From the Vaults: Spectator, October 31, 1981

Oh, how I miss the 1980s….

CND: as bourgeois as ever

Richard Brent

Spectator, October 31, 1981, p.13.

According to the Sunday Times last week’s 150,000 strong CND rally in London was a demonstration that the anti-nuclear movement had lost its ‘middle class’ character. Certainly, as the Sunday Telegraph was all too eager to point out, a quarter of the CND National Committee are communists, and the Scottish miners’ leader, Mick McGahey, made it quite clear that he addressed the rally less as a pacifist than as a communist. Some, moreover, tried to turn the rally into an attack on the government’s economic policies, using such slogans as ‘Jobs not Bombs’ and ‘Fallout with Thatcher’. And the leading speakers–Foot, Benn and E.P. Thompson–all regard themselves as socialists.

However, in reality last Saturday’s spectacular was no more socialist, working class or subversive than previous events. The Socialist Workers’ [sic] Party, well aware of this, warned that those who boarded the coaches to London, that the struggle was a distraction from the main struggle, namely the fight against capital. The truth of the SWP analysis was borne out in the composition of the crowd. This was heavily, although by no means exclusively, dominated by the southern counties of England and Wales and there was a large proportion of students…. Virtually the only miners’ banner came from Kent…. representatives from Scotland and Northern Ireland were more numerous than those from the industrial north of England….

[W]hat was billed as a festival as well as a political event never really materialised. The demonstration was characterised rather by earnest sobriety, a fairly humourless occasion in which participants were exhorted to pick up litter and alcohol flowed only in distant pubs. Anarchy displayed itself in the guise of a lone, albeit drunken punk who chanted in dissent, ‘Fascists can be fun’ and ‘Maggie is an angel’….

[R]adical explanations of the nuclear arms race tended to be safely Freudian. Many slogans saw nuclear war as the expression of frustrated male potency, reducing the current conflict to sexual personality disorders. One placard read, ‘Neuter not Neutrons, Castrate the World Leaders’, a more jokey version of which was ‘Drop Trousers not Bombs’. A traditional male Freudian explanation resided in the guise of Mrs Thatcher sitting astride a Cruise missile, but this was countered by a feminist inverted Freudianism with the legend, ‘Nuclear war is menstruation envy’. Such explanations are of course completely safe: a course of psycho-analysis is the prescribed remedy. There is no need for social or political upheaval….

The abolition of nuclear war was to be seen as the overcoming of sin, making possible the entry into paradise. The Father of St Francis Roman Catholic Church in Notting Hill carried the banner ‘Love your enemy—the final solution’ and another proclaimed ‘God is on our side’. Christianity and the CND campaign, it was suggested, were inseparable. Small wonder, therefore, that Quakers for Peace, Anglican Pacifists, the Alliance of Radical Methodists and something known as the Urban Theology Unit all marched to Hyde Park. Christianity was collapsed into the liberal demand for peace and marchers referred to the day’s event as a pilgrimage. The march was a tribute to the theology of liberalism.