Posts Tagged ‘Civil disobedience’

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: