Coffin carried in peace protest

25 November 1969

On 15 November hundreds of thousands of demonstrators gathered in Washington DC in response to the call from the New Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, which is demanding a moratorium on the war.  The current issue of Guild Gazette reports on the protest in Liverpool organised at the same time:

A black coffin was carried by a group of demonstrators from London Road to the Pier Head where a vigil was held in protest at the war in Vietnam last Saturday week.

The demonstration, organised by the Merseyside Committee for Peace in Vietnam, was held in sympathy with the national moratorium on Vietnam happening in America at the same time.  Some American students were present, mostly from Lancaster University.

The scene at the American Consulate where the march ended

Two hundred demonstrators, encumbent [sic] with red banners, chanting ‘Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh’, “Victory to NLF’ and ‘Americans Out!’, marched through the city streets with the coffin inscribed on one side ‘2,000,000 South Vietnamese dead and on the other ‘40,000 American war dead’.

A large number of University students took part in the march, many of them from left wing societies, the Labour Society carrying their own banner. This caused a difference of opinion with the pacifists carrying the coffin who decided to disassociate themselves from the students and marched some yards behind them.

Escorted by police, the march moved peacefully down Lime Street in pouring rain, little note of the march being taken by local people out shopping apart from one man who shouted at the students: “I fought for the likes of you in the last war – a good dose of the army would do you some good.”

The march reached the Pier Head successfully where the coffin was placed at the foot of the Memorial to the War Dead and the marchers were then addressed by Mr Roger Lyons, an ex-deputy President of’ NUS, and a local trade union official.

He declared that “In Vietnam, the most imperialistic and technological power in the world is subjecting a helpless nation to torture,” and demanded the immediate withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam.

The demonstrators then moved off again to the American Consulate where the coffin was placed reverently upon its steps.

At one minute intervals, little black boxes were placed beside the coffin until there were 40 boxes containing 40,000 names of American war dead. Two wreaths were placed on the coffin, while some war poems were read out by students.

Unfortunately there was no member of the Consulate present in the building which was empty except for some police standing inside in case of any attempt to start a sit-in.

“We shall not be moved”  was sung by the marchers and then they dispersed, their protest made peacefully and effectively.

Socialist Society leaflet

Vietnam War Moratorium

In America today and tomorrow a quarter of a million people will march on the White House in Washington.  Their two-day protest is a call to end the war in Vietnam, a war which has cost the lives of countless US and Vietnamese soldiers and civilians, and destroyed towns and villages in North and South Vietnam.

Nixon remains intransigent; the war goes on.  There are still more soldiers in Vietnam than during Johnson’s administration.

The British government continues to acquiesce in support of this cruel war.  Like the protestors in America, we must condemn British complicity in Vietnam.

Support the Vietnam Moratorium.  Join the Northern demonstration at Islington Square, Saturday 11am.

March to the US Consulate, Pier Head

Socialist Society 14.11.69


Liverpool group support the VSC

29 October 1968

Guild Gazette’s lead story this week is Gerry Cordon’s report as a member of the Liverpool contingent that travelled down to the Vietnam Solidarity demonstration in London:

About one hundred and fifty students from Liverpool were among the 40,000-strong Vietnam demonstration in London on Sunday.

There were no arrests or injuries among the Liverpool contingent, which followed the official Vietnam Solidarity Campaign route, and not the Maoist breakaway march on the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square.

The main VSC march – from Charing Cross Embankment, via Fleet Street and Whitehall, to Hyde Park – passed off peacefully. Despite the dread forebodings of last week’s national press, the three-hour walk was as calm as an old CND march- even if the slogans were more violent. For the students involved it was a triumph: “The main demo was a roaring success,” said one.

It was at the Grosvenor Square breakaway where most of the clashes between police and demonstrators occurred. A core of about 700 militants- led by Maoists and the Essex Revolutionary Socialist Student Federation group-tried to break through the police cordon surrounding the US Embassy.

In the face of five lines of police backed up by two rows of mounted police this attempt failed. Trouble soon began as demonstrators threw fireworks, banners and bottles, as well as obscenities at the police.

The London School of Economics ran their own ambulance service, ferrying the injured back to LSE. ”We’ve had about three dozen cases back here, mainly head injuries”, said an LSE spokesman later. “They weren’t very serious, and we only had to send two cases on to hospital.”

At eight in the evening LSE was closing after 72 hours of student occupation. Cleaning was already in progress but students were ready to stop and talk about the day’s events. “After all the publicity, to have a peaceful demonstration – it’s just beautiful.”

Not all were as pleased; one said, “It was bad tactics to split the movement by going to Grosvenor Square”. Some militants were concerned in a different way: “What could we do at Grosvenor Square? Most people there were merely observers – there were only about seven hundred actively trying to get into the Embassy.

A demonstrator who covered his face in red paint is removed from the breakaway demonstration in Grosvenor Square. He was told off by police and given turpentine to remove the paint. On the main march there were no such incidents.

Even before the main march had started inter-factional squabbles had broken out. Maoists chanted, ”Main enemy-US Imperialism; main target-US Embassy”, but VSC stood firm and kept away. Their chant was, ”Dare to fight, dare to win, long live Ho Chi-Minh”- at least when they were feeling articulate. At other times it was merely “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi-Minh!”

The slogans were simple: the targets were obvious. The Daily Sketch, despite a brave effort to confuse the marchers by boarding over the exterior nameboard, was a target for scorn and abuse. The Express building, the Telegraph offices, Rhodesia House and Australia House were all picked on as “imperialist strongholds” worthy of a “Seig Heil” chant.

President Richard Davies was present on the march and spoke of the hypocrisy of NUS leadership in advising students to stay away. “How can they talk of opposition to the Vietnam war, and then in the same breath be so trite as to insinuate that an event such as this demo might jeopardise the grants campaign? I find this disgusting”.

The Liverpool protesters had had a fairly uneventful journey down, though there had been rumours that the police might delay coaches entering London. Police have powers to stop, search and detain a coach in these circumstances under the Prevention of Crimes Act.  Even before the main march had started inter-

In fact the coaches were searched at Hendon, but strict stewarding by the VSC meant that the police had no reason to confiscate anything – except, inexplicably, a reporter’s notepad and pen.

Don’t Demand – Occupy!

27 October 1968

Travelling down to London today for the second big anti-Vietnam war demonstration, the latest issue of Tariq Ali’s  Black Dwarf newspaper circulates on the coach. The front page carries, in large poster type,  just the words: “DON’T DEMAND – OCCUPY”.


The Black Dwarf was a political and cultural newspaper published between May 1968 and 1972 by a collective of socialists. Named after a radical 19th-century publication, the Black Dwarf asserted continuity with its predecessor by numbering its first issue “Vol 13 Number 1”. It quickly established itself as the house journal of the anti-Vietnam war movement and the wider New Left politics that was developing around it. Edited and published by Tariq Ali, then a prominent member of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign and a fiery orator. In 1970 the editorial board split between Leninist and non-Leninist factions, the former, including Ali and other members of the International Marxist Group, went on to found the Red Mole.

The front page of the first issue showed a photo of triumphant students in the Paris May events with the slogan: “WE SHALL FIGHT WE SHALL WIN: PARIS LONDON ROME BERLIN”.

The next issue’s cover announced: “STUDENTS – THE NEW REVOLUTIONARY VANGUARD”, a sentiment that caused apoplexy among old-guard Marxists.

Then came: “DON’T DEMAND – OCCUPY”. Earlier in the year, Hornsey College of Art had been occupied by its students – led, incidentally, by former Labour minister Kim Howells (currently and perhaps ironically chairman of Parliament’s Security and Intelligence Committee) – demanding participation and a more relevant curriculum. With the Black Dwarf’s enthusiastic encouragement, occupations followed at Colchester, Hull, Brighton, Coventry and the London School of Economics.

The paper was supposed to appear weekly, but seldom achieved this, partly because printers kept refusing to print it. Banned by many retailers like W H Smith, it depended upon voluntary street vendors for sales, and frequently ran out of money. Even so, for a while, it was a brilliant and effective mouthpiece for the rebellious youth of the day.

The editorial and production group included Ali, Clive Goodwin, Robin Fior, David Mercer, Mo Teitlebaum, Adrian Mitchell, Sheila Rowbotham, Sean Thompson, Roger Tyrrell and Fred Halliday.

‘We are all foreign scum’

26 October 1968

Tomorrow the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign’s demonstration against the Vietnam war is due to take place in London.  Many coachloads of protesters are travelling down from Liverpool.  Tory politicians and the right-wing press have stoked up an apocalyptic atmosphere in advance of the demonstration, one strand of which has been hysteria about foreign agitators, such as ‘Danny the Red’  (Daniel Cohn-Bendit).

As a consequence, a chant which has spread like wildfire amongst protestors is ‘We are all foreign scum’ (see poster from London Poster Workshop, above). This extract from Hansard’s record of a debate in the House of Commons three days ago pinpoints the reference: in a speech by Conservative MP Tom Iremonger on his proposal to amend the 1936 Public Order Act in the light of recent student protests:

Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)

I beg to move, “That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Public Order Act 1936 so as to provide for the identification, imprisonment and subsequent deportation of persons other than Her Majesty’s subjects and of alien militant agitators taking part in, or conspiring in the preparation of, lawful public demonstrations.” The object of my proposed Bill is to limit to the people of this country, to Her Majesty’s subjects, the right of lawful public demonstration in this country. The Bill would make aliens who conspire in the preparation of such demonstrations or take part in them liable to prosecution and, on conviction, imprisonment and deportation.

The Bill would not take away from aliens the right of political asylum here. It would take away no right from any British subject. The right to organise lawful demonstrations would not be curtailed. Indeed, it would be protected from the hostility which it attracts from the public at present because of the presence at lawful demonstrations of alien militant agitators.

I give an example which was reported in Hansard on 4th April. It is a description by the officer in command of the police of what happened at the end of the demonstration in Trafalgar Square on 17th March, when the demonstrators had moved off to attack the United States Embassy in Grosvenor Square.

The officer in charge stated: “The German contingent were particularly militant at this stage and occasionally halted in the roadway until there was a clear space ahead, then, holding their banner poles horizontally with each man in the front rank gripping a pole with both hands, they ran forward in step chanting ‘Seig heil’ “.

The report of the police officer—[An Hon Member: “A liar.”]—which I am now quoting was quoted to the House by the Under-Secretary for the Home Department and it is in the Hansard from which I am quoting. Having made that report about the Germans marching forward in step chanting “Sieg heil”, the police officer was not called a liar by the Minister at any time. The report goes on:

“Both footways in Regent Street were crowded with pedestrians in an attempt to get out of the way, many being obviously cowed.”  I have always regarded it as one of the chief glories of the House that we should see to it that the people whom we represent are not cowed on a Sunday afternoon in Regent Street, or anywhere else, ever, by militant German contingents running forward in step and chanting, “Sieg heil”.

The people whom we represent are prepared to put up with a lot from their fellow countrymen, though their tolerance is now being stretched to the limit. The British people are fed up with being trampled underfoot by foreign scum. [Hon Members: “Shame.”] The House would do well to recognise the seething resentment and anger of the people whom we represent at being offered as a sacrifice to alien militant agitators with no true cause.

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)

He is trying to create trouble on Sunday.

Mr. Iremonger

I say with no true cause because however hard one tries to discern a true cause or a noble ideal which may be said to inspire the alien element in such demonstrations as that planned for Sunday, it is very difficult to find it.

The chairman of the March 17th Ad Hoc Committee [Tariq Ali] which organised the riot in Grosvenor Square wrote to The Times on 21st March boasting that his next riot would be even bigger, while claiming that he was not actively encouraging and planning the use of violence. That same chairman is the editor of a fortnightly publication [Black Dwarf], the current issue of which devotes some space to the organisation and preparation of next Sunday’s demonstration.

The editorial, on page 2, is headed: “Students must make revolution”.” The “Diary of Events”, on page 4, gives the editor’s programme of visits to various universities manifestly in connection with organising this demonstration, and there is no harm in that. This publication at this time may not unfairly be cited as the fountain of inspiration which moves alien militant agitators to come to this country, as the editor puts it, “to make revolution”; those are his words.

What is the message? On page 5 of the publication we have it. It is described by the editor as the answer made by “an organiser” of the Columbia (United States) University “rebellion” of students, to the charge made against him of nihilism. The answer is encapsulated in one sentence from the text which follows and that one sentence is extracted by the editor and printed as the headline in anticipation of Sunday’s demonstration. It reads: “Up against the wall, mother fucker. This is a stick-up’.” Some might criticise the language as being rather callow and immature, but the House and those with responsibility for the security and well-being of decent, quiet-living constituents must criticise the message itself in substance as nothing but destructive aggression.

If this is the quality of the revolutionary leadership specifically imported from abroad to cow Londoners on Sunday—[Interruption.] I am quoting the actual text of the publication which constitutes an invitation to these people to come here and make revolution. If this is the quality of the agitators who are being specifically invited here on Sunday for this purpose, I put it to the House that this is one of the imports which this  country might just manage to do without. But if we are to have such imports […] if these are the imports which are being invited, they are imports that we could do without, and that people from America or Germany, or wherever it may be, who try to provoke our constables because we show them a tolerance which they would not show to others if they had the revolution which they want, should not be allowed to come here for this purpose.

I therefore ask leave for the Bill to be introduced so that the liberties which we properly defend for our own people should not be abused and brought into disrepute by others brought into this country specifically for the purpose of provoking the police and causing public destruction. The Bill could easily be got through all its stages if the Government had a mind to allow it before we rose on Prorogation.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

The hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) has advanced an absolutely monstrous proposition. I can well understand that he should have done so in the form of a Ten-Minute Rule Bill, because that was the only way in which he could get away with a speech such as that to which we have just listened. It would be almost too ridiculous for the House to pay any attention to the hon. Gentleman’s totalitarian theories, except that silence might be misconstrued as approval, and that is why I intervene to ask the House to oppose the Motion for leave to introduce the Bill.

The only countries which have legislation of this character are the Communist or Fascist dictatorships, and I should like to quote two short examples. One is that of a young schoolboy, Stuart Taylor, who was arrested in Spain while on holiday there after being alleged to have shouted the word “Liberty” during a political demonstration. For this he spent two weeks in a smelly and uncomfortable Spanish prison before being bailed out by his parents at very heavy cost to themselves.

The other example is that of War Resisters’ International, who went to Moscow recently to protest against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Two young people, Miss Vicki Rovere and Andrew Papworth, were deported for the offence of giving out leaflets there.

They were returned to the United Kingdom without having suffered any punishment of imprisonment, such as the hon. Gentleman is suggesting in his proposed Bill. These two examples, which could be paralleled by many others, show that only in dictatorships, under Communist or Fascist control, is this type of legislation permitted.

It may be convenient for the hon. Gentleman that Sir Oswald Mosley is in London at this moment. The hon. Gentleman might be able to take his advice on how demonstrations could be controlled—a theme on which Sir Oswald has expressed himself somewhat forcibly in this morning’s papers—by treatment that would be more appropriate to Nazi Germany in 1936 than Britain in 1968.

My second point is that the hon. Gentleman’s Bill, as I understand it, would be a contravention of at least two of the Articles in the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 10(1) provides that everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. Article 11(1) provides that everyone has the right and freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others. We could not pass this Motion without committing a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, which Mr. Harold Macmillan once described as the prior 1295 condition without which our society will fail.

Thirdly, the Bill would be anomalous, because it refers to subjects of Her Majesty the Queen. That would mean that citizens of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ceylon, Sierre Leone, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Tanzania, Mauritius, The Gambia, Malta, Guyana and Barbados could come here and legitimately take part in these demonstrations, whereas citizens, for example, of Nigeria and Pakistan, which are republics, could not.

Fourthly, I would point out that the Home Secretary already has power to deport aliens who have been in Great Britain for less than two years, without any right of appeal to the Metropolitan Chief Magistrate, and that even where an alien has been here for two years he can be deported without such an appeal if the security of the State is threatened. Commonwealth immigrants can also be deported within a period of five years if they are convicted of an offence punishable by imprisonment.

My next point is that the hon. Gentleman’s Bill would seek to make the preparation of a demonstration an offence in itself. I always thought that if, under our law, an action was in itself lawful, then it could not be deemed to be a conspiracy to organise it. The hon. Gentleman is, therefore, committing a fundamental breach of our law.

The Home Secretary already has power to stop the entry of aliens or citizens from the Commonwealth where he believes it is in the public interest for him to do so. It is quite reasonable for him to refuse entry in cases where persons have been convicted of offences involving violence during public demonstrations. That is a safeguard which the hon. Gentleman has neglected. No doubt inadvertently, by seeking to introduce his Bill at this moment, the hon. Gentleman is encouraging the very violence on 27th October which he purports to be trying to prevent. The more discussion there is of repressive measures being taken against lawful demonstrations, the more likely it is that unlawful action will result. So far, I am happy to say, both organisers and the police have taken a responsible line, and I very much hope that 27th October will pass off without any violence at all.

I deplore violence as much as any hon. Member and I would appeal to editors of newspapers, and producers of television programmes, to listen more closely when peaceful protests are made, so that people do not say that the only way they have of getting the attention of Governments is by organising demonstrations which end with violence.

If the Bill were allowed to go through the House of Commons unchallenged it would be the greatest affront to civil liberties in this House for many years. It would be an unsightly stain on the reputation and honour of this House, which has always, under every Government of whatever complexion, upheld the principles of freedom and justice.

I hope that the Motion will be rejected by an overwhelming majority so that the hon. Gentleman will be made aware of the repugnance and shame that we feel at his monstrous suggestion.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 62, Noes 159.

Liverpool students in riot

19 March 1968

Today, Guild Gazette reports on last week’s big Vietnam demonstration in London, and the involvement of students from Liverpool University:

40 students from Liverpool University went down to London last Sunday to join a crowd, estimated by one policeman at 25,000, to protest against the Vietnam war and in support of the NLF.

The fun started even before they reached London, when the coach in which they were travelling was searched by police on the look-out for petrol bombs and other weapons.  Nothing was found, however, and the coach was allowed to proceed.

The demonstration was preceded by a rally in Trafalgar Square, and a march along Charing Cross Road to Grosvenor Square.  On the march the police several times tried to separate the section in which the Liverpool contingent were marching from the rest.  But pressure of numbers could not be resisted, and the Liverpool banners surged on triumphant.

At the demonstration itself, members of the Liverpool group helped rescue several arrested demonstrators, but not without loss to themselves.  One student was kicked in the stomach by a police horse and was later taken to hospital.

Nearly all the universities in the country were represented, although some were depleted after having their coaches searched.  In some cases marbles, pepper and imitation blood were found.

This was the report in the Guardian yesterday, 18 March:

300 arrested after Vietnam protest

Britain’s biggest anti-Vietnam war demonstration ended in London yesterday with an estimated 300 arrests; 86 people were treated for injuries, and 50, including 25 policemen, one with a serious spine injury, were taken to hospital. Demonstrators engaged police – mounted and on foot – in a protracted battle throwing stones, firecrackers, and smoke bombs. Plastic blood added a touch of vicarious brutality.

It was only after considerable provocation that police tempers began to fray and truncheons started to be used. The demonstrators seemed determined to stay until they had provoked a violent response of some sort, and this intention became paramount once they entered Grosvenor Square.

Later Commander John Lawlor, in charge of the police covering the demonstration, said: “The organisers had no control over their supporters and as a result the agreed arrangements were not carried out. The demonstration degenerated into a disorderly rabble.”

After marching from Trafalgar Square with Vanessa Redgrave, among others, at their head, thousands of young people burst into the gardens in front of the American Embassy. After clashes lasting more than an hour, the demonstrators were forced back by policemen. Small groups of demonstrators made for the Dorchester and Hilton hotels but did not succeed in getting in.

Mr Peter Jackson, Labour MP for High Peak, said last night that he would put down a question in the House of Commons today about “unnecessary violence” by police; especially the use of mounted police. Earlier members of the Monday Club, including Mr Patrick Wall, MP, and Mr John Biggs-Davidson, MP, had handed in letters expressing support to the United States and South Vietnamese embassies.

Mr David Bruce, the American Ambassador, issued a statement in which he thanked the police. “We are most grateful for the magnificent way the police handled the attack on the embassy.”

More than 1,000 police were waiting for the demonstrators in Grosvenor Square. They gathered in front of the Embassy while diagonal lines stood shoulder to shoulder to cordon off the corners of the square closest to the building.

About 2,000 spectators had gathered at the corners of the square to wait for the demonstrators, among them a few hundred Conservatives and Monday Club supporters who shouted such slogans as “Bomb, bomb the Vietcong” and “Treason” when scattered knots of anarchists leading the procession marched past them.