Archive for May, 2016

In 1960 a number of British public figures set up a group for like-minded people: The Committee of 100.

They asked Bertrand Russell to be their Chairperson. He resigned from his position with CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) to take up the post.

Who were they?

The initiators were active campaigners: members of Direct Action, CND activists.
Their aim was to be the public front, the face of civil disobedience and anti-war campaigns.

They launched officially in London on 22nd October 1960, with signatures from one hundred activists and/or people in positions of power or the public eye.


Wikipedia notes: ‘in its first year it received more in donations than CND had received in its first year’.

The original members came and went. The Committee itself organised sit-down demonstrations, staffed by their own members. They had operational methods: no demonstration was to have less than 2000 volunteers to help and protect. All participants had to adopt a code of non-violence at all times.

Their methods differed from those of CND, with whom they shared the majority of their aims, in their  approach to lawful protest. The 100 advocated unlawful, though non-violent, protest to achieve its aims. CND would not advocate this.

There were some felt the 100 weakened CND’s effectiveness in the public arena because of their methods.

Their success with symbolic sit-down demonstrations, for example at the Ministry of Defence, in London, gave them confidence to take on more direct action: preventing military aircraft take-off and landings, by occupying military airfields etc.

This was a brief moment of success. By 1962 the 100 were in debt, half of the original signatories had resigned, and they had no option but to disband.

This was not the end, though; they split into groups to carry on outside the financial regulatory constraints of a public organization.

Their main success was to bring civil disobedience, anti-war ideals and civil rights to the fore-front of public awareness. Previous to this, civil disobedience in particular had no profile whatsoever.

Anarchist agendas took over from the more orderly public gestures of the Committee. The world was changing, and so were people’s awareness, and ways of dealing with it.

Wikipedia gives the original signatories:

Lindsey Anderson    Clare Annesley   John Arden   Margaretta Arden   Pat Arrowsmith
Ernest baser   John Berger   Eric Boothby   Jack Bowles   Lord Boyd OrrFRS   John Braine
Doug Brewood Jnr   Oliver Brown   Wendy Butlin   Jane Buxton   April Carter   George Clark
Major CV Clarke   Una Collins   Alex Comfort   John Crallan
Elizabeth Dales   J Alun David   Shelagh Delaney   Francis Deutsch   Reuban Fior
Hilda Fitter   John Fletcher   Harold Foster   William Gaskill
Dorothy Glaister   Janet Goodricke   Michael Gotch   David Graham   Bob Gregory
Mary Grigg   Robin Hall   Nicholas Harding   Laurence Hislam
David Hoggett   John Hoyland   Martin Hyman   Alex Jacobs
Augustus John OM   Nicholas Johnson   Bill Kaye   Ann Kerr   Dr Fergus King
Rev RE Kirby   Michael Lesser   Ed Lewis   Isobel Lindsey
Christopher Logue   Alan Longman   Alan Lovell   David Lumsdaine   Hugh MacDiarmid
Pat MacDonnell   George Melly   Gustav Metzger   Bernard R Miles
Dr Jack Mongar   Dr John Morris   Roland Muirhead   John Neville
John Nicholls   Mike Nolan   Pat O’Connell   F O’Hanion   John Osborne
Colin Painter   John Papworth   Adam Parker Rhodes   Dr John Paulett
Malcolm Pittock   Joan Pittock   Inez Randall   Herbert Read   Heather Richardson
Mary Ringsleben   Ernest Rodker   EGP Howe   Edith Russell
Ralph Schoenman   Michael Scott   Ivan Seruya   Teddy Seruya   Peter Digby Smith
RW Smith   Tony Smythe   Robin Swingler   Chris Warbis   Will Warren
Barbara Webb   Dr W Weinberg   Arnold Wesker   Alan White   Shirley Wood
Biddy Youngday   Alastair Yule
Looking through the list there are surprising names, and omissions. Where was Stuart Hall? Then we find he was one of the instigators in setting up the Committee.

Playwrights, painters, writers…. There’s Christopher Logue, of course.
It is reported that one of his arrests resulted in imprisonment for, like Bertrand Russell, refusing to comply with good behaviour. The prison shipped him and several comrades out for work: their job?

Demolishing an armaments factory.

Who says the authorities have no sense of humour!

There’s Hugh MacDiarmid, of course, too. Augustus John, John Berger….

Can we summarise them as professional contraries?

It’s all about the public profile; it’s all about standing up to be counted (‘What’re you protestin’ about, Johnny?’. ‘What’ve you got?’ – remember that, from The Wild Ones?).

It was in earnest – the Cuba affair was months away. In 1962 a group even managed a demo in Red Square, as part of the 1962 international World Peace Congress.

Their tactics were more Gandhi, than Lenin, perhaps.
It is also important to note that Cold War East German dissent – particularly the Leipzig group – looked to Martin Luther King’s method of non-violence.

Looking through this list I spotted by old Literature tutor.
He was a Cambridge man who spent his working life divided between peace rallies and university teaching on non-university campuses.
He had studied under F R Leavis, and carried some of the old man’s ultra-particularity: I’d get essays back peppered with red, each point meticulously numbered, and a follow-up sheet  pointing all miss-placed commas and other slips from perfection. I never did make the ideal – there just wasn’t time to put to perfecting the writing practice.
Maybe it was this strict adherence to form enabled him to live that life.

I remember one time getting an essay back covered in melted butter.
He was a fanatical runner: ran everywhere, all his life. He’d finish his day’s teaching then run a major part of his many miles home. He had a little red rucksack, and shorts.
This was in the late ‘70s, before the jogging phase took hold.

The 100 Committee were brief but an important phase of the UK civil disobedience and civil rights movement.

Let us remember them with pride.

Oral history of 100:




The Oxford World’s Classics series book, THE TALE OF SINUHE AND OTHER ANCIENT EGYPTIAN POEMS, 11940 – 1640 BC (sic) is really quite a … classic.

It’s full of intriguing, interesting and stimulating material – and that’s not just the texts. The translator and commentator R B Parkison has fully explored the texts with the most up-to-date (published 1997) discoveries and thinking. His Notes and Introductions are really first-class.

I have already mined The Tale of Sinuhe itself quite extensively in my book (still waiting for its cover!) ‘Gifts of Rings and Gold, an Introduction to Ring-composition texts’.

I want to take a quick look at The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant, from the book.
This tale, along with the Sinuhe tale, were gathered together on the same manuscript source. They are very different, though. The tales are thought to have composed during the Twelfth Dynasty, in the reign of Senworset I (about 1875 BCE).

The tale is about a peasant called  Khunanup. He lived in the Wadi Natrun, and was married to Merep. They had children, but the tale doesn’t record their number or names.


There was a man called Khunanup2 . He was a peasant of the Wadi Natrun,He took six gallons of grain into Egypt to sell, to provide for his family. He loaded his asses with reeds and fan palms, natron, salt, wood, leopard and wolf skins, various plants.


He got so far on his journey when he was stopped by Nemtinaku, a highly placed regional liegeman. He saw and wanted. He had to make his siezure of the goods seem legit.
Khunanup came to a narrow crossing place. It was near Heracleopolis ‘ in the area of Per-fefi, north of Mednit.’
Nemtinaku scattered a clean sheet alongside the path so the peasant couldn’t pass without dirtying it. On the other side was the man’s barley: the peasant had to squeeze his asses past without besmirching the sheet or trampling the barley.
Then one of his asses took a mouthful.

That was the excuse he needed: he seized the peasant’s goods… everything. But the peasant knew the lord of the estate. He and  Nemtinaku argued over whether  Nemtinaku had stolen his goods – because if he had, the lord of the estate was very severe with robbers.
But Nemtinaku pulled rank, and the peasant had to give in.

Only, he didn’t.
Eight times he brought petitions to get his goods back. All were well argued; and all were met with abuse, violence, or outright ignored.
On the ninth attempt found in his favour. His entire goods and carriers were restored to him.

He took them to market, and was able to provide for his family.

Nine times he had to petition!
Nine times he argued calmly, using all the codes of reasonable argument, acknowledging status, his social position.
He was chased off, beaten, shouted down.

How little things have changed, in nearly 4000 years!
It is still the same today.

Whatever the deeper reading there is to this tale – and there must be one for it to have lasted and been reproduced do often – it still comes down to this same status and greed.


For further readings, see:

Click to access Peasant.pdf


 after David Hockney

Beyond the cross roads, sage scrub,
stone packed hard on hard shoulders
furred black by tyre rubber, is the strewn
necklace of the highway, lined by boulders
like beads on pale desert.

At sun up the sky litters light down
like diamonds on glass; a swathe of heat.
Furnace Creek cracked under a four-year drought.
She had followed tail lights as they snaked
from San Andreas Valley; drove east from L A.
The night still crackled circuits; owls flickered
like B-film UFOs; but none came her way.

The Cronkite News had shown highlights
of the Tet Offensive raising a casual hand
to shoot point blank: how the blood pumped
from his temples, he slowly fell and —
memory replayed in slo-mo — slumped….

A static of blue-grass guitar; a rusted truck
parked up. The road read Stop, Ahead;
the sky speckled with cloud. A patrol car sped by
windows open for cooling air, a trade-off
for not investigating. Ahead
Chuckawalla, gila, stopped in mid-sidle
scuttled off.

Her city was collapsing in on itself,
she said. It superimposed its networks,
the personal memories of lit streets,
onto the open dawn desert. Like circuits
in a silicon chip.

She was the current through both; her red car
the bead of energy, like blood, sparking
beer cans, glass, metal of a wrecked car
lit up by her passing.


The Collapse – The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall. By Mary Elise Sarotte.
Basic Books, 2014. ISBN 9780465064948


I want to recommend a great recent book on the story behind the fall of the Berlin Wall. (This piccie of the cover does not catch the eye and face of a border guard peering through the gap in the Wall at the photographer.)  It’s a history book – but don’t let that put you off.

The author, Mary Elise Sarotte, is Visiting Professor of Government and History at Harvard, and Dean’s Professor of History at University of Southern California.

Another link worth following:


I’d like you to meet Harald Jager. He was born in 1943, the son of a Border policeman in what was soon to become East Germany. By 1964 he had entered the Border patrol himself.

What is special, in this story, about Harald Jager?

He was the senior Stasi employee on Bornholmer strasse Border Crossing Point, on the night of 9th November 1989. ‘He was essentially a record-keeper, one of the deputies to the senior figure…’ Mary Elise Sarotte writes.

He had begun work at eight that morning for a twenty-four hours’ stint at Bornolmer. He was the senior figure on duty. He was also very worried, to begin with: he had just had a test for possible cancer. He was nervously waiting for the results.

Gunter Schabowski, the Politburo member for the Media, had made a hasty announcement at the end of a tedious TV broadcast that evening. This end announcement was itself a hastily patched-together script; it couldn’t be examined by top Politburo people because they were tied up in internal wrangling. Nor could it be given assent by the Soviets because they were on extended leave celebrating the anniversary of the Russian Revolution.

They all presumed it was bona fide, and gave it the nod.

What was it about, this script? The relentlessly growing pressure inside East Germany had forced the authorities into giving some kind of placatory announcement. But there were those, the hard-liners, favoured the China Approach: the Tiananmen Square resolution to trouble-causers. And there were the ones who called for more diplomatic solutions. The two were destabilising the already atrophied regime from the inside.

This script announced that East Germans would be able to travel outside, legitimately. But it was an emigration only exit. They must apply for permits of course. And here the regime thought they were being crafty: such permits would be difficult.

When would this come into effect?

Right away.

The gabbled announcement on TV – he had not read it through beforehand – seemingly handed to East Germans an exit visa. Not only that but the announcement named West Berlin, a rare occurrence in connection with travel. Especially during this period of great unrest: the Hungarian border-leak had been plugged; the Czech leak was causing great upset and putting even more pressure on the East German regime,


Harald Jager was senior man on duty that night. He had twenty-five year’s loyal service behind him.
Then people started turning up at the check point, demanding to be let through. They had heard the broadcast, and very few regime members had bothered to listen. Harald Jager had heard it – he was astounded.

People began to turn up in their hundreds. This was happening at every check point. The numbers grew all night long. They were peaceful, but insistent. Thousands came, and they were growing.
This was on the back of the huge demonstrations in Leipzig and Dresden

In a centralised system like East Germany, all permissions had to come from above. Harald put through about thirty calls to his superiors that night: How do we deal with this?

And they had no idea. They tried all sorts of tactics, but outright denial of exit would most certainly make matters worse, turn a peaceful gathering of people into a potential danger.
All guards had received instructions months before not to fire unless attacked themselves.

One tactic the superiors suggested was take in the ring-leaders, the trouble-makers, as though processing for exit, then let them out – but do not allow them to return. They did this.

The trouble was people saw others getting through.

The regime had misread the people so badly: there were no ring-leaders; trouble-makers were just people who were more insistent, made more noise.

This made the pressure worse.

He rang his superiors again: What do we do? Harald’s superior patched him into a conference call: Don’t speak, just listen.

And what he heard was his superiors, out of touch, out of the loop of what was actually happening on the ground, questioning his abilities, calling him a coward. The connection was cut. Harald was left to himself, fuming, betrayed, abandoned.

We all know what happened, but it is the How that is most important. Read and find out.

Harald Jager in later life, at Bornholmer strasse:coll1


This is just one of the fascinating, heartbreaking REAL stories contained in this book.
All are meticulously researched: many, like this one, are pulled together from  interviews cross-checked with Stasi phone transcripts.

What happened to Harald? In unified Germany he had no job. He managed odd work here and there. Then he retired, on a meager pension.

Oh, and his cancer tests proved negative.

Many East German dissidents felt let down by the unification. Some felt that a greater democratisation was already on its way. Think of Gorbachev and his modernisations, his Glasnost etc. But the Czech and East German regimes opposed them. This disunity played its part in the communications failure of 9th November 1989.

Some dissidents hoped for – and I have read this recently as well – that the new Germany would combine the best of both East and West. In the event they felt, rightly, they had been steam-rollered by the Western powers. I had hoped this would happen too: creating a new European model – ah, the old dialectical synthesis idea, how it lingered.

One of the many commendable aspects of this book is how Mary Elise Sarotte has kept Western (USA, Britain, France) politicking out of the story. Hers is a story told by the participants, and they were the people on the ground, the streets.

Mary Elise Sarotte:



Many talk of ‘tipping points’ in history. This seems a bit of a lazy idea: maybe it is that concepts of such a thing as ‘history’ gives birth to these things. History is the story the historian tells from the information of all sorts, in all forms, its nuances and contexts: history is in reality a scatter of information around several centres within an event time-frame. This posits a psychological angle on the presentation of history as history: the historian’s predilections. It is inevitable. How they get around this, I suspect, is why many seized on Derrida’s ideas so readily: history as the text of texts of texts: objective, measurable to some extent.

An identifiable tipping point is the construct of the historian.


Wikipedia gives us the following; let’s use it as a footnote:

His claim to be the first to breach the Wall was questioned in 2009 when Heinz Schäfer, a former colonel in the East German army, claimed that he had opened his crossing at Waltersdorf in the south of the city a few hours earlier, which would explain the supposed presence of East Berliners in the area before Jäger opened his gate.[6]

Later life[edit]

Following the fall of the Wall, he was unemployed. In 1997, he was able to save up enough to open a newspaper shop in Berlin with his wife.[2][3] He has since written a book about his experience called The Man Who Opened the Berlin Wall.

The day after: 10th November, 1989, Bornholmer strasse Crossing Point:

Berlin, Grenzübergang Bornholmer Straße

ADN-ZB-Roeske-10.11.89-Berlin: Rund eine Million DDR-Bürger besuchten am Sonnabend Berlin (West). An den Grenzübergangsstellen, wie hier an der Bornholmer Straße wurde zügig abgefertig. Vom Ministerium des Innern wurden seit dem 9. November weit über 10 Millionen Visa für Privatreisen und über 17 500 Genehmigungen für ständige Ausreise aus der DDR erteilt.

By Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1989-1118-017 / Roeske, Robert / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de,