Protest without Illusions
by Vernon Richards
From the blurb:
This volume is not intended to be a history of the CND marches and Committee of 100 Sit-Downs that took place in the late’50s and early ‘60s. Histories are generally written when the issues have ceased to matter and when the people involved in them are long dead and buried. Such post-mortems are the lifeblood for histories and their lifeless tomes.
The author of this book took part in many of the Marches and Sit-Downs as a protester (without illusions, of course!); as an editorial writer (unpaid, of course) for that perennial anarchist journal Freedom; and as a ‘week-end photographer’ (sometimes) who found himself more concerned with recording the interesting and beautiful faces of those serious and smiling protesters, the predominance of youth, the informality so far as organisation was concerned, then looking for ugly confrontations with the forces of Law and Order. After all this is what the mass media thrive on every day of the year, with the Alternative Press, alas, doing its best to ape Big Brother.
Another reason why this volume is not dry history is that as well as commenting on current events the author sought to draw conclusions and learn lessons from them for future strategies, as the events unfolded. And because he still cannot isolate the anti-nuclear protest from the political, social and economic struggles, the selection he has made for this volume situates the protest movement in the wider, socio-political context.
To judge by the questions currently being asked by a new generation of protesters and discussed in the Minority Press, the articles dealing with moral and tactical issues (such as Openness or Secrecy, Violence and Non-Violence , whether a Campaign of Civil Disobedience should be encouraged and in the event of whether we should do anything to invite arrest, and so on) are irrelevant. And the conclusions of an articulate protester, nor with 20 years hindsight and in his dotage, but in his prime and when these events occurred, can hardly be dismissed as outdated or academic, even if one is not in agreement with his conclusions.
After all one is today talking about the same H-bomb that was upsetting another generation 20 years ago. And though it is quite true that the means for delivering it to its destinations are much more sophisticated, to get things in some perspective one should not forget that in the ‘60s the Nuclear Powers already possessed enough Bombs to annihilate mankind several times over. So perhaps a new generation now being exhorted from all sides of the political spectrum to Protect and Survive or to Protest and Survive, could do worse than to lend an ear to one of the “outsiders” of the 50s who responded to the warnings of the imminence of the nuclear holocaust and the same exhortations with a willingness to Protest…but without illusions. And we have all survived into the ‘80s only to be warned of the imminent dangers of annihilation if we don’t protest and influence the Governments!
With this book the author hopes that at least some of the new generation of protesters may start from where the others left off rather than all over again from the beginning. The forces of repression learn from their experience.
In his preface the author argues that the industrial nations of the West cannot “afford” to disarm but more significantly that they can even less “afford” to encourage the Soviet Union disarm but more significantly that they can even less ”afford” to encourage the Soviet Union to disarm. It is also noteworthy that the militant opposition in Europe today is to the building of nuclear energy plants rather than to nuclear war preparations. In the author’s opinion this relects a realistic assessment of where the real nuclear threat to mankind lies.
Gillian Fleming of the Freedom editorial collective contributes an Afterword.
Black and White