Sometimes in your life you find yourself under the influence of a powerful personality: it could be a lover, a political leader, an author, or a spiritual teacher. It happened to me with Keith Mothersson, who died on 3 July at the age of 61.
Keith combined many of these elements and yet in some ways his life failed to yield the fruits which his talent predicted. Among the brightest minds of his political generation, he distilled much of the counter-cultural zeitgeist of the 1970s into his own brand of radicalism he called “alternative socialism” (the name of his pamphlet and also of a shortlived British activist network).
For Keith, “there is a labour movement wing and an alternatives wing, but the bird herself is feminism” - an indication of the power that ’70s women’s liberation had on a deep-thinking and wide-reading anarchist of the time.
Keith was a “son of the manse” – Scottish missionary parents who left him in an English boarding school while in Ghana (the wellspring of much later psychological suffering). He was an angry young man at Keele University in the wake of ’68, and wrote critiques of mainstream psychology, the school system and the phenomenon of “mal-employment” as he termed it.
Post-grad research on the Gandhian movement and socialist alternatives with Nigel Young and Geoffrey Ostergaard at Birmingham University was the end of his formal academic career; but he laboured for decades after as a self-styled “landless scholar”, with no income beyond the dole and plagued by a series of intense but mostly unsatisfactory or conflictual romantic relationships.
Paton to Mothersson
In the late 1970s, under the spell of Monica Sjöo, the Swedish-born artist and writer who was a leading figure in the Goddess-feminist movement, he changed his name from Forrester-Paton to Mothersson. Together they co-wrote a double-booklet Wider We, and extracts and related writings were published at length in Peace News.
Alternative socialism was for a while a subject for intense debate at potlatches/PN readers’ meetings. So too, was the threat posed by the National Front in the late ’70s, which prompted Keith to do some highly creative thinking, resulting in a set of PN articles under the title “Countering Fascism”.
Keith had a big heart as well as a very open mind, and had an extraordinarily holistic vision of social change. The result was that he reached out to, and generated, a wide “network of networks” which in turn meant that his influence touched an unusually wide range of people.
He was involved in movements such as Claimants Union, Men against Sexism, local Agenda 21, organic gardening and fruit trees, alternative burials and more.
In the peace movement, he was active in CND, but often as a somewhat dissident and frustrated figure. The breakthrough came when he met George Delf, who had developed a powerful perspective on “the bomb and the law” (see his book Humanizing Hell) and this led Keith to extend his theoretical and practical work to applying the core legal concept of non-combatant immunity to the nuclear threat.
Law and War
In the mid-1980s, with the help of Rob Manson and Fred Starkey of Pax Legalis, Angie Zelter (later of Snowball campaign and Trident 365) and others, we together set up the Institute for Law and Peace, which then led on rapidly to the establishment of the British branch of the World Court Project.
While the law and war debate continues to inflame the pages of PN even to this day, the primary result of all this effort – combined with that of activists from all over the world – was the celebrated 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice, which broadly speaking outlaws nuclear weapons. It was a tremendous achievement – though not flawless. But it offered Keith the moment to shift gears and switch issues.
He moved from Wales to Scotland and became engaged in many local projects including tactical voting, Scottish politics and environmental issues – in all of which he drew support from a wide local (and national) network.
He earned his living from gardening and engaged in a long process of self-examination, therapy and engagement with Buddhism, which replaced – or maybe added a new layer to – his involvement with paganism and the mother goddess philosophy.
The 9/11 attacks and the subsequent war-making set in motion by the Bush administration confirmed all Keith’s worst fears and understandings regarding the power of the “Frat”, as he termed the various male power structures that run the world. And with an enquiring and retentive brain he was a ready participant when the “9/11 Truth movement” (which later spawned the “7/7 Truth movement”) got under way. He also helped set up All Faiths Against Terrorism and did a lot to build bridges with the Muslim communities. It would fair to say that these were the political communities that he engaged with most over the last years of his life, despite losing a few friends along the way.
Keith published many hand-made pamphlets over the years and wrote voluminously, but he only published one proper book – From Hiroshima to the Hague: A Guide to the World Court Project – which the International Peace Bureau produced for the WCP launch in 1992 (now out of print).
A detailed book-length feminist critique of Marxism called Sleep Well Father Marx never found a publisher though it contained many fascinating and ground-breaking insights. (Late last year he told me he was preparing a book on conspiracy theories.) He did make use of the internet however, and some of his writing, including biographical elements, is available at www.keith-mothersson.co.uk
However given the breadth of his vision and the depth of his research, these are slim pickings. One suspects that his struggles with his inner demons and with difficult intimate relationships occupied so much mental space that he could not resolve the challenge of adapting his “prophetic” work to professional communities that tended to regard him as a maverick.
He lived intensely, was unafraid to experiment and make mistakes. He felt deeply about the inner and the outer changes that are needed for radical change to occur. His legacy is a scattered one: essentially in the hearts and memories of the many people he touched and inspired.