11 January 2006


Oliver Kamm (click here) has returned fire on my post on his book, saying that I’ve misread his remarks on the Labour left in the 1940s and that I’m wrong about the political character of the 1980s peace movement. So it's time to get personal.

On the first point, he writes:
So far from grouping the post-war Tribune left with the pro-Soviet elements, I stress that the pro-Soviet elements were a minuscule minority, with almost the entire labour movement ranged against them.

The Crossman-Foot-Mikardo line was undermined almost as soon it was published, by Stalin’s opposition to Marshall Aid, Czechoslovakia and Berlin – and to their credit its authors understood this. So far from thinking Tribune left-wingers were useful idiots – a spurious phrase often attributed to Lenin and that I’ve never used – I praise them for realising that an independent socialist commonwealth of Europe was unattainable…

In the 1940s the democratic left was almost monolithic in its acknowledgement of the threat of Soviet totalitarianism.

To which I can only riposte that, even on a third reading of his chapter, I still don’t think he makes it clear enough that the communist fellow-travellers – the likes of Konni Zilliacus, D. N. Pritt and John Platts-Mills – were a tiny minority on the Labour left. And I still don't think that he accepts that "an independent socialist commonwealth of Europe" was an entirely worthy goal (maybe even one we can aim for again in the 21st century?) – even if it was put in abeyance by Stalin's seizure of Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovkia et al. But never mind.

As for the 1980s peace movement, Kamm writes of my claim that the dominant political tendency was the European Nuclear Disarmament group, which stood for “a nuclear-free Europe from Poland to Portugal” and engaged in a long and fruitful dialogue with dissidents in the Soviet bloc:
This is mostly wrong. I certainly accept that END and Edward Thompson had no sympathies for the Soviet Union. But they were not, as Paul claims, the mainstream of the peace movement, let alone the dominant faction. Having been there, Paul will recall the debates within CND on whether to campaign against Nato membership, when John Cox of the Communist Party of Great Britain defeated the line argued by Thompson and Jonathan Dimbleby at CND’s annual conference in 1981. Moreover, Thompson’s argument that disarmament and human rights were inextricable causes clearly didn’t survive the collapse of Communism. Finally, the END call for a nuclear-free Europe from Poland to Portugal had more alliterative appeal than political realism; the troops in Poland weren’t there by invitation. It is quite correct that Vic Allen and the Stalinists were far from the mainstream of the 1980s peace movement. But I do consider that those in CND, such as Paul, who reviled Allen’s support for the GDR had a responsibility to rupture the Popular Front, and they didn’t. How could they, when the dominant voice of the British peace movement was, in fact, affable, silly Bruce Kent glorying in the coalition of Communists and Quakers?
Here, I’m afraid, I’m standing my ground. I accept that END and its allies were defeated in several political battles in CND during the 1980s, but overall we won more than we lost. For most of the 1980s, ENDers and END sympathisers ran the CND campaigning apparatus. We never managed to get CND to embrace our support for dissidents in the Soviet bloc, but we did ensure that it demonstrated for “No cruise, no Pershing, no SS-20s” -- opposing nukes west and east -- and that it participated in the European Nuclear Disarmament Convention process, engaged seriously with the Labour Party and never turned its nominal commitment to withdrawal from Nato into a campaigning priority.

OK, it’s old stuff. But it still matters to me.

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