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The Committee of 100 was a British anti-war group. It was set up in 1960 with a hundred public signatories by Bertrand Russell (who resigned from the presidency of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in order to form this more militant group) and Reverend Michael Scott. Its supporters used and advocated nonviolent civil disobedience to achieve their aims.

Contents

History

Bertrand Russell explained his reasons for joining the Committee of 100 in an article in the New Statesman in February 1961:

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has done and is doing valuable and very successful work to make known the facts, but the press is becoming used to its doings and beginning to doubt their news value. It has therefore seemed to some of us necessary to supplement its campaign by such actions as the press is sure to report. There is another, and perhaps more important reason for the practice of civil disobedience in this time of utmost peril. There is a very widespread feeling that however bad their policies may be, there is nothing that private people can do about it. This is a complete mistake. If all those who disapprove of government policy were to join massive demonstrations of civil disobedience they could render government folly impossible and compel the so-called statesmen to acquiesce in measures that would make human survival possible. Such a vast movement, inspired by outraged public opinion is possible, perhaps it is imminent. If you join it you will be doing something important to preserve your family, compatriots and the world.[1]

Many in CND supported the Committee of 100's campaign of civil disobedience, including some of its founders, but it was opposed by the CND leadership who would not countenance any sort of unlawful protest.

Their first act of civil disobedience on 18 February 1961 was a sit-down demonstration at the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall, London, (Picture) attended by 5,000 people.[2] There were marches and sit-downs against nuclear testing and demonstrations at the US and Soviet embassies in London and at the Polaris submarine base. On 17 September supporters blocked roads at Holy Loch and Trafalgar Square. (Picture) Many eminent people participated in the sit-downs and most of the 100 signatories participated actively. A week before the 17 September demonstrations, thirty-six supporters were summoned to court because they "incited members of the public to commit breaches of the peace" and were likely to continue to do so. In the courtroom, they were asked to bind themselves to a promise of good behaviour for 12 months; thirty-two, including Bertrand Russell, then aged 89, chose the one-month prison sentence. On 9 December 1961, 5,000 demonstrators attempted to blockade the American Air Force bases at Wethersfield and Ruislip. By this time the official response had escalated from prosecution for incitement to breach of the peace to prosecution for the much more serious offence of conspiracy under the Official Secrets Act. Six organisers were charged with these offences and later imprisoned. (Picture)[3][4]

The Committee of 100's strategy required thousands of people to take part in its demonstrations and before each they asked for pledges of support. Demonstrators were required to abstain from violence. In a briefing note for the Wethersfield and Ruislip demonstrations, the Committee of 100 said, "We ask you not to shout slogans and to avoid provocation of any sort. The demonstrations must be carried out in a quiet, orderly way. Although we want massive support for these demonstrations, we ask you to come only if you are willing to accept this non-violent discipline." Demonstrators were recommended to remain limp if arrested and to refuse to co-operate in any way until inside the police station.

The force used by the police surprised many of the demonstrators, which, with the insistence on non-violence and the use of pre-emptive arrests for conspiracy, discouraged many, and support dwindled.[5] Contemporary research showed that public support for the unilateralist cause actually declined in the period when the Committee of 100 was most active.[6] Nevertheless, in its first year the Committee of 100 received more in donations than CND had received in its first year.[3]

The Committee of 100 was opposed to Russian nuclear weapons as well as those of the West. Its Industrial Subcommittee organised a demonstration in Red Square, Moscow, in 1962 and gave out leaflets, "Workers of the World Unite", calling for the abolition of all nuclear weapons.

In 1962, regional committees and area working groups were formed throughout Britain, their activities co-ordinated by a National Office in London. Autonomous sub-committees, such as the Legal Action Group, the Welfare Group, the 100 Book Club and the Schools for Non-violence, carried out specialised work for the Committee.[7] Bertrand Russell wrote, “The Committee has found that its support, named and on file, is so extensive that regional committees are required to accommodate this strength.”[8]

The Committee extended its campaigns to issues other than nuclear weapons. Peter Cadogan, an officer of the Committee, said it was "trying to go in 12 directions at once", including campaigning for civil liberties in Greece, against Harold Wilson's failure to produce a promised Vietnam peace initiative and against siting London's third airport at Stansted.[9] The Committee became increasingly radical and some of its members saw opposition to the bomb as part of a revolution against the state. In September 1962, Russell resigned from the London Committee of 100 and transferred his membership to the Welsh Committee of 100. Following his departure, the public image of the Committee deteriorated and by 1963 most of the original signatories had resigned.[4]

The Committee's interest in Greek politics was sparked by the expulsion of some of their members from Greece in the spring of 1963 when they attempted to join a peace march there and by the murder that year of Grigoris Lambrakis, a Greek MP and peace activist.[3] Demonstrations against the visit by King Paul and Queen Frederika in July 1963 provoked an official response that was criticised in the press and eventually led to embarrassing climb-downs. Draconian prison sentences on demonstrators were overturned on appeal and the Home Secretary, Henry Brooke, had to offer them financial compensation. One of the demonstrators, Donald Rooum, proved that an offensive weapon had been planted on him and forced a public inquiry that criticized the police and led to the eventual imprisonment of three officers.[3] Four years later, following the 1967 military coup in Greece, a “non-violent invasion” of the Greek embassy resulted in prison sentences of up to fifteen months for Committee of 100 demonstrators.[4]

Members of the Committee were responsible for the Spies for Peace[10] revelations in 1963 about the Regional Seats of Government, a network of secret government bunkers, and later for the escape of George Blake[11] from Wormwood Scrubs Prison.

The Committee of 100 was wound up in October 1968. A comprehensive archive of papers of the Committee of 100, including Minutes, bulletins and posters, is to be found in the Churchill College Archive Center [1], deposited by Michael Ashburner.

Name

According to Christopher Driver, the name was suggested by Gustav Metzger and Ralph Schoenman, who derived it from the Guelph Council of 100.[3]

Legacy

Before the Committee of 100 came on the scene, civil disobedience on this scale was virtually unknown in Britain, although the researches of its advocates uncovered it as a strand of protest throughout the centuries.[12] The Committee of 100, and parallel movements outside the UK (not least the US Black Civil Rights movement), made it a common method of social action, now familiar in the environmental and animal rights movements as well as in the contemporary peace movement. However, the Committee's strict insistence on nonviolence is rare.

Original signatories

The list did not include the President, Bertrand Russell, nor the original officers, Helen Allegranza, Terry Chandler, Ian Dixon, Trevor Hatton, Pat Pottle and Michael Randle. Many of the original signatories were later replaced. Later officers included Pat Arrowsmith, Brian McGee, Jon Tinker, Peter Moule, William Hetherington and Peter Cadogan.

See also

References

  1. ^ Russell, B., "Civil Disobedience", New Statesman, 17 February 1961
  2. ^ From Protest to Resistance, a Peace News pamphlet, Mushroom Books, Nottingham, 1981, p.18 ISBN 0 907123 02 3
  3. ^ a b c d e Driver, C., The Disarmers, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1964, pp.124-130
  4. ^ a b c Taylor, R., Against the Bomb, Oxford University Press, 1988
  5. ^ Myers, F.E., "Civil Disobedience and Organizational Change: The British Committee of 100", Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 86, No. 1. (Mar., 1971), pp. 92-112
  6. ^ Snyder, W.P., The Politics of British Defense Policy, 1945-1962, Ohio University Press, 1964, p.61
  7. ^ International Institute of Social History
  8. ^ Russell, B. Yours Faithfully, Bertrand Russell, Open Court, Chicago and La Salle, 2001, p.282
  9. ^ Obituary of Peter Cadogan
  10. ^ Camley, N., Cold War Secret Bunkers, Pen & Sword Books 2007
  11. ^ Pottle, P., and Randle M., The Blake Escape, Sphere Books, 1990
  12. ^ Cadogan, Peter, "Non-violence as a reading of history", Anarchy, No.20, October 1962, London, Freedom Press

External links

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