Jul 30, 1982
Over the last year, there has been a sizeable growth in the movement in the United States against the threat of nuclear war. That was made apparent in the massive June 12 demonstration in New York, the largest single political demonstration in U.S. history. The opposition is apparently widespread through the population. A recent Gallop poll showed that 72 per cent of the U.S. population currently supports a mutual freeze of the nuclear arsenals of the U.S. and USSR. Even the usually conservative populations in some western states have mobilized against the threat posed by the basing of MX missiles in their areas.
An ironic indication of the strength of the movement has been the sudden response of politicians who never before raised the issue. For example, at least 8 legislatures and hundreds of local government bodies have taken a stand on an international policy issue. Those who pretend to be taking steps to eliminate the threat of nuclear war range from Edward Kennedy to President Reagan himself. And more than 190 members of Congress rushed to co-sponsor a resolution drafted by Senator Kennedy and Hatfield calling for a mutual nuclear weapons freeze by the U.S. and the USSR.
Isn’t it amazing! Reagan’s military budget, including all his nuclear weapons proposals, was passed by these same politicians by a vote of 93-4 in the Senate and 334-84 in the House. The great majority of the freeze advocates in Congress, including Kennedy, had approved all the appropriations in Reagan’s last budget for nuclear projects like the MX missile and B1 bomber. After living with, and helping to create, the threat of nuclear war for nearly 40 years, all of these politicians suddenly and simultaneously decided that it is a serious problem. Of course, this doesn’t mean that any of them have renounced their past support for the U.S. nuclear arms build-up or the U.S. military adventures around the world.
In fact, the real issue is that the politicians, from the senators like Kennedy to the local town council members, see a sentiment in the population which can mean votes for them. That many people in the streets and those figures on the Gallop poll translate into votes in the calculations of the politicians.
Politicians, such as Kennedy, have another purpose behind simply gaining votes for themselves. They would like to give the anti-nuclear war campaign a particular direction, to define its goals for it. The Kennedy-Hatfield resolution sets that direction:
“Whereas the greatest challenge facing the earth is to prevent the occurrence of nuclear war by accident or design;
Whereas the nuclear arms race is dangerously increasing the risk of a holocaust that would be humanity’s final war; and
Whereas a freeze followed by reductions in nuclear warheads, missiles, and other delivery systems is needed to halt the nuclear arms race and to reduce to risk of nuclear war;
Resolved by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
1. As an immediate strategic arms control objective, the United States and the Soviet Union should:
(a) pursue a complete halt to the nuclear arms race;
(b) decide when and how to achieve a mutual and verifiable freeze on the testing, production, and further deployment of nuclear warheads, missiles, and other delivery systems; and
(c) give special attention to destabilizing weapons whose deployment would make such a freeze more difficult to achieve.
2. Proceeding from this freeze, the United States and the Soviet Union should pursue major, mutual, and verifiable reductions in nuclear warheads, missiles, and other delivery systems, through annual percentages or equally effective means, in a manner that enhances stability.”
In other words, the main line of Kennedy’s argument is as follows:
(1) there is a threat of nuclear war today precisely because there is an arms race and a stockpiling of nuclear weapons; (2) it is the U.S. and the USSR which today are responsible for the threat of nuclear war since they carry on this race; and (3) therefore, the goal of the movement should be to get these 2 super-powers to negotiate with each other to eliminate the arms race and cut back the stockpile.
History shows us what such a proposal means. Throughout the nuclear era, there have been plenty of test ban negotiations and arms control talks. But despite all of them, today the nuclear arsenals are bigger than ever and the threat of war is greater than it has ever been. The history of warfare is the history of broken treaties. We could imagine nuclear arms negotiators meeting in Switzerland right up until the hour that war is declared. Any written agreements would be incinerated along with everything else.
Negotiations themselves don’t guarantee even that a written agreement will come out of them. In fact, it’s a way to stall for time, as we saw repeatedly during the course of the U.S. war against Viet Nam. It’s no problem for the bourgeois politicians to propose to negotiate arms control. Even Reagan was able to propose new arms negotiations with the USSR.
It’s obviously a cynical political maneuver for Reagan, as well as Kennedy. And the practical goal of it is to get a population fearful of nuclear war to put its confidence back in the very politicians who have helped to prepare that war. Or at least, in some of them.
Just look at the book that Kennedy wrote. The book jacket blares, “WHAT CAN YOU DO TO STOP THIS MADNESS? A LOT. THIS BOOK WILL SHOW YOU HOW YOU CAN SPEAK OUT TO MAKE YOUR GOVERNMENT LISTEN AND ACT BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!” Inside he adds, “Remember when you write or call your Senators and your Representative: you vote, and they have to listen to you. The day the Congress passes the Kennedy-Hatfield nuclear freeze resolution will be the day the administration decides that it has to pay attention too.”
Kennedy’s fine words urge us to send correspondence to the same people who have always supported the preparations for nuclear war. We should rely on them to carry out our goals rather than rely on ourselves. All it takes is a postage stamp or two!
Kennedy’s whole argument is nothing but a maneuver – a trick aimed to capture the movement, to hold it within bounds acceptable to the American bourgeoisie. If the movement falls for Kennedy’s maneuver, it will find itself being used against itself.
It wouldn’t be the first time that an anti-war sentiment in the population was played on by the bourgeois politician who, once in office, carried out the policies that led to war. Woodrow Wilson was elected President on a platform of keeping the U.S. out of World War I, only to lead the charge into it. Franklin Roosevelt played on all the old isolationism, until the U.S. bourgeoisie decided it was ready to enter World War II. And, of course, Lyndon Johnson played dove to Barry Goldwater’s hawk only to dramatically intensify the escalation of the U.S. war against Viet Nam, as soon as the election was over. In each case, the President’s pretensions to want to avoid war won a popular support which in turn made it easier for him to prosecute war. Each of those so-called “anti-war” presidents explained that, despite their reluctance, circumstances forced them to call for war to defend freedom or democracy or even peace itself. Will Ted Kennedy be any different? Not hardly. Just like the others, his pose as a dove will make it easier for him to go to war – just like the others, but with this difference: the war that Ted Kennedy takes us to has a good chance to end up being the nuclear war.
If Kennedy is able to put himself at the head of the anti-nuclear weapons movement, it’s because of the way the movement itself poses the problem. Kennedy was able to frame a resolution which closely parallels ideas prevalent in this popular movement to prevent nuclear war. In part, it was easy for him to do this because the activists of the movement, even those who want a total nuclear disarmament, feel that to stop the nuclear threat, the only politically “realistic” thing to do is to approach that goal one step at a time. To that end, they call for a freeze which would first stop the arms race, as the precondition for eventually reducing nuclear stockpiles, which in turn is the “realistic” precondition for removing all weapons altogether. That approach brings them to ask the two principal nuclear powers to come together to negotiate a freeze. To that end, they are trying to put pressure on the U.S. government to negotiate. For many of those who want to see an end to the nuclear threat, it is the only “realistic” approach to start at step one. We say it is not at all realistic.
Obviously, even if we had a freeze, both stockpiles remain at levels sufficient to destroy the world. But the risk of nuclear war is not posed simply by the fact that two super-powers hold vast nuclear arsenals, frozen or not. The problem is for what ends the nuclear weapons, or any military technology, have been developed.
It is not an accident that nuclear weapons were first developed – and used – by U.S. imperialism. That effort to develop the weapons is a measure of the imperialist system which produced them, a system which ineluctably leads us in the direction of war.
And it’s the U.S. that is at the center of that system. Claiming to defend freedom and democracy around the world, the U.S. government props up the most reactionary and repressive regimes imaginable all over the globe. The U.S. military maintains bases in at least 110 countries. Behind that rhetoric is the real concern of the U.S. government: to defend the interests of the great corporations based in the U.S., whose tentacles extend around the world. If imperialism has gone to war and threatened to go to war again and again, it is because in general it needs war or the threat of war to defend its profitable investments, its access to scarce raw materials, its exploitation of the cheapest labor available.
Repeatedly the U.S., not to mention the other imperialist powers, has sent its troops out to try to keep its control over the impoverished populations of the nations of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, when they have fought for some control of their own destinies. Several times, the imperialist countries went to war to destroy the Soviet Union. And even, when the competition between rival imperialisms for control of world markets and resources reached a breaking point, they went to war with each other. World War I and II were the results of severe underlying economic crisis or competition, which the imperialists powers had no means to resolve other than through wars of global proportions.
The drive toward war is always inherent in the imperialist system. But today the possibility of global war is put once again in the center of the stage by a new deep, world-wide economic crisis. This crisis has gone on for the better part of the last decade with no indication of a resolution in sight. It has been marked, even in the imperialist nations, by staggering rates of inflation side by side with high unemployment.
The current crisis is far more severe than any since the period of the Great Depression, the last crisis which lead the imperialist powers into a global confrontation. The imperialist policy-makers have been unable for a decade to find a way out of the current crisis. It is this fact that has greatly increased the risk of a global war today. The flames of tomorrow’s global war are being fanned by the general pressures of today’s dislocated world economy.
When it comes to global war, it will indeed be a war to the death. When one of the big nuclear powers sees the threat that it could be destroyed or suffer what in considers unacceptable losses, it will pose the question of using nuclear weapons.
The risk of nuclear war is not that an irrational individual could put his hands on the nuclear stockpile, a la Dr. Strangelove. The risk is much greater because it is an irrational economic system which dominates the world and generates ultimately global war. And it is the circumstances inherent in a global war which would lead almost necessarily to the use of nuclear weapons on a massive scale.
When we see this system which even now leads us headlong toward the nuclear war, we confront the real problem: we cannot avoid the consequences of a war-making system, if we accept the system itself. But it is exactly this that the politicians ask us to do: accept the system, accept the politicians who defend it. And those in the movement who are the proponents of the nuclear freeze ask us to do the same thing. And in so doing, the nuclear freeze proponents hand over our future to demagogues like Kennedy who campaign on the platform of opposition to nuclear arms, while they prepare the groundwork for nuclear war.
Those who want to relegate war to the dustbin of history must also want to remove the causes of war from society, to destroy the system which breeds war.