Forty years ago next spring, the first Aldermaston marchers strode along to the beat of a skiffle band, proclaiming that they were "playing Krushchev's game". The 50-mile march from London to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment was taken up by 3,000 bearded students, beatniks and middle-class mothers and children, and marked the beginning of 40 years' campaigning for unilateral disarmament; in the grip of cold-war paranoia, Bertrand Russell, Michael Foot and JB Priestley had managed to set up CND.
Fight, Fight and Fight Again
They had to wait until Michael Foot's leadership of the Labour Party in the early 1980s before getting any real political representation. Their membership surged amid the feeling that nuclear armaggedon really was imminent, and they organised hundreds of demonstrations, often with sister- groups such as the Greenham women. In Thatcher's polorized Britain, Labour's unilateral policy became a hugely divisive issue, but one which even the reforming Kinnock found impossible to ditch until Labour's massive trouncing in the 1987 election.
In the early 1990s, CND organized large anti-Gulf War demonstrations. Though tapping a real vein of unease, the mood of the public as a whole was against them; most saw the war as blood-free and clean. CND pointed out that the war had killed around 250,000 young Iraqi conscripts, but recognised that it was no longer capturing mass support in a post-Glasnost world. Things changed in the group - Bruce Kent and his successor Marjorie Thompson both departed, and CND's new head is the little-known Dave Knight, a mathematics teacher.
Alive and Well
But it's not all gloom. Huge resentment over French nuclear testing and, recently, the nuclear flights from Carlisle, have helped keep membership up at a buoyant 47,000. Even though there is much local support for CND's pressure to close, for example, the Thorpe Reprossessing Plant, or to remove any nuclear weapons from Scotland, CND is now putting most of its efforts into this Westminster lobbying.