Beyond Counting Arses

Influential document produced by eight members of the London Committee of 100 in 1963, opposing bureaucracy and promoting direct action.

The ideas expressed would feed into the work done by Spies For Peace in exposing "Regional Seats of Government" - secret bunkers for the rich and powerful in the event of nuclear war.

According to Maurice Brinton, its authors were "radicals, mainly from or close to Solidarity".

Submitted by Fozzie on January 2, 2022

Solidarity Introduction

On February 9 and 10, 1963, the Committee of 100 held an important conference in London to plan the way forward in the struggle against the Bomb. A number of individuals and ad hoc groups submitted documents for discussion. One such document, called 'BEYOND COUNTING ARSES' was signed by eight active Committee members. It called on the Committee to initiate, amongst other things, a campaign of civil disobedience in print. It was distributed to the 150 or so people attending the conference from various regions, We understand the text has since been discussed in a number of CND and Committee of 100 groups.

Immediately after the Aldermaston March, with its great demonstration at RSG 6, the signatories were 'visited' by the Special Branch - then busy looking for the 'Spies'. Their homes were thoroughly searched, but we understand the authors were unable to help the police in their enquiries. 1

Some time later copies of 'B.C.A.' even reached Fleet Street. In mid-April the Daily Herald mysteriously referred to it and did its (modest) best to scare its dutiful readers with gruesome tales of delinquent disrupters. On April 28, the Sunday Telegraph reprinted certain passages out of context, the better to incite sundry retired colonels, police brass and other top people against the young pamphleteers. It mentioned nothing of course of the careful analysis which had preceded the 'blood-curdling' conclusions.

In reprinting this four-month old text in full, we hope to help redress the balance. The police have copies, We are therefore telling them nothing. The press have already quoted the more 'disruptive' passages in full. But only in order to smear. We feel a wider public is entitled to know the full argument and to judge for itself.

Beyond Counting Arses

At a time when support for unilateralism is certainly not falling off, the anti-war movement is suffering from a general malaise.

In this document a group of members and supporters of the London Committee of 100 criticise the two unilateralist organizations in Britain, and try to suggest a way forward.



CND nationally is dominated by a bureaucratic and largely self-perpetuating leadership, and is more and more resembling the traditional political parties of 'left' and 'right'. Its recent document 'Three Steps to Peace' is a classical instance of a leadership, without reference to its own supporters, betraying the very principles on which its movement was based. The Campaign has done a useful job developing a mass awareness of the danger of nuclear war. But its whole emphasis on 'pressurising' politicians, on winning Conference majorities, on calling for summit conferences, etc, is based on a profound illusion and condemns the movement to an impotence now perceived by thousands. We live in an increasingly authoritarian society, in which the powers that be are quite capable of coping with opposition directed through the traditional channels. These traditional channels of protest have themselves become built-in stabilisers of the whole society.

Annual Conference

The introduction of an annual policy-making conference, long opposed by the National Executive, has proved to be a dead letter. At the first such conference in 1961 a resolution demanding Russian and American unilateralism was carried. The Executive took no notice and succeeded in getting it reversed the following year. In 1962 the resolution on industrial action against the Bomb was first played down by the Executive and then misinterpreted so as to make it quite innocuous.

Red Square

The opposition of the CND leadership towards the demonstration in Red Square is typical of a hatred of any radical action. Sidney Silverman and Canon Collins, breaking off their 'valuable' discussions with Khruschev, flew back from Moscow a day early in order to denounce the wreckers. They refrained from criticising the demonstration only when they realized the favourable impression it had created at home.


People steeped in traditional political thought (and this includes the C.P.) are increasingly dominating CND at policy-making levels, helping the trend towards bureaucratisation. Although many CND groups remain active and in many cases extremely radical, CND has degenerated as an organization beyond the point where it is worth trying to reform it. Some of the proposals now being voiced to convert CND into a membership organization (presumably giving the Executive the power to expel dissident members and control local policy) illustrate the extent to which CND is following the path of the Labour Party and the official Trades Unions structure into political sterility.


The Return to Tradition

All radical groups have a tendency to revert to traditional forms of action and thought. This is due to the all-pervading influence of the environment in which they try to work. It can only be countered by an awareness of the danger and a constant resistance to it. In the Committee of 100 recent proposals to lobby local councils about Civil Defence, hold fasts and vigils, put pressure on the churches and work through CND are all examples of this trend.

The day after Wethersfield the Daily Worker urged the peace movement to follow the Committee's revolutionary challenge by sending telegrams: to the Foreign Ministers' Conference. After the Cuban demonstrations the London Committee did in fact send telegrams to K, K and Mac. The contrast between traditional and revolutionary politics could hardly be more striking.

Lack of common ground

The Committee's basic weakness is the lack of common ground among its members and supporters. When it was formed in October 1969 apart from its unilateralism it was agreed on one thing only: a specific form of action - the mass sit-down. Two and a half years later is doubtful whether even this remains to unite us.

Meaningless compromise

Another weakness of the Committee, again arising from its basic lack of common ground, is that it has taken its libertarian methods of organization to absurd extremes. The way in which a determined minority can prevent any decisions being reached has paralysed the London and National Committees for some months. The result has usually been compromises that have pleased few and satisfied none. The Committee's continual production of innocuous leaflets is a case in point.

Chaotic Organization

There is a dangerous tendency for the Committee to leave its decisions to be implemented by others, and to pass pious resolutions. The very process of decision-making has become ridiculously diffuse: one proposal may be flung back and forth between the National Committee its Planning and Working Groups Regional Committees; Area Working Groups, and so on. This allows splendid opportunities for minority blocking, and people become so sick of the original idea that nothing eventually gets done. Both the Red Square and the London demonstrations over Cuba took place in spite of rather than through the Committee's normal structure.

Leadership or Democracy?

The do-it-yourself philosophy which the Committee has developed is in flat contradiction to its reliance on Big Names. The Committee of 100 has become mesmerised by Bertrand Russell as its spokesman. In August 1962 a press statement from him, saying that he wished the 9th September demonstration cancelled, had the effect of an ultimatum: an ultimatum that was accepted by the Committee in the face of enormous opposition its own Militants.

The way in which the Committee has been damaged by the resignations of Vanessa Redgrave and Bertrand Russell is a measure of the extent to which we have used the publicity value of Big Names rather than carefully formulating our own collective ideas.

Back to the Womb?

Within the Committee of 100 important conflicts are never resolved. We prefer to paper them over. Those who see the Committee purely as being against the Bomb are returning to traditional forms of ideas, action and organization. Others want the Committee to develop along wider and more radical lines. In this situation the result is stagnation, and we are even beginning to set up and adhere to our own traditions. The perennial back-to-the womb suggestion for a mass sit-down in Whitehall is one example. The Committee of 100 today has perhaps three real assets: a rapidly diminishing reputation, a valuable fund of experience in the technique of illegal demonstration, and a body of supporters prepared to take radical action.

Resting on our history

The Committee of 100 has made history. The first sit-down, September 17th and the Public Order Act, Wethersfield and the Old Bailey trial, the Red Square demonstration and the leaflet 'Against ALL bombs' are solid bases for future action. But we can no longer afford to rest on this history. There are few examples of radical action initiated by the Committee's central structure in the last twelve months.


We don't want to get blown up

We started off as a movement against 'The Bomb'. This struggle has led us to realise that our opponent is the state itself, and the social and economic interests it protects.

The Warfare State

We discovered (some of us with surprise) that our rulers, their government, their police, their courts and their press, act as a team to smash any real challenge to their bomb. We realised that the Labour Party and the Trades Union hierarchies are not alternatives to the established order. They are as much parts of the machinery of preservation as is Parliament itself.

We have had to learn, slowly and painfully and incompletely, that a solution to our problems can only come from ourselves. Neither Parliament, the knights of the TUC or the National Executive of CND can succeed on our behalf.


The annual pilgrimage from Aldermaston should surely be welcome to the government, for it ensures that our energies are not diverted into more 'dangerous' paths. (Let us hope that Aldermaston 1963 will change this tradition).

Other struggles

The discovery that the Bomb is not an isolated cancer within an otherwise healthy society. but is in itself an example of society's basic rottenness, gives us common ground with those who are reaching similar conclusions about society from their involvement in other struggles.

Direct action in industry

The shop stewards' movement and groups of militants in industry daily face misrepresentation by the mass media, the obstruction of their 'officials', the Special Branch, and even court action in much the same way that we have. We have both heard the same kinds of screams from the establishment and the traditional left: 'undemocratic! subversive! Beatnik! Wildcat!' We are both drawing; tentatively, the same sorts of conclusions about society.

An ultimate expression

We cannot know which particular struggle will open the most eyes. We do know that each partial struggle is a part of the same fight. It is the involvement of people in many different issues that will finally raise the consciousness of the majority to the point where it can effectively challenge the state. Thousands of people are already involved in the fight against the Bomb, because it is the ultimate expression of the way the state prevents us from living our own lives,



We have allowed the expression 'mass movement' to hypnotise us. Certainly, there is little to be achieved as a traditional small pressure group. But mass action does not have to mean a yearly orgasm in Whitehall or public conscience-washing in Trafalgar Square. We have been bedevilled by two contradictions. We have demanded mass action, and only seen this in terms of masses of people acting at one place and at one time. We have looked for new ideas, and yet imprisoned ourselves in the mass sit-down.

Towards a real mass movement

We believe that a mass movement means a continuous day-to-day struggle waged by vast numbers of ordinary people against the state in all its forms. We do not say that same-place-same-time mass action has no further part to play in our movement. We cannot see it as an end in itself.


A ritual pas-de-deux

Although the Committee of 100 has been extremely radical in its time, we now seem reduced to demonstrations consisting of a ritual pas-de-deux with the police. The Committee accepts its role, and the authorities impose their own very tangible control over how far resistance gees. ('All right son. You've made your point, Now walk along nicely into court'.)

At Wethersfield the state was so scared that it brought out the troops. At Greenham Common, we queued up to be arrested. In the past our yardstick of success has usually been the total column inches in the Guardian or the number of arrested arses. We need new criteria on which to judge our actions.

Some valid criteria

We must attempt to hinder the warfare state in every possible way. A strike at a rocket factory, although not an immediate prospect, would succeed in this respect. The demonstration against Polaris caused the U.S. Navy to press for the Proteus' withdrawal. Secondly, we must make clear the relationship between the Bomb and other issues. The Industrial Sub-committee's leaflet on the rail strike shows what can be achieved in this direction, and the recent demonstration at Newington Lodge by the S.E. London Committee is a further welcome departure.

Thirdly, we must make clear the relationship between the Bomb and the state as a whole. At Wethersfield the state used armed troops and barbed wire. As Pat Pottle said, the mask was off. Fourthly, we must try to capture the imagination of ordinary people, as did the Honington slogan 'Plough Up All Bases!'.
Most important of all, our actions must always be of the do-it-yourself type. We must understand that a victory won as a result of a struggle is valuable in itself. It heightens the self-confidence and self-reliance of those who have participated in it. This is part of our general thesis that means adopted profoundly influence the ends achieved.


Civil disobedience in print

The Committee of 100 should announce that it intends to unmask and publicise the most secret preparations of the Warfare State. We should publicly urge people to send us such information in confidence. We should undertake to publish the location of rocket bases and what goes on in the germ warfare centres. We must give details about the secret hide-outs of 'civil' defence - and the secretly kept lists of those who will be catered for in the event of nuclear war. We should publish the names of the emergency government 'gauleiters' and details of phone-tapping and of the activities of the Special branch, The campaign against the Bomb must be linked to a great struggle for the protection and extension of our civil liberties.

Off with the lid

As recent events have shown, the Official Secrets Act does not really function to prevent espionage, but to keep the facts from the people of this country. There can be little information that a foreign power cannot obtain by bribery blackmail or plain observation. We propose that the Committee should deliberately take the lid off these facts, and let people know what the state does in their name. It is clear that activities of this sort would have to involve certain measures of secrecy, analogous to those practised by V.N.D.2


Secondly, we should declare ourselves in favour of all action that disrupts and hinders the nuclear state. We must attempt to weld into a mass campaign individual acts of resistance in the armed forces, in industry or in everyday life. This should include a campaign to form anti-militarist groups and to agitate within the armed forces.

Civil Defence

We should organise mass disruption and exposure of the fraud of civil defence. This could be done by joining civil defence and working from within. The Committee should try to simulate war conditions during civil defence exercises. This might be by means of columns of 'refugees' blocking up the roads, or by mass dislocation of radio and telephone communications. We believe this to be more relevant than sitting outside the Home Office or lobbying local councillors.


The possibility of the reintroduction of conscription is a challenge we may soon have to face. We could organise resistance on a scale far exceeding the campaign in France during the Algerian War, and using much of their experience.

Thirdly, we should publicly try to link up with locally organised struggles over conditions of work, increases in rent, etc. This is one case where a simple press statement, a leaflet or a public meeting could have a big impact. Although our ultimate aim should be a recognition of a common cause, we should realise that this is hardly an immediate prospect.

These three proposals we have thought about in some detail, In addition, there are a number of actions large and small which could form part of a campaign such as we envisage. Thousands of people could be involved at varying levels of commitment in activities which are both meaningful in themselves and suited to our present organization and strength.

Illegal publicity (saturation flyposting, stickering and slogan-stamping) can be used to ram home a particular issue, 200 copies of a whitewashed slogan all over a town in one night could have an immense impact.

V.N.D. should be used more aggressively, breaking into or jamming BBC programmes on specific occasions.

From coin-boxes3 dislocation of military all over London people could be involved in the mass and government telephone systems.

A demonstration at parliament could involve several months action by direct participation in debates or the aerial distribution of leaflets. This could also be done to local councils.

The disruption of the opening of Fylingdales by even the threat of entry into the forbidden danger-zone would cause more consternation in Whitehall than a dozen sit-downs.

We believe that these ideas - fragmentary as they are - can give a purpose to small localised action that at present seems pointless. We must weld into a sustained and coordinated campaign actions within the capabilities of ordinary people.



Douglas Brewood Jr.
Robin Davis
Ian Hutchison
Mike Lesser
Nick Ralph
Jon Tinker
Mary Tinker
Ken Weller

  • 1Libcom note: background to all this and Spies for Peace is included in "The Spies for Peace and After" by Nicolas Walter in The Raven #5
  • 2Libcom note: VND was "Voice of Nuclear Disarmament" - a pirate radio station run by folk singer, physicist and anti-nuclear campaigner John Hasted and others.
  • 3Libcom note: I.e. public coin operated telephone boxes, which could be used with reasonable anonymity
  • 4Libcom note: Signed the original document, not included in the version reprinted by Solidarity.