Duncan Hallas

The return of the workers’ bomb

(December 1980)

From Socialist Review, 1980:11, 12 December 1980-16 january 1981, pp.31-2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Then raise the workers’ bomb on high,
Beneath its cloud we’ll gladly die,
For though it sends us all to hell,
It kills the ruling class as well.

When the first phase of the struggle against nuclear weapons began to gather momenturn in the late fifties, the Communist Party faced a dilemma.

Although, under the hammer blows of 1956 (Khrushchev’s secret speech denouncing Stalin, the Hungarian revolution and the near-revolution in Poland), it had begun very slowly the process of destalinisation, it was still unthinkable to the party leaders that they should actually deviate publicly from the Russian line in international affairs.

The USSR had detonated its first atomic bomb in 1949 arid its first hydrogen bomb in 1953 – a ‘breakthrough’ which CP spokesman Palme Dutt called “a powerful advance for the peace movement.”

Now, the newly born CND was calling for an end to all atomic weapons and, specifically, for unilaterial nuclear disarmament for Britain (first hydrogen bomb detonated in 1952).

This the CP could not accept. The Russian line was for multilateral disarmament by~ipternational agreement. Such agreement was the only way forward, declared the CP.

The question is what policy will unite the greatest number of people to get rid of the bomb. Experience has shown that unilateralism only divides the movement and diverts attention from the real issue, namely international agreement to ban nuclear weapons. This is the only way to banish the menace of nuclear war and also the issue on which the greatest number of people agree (Marxism Today, May 1959).

It was exactly the argument that James Callaghan put at the Labour Party conference this year – and which Hugh Gaitskell (and Aneurin Bevan) had advanced at the Labour Party conference in 1959.

When “the unilateralism (which) only divides” became a mass movement as CND grew, in spite of CP opposition, the party leaders began to realise that they would have to swallow their words and change the line. In May 1960 the CP executive reversed the (unanimous) decision of its previous congress, came out for unilateralism and called on all party members to join CND. It beat the Labour Party to it by just five months – for in September 1960 the unilateralists carried the Labour Party conference.

No more paeans of praise for the Russian bombs appeared in the CP press. The Russian build up of weapons of indiscriminate mass destruction became an embarrassment to the party, to be brushed under the carpet if possible and faintly defended as “purely defensive” if the issue could not be avoided.

However, enthusiastic defence of Russian nuclear weapons did not die out. This cause was snatched, so to say, from the faltering hands of the CP by what was in those days the biggest Trotskyist organisation, the SLL (now the WRP).

Their argument went like this. The USSR is a workers’ state because industry is nationalised and planned. It isa degenerated workers’ state because the workers have no power at all but are suppressed by a ‘bureaucratic ruling caste’.

This degenerated workers’ state must be defended against imperialist powers. The Russian hydrogen bomb is a necessary instrument for this defence. Therefore it must be defended too. It is the workers’ bomb.

Nuclear disarmament by the USSR must be actively opposed, as must the “treachery” of the CP in downplaying “unconditional defence of the USSR” and the “renegacy of the revisionists” – the forerunners of the SWP and others – in “abandoning the conquests of working class”, including the workers’ bomb.

One of the several versions of the satirical song quoted at the head of this article put the ‘case’ for the Russian nuclear bomb succinctly, cruelly and entirely accurately:

Degenerated tho’ it be
It’s still the workers’ property.

Other self styled ‘orthodox’ Trotskyist groups, including those in the tradition now represented by the IMG in Britain adopted the same general view. Indeed, a tendency developed in the Fourth International which took matters further. Led by a certain Juan Posadas, it called on the rulers of the USSR to use the workers’ bomb in a ‘preventive’ nuclear strike to destroy the imperialist powers and establish a world workers’ state (the degenerated version, of course). In fairness, it must be said this was too much for most of the FI people and so Posadas set up shop with an FIof his own.

Twenty years on, one would have supposed that idiocies like the notion of the workers’ bomb would have passed into the realm of historical curiosities.

It must be obvious to an intelligent child of ten that nuclear weapons cannot be used to defend working class interests, since their use would involve the destruction of most of the world’s cities and the annihilation of most of the working class internationally.

However, the intelligent ten year old has not had his or her brain befuddled by the idealist metaphysics that can recognise ‘workers’ states’ in regimes under which the working class is repressed and atomised to a degree beyond the dreams of the right wing of the CBI, and even in regimes (as ‘Peoples’ Kampuchea’ under Pol Pot) under which the working class is liquidated as a class and driven back to a peasant existence under conditions worse than serfdom.

Such metaphysics, unfortunately, still finds its adherents and so, I suppose, we should not be too surprised at the reappearance of ‘workers’ barbarism’ in this new phase of the anti-nuclear movement. An example of it, in its crudest form, appeared in Socialist Challenge (9.10.80) under the name of Brian Grogan:

We don’t think socialists in the USSR should oppose the “Russian bomb” – says Grogan. – The call for the renunciation of nuclear weapons by the Soviet Union would prepare for a massive victory for imperialism. It would further aid attempts at capitalist restoration.

“Of course,” according to Grogan (and the Kremlin), “the possession of nuclear weapons by the Kremlin is overwhelmingly defensive” because although “the capitalist system is expansionist by its nature” this is not true of the USSR – “there is no drive for profit leading to aggression and expansionism”.

“No drive for expansionism”? Doesn’t Grogan know that the USSR has expanded, both by extending its own borders and by establishing puppet regimes in Eastern Europe? Of course, he cannot help but know it. Yet his mind is so much frozen in the mould of Trotskyism circa 1940, that the fact becomes a non-fact.

He can write of the US “propping up of dictatorial regimes in Central America” as an example proving that “the drive for profits makes the US imperialist” (which it is, of course) without noticing the “propping up of dictatorial regimes” by the USSR in Czcchoslovakia (by armed intervention), Afghanistan (ditto), Poland (by the threat of armcd intervention), and so on.

But all this pales into insignificance beside his staggering blindness to the obvious fact that Russian nuclear weapons, like US nuclear weapons and British, French and Chinese ones, are essentially weapons for the mass vaporisation of working people, that their use would destroy the very class in whose name the ‘workers’ bomb’ is justified.

Long ago Trotsky accused the bureaucratic dictatorship of the USSR of subordinating the Communist Parties of the world to its own interests, of turning them into ‘border guards’ of the USSR.

Now Grogan is willing to sacrifice not only the ‘border guards’ but the whole proletariat in the (futile) ‘defence of the deformed and degenerated workers’ states’ – which, by the way, include China on Grogan’s definition, notwithstanding its position in the US camp!

No real workers’ state can be defended by means which involve the liquidation of the whole world working class. Indeed, the international nuclear weaponry of the USSR constitutes yet further proof, if any were needed, that it is not in any sense, a workers’ state.

There can be no serious struggle against the danger of nuclear war unless it is directed against the Warsaw pact as well as Nato.

No mass anti-nuclear movement can be built without clear and unequivocal opposition to Moscow as well as Washington.


Last updated on 9.11.2003