Intellectuals of the Left and the Atomic Dilemma in the Age of the US Atomic Monopoly, 1945-1949
journal contributionposted on 04.02.2015, 14:05 by John Callaghan, Mark Phythian
Given its close association with the formation of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, it is tempting to assume that the response of Left intellectuals to the advent of atomic weapons was rooted in consistent opposition. This article demonstrates that the reality was much more complex. During the period of the US atomic monopoly (1945–1949), British Left intellectuals wrestled with the implications of this new destructive force and arrived at widely different understandings and prognoses. However, many shared a pessimism rooted in the belief that the atomic monopoly could not be maintained for long, that beyond this point the atomic future was unmanageable and that it would result in future war and annihilation. Drawing on a range of British left-wing responses, and focusing in particular on those of Bertrand Russell and George Orwell, this article emphasises the shifting nature and complexity of Left responses to the advent of the US atomic monopoly and analyses the circumstances in which these were arrived at. It shows that it is inaccurate to think in terms of a single or coherent left-wing position on atomic weapons at a time when many on the left believed further war to be inevitable and some believed that the only way to prevent it might lie in launching, or threatening, a preventive atomic attack on the Soviet Union.