Fenner Brockway, Baron Brockway

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Portrait of A. Fenner Brockway, circa 1910–1915.

Archibald Fenner Brockway, Baron Brockway (1 November 1888 – 28 April 1988), was a British anti-war activist and politician.

Life before parliamentary politics[edit]

Brockway was born to W. G. Brockway and Frances Elizabeth Abbey in Calcutta, India,[1] which was at that time under British Imperial rule. While attending the School for the Sons of Missionaries, then in Blackheath, London (now Eltham College) from 1897 to 1905 he developed an interest in politics.

After leaving school he worked as a journalist for a variety of papers and journals including The Quiver and the Daily News and the Christian Commonwealth. Fenner Brockway joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in 1907 and was a regular visitor to the Fabian Society. He was appointed editor of the Labour Leader (the newspaper of the ILP, later called the New Leader) and was, by 1913 a committed pacifist. He opposed British involvement in the First World War and, through his position as editor of the Labour Leader, was outspoken in his views about the conflict. On 12 November 1914 he published an appeal for men of military age to join him in forming the No-Conscription Fellowship to campaign against the possibility of the government attempting to introduce conscription in Britain. The offices of the Labour Leader were raided in August 1915 and Brockway was charged with publishing seditious material. He pleaded not guilty and was acquitted in court. In 1916 Fenner Brockway was again arrested, this time for distributing anti-conscription leaflets. He was fined, and after refusing to pay the fine, was sent to Pentonville Prison for two months.[2]

Shortly after his release Fenner Brockway was arrested for a third time for his refusal to be conscripted, after being denied recognition as a conscientious objector. He was handed over to the Army and court-martialled for disobeying orders. As if a traitor, he was held for a night in the Tower of London, in a dungeon under Chester Castle and in Walton Prison, Liverpool, where he edited an unofficial newspaper, the Walton Leader for conscientious objectors in the prison. This led to his being disciplined, which in turn led to a 10-day prison strike by conscientious objectors before he was transferred to Lincoln Jail, where he spent some time in solitary confinement until finally released in 1919. In October 1950 he revisited the jail with Eamon de Valera, the Irish statesman.[3] Following his release he became an active member of the India League, which advocated Indian independence. He became secretary of the ILP in 1923 and later its chairman. In 1926, he became the first chairperson of War Resisters' International, serving in this post until 1934.[4]

Parliamentary career[edit]

Fenner Brockway stood for Parliament several times, including in 1924 in Westminster Abbey against Winston Churchill. He was a member of the League against Imperialism created in Brussels in 1927.

In 1929, he was elected Member of Parliament for Leyton East as a Labour Party candidate. He polled 11,111 votes and, immediately after the election, the Liberal candidate announced that Fenner Brockway had converted him to socialism. His convictions brought him into difficulties with the Labour Party. He was also outspoken in Parliament, and was once "named" (suspended) by the Speaker while demanding a debate on India at Prime Minister's Question Time.[5]

In 1931 Brockway lost his seat and the following year he disaffiliated from the Labour Party along with the rest of the ILP. He stood unsuccessfully for the ILP in a 1934 West Ham by-election and in Norwich in the 1935 election. He also wrote the well-known book on the arms trade, The Bloody Traffic, published by Gollancz Ltd in 1934.

Spanish Civil War[edit]

With the rise of fascism in Spain, Fenner Brockway began to believe that it might be necessary to fight to preserve the peace in the long run. Despite his previous pacifist commitment, he resigned from War Resisters' International, explaining that he was "faced by this fact: If I were in Spain at this moment I should be fighting with the workers against the Fascists forces. I believe it to be the correct course to demand that the workers shall be provided with the arms which are being sent so freely by the Fascist powers to their enemies. I appreciate the attitude of the pacifists in Spain who, whilst wishing the workers success, feel that they must express their support in constructive social service alone. My difficulty about that attitude is that if anyone wishes the workers to be triumphant he cannot, in my view, refrain from doing whatever is necessary to enable that triumph to take place".[6]

He assisted in the recruitment of British volunteers to fight the fascist forces of Francisco Franco in Spain through the ILP Contingent. He sailed to Calais in Feb 1937 and was believed to have been destined for Spain.[7] Among those who went to Spain was Eric Blair (better known as George Orwell) and it is known that Fenner Brockway wrote a letter of recommendation for Blair to present to the ILP representatives in Barcelona. Following the Spanish Civil War, he advocated public understanding of the conflict. He wrote a number of articles about the conflict and was influential in getting Orwell's Homage to Catalonia published.[8]

Notwithstanding his support for British participation in the Second World War, he served as Chair of the Central Board for Conscientious Objectors throughout the war, and continued to serve as Chair until his death.[9]

After World War II[edit]

Following the war Fenner Brockway rejoined the Labour Party. In 1950 he won the House of Commons seat of Eton and Slough.

In 1951 he was one of the four founders of the charity War on Want, which fights global poverty. From the late 1950s he regularly proposed legislation in Parliament to end racial discrimination, only to be defeated each time. He strongly opposed the use or possession of nuclear weapons by any nation and was a founding member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.[citation needed]

House of Lords[edit]

He narrowly lost his seat in the House of Commons at the 1964 election, despite the national swing to Labour at that election, possibly because his strong views upset many of his constituents. He subsequently accepted a life peerage as The Baron Brockway, of Eton and Slough in the Royal County of Berkshire, and took a seat in the House of Lords.

Statue of Fenner Brockway in Red Lion Square near Grays Inn Road, London

Last years[edit]

Lord Brockway continued to campaign for world peace and was for several years the chairman of the Movement for Colonial Freedom. Other important posts held by him include the Presidency of the British Council for Peace in Vietnam, and membership of the Advisory Council of the British Humanist Association.[citation needed] The World Disarmament Campaign was founded by Brockway in 1979 to work for the implementation of the policies agreed at the 1978 Special Session on Disarmament of the UN General Assembly.[10]

The Baron Brockway died on 28 April 1988, aged 99. He was some six months shy of his centenary.[8]

Writings[edit]

While he was in prison, Brockway met the prominent peace activist Stephen Henry Hobhouse, and in 1922 they co-authored English prisons to-day: being the report of the Prison system enquiry committee, a devastating critique of the English prison system which resulted in a wave of prison reform which has continued to this day.[11] Brockway wrote over twenty other books on politics and four volumes of autobiography.[8][12][13]

  • 1915 The devil's business; a play and its justification
  • 1915 Is Britain blameless?, with letter from G. Bernard Shaw
  • 1916 Socialism for pacifists
  • 1918? All about the I.L.P.
  • 1919 The recruit: a play in one act
  • 1927 A week in India
  • 1928 A new way with crime
  • 1930 The Indian crisis
  • 1931 Hands off the railmen's wages!
  • 1932 Hungry England
  • 1934 Will Roosevelt succeed? A study of Fascist tendencies in America
  • 1934 The bloody traffic
  • 1937 The truth about Barcelona
  • 1938 Pacifism and the left wing
  • 1938 Workers' Front
  • 1940 Socialism can defeat Nazism: together with Who were the friends of fascism, with John McNair
  • 1942 The way out
  • 1942 Inside the left; thirty years of platform, press, prison and Parliament
  • 1942? The C.O. and the community
  • 1944 Death pays a dividend, with Frederic Mullally
  • 1946 German diary
  • 1946 Socialism over sixty years: the life of Jowett of Bradford (1864–1944)
  • 1949 Bermondsey story; the life of Alfred Salter
  • 1953? Why Mau Mau?: an analysis and a remedy
  • 1963 Outside the right; a sequel to 'Inside the left.', with George Bernard Shaw
  • 1963 African socialism
  • 1967 This shrinking explosive world: a study of race relations
  • 1973 The colonial revolution
  • 1977 Towards tomorrow: the autobiography of Fenner Brockway
  • 1980 Britain's first socialists: the Levellers, Agitators, and Diggers of the English Revolution
  • 1984 Bombs in Hyde Park?
  • 1986 98 not out

Tribute[edit]

His life and legacy are celebrated in his old constituency of Slough with the now annual FennerFest, a community arts and culture festival. A statue of Fenner Brockway stands at the entrance to Red Lion Square Park in Holborn, London; it was funded by many involved in the Commonwealth independence movements he supported and was expected to be unveiled after his death. However, he achieved such longevity that it was likely that the original Planning Permission to erect it would run out, causing problems to renew the process. It was decided to ask him to unveil it, he being one of the few private individuals, as opposed to Heads of State to do so. It was damaged (an arm was broken off) by a falling tree in the Great Storm of 1987. The refurbished and insured statue was installed shortly after his death.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Papers of Fenner Brockway". Janus. Cambridge University. 
  2. ^ Fenner Brockway during World War I
  3. ^ Lincolnshire Echo, 9 October 1950.
  4. ^ Fenner Brockway during World War I, ibid.
  5. ^ The Manchester Guardian 18 July 1930, page 11
  6. ^ Prasad, Devi, War is a Crime against Humanity: the story of War Resisters' International, London: War Resisters' International, 2005
  7. ^ National Archive; Spanish Civil War files
  8. ^ a b c Spartacus Educational: Fenner Brockway profile
  9. ^ Kramer, Ann, Conscientious Objectors of the Second World War, Barnsley, Pen & Sword Books, 2013
  10. ^ "World Disarmament Campaign". 
  11. ^ Sue Young Histories: Rosa and Stephen Hobhouse and Homeopathy
  12. ^ Fenner Brockway at WorldCat
  13. ^ Fenner Brockway at The Open University

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Ernest Edward Alexander
Member of Parliament for East Leyton
19291931
Succeeded by
Frederick Mills
Preceded by
Benn Levy
Member of Parliament for Eton and Slough
19501964
Succeeded by
Anthony Meyer
Political offices
Preceded by
James Maxton
Chairman of the Independent Labour Party
1931–1933
Succeeded by
James Maxton
Preceded by
John Paton
General Secretary of the Independent Labour Party
1933–1939
Succeeded by
John McNair
Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by
New position
Chair of War Resisters' International
1926–1934
Succeeded by
Arthur Ponsonby
Media offices
Preceded by
J. T. Mills
Editor of the Labour Leader
1912–1916
Succeeded by
Katharine Glasier
Preceded by
H. N. Brailsford
Editor of the New Leader
1926–1929
Succeeded by
John Paton
Preceded by
John Paton
Editor of the New Leader
1931–1946
Succeeded by
George Stone and
F. A. Ridley