From Operation Gandhi to the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War (DAC)
Article published on 22 March 2015
logo imprimer

The Peace Pledge Union (PPU) issues the first, widely distributed leaflet against the atomic bomb in Britain, just a few weeks after the announcement of the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima. It organises a mass rally, ’Against the Bomb’ in early 1949, and the first mass anti-nuclear weapons demonstration in Trafalgar Square in 1950.

In 1949, at its Steps to Peace conference, a number of study groups were set up. The brief of one group was to examine the philosophical and practical application, in the British context, of nonviolent principles.
From these discussions emerged ’Operation Gandhi’ whose objectives would be:

1. Withdrawal of American armed forces at present in Britain.
2. Stopping the manufacture of atomic weapons in Britain.
3. Withdrawal from NATO.
4. Disbanding British armed forces.

Operation Gandhi changed into the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War (DAC) and organized the first modest march to Aldermaston. The Easter 1958 march, however, was a popular success - between 5000 and 10,000 people took part. In the following years the newly formed Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament took over the organising of the march which now travelled in the opposite direction - from Aldermaston to London.

This also marked the divergence of the more radical, extra-parliamentary/direct action politics of DAC and the more ’respectable’ constitutional/legal orientation of CND.

DAC was the forerunner of the now widespread direct action movement. Its nonviolent protests and sit-downs at the Ministry of War and missile bases in the late 50’s and 60’s continue today, for example at the Trident submarine base in Faslane.

Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War

One of the group of Commonweal Archives which give an incredibly rich and detailed picture of non-violent direct action movements in the 1950s and1960s

The Direct Action Committee against Nuclear War originated as a result of Harold Steele’s 1957 protest against British H-bomb testing at Christmas Island. A group of Steele’s supporters decided to march on the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston. They elected a Committee, which became the DAC. Its aim, expressed in a Policy Statement adopted 10 April 1958: "to assist the conducting of non-violent direct action to obtain the total renunciation of nuclear war and its weapons by Britain and all other countries as a first step in disarmament". The original Committee comprised Allen Skinner, Hugh Brock and Arlo Tatum, but it soon grew to include, among others, Michael Randle (who became Chair), April Carter (Secretary), Pat Arrowsmith (Field Secretary), Michael Scott and Will Warren.

Direct actions were carried out to demonstrate at personal cost opposition to nuclear weapons and to focus public attention on the issues. Methods included marches and vigils, pickets and trades union campaigns, action on votes and taxes, and civil disobedience. The Committee was prepared for its members to be arrested and imprisoned and set up ad hoc committees to continue the work while key members were jailed. Activities included the 1958 March to Aldermaston; a campaign to withdraw labour from North Pickenham Thor rocket base in December 1958; a "No Votes for the H-bomb" campaign at the South West Norfolk by-election of 1958; and a campaign in Stevenage against the De Havilland and English Electric factories (making guided missiles).

The Committee developed strong international links, shown in action against nuclear testing in the Sahara and involvement in the Committee for Nonviolent Action San Francisco to Moscow peace march. The formation in 1960 of the Committee of 100, a mass civil disobedience movement against nuclear weapons, plus considerable financial difficulties, led to the decision in June 1961 to wind down the DAC. Their final activity was a campaign against Polaris at Holy Loch in spring 1961.

The Archive

Read also :

Pat Arrowsmith recalls organising against Britain’s Bomb

Comment on this article

Site created with SPIP
with the template ESCAL-V3
Version: 3.86.39