Records of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Biographical and Historical Notes

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), an organization formed in Great Britain in January 1958, intended to persuade the government to "renounce unconditionally the use or production of nuclear weapons and refuse to allow their use by others in its defense."

Fearing a retreat by the United States back into isolationism after World War II, Britain felt compelled to provide for its own defense. In a secretive era under the Labour Party, the British government began work on its own atomic weapons in 1947, and tested its first atomic bomb in Australia five years later. Over the next decade, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) grew in face of Soviet imperialism, and the United States and Britain pursued coordinated but independent nuclear programs.

By 1957, two groups had emerged to coordinate the anti-nuclear movement in Britain. The National Committee for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons Tests (NCANWT) and the Emergency Committee for Direct Action Against Nuclear War (DAC) were created to oppose the Conservative Party's White Paper on Defense (1957) which openly supported a nuclear program. The White Paper expressed the first official government support for what had been a secretive ten-year effort to produce an atomic weapon.

The formation of NATO in 1949 and eventually the Korean War prompted a NATO effort to match the nuclear weaponry of the Soviet Union. The NATO nuclear relationship progressed to the point where, in 1958, the United States based several of its nuclear fleet submarines and intermediate range nuclear missiles in Britain, thereby committing the U.S. to respond to Warsaw Pact aggression and allowing Britain to feel more confident.

It was at this point that the peace movement took its first steps toward prominence in the British political arena. Initially the peace movements were small and independent, but they forced the issue of disarmament onto the political agenda of the parties. The Labour Party, in power from 1945-51, initiated the British nuclear program. By 1957, Labour was the opposition party, torn between its left and center-left components. The left demanded Britain's unilateral nuclear disarmament to set an example for the United States and the Soviet Union. Debate raged within the Labour Party and among non-Parliamentary notables, the most influential of whom was the author J.B. Priestley.

Priestley's article in The New Statesmen in support of unilateral disarmament prompted a meeting of Britain's intelligentsia. Those attending included Bertrand Russell, Sir Julian Huxley, Kingsley Martin, Priestley, and members of NCANWT. The meeting resulted in the formation of the CND with Bertrand Russell installed as President, Canon Collins as Chairman, and Peggy Duff from NCANWT as organizing secretary. This prominent group was able to draw a large following.

The first major decision facing the newly organized CND was whether to endorse the "street politics" of the DAC or to utilize available links with Parliament to promote their agenda. The first important direct action endorsed by the CND was the DAC-organized Aldermaston march. The protest attracted 10,000 people its first year (1958), and upwards to 50,000 and 100,000 participants by the early 1960s. In addition, the CND worked through traditional channels to pressure the Labour Party Conference to adopt a unilateralist plank in their 1960 platform. They were successful in both approaches, but the CND began to split between the supporters of direct action and those who favored making use of traditional channels.

The debate became public in 1960. Bertrand Russell resigned his presidency and formed the "Committee of 100." The breakaway Committee advocated non-violent direct action (billed as civil disobedience by the English media) throughout the country. The common purpose of the Committee of 100 and the DAC brought on their merger within a year.

In the meantime, Canon Collins and the CND survived the media fiasco and loss of support created by Russell's split. The CND distanced themselves from the Committee of 100 by insisting that, unlike Russell's group, the CND was not strictly pacifist and, furthermore, believed unilateral disarmament could be pursued most effectively through the existing political system. However, lacking a formal membership until 1966, the CND found it difficult to use the political process. Their main target, the Labour Party, was not united, and the issue of unilateral nuclear disarmament became a pawn in the power game being played within the Party.

By 1963 the Labour Party under Harold Wilson had rejected unilateralism, the British Navy was equipped with Polaris missiles from the United States, the world had seen through the Cuban Missile Crisis that nuclear war could be averted, and the Partial Test Ban Treaty (banning nuclear tests in the atmosphere) had been signed. That year was the last of the Aldermaston marches.

CND activity remained in decline until the debate over inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) deployment in Europe arose during the late 1970s. Even then, the strength and effectiveness of the movement could not reach the peak it achieved in the early 1960s.


Byrne, Paul. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. New York: Croom Helm, 1988.

Mattausch, John. A Commitment to campaign: a sociological study of CND. New York: Manchester University Press, 1989.

Thayer, George. The British political fringe: a profile. London: Anthony Blond Ltd., 1965.

Much of the organizational information has been derived from the contents of the collection.

Scope and Contents

The records of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), spanning from 1941-1972, contains three linear feet of material including articles, clippings, minutes and agendas from conferences, files, microfilm, and publications.

The material surveys the issues of the nuclear disarmament movement in England beginning with the formation of the CND in 1958. Several contentious issues are documented throughout the collection. These issues include discussions of the impact of nuclear weapon strikes on Great Britain and of nuclear weapons in general, the effectiveness of unilateral disarmament as a national policy, the merits of non-violent protest vs. civil disobedience, and the ability of pressure groups to stimulate political change. To a lesser degree, the collection reflects the impact of Bertrand Russell, his political thinking, and his role in persuading public opinion.

The collection, as a record of the CND, includes official documents and publications of the organization; and reference files of published articles, newspaper clippings, and papers dealing with nuclear disarmament. The history of the CND is well documented through these materials. Highlights include the initial meeting of the CND leaders in 1957, descriptions of the annual Aldermaston march and its planning, the breakaway of Bertrand Russell and his Committee of 100, information on the creation of the CND symbol (which gained international recognition as the peace symbol) and the dependent, fragile relationship of the CND with the Labour Party. Additionally, the records provide information on the development of CND structures, strategies, and planning.

The material is divided into three distinct series. The first series, Files of the CND, contains materials from the yearly conferences, files of the regional CND organizations, and information regarding the Committee of 100. The second series, Publications of the CND, features many of CND's official periodicals from 1962-1967. These provide insight to the concerns and changing policy positions of the organization. Finally, the third series, Press Clippings and Articles, is a set of newspaper clipping files, 1960-1963, which chronicle British press coverage of significant world events, nuclear issues, and the CND. In addition, the series includes reference articles on a wide range of disarmament topics.