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Nuclear Disarmament & Disengagement: History of SP-SDF 1958-1962

April 30, 2013
by Lawrence Gulotta

The June 1958 issue of the Socialist Call carried the SP-SDF’s “Resolution on Foreign Policy.” The Resolution urged upon the US and the UN the absolute necessity of achieving universal, controlled disarmament, down to a police level, for maintaining order under a strengthened UN. It called for an immediate universal discontinuance, under inspection, of all tests of nuclear weapons; American tests should be immediately discontinued; negotiations for diversion, under inspection, of nuclear materials solely to peace and progressive removal of nuclear material from stockpiles of atomic weapons; for the redirection and control of conventional arms and armies. The SP urges the stop of all production of nuclear weapons at once; US to stop all work on inter-continental ballistic missiles; US to invite the UN Disarmament Commission to set up, at our expense, an effective inspection system in the US; The US expects the Russians to do the same.

The 1958 Foreign Affairs Resolution asserts that with progressive disarmament must go progressive disengagement. SP urges the renegotiation of the status of Okinawa; calls for UN recognition of China; principle of disengagement should be applied to the Middle East, to the end of achieving regional disarmament; seeks the re-unification of Germany and Austrian demilitarization. Calls for an end of military aid to Trujillo and Franco. Urges free travel, free trade and increased cultural exchanges.

1960 National Convention


The Minority report, written by Prof. Milford Sibley; calls for an Amendment, urging “…the US to announce a program of progressive unilateral disarmament unless very substantial progress to multilateral disarmament can be achieved within the next year. An indispensible program for organized non-violent resistance should accompany any unilateral disarmament and it is the only effective form of national defense and only method compatible with socialist humanitarianism under modern conditions.”

Erich Fromm, David Mc Reynolds and Dale Drew spoke in favor of the Minority report and Michael Harrington, Cabel Smith and Bob Alexander spoke against. The motion was defeated 60-25-12.


By 1962, the Shachtmanite Alex Garber had developed the concept of “social defense,” in our nuclear age. “Social Defense” was conceived as a “multi-billion dollar federal Civil Defense program, including construction of large-scale shelters, and extending into every community and neighborhood in the country. The large size of the proposed shelters could accommodate light industry as well. They insisted that “This program should be given top priority with the objective of protecting the population from the effects of nuclear warfare and nuclear testing to the greatest possible extent and within the shortest possible time.” They argued, “…the program must be accompanied by a complete reorganization of Civil Defense that would involve the entire population as participants.”

The Boulder Shachtmanites identify the pernicious opposition to their program of “Social Defense” in the arguments of the so-called “Peace Movement.” The Boulder Chapter includes jeremiads against:

  • · · Extremists from various peace movements;
  • · · Those who proclaim “Better Red than dead;
  • · · Those who are apologists for the Soviet Union;
  • · · Those looking for an “easy way out.”

The basic argument of the “Peace minded grouping” is termed the “War Psychology” argument. Their contention is “even to talk about, let alone to try to provide civilian defense is to delude the population into believing that it is protected from the dangers of nuclear war-a delusion which, it is thought, will lead the population to a willingness to engage in such a war.

Those who advocate civilian defense therefore become villains, militarists, and warmongers— in short, Devils.”They go on to note: “…The proponents of War Psychology presumptuously assume what the people are capable of being manipulated by mere words and symbols either into favoring war or into opposing war. The interests of these elite (s) of “Peace” are manipulating the people by mere words into opposing war.

It is the elitists who have been fooled by their own words, noise, and irrelevant analogies into opposing such necessary measures as civil defense.

  • · “…these “Peace”-mongers are often profoundly anti-human in that they are normally not at all concerned with saving human lives unless they can save all human lives.

The foggy world of this kind of “humanism” and “morality”, we find those who express condemnation and horror at the existence of persons who are willing to contend there is a difference between the deaths of 180 Million people and, say, of 50 Million, of 40 Million and, say, 30 Million. “

The righteous gestures (demonstrations, petitions, and “Peace” marches) of those opposing both civilian defense and the existence of nuclear weapons often are nothing but arguments for their alleged purity of heart. Frequently an admitted cynicism about their own ineffectiveness pervades extreme pacifism, unilateral disarmament, and anti civilian defense movements. Such cynical activity is a symptom of the politics of despair and the politics of personal salvation.” A single-minded approach to “Peace” is disreputable…”

1962 Illinois State Convention Foreign Affairs Resolution

In sharp contrast, reflecting the SP-SDF’s more traditional approach is the “Resolution on Peace Activity” by the 1962 Illinois State Convention, “….the need for developing an effective peace movement is urgent.”

“The Illinois SP-SDF therefore encourages the developments of a Grassroots peace movement which genuinely attempts to search out alternatives to the arms race and is merely a sounding board for the propaganda of either major power blocks. Among the organizations in this area which we support are the Chicago Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy, the Student Peace Union, and the American Friends Service Committee and the Committee for Non-Violent Action.” Hammer and Tongs, 1962,


By the 1962 SP-SDF National Convention, the Shachtmanites (Boulder, Colorado Chapter, Dr Alex Garber, faculty advisor) advocated a civil defense program on steroids or “social defense”; engaged in hard-line polemical denunciations of the “Peace” movement and the “Peace-mongers,” including attacks against moralists, unilateralists, humanists, extreme pacifists, “well-meaning pacifists” and devils; i.e. Erich Fromm, David Mc Reynolds and Norman Thomas.

1962 National Convention

The Proceedings of the 1962 National Convention of the SP-SDF indicate that the Boulder Chapter’s Resolution was not presented for a vote to the membership. Instead, two resolutions were presented and debated, the “California Resolution” and the “Friend” Resolution. The “California Resolution” carried 46 to 21. Dr. Garber and his faction will wait for another day to advance the hard-line again. The pacifists, disarmament and” peace” forces were put on notice that some socialists will advocate an arms race with the USSR and a large-scale “socialized” shelter program in every community.

The so-called “California Resolution” (aka the “Denitch Resolution”) continued the pro-disarmament tradition of the SP-SDF: “In order to turn towards a lasting peace, we must begin by:

1) Unilateral cessation of testing and producing of nuclear and atomic weapons,

2) Calling for disarmament under effective controls,

3) Disengagement of both major powers in Europe, initiated unilaterally, if necessary,

4) A “peace movement which is willing to mobilize…”

5) “Planning for an economy of peace…” and “We of the SP are against bomb tests, East or West.”





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