I thought I’d list some of the memorable highlights in my sometimes rebellious life. Some of these actions I still fully approve of, others I don’t, but none do I really regret since life is a learning process, and we learn from our mistakes.
September 1961 – taking part in theÂ Committee of 100’s mass civil disobedience sit-down demonstration in Trafalgar Square along with Bertrand Russell, Sheila Delaney, John Osborne and about 10,000 others. Too many for the police to arrest.
Easter 1962 – taking part in my first Aldermaston March, organized by CND, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
Early Summer 1962 – taking a full-time job atÂ CND’s head office. I was there six years.
Easter 1963 – Defying my boss at CND and joining the anarchists and Committee of 100 supporters to divert from the Aldermaston March route to visit the top-secret government bunker (Regional Seat of Govermment in the event of nuclear war) at Warren Row.
Early 1960s – joining other CND supporters to heckle Prime Minister Harold Macmillan at Luton Hoo where he spoke andÂ the Luton Girls’ Choir sung ‘Land of Hope & Glory’, after which they all stood for the National Anthem ‘God Save The Queen’, but I joined the CND supporters in sitting down for this and refusing to sing,Â to the horror and disgust of Tory ladies in big hats.
Mid 1960s – trying to storm Buckingham Palace with other Committee of 100 supporters in a banned protest against the official State visit of the fascist Queen Frederika of Greece. I got halfway up the Palace garden walls on the backs of other demonstrators, but the spikes at the top stopped me getting over. One demonstrator did get over I believe, but the Monarchy survived!
Summer 1966 – taking my first visit abroad, with Youth CND’s Project 67, by train to Moscow and Leningrad via Belgium, the Federal Republic of Germany, the German Democratic Republic and the People’s Repubic of Poland, arriving at the Soviet border at Brest-Litovsk.
Summer 1966 – visiting Lenin’s Mausoleum in Red Square, Moscow.
Mid-1960s – joining about 5,000 others standing up and giving the clenched-fisted salute while singing ‘The Internationale’ in the Albert Hall, led by Comrade John Gollan, General Secretary of the Communist Party. This was at the 33rd Anniversary gathering of the Daily Worker, later Morning Star, Â newspaper.
1967 – taking part in a riot by Teddy boys which partly wrecked Brian Epstein’s Saville Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue when they brought the Safety Curtain down in the middle of Chuck Berry’s act. I remember ripping out a whole row of seats and telling police as they arrived they were too late as we had wrecked the joint.
Late 1960s – writing to the Soviet government about the danger of the USSR being invaded by the United States across the frozen Bering Straits -Â I received a reply assuring me: ‘comrade, our northeastern frontiers are fully defended’.
Summer 1968 – hitch-hiking with a fellow CND employee, Sheila Cooper, to Berlin, Capital of the German Democratic Republic as guests of the GDR Peace Committee (Friedensrat der DDR). We caught a train the last leg from Hanover to West Berlin, where residents shook their fists at me for wearing a badge with the GDR emblem on it. We walked through Checkpoint Charlie and the British woman army officer on duty asked what time we were returning from the ‘Soviet sector’ of the city. I replied we weren’t returning! (Well not for another three weeks, but I didn’t tell her that initially.)
Summer 1968 – being in the GDR capital when its troops supported those of the Soviet Union and three other Warsaw Pact countries in the intervention in the neighboring Czecho-Slovak Socialist Republic to crush Dubcek’s ‘Prague Spring’. I fully supported this intervention at the time. The British Communist Party leadership didn’t and their newspaper the ‘Morning Star’ was banned in East Berlin.
Summer 1968 – attending a rally in Marx-Engels Platz in the GDR capital and sitting on the visitors’ platform looking at thousands of people, including a sea of blue shirts (the Free German Youth) and white shirts/red neckscarves (the Young Pioneers). The rally speakers praised the intervention to halt counter-revolution in the CSSR, and at the time I fully approved. I was by then a hard-lineÂ member of the British Young Communist League.
Summer 1968 – Being taken by National People’s Army officers to the Western side of the Brandenburg Gate on a viewing platform to inspect and approveÂ theÂ ‘Anti-Fascist Wall/Â ‘Wall of Peace’. West Berliners were looking back at us across the Wall from a similar viewing platform. We were shown a film and given pamphlets in the Brandenburg Gate giving the reasons why the Wall was built. I stillÂ believe it was absolutely necessary, though not shooting people trying to cross illegally or mining the borders. A financial arrangement in the form of a returnable deposit should have allowed GDR citizens to visit the Western sectors of the city.
Summer 1968 – giving a farewell speech to our GDR hosts at the FDGB (GDR TUC) hotel in Kuehlungsborn thanking the hotel collective for their hospitality, saying I approved of the Soviet-led intervention in Czechoslovakia, but that I had observed bourgeois practices in the GDR itself and they might be next to face Soviet-led intervention to restore Socialist norms. This speech was not well received, our interpeter, Peter, called me an ‘idiot’. Sheila, my CND colleague, called me prospectiveÂ ‘cannon fodder for fascism’ because of my gullibility inÂ approving of the Soviet-led intervention.
Late 1960s – getting arrested in Grosvenor Square, London outside the U.S. Embassy in a mass protest against the war in Vietnam. I was not arrested for violence though, but for sitting down and obstructing the police.
Late 1960s – attending a Young Communist League Congress in Scarborough, where the Soviet delegate was booed by the YCL leadership for their intervention in Czechoslovakia. We hardliners, however, gave them a standing ovation for the intervention. We also gave a standing ovation to the delegates from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, who presented a statuette of the Great Leader Kim Il-Sung to the YCL leadership. Later we hardliners had a conversation with the Bulgarian delegate about the revisionist nature of the British YCL leadership in condemning the intervention in Czechoslovakia.
Late 1960s/early 1970s – insisting on putting up a ‘Vote Gordon McLennan, Communist’ poster in our kitchen window in Camden Town, against my mother’s wishes. My bedroom at the time had an altar to atheistic Communism consisting of a Soviet red flag, a statue of Lenin in place of the Cross, and a volume of Lenin’s writings in place of The Bible. Also the room was festooned with Soviet/Maoist posters and two tapestries of Lenin and Stalin.
Summer 1970 – taking the Communist Party’s Lenin Centenary trip to the Soviet Union, this time by Aeroflot the Soviet airline, where we received VIP treatment (caviar, champagneÂ and chocolates). I thanked the air stewardess in Russian with the words: ‘Thank you, Comrade!’
Early 1970s – having two articles published in the Communist Party’s Theoretical Journal ‘Marxism Today’ and its special supplements/discussion papers. I called for the rehabilitaton of Comrade Stalin as a Marxist-Leninist giant, and said giving democracy to the enemies of Socialism was ‘revisionist nonsense’ since the purpose of the Socialist state was to crush them. I also approved in these articles of the Soviet-led intervention in Czechoslovakia. I had similar letters published in favor of the intervention in various other leftwing papers, including CND’s paper ‘Sanity’.
1976 – my second visit to the GDR, this time touring the whole country with my life-partner, who pointed out the defects I preferred to ignore. On my return I resigned as Treasurer of the local Communist Party, and was told by the Secretary that I was a former comrade who once agreed with her Stalinist views, but had now proved to be ’emotionally unstable’, which I understood to be a code meaning ‘a gay man in a steady relationship with a non-Communist’.
Late 1970s/early 1980s – getting arrested with my life-partner outside Upper HeyfordÂ RAF/USAF base in protest against nuclear weapons.
Early 1980s -Â getting stopped by policeÂ with some CNDÂ supporters crossing a snow-covered field with a mattress, intending to use it to climb over the barbed wire-topped fence into MolesworthÂ Cruise Missile base.Â We weren’t arrested, but our mattress was confiscated.
1982 – staging a two-person demonstration with my life-partner in a City of London church where Defence Minister John Nott was speaking. The Falklands/Malvinas War was on at the time, and we held up banners calling him a murderer and reminding him of one of the Ten Commandments: ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’. Nott spoke briefly to my partner trying to justify the government’s policy.
1980s -Â three visits to the Federative Socialist Republic of Jugoslavia (FSRJ) which both my life-partner and myself felt was not only a beautiful country, but we approved of their economic system – Market Socialism consisting of competing cooperatives and publicly owned enterprises. To us this seemed the future economic system rather than the emphasis on vast and often inefficient State monopolies.
My life-partner lived to see the start of the tragic break-up of the Yugoslav federation and the Soviet Union. He thought the three Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) were mad to leave the Soviet Union, and had similar thoughts about Slovenia and Croatia seeking to leave the Yugoslav federation. I still feel the break-up of these two Socialist unions was a tragedy, as was the annexing of the GDR by West Germany. They should have kept the good and thrown out the bad. They all seem to have done the complete opposite – kept all the corruption and thrown out the achievements of Socialism. Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union also suffered terrible wars, genocides and terrorism after their break-up.
1986 – getting arrested in Oxford Street for sitting-down in protest at the American bombing of Libya. My partner was with me, but was not arrested. I was later released from the police van without charge. This too was a demonstration supported by CND, and its leaders Joan Ruddock and Fr Bruce Kent also sat down outside the nearby American Embassy in Grosvenor Square.
1991 -Â making a commentÂ on TV’s ‘Question Time’ hosted by Robin Day protesting at the Gulf War in Iraq. The following week my partner and I went on a march protesting against it, and someone recognized me from my brief TV appearance.
1991 – attending a meeting addressed by Tony Benn in a room at the Houses of Parliament calling for an end to the Monarchy. MPs and Peers of the Realm were there, and my partner gave a little speech condemning the royals as descended from a line of murders and crooks. I was proud of him for this speech in such an important place and gathering.
Early 1990s – protesting at the erection of a statue to ‘Bomber Harris’ in The Strand outside St Clement-Danes, the RAF church. A medaled old soldier tried to tear up my placard, and I grabbed at his medals. I later appeared on the pages of the Daily Record in Scotland, seen by my partner’s relatives (my partner had died in September 1991).
I don’t think I’ve done anything particularly outrageous since then, though I have been on several demonstrations, all quite legal. CND demos, the big 2,000,000 strong demo in 2003 against the War in Iraq, and the recent TUC demo against the Cuts as part of the CND contingent demanding we save Â£100 billion by scrapping the Trident nuclear missile system.
So I have come full-circle, and as I say it has been a learning experience, helped greatly by my life-partner George Miller. I remain a leftwing Socialist, but now realize all human political systems are prone to corruption andÂ I amÂ strongly Spiritualist believing we are here to learn lessons and progress spiritually. Till we do, allÂ political systems will remain corrupt.
I have voted Liberal-Democrat in recent General Elections believing them to be the most progressive of the three main parties, but after the disgraceful Con-Dem coalition like many others I will be deserting the Lib-Dems for another party. Probably Ed Miliband’s Labour Party now it has distanced itself from New Labour.
I did nominally join the European Left, a collection of Communist and leftwing/ecological parties in the European Parliament as an individual supporter. I won’t consider joining most leftwing parties in Britain as they are so anti-EU, and as an internationalist I strongly favor the European Union as a way of stopping further wars in Europe. However I think it can be reformed and made more democratic, and hope future Socialist states mightÂ break away to form their own Socialist European Union one day, probably after I’m long gone to the Socialist utopia on the Other Side!