Nicolas Walter’s article Damned Fools in Utopia, in the last New Left Review, compels both respect and irritation in the highest degree, which was no doubt its purpose. What I admire about it (as well as its wit and candour) is the recognition that men of goodwill may follow different courses whose value cannot with any certainty be measured. The sooner we bury this ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ business, the better. What I don’t like, because it seems to me to contradict this generous spirit, is the arbitrary division of these same men of goodwill into cranks and non-cranks.
I understand, of course, that in Walter’s lexicon ‘crank’ is a title of honour, and that it means an extreme radical who refuses to compromise about his objectives. But whether history finally sets a man down as a crank depends on his success or failure; crankdom, like treason, doth never prosper. Nobody, therefore, can in the uncompleted moment claim to be a crank, or not to be one. What should we, had we been around, have said of Lenin when he proposed that the Bolsheviks should seize power in defiance of the Marxist rules, over a population most of whom had never heard of them, and without even a majority in the Petrograd Soviet? Victory proved Lenin no crank, though even the other Bolsheviks thought him one at the time.
Crankdom, then, is not a static concept. And even at a given moment, it is in the eye of the beholder, as is evident from a glance at Walter’s subject, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The Bishop of London doubtless regards Canon Collins as a crank, while Walter sees him as ‘painfully respectable’. Even within CND, things are not so simple, as I can personally testify, for I am disgustingly
So all these arguments do not really reveal immutable distinctions between the cranky and the respectable. True, a man’s opinion will be coloured by temperament, tradition, and political association; but the arguments are simply about what is going to work.
Nicolas Walter, in all that he writes, is notably clear-headed and free from humbug, and he alludes frankly to ‘unilateralist mythology’. So I am surprised to find him repeating the hoariest myth of unilateralism, the Gandhi myth. In November, 1945, Calcutta was seized by rioting and far from non-violent crowds. In February, 1946, the Indian Navy mutinied. In March, Indian Army units refused to carry out ‘internal security’ duties. In the same month British soldiers and airmen, though mostly indifferent to India’s freedom, went on strike for quicker demobilisation. In April, the War Office told the Prime Minister that a colonial war in India was beyond Britain’s strength, especially without American support and with several divisions engaged in Palestine. In June the decision for independence was taken. None of this had much to do with satyagraha, on which Gandhi had embarked 26 years earlier. Nor, by the same token, is the occupation of Goa in any conflict with the traditions of nationalist India.
It therefore seems to me superfluous to prove that satyagraha in Parliament Square will not change Britain’s nuclear policy. Not that I can prove it, to be sure; and if I am as wrong as Zinoviev was in 1917, I shall be delighted. But I prefer not to be told that those who disagree with my evaluation are in the tradition of British radical dissent (which has not hitherto included passive resistance anyhow) whereas I am outside it.
Reading closely, I observe that Walter shares my estimate of the prospects. But, having raised the slogan of ‘Crankdom or nothing!’, he can hope for no victories except the total, and on present evidence, impossible victory of a national change of heart brought about by soul-force. ‘The only thing we can all see is unilateral nuclear disarmament, somewhere on the horizon,’ he writes. ‘This is our utopia.’ And: ‘We try to avert the unimaginable by pursuing the unattainable.’ I don’t know who we ‘all’ are, but this isn’t the only thing I can see. The bomb will be dropped if there is war; war is possible at any moment, hence the sense of urgency which I hope not to lull by any word of mine; yet war does seem less likely than when the Campaign was founded. There is some difference, surely, between a world in which Dulles was calling for ‘liberation’ and a world in which Rusk is negotiating; between the world of the rubber-stamp UN and that of U Thant’s UN. All along, and especially over Berlin, British policy