CND: The CP steward, the priest, and the political banner

Submitted by Anon on 12 April, 2006 - 6:20 Author: Peter Fryer, Brian Pearce, and others

From Tribune 27 June 1958

Peter fryer: “stopped from marching”

Some most unfortunate incidents marred last Sunday’s demonstration organised by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Members of the Labour Party, including many who had come down specially from the provinces, were marching behind the Newsletter’s banner, which bore the slogan “Industrial action — black the H-bomb and the rocket bases” and were shouting the slogan “No work on H-bombs, no work on rocket bases.”

A similar contingent had marched all the way to Aldermaston behind the same banner and shouting the same slogans.

Some of the stewards last Sunday tried to prevent the carrying of the Newsletter banner, and a number of trade union and Labour party youth section banners and to stop the shouting of these slogans.

A group of members of the Amalgamated Union of Building Trade Workers from Liverpool were told to put away their branch banner. When they said, “It’s our trade union banner,” the steward replied: “Is it a political trade union?”

Those in the Newsletter contingent refused to put away their banner or be silent, on the ground that, since Aldermaston, a promising and vital campaign has been led up a blind alley by persons who wish to wage it as a political and even anti-Labour Party affair, and who have no intention of arousing the organised working class in the fight against the H-bomb.

Thereupon some of the stewards appealed to the police to have us removed from the demonstration. One police motor-cyclist rode his machine into the column and stopped it athwart our contingent.

When this failed some of the stewards resorted to physical violence, linking arms and trying to prevent our continuing to march and then trying to seize our banner.

One of the editors of the Newsletter, an ex-member of the Communist Party, had his glasses knocked off by a steward, who then punched him violently in the back — all without provocation.

This steward is a member of the Ex-Service Movement for Peace, an organisation under the control of the Communist Party — which, as is well known, does not support unilateral renunciation of the bomb by Britain.

A number of questions arise.

Do the organisers of CND wish to bar from their activities Labour Party members who have worked hard to promote the success of such efforts as the Aldermaston march?

Do they seriously suppose that the campaign against the bomb can be waged in a political vacuum?

Do they imagine that the manifest decline in the campaign since Aldermaston is not due, among other factors, to the failure to develop it in the factories and trade unions?

Are they content to let strong-arm men from an organisation that does not support the aims of the Campaign abuse their position as stewards to work off their spleen against persons with whose political standpoint they disagree?

Lastly do the organisers arrogate to themselves the right to decide what are permissible banners to carry and permissible slogans to use?

Peter Fryer

From Tribune 4 July

“CND in decline”

The great campaign for nuclear disarmament is showing definite signs of slowing down. We have now marched almost everywhere the “No Trespassing” notices would allow us, sent petitions to all who would graciously receive them, and listened to speeches until all the variations are known by heart and can be recited backwards.

I would make two proposals to inject new strength into the Campaign:

Firstly, that a national delegate conference of all local bodies be called in the autumn. At this, all viewpoints would be heard, methods of action democratically discussed, policy formulated and our “leaders” elected. Many feel that the present self-appointed and self perpetuating leadership is completely out of touch with the rank and file.

Secondly, that a vigorous campaign be conducted in trade union branches and at factory gate meetings over the next few months. When the unions take up the demands of this great movement victory will be within sight.

All this, of course, necessitates an honest turn to the mass organisations of the working class and the dropping, once and for all, of all the make believe about the campaign being “non-political”.

To mobilise the working class for action against the Government is a political act. It also happens to be the only road forward.

Martin Grainger

“industrial action important”

It is a great pity that Peter Fryer did not take up with the organisers of the March on London some of the points he ventilated in Tribune of 27 June.

What is stated to have happened seems to have been an isolated incident and can hardly be answered without a discussion with the persons concerned.

May I say from the start that personally I agree with the slogans and posters used by Newsletter supporters on the Lobby Day March. The appeal of these to workers on rocket base and H-bomb work is one which should be being made now by the Labour Party.

To me it is, therefore, the more regrettable that what seems to have been an isolated incident involving personalities could not have been more amicably and, it seems, tactfully handled.

I would like to assure Peter Fryer, however, as one of the provincial organisers of the Campaign engaged in the Western Section of the March at the time that his statement that “a promising and vital campaign has been led up a blind alley by persons who wish to wage it as a political and even anti-Labour Party affair” just is not true, as I think, on reflection he would agree.

The campaign is as effective as those who believe in it will make it. I agree that the Labour Party should be in the forefront. That it is not is the fault of the leadership, in spite of the prodding that we are giving from below.

I have just resigned as chairman of the Salisbury CLP in order that we might have more effective political action locally from the floor of the Party to fight for a resolution on this issue for national conference. Let us have every resolution possible on this single issue, simply expressed.

Advice as to what we in the Campaign should be doing to develop the movement in the factories and trades unions would be better directed by Newsletter who seem to have the right ideas in this direction. to the TUC via trade union branches.

It is obviously essential that everyone possible should be enlisted, in all sections of our national life, to work for the cause of nuclear disarmament and the efforts of the campaign are directed to this end.

Industrial action is one facet of the movement which, it is readily agreed, might in the end be most important.

Austin Underwood

“provocative banner”

The National Committee of the Ex-Service Movement for Peace, has asked me to reply to the letter of Mr Peter Fryer.

The organisers of the march decided that there should not be any banners or posters, except those issued either by the central committee or by the local committees; a decision which our movement and all others, with the exception of the Newsletter and similar organisations, accepted.

On behalf of the Hackney Committee for Nuclear Disarmament, I was the Marshal of our local contingent from the Hackney Town Hall. When we assembled there was a small group of people, whom I have never seen before in Hackney, with a banner reading “Rally For Socialism”.

I might, as an individual, be in favour of such a slogan in the right place, but as I pointed out to these people, such a banner would not be correct for such a march, and I asked them nicely not to carry it.

However they insisted. and after a number of people including two Conservatives protested to me, I had to speak to them more sharply, and as they still persisted I was forced to ask the police to separate them from the main body of the march.

When we reached Mile End, in order to join up with the main East London contingent, on instructions from the Chairman of the Hackney Committee, the Rev. Stanley Evans, I contacted the organiser, who again pointed out to the Newletter marchers that they should withdraw their banners and slogans and take part as individuals behind the banners of their districts, but they still refused to co-operate; in fact they were most abusive both to the stewards and the rest of the marchers who protested to them.

The banner of the Newsletter was then placed in the centre of the Hackney Contingent, in spite of the numerous protests of the marchers in our section, who made it quite clear that they did not wish to march behind such a banner and slogan.

As the march came within a mile of Trafalgar Square, on the instructions of the central committee, I asked the marchers to remain silent but the small group behind the banner of the Newsletter, deliberately shouted their slogans even louder in spite of requests from the Chief Marshal of the demonstration not to.

At this point our Hackney contingent made it quite clear to me that they were no longer prepared to march behind this banner, and made their way in front of the Newsletter.

Our stewards, in order to prevent trouble, linked arms at the end of the Hackney section to form a barrier between the ordinary marchers and the supporters of the Newsletter.

Mr Fryer’s friends then tried to resort to both violence and foul abuse, but eventually we were able to calm them down and completely separate them from the rest of the march.

Gerry Ross, National Vice Chairman of the Ex-Service Movement for Peace

From Tribune 11 July 1958

“no sectional slogans”

I am writing as from no political party, but as a supporter of the CND. Tribune readers should beware of following Peter Fryer or of supporting him in the latest stage of his feud with the Communist Party.

The facts about the March on London are these:

The organisers requested all supporters to march in silence. They also requested us to display only campaign slogans.

Many of us disagree with these requests, but nonetheless we believe that the unity of the campaign requires some compromise.

Not so Peter Fryer’s group. Hence the incident he describes.

The background of the steward involved is irrelevant.

Many stewards are Labour Party members whose party is also against the campaign, but as stewards they must carry out the campaign’s instructions.

I believe the CP describes Peter Fryer as a disruptionist. Whatever the accuracy of that description in political circles, it seems justified in the CND context.

G Price

Stalinist amalgam

Mr Gerry Ross, in his letter about the incident of the Newsletter banner, omits to say what the offending inscription on it actually was.

This banner has been around quite a bit by now, and many know that it reads: “The Newsletter says: Industrial Action. Black the H-bomb and the rocket bases."

The slogan shouted by those who accompanied this banner was: “No work on H-bombs! No work on rocket bases!”

Whether one agrees with the idea or not, it can hardly be regarded as out-of-place on a nuclear disarmament march.

Mr Ross manages, by dragging in a totally separate incident, to suggest to uninformed readers that the Newsletter banner said “Rally for Socialism”.

Here we have an example of the time-honoured technique of the “amalgam”, whereby quite separate matters are mixed up so as to confuse issues and lead to false conclusions.

The Stalinist leopard doesn’t change his spots.

One hopes the Rev. Stanley Evans, whose name is apparently taken in vain by Mr Ross will repudiate this prize example of “bearing false witness.”

Brian Pearce

religious hypocrisy

Even after having known Gerry Ross for over 20 years in Hackney, I was still shocked to read his letter.

I was one of the people who formed up for the March on London on 22 June at Hackney Town Hall under the “Socialist Fight” and “Rally Youth for Socialism” banners. Some of us in the march were members of trade union branches which had sent money to the Hackney Committee for Nuclear Disarmament.

It was because we were so well known for so many years as implacable opponents of Stalinism that the Rev. Stanley Evans approached us before we had unrolled our banners to ask apprehensively what was on them.

When we told him, he said it was forbidden to carry them, and that everyone else had had the decency not to carry their own banners.

I would point out that he himself was wearing the collar and cloak which is generally regarded as the banner of the Christian Church. Not being a Christian myself I was tolerant enough to be prepared to march with him for a common aim in spite of his apparel.

We did not at first unroll the two banners, but carried our small posters which read, “Black all Bombs,” “Black all Bases” and “For International Workers’ Solidarity.”

It was not until after Gerry Ross had tried and failed to intimidate us, and had called the police to separate us from the rest of the march that we unfurled our two banners.

Until we reached Cambridge Heath Road, the organisers of the march had no posters or signs of any kind. As it was a Sunday and we were headed by a minister of the church, had it not been for our posters any onlookers could only have assumed that it was a church procession.

We did not see the Newsletter marchers until we reached Mile End. I understand that they received similar treatment.

I notice that Gerry Ross writes on behalf of the Ex-Service Movement for Peace. Was it on behalf of this organisation that he acted in the way he did and called the police, or was it in his capacity as marshal of the Hackney contingent? If in the latter capacity, does the Campaign Committee approve of such methods?

If the Committee disapproved of organisations marching under their own banners, how was it that we saw in the square some trade union, Labour Party and other banners?

I agree in the main with the points made in the excellent letter by Austin Underwood and I wish it were true that the experiences of the Newsletter people had been merely an isolated incident. But the fact that we had the same experience shows that this is not so.

I read an article by AJP Taylor in the New Statesman, in which he deplores the fact that people between 25 and 50 are not being attracted to the campaign.

I don’t think they will be attracted by the distasteful mixture of Stalinist hooliganism and religious hypocrisy.

And until they are attracted in large numbers and the Campaign is firmly based on the trade union and labour movement it cannot be effective.

Doris Lerner

Rally for socialism slogan

As the editor of Rally I should like to clear up one or two points which appeared in Gerry Ross’s letter.

The banner “Rally for Socialism” is one which refers to our youth magazine and to our desire to win young people to the Labour Party and to a socialist programme.

Rally is a nationally read magazine of the Labour Party Youth Sections and has nothing to do with the Newsletter or with Mr Peter Fryer. However on this occasion we can only agree with their slogans calling for industrial action and the politicalisation of the campaign.

We, of Rally, were prominent in the last stages of the Hull to Liverpool march and distributed a leaflet calling on the Campaigners to turn their attention to the Labour Party and the trades unions as the only effective forces capable of doing anything about the bomb.

We believe, in common with all Socialists, that the causes of war are inherent in the chaotic capitalist system and to campaign against the bomb alone, without understanding this, is nothing more or less than shadow boxing.

A movement which does not link itself to the organised workers, and which relies on a platform of “Big Names” will not long hold the interest of the people. But one which appeals to the workers will find a tremendous access of strength.

Beryl Deane

From Tribune 18 July 1958

cnd policy

In this unhappy affair of Peter Fryer and the Newsletter contingent in the CND “March on London”, it seems to me, as a participant in the Northern Contingent who was able to shout, in company with many other marchers the Aldermaston slogan “No work on rocket bases; no work on H-bombs” without any untoward incidents that two policy question need to be given unequivocable answers.

a. Do the leaders of the CND give support to the idea that British workers and scientists should individually or in groups, refuse to work making H-bombs and rocket bases?

If so, how did it come about that an attempt (happily unsuccessful) was made with police assistance to exclude some people from the march for voicing CND policy?

b. The strange intervention of Mr Gerry Ross, Secretary of the Ex-Service Movement for Peace group, who was the Warden who tried to carry out this discrimination, certainly needs explanation.

As everyone knows, CND came into existence primarily to campaign for the idea that Britain should now, before Summit talks or after them, destroy all her stocks of H-bombs, stop making H-bombs, refuse to have American H-bobs located in Britain and, of course, stop testing H-weapons.

Does the Ex-Service Movement for Peace support this policy wholeheartedly and completely?

Knowing how closely this organisation works under the direct control of Communist Party bureaucrats and knowing the foxy, two-faced attitude of that party on “unilateralism” I suspect Mr Ross will duck this question with some wily, double meaning phrase — like the recent one “regretting” that the Hungarian government found it necessary to murder Nagy.

But if Mr Ross is not really a supporter of CND policy, how on earth was he ever appointed as a March-Warden with evidently, plenipotentiary powers over what policies marchers should advocate?

John Daniels, Editor Labour Review


As I was responsible for the organisation of the March on London, may I comment on the controversy which has arisen in your columns…

It has been made clear on many occasions that CND welcomes the participation of any group which supports the policy statement of the Campaign and that in particular we welcome the appearance of trade union representatives and banners in our demonstrations.

Throughout the country, the CND unites thousands of people in their fight against nuclear weapons. These supporters accept the CND programme, but obviously have their differing opinions about the value of other approaches. It is therefore, apparent that misunderstandings and difficulties are bound to arise if any individual or group insists on displaying banners or posters which advertise a sectional viewpoint — or periodical — within a procession or meeting organised by the CND.

Futile arguments and even ugly incidents can then occur because that sectional viewpoint advertised is not accepted — perhaps not understood by — the others present.

The same problems arise over the shouting of slogans. Like many others I have taken part in demonstrations — outside the Campaign — where the slogans shouted have produced more dissension in the ranks than dismay amongst the opposition.

The “silent march” technique of the Campaign has produced results which have been impressive by any standard, and has given encouragement to, and brought support from our friends in other countries.

It should be unnecessary to point out that the creation of these difficulties can only help those who work to destroy the unity of our struggle against the threat of nuclear warfare. That unity — forged at Hiroshima and Nagasaki — is our most vital possession.

If we differ — let us not divide. Instead, inside the growing Campaign, let us join to hammer out our differences into a pattern of activity which will change the direction of British policy.

Michael L Howard.

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