Pugwash and Russell's Legacy
by John R. Lenz

This article appears in The Bertrand Russell Society Quarterly, no. 89 (Feb. 1996), pp. 18-24. This WWW edition, created in July 1996, contains some small additions and three longer addenda (marked by "P.S."). See also the (old-fashioned) bibliography at the end for References and Further Reading. 

In October, 1995, the Nobel Peace Prize for 1995 was awarded to Dr. Joseph Rotblat and (jointly) Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs "for their efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international politics and in the longer run to eliminate such arms."

 Rotblat was an associate of Bertrand Russell's, who is regarded as a founding-father of the Pugwash movement which began in 1957. What exactly was Russell's role in Pugwash? News reports (the few I saw) made no mention of Russell (who died in 1970) in describing Pugwash. Yet the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Pugwash constitutes, in some sense, an important recognition of his legacy, and of a cause he championed throughout the last twenty-five years of his life (beginning in 1945 and most intensively from 1949 to 1962). Therefore, I wish to sketch some history of Pugwash and especially of Russell's role in it.

 The Pugwash Conferences (I will explain the name) began in 1957 with the goal of bringing together scientists from both sides of the Iron Curtain to work for peace and mutual understanding. The immediate motivation was the call to world scientists embodied in the Russell-Einstein Manifesto of 1955.

The Russell-Einstein Manifesto (1955)

Russell in his Autobiography (Vol. III, p. 74) tells the wonderful story of how he had (in 1955) written up a statement calling for joint action among scientists "of both capitalist and communist ideologies" and left it with Einstein for his approval. He was "shattered" when on his flight from Rome to Paris the pilot announced the news of Einstein's death. But at his hotel in Paris he found a letter from Einstein with his agreement. Russell loved to tell stories as if great events were the products of marvelous accidents (Volume I of his Autobiography contains at least three noteworthy examples of this in his private life). In reality, of course, both the Russell-Einstein Manifesto and the Pugwash movement shared deeper causes.

 The Russell-Einstein Manifesto called for scientists from both sides of the Iron Curtain to unite to act upon governments to renounce nuclear weapons with a view towards the abolition of war itself. (This document is available online from Pugwash, as just noted [virtually invisibly]--which calls it "The Pugwash Manifesto"--and also from Physicians for Global Survival, Canada; this latter site also includes Einstein's short letter. The Manifesto is also printed in Russell's book, Has Man a Future?, 1961.) It speaks passionately of the grave threat posed by the existence of nuclear weapons and the danger that scientific knowledge will be put to harmful uses. The signers speak "not as members of this or that nation, continent, or creed, but as human beings, members of the species Man, whose continued existence is in doubt.... All, equally, are in peril. We have to learn to think in a new way.... Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war?"

 The statement concludes with a ringing Russellian appeal (its grand prose reminiscent of "A Free Man's Worship"): "We appeal, as human beings, to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death."

 This conclusion Russell repeated from an earlier speech, his famous BBC broadcast, later called "Man's Peril" (it is included in his book, Portraits from Memory, 1956). It was probably not a coincidence that this evoking of "a new Paradise," a new salvation for Man in the face of his destruction, had come in that Christmas-season broadcast of Dec. 23, 1954. (Erich Fromm movingly characterizes Russell as a prophet and a priest.) In then drafting a public plea he was (he says) inspired by the response to his radio-warning, on which he based what is known as the Russell-Einstein Manifesto. Initially eleven well-known scientists signed the declaration, including Russell, Einstein, Linus Pauling (who was an honorary member of the BRS), and Dr. Joseph Rotblat, an emigre physicist from Poland who worked in London. Russell and Rotblat had first met when they appeared on television to comment on H-Bomb tests (Moorehead, p. 473). (Rotblat is currently the only survivor of this group of signers.)

Background of the Manifesto: Russell and Rotblat from 1945 to 1955

Let me now digress to outline Rotblat's background, and some more of Russell's, before returning to 1955 when they leagued together.

 Rotblat had done some work on the U.S. atomic bomb project at Los Alamos, New Mexico, but resigned in late 1944 when he learned of the failure of the German bomb project. Thereupon U.S. intelligence accused him of being a Soviet spy. This is but the first example of a government not getting the message he and others came to promote; any expressions of non-hostility were suspect.

 Around the same time (still glancing retrospectively) Russell entered upon his career of fighting nuclear weapons with his speech in the House of Lords on Nov. 28, 1945 (later published in Has Man a Future?, pp. 19-24). Here he called for the creation of an international body to control atomic power as a necessary step towards the abolition of war. His prose lacks the fire he commanded in 1954 (as quoted above): "either war stops or else the whole of civilized mankind stops" (except, he says interestingly, for "people who will be ... unscientific ..."). Russell sounds tentative here, perhaps because he actually addresses a governing body. Usually he makes his appeal to mankind or his scientific peers. Pugwash ultimately develops his somewhat technocratic premise that scientists know best because they, unlike government, ideally work for the good of mankind, and that governments will listen to the most eminent scientists, especially when (according to good scientific method) they agree and reason compels assent. (More importantly, Pugwash also embodies his nearly life-long conviction that scientists cannot remain aloof from human and social values.)

 Russell at this time also develops themes that had preoccupied him in the First World War: the abolition of war and the reform of government and human desires. Perhaps this explains Lackey's disapproving comment (p. 245) that nowhere in Russell's writings has he found any moral condemnation of the actual use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Certainly Russell's record is not untainted. From 1945 to 1949, he employed a tactic of anti-Soviet rhetoric, claiming to prefer war to Soviet domination (Lackey, pp. 245-6; Clark, chapter 19). To his later embarrassment, he proposed a policy of threatening the Soviets with a pre-emptive nuclear strike. Ryan notes (p. 186), "... unlike theorists of the just war (traditionally), he did not think that it was wicked to threaten what it would be wicked to do" (p. 186). Yet Russell insisted that to pursue his goals he was in fact once prepared to use atomic weapons against the Soviets (as he says in a 1959 BBC interview published in The Listener, March 19, 1959, quoted by Clark, pp. 528-9 and Lackey, p. 246, n. 8).

 Thus, although Russell spoke out forcefully in 1945, his anti-nuclear crusade really entered a new phase in 1949, after the Soviets exploded a bomb of their own. It is worth remembering, to put his own immense contributions in perspective, that other movements of scientists were active in the late 1940's. Russell did not work in isolation. In September 1945, a group of British scientists (for example) involved in developing the Bomb advised the government that "the advent of this new weapon of destruction ought to be the signal for renewed efforts to achieve lasting world peace." (Wittner, p. 89)

 At that time Joseph Rotblat played a leading role in organizing a group of British scientists as a counterpart to the Federation of American Scientists. In February, 1946, British scientists discussed with Americans "the need for an international movement of scientists" (in the words of Wittner, p. 89). The British group, called Atomic Scientists' Association, arose in Spring 1946. In 1947 and 1948, Rotblat organized an "Atomic Train" exhibition which toured England. He has also noted that the very first resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations was for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

 The idea of world government (adumbrated by Russell in the House of Lords speech) also had many supporters at the time, with their slogan of "one world or none." After reading many works focused on one monumental figure like Russell, it comes as a surprise to learn that "By far the most effective leader of the British movement for world government was Henry Usborne, a handsome, dynamic young engineer" and Labour MP (Wittner, p. 93).

 Rotblat spoke up in 1951 when a member "urged very strongly that the (Atomic Scientists') Association should refrain altogether from expressing views on political matters." To its discredit the group cowed to the "respectable" position that "Scientists wishing to express political views should join frankly political organizations." (Wittner, pp. 316 and 407, n. 20.) Part of Russell's enduring greatness is that he always abhorred this type of stance. According to B. Feinberg, the American and British groups (named above) held conversations in 1953 and 1954 regarding international cooperation (Feinberg, p. 241). Then came (and this account returns to) the force of Russell's Christmas broadcast of Dec. 23, 1954 and its follow-up in the Russell-Einstein Manifesto (as discussed). Bertrand Russell was both a leading philosopher of the century and a powerful voice who rallied scientists to their moral obligations to humanity.

The Origins of Pugwash

For the launching of the Manifesto Russell hired Caxton Hall, the same site where he had delivered his lectures on "Principles of Social Reconstruction" in early 1916 (Clark, pp. 268 and 542). It is curious to note that the American edition of that World War I book is entitled Why Men Fight: A Method of Abolishing the International Duel (1917). [P.S. The stakes had been raised but the basic problem remained. For Russell (as the last two titles reveal) the crucial issue was mankind, human nature itself. We were the problem but our hands held the solution (a characteristic blend of Russell's pessimism and optimism).]

 Russell engaged Dr. Joseph Rotblat, one of its signers, to chair the press conference, a major event, on July 9, 1955. He later praised Rotblat in the course of castigating others who refused to become involved: "He can have few rivals in the courage and integrity and complete self-abnegation with which he has given up his own career ... to devote himself to combatting the nuclear peril as well as other, allied evils. If ever these evils are eradicated and international affairs are straightened out, his name should stand very high indeed among the heroes." (We can only enjoy a mixed celebration, when the second part of this conditional sentence is happening without the first. This is from Russell's Autobiography (Vol. III, pp. 77-78; a nice photograph of the two men together in 1962 appears opposite p. 113 in the British edition).

 Why "Pugwash"? A conference was first planned by Nehru for India, but this was postponed due to the outbreak of the Suez crisis. An offer by Aristotle Onassis to finance a meeting at Monaco was rejected. Cyrus Eaton, an industrialist in America, intervened. Eaton had been a trustee of the University of Chicago and had known Russell (a visiting professor there) in 1938. He provided financial support for the conference of scientists to meet in his hometown of Pugwash, Nova Scotia. Eaton later helped bring the Russell Archives to his old school, McMaster University. International cooperation and scholarship benefitted from these two instances of his patriotism and good taste in philosophy.

 Eaton (1972, p. 4) and others ascribe the leading role in Pugwash's founding to Russell. To sum up that role, Pugwash resulted from an impetus that was broader than Russell himself, but it regards the Russell-Einstein Manifesto of 1955 as its founding or charter document. Its inclusion of both Western and Communist members marked a particular advance and a brave demonstration of the independence of free minds.

 Russell himself was not able to attend the first conference (in July 1957) due to ill health. He did speak at Pugwash Conferences in 1958, 1959 (apparently) and 1962 (the 1958 and 1959 talks are printed in Fact and Fiction, 1961), but attended none after 1962 (partly because he became pre-occupied with U.S. policy and Vietnam). He served as their President for a time but resigned in 1967, by which time "The Conferences had become a great disappointment to him" (Davies, p. 197). In his Autobiography he sounds fairly cool towards the Pugwash movement and even characterizes its chief advantage as a social one through the meeting of scientists from different countries (Vol. III, p. 85; see pp. 84-87). But he kept up with Pugwash and corresponded with Rotblat through at least Nov. 1966; the Russell Archives contain a host of material of use to future researchers (see, e.g., the list of archival material, for Pugwash alone, in Feinberg 1967, pp. 241-248), and a future volume of his Collected Papers will contain Russell's many relevant writings.

 [P.S.: At this time Russell shifted his attention from Pugwash to the CND (which had begun in July 1958)--out of which the Peace symbol arose. An interesting topic would be to trace his interest in the use of appeals to the masses and mass demonstrations. At some point he became dissatisfied with appealing to scientists alone. In the 1959 address, cited below, he calls on scientists to reach "vast numbers of people" and he believed they were the only ones capable of this. But in a 1961 speech at a Foyle's luncheon, he expresses his disillusionment: "The scientists might just as well have stayed quietly at home because in the world in which we live scientists command no respect except as merchants of death. ... I realised that that sort of thing which I hoped would have some effect was not having at all the sort of effect that I hoped. Well, then came the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and that was much nearer to what I wanted." In this evaluation of the origins of Pugwash and his activities, he evaluates success partly by the degree of publicity achieved. Again we see the loss of a late Victorian faith in science. He concludes: "... nothing, nothing will induce the governments of East and West to allow us to live except a vast movement of public protest .... I think that nothing else will do, and I am engaged in trying to stir up such a mass movement as that ...." (This speech is quoted from p. 175 of the book listed below.)]


All interested should look up the home page of Pugwash, Student Pugwash USA, the Bertrand Russell Archives or the Bertrand Russell Society.

 Pugwash reports there that "The organization has focused its most recent efforts on environmental, energy and Third World issues." These (we might say) are all understandable as part of Russell's overarching problem, "the idea of an international order" (I.F. Stone, p. 23).

 The 45th Pugwash Conference was held in Hiroshima in July, 1995. Here and in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech of Dec. 10, 1995, entitled "Remember Your Humanity", Joseph Rotblat invokes the Russell-Einstein Manifesto as the founding document of Pugwash (quoting it four times, besides his title). (But shame on them! This speech, available through the Pugwash Conferences home page in a poor uncorrected scanned-in copy, provides a bad example of the uses of technology.)

 Parts of this speech are memorable. Like Russell, Rotblat urges engagement: "... the ivory tower was finally demolished by the Hiroshima bomb.... I appeal to my fellow scientists to remember their responsibility to humanity." He asserts that "a war-free world is not Utopian." All people must develop "a new loyalty: loyalty to mankind. ... We have to become world citizens. ... In many ways we are becoming like one family." He twice echoes Russell's words, "Remember your humanity and forget the rest," concluding (in further Russellian language) that survival in a world free of war can be achieved "by love rather than by fear, by kindness rather than by compulsion .... Above all, remember your humanity."

 These words resound with Russell's legacy.

 Unfortunately, prejudice continues to haunt such noble thoughts. The report of the Nobel Prize in The New York Times (Oct. 14, 1995) quoted an inane American view that Pugwash members were "dupes" of the Soviets. This was answered in a letter (Oct. 18) but it is clear that cold war rhetoric persists. This charge goes back to a 1960 report of the Senate Internal Security Committee that accused Western scientists of being misled, but it represents the age-old obstinacy Russell fought against his whole life. (See Russell's acute satire of this in Has Man a Future?, pp. 66-68.) Although I would not myself defend world government (Russell, of all people, does not demand compliance in his admirers), the fact that the American West contains groups armed against the threat of this perceived conspiracy gives little short-time hope for humanity.

 Is it saddening, or cheering (or both) to read on a preserved Sumerian tablet from c. 2500 B.C. the enjoinder of a father to his son, "Look to your humanity"? Remembering this, I cannot myself agree with the belief, expressed by Rotblat, that "any rationale for having nuclear weapons dis- appeared" with the collapse of Soviet communism. That idea itself seems like Cold War thinking. The end of the Cold War did not, of course, end war and human conflict (any more than it ended ideology). As long as any country has an atomic bomb, others will want one. Russell himself knew that they could be used for bullying. Most troubling is Rotblat's reminder that "nuclear weapons cannot be disinvented." Indeed, in Russell's words, "A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive." We must learn to think differently than mankind has usually thought. Yet remain humane. Science is full of paradoxes.

 Joseph Rotblat, by the way, also received the Bertrand Russell Society Award in 1983. We're happy that we preceded the Nobel committee by twelve years (and so is he, as he recently remarked to Russell Archivist Kenneth Blackwell) but not that Russell's and his messages of humanity still need strong advocates to be heard.

 [P.S. In a recent article, Dennis Phillips asserts that Gorbachev's phrase, "new thinking," originated with Russell in the Russell-Einstein Manifesto that launched Pugwash. This phrase, used earlier by Gromyko and Vladimir Lomeiko, was a staple of Russell's thought. Russell often seemed to assume that if we could not change the world, we could change our ways of feeling about it (Alan Ryan spoke about this at the 1996 BRS meeting at Drew University) and, thus, our actions.
Ken Blackwell, who reported on this alleged connection over Russell-L, comments: "... it is possible. Russell's anti-Cold War writings were well known in the former USSR." The article by Dennis Phillips appears in Why the Cold War Ended, ed. R. Summy and M.E. Sall (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1995),: cited from p. 128.]

References and Further Reading:

John R. Lenz (please e-mail with additions or comments) is past President (1995-99) of the BRS and Chair of the Department of Classics at Drew University in Madison, NJ.  His article "Bertrand Russell and the Greeks" appears in Russell n.s. 7 (Winter 1987-88).   Return to the BRS Home Page