Archibald Fenner Brockway, the son of Christian missionary, was born in Calcutta on 1st November 1888. While being educated at the School for the Sons of Missionaries at Blackheath he became interested in politics. He worked for the Liberal candidates for the 1905 London County Council elections.
After leaving school he worked at the offices of Quiver, a monthly magazine published by Cassells. He retained an interest in politics and in the 1906 General Election, worked as a Liberal sub-agent in Tunbridge Wells.
Brockway also began to read the work of left-wing writers such as William Morris, Robert Blatchford, George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells and Edward Carpenter. He also found work on the Daily News and in 1907 he was sent to interview James Keir Hardie. Brockway spent an hour listening to Hardie's views on a wide range of different subjects including his experiences as a child working in a colliery. He later recalled that he went to Hardie "as a Young Liberal and left him a Young Socialist".
Brockway joined the Social Democratic Federation, but left after a few months as a result of hearing a speech made by one of its leaders, Harry Quelch. Brockway transferred his allegiance to the Independent Labour Party (ILP). He also attended Fabian Society meetings and was particularly impressed by a lecture by George Bernard Shaw on How to Achieve the Superman.
As a staff reporter on the Christian Commonwealth, each week Brockway was allowed to interview a radical thinker. This enabled him to meet people such as William Anderson, Edward Carpenter, H. G. Wells, and George Bernard Shaw. Anderson was impressed with Brockway and invited him to become assistant editor of the ILP newspaper, The Labour Elector.
In 1913, the twenty-five year old Brockway was promoted to editor of the Labour Elector. Brockway was a pacifist and strongly opposed British involvement in the First World War. Initially this hurt circulation but within a year the sales of the Labour Elector had gone from 40,000 to 80,000.
When the First World War was declared Fenner Brockway and Clifford Allen formed the No-Conscription Fellowship (NCF), an organisation that encouraged men to refuse war service. The NCF required its members to "refuse from conscientious motives to bear arms because they consider human life to be sacred." As Martin Ceadel, the author of Pacifism in Britain 1914-1945 (1980) pointed out: "Though limiting itself to campaigning against conscription, the N.C.F.'s basis was explicitly pacifist rather than merely voluntarist.... In particular, it proved an efficient information and welfare service for all objectors; although its unresolved internal division over whether its function was to ensure respect for the pacifist conscience or to combat conscription by any means"
Other members of the NCF included Bertrand Russell, Philip Snowden, Robert Smillie, C. H. Norman, William Mellor, Arthur Ponsonby, Guy Aldred, Alfred Salter, Duncan Grant, Wilfred Wellock, Maude Royden, Max Plowman, John Clifford, Cyril Joad, Alfred Mason, Winnie Mason, Alice Wheeldon, William Wheeldon, John S. Clarke, Arthur McManus, Hettie Wheeldon, Storm Jameson and Duncan Grant.
In August 1915 the Labour Leader office in Manchester was raided and Brockway was charged with publishing seditious material. The government lost its case but soon afterwards bookshops in Manchester and London were raided and material produced by the Independent Labour Party were seized. So also was an anti-armament play that Brockway had written called The Devil's Business.
In 1916 Fenner Brockway and Clifford Allen were arrested for distributing a leaflet criticizing the introduction of conscription. When they refused to pay their fines, they were sentenced to two months in Pentonville Prison. Soon after being released, Brockway was re-arrested under the Military Service Act. As if he were a traitor, Brockway was held for one night in the Tower of London. He was later transferred to a dungeon at Chester Castle and finally served his sentence in Walton Prison in Liverpool. Brockway continued to write, and after meeting a soldier imprisoned for desertion, wrote an account of the Battle of Passchendaele. The article was discovered and Brockway was sentenced to six days on bread and water.
Fenner Brockway, like most other conscientious objectors, was not released from prison until six months after the First World War came to an end. Brockway had been replaced by Katharine Glasier as editor of the Labour Leader, and so he concentrated on his work as organizer of the India League (an organisation campaigning for Indian Independence) and chairman of the No More War Movement. During the 1926 General Strike Brockway became editor of the TUC newspaper, the British Worker.
In the 1929 General Election Brockway was the successful Labour Party candidate at East Leyton. Brockway opposed the formation of the National Government and as a result lost his seat in the 1931 General Election. The following year Brockway and the Independent Labour Party disaffiliated from the Labour Party.
With the arrival of Fascist dictators in Europe he began to have doubts about the political merits of pacifism. He was involved in organising resistance to Francisco Franco in Spain and Adolf Hitler in Germany. As he pointed out: "If I were in Spain at the moment, I should be fighting with the workers against the Fascist forces."
Brockway was a supporter of the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War and in the summer of 1937 visited Barcelona. He met George Orwell and reported that the "Communist Party newspapers contain wildest attacks on POUM as a Fascist organisation and demanding the death penalty. He also had discussions with Francisco Largo Caballero who told him that the "Communist Party is using every means to destroy its political opponents, not refraining from manipulating justice and power over the police."
Brockway's experience of the Spanish Civil War had an impact on his pacifist views: "There is no doubt that the society resulting from an anarchist victory (during the Spanish Civil War) would have far greater liberty and equality than the society resulting from a fascist victory. Thus I came to see that it is not the amount of violence used which determines good or evil results, but the ideas, the sense of human values, and above all the social forces behind its use. With this realisation, although my nature revolted against the killing of human beings just as did the nature of those Catalonian peasants, the fundamental basis of my old philosophy disappeared."
Brockway also supported Britain's involvement in the Second World War. He later wrote: "It was in all my nature opposed to war. I could never see myself killing anyone and had never held a weapon in my hands. But I saw that Hitler and Nazism had been mainly responsible for bringing the war and I could not contemplate their victory. In a sense, the Spanish Civil War settled this dilemma for me; I could no longer justify pacifism when there was a fascist threat."
After the war Fenner Brockway rejoined the Labour Party and in the 1950 General Election won at Eton & Slough. In the House of Commons Brockway was a member of the left-wing group Tribune Group led by Aneurin Bevan. Brockway disagreed with Bevan on the issue of nuclear weapons and in 1958 joined with Bertrand Russell, Victor Gollancz, J. B. Priestley, Canon John Collins and Michael Foot to form the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).
Brockway's left-wing views upset some of his constituents and he lost his seat in the 1964 General Election. Brockway accepted a life peerage and gave selective support to the Labour Government (1964-1970) in the House of Lords. During this period Brockway was also chairman of the Movement for Colonial Freedom. He continued to campaign for world peace and was president of the British Council for Peace in Vietnam and chairman of the World Disarmament Campaign (1979-88).
Fenner Brockway died on 28th April 1988, six months before his 100th birthday.