Smythe, Tony, 1938-2004

Tony Smythe

A short biography of anarchist community organiser, anti-war activist and mental health advocate Tony Smythe.

Tony Smythe
Born 2 August 1938 - UK, died 27 March 2004 - UK

Tony was educated at University College School and conscription was the catalyst for his radical activism. In 1958, he was imprisoned for three months as a conscientious objector, refusing not only military service, but also alternative civilian service. He became, and remained until his death,a radical anarcho-pacifist.

Shortly after his spell in prison, he joined the staff of the London-based War Resisters International as its assistant secretary and, in December 1960, played a major role in organising its triennial conference in India.

Tony was also a key organiser of the conference in Beirut in January 1962 to establish a world peace brigade, whose aim was to engage in non-violent intervention in areas of crisis and conflict. He was also active in anti-war campaigning in Britain and was one of the founder members of the Committee of 100 launched in 1960.

Tony's elevation into a public figure came in 1966 when he took over at the NCCL - National Council of Civil Liberties, now Liberty. By encouraging it to broaden the scope of its activities, including monitoring the conduct of police and participants at major demonstrations, he raised the profile of the organisation and helped expand its membership from 1,800 to 5,400.

In 1971, he left NCCL to join MIND, the campaign to advance the views, needs and ambitions of people with mental health problems. Again he succeeded in catapulting what had been a little-known and relatively low-key campaign into public prominence. He established an executive committee that started the process which led to users of the service becoming involved in management and policy decisions.

In the last few years of his life he became active in Haringey Solidarity Group (HSG). When we were campaigning against changes that affected claimants like the Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) and the New Deal, Tony was always there: from discussing tactics, to helping to write leaflets, to standing outside job centres trying to inform both claimants and staff.

Whenever we needed transport for evening activities Tony was always there with his camper van. A number of us will always remember the evening Tony, Phil (sadly now no longer with us either) and Donald from HSG were stopped by two young police officers for fly posting against the JSA. The cops couldn’t believe they were still doing this at a collective age of around 170. One of them said, "You're old enough to know better." And in fact he was, in a sense, right. Tony was old enough to have seen it all and to know very well why he was doing this - a lot better than some plod in a tin can!

When Lorenzo Komboa Ervin and JoNina Abron, two anarchist ex-Black Panthers from America, came to stay with us in Haringey, Tony was one of the first to show them around and discuss politics, even though his views on “self defence” differed greatly from theirs. He was also very supportive of Delroy and Sonia Lindo, a Haringey couple harassed by the local police for their friendship with Winston Silcott - the man framed for the murder of PC Blakelock.

Tony was instrumental in helping set up the Markfield Project in Haringey in 1979. The Markfield Project is an independent Family Resource Centre for all ages of people with mental health problems and learning difficulties. It promotes empowerment and inclusion by challenging all forms of discrimination. In fact the Markfield and HSG organised an event to celebrate Mayday in 2000. Even though ill at the time, Tony turned up to support the event and spoke fondly of his past involvement with the Markfield – something a lot of us didn’t know about until that day.

On a personal level I will always remember the heated discussions Tony and myself had over tactics within the anarchist movement and for the anarchist revolution we both always wanted. Tony a life long committed anarchist always argued the pacifist line. I must say I disagreed with him. But we discussed the issues over a cup of tea or a beer and always ended the debate as good friends as when we started.

His lifelong partner, and fellow-anarchist campaigner and organiser, Jeanne, died in 2001, a shattering blow from which he never really recovered. Tony will be sadly missed by all those who knew him. It was a privilege to have known him.

This obituary was written by members of Haringey Solidarity Group and pinched bits from Michael Randle piece in The Guardian on Monday March 29 2004. Published in Freedom newspaper.

Posted By

Sep 15 2005 14:02


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