Bruce Kent: On mobilisation

IssueAugust - September 2022
Feature by Bruce Kent

1982: Since I have been asked to do so, and not because I have any exclusive wisdom, experience or success in this field, I would like to share a few thoughts on the work of trying to mobilise public opinion for disarmament.

In recent years, public opinion for disarmament has been mobilised on a massive scale. That process has now to continue to the point when public opinion actually forces changes in national policies. To gather in a park is a most impressive act of witness. To change public policy is however the actual purpose of disarmament mobilisation.

Where do we start?

Where do we start? The only place to start is where those you want to mobilise are, in terms of attitudes, opinions, fears, prejudices and problems. It is a complete waste of time to start at the point you happen to have reached, rather than the point public opinion happens to be at here and now.

There seem to be some would-be mobilisers who actually are so unaware of this basic process that they insist that without a commitment to World Socialism, to World Federalism, to ending colonisation, racialism, sexism, capitalism, etc, there can be no concern for disarmament. This is just not true.

We have to accept that a large number of factors have kept people immobile and passive up to now about this major threat, that of the arms race. One such factor is certainly that of impotence. Such is the complexity of modern society that people feel they cannot achieve results. Impotence breeds apathy. ‘There is nothing we can do’ used to be the cry at meeting after meeting. Not so now.

“There is nothing more important than giving people a sense of achievement”

Everyone has a part to play, and there is nothing more important than giving people a sense of achievement.

Signatures collected at a shopping centre, a petition taken door-to-door around a block of flats, a letter in the local press, a fund-raising sale for the peace movement, a film show and discussion – all these are well within the basic campaigning skills of nearly everyone.

So, the first great break-through is the move from impotence to a sense of power.

Ignorance barrier

Out of impotence also comes easy ignorance. In this world of the super-specialist, the issues are so complicated and involved that it is often easier to accept the explanations and bland apportionments of guilt for the arms race provided by one’s own national government.

Recent years, however, have seen an abundance of popular and accessible material on these issues. It has become much easier to break through the ignorance barrier, and to reduce the fear of the ‘Expert’ in the minds of many.

Some very basic positions are not hard to grasp: Deterrence cannot last forever; overkill makes arguments about ‘military balance’ rather superfluous; defence policies based on retaliation that ignores (and cannot do otherwise) any distinction between innocent and guilty, is not acceptable either legally or morally; proliferation is inevitable if present policies continue.

Governments are not on the whole strong supporters of public education on disarmament which might lead citizens to challenge ‘national’ defence policies.

Nevertheless, a process has started and is not likely to come to an end. In this process we do not have to wait for governments.

I have stressed ignorance and impotence as major factors to take into account when considering popular mobilisation. But the list could of course be very much longer.

For most people, ‘defence’ is automatically thought of in terms of military expenditure. Deeper questions about what is to be defended and of alternative defence systems, military and non-military, very rarely surface since, for most people, defence is firmly fastened to the idea of territorial occupation by hostile forces.

We are locked into a 1914 mentality, and opening up new perspectives for the nuclear age of 1982 is very important.

So also is facing the problems of patriotism and nationalism. To hope to mobilise without taking into account this major factor, is a waste of time. The disarmers have now to present themselves as the real patriots against those who would put at risk both Country and World.

Making connections

What about the connections with other campaigns on related issues?

Clearly, if peace is to mean more than graveyard peace or the maintenance of the status quo then it has to be a peace built on justice. It has to mean ending poverty and it has to mean ensuring human rights.

CND policy has been to stick closely in its public work to its single constitutional aim – that of disarmament. Nevertheless, at the same time, CND keeps close connections with other campaigning groups (Amnesty, the overseas aid agencies, Campaign Against Arms Trade, and many others) knowing as we do that we are not offering final solutions for the problems of world society but first steps towards dealing with some of the most dangerous symptoms of international sickness.

Said Albert Einstein: ‘The splitting of the atom has changed everything except our modes of thinking and thus we drift towards unparalleled disaster.’ Changing modes of thinking is the critical task for all of us today.