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40 years ago: Overwhelming Woody

In line with its counter-cultural aims when moving its editorial office out of London for some years, PN gave regular space to ‘Woody’, who called for a commitment to alternative ways of living, rather than oppositional politics. He provoked much debate from correspondents.

Woody says, ‘the basic or primary condition of existing society is that we are all living against each other... mutual hostility’. But this hostility is often about something – like quarrels over the distribution of resources. Rather than backing the poor against the rich, for Woody, ‘a radical situation arises only when a section of the would-be stampeders holds back’. The poor must hold back!

Woody seems to be reacting... against Marxism and the useless moralising we’re often guilty of in the peace movement. Part of the answer is the development of practical alternative social theories...

What frightens me is that economic forces, like resource shortages, and political/psychological forces, like fascism and Stalinism, have the power to sweep through the world at a rate which can leave the alternative society helpless and historically irrelevant.

Victor Anderson

Why was it necessary for 11 people with the prestige the BWNIC [British Withdrawal from Northern Ireland Campaign] defendants rightly have to jointly sign a letter digging at Woody? Is Woody that much of a menace/authority that they need to protect each other from reprisal? Or were they afraid that a letter from just one of them would not catch the editors’ eyes? That can’t be the reason.

I partially recall an old pacifist dictum which seems appropriate in this case: the truth is not affected by the number of its votaries. Since that is the case, I am led to the conclusion that the reason for combining was to use the prestige of the BWNIC defendants to overwhelm any sympathy that readers might have for the arguments Woody was making.

Let me say that I greatly appreciate Woody’s contributions to Peace News. The paper has chosen, unwisely in my view, to burden itself, and us who support it, with the commitment to making a nonviolent revolution. Nice as that sounds, I don’t know how we are going to do it – but I do know that to develop the concept of nonviolent revolution will take a major intellectual effort, one which is scarcely being made in Peace News at present. One contributor who is stretching our minds quite a bit is Woody and I would be sad to see his articles being bullied out of your columns.

Bob Overy




From letters in the 20 February 1976 issue of Peace News

Buried Treasure is compiled by Albert Beale, author of Against All War: fifty years of Peace News 1936–1986.

Topics: Radical Living