Peter Cadogan 1921-2007

IssueDecember 2007 - January 2008
Comment by John Rowley

Peter Cadogan was once called “the England”. He campaigned most expelled socialist in effectively on many fronts for peace, justice and human rights. His most important mentors were William Blake, Gandhi and John MacMurray.

Peter Cadogan was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1921 where he witnessed the poverty and humiliation of workers during the Depression - something that drove him all his life.

After working as an insurance clerk, he served in the Air Sea Rescue Service from 1941 to 1946. During periods of inactivity he read Shaw, Wells, John MacMurray, Laski and, most importantly, Lenin's State and Revolution (“a lethal confidence-trick of a book”, which he had been “completely taken in by”).

On demobilisation, he joined the Communist Party, thrilling to the ideas buzzing around the CP's Historian's Group with Christopher Hill, EP Thompson, and Eric Hobsbawm.

However, in 1956, Khruschev's demolition of Stalin came as a blow and, when the USSR invaded Hungary, Peter's sharp criticisms found their way into the national press.

He was suspended from the CP and then quit, joining the Labour Party. Two years later, he organised for them the first nuclear base demonstration in Britain, at the Thor missile base near Ely.

He was then recruited by Gerry Healy in 1959 to become a founder member of the Socialist Labour League (SLL) - which later became the Workers' Revolutionary Party. As a result, Peter was expelled from the Labour Party.

Soon discovering that the SLL was just as dogmatic and intolerant as the CP, he formed the “Stamford Faction” with Peter Fryer and Ken Coates, and was expelled once again.

He was next recruited by the Luxemburgist, Tony Cliff, and wrote the first feature article in the first issue of International Socialism (the theoretical journal of what is now the Socialist Worker Party) in 1960. Peter's belief in the freedom of speech soon led Cliff to eject him.

It was then that he became known as England's most expelled socialist. Not an achievement, he stressed, but an invaluable learning experience about the tyranny of the ego.

In 1960, when Bertrand Russell proposed nonviolent civil disobedience against nuclear weapons, Peter joined the “Committee of 100”, later becoming its national secretary.

Peter was also the spokesperson for - but did not belong to - the “Spies for Peace”, who revealed that 14 huge underground bunkers had been built as “Regional Seats of Government” in the event of nuclear war.

He set up the “Save Biafra” campaign within days of the war starting in May 1968.

From 1970 to 1981, Peter was the general secretary of the South Place Ethical Society at Conway Hall.

In 1975, he wrote Direct Democracy, integrating his “revelatory discovery” of William Blake and Friedrich Nietzsche.

From 1993, he worked for The Gandhi Foundation, leading their project in Northern Ireland and advocating nonviolent direct action.

Peter continued to write to the very end, never afraid to speak his mind. This seemed at first to many as intolerance, even arrogance.

In fact, all soon discovered that it was no more than his passion for accuracy and clear thinking in the pursuit of justice. Like Gandhi, he became and remained friends with all his temporary enemies.

Peter co-founded The Blake Society in 1995, and was its president before becoming “life vice-president”. He told those around his sickbed that Blake's Jerusalem (Plate 99) “said it all”.

His dying words were Blake's moral imperative: “Live differently!” Peter did just that, his integrity intact.

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