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ANC in motion

From 7 December 1979

ImageOn November 24, some 400 people sat in rows facing a platform in central London and most of them raised their hands. So was the Anti-Nuclear Campaign launched.

There was little joy about the occasion. The platlorm sat firmly in control of the proceedings throughout the morning session, despite anarchist protests about the set-up and a heap at leaflels about why this was all wrong. Many people seemed content to be treated like sheep, merely ratifying what was proposed from the platform and clapping politely as one person after another told us that their organisation supported the ANC, Never was this worse than when most people allowed chairperson Arthur Scargill to cut short complaints that a self-elected steering committee would run the campaign until next spring.

Those people are not sheep, however. Many of them have shown great resourcefulness and dedication in campaigning to stop nuclear power. But, recognising the limits of what we have achieved so far and what is now demanded of us, they want to change up a gear and hope that this organisation is one way to do it.

In fact, the shape of the organisation is still not clear and people have conflicting hopes for it. Some have already been disappointed: Tories and Trots won’t unite under the ANC banner, nor will existing anti-nuclear groups “sink their differences and speak with one voice”. Other hopes are not likely to be fulfilled for a long lime: the prospects of massive trade union support or of good communication between the full range of anti-nuclear groups remain distant. We weren’t inundated with celebrities (just Scargill and Roy Harper), and neither did the audience in that morning session represent a “cross-section” of the public – wider than the Torness Alliance and Friends of the Earth, it’s true, but not reflecting the breadth I saw on my anti-nuclear bicycle tour of Britain. [See PN October 12, November 5). Also that audience was predominantly male, almost entirely white, and not a comfortable  place for gay people. The geographical representation was appalling – but that was inevitable.

Those who hope for an anti-nuclear equivalent of the Anti-Nazi League will be encouraged by the ANC’S first leaflet. Superficial and alarmist, It aims to win support not on the basis of any moral or political stance, nor through an assessment of relative risks or any other kind of reasoning, but simply with scare stories and assertions. One enthusiast – a member of the Socialist Workers’ Party – plugged this as the best anti-nuclear material published in Britain, a statement which displays the kind of arrogance implied in the organisation’s very title: the Anti-Nuclear Campaign.
Fortunately, the ANC is a long way from becoming like the ANL. (Please ask me why I say “fortunately”.) There are plenty of ideas it may crib from the Anti-Nazi scene (“Rock Against Radiation”) and some of the steering committee are tempted to direct a lot of publicity at a youth “market” with posters such as “radiation fades yer genes”, but the ANL’s  rise depended as much on the hard work of SWP branches throughout Britain as on gimmicks. The ANC, on the other hand, has few supporters so committed to “building the organisation”.

What role then is left for the ANC? I’m sure some of its steering committee it to assume leadership of the anti-nuclear movement, dethroning Friends of the Earth (Poland Street) in the eyes of the press. An (unofficial) suggestion that the London regional Anti-Nuclear Alliance should make its march against waste transport an ANC event was immediately scotched, but anti-nuclear groups can expect more diplomatic overtures. I can see few groups willing to accept them or to go along with the policy “consensus” ANC is trying to project.

Ironically, the speeches from the platform most heartily applauded were from speakers flatly contradicting ANC policy – a token nationalist and a token feminist. Emrys Robert (Plaid Cymru) saw the ever-rising “standard of living” as an opiate. For him, as for many others, opposition to nuclear power is partly a moral crusade: to save the earth for future generations, and to redistribute wealth rather than pursue economic growth as the answer to poverty. The ANC, however, will not commit itself to a policy of reduced energy consumption, let alone oppose economic growth. Petra Kelly (one of the German “Greens” and the only speaker to menton the term “nonviolence”) argued that our opposition to nuclear power cannot be separated from the struggles for woman’s liberation and decentralisation. And she received an ovation, even though the ANC will fight nuclear power in isolation from anything else.

Plainly, few people can be satisfied with compromises on policy worked out to launch the ANC: its first demand (Stop Nuclear Power) is deliberately ambiguous so it can include those who oppose only new developments and those who want nuclear power scrapped; and its second demand (Eliminate energy waste and develop an alternative energy programme) is designed to include proponents of a low-energy strategy and of a coal-based, high-energy strategy. As a united body, the ANC is incapable of entering the energy debate on our behalf – its policy is too catch-all.

This still leaves the ANC with several useful functions: information-collecting and circulation; improving co-ordination; tapping new sources of funds. Much depends on how these are performed, and what priorities the steering committee decides.

One key idea is to form independent working groups on a particular aspect of nuclear power. The workshops in the afternoon of the ANC launch were meant to set these up, but I gather most were talkshops. Two at least, however, did set up working groups: on uranium mining and waste dumping. The uranium group is very impressive, involving people from Orkney and Donegal and people working in support of Namibians and indigenous peoples. Perhaps it didn’t need an ANC to bring them together; nevertheless, the ANC did, and this illustrates why some libertarians and some groups in the Torness Alliance are willing to be involved.

Other key structures, however, are the steering committee and the central office. For six months or so, a pretty much self-elected steering committee will make vital decisions for this organisation. Six out of its 14 members have contributed to Peace News this year (three on matters other than nuclear power), but it is heavily male-dominated and contains no resident of Wales and only one from Scotland. Yet Tony Webb, chief architect of the ANC, described this grouping as “balanced”. This committee also has its own internal power structure in which Tony exercises an inordinate amount of influence. The way the ANC has been launched can scarcely increase confidence in this body.

The central office could be a collective, but it’s more likely to be a “team”, and – assuming that Scargill’s secretaries will finally be relieved of the anti-nuclear work they’ve been lumbered with — this could even be composed of “campaigners” backed up by typists/duplicators/envelope stufers, yeah servants.

So I am not optimistic about the future of the ANC, but disagree that it is as sewn up as Peace News has presented it. (I also think that last issue’s editorial was fatuous in its comment on CND.) There are many decisions to be made in the next few months which will affect how the ANC develops: if it attracts pots of money, will resources be put at the disposal of working groups or concentrated in central office? Will regional field workers be a higher priority than expanding the London team? Would they devote their time to strengthening existing networks or promoting the ANC?

Whatever the answers, a more basic question remains and has to be answered by every anti-nuclear group in cities well away from a nuclear station or a test drilling site: “what can we focus on?” The ANC provides no answer to this, and never will because it cannot talk about energy systems, let alone social relationships.