British anti-nuclear weapons movement history

British 1950s anti-nuclear weapons demonstration

By Kate Hudson in Britain:

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Marking 60 years of the CND

KATE HUDSON tells how Britain’s foremost peace campaign came into being

THE Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament exploded into life 60 years ago. Britain’s most enduring mass movement, it has remained constant in its principles and determined in its action across the decades.

The world into which CND emerged was changing rapidly. Worldwide, the colonial empires were being dismantled as national liberation movements achieved the independence of their countries.

European colonial power in east Asia had been broken by the Japanese. Britain withdrew from India, partitioning the country into the two states of India and Pakistan amid a bloodbath claiming countless lives. Dutch rule in the East Indies ended. The Chinese Communist Party came to power in the world’s most populous country in 1949. Ghana was the first colony in Africa to gain its independence, named the “Black Star of Africa” in 1957, under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah.

Others followed rapidly. A revolution in Cuba in 1959, under the leadership of Fidel Castro, kicked out the corrupt dictator Batista and engaged in a programme of social and economic reform.

This radical wave alarmed the US and its allies to the extent that the largest conflicts in the post-war world occurred as the US intervened to try to prevent the colonial revolutions radicalising along the lines that had occurred in China. But major social change was not confined to the former colonies.

In Britain, the establishment of the welfare state by the post-war Labour government had brought health, education and jobs for all — a real advance in a country where memories of the poverty and hunger of the 1930s were still relatively recent.

The great vision of the UN for a world free of injustice, poverty and war still held widespread resonance. In many ways there was a new confidence in the ability to build a new world based on science and reason, that social progress and advance for all peoples were unstoppable.

This was also the time when “youth culture” emerged as a distinct social and cultural phenomenon, as education and wider opportunities created a more affluent and articulate generation of young people.

Indeed, opportunities were improved across all economic classes and social mobility was better than it had ever been before.
Yet the great promise of the post-war world was blighted by continuing inequalities, uneven economic development and the threat of war and nuclear annihilation.

With the end of empire, Britain’s traditional self-identity was changing, and there were plenty of people in Britain who were pleased to take part in shaping a new society with different values.

Popular culture was one area where changing values and ideas were expressed. CND in its early years was inextricably linked to the social radicalisation of the time.

The early Aldermaston marches to the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Berkshire represented microcosms of the new Britain, articulating both widespread popular dissent and the social rebellion of the youth of the time.

In many respects it was through the early mobilisations of the anti-nuclear movement that the radical politics of what were to become the new social movements were first expressed.

The single event that most put CND on the public map was the Aldermaston march of April 1958. The Easter march to the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston, Berkshire, the main location for the research, development and production of Britain’s nuclear warheads, was originally an initiative of the Direct Action Committee (DAC), which formed a committee to organise the march in December 1957.

This committee included Hugh Jenkins, who was later to become chair of CND from 1979-81, Frank Allaun MP, Walter Wolfgang from the Labour Hydrogen Bomb Committee and Pat Arrowsmith, who became the march organiser.

The leadership of the newly formed CND gave its blessing to the project and the march drew thousands of young people into activity. It was an enormous success, drawing far more supporters than the organisers had expected. It was immediately, inextricably linked with the new-born CND in the public mind.

A lasting consequence of the first march was the famous symbol produced for the march organisers by the artist Gerald Holtom, which became CND’s own symbol and is universally recognised as the sign of peace.

According to Peggy Duff, who worked for CND in its early years, the artist explained the symbol in the following way. “First, the semaphore for the initials N and D. Second, the broken cross meant the death of man, the circle the unborn child. It represented the threat of nuclear weapons to all mankind and, because this was new, the threat to the unborn child.”

Very soon thereafter, the symbol came to adorn badges, posters, leaflets, mugs, banners and ever since has been graffitied onto walls and virtually any available flat surface all over the world.

CND and its iconic symbol will remain in the forefront of the struggle for peace in Britain and globally until nuclear weapons are eradicated.

Kate Hudson is general secretary of CND.

CND is releasing a book called CND at 60: Britain’s Most Enduring Mass Movement. Click here for details on how to attend the book launch.

On April 1st, CND will also be gathering at the atomic weapons establishment at Aldermaston for a 60th aniversary celebration. Click here for more details.

3 thoughts on “British anti-nuclear weapons movement history

  1. Pingback: “British anti-nuclear weapons movement history” | Dear Kitty | COMRADE BOYCIE: VIVA THE ANTI-tORY / BIG BROTHER REVOLUTION!

  2. Pingback: British anti-nuclear weapons movement’s 60th birthday | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Pingback: United States nuclear weapons out, Europeans say | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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