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Henry Usborne (January 16, 1909 – March 16, 1996) World Citizen Activist

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Democracy, Human Rights, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on January 16, 2021 at 6:42 PM

By René Wadlow

Henry Usborne was a British Member of Parliament (MP) elected in the Labour Party landslide in 1945. He was re-elected in 1950. He was an engineer and Birmingham businessman yet a socialist. Born in India, he always had a broad view of world politics. He was concerned that the United Nations (UN) whose Charter had been signed in June 1945 before the use of the atomic bombs had the same weaknesses as the League of Nations. Soon after his election, he spoke in Parliament for the UN to have the authority to enforce its decisions, an authority which the League of Nations lacked. He spoke out for a code of human rights and for an active world bank.

The early years of the UN were colored by the growing tensions between the USA and the USSR – the start of the Cold War. There were deep disagreements over the future of Germany. Non-official contacts between English and Soviets became more difficult. Proposals for international control of atomic energy were refused or not acted upon within the UN.

Thus Usborne, while still favorable to the efforts of the UN. felt that more popular support for a stronger UN was needed. He was influenced by the experience of the 1934 Peace Ballot which had been organized by the British League of Nations Association. Voters in this non-official vote were asked if they were in support of Britain remaining in the League of Nations. Over 11 million votes were cast with some 10 million in favor of remaining in the League. It is likely that those who wanted out did not bother to vote. Nevertheless, the 1934 Peace Ballot showed strong popular support for the League.

Usborne played a key role in 1946 in the creation by world citizens and world federalists from Western Europe and the USA in the creation in a meeting in Luxembourg of the Movement for a World Federal Government. With these new contacts he envisaged a vote in the USA and much of Western Europe to elect delegates to a Peoples’ World Convention which would write a constitution for a stronger world institution. He proposed that there be one delegate per million population of each State participating. He did not envisage that the USSR and its allies would participate, but he hoped that India would as Jawaharlal Nehru had played a key role in developing support for the United Nations. (1)

In October 1947 he went on a speaking tour of the USA. His ideas were widely understood as they followed somewhat the pattern of the United States (U. S.) Constitutional Convention. The delegates had originally been chosen to develop amendments to the existing Articles of Confederation. They set aside their mandate to draft a totally other basis of union among the states which became the U. S. Constitution. Understanding did not necessarily mean support; yet a fairly large number of organizations were willing to consider the idea.

However, in June 1950, war was started in Korea. Usborne and many others were worried that this was the start of the Third World War. Usborne as many other world citizens turned their activities toward the need for a settlement with the USSR and forms of arms control if there was no possibility for disarmament. The idea of the creation of an alternative world institution stronger than the UN was largely set aside. The focus became on strengthening the UN by finding programs in which the USSR and the USA could participate such as some of the early proposals for UN technical assistance programs. (2)

Usborne, as other world citizens, put an emphasis on developing a sense of world citizenship and a loyalty to all of humanity without spelling out the institutional structures such world citizenship should take. At the end of his second term in Parliament, he left party politics but remained an active world citizen always willing to share his convictions.

Notes

(1) See Manu Bhagavan. The Peacemakers: India and the Quest for One World (New Delhi: HarperCollins India, 2012)

(2) See Stringfellow Barr, Citizens of the World (New York: Doubleday and Company, 1952)

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

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