New Zealander, Ray Stewart played a key role in the World Peace Council in its most difficult of times, the early ’90s.
As a qualified accountant, Stewart was very valuable to a Party used to shifting sums of money into various front groups.
The SUP’s two major front groups in the late ’70s were the NZ Council for World Peace and the NZ/USSR Friendship Society, a suspected conduit for Soviet funding to the SUP.
In August 1980, Stewart organised the Party’s 5th Auck regional conference. According to Tribune of September the 8th; “The need to strengthen and broaden the peace movement in NZ so that it might play an important role in countering the drift towards war in the West was stressed time and again by delegates.”
Stewart followed up the advice and from 1980 to ’87 was a part time organisor for the NZCWP in Auckland. Around the same time, Stewart became National Treasurer for the NZ/USSR Society.
In February 1982 Stewart represented the Auckland branch of the NZCWP at a Wellington conference in which a peace movement co-ordinating committee was set up. Representatives of the 20 most active peace groups made a unanimous decision to form a “powerful national peace movement“. [Tribune, February 22, page 12].
Soon Stewart was spokesman for the Auckland Nuclear-Free Coalition.
In September 1983 Stewart was elected secretary of the Auckland region of the SUP at their annual conference.
At the 1983 NZCWP conference, Stewart reported on the recent Conference on Peace and Security in Asia and Pacific, held in Ulan Bator, Mongolia.
In April 1984 Stewart represented the NZCWP at a World Peace Council meeting in New Delhi, and to the Asian Peace Movements meeting on the 8th of the same month. Discussed was the role of the Non-Aligned Movement and New International Economic Order.
In August 1985, Stewart attended the Afro-Asian Peoples Solidarity Organisation (AAPSO) meeting on Asian Security in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
In April 1986 it was off to Sofia, Bulgaria, for the three-yearly World Peace Council session. “The struggle for people’s minds was seen as an area of key importance, Ray Stewart said in his report.”(to WPC). Tribune, May 86, page 10.
Ray Stewart seems to have impressed the WPC top brass, who clearly wanted him for bigger things.
On the 17th September 1986, SUP President, George Jackson, on behalf of the Auckland Regional Committee of the SUP wrote to Ray Stewart;
“This letter is to advise you that the Central Executive discussed your letter on !5.8.86 regarding the holding up of your nomination for the WPC Secretariat. The decision records that it has given unqualified support for the nomination of R Stewart who is held to be a comrade in good standing and holding an important position in the party, to the WPC secretariat,
This decision supports the reccommendation made by comrade Jackson to Ramesh Chandra which was subsequently endorsed by our Central Executive and again confirms our position. This has been conveyed to the Sec of the WPC Mr Chandra”
By late 1987 Ray Stewart was installed as Secretary of the WPC, based in Helsinki, Finland. I am not sure if this was after or before he participated in the WPC Bureau meeting in Auckland in October that year.
The job of running the Soviet Union’s most influential front organisation was a formidable one, especially as the WPC was already well in decline. The rot accelerated in 1989 when many of the WPC’s Eastern European mainstays underwent some changes of their own.
By early 1991, it was clear that the WPC was suffering major financial constraints. In the March 11, Tribune it was noted that “the Council [WPC] under Ray Stewart has cut the staff from 80 to 11 workers.”
Socialist academic Rob Prince, was US Secretary to the World Peace Council from 1986-1990. He has penned a very interesting article on Soviet funding of the WPC and Stewart’s role in the organisation.
From Rob Prince’s article in Peace Magazine December 1992 Following the Money Trail at the World Peace Council.
It is highly unlikely that when he visited Helsinki from Moscow in September of 1991, Oleg Kharkhardin, a Soviet Peace Committee (SPC) representative, did so to pick mushrooms.
If he arrived in the Finnish capital at a fine time weatherwise, it was a curious one politically. The Soviet Union had entered a transition period, just after the August 20 abortive coup attempt. The demise of the USSR would take place only 2 few months later.
Shortly before, at about the time that Kharkhardin re-emerged into a position of power; the SPC had somehow engineered granting the WPC a sizeable “one time financial gift” of unknown proportions-but believed to be at least $2 million
Kharkhardin tried to slip in and out of Helsinki, if not secretly, at least quietly. He’d come to replace his long-time nemesis and SPC bureaucratic competitor; Vladimir Oryol, in the latter’s post as Soviet Secretary to the WPC. This goal quickly achieved, he tried to assess the WPC’s financial position for the coming period in consultation with WPC Executive-Secretary Ray Stewart of New Zealand.
The state of the WPC which Kharkhardin discovered in Helsinki can only be described as bleak. If not for the “one-time” gift, placed into a fund managed by a small and still unknown group of confidants dose to both Kharkhardin and Ray Stewart, the WPC would simply collapse.
Apart from the interest payments the fund produced, the WPC had virtually no income. Hardly any of its supposedly 145 “member organizations” had paid their dues and the total paid subscriptions of the WPC’s two publications was less than 50 and not likely to increase. The WPC staff, cut from nearly 60 in the late 1980s to 4 or 5 now, would probably be shrunk down to Stewart himself.
Furthermore, the WPC’s President, Evangelos Maheras from Greece, was becoming increasingly irritated by the way the Helsinki office, and the organization as a whole, was being run. He resented being kept ignorant of the organization’s finances, a situation which made him look more like a figure-head than an active president.
“I have not a full knowledge of our economic situation” he wrote. He continued with what in any organization -other than the WPC-would have been a rather extraordinary revelation:
“I have read in the Liaison Office’s report (i.e. Stewart’s) that there is a fund deposited in the Bank, the interest from which provides an income for the WPC. I don’t know how this fund was created, how it functions and how long it will exist.” (WPC Executive Committee Minutes, Resolutions, Reports. Berlin, 8-9 February, 1992. Appendix 13.)
In November that year, Stewart was back in NZ attended meeting in Auckland on the proposal to establish an autonomous WPC region. Other attendees included Labour MPs, Sonja Davies and Graham Kelly (now High Commissioner to Canada)
In 1994, Ray Stewart left his WPC post to return to NZ. He purchased a small farmlet outside a North Island provincial centre and got a job doing accounts and answering phones for a local technology firm.
He has also been active in the local branch of the NZ Institute for International Affairs.
The WPC, under Orlando Fundora seems to be doing OK without him.