Peace protestors respond to a new generation of nukes

Veteran peace campaigner Walter Wolfgang (right) leads Aldermaston protestors out of Trafalgar Sq, joined by Jeremy Corbyn MP (left) and Mark Seddon, editor of Tribune.

 This is the first time any minister of a British government has publicly `stated his willingness to use nuclear weapons pre-emptively. For those of us who are in the Labour Party, it was particularly shocking that such a statement should come from the leadership of a party with a strong and consistent grass roots commitment to peace – as the association of Michael Foot’s name with Aldermaston marches testifies and the backbench Labour rebellion in Westminster over the war against Iraq confirms.

This statement was not an aberration, part of overestimating Iraq’s potential. In a speech on 5 March this year, when the absence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction had been clearly established, the Prime Minister nonetheless reasserted the principle of pre-emption. ‘Before September 11th,’ he said, ‘I was already reaching for a different philosophy in international relations from a traditional one that has held sway since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648; namely that a country’s internal affairs are for it and you don’t interfere unless it threatens you, or breaches a treaty, or triggers an obligation of alliance.’
I was only just in my teens when I took part in the last Aldermaston march of the 1960s, but the memory of it is still strong. I can recall the excitement of being away from home for the first time, seeing my first sunrise from the window of a camper van at the side of the road.  As we sang songs from the civil rights movement, already conferred with a new anti-H bomb vocabulary, I never dreamed we would be treading the same path 40 years later. But, if pre-emptive war is the order of the day for the New Labour government, the struggle for peace has to be just as forcibly reasserted, pushed to the top of the labour movement’s agenda for progress

With others, Labour CND will be seeking to raise these issues in the party and trade unions as part of the Britain in the world and wider policy debate, and to urge local parties and unions to express their opposition to nuclear weapons and the doctrine of pre-emptive war and to reassert the importance of international law as a framework for relations between states. We will be taking these demands into the annual conference of the Labour Party at the end of September. In the meantime, Labour CND is organising a labour movement day of debate and discussion about pre-emptive war and nuclear proliferation in London on 8 May.

The huge and in the case of Britain, historic anti-war demonstrations that took place across the world last year are one testimony to the widespread crisis of credibility that the United States administration is experiencing. And our struggle for peace must be set in this wider and more hopeful context than we experienced in the 1990s.

One year after Iraq the anti-war movement is still on high alert, as the continuing fall-out for President Bush and Prime Minister Blair shows. We did not stop the war but, in Britain, CND helped bring into being an anti-war movement whose size and breadth hasn’t been seen before.

The march to Aldermaston is only the first step. Together we can ban the bomb.

This article appeared in Tribune, 9-16 April 2004.

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