Interview – Kaldor

“Shaking the Status Quo”

Interview with Mary Kaldor
Conducted by Lawrence Wittner (State University of New York at Albany) in London, GB, June 7, 1999
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Mary Kaldor was a founding member of European Nuclear Disarmament (END), one of the most influential peace movement groups of its time, founded in 1980 in Britain. Today, she continues her advocacy of peace, democracy and human rights and is Professor at and Director of the Centre for the Study of Global Governance at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

In this 1999 interview Kaldor explains END’s vision of bringing together the questions of peace and democracy in a transnationally operating organization, which emphasized the need to establish ties with Eastern European states. For the founding members of END she recalls, “the link between democracy, disarmament, human rights, and peace, the notion of a transcontinental movement of citizens – […] were all crucial elements.”

She describes END as a “genuine spontaneous movement” which took off rapidly in 1980 propelled by a widespread “mood of activism”. She regards END as a manifestation of a general mood of frustration about the global realities of the cold war and believes that it was “more an anti-Cold War movement than an antinuclear movement.” Among END’s most important legacies, she asserts, is the continued activism of its members in human rights and peace groups like the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, where Kaldor is also a founding member and co-chair. Assessing the wider significance of END she maintains, that “the peace movement [shook] the status quo.”

Interview Transcript

Kaldor:  “The politics [of END], which was very much Edward Thompson and to some degree Ken Coates, was this notion that unlike the first round of CND we were not going to be dubbed pro-Soviet.  And I think for Edward and probably for Ken Coates who come out of that . . . wartime generation, they had a vision of a peaceful, united, democratic socialist Europe.  So for them, the link between democracy, disarmament, human rights, and peace, the notion of a transcontinental movement of citizens — those were all crucial elements which meant that END was very different from its predecessors. . . .

I remember in `79, when the peace movement was stirring, and antinuclear became a big issue, that I think the END idea, which was transnational rather than Little England, which people had the feeling that CND [exemplified]. . . .  We wanted to be much more internationalist, we wanted to make clear our commitment to democracy and human rights.  And, interestingly enough, I think that democracy issue was very important for us, too. . . .  It followed the women’s movement in all these discussions about control over our bodies, autonomy, and I think very much deepened the new peace movement of the early `80s with the idea that we were going to win not by getting our people in power but we were going to win when our ideas won.  It was about changing the relationship between state and society. . . .  There’s something wrong with a society in which decisions about life and death can be taken by governments without reference to what people think.  And particularly in the case of European countries, where that is taken by an unaccountable international institution, like NATO.  So there was a democracy element to the antinuclear campaign . . . and this crucial link to Eastern Europe was what made END different, and was very crucial in all the changes that took place in [ ? ] society.”

Wittner:  Was there resistance to the END appeal?  Did CND view it as a challenge to the unilateralist focus?

Kaldor:  “I think not initially.  Initially, everybody wanted to get on board . . . and we were working together with CND.  So we didn’t initially see much resistance.  There were a few people who objected to `Poland to Portugal,’ and we had quite a debate over `Poland to Portugal’ or `Atlantic to the Urals.’  And the people who wanted `Atlantic to the Urals’ wanted Russia in, but more important they had a more technical approach.  Our point was always a political approach, that we want the superpowers out of Europe.  

But I think the resistance came when it came to really becoming active in Eastern Europe.  Then a lot of people in CND were quite critical of what we were doing, and there were very sharp divisions throughout the `80s [ ? ].”

Wittner:  Were you surprised by the response to the first appeal?

Kaldor:  “It was amazing, absolutely amazing; the way the movement took off in 1980 was just incredible. . . .  And it was a genuine, spontaneous movement, [ ? ] springing up all over the country.  So it was just extraordinary.  

I think it was just one of those historic moments.  I often say that, just as the human rights movements of the late `70s and early `80s came out of the Helskinki Agreement, I think the peace movement did, too.  That after the detente period of the `70s, after the Helsinki Agreement, it was just inconceivable that we should go for a new generation of nuclear weapons, and the . . . hardline rhetoric of Reagan and Thatcher was so unbelievable that I think that’s why people responded the way they did.  

. . . I . . . think there are moments in history where people become activists and I’m not quite sure what determines those moments, but this was clearly one of them.  I remember Edward saying that the British people are thinking.  There was just a mood of activism in that period.

I do think it had something to do with the Right being in power.  As long as the Left were in power — and I realize that now — you always feel slightly muted about demonstrating `cause you don’t want to get rid of your own government.  Whereas with hardliners in power. . . .  So I definitely think it had something to do with Reagan and Thatcher.”

Wittner:  In terms of the response of European governments, what went on . . . in terms of either rejection and subversion . . . of the movement or support?  How did governments try to deal with this mass upsurge, Europe-wide?  What was their response?

Kaldor:  “I think it varied enormously from country to country, and that was in a way the trick of being so transnational, that we did have an influence on NATO because all the governments were experiencing the same.  But I think some governments were much more responsive than others. . . .  The British government was totally opposed, whereas the German government — and most importantly, the Dutch and the Belgian government — were much more responsive.  And it did really affect their politics.  But it also affected our politics, not so much the government but we had the split in the Labour Party. . . .  Certainly in the case of Holland, it had an extraordinary impact.  The government here, they could ride out everything. . . .  Under the Labour government, I was appointed to a Foreign Office panel on disarmament and I didn’t lose my job immeditely when the Tories came in.  So I went to [ ? ] to the first meeting after the Tories came in and Douglas Heard was the minister in charge [i.e. Minister for Disarmament], and the discussion was what to do about the cruise missiles, and I think I was the only person there opposed to cruise missiles.  At the end [ ? ] he said:  `We mustn’t let the Russians succeed in preventing the deployment of the cruise missiles in the same way they succeeded in preventing the deployment of the neutron bomb.’ So that was how they saw it.  They saw a Russian behind every peace activist.”

Wittner:  Were there ways in which governments went after the movement?

Kaldor:  “I’m sure there were. . . .  There’s no doubt that I lost my address book three times during the 1980s.  And also, Edward and I both had full tax investigations. . . .  There were reasons in each case.  But it’s the sort of thing one always does. . . .  I didn’t want to know.  I suppose I felt that it’s good for them to know what we do. . . .  Once I lost my passport, and it reappeared in a plain brown envelope handed to me at the passport office.”

Wittner:  How about other signs that governments may have been responsive?  Gorbachev, for example?

Kaldor:  “We’ve got lots of that. . . .  [ Recommends article in her book by Tair Tairov.]  He was secretary-general of the World Peace Council. . . .  Everyone thought he was KGB.  He probably was!  He had a beautiful flat in Moscow.  And he certainly had an inside track to the Central Committee.  He always argued that we were very influential.  And, then, . . . last summer I met someone called Alexei Pankin, who had been one of Gorbachev’s speech writers.  And when I met him, he said:  `Oh, I always wanted to meet you.  You and E.P. Thompson are my heroes.  During the `80s I was writing speeches for Gorbachev and we used to get the END Journal, even though it was forbidden.  And then we used to cook it out and put it into Gorbachev’s speeches!’  I’m going to get him to come to LSE in the autumn and give a lecture on the `new thinking.’  So I hope he’ll say it in public there!”

[At LW’s request, this anecdote was later repeated on the tape as:  “I met this guy at a conference, and he said he was Gorbachev’s speech writer.  Alexei Pankin.  And he said:  `Oh, it’s so exciting to meet you; you and E.P. Thompson are my heroes.  And, during the `80s I was writing Gorbachev’s speeches.  We used to get the END Journal, even though it was forbidden, and then we used to copy it all out for Gorbachev’s speeches.'”]

Wittner:  In 1982 or 1983, Yuri Zhukov denounced Thompson. . . .

Kaldor:  “In Athens, yes.”

Wittner:  And didn’t he write something along these lines as well?

Kaldor:  “Yes, he did, there was a campaign, and somewhere in my files there are vivid descriptions of this.”

Wittner:  What do you think was going on?

Kaldor:  “The BBC are making a program about END, and the reason they’re making it is that they came up with Stasi files from the early `80s which show that the Stasi found the most threatening organization to be END.  So I think they found us incredibly threatening, because we were challenging them.  I attended so many confrontations with the peace committees during the `80s.”

Wittner:  Except that they began trying to cozy up to END.

Kaldor:  “Well, they were always trying to cozy up, and there was always this complex relationship, you know.  Denis Healey, in his autobiography, says that when he and Kinnock went to Moscow, their wives went to the Peace Committee, and were told they shouldn’t be having anything to do with END and Thompson because we were the representatives of the CIA.”

Wittner:  So, you don’t think the campaign was just against Thompson?  [Discussed conversation with German Peace Council official.]

Kaldor:  “That’s rubbish.  That’s what they always say.  It’s funny; they still say that.  

[The tape recorder was turned off at this point, and unfortunately was not turned on in time to record the subsequent comments in brackets.  Instead, they are reconstructed from LW’s notes.

Kaldor:  Zhukov intervened to stop the Hungarian Dialogue group and the E. German groups that appeared after Dialogue.

Faber and Petra Kelly also came under fierce attack by the WPC/SPC.

British END, IKV, and the W. German Greens disliked the Peace Committees, while CND, the Italian CP, and some others were less hostile to the “officials.”  So a debate about how to relate to them raged within END.  Although the conventions began to draw upon them, the East-West Network (in which IKV, the Greens, and Joanne Landy’s CPD/EW were central) provided a new forum for contacts with E. Europe, especially with the independents.  Furthermore, END wouldn’t have held the Moscow convention (1991) if the officials ran things.

Influence of the peace movement on Gorbachev?  He picked up on the idea of sufficiency and of defensive defense.  So he was ready for the official Western nuclear arms control proposals.  He was also softened up for detente and for human rights linkages by the movement.

Influences of the peace movement on the NATO governments?  NATO proposals were made to appease the peace movement, and then Gorbachev began to accept them!]

Wittner:  Did Thompson withdraw from END at any point?  He was sick, I know, and seemed at times exhausted by it all.

Kaldor:  “He was absolutely exhausted, and he had a lot of writing he still wanted to do. . . .  It did eat him up.  It ate him up emotionally, too.  He used to write two or three letters a day to everybody, he felt responsible for everything, he always got frightfully upset if he thought we were doing the wrong thing.  He was very passionate about it all.  He felt this was the most important thing in his life.  And we had to succeed.  He was a great man, and great men are often eaten up by what they’re doing.  

He was just wonderful.  He inspired us.  He did everything.  Have you ever seen my obituary of him? . . .   It provoked a huge controversy, for I wrote that, when the dust settles, E.P. Thompson will be remembered along with Vaclav Havel and Gorbachev as one of the people who ended the Cold War.  And it provoked a storm of letters of protest in the press, which said `Nonsense!  Reagan did much more to end the Cold War than E.P. Thompson!’  

I guess he just was very exhausted, and enfeebled.  Because he was really brilliant, he had a stroke of genius.  And, although I shared his position and there were others like me, without him writing original END [ ? ]. . . .

I suppose the other person who was absolutely crucial was Mient Jan Faber.  But I feel Edward pulled us all in that direction.  And he saw it before anybody else, that that was the direction we had to go.  His writings were incredibly prophetic.  None of the rest of us really imagined that we would end the Cold War, but he thought that’s what we were going to do.”

Wittner:  I think Gorbachev helped.

Kaldor:  “But I think what the peace movement did was to shake the status quo.”

Wittner:  How about the work with American and non-European groups?  Sometimes END was criticized for being Eurocentric.  Was there much of an attempt to link up to the American movement?

Kaldor:  “There was a lot of attempt, particularly to the Americans.  We had lots of connections with the Freeze campaign, but we did have a lot of arguments with them.  We really disagreed with the approach of the Freeze campaign.  We thought it was too technical.  We thought the argument for going out for the Freeze was a mistake, and that the peace movement was being educated in the niceties of arms control.  I still think we were right about that.  I think the Freeze campaign, had it been more political, like the European campaign, would have had a much longer life.  But I went twice to Freeze conventions, and spoke up.  And I spoke in Riverside Church and in all kinds of things.  Everyone accused us of being Eurocentric.  We were Eurocentric.  We make no apology for being Eurocentric.  We had a job to do in Europe at that moment. . . . .

Particularly Americans would criticize us. . . .  I was a member of the TNI at the time, which is linked to the IPS in Washington.  And the TNI was constantly criticizing us, and people would say:  Why are you so preoccupied with Poland, what about Nicaragua?  And I would say:  Look, Nicaragua is your problem.  And if we can change things in Europe, that will have an enormous impact on all of the Third World.  But they didn’t accept that argument at all.  In the end, I left the TNI because I was so fed up with that.”

Wittner:  Would you tell your Richard Burt story once more?  [The earlier version went inadvertently untaped.]

Kaldor:  “I had a drink with Richard Burt the night the `zero option’ was announced.  And he said:  `We got the idea of the “zero option” from your banners — the ones that say “No cruise, no Pershing, no SS-20.”  And I think he thought this was a very clever move against the peace movement, because the Russians would never accept the `zero option.’  

Wittner:  Do you think they were also trying to convince Reagan that this would be a way to get rid of nuclear weapons?

Kaldor:  “Somebody makes the distinction between sincere and instrumental anti-Communism.  I think that we were sincere anti-Communists, and maybe Reagan was, too.  Whereas Kissinger and Nixon were instrumental anti-Communists.  You could also argue that the antinuclear movement influenced Reagan.”

Wittner:  How about the demise of END?

Kaldor:  END “moved into” the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly.  “It was started by the people involved in the East-West Network.  A lot of those people came into the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly.  And I’m now one of the chairs of that. . . .  Our argument was that we wanted to create a pan-European civil society, and it was kind of linked to everything — peace and democracy — but very quickly the HCA became an antiwar, antinationalist, because we had very active groups in Yugoslavia, very active groups in [ ? ].  And what was interesting was that all kinds of new people joined who had never been involved in the peace movement, tho some of the people had been involved in the peace movement.  And it’s quite interesting how many foreign ministers we have now. . . .  Obviously Robin Cook, who was active in END. . . .  And Jan Kavan, who’s now foreign minister of the Czech Republic.  He was very active in both END and in the East-West Network.  George Papandreou, who was both in END and then very active in the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, who is now the foreign minister of Greece.  And Pascal Miow [sp?], who was in the Helsinki Citizens Assembly and is now foreign minister of Albania.  So we do pretty well on the foreign ministers. . . .

The biggest lesson of the `80s was that we did anticipate the `89 revolutions, even though we didn’t know in exactly what form they would come.  And that was because we were looking at society, and not looking at states.  And that insight has helped us a lot in the `90s. . . .  

The `80s [nuclear disarmament campaign] was more an anti-Cold War movement than an antinuclear movement.  And I think we did bring about a reduction in nuclear weapons that was very significant, but mainly as a consequence of our opposition to the Cold War. . . .  The great contribution of END was bringing peace and democracy together, and my own view is that great contribution is what led to the end of the Cold War.  So . . . I think what the peace movement did was terribly important.