriotism. There was not the slightest hope for peace in anything that the Peace Pledge Union said, nor in anything that it did. They created the illusion that something was being done, and on that cross of false illusions the working class crucifies itself time and time again, because politically they continue to support capitalism.

There are great dangers in the position taken by CND. They tend to sweep up the indignation that is felt about war and the nuclear threat and render it sterile by channelling it off in totally futile directions. In this respect they unwittingly act out a political role of stabilising capitalism which goes on as a breeding ground for further wars and renewed international violence.

If movements continue to support capitalism they must be responsible for all the ways in which capitalism develops. Because capitalism cannot be controlled in the human interest, we do not know all the ways in which it will develop. We are in the middle of a gigantic trade depression and we do not know what political effects it will have. Under the pressure of trade wars and unemployment there are frustrations and tensions which are now intensifying and which have an undoubted pre-disposition towards violence. Nor can CND possibly assume that while they continue to support capitalism, the technology of human destruction will remain where it is now. These developments will continue, and CND does not know the further refined techniques of death that will come about.

If we are able to go back to the 1930s and had the argument over again with all the people who were then protesting about the effects of capitalism and who said then that there was not time to work for a different society, they would have to accept a measure of responsibility for the things that have happened since that time. We now know the whole story: the second world war, death camps, the development and dropping of the atomic bombs, many more wars since then, the Korean War, Vietnam, millions of people being killed, the development of al the horrendous weapons that exist today, and the obscenity of millions starving while technology, social labour and resources are squandered on the indefensible objectives of capitalism.

After fifty years we are in exactly the same mess that we were in then. When will it be the time to change society? Do we really have to have another fifty years of human misery just so that privileged minorities can continue to control society in their interests?

We invite members of CND to join with us now in building a better world. They must build on the concern and indignation and broaden their horizons. They should not place their faith in governments; that is a sure recipe for disaster and disillusion. We come back to our first question, how do we control society in the human interest? We must not make pathetic appeals to governments to do something on our behalf. We must take the world into our own hands.