Report from Europe - November 2003

“Toutes les puissances de l’Europe forment entre elles une sorte de systeme qui les unit par une même religion, par une même droit des gens, par les moeurs, par les lettres, par le commerce, et par une sorte d’equilibre…”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau ‘Projet de Paix Perpetuelle’ 1760

“Europe is the weak link in the Cold War”
E. P. Thompson in ‘Exterminism and Cold War’ (Verso) 1982.

From 24-26 October 2003 I attended and spoke at the “2eme Journees du Desarmement Nucleaire” (JDN) in Venissieux (Rhone) in France. Venissieux is effectively an industrial suburb of Lyon at the end of Metro line D, but with a population currently reaching 60000, including substantial communities of North African and Middle Eastern origin, it has independent city government. The mayor, Andre Gerin of the French Communist party (one of the few European parties not yet to have become parties of democratic socialism), opened the Saturday sessions, held in a converted industrial building now a municipal facility, the Salle Irene Joliot-Curie. Over 200 participants were present. French peace/antiNW groups are structured differently from UK groups; the term “pacifiste” includes both practical anti-NW groups (Stop-Essais, ACDN etc.), broader peace groups (Mouvement de la Paix), and religious/moral groups in the Anglo pacifist sense. There has never been an equivalent of the British CND, and Abolition 2000, in the UK a specific networking group (which I currently chair), is represented in France by supporting organisations that adhere to the A2000 statement but have had separate ongms.

The world situation was the topic for Saturday morning. I was supposed to examine the continuing problem of nuclear weapons and to find a European way to solve it. A tall order. Along with our colleagues in Stop-Essais (esp. physicists Dominique Lalanne and Gerard Levy) Abolition 2000 UK is trying to rebuild a Euro connection, last seen at the height of the Cold War in the form of the European Nuclear Disarmament movement (END), led by the late E. P. Thompson. The mid-twentieth century Marxist intellectual and activist movement, associated with the names of Thompson and

Raymond Williams, has recently been described by Stephen Woodhams (“History in the Making” (2001) pub. Fernwood Publishing in Canada). Woodhams’ title is either optimistic or ironic. One of the disappointments of recent political history has been the collapse of integrated socialist thinking. The three best known UK protagonists all died rather young, Raphael Samuel at 62, Williams at 66, and Thompson at 69 after a prolonged illness (at a similar age I look forward optimistically to a substantial future both scientifically and politically…).

But now the movement may need to change in order to survive anywhere close to the main stream. The present day isolation of the Marx-influenced left (the SWP and similar extra-parliamentary parties) has created a situation rather like the one that used to prevail in the USA. Extra-parliamentary activists staff the movements and can even bring thousands on to the streets but are without much effect within the structured political system. To avoid marginalisation or political co-option we have to link with other parts of the “movement”, the anti-globalization structures, and events such as the European Social Forum, while retaining our bourgeois contacts.

My remarks, as I explained at the outset, were delivered in a mixed linguistic mode (“franglais”). I looked at the origins of and differences between French and British NW. The UK’s weapons are now entirely coordinated with those of the US. Britain possesses no nuclear bombs (abandoned 5 years’ ago) or UK-designed missiles. All Trident II missiles are US-built and stored in Texas; the UK merely has “title” to some. These missiles are seen as entirely part of NATO’s munitions and their so-called sub strategic capabilities linked to the NATO doctrine of potential first use. Hence it could be politically easier for France than for the UK to declare a no first use policy. Britain retains NWonly to secure top discussion table status within NATO and the UN and to keep its virulent nationalist press silent. France may see its weapons as politically if not militarily more significant.

Wars are endless – only peace can be perpetual. What then can be done? Some things only by the state (if citizens demand them), for example:

  1. Using the opprotunity provided by the current constitutional discussions a specifically non-nuclear (and preferably antinuclear) defence policy for the EU could be established. This would restrict NW to NATO and the USA.
  2. An ‘anti-nuclear’ component could include pressure from the EU NATO states, led by France, for NATO to adopt a no first use policy.
  3. The present de facto (by NATO-US-Russia agreement) nuclear weapons free zone in Europe could be made de jure (in the form of a NWFZ Treaty). This might include previous Warsaw Pact states including the Eastern part of Germany as well as the independent states of Sweden, Finland, Austria and the Balkans.