University of Sussex
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'Fill the jails': identity, structure and method in the Committee of 100, 1960 – 1968

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:49 authored by Samantha Jane Carroll
The Committee of 100 (C100) (1960 – 68) were a British anti-nuclear protest group who campaigned for mass non-violent direct action (NVDA) in an effort to force the government to revise its defence policy. The formation of C100 created tensions with the already-established Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), whose leaders objected to C100's commitment to civil disobedience. The two anti-nuclear campaigns had some membership overlap but always remained separate. Until now, any investigation of C100 has been incorporated within wider studies of CND or has been quantitative in method. This thesis therefore addresses a historical gap by employing a life history approach to examine C100 as a distinct group. Drawing upon oral history interviews with twenty-four C100 members the resulting analysis reveals new aspects of C100's innovative structure and method, and identifies the particular nature of those who joined the campaign. A new image of first wave anti-nuclear activists emerges when focusing on C100 protestors. The respondents reveal motivations for campaign engagement that contrast with those of earlier representations of CND supporters. They were inspired by a common interest in global civil rights concerning human health and survival and a need to actively challenge rather than merely petition the authorities. Significantly, many C100 members came from left-wing, progressive or anarchist backgrounds. They were an erudite group with regard for knowledge, despite many putting conventional education on hold to fully engage in the campaign. This thesis examines C100's libertarian nature, and the extent to which its membership managed to be anti-hierarchical in structure, ethos and policy. It explores tensions within C100 concerning limits and definitions of NVDA that changed over time and came to radicalise the campaign. A biographical approach also reveals significant factors around C100 prison experience concerning issues of class and gender. This thesis serves to situate C100 for the first time in its own right on the socio-political map, both historically and globally.


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