The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Anti-nuclear War Movement:
A Pawn for the Politicians or a Tool for the People?

Apr 30, 1982

recently we have seen a growing anti-nuclear war sentiment in this country. After a

period when there was very little political movement, a period of malaise and discouragement in almost all sections of the population, it is a sign of political life. There have been campus teach-ins, meeting, and some demonstrations. The movement seems to be a reaction to the government’s policy during the last year. Many people were shocked, for example, when Reagan and other U.S. officials stated that a limited nuclear war in Europe might be acceptable. There has been a large increase in defense spending, and continued debate over the development and deployment of new weapons such as the neutron bomb. This combined with an increase in anti-Soviet propaganda and the events in El Salvador, have put the issue of war more squarely in front of people than at any time since the Viet Nam war ended. And it is often world war – a nuclear holocaust – that people envision. The response here has probably also been encouraged by the series of large anti-nuclear demonstrations in Europe.

The majority of the people responding today are middle class. They are students, professionals, artists. Some were already politicized and active in the past. Some go as far back as the Ban the Bomb movement of the 1950s. Others were active in anti-war activity around Viet Nam, or in the women’s movement or in civil rights activity. Some have become active more recently in the protests against nuclear power, especially since the accident at Three Mile Island. The war issue has also begun to attract new layers of people. And many of these are younger people, for the most part students, both from the universities and even from the high schools.

While there is today a large generalized sentiment against the threat of nuclear war, the organized expression of this sentiment has been focused around several campaigns with very specific issues. Two of the better known of these are the Mobilization for Survival, and the Campaign for a Nuclear Freeze.

The National Mobilization for Survival is circulating a petition by mail to ban the neutron bomb. They distinguish it from others because they say it is being produced to fight a limited nuclear war, and could more readily be used. While the Mobilization concentrates on the neutron bomb, it also calls for stopping the U.S. arms race and the war machine. The aim of the petition campaign is to publicize the issue and bring it in front of a special session of the United Nations on disarmament in June.

The Campaign for a Nuclear Freeze has received a lot of attention and has fairly widespread activity. They propose a petitioning campaign to put the issue of the freeze on the ballot and bring it before government bodies like city councils, state legislatures, and Congress. Such campaigns are going on in over 40 states, according to their literature. And they have succeeded in getting resolutions passed in several state legislatures, and approved by town meetings all over the state of Vermont. Resolutions on the freeze in various forms are now being

debated in the Congress. The freeze campaign argues that increased production of arms increases the likelihood of war. So they propose that: “at an agreed upon date both the Soviet Union and the United States should stop building more nuclear weapons already built.” They pose it as a first step toward ending the arms race, and preventing the spread of the arms race to new countries who as of yet do not have nuclear weapons. They also show how defense spending hurts middle and working class people by cutting social spending; they argue that the freeze will save lives and also save tax money.

What Is the Political Leadership of this Movement?

The leadership of this movement, as it is today, comes essentially out of several political

traditions. There are first of all a number of well-known activists and organizations who have long been linked to peace movements of the past – people like Dr. Benjamin Spock, Dave Dellinger, Sidney Peck; organizations like AFSC, SANE, WILPF. These people are joined by a variety of church leaders and church groups, some with a past anti-war tradition. There are also new activists from the science and medical communities, such as Dr. Helen Caldicott from the Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Involved peripherally are also some of the social-democratic and liberal trade unions, like the UAW and 1199, and people like William Winpisinger of the IAM.

Most of these people have been associated with social protest issues in the past; and they are the ones who work within the framework of the liberal establishment to make their protest. For the most part, they ask people to look to the Democratic Party, to try to change it and make it more responsive to social concerns. They propose to people to put pressure on the political machinery, such as it is now. They implicitly tell people that the dangers of war can be avoided without changing the basic framework of the society we live in.

What Causes War?

But war is not a careless mistake. It will not be prevented by eliminating the neutron

bomb from the arsenal – even if that were possible – nor by putting a limit on weapons, when the U.S. already has the capability of blowing up the world ten times over right now.

War is a natural by-product of the capitalist system. It is the workings of capitalism that create the preconditions for war. Wars are fought to defend the interests of the same corporations who are today benefitting with big profits from the increased defense spending.

War was fought in the past to redivide the spoils of the world among the big imperialist powers. War is fought against the liberation struggles of the oppressed peoples who are imperialism’s victims, whose natural resources, land, and labor are continually stolen from them.

A world war tomorrow waged by the U.S., against the U.S.S.R. could be the ultimate defense of the interests of the U.S. ruling class.

Today, more and more the issue of war is being put on the agenda because the economic crisis is deeper and move aggravated. For this economic system, war is the ultimate way out of a deep economic crisis. The question of war is linked to the capitalist system. If this system is not gotten rid of, then we can count on the fact that at some time or another there will be another war. And we can count on the fact that when the next global war comes, nuclear weapons will be used, whether or not the U.S. has agreed in advance to limit them.

Fighting within the democratic framework set up by and for the American bourgeoisie is not sufficient. It is not enough to pass resolutions or petitions for referendums or elect candidates on peace platforms, or pressure those already in office. If we look at the past, we can plainly see this. At the time of World War I, when there was a big isolationist sentiment in the country, Woodrow Wilson was elected because he promised to keep the U.S. out of war. Because he had a certain credibility as a result of this, he was the most efficient politician from the bourgeoisie’s point of view, to lead the U.S. into war after he was re-elected. The same was true for Roosevelt and World War II. Kennedy was identified as a man of peace who criticized the military, yet he was responsible for the troop build-up in Viet Nam and for the Bay of Pigs. Johnson campaigned against Goldwater in 1964 on the basis that Goldwater would escalate the war, yet once elected it was Johnson himself who carried out this escalation.

The same politicians who promise peace one minute are ready to lead us into war at the next. For them it is the question of U.S. corporate interests that matter, not the pacifist ideas of the population. And they have much skill and many tools to make their propaganda and turn people towards war, when it suits their purposes. Look at the kind of hysteria they created during the hostage crisis in Iran.

We sill see the same kind of shifting from the politicians on the question of nuclear weapons. Already many of the liberals – and even a few conservatives – are rushing to link themselves to the issue. Liberals like Shirley Chisholm, Ted Weiss, and Ron Dellums have signed the literature of the Freeze. Today some of the state legislatures have picked up on the issue and passed resolutions for a freeze. A new bill calling for a freeze has been introduced by more than one-fourth of the Congress. Edward Kennedy, the presidential hopeful of the Democratic party, has jumped on the bandwagon.

When it came to the defense budget, it was a different story. There were only a handful of votes against the increasing military spending, that is, increasing spending on nuclear

weapons – and Kennedy’s was not one of them.

The Democratic party has been looking for an issue it can use against the Republicans without having to really oppose the interests of big business. Both the Democrats and the state legislators can appear today to be for a nuclear freeze, to take advantage of the isolationist and

pacifist sentiments in the population – to have an issue to support that is popular at a time when so much of what they are proposing is not. It’s obvious that such people can forget their promises tomorrow and lead us into war. For most of them, it is simply a question of the next election, to gain a little public attention, but nothing more.

Theses politicians will reverse their position overnight, when the bourgeoisie decides to go to war. And the fact that the anti-nuclear movement today gives them some credit will work against that movement tomorrow. The fact that the supposed anti-war Senators will accept a war can disorient the people who put their hopes in addressing petitions and referendums to these politicians.

What about the Future?

We have no crystal ball to see the future, so we can’t actually predict what will happen.

Perhaps anti-war sentiment will simply die out before it ever develops into a real movement. Perhaps it will be co-opted and used by someone like Kennedy or Cranston who will lead these present activists one more time back into the Democratic party fold. But exactly the opposite can happen, and certainly before the choice is ever posed so starkly, that it’s either to accept war or to destroy the system.

Today we are not yet at war, not about to enter it. In such a circumstance it is possible to be against war and still accept the system. But sooner or later the system will require war. And when it does, it will not be possible both to accept the system and oppose the war. Many of those, who today are real defenders of the system, will be found tomorrow justifying the reasons for the U.S. involvement in war.

Sections of the union leadership and some church people who say they are opposed to nuclear weapons today have already shown their willingness to support the U.S. government when it went to war. Many of these same people were able to justify World War II, the Vietnamese War until very late; and even recently they accepted the U.S. policy in relation to the hostage crisis in Iran. Today some of the union leaders could find the nuclear freeze issue a convenience. At a time when they are giving in on the economic level, it is convenient for them, as it is for the politicians, to be associated with an issue like the nuclear freeze. And yet we know that they are exactly the ones who in the past agreed to discipline the working class to send it off to war. Already they are disciplining the working class today, on the economic level; they will do the same when the bourgeoisie asks them to discipline the working class for a war.

On the other hand, this movement is not completely, or even essentially, made up of such people. It is possible as things develop that many people in this movement could come to understand the basic connection between war and capitalism. When confronted with the choice, very many of them could decide to keep on opposing the war – and thereby decide to oppose the system.

If people in the U.S. today really are prepared to organize and want to stop war, they will quickly come up against a real contradiction between what they want and the framework of this society. We could see the movement deepen, and in this situation, it is possible that many people will become more conscious of the contradiction they face.

Whether this movement can get beyond the contradiction depends on several different things. It depends first on the evolution of objective circumstances; the development of the economic crisis first, and the international political situation also.

But whether a movement like this – and many others that could develop in the coming period – can find itself with prospects doesn’t depend simply on the movement itself, nor on the objective situation. It also depends on what the working class does in the next period. If the workers, confronted by the take-aways and sacrifices, the unemployment, the loss of social programs, and the cuts in their standard of living, begin to fight, then many things could change very quickly. It is possible that the workers, in order to address their own problems, can break out of the existing framework and the boundaries formerly set for them by the trade union leaders and the Democratic party; it is possible the working class can pose other political perspectives for itself. In this case, the working class can put forward another perspective for other layers of the population who are also raising questions and protesting other aspects of the society. Such an upsurge of the working class could link up the questions of nuclear war, defense spending and social cuts, unemployment, racism, sexism, the oppression of the youth, the struggle of the people of El Salvador and other underdeveloped countries, and the issues of the environment. The working class could regroup around itself all the protest movements, and thus give them a perspective.