Trident replacement is high on the political agenda. Before long the House of Commons will vote on whether to go ahead with this massively expensive programme to manufacture more nuclear weapons of mass destruction. On 27th. February the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is holding a national demonstration to urge MP’s to vote against Trident. I will not be present because this occasion will have no real impact on its intended targets.
In nearly sixty years of existence CND has had no success in bringing about nuclear disarmament in Britain. The last time it experienced a mass upsurge of support was during the late nineteen seventies and early eighties. Tensions between the Soviet bloc and the Western bloc were sharpening and the prospect of a nuclear war seemed very real. But during the mid-eighties with the rise to power of Gorbachov in the USSR these tensions abated. As fears of nuclear war declined so the mass membership of CND slipped away.
During its heyday in the early eighties CND had a very diverse membership in terms of social composition and political affiliations. But as participation fell CND membership became concentrated among particular types of people, especially pacifists and Christians. The main concern of these elements – who considerably overlap – is primarily the promotion of “peace” (whatever that means) and not bringing about nuclear disarmament. What is most important for these people is not any practical outcomes of CND activities but their own inner feelings, convincing themselves that they are doing the right thing and thus are morally righteous.
In recent years CND has attracted little public attention. A lot of its members are keen on activities such as silent, quasi-religious vigils in out of the way places, clutching poesies and candles. Some of the things they do are just plain daft such as knitting a scarf miles long to stretch between nuclear significant sites. In so far as these sort of activities get noticed, most members of the public see them as ineffective. In the absence of any success in getting rid of nuclear weapons other issues have been tagged on to CND. It opposes nuclear power and military drones even though these have little, if any, relation to nuclear weapons.
The upshot of this sort of behaviour is that CND has attracted few new members and has a declining, ageing membership. At the last CND National Conference it was revealed that Youth CND had only one member and that there are only two CND student groups in the whole of Britain. At a time of growing international conflicts there is an urgent need for an effective campaign to stop the politicians squandering our money on what many military commanders regard as a useless weapons system. Yet CND is clearly not up to the job and on its present trajectory is heading towards extinction.
The experience of CND and more recently the Stop the War Coalition shows that the traditional campaigning methods employed by such groups are ineffective in changing state policy. The politicians simply do not care if tens of thousands of people march in London or sign yet another online petition. Only more militant direct actions directly challenging the state, such as blockading and entering nuclear weapons installations, could have a chance of making the politicians change their stance. In the past CND did take serious direct action such as the Greenham Common women’s protest against cruise missiles. But now the pervasive influence of pacifism has rendered CND impotent.