The Dove Flies East: Whitehall, Warsaw and the 1950 World Peace Congress

Article excerpt

Just after 2pm on Sunday 12 November 1950 a young marathon runner, Stan Horsham, was chased by scores of London police. In what was reportedly "an amazing scene" he was pursued through side streets from Piccadilly Circus to Leicester Square. He was part of a relay team that had started in Sofia and was to end in Sheffield--the site of the second World Peace Congress due to open the next day. He carried a "peace baton" bearing the now familiar emblem of a dove, designed recently by Pablo Picasso. (1) The police caught, arrested and charged Horsham but not before he passed the baton to a motor cyclist who, in mm, was hunted by two police cars through back streets. Some time later, Horsham was released by police and reappeared at Hyde Park from where, amid cheers of by-standers, he set off on a five mile run, peace baton aloft, out of London along the road to Sheffield. The next morning he returned to face a charge in court of "insulting behaviour" and participating in an unauthorised "political march". (2)

This seemingly inconsequential incident, entirely overlooked by the mainstream press, was emblematic of a fiercely fought contest between East and West during the early Cold War. In November 1950 there were two sets of combatants. On the one side was the British Peace Committee, backed by the powerful, Soviet-sponsored World Peace Council; on the other, the full resources of the State embodied by Clement Attlee's Labour government. This article will explore, primarily, the attempts by the World Peace Council to stage its second Congress in Sheffield and the efforts by the no.45, 18 November 1950, p. 1. The relay had commenced on 10 October; from Bulgaria it passed through Rumania, Hungary, Austria, Switzerland and France. Another group of "peace runners" went through Poland, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Holland and Belgium. See Sheffield Star, 16 October 1950; Challenge, vol. 11, no.42, 20 October 1950, p. 1. British government to thwart it. Despite extensive comment and assessment at the time, and despite its contemporary significance, this event has generally escaped scholarly attention. The only detailed historical account, a thirty page roneoed booklet by Bill Moore, is highly partisan and was published in 1990, well before the relevant archival files became available. (3) This article will draw on those recently-released files. Moore argued that the Congress was planned because the British people, just five years after the end of World War II, had a "profound yearning for peace that was not being satisfied by the Labour Government". He also argued that the government's tough response was due to the "McCarthyist atmosphere" in which, throughout the western world, there was "deliberate persecution" of all communists, progressives and "fellow travellers". (4) My argument is different. It will locate the events of 1950 in a wider Cold War context, as part of a struggle between government and peace movement for people's allegiance. That struggle revolved in part around a vexed question: with whom should the responsibility for preventing war and preserving peace reside--the fledgling United Nations or the embryonic World Peace Council?

Preparations

The genesis of the second World Peace Congress (WPC) was the inaugural meeting of the Communist Information Bureau, or Cominform, in September 1947. The Soviet representative, A. Zhdanov, postulated the "two camp" thesis: a world irreconcilably divided between the peace-loving progressive forces, championed by the Soviet Union, and the warmongering capitalist countries, spearheaded by the United States. This sharp dichotomy, between the defence of peace and the imperatives of war, underpinned Russian foreign policy for the next five years. In 1949 a Cominform resolution directed that peace "should now become the pivot of the entire activity of the Communist Parties". (5) Most Western communist parties faithfully responded and injected the "struggle for peace" into both their doctrines and their strategies. …