Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Freedom Of Movement Western Style

E.K.M. Yakpo

"All this elaborate make-believe is an attempt to trick decent people. It is an appeal by the wolves to get the sheep to demonstrate against the use of shepherds and sheep dogs... we have no power to prevent such a congress being held. Ours is a free society... there must, however, be a limit to our tolerance" - Mr Atlee, Prime Minister on the Sheffield Peace Congress 1950.
Recently, all but one of the delegates from Eastern Europe, to the Peace Conference in Britain, were refused entry visas to enter the country. Suppose the Soviet Union had done that to Western delegates to a Peace Conference in Moscow, one can imagine the headlines in the "gutter press". Yet this is not the first time that Britain has restricted the movement of delegates to a conference. Back in 1950 a number of delegates to another Peace Conference were turned back or detained. Among "the enemies of democracy" was Picasso.

The peace movement in the late forties was an alliance between traditional pacifists and communists. One month after the liberation of Paris, Picasso joined the Communist Party, mainly because it was the only party properly organised to fight the Nazis. The cause of peace appears in Picasso's work as a direct response to his personal involvement in the Spanish Civil War and the occupation of Paris.

For him the war against fascism had not ended in 1945. Franco was still in power in Spain and so for him, "painting is not done to decorate apartments, it is an instrument of war, for attack and defence against the enemy". Though Picasso hated public appearances his commitment to peace drove him to make his maiden speech at the first Congress of World Peace in Wroclaw, Poland in 1948, a passionate tribute to his friend Neruda and a protest against Franco.

In January 1949, Matise gave Picasso a white fantailed pigeon. The gift brought back Picasso's childhood memories of Spain and he made a lithograph of his new pet. He showed the lithograph to Louis Aragon who promptly adopted it as the symbol of peace and arranged for it to be used as the poster for the International Peace Congress held in Paris that April. The French press were beside themselves; they caricaturised Picasso's dove, decorated with the hammer and sickle, flying over the caption, "the dove that goes with a bang."

In August 1949, The Soviet Union tested its first atom bomb. In September 1949, the NATO was formed, adding a military alliance to the economic ties already established between America and Western Europe through the recovery programme launched by the Marshall Plan in 1947. Against this background the Stockholm Peace Congress opened in 1950. For this congress, Picasso made a new poster, not a dove this time but two hands presenting a bouqué of flowers.

The congress launched the Stockholm Peace Appeal Against Atomic Weapons, a petition calling for gradual disarmament and an end to the cold war. Picasso was one of the twelve Partisans of Peace selected to present the petition (signed by 500 million people), to the US Congress but the American authorities refused them all entry visas.


In June 1950, the Korean war broke out and Picasso drew a new peace dove for the next Peace Congress to be held in London, which was to be a prelude to the main congress to be held in Sheffield in November of the same year. On 3rd November, 1950 the Daily Mirror published the full text of the speech that the Prime Minister Mr. Atlee had made, two days previously to the Foreign Press Association. The headline ran: "Atlee's Exposure, in Full: The Great Red Peace Lie." In the next ten days 1,720 delegates were to arrive for the Peace congress in Sheffield. Atlee claimed that 90 per cent of the permanent committee of the World Peace Movement were known communists or sympathisers.

Communists denials that they had not organised the Congress were a lie. Atlee then told a little story to show "it is part of their doctrine that lying is perfectly legitimate to further their cause."

He claimed that the duty of the Peace Movement was to encourage the evasion of military service by the youth of the US, Britain, France, Belgium and Yugoslavia, and that this had been stated in a Comintern directive published in September that year. He continued: "All this elaborate make believe is an attempt to trick decent honest people. It is an appeal by the wolves to get the sheep to demonstrate against the use of shepherds and sheep dogs... we have no power to prevent such a congress being held. Ours is a free society. . . all people enjoy the right of free speech... there must however be a reasonable limit to our tolerance ... we are not willing to throw wide our door to those who seek to come here to subvert our institutions, to seduce our fellow citizens We must, as all householders must, reserve the right to refuse admittance to those whom we have no desire to entertain."

He then turned to the Stockholm Appeal; "One word about the precious Stockholm Peace Appeal. It is of course artfully worded to appeal to the ordinary person who fears atomic warfare and does not appreciate the implications of what he is asked to sign. The Comintern dis likes atomic warfare, not from any humanitarian ideas, but because it feels that at present, the countries in which the Comintern has power, are not yet as strong as others."

The organisers responded by denying that the peace movement was dominated by communists but added that there could be no genuine peace movement without the participation of communists, and invited Atlee to attend the congress. The invitation was rejected as a publicity stunt.

For most newspapers. The lurid headlines read; "25 held at airport"; "65 turned back"; "40 Russians banned"; "Mexicans and Iranians all refused". The organisers had no idea who was going to be banned, and the Government refused to tell them in advance.

As the week progressed, the names of the banned "communists" began to appear, they included Dr. Joliot-Curie, Pablo Neruda, Louis Aragon, Paul Robeson, Shostakovich, the Italian painter Guttoso and the son of the Italian Prime Minister Dr. Enundi, the novelist Howard Fast, the author of the new German anthem Johannes Becker, the Soviet critic Ehrenburg. Among the Polish delegation expelled, were Warsaw's equivalent of the leader of the GLC, Chairman of the TUC and Poland's answer to T. S. Eliot, the poet Parandovski. Vincente Lombardo Toledano, vice chairman of the Federation of Trade Unions, was arrested in Havana, as he boarded a plane for England.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Fisher, was asked about his opinions, he declared "Though war is sinful, the freedom-loving nations might have to choose it as the only means of preserving world peace." The BBC announced: "Communism is to be slashingly attacked on the air." "Real Life spy Drama in Sheffield" ran the headline as Percy Sillitoe, head of the MI5 was in Sheffield, accompanied by American G-men, civil police from Germany and British secret agents.

Picasso arrived on November 11th and was immediately detained for questioning. All his friends were turned back but he was eventually let through. It became impossible to hold the congress and it was postponed. In the midst of all this an exhibition was organised for Picasso in London. George Strauss, the Labour Minister attended and was attacked by the Evening Standard: It is an odd thing that a British Minister should wish to honour Picasso... " The report said the exhibition sold lots of Picasso's paintings and concluded: “Picasso is a very wealthy man and out of the money he receives, he makes large donations to the communists".


On November 14th the Home Secretary gave the House a numerical statement of the visa applications he had received. Up to November 10th, 561 applications had been received of which 215 were refused. 196 delegates arrived without visas, 63 had been turned back. The Home Secretary said he valued the great British tradition of free speech and free assembly but he had to face up to "the kind of world we live in and the kind of people we have to deal with". About Picasso he said: "even distinguished artist and scientists can be most dangerous when they use their position to give undue weight to their political views". And yet in 1948 the British press had closely monitored official criticism in the Pravda, of Shostakovitch (whom Atlee banned), and other Russian composers, who were denounced as revisionist modernists in their compositions. Shostakovitch was then hailed as an artist fighting for freedom and against state censorship.

The Sheffield Congress coincided with the most crucial phase of the Korean War. It also coincided with the arrival of the first American atomic bombs on British soil, under the auspices of NATO. The war grew as allied forces went beyond the 38th parallel and threatened the Chinese border and the Chinese, alarmed, pushed them back to Seoul. On November 29th President Truman stated that the use of atomic bombs was under "active consideration". In 1951, Picasso painted "Massacre in Korea" robot soldiers machine gunning naked women and children. Picasso said it was a general indictment of war but the West saw it as a condemnation of the US.

After the shock treatment of the working of western democracy, the Sheffield Congress moved to Warsaw. Picasso was awarded the first peace prize, Guttuso the second. The Congress called for the restoration of the UN to its original purpose of ensuring peace by negotiation and agreement. It called for an international court to examine the record of the infamous Gen. McArthur.

In 1952 Picasso produced a third version of his peace dove for the Peace Congress in Vienna, and along with Matise, Leger, Aragon, Satre and Brecht, signed the Peace Petition. When peace finally came to Korea and negotiations began after the death of Stalin and the sacking of Gen. McArthur, the Communists built a great hall at Panmunjan to house the negotiations. On the front of the hall were three peace doves. The UN negotiators refused to enter the hall until Picasso's doves were removed.

Today nothing has changed and the hypocrisy and moral corruption of the West still lives with us. Those who are so fascinated by the Western concepts of freedom of speech and movement, that they have lost the ability to see behind the rhetoric are far more dangerous than an invasion army.

talking drums 1984-04-02 guinea sekou toure passes away - ghana the giwa executions