Those huge CND demos in the early 80s


IMG_6241The start of the 80s saw some monster CND demonstrations in London. The 1981 demo, which I remember well, attracted at least 250,000 people and took five hours to snake through London to Hyde Park. As we approached the park, I could hear Michael Foot’s voice very clearly – the then Labour leader and veteran unilateralist.

Later, outside McDonalds on Charing Cross Road, some old biddy came up to me and said I was as bad as those Peace Pledge Union types in the 1930s who’d have left us defenceless in the face of Hitler, etc.

The reason for the big turnouts on these CND protests was mainly the election of Ronald Reagan, seen as a dangerous militarist by us lefties at the time. The world was dominated by the superpower struggle between the Soviet Union and the United States and it seemed to be hotting up. There were widespread concerns in the UK over the stationing of American nukes on British soil with Tony Benn calling for the closure of US military bases here.

 

1982 – what issues gripped the left?


The first term of Thatcher – 1979 to 1983 – was many things politically but never dull. For the Labour Party, there was a move to the left among the rank and file after what was felt to have been lost years under Wilson and Callaghan from 1974 to defeat in 1979.

I remember being at meetings where you could divide the party members present into those that wanted to nationalise the top 25 monopolies and those that wanted to nationalise the top 250 monopolies (Tribune for the lower figure and Militant for the higher).

New Socialist was a monthly magazine in the 1980s and in this June 1982 issue you get a snapshot of what vexed the left. Norman Tebbit – the Chingford Skinhead (or Conservative MP for Chingford and government minister if you prefer) – dominated the front page with his bovver boot about to stamp on the trades unions.

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From 1979 to 1981, Jim Prior had been employment secretary. A more consensual Tory grandee, he fitted in with a view that the Conservatives should have some kind of modus vivendi with the trades unions. This view was chucked out of the window by the more suburban petit-bourgeois Tebbit who had no qualms about taking on organised labour.

Other articles in this issue of New Socialist included a debate between Frank Field on the right and Pat Wall on the Marxist left about who should own the soul of the Labour Party.  Both were MPs in the 80s with Wall being a Militant supporting MP in Bradford.

The militarisation of the police, the terrorising of women by the Yorkshire Ripper, Ronald Reagan and the “problem” of Europe were the subjects of other articles. The latter is interesting because the left hadn’t yet bought into the idea that Europe was a friend of the left. Europe – whether it was the Common Market, European Economic Community or European Union – was seen as a ‘capitalist club’ by many socialists in the early 1980s.

Nuclear free zones – the early 80s movement


Nuclear free zones were an early 80s political phenomenon that swept Labour run local councils, student unions and other bodies. They were always derided by the Tories as a vainglorious gesture by grandstanding politicians. However, they captured a widespread anxiety about the threat of nuclear war that was very pervasive in the late 70s and early 80s. The turnout on CND demos surged massively at the turn of the decade and I remember being on one monster march to Hyde Park in 1981.

Here’s an announcement that Merseyside County Council (later abolished by Thatcher along with the GLC and other authorities that were nearly all Labour run) was going to declare itself a nuclear free zone.

Merseyside goes nuclear free!
Merseyside goes nuclear free!

The Falklands – as the war was seen back in 1982


Papers just released under the 30 year rule show that Thatcher was completely amazed when Argentina invaded the Falklands. I remember seeing the first news of the war broadcast on ITN and it was a bit surreal. There was the footage of Argentine ships heading towards the islands with some admiral on deck with his binoculars.

We look back on the war from the post-1982 world where the Iron Lady looks utterly resolved to defeat the damned Argies. Don’t believe a word of it. The government was caught in headlights. Foreign minister Lord Carrington resigned. There had been warnings about Argentina’s intentions since 1977 and the British embassy in Buenos Aires had been alerting London for months. But when Argentina struck – the Tories initially reeled.

Students of the Thatcher years may wish to investigate what the Tories would have done to the Falkland islanders if the war hadn’t happened. President Reagan and the US establishment wanted Britain to reach some kind of accommodation with the then military dictatorship in Argentina. In those days, the US had installed anti-communists military juntas in Chile, Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America – no talk of democracy back then!

Also, the idea of the British sending troops into the Americas made many in Washington feel a little queasy – wasn’t this what 1776 had been all about stopping?

Here’s some of the stuff that came out during the Falklands War from my extensive archive…

Liverpool Echo on the Falklands
Liverpool Echo on the Falklands
How Marxists viewed the Falklands
How Marxists viewed the Falklands
Students vexed over whether to serve
Students vexed over whether to serve
Students said view of Thatcher unchanged
Students said view of Thatcher unchanged
London Evening Standard front page
London Evening Standard front page
Carrington was about to go
Carrington was about to go

The 1980 Soviet Olympic opening ceremony – comrades!


The Olympics were held in Moscow in 1980 when it was at the centre of the Soviet Union and under the thumb of President Brezhnev.  By this time, the Soviet Union was in economic and political decline but that wasn’t immediately obvious to the rest of the world. What was only too clear was the growing hostility between Reagan’s America and the Kremlin. And the Olympics being in the USSR for the first time didn’t help matters.

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Credit: RIA Novosti

In fairness to Reagan (and I’ll never use that phrase again) it was outgoing US president Jimmy Carter who urged a boycott of the Games because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This was at a time when the West thought radical Islamist groups were our friends and allies against communism – what a difference three decades makes!

The Moscow Olympics was not just notorious because of the Afghanistan boycott, it was also the scene of so much doping that it was referred to as the Chemists’ Games. We all knew there was something a bit odd about those East German athletes who won gold medals but seemed to be of indeterminate gender!

The opening ceremony was a riot of communist era chic – a Stalinist fantasy. Looks a bit weird now but very much in line with the May Day parades that used to roar through the Kremlin while a bunch of geriatric bureaucrats waved from the government podium.