Monday, October 26, 2020

Protest and Survive- CND reborn, October 1980

The massive October 1990 Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament 'Protest and Survive' demonstration in London represented the rebirth of the 'Ban the Bomb' movement that had been largely dormant since its previous high point in the 1960s. The reason for this revival was that nuclear war was once again seeming a real possibility as the Cold War began to hot up. 

In 1979 Russian forces had entered Afghanistan in support of the beleaguered  pro-soviet government. The ascendancy of the new right to power in Britain and the USA saw a cranking up of anti-Russian rhetoric from Thatcher and Reagan, soon to be followed up with the deployment of a new generation of nuclear missiles in Europe.

The British Government's publication of its 'Protect and Survive' booklet in May 1980 only made the nuclear nightmare more tangible, with its absurd advice for turning your home into a fall out shelter amidst nuclear war. This was parodied by EP Thompson in his 'Protest and Survive' pamphlet published by CND shortly afterwards.


'We must protest if we are to survive. Protest is the only realistic form of civil defence. We must generate an alternative logic, an opposition at every level of society. This opposition must be international and it must win the support of multitudes' (E.P. Thompson, Protest and Survive, 1980)

Photomontage artist Peter Kennard produced a memorable image of a skeleton reading the Government publication as well as designing the leaflet/poster for the demonstration set for 26th October 1980.



I was at sixth form and with a group of friends that year had set up Luton Peace Campaign (soon to be Luton Nuclear Disarmament Campaign) which quickly grew to having over 100 members. Similar groups were springing up all over the country. We organised a couple of coach loads to go to London for the march and were amazed at the turn out, variously estimated as between 50,000 (the police) and 100,000 (Socialist Organiser). For the first time I had a real sense of how the efforts of small groups of people meeting in pubs and kitchens could coalesce into a mass social movement.

As reported in the Daily Mirror (27 October 2020):

'Britain’s ban the bomb movement was reborn yesterday with a massive show of strength. More than 60,000 demonstrators jammed London streets for the biggest nuclear disarmament rally in 17 years. The day started with a huge inflatable mushroom ‘cloud’ being floated above Hyde Park as the demonstrators gathered under a sea of banners. The protesters then brought traffic to a standstill as they marched to Trafalgar Square…

There were hippies, punk rockers, skinheads and supporters of all ages. A girl on rollerskates joined the protest. So did a band of Buddhist monks. 12 people were arrested and charged with minor offences such as threatening behaviour and obstruction. Scuffles broke out as one group tried to march down Whitehall towards Downing Street and Parliament. But a line of policeman headed them off and the rest of the demonstration was peaceful'. 


The NME (1 November 1980) gave the demo a full page report which likewise highlighted the diversity of the crowd:

'There were punks and 'Schoolkids against the Bomb' and nuns and MPs and messages of support from intellectuals in the USA. There were youthful banners bearing slogans like “Grow up or Blow up“ and “Don’t Cruise to Oblivion”... Peggy Seeger sang. The Pop group and Killing Joke played... E.P. Thompson was the smash hit, though, earning a huge ovation with his characteristically stirring words: “I wasn’t sure about this six months ago” he said. “But we can win. I want you to sense and feel your strength".  An NME photo showed 'Buddhist monks from Milton Keynes'  perambulating 'pacifist veterans including Philip Noel Baker and first CND secretary Peggy Duff' in their wheelchairs.


The mushroom cloud inflatable in Hyde Park
(from 'Socialist Organiser', 8 Nov. 1980)

The speakers included MPs Tony Benn and Neil Kinnock, actor Susannah York, EP Thompson and Bruce Kent of CND. I was excited that The Pop Group and Killing Joke were playing in Trafalgar Square at the end of the rally, though it was one of those occasions when the crowd was so big (and the PA so small) that you had to be up front to really experience the music - and I wasn't.  Luckily I got to see The Pop Group at their peak earlier that year at the Beat the Blues Festival at Alexandra Palace.

The Pop Group on stage in Trafalgar Square


Apparently The Specials had also been due to play but this didn't happen due to Department of Environment restrictions about the extent and volume of the music. As the Government department responsible for Trafalgar Square the DoE  'ruled that the event is a rally and not a concert, and therefore the PA must not exceed 2.5 kilowatts' (NME, 25 October 1980).  A poster also mentions Peggy Seeger and Mikey Dread as being on the bill.




A poster from Liverpool advertising the demo

Killing Joke played five tracks including Wardance and Requiem.  The Pop Group set was their last live performance (at least until they reformed in 2010) and included an early version  of 'Jerusalem', a dub retake on Blake's poem which vocalist Mark Stewart would later record.  The  early prototype version played in Trafalgar Square can be heard on 'The Lost Tapes', included as part of the Mute reissue of Stewart's 'Learning To Cope With Cowardice'.


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