Thursday, 25 April 2013

Spies for Peace: 50 Years On

ON the 23rd, April 1963 the Prime Minister Harold Macmillian told the House of Commons that British agents are taking 'vigorous steps' to run down the authors of a 'Spies for Peace' pamphlet.  The pamphlet, he said, contained secret data, but the information 'was not seriously damaging to the national interest.'  The pamphlet, according to the Herald Tribune at the time, 'was distributed to ban-the-bomb marchers during the Easter weekend', and 'it contained information about a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation exercise and details about buildings to be used as administerative centres in the event of an atomic war.'

In his book 'Anarchist Seeds Beneath the Snow' (2006), David Goodway writes of this incident: 
'The long, harsh winter of 1962-3, one of the twentieth century's worst, saw renewed crisis acted out within the London Committee of 100 (a ban-the-bomb civil disobedience organisation) ... the radicals, mainly from or close to Solidarity, circulated the arrestingly titled discussion document, "Beyond Counting Arses", advocating radical subversive action... (t)he Spies for Peace were essentially this group, locating and entering the Regional Seat of Government (RSG) at Warren Row, Berkshire, and circulating the pamphlet, "Danger!  Official Secret: RSG-6".  Thereby many of us on the Aldermaston March of Easter 1963 were diverted to explore the sinister surface buildings of the subterranean bunker.' 

This was a strange moment on the British left and I was shocked when I picked up my copy of The Times, a day or so later in the fishing village of Denia in Spain where I was then living, and it had a headline report entitled 'Anarchist Take Over'.  The historian of the nuclear disarmament movement Richard Taylor  recorded the climate of the time thus:
'there can be no doubt that the programme, the policy, the assumptions, and the priories of the Committee (of 100) became more and more closely attuned to anarchism through 1962 and 1963, although the influence of "formal Anarchism" remained small....  Nevertheless, both the practice and ideology of the Committee (of 100) in 1962-3 were strongly anarchist in flavour, and in underlying ideological assumptions.'

This contrasts with the lack of influence of anarchism, either 'formal' or 'informal' on the politics of our own time, as the British left as a whole feebly retreats into 'marching together' and reacting to the agenda set by the establishment.

The next issue of the printed issue of NORTHERN VOICES No.14, will soon be available for sale with a with a review of one of Dave Goodway's books 'The Anarchist Seeds Beneath the Snow: from William Morris to Colin Ward', Northern Voices can be obtained as follows:
Postal subscription: £5 for the next two issues (post included). Cheques payable to 'Northern Voices' sent to c/o 52, Todmorden Road, Burnley, Lancashire BB10 4AH.
Tel.: 0161 793 5122.

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