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.

 

William Morris, Our Country Right or Wrong: A Critical Edition

(Edited by Florence S. Boos. William Morris Society, 2008, 95 pp, pbk. £7.00.

ISBN 978-0-903283-26-7.)

 

When I was told this booklet was an edition of an unpublished lecture by Morris, my assumption was it was newly discovered and had previously been unknown. That is not the case, though, since extracts, amounting to a third of the text, were included by May Morris in William Morris: Artist, Writer, Socialist (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 2 vols, 1936), II, pp. 53-62 - her indispensable supplementary volumes to the Collected Works. Morris signed the manuscript ‘W.M. Jan 30th 1880 / 2.30 a.m. / Kelmscott House Upper Mall Hammersmith’ (the holograph concluding folio is reproduced most attractively inside the covers of Our Country Right or Wrong), his daughter commenting: ‘In 1880, towards the last of Morris’s days of

Liberalism, he was lecturing (to some Radical body) on War and Peace and [this is] the MS. he was preparing…’ (ibid, pp. 52-3). Eugene D. LeMire lists it in The

Unpublished Lectures of William Morris as ‘Our Country, Right or Wrong’. (Incidentally, it makes considerably better sense to use the punctuated title rather than the one Florence Boos has chosen; ‘Our country, right or wrong’ was the title of as well as a line from a pro-Union recruiting song in the American Civil War and how Morris quoted it in his manuscript.) Although nobody knows whether this lecture on ‘War and Peace’ was actually delivered, the likelihood is that it was

either to one of London’s numerous Radical Clubs or to a similar organization of working men.

 

The overall context is ‘the Eastern Question’, the issue that had politicized Morris, leading him to become treasurer of the Eastern Question Association in 1876 and enter public life (though his first speech was to come several months later when he chaired the foundation meeting of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings). The Eastern Question, Britain’s central foreign policy problem for most of the nineteenth century, concerned the pressures on the sclerotic Ottoman Empire occasioned by Russian expansionism – there were successive Russo-Turkish wars, the last being subsumed in the First World War - and the increasing restiveness of her subject peoples, in not only the largely Christian Balkans but also Asia and north Africa. The interests of British commerce and hence the British State were clear: to protect against the intrusion of Russian naval power the Mediterranean and communications with the Near and Middle East – and beyond the routes to British India, with the Suez Canal being opened in 1869 – and the preservation of a large area susceptible to British economic penetration, Turkey being an important component of Britain’s informal empire. Castlereagh, Foreign Secretary from 1812 until his suicide in 1822, concluded that ‘barbarous as it is, Turkey forms in the

system of Europe a necessary evil’.

 

Successive crises ensued, with sections of the British public often heatedly embroiled: the Greek struggle for independence in the 1820s; the Crimean War of 1854-6, enthusiastically supported by radicals, as Russophobic as their rulers, and at the time incensed by Russia’s suppression of the Hungarian Revolution in 1849 on behalf of the Austrian Empire; the Bulgarian atrocities of 1876 in which some 13,000 Christians were massacred, bringing Gladstone out of retirement and causing him to write his best-selling pamphlet, The Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East; further horrendous bloodletting (a recurrent feature of Turkish rule) in the 1890s to suppress Armenian unrest, followed by insurrection in Crete; and the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, in which the future novelist Joyce Cary fought on behalf of the Montenegrins. Turkey’s defeat in the First World War, leading to the dismemberment of its remaining empire, brought the Eastern Question largely to a

close.

 

In 1877 the establishment of an independent Bulgaria was rejected by Turkey. Russia therefore went to war once more and by the Treaty of San Stefano of March 1878 achieved all its demands, with Turkey agreeing to a ‘big’ Bulgaria (as well as

the full independence of Serbia). The other Great Powers then proceeded to work

for the nullification of Russia’s gains; and in June-July 1878 a European Congress,

meeting in Berlin under Bismarck’s chairmanship, substituted the Treaty of Berlin for that of San Stefano. Disraeli (Earl of Beaconsfield since 1876) with the Marquess

of Salisbury as his Foreign Secretary (a position he had only occupied since April)

achieved almost all of their aims. The ‘big’ Bulgaria did not materialize, instead being

divided into three: only the northern part became independent, ‘Eastern Rumelia’

was to be a Turkish protectorate, and in the south Macedonia was to remain within

the Ottoman Empire. (The British fear that new Balkan states might be independent in name but in reality become Russian satellites was soon to be shown as groundless.) Herzegovina and Bosnia (where revolts had initially broken out in 1875) were handed over to Austria-Hungary, which occupied without annexing them. As for Britain, she acquired Cyprus, a valuable naval base, but otherwise guaranteed ‘Turkey-in-Asia’ (in contrast to the increasingly untenable ‘Turkey-in-Europe’ and ‘Turkey-in-Africa’). All in all, Russia was given the opportunity to

retreat without too much loss of face; and the diplomacy was regarded as an

enormous personal triumph for Disraeli - save by radical opinion, including Morris

and the Eastern Question Association, in his own country.

 

In Our Country Right or Wrong Morris lambasts with considerable eloquence what he calls ‘National Vain-glory’, which he explains is

   both begotten of ignorance and begets it:            a legacy of the injustice of past times,

   it breeds injustice in us in the present that     we may be injustly dealt with in the

   future: it gabbles of the valour of our    forefathers, while it is busy in undoing the

   deeds that their valiant lives  m  accomplished: it prates of the interests of our country, while it is laying the train of events which will ruin the fortunes, and break

the hearts of the citizens: it scolds at wise men and honest men for what it calls a

policy of isolation, while itself it would have nothing to do with foreign nations except for their ruin and ours: its great offence is for ever to cry out for war without knowing what war means: all other nations, it deems, pay the price of war; but we never do, and never can pay it, and never shall. The price of war – a heavy price is that; confusion and reaction at the best, ruin at the worst.

‘Yes’, he concludes, ‘that is National Vain-glory’ (pp. 53-4). It, he says later,

    must be appealed to, before any set of    men in this country can get us to start them off in the quest of gain by foreign conquest or foreign embroilment: people

at large do instinctively feel that a war in which one side at all events cannot

appeal to the highest principles of truth and justice is a scandal to the world, a

ruinous blow to the hopes of humanity. I know that it is unhappily true, that over

and over again we have allowed ourselves to be satisfied, to be gulled, by

wretched travesties of justice, and, I am ashamed as I say it, seldom more grossly

than in the luckless year we have just passed through…(p. 71)

Two pages on he refers to ‘the dreadful deeds of the past year’ (p. 73). The

crisis of 1876-8, as has been seen, was resolved by the summer of 1878. The very

justified fears of war had occurred early that year with the Mediterranean fleet

being ordered by the British cabinet in January to steam through the Dardanelles to

Constantinople to support Turkey against Russia. It was in these weeks that the

‘Jingo song’ had great popularity in the London music halls (sung by overwhelmingly

middle-class enthusiasts, it has been shown) and the words ‘Jingo’ and ‘Jingoism’

entered the language:

We don’t want to fight;

But, by jingo, if we do,

We’ve got the men, we’ve got the ships

We’ve got the money too.

Morris himself remarks that the words, ‘Our country, right or wrong’, had been

‘taken as the motto of a banner, as it were: the banner of a tribe clamorous once,

now somewhat subdued by force of circumstances, but which may as circumstances

change become clamorous once again, and unless they are well looked after

dangerous also: that tribe has been called the tribe of the Jingos’ (p. 53). So he

appreciates that war dangers of early 1878 had, for the time being, evaporated.

1879, in contrast, was ‘luckless’ and stained with ‘dreadful deeds’ because Britain,

first suffering humiliating defeats in Zulu and Afghan wars, countered with punitive

campaigns.

Interestingly, Morris does not especially blame Disraeli – or his ministers – for

the adventurism and imperialism of his government of 1874-80:

…it is unfair to lay the blame of the dreadful deeds of the past year, of the

anxious toil of two years ago on the Tory House of Commons or on Lord

Beaconsfield, and his ardent friend, admirer, & follower Lord Salisbury. Lord

Beaconsfield and his tail rule England at present? Too true – but why? Who made

the House of Commons a Tory one?....It was ourselves, Sirs, Ourselves (p. 73).

Responsibility is, then, attributed to the electorate (which he in no way

acknowledges as still extremely restricted: householders in the boroughs

enfranchised, but only the £12 ratepayers in the counties, and exclusively male), an

electorate that in 1874 had had the audacity to oust ‘a great statesman’ (p. 74):

Gladstone. Our Country Right or Wrong is effusively, embarrassingly Gladstonian.

This is surely the principal reason why neither Morris himself nor Eugene LeMire

chose to publish it and his daughter no more than selected passages. The future

anti-parliamentarian is revealed in 1880 as a gullible worshipper of a politician. It

was going to take the inglorious record of Gladstone’s government of 1880-85 –

with the occupation of Egypt; coercion in Ireland and the imprisonment of Parnell;

participation in the partition of west Africa - to move Morris on to socialism.

Still there are excellent things in the lecture (as I trust my quotations indicate)

and it certainly needed to be printed in its entirety. On the other hand, I regret to

say, Florence Boos is an inappropriate editor. She has produced (unlike May Morris)

a fussy, literary scholar’s text, not the reader-friendly edition that is called for; and

struggles with the fearsome convolutions of the Eastern Question, but is no more at

home with general British or European history and politics. For example, Britain did

not ‘stay’ from 1882 till 1956 (save in the Suez Canal Zone) in Egypt, which became

independent in 1922 (p. 42). It is oxymoronic to say (twice!) that MacMahon was

the President of France during the Second Empire (it was the Third Republic) (pp.

61, 91). She predictably puts her boot into Salisbury in an endnote: ‘During three

subsequent terms of office as Conservative prime minister, Salisbury’s advocacy of

Disraelian “peace with honour” led him to block Irish Home Rule, co-broker the

partition of Africa, and preside…over British entrance into the Boer War’ (p. 92).

But it was Salisbury, combining the premiership and Foreign Secretaryship, who

extricated Britain in 1897 from her traditional support of the Ottomans (Germany

moving rapidly to take over from her). (The old Chartist and lifelong friend of

Engels, George Julian Harney - born in 1817 - judged Salisbury’s administration of

1886-92, with its innovative social policy, as the best within his memory.) And

readers baffled by the note on ‘the New Road’ (p. 91) – occasioned by Morris’s

‘Say 3 men shot stone dead: no great harm to them perhaps: but how would your

hearts have been frozen with horror if you had seen that done in the New Road this

afternoon…’ (p. 64) – may like to know that was how the modern Euston and

Marylebone Roads were known for much of the nineteenth century.

That Boos is agonized by contemporary US foreign policy and particularly the

occupation of Iraq breaks through several times into her introduction. She

introduces A.J.P. Taylor’s essential distinction, popularized by Martin Ceadel,

between ‘pacificism’ - ‘the assumption that war, though sometimes necessary, is

always an irrational and inhumane way to solve disputes, and that its prevention

should always be an over-riding political priority’ - and ‘pacifism’ - ‘the belief that all

war is always wrong and should never be resorted to, whatever the consequences

of abstaining from fighting’ (Pacifism in Britain, 1914-1945: The Defining of a Faith

(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), p. 3); yet immediately declares, without

explanation, that she proposes to speak of, not pacificists, but ‘anti-bellicists’ (p.

16). Her programme is to enlist Morris, not merely as the pacificist, or ‘anti-bellicist’,

he clearly was, but as a pacifist. This seems implausible given his general character

and long-term admiration for the valour of the warrior north. She is able, however,

to trump Morris’s pacificist ‘acts of violence…are still acts of violence, and therefore

degrading to humanity, as all war is’ (p. 31 – and Morris’s emphasis), with a pacifist

statement a year later in 1893 that suggests a significantly new attitude: ‘I will say

once for all, what I have often wanted to say of late, to wit, that the idea of taking

any human life for any reason whatsoever is horrible and abhorrent to me’ (p. 32).

She continues this with a section on ‘Violence in Morris’s Literary Writings’ (pp. 33-

38), at last analyzing literary texts and commanding my respect.

An autobiographical statement written at the request of Bollettino Archivio G. Pinelli

I was born in Rugby, Warwickshire, 1942, and received my formal education in the town (winning a scholarship to the famous Rugby School, home of Rugby football), at Corpus Christi College, Oxford (taking a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics) and Birkbeck College, London (converting to History and taking my doctorate). I then spent my entire professional career at the University of Leeds, working in its continuing (or adult) education department and teaching social, political and cultural history, sociology and Victorian Studies.

 

My PhD – on the Chartist movement in London – was supervised by the great Communist historian, Eric Hobsbawm; and from the mid-1960s I was – and still am – deeply impressed by Marxism. As a schoolboy I was a founder subscriber to the New Left Review and it needs to emphasized how creative, undoctrinaire and humanistic this first British New Left was with Hobsbawm himself, E.P. Thompson (who had worked for many years in my department at Leeds), Raymond Williams, Doris Lessing and Raphael Samuel (a particular friend).

 

Yet anarchism had priority. Like so many of my generation I was shaped politically by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (founded in 1958) and especially, in my case, its direct-action wing, the Committee of 100 (1960). In 1961 I was arrested in the mass ‘sit-down’ in Trafalgar Square, for calling which Bertrand Russell, Alex Comfort and others had been imprisoned. Herbert Read and A.S. Neill were among the demonstrators, although not arrested. In London several weeks later to appear in court, I bought my first copy of Colin Ward’s brilliant monthly, Anarchy. I spent the following winter in London (between school and university), attended the Sunday-night meetings of the London Anarchist Group and became a lifelong reader of Freedom, which Freedom Press published three times a month alongside Anarchy. When I arrived in Oxford in 1962 I co-founded the Oxford Anarchist Group, our speakers including not only Isaiah Berlin but Colin Ward.

 

Another speaker was Chris Pallis (one of whose pseudonyms was ‘Maurice Brinton’), translator of Cornelius Castoriadis and the principal writer of the innovative Solidarity group, whose co-thinkers in Paris were Socialisme ou Barbarie. I attended meetings in Chris’s house during 1965-6, but while Solidarity’s libertarian socialism appealed to me greatly (and continued to do), I was unimpressed by their having already ditched Marxism although refusing to call themselves anarchists.

 

I have always been very engaged with most of the arts: painting, architecture, many kinds of music, film, but above all fiction. I first read books by the extraordinary but neglected English novelist John Cowper Powys in the early 1960s and immediately saw they related in some way to anarchism. I consider him a major writer and helped to launch the Powys Society in 1969 as vice-chair. Are any of his works available in Italian?

 

It can therefore be seen that my publications of the last twenty years have grown, belatedly, out of these early influences, contacts and experiences. I have edited collections of writings by Herbert Read, Alex Comfort, ‘Maurice Brinton’ as well as Nicolas Walter, edited the correspondence between Powys and Emma Goldman and a booklet of his, written on Colin Ward with whom I worked on the Conversazioni for Elèuthera, and brought much together in an ambitious overview, Anarchist Seeds beneath the Snow.

 

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