Protesters in Westminster, 29th April 1961


Whilst Russell’s correspondence at the time shows that he thought the two different approaches had to remain independent of each other (although personally supporting both during the first couple of years of CND’s life), this approach did not last long. As Russell’s biographer describes it: ‘Hunting with both packs was defensible as long as both organisations seemed to be doing equally valuable work. But by the summer of 1960 he was beginning to feel that the voice of the church militant, epitomised by Collins’ chairmanship of CND, was becoming little more than a whisper in the parish magazine.’

In the middle of 1960, Russell was visited by a young American called Ralph Schoenman, who proposed a new campaigning approach: neither the mass marches and legal protests of CND, nor the activities of the DAC, which in Russell’s words, ‘were too often concerned with individual testimony by way of salving individual consciences.’ Schoenman’s idea was mass civil disobedience, intending to combine the direct action of DAC and the mass movement of CND. Russell took up the idea, and the Committee of 100 was formed. The role of Schoenman himself was a controversial one, and it seems that many, during his years of influence with Russell, ‘questioned his motivation’, fearing that he had been placed there to disrupt the peace movement by elevating direct action above policy debate and campaigning. The truth about these allegations may never be known.

Much of the Committee’s campaigning was in opposition to the decision to locate US Polaris nuclear submarines at a base to be established at Holy Loch, 30 miles from Glasgow. There is clear evidence that the British government was very much affected by popular opposition and campaigning against the base, in particular over public concern about US control of nuclear weapons in British territorial waters. Indeed, as the Cabinet noted in July 1960, to overcome the ‘considerable political difficulty in securing public support in this country for these arrangements,’ Britain ‘should aim to get American agreement to full and timely consultation with us…and joint decision in an emergency.’ But that was out of the question for the US, and the government was not able to get any control for Britain over any use of US nuclear weapons in Britain. The Polaris base, therefore, presented the stark possibility that Britain could be destroyed in a nuclear war prosecuted by the United States without any British agreement to participate.

What is The People’s History of CND?

To celebrate six decades of vibrant and powerful activity, this online exhibition displays photos and memories provided by our members and supporters. They selected the photos that best symbolised a significant memory from the past 60 years. The exhibition shows photos from demonstrations, vigils and blockades; significant sites, like Greenham, Molesworth, as well as photos of artefacts, like favourite badges, banners, and knitting.

The People’s History of CND homepage