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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 (CND) in order to form this more militant group), Ralph Schoenman and Reverend Michael Scott. Its supporters used and advocated nonviolent civil disobedience to achieve their aims.
The Committee of 100 was formed on 22 October 1960 at a meeting in London. Bertrand Russell was elected president. He explained his reasons for joining the Committee of 100 in an article in the New Statesman in February 1961:
|â||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.||â|
Many in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament supported the Committee of 100's campaign of civil disobedience, including some of its founders, and in its first year it received more in donations than CND had received in its first year. Several of the early CND's activists, including some members of its executive committee, had been supporters of the Direct Action Committee and in 1958 CND had cautiously accepted direct action as a possible method of campaigning. But, largely under the influence of Canon John Collins, the CND chairman, the CND leadership opposed any sort of unlawful protest, and there was a guarded or even hostile relationship between them and the leadership of the Committee of 100.
The Committee's campaign tactic was to organise sit-down demonstrations, which were not to be undertaken without at least 2,000 volunteers pledging to take part. Many eminent people participated in the sit-downs and most of the 100 signatories participated actively. Demonstrators were required to abstain from violence. In a briefing note 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 Committee's first act of civil disobedience on 18 February 1961 was a sit-down demonstration at the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall, London, to coincide with the expected arrival of the Proteus nuclear submarine on the River Clyde. (Picture) Between 1,000 and 6,000 people took part. Somewhat to the disappointment of the Committee, there were no arrests. At the next sit-down demonstration, on 29 April in Parliament Square, the police arrested 826 people. There were also 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, Battle of Britain Day, supporters blocked roads at Holy Loch and Trafalgar Square. (Picture) The September demonstration is regarded as the high water mark of the Committee of 100. A week before the demonstration, 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. It is estimated that 12,000 to 15,000 attended the demonstration, of whom several thousand sat down. There were 1,314 arrests. For the first time, there were allegations of police brutality.
The success of the September demonstration encouraged the Committee to move from symbolic sit-down demonstrations in London to mass direct action at the places where nuclear weapons would be deployed, and they planned to walk on to air force bases at Wethersfield and Ruislip, to sit on the runways and to prevent planes from taking off. By this time the authorities had begun to take the Committee of 100 more seriously. 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: Ian Dixon, Terry Chandler, Trevor Hatton, Michael Randle, Pat Pottle and Helen Allegranza. (Picture) Bertrand Russell said that he was equally responsible, but the authorities ignored him and concentrated on the six young, unknown Committee of 100 officers. 3,000 military and civilian police were mobilised at Wethersfield. 5,000 demonstrated there and 850 were arrested. The Wethersfield demonstration was regarded as a failure. There were recriminations within the Committee, one internal memorandum saying that its policies had turned it into "a public spectacle, a group isolated from the general body of public opinion and feeling." Herbert Read resigned from the Committee, saying that the action was "strategically foolish".
The force used by the police at sit-down demonstrations surprised many of the demonstrators, which, with the Committee's insistence on non-violence and the use of pre-emptive arrests for conspiracy, discouraged many, and support dwindled. The Committee was weakened by the imprisonment of its officers. Russell addressed a demonstration in March 1962 against their sentences, but a sit-down of 7,000 outside the Air Ministry planned for the following September had to be called off because of lack of support. Contemporary research showed that public support for the unilateralist cause actually declined in the period when the Committee of 100 was most active.
To underline its opposition to Russian nuclear weapons as well as those of the West, the Committee held a demonstration in Red Square, Moscow, in 1962, calling for the abolition of all nuclear weapons.
In 1962, the original Committee of 100 was dissolved and the campaign was decentralized. Thirteen regional committees, each with a hundred members, became responsible for organizing demonstrations, with a co-ordinating National Committee. Of the regional committees, the London Committee of 100 was the most active and influential. Autonomous sub-committees, including a Legal Action Group, a Welfare Group, a Book Club and Schools for Non-violence carried out specialized work for the Committee. A national magazine was launched by the London Committee in April 1963, published under the name Resistance from January 1964. Although Bertrand Russell wrote that "The Committee has found that its support, named and on file, is so extensive that regional committees are required to accommodate this strength," none of the regional committees could maintain the hundred supporters they had started with.
To begin with, the Committee of 100 differed from CND only in its methods and they had the same objectives. However, there were different attitudes to civil disobedience and direct action within the Committee. Bertrand Russell said he saw mass civil disobedience merely as a way of getting publicity for the unilateralist cause. Those from the Direct Action Committee were absolute pacifists who followed Gandhi and wanted to use direct action to create a non-violent society. Ralph Schoenman and others, including the anarchists who later led the Committee of 100, saw direct action as a sort of insurrection against the state. From 1962 onwards, the Committee became increasingly radical and 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. Diana Shelley, a member of the London Committee of 100, said that as the Committee adopted objectives other than nuclear disarmament it became "less non-violent". In 1963 Russell resigned. Following his departure, the public image of the Committee deteriorated and most of the original signatories also resigned.
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. Demonstrations against the visit by King Paul and Queen Frederika in July 1963 provoked an official response that was criticized 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. Four years later, following the 1967 military coup in Greece, a ânon-violent invasionâ of the Greek embassy resulted in prison sentences of up to fifteen months for Committee of 100 demonstrators.
Members of the Committee were responsible for the Spies for Peace revelations in 1963 about the Regional Seats of Government, a network of secret government bunkers, and later for the escape of George Blake from Wormwood Scrubs Prison.
The Committee of 100 was wound up in October 1968.
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. 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.
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.
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