Peter Cadogan (1921-2007)
Peter Cadogan, who died in November aged 86, was born on Tyneside, where he was brought up and educated. After war service in the RAF he read history as a mature student at what was to become the University of Newcastle. He first came to public attention, when a Cambridge schoolteacher and secretary of the local branch of Communist Party, for the Minority Report on Inner Party Democracy which he had drafted with Christopher Hill and Malcolm MacEwan was rejected in 1957 by the executive committee and all three resigned from the CP. Cadogan proceeded to flirt with Trotskyism and Raya Dunayevskaya’s Marxist Humanism, but discovered his natural politics in the early 1960s as an active participant in direct-action nuclear disarmament, actually becoming the final secretary of the National Committee of 100 from 1965 to 1968. He then launched the first of his numerous agitational initiatives, the Save Biafra Campaign. He never returned to schoolteaching, for in 1970 he was appointed general secretary of the South Place Ethical Society, the veteran London rationalist organization best known for its ownership of Conway Hall, the historic radical meeting-place in Red Lion Square. Here he conducted humanist weddings and funerals, ceremonies displeasing hardcore secularists who did not share his belief in ‘rational religious sentiment’ or a sense of the sacred. After losing a vote of no confidence in 1981 he spent the remainder of his life as an indefatigable political activist (and was a part-time extra-mural tutor for London University for twelve years).
In 1962 he had denied being an anarchist, instead associating himself with what he called ‘the English radical-revolutionary tradition’ of John Lilburne, John Bunyan, Jonathan Swift, Tom Paine, George Julian Harney, William Morris, Tom Mann, R.H. Tawney and Christopher Caudwell (although several of these names would seem incompatible). Thereafter he moved to an entirely anarchist position, even if always critical of classic anarchism and its thinkers – though equally other anarchists were uneasy with his idiosyncratic opinions which, while always expressed with dogmatic certainty, were continually changing. He set great store on his pamphlet Direct Democracy (1974), convinced that issues had to discussed face to face. His position developed so that in 1991 Values and Vision was founded in his own area of London NW6 as a group with a maximum membership of twelve people (though later he reduced the optimum number for decision making to only seven), but with the hope that similar groups would be set up in other parts of the city. Central to his ‘third way’ was the community as ‘an aggregation of people in a given geographical area who are substantially self-sufficient’.
Cadogan came largely to eschew foreign influences, with the principal exceptions of Tolstoy and Gandhi. His very personal trajectory from Communism in the 1940s and fifties, through his undoubted importance as a peace campaigner in the sixties, to Values and Vision at the end of the century begins to make some sense when it is appreciated that his late passion for William Blake was shared with E.P. Thompson, the contemporary he perhaps most admired. He was a founding member of the Blake Society, its chairman, 1988-94, and later life vice-president. A self-described loner, his quirky politics can be best understood as a very British, even English, form of left libertarianism.