The Committee of 100 was founded on the initiative of Ralph Schoenman and Bertrand Russell in October 1960. The Committee called for a mass movement of civil disobedience against British government policy on nuclear weapons. Its members saw a need for more radical methods than those used by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, especially following the defeat of the Labour Party in the 1959 general election. In this sense, the Committee of 100 was the successor of the Direct Action Committee, which disbanded in June 1961 after the Holy Loch demonstration. The Committee of 100 aimed to use non violent direct action on a mass scale, something the DAC had never managed to sustain. Bertrand Russell resigned as president of CND to take on the presidency of the Committee of 100 and Rev. Michael Scott became chairman.
Many leading DAC activists joined the Committee of 100, including Michael Randle, who returned from Ghana to become its first secretary, and April Carter, who sat with Randle on the working group. However the Committee of 100 did not share the DAC's Gandhian commitment to using non violent methods to achieve a non violent society. Its focus was limited to achieving British unilateral nuclear disarmament, as described in its manifesto by Russell and Scott, 'Act or perish'.
Its early campaign tactic was to organise sit-down demonstrations and these were not to be undertaken without at least 2000 volunteers pledging to take part. The first of these sit-downs took place on 18 February 1961 outside the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall. The high point of the Committee came on the weekend of 16-17 September 1961, with successful demonstrations in Trafalgar Square and at the Holy Loch Polaris submarine base. These were preceded by the arrest and trial of 32 members of the Committee for incitement to breach the peace.
With several of its more experienced leaders in prison, the Committee took the decision to stage simultaneous demonstrations at military bases in Wethersfield, Ruislip, Brize Norton, York, Bristol, Cardiff and Manchester. This action was planned for 9 December 1961 and the aim was to immobilise temporarily at least one of the bases. In advance of the demonstrations, the Committee of 100 offices at 13 Goodwin Street, London, were raided by Special Branch officers. Six leading members of the Committee were arrested and charged with conspiracy under the Official Secrets Act. The trial of Ian Dixon, Terry Chandler, Trevor Hatton, Michael Randle, Pat Pottle and Helen Allegranza took place in February 1962, and all received jail sentences as a result.
In early 1962 the original Committee of 100 dissolved itself and reformed on a decentralised basis. Under this new structure, 13 regional Committees became responsible for organising demonstrations, with the National Committee limited to a co-ordinating role. Of the regional Committees, the London Committee of 100 was the most active and influential. A national magazine, Action for Peace, was launched by the London Committee in April 1963, published under the name Resistance from January 1964.
Demonstrations continued both in London and at military bases during 1962, and a controversial Troops Against the Bomb campaign was also launched, but the year marked the beginning of the movement's decline. An attempt to recreate the Trafalgar Square sit-down, planned for 9 September, was called off at the last moment and led to Bertrand Russell's resignation from the Committee. This reflected a shift within the movement towards greater influence by anarchist activists and supporters of the journal Solidarity for Workers' Power. The most dramatic example of this break with the DAC tradition was the Spies for Peace operation. The revelations at Easter 1963 about plans for Regional Seats of Government in the event of a nuclear attack followed a secret raid on RSG6 at Warren Row, near Reading.
1963 also saw the beginning of Committee involvement in the various marches and demonstrations organised under the ad hoc Save Greece Now committee, from the Greek royal visit in summer 1963, through to the invasion of the Greek Embassy on 2 April 1967. As the decade progressed the influence of the Committee (and of CND) waned as the political initiative passed to the anti-Vietnam War movement and nuclear disarmament shifted down the political agenda. The London Committee disbanded in January 1968 and the National Committee followed in the September.
Derry Hannam was an activist in the Committee of 100, but not an original signatory. A retired deputy headteacher, he works as a researcher, adviser and trainer in education for democratic citizenship, including for the Council of Europe and the British government.