Green CND, the Molesworth Peace Camp and the Green Village
By the mid 70's Movement for Survival and PEOPLE had merged and become The Ecology Party. The change of name was accompanied with a shift of emphasis from coalition building and the creation of a broad movement, towards more of a focus on building a conventional political party.
In the late 70's after the original founders stepped back from their national roles there was some tension between those who still believed that there should be a focus on coordinating a movement and others who held that a strong party could become a 'vanguard' that the rest of the presumed movement would follow.
In the event the vanguardists carried the day and the Ecology Party started to focus more and more on pursuing electoral success. This however, did not preclude engaging with non-violent direct action and other forms of non-electoral activity.
One of the strongest early examples of this was the creation of Ecology Party CND (later Green CND) as a wing of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament which had been active since 1958. During the late 60's and early 70's CND had become smaller as the focus of the peace movement shifted to the Vietnam war. In 1979/80 CND underwent a renaissance as a result of increased cold war tensions and the announcement of the intention to deploy US nuclear ground launched cruise missiles (GLCM) at two bases (Greenham and Molesworth) in the UK. Ecology/Green CND was formed as a specialist section of CND "which aims to build links with the wider Green movement”.
Many of those involved were Ecology Party members. In 1983 "Embrace the Earth, A Green View of Peace" was published (download PDF here). This made explicit the links between nuclear weapons, 'civil' nuclear power, the permanent arms economy, the pursuit of growth and the limits to growth, the politics of peace, the need for a holistic approach to peace and the wider green movement.
The Greenham Common Peace Camp had been established in September 1981 by a Welsh group "Women for Life on Earth". In December 1981 a Quaker group "The Fellowship of Reconciliation" and Angela Needham, Jean Hutchinson and others established a peace camp at Molesworth. During 1982 and 1983 blockades and mass protests at Greenham attracted significant attention, meanwhile the camp at Molesworth slowly evolved, being evicted and reforming in 1983.
In August 1984 the annual Green Gathering (formerly called the Ecology Party Summer Gathering) was held at Molesworth. It occupied part of the 600 acre base (the previous camp had been outside the perimeter). Part of the land was ploughed up and wheat planted to be sent to Eritrea where a famine was causing mass starvation. (This was before the mass media attention on the situation caused my Michael Burk’s television report). Under the slogan "Bread Not Bombs", a Harvest for Peace was held and a small quantity of wheat was produced and sent to Eritrea.
The Green Gathering had grown into a Green Village, and then into The Rainbow Fields Village with about 100 people living on the base in tents and vans. Winter 1984/85 was an intense period at the camp as links were forged and the politics of peace debated and refined. The Molesworth village had become an important link in a Europe-wide network of centres for non-violent direct action in opposition to NATO plans to deploy Pershing II and GLCM missiles. One aim of occupation of the site was to goad the Conservative government using a Ghandian strategy. Village residents (at least the more political ones..) wanted to provoke an eviction, ideally a exaggerated one, by just occupying the land, sitting it out all winter in freezing temperatures, and by organising a large demonstration for the following Easter, provoking an overreaction by the Ministry of Defence and thereby gaining publicity for the anti-nuclear cause. In spite of deliberately provocative activity by camp residents, including numerous trespasses onto the station, there was little in the way of direct confrontation between protesters the authorities. There were some arrests for obstruction of surveyors but otherwise no direct action. The base was largely empty at this stage.
In many ways the Molesworth camp was highly successful - not only did it delay the introduction of Cruise, to the extent that it was becoming widely recognised as pointless by the time it was finally operation, but in the spirt of the early founders of the UK green movement, it did significant work in forging links between diverse parts of the Green movement, both within the UK and internationally. The main point of the Molesworth occupation was to open a ‘second front’ in the campaign against Cruise, engage a wider base of support and show that the campaign was growing and not just limited to Greenham Common. In this it was highly successful.
On 6th February 1985 the Government finally intervened and deployed over 3000 troops from the Royal Engineers in a highly rehearsed action to evict the village from the base and erect a massive security fence around the base - Thatcher's Secretary of Defence Michael Hesseltine turned up by helicopter wearing a camouflage jacket for a ‘victory’ photo opportunity with the squaddies reminiscent of Thatcher's grandstanding visit to the Falklands in April 1983, but was dismayed to find the village still there, and the eviction ongoing, 12 hours after it had commenced.
The occupation was an excellent example of Ecology Party coalition building and NVDA in action. It was Ecology Party activists, working through the Green Collective and Green CND, who first organised the Green Gathering and then helped sustain and support the village until its eviction.
Ecology Party activists also came up with the strategy of opening the second front and provoking a massive over-reaction. This was done by putting plans for the Easter demo in place and setting up the CND Molesworth Pledge scheme whereby thousands of people pledged to come to Molesworth as soon as an eviction began. We knew Heseltine had to act before the weather improved and before the Easter demo, when hundreds more villagers would have joined us. He also knew it was impossible to police the 600 acre site without ongoing infiltration from peace campaigners. That was what lead to Heseltine’s plan to erect a fence around the entire perimeter in one night. And he could only do that with large numbers of troops. He had no alternative, and we knew it. He had to overreact. The combat jacket apparel was entirely his own idea. For us it was the icing on the cake. It made him look absurd, especially when contrasted with the picture the Observer published, of nuns praying at the fence.
Many will argue that this occupation, and the subsequent abandonment of Cruise, was the Green Party’s biggest single success in 43 years of existence. The Molesworth second front, and the spreading campaign, massively increased the pressure on Ronald Reagan to draw back from missile deployment. The following year he went against his advisors to agree the deal in Reykjavik, with Gorbachev, that stopped Cruise. It was, arguably, the key moment in slowing the Cold War arms race.
After the eviction the peace camp remained at the base outside the perimeter for some time. Many activists from the village became part of the traveller convoy which was hounded around the country by police and media before being destroyed in the infamous Battle of the Beanfield in midsummer 1985.