MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Events


Peace Movement (1950s/60s)

The Peace Movement of the post-World War Two period was the first of the modern social movements in Europe and America. The peace movment did not grow up over night, in the most famous example of Vietnam, the movement had a very small and unmentioned following for the first 5 years or more; it took time to become a mass movement of millions capable of temporarily halting the U.S. war machine. The impact and significance of the peace movement can be seen into the 21st century, when peace movements start, small and as yet marginalised, before the war itself! Before the peace movements of the 1950s-60s, anything but patriotism in times of war was called treason and people would be imprisoned, exiled, or murdered (even in so-called "democracies"), today, a peace movement is expected to spring up with the onset of any new battle ground in the never ending war of capitalist exploitation.

Historical Development: Anti-war movements have arisen in modern times around many failing military adventures; during the First World War, Anti-War and Anti-Conscription Campaigns built to a considerable size in almost all of the countries affected. However, the U.S. dropping of the Atom Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 (killing 150,000 civilians instantly, and countless millions of Japanese civilians in the past 50 years; continuing through the generations in a silent genocide), and the testing of bombs by the Soviet Union in 1949 and Britain in 1952 set off huge protest movements, chiefly in Britain and the U.S., whose governments wielded and proved their willingness to use these weapons of mass destruction. Thus, although the Peace Movement of the 1950s and early 1960s in most respects resembled the Anti-War Movements of earlier times, it was unique in being a response to a danger rather than actual human suffering. It is further distinguished in the conscious and systematic development of tactics of non-violent action and in the role it played in the initiation of a whole series of social movements which unfolded in to two decades following.

In 1954, the British pacifist, philosopher and mathematician, Bertrand Russell, made a broadcast on the BBC condemning the US A-Bomb test on Bikini Island. Later, he joined with longstanding anti-war camapigner Albert Einstein to organise a conference of Nobel Prize winners (including scientists from both sides of the "Iron Curtain") at Pugwash in 1957 which called for the destruction of Nuclear Weapons. This led to the founding of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (C.N.D.), which became a by-word for mass, non-violent protest marches. Russell himself resigned form CND in 1960 to found the more militant Committee of 100 whose aim was to incite civil disobedience, and this campaign passed over into Anti-Vietnam War Movement.

Although, historically, it is far from unusual for broad social movements to be initiated by prestigious individuals, this feature of the Peace Movement of the 1950/60s is marked. The Mainau Declaration of July 15 1955 was signed by fifty-two Nobel Prize winners, and addressed itself to the governments of the world. This was a very conservative period of time: the Cold War was at its height, the McCarthyite witchhunts in full swing and with living standards recovered from the War and unemployment at an all-time low, labour militancy was at a low level. Activists in the Peace Movement included Marxists, Communist Party members, trade unionists, Quakers, admirers of Mahatma Gandhi and other pacifists and young professional people and students. While for some, the one and only issue was the cycle of mass destruction which had blighted the world since 1914, for others, the issues were much wider, but in the political conditions of the time (including jailing and execution of Communist Party members in the U.S.), the Peace Movement provided an opportunity to break through the conservative stanglehold.

In the U.S., Albert Einstein and Linus Pauling were among the first to speak out, and the Movement reached its peak as it merged with the Civil Rights Movement. When students returned to their studies after the summer of 1964, the Universities exploded in student protests against the University administrations which were concerned with educational and "free speech" issues; but it was the methods and the passions of the Peace Movement and the Civil Rights Movement which brought about this explosion. These student protests were to spread to almost every country in the world throughout the late 1960s, merging with the Anti-Vietnam War Movement.


Peaceful Coexistence

Peaceful Coexistence was the foreign policy of the Soviet Union started after WWII towards Imperialism, which wanted peace with the capitalists by abandoning the work of leading revolutions in the imperialist countries.

Since Lenin's first day in office, the Soviet government made every effort to establish peace with capitalist nations, while at the same time encouraging the workers of these countries, primarily through organisations like the Communist International, to overthrow their capitalist governments. The ideology of Peaceful Coexistence stipulated that helping workers to revolt would hamper the peace process with capitalism.

Historical Development: After WWII the Soviet Union was utterly devastated by the strength of the capitalist German war machine. Over 40 million Soviet citizens were slaughtered, hundreds of cities utterly decimated, tens of thousands sq. km. of the nation's most fertile land burned and pillaged. The U.S. and it's allies built a military organization called NATO, to fight against the Soviet Union, facing the nation with an overwhelming superiority of weapons of mass destruction. The Soviet Union could not afford war.

The actually implementation of Peaceful Co-existence began around 1943, when the Comintern was dissolved in order to secure a war-time pact with the Allies.

The ideology of "peaceful coexistence" was first fully enunciated following the Twentieth Congress at which Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin’s crimes. Khrushchev explained the doctrine of ‘peaceful co-existence’ to a reception at the Albanian Embassy in April 1957, in this way:

‘In our relations with the capitalist countries we steadfastly adhere to Lenin’s principle of peaceful coexistence. ...

‘We shall never take up arms to force the ideas of communism upon anybody. We do not need to do that, for the ideas of communism express the vital interests of the popular masses. Our ideas, the ideas of communism have such great vitality that no weapon can destroy them, that not even the nuclear weapon can hold up the development of these progressive ideas. Our ideas will capture the minds of mankind. The attempts of the imperialist to arrest the spread of the ideas of communism by force of arms are doomed to failure. ...

‘The countries of our socialist camp, united by a single aim, by unshakeable fraternal friendship, are strong both ideologically and materially. We have the armed forces necessary to defend our socialist gains and protect the peaceful labour of our peoples. But we frequently declared and again repeat that we are ready on mutually reasonable principles to disarm on a still larger scale. ...

‘for forty years now Messrs the capitalists have been reiterating that ... private ownership is omnipotent. We affirm that the ideas of communism are incomparably stronger, that these ideas will ultimately prevail. Therefore, we repeat again and again: let us compete, let us coexist peacefully’.

The reasoning behind the policy was Khrushchev’s aim to “catch up and overtake” the West in economic development, and thereby prove the superiority of the soviet system, as he explained in a speech to the Supreme Soviet on 31 October 1959:

‘The Soviet Union and all the socialist countries have opened up for humanity the road for a socialist development without war on the basis of peaceful collaboration. The conflict between the two systems must and can be resolved by peaceful means ... Coexistence is something real, flowing from the existing world situation of human society ... Several well-known personalities, and in the first place President Eisenhower, want to find ways of reinforcing peace’

The elements of the strategy of “peaceful coexistence” were as follows:

  1. Socialism in one country’: Up to certain point, the achievements of the economy of the USSR and the deformed workers’ states were astounding. The whole world saw the Sputnik in the sky above them on 4th October 1957, while US rockets were still exploding or falling over on prime time television. Yuri Gagarin circled the Earth in April 1961. The Soviet military arsenal was formidable, and output of steel, oil, natural gas and basic heavy industries approached that of the capitalist powers. But cut off from the world economy, the Soviet economy could never reach the level of a developed capitalist economy which exists within a world market and world-wide division of labour. Moreover, the bureaucratic planning of international exchange of commodities with the other countries in the Soviet bloc was quite inadequate. The Soviet Union needed to get involved in the world market, and for that it needed US collaboration.
  2. The Communist Parties in the capitalist world had to subordinate the needs of the workers they represented to those of Soviet diplomacy and found themselves to the right of the peace movement in advocating bilateral disarmament. They touch with the younger generation and Stalinist trade union officials became the policemen of the unions.
  3. The “Iron Curtain”: Isolated and blockaded by imperialism, peaceful co-existence meant socially and politically sealing off from each other the people of the workers’ states and the people of the capitalist world. The erection of the Berlin Wall in August 1961 divided Germany for decades. This isolation added to economic stagnation and political and cultural backwardness.
  4. The National Liberation Movements were supported against imperialism, but at the price of becoming bargaining chips in Soviet diplomacy. The sell-out of the victorious Vietnamese Revolution at Geneva in 1954 was the most tragic example. While the US provided troops and the most modern weapons to their clients, the USSR supplied the national liberation movements with only sufficient weaponry to serve the purpose of tying down the imperialists.
  5. The Arms Race: Military might was a substitute for political struggle. The USSR had to compete in nuclear weaponry with the most powerful economy in the world, imposing a crippling burden upon the Planned Economy, which has no need of the ‘stimulus’ of war production.
  6. It meant continued bureaucratic political suppression of the working class within the Soviet bloc.

The policy failed to dissuade the US from its policy of Cold War, and triggered the Sino-Soviet dispute. Far from “catching up and overtaking” the West, the Soviet economy went into decline.

Further Reading: After World War I, Karl Kautsky preached these same moral principles: peace in the face of a war machine. See his: Hitlerism and Social-Democracy.