Paddy Whannel and Stuart Hall put questions about direct action and civil disobedience to Alan Lovell, a member of the Committee of a Hundred. The questions are in italics throughout.
In his article in the New Statesman before the sit-down, Bertrand Russell argued that civil disobedience was primarily a way of drawing attention to the case for Nuclear Disarmament. Do you agree?
I do not in fact. Obviously you can get publicity for the cause by acts of civil disobedience of one kind or another, but it seems to me the weakest case for civil disobedience. If you take Russell’s case then any kind of stunt which attracted Press attention would do. The trouble is that Russell, because of his eminence, is taken as speaking for the whole civil disobedience movement, particularly the Committee of a Hundred.
I think there is another case for civil disobedience which leads to a different view of politics. The basic point there is to use civil disobedience as a kind of emotional challenge to people. I think you can see the point very clearly in Mervyn Jones’ letter to the New Statesman. He says that the issue facing CND now is not to get publicity, but to present people with the arguments and facts for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. This seems to me to presuppose a view of politics in general, in which the world looks rather like a large university in which CND have a lot of people to preach to. I do not think that it is as simple as that. I do not think that people disagree with the case for nuclear disarmament just because they have not heard the facts or the arguments. Most people’s views are an incredible mixture of all kinds of things: the views their parents took, their emotional prejudices, things they picked up in the Press. These old attitudes usually harden into a very strong, almost a “life” attitude. And you somehow have to open them up, shake their prejudices. Civil disobedience aims to attack these deep-rooted beliefs and attitudes in people.
This does not exclude, though, the importance of presenting the facts and getting the arguments straight. It is a different sort of activity.
The two things go together. If you open people up by this kind of emotional challenge, then you have to be prepared with your facts, arguments and all the conventional methods. But it seems to me totally useless just to use the one or the other method. If we are going to think of it just as presenting facts and arguments, after a bit you find that you do not convert people.
This means that civil disobedience is aimed at people rather than governments or established parties.