Ted Grant

Labour Debates the Bomb

Source: Socialist Fight (July-August 1959)
Transcription: Francesco 2009
Proofread: Fred 2009
Markup: Niklas 2009

The leaders of the Labour Party are wondering if they have been hit by an H-Bomb. The discussion on this issue, which they had considered closed, has been re-opened by the decisions of the two general workers’ unions. In the past the leadership has considered the votes of these two unions as automatically cast for right wing policies. But even in the Right wing dominated General and Municipal Workers’ Union the feeling of the rank and file has broken through.

The dreadful threat posed to their families, their wives and children and workmates by the horrors of the bomb has led to a mood of uneasiness within the ranks of the organised labour movement. Due to the propaganda by the various organisations such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament millions of people now understand the terrible consequences of all out nuclear war.

This small island with its compact industrial areas is the most vulnerable country in the world to such an attack. If half a dozen bombs dropped in different parts of the country, practically all life would be wiped-out. The few miserable remnants would be unable to organise any civilised society. Thus the threat to use the bomb first—or last—is a threat of suicide.

That is why, at nearly every trade-union conference, discussion around the H-bomb has figured so prominently. At the General and Municipal Workers’ Union Conference a resolution demanding the unilateral abolition of the bomb was carried by a narrow majority.

At the Trade and General Workers’ Union Conference there were 9 resolutions on nuclear weapons on the agenda. A composite supported by Cousins and the Executive Committee made the following points: a permanent stopping of tests; a declaration that nuclear weapons would never be used first by Britain or from her territory; reaffirmation that suspension of tests means suspension of production; discontinuance of patrols by British based aircraft carrying hydrogen bombs; restoration of the principle of political control over the use of weapons of mass destruction; objection to the setting up of missile bases in Great Britain; and every effort to reach agreement on multi-lateral disarmament, summit talks…

Cousins as careful to emphasise that all the points in the Resolution were based on Labour Party statements. “There is not one word here that comes from Frank Cousins, not one word!”

Even so Gaitskell’s immediate and hostile reactions with his talk of “No one man deciding the policy of the Labour Party,” shows the alarm in the ruling caucus of the Labour Party. This is demonstrated too by the moves, quite unprecedented, to reverse the decision of the General and Municipal Workers’ Union, having a recall conference.

Moreover Gaitskell has made it clear that even if he is defeated at the Annual Conference he will still stick to the bomb. This attitude must set all Labour Party members thinking about the problem of democracy in the movement. This attitude, too, shows quite clearly who the real splitters are. Gaitskell and company put their loyalty to the “cold war” policies of N.A.T.O. above that of loyalty to democratic decisions of the movement.

Such a policy is the “non-nuclear” club whereby Britain would renounce and scrap atomic arms (leaving only America and Russia as atomic powers) in return for the agreement of all other powers not to test or manufacture atomic weapons. The refusal of any power, such as France or China, to accept such a limitation, would free the hands of the labour leadership to continue much on the lines that the McMillan Government has done. It should never be forgotten that it was the post-war Attlee Labour Government which secretly decided on the production and testing of atomic bombs.

There ore many points in the resolution of the Transport and General Workers’ Union which deserve support as steps towards a fully rounded socialist policy, such as the demand for the stopping of tests, end the suspension of the production of atomic bombs. But it stops snort of the unilateral renunciation of atomic weapons, round which a mass campaign throughout the country could be waged. A national campaign on these lines by the entire Labour movement would undoubtedly rout the Tories at the polls. As Cousins pointed out, there are large sections of the middle class who have moved on this question. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has gathered support from people who normally vote for the Conservatives.

The points put forward in the Transport and General Workers’ Union resolution mark a step forward from the point of view of placing the problem squarely before the entire Labour movement. Many of the points should be supported by militants in the Labour movement as a means of clarifying the whole problem.

But the whole question really revolves round the fundamental problem of why wars take place. The development of scientific means of exterminating and obliterating whole populations, countries end even continents, does not take place by chance. If not by atomic weapons, then by biological weapons and others almost as deadly. It is due to the character of the century in which we live. The suspicions, antagonisms, end hatreds do not arise arbitrarily from the ill will and misunderstanding of individuals or groups in present day society.

They do not arise out of individual likes or dislikes or misunderstandings. Nor are they caused by the differences between “democracy” and dictatorship, as the capitalist press pretends. The same governments which talk of defending democracy find no difficulty in “defending” it in the company of dictators like Chiang-Kai-Shek, Salazar, Franco and others of like kind.

The fundamental antagonism in the present period is between Soviet bloc, in which capitalism has been destroyed, and the Western bloc of imperialist powers led by America. In the past period the capitalist powers clashed because of the struggle for markets, raw materials, colonies, and spheres of influence and investment. The antagonisms between the capitalist powers remain, but these are subordinated to the far greater antagonism between the two fundamental[ly different] economic systems.

If there has not been a clash long ago it has been because of the war-weariness of the peoples of Western Europe and America, and the strength of the strength of the organisations of the working class. But over a long period of time it would be impossible to maintain the uneasy truce or even the so-called “competitive coexistence”. The main factor preventing war is the relationship of forces between the working class and the capitalist class in the West.

No reliance can be put on the governments of the world. The capitalist governments represent the interests of the employers as a whole, and can no more serve the needs of the working class or the mass of the people than employers represent the interests of the workers in negotiations over wages and conditions. The difference being that the issues involved are far greater when the government represents the employers collectively. Nor can any trust be put in the representatives of the Soviet bureaucracy, who are more interested in safeguarding their privileges ant power than the interests of the Russian working class. That is why they cannot allow real workers’ democracy in the Soviet bloc, but rule by totalitarian means. They are only too willing to betray the working class of the capitalist countries and the colonial peoples, in return for an agreement on the status quo with the capitalist powers.

There can be no reliance on capitalist governments to serve the needs of the working class. But that does not mean to say that the situation is hopeless. There is a force far stronger even than the H-bomb or any other weapon of destruction: the international solidarity of the working class. They have no interest in destroying each other. On the contrary, their needs and interests are the same; time and again the international interests of the working class have swept over national barriers and frontiers. The latest example is the refusal of the West German, French, Belgian and Dutch printers to blackleg on their striking British brothers.

No agreement on disarmament, atomic or otherwise, will bring peace to the peoples. Agreement, in fact, will be at the expense of the workers of the world.

If the leaders of the Labour movement were to present a concrete programme of complete disarmament and a plan of production for the benefit of the peoples, they would sweep the country. They could then appeal to the workers of the world on a socialist basis.