44. The 79 Group ,and beyond.

Reminded by recent separatists’ events in Catalonia, here is an echo of an earlier manifestation of left-wing nationalism nearer home in Scotland. The notion of progressive nationalism remains a contended issue on the Left with varying reductionist objections, unionist sentiments and dogmatic delusion in appointed leadership amongst the many hues of self-proclaimed socialists. [Text of 1979 article describing the far left in Scotland   Here ]

The 79 Group was a faction that sought to persuade the Scottish National Party to take an active left-wing stance, named after its year of formation, 1979. 1979 was a watershed year. It was firstly a year of crisis, not only for the SNP, but for Scottish nationalism and hopes for self-government in Scotland. On 28 March 1979, SNP votes helped bring down a minority Labour government in a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons. Under Margaret Thatcher’s leadership, the Tories went on to win the General Election. The SNP lost all but two seats in the election.   There are those who have a visceral hatred of the Scottish National Party and never forgave the SNP for voting with the Tories. Tribalism in politics is not restricted to the sectarian left.

The Scotland Act 1978 made provision for a referendum on devolution. Although the March 1979 referendum found a majority of those voting in favour (1,230,937 – around 77,000 more than those against). The referendum had a 64 per cent turnout, and therefore with 51.6 per cent voting yes, it only amounted to 32.9 per cent of the registered electorate. It was not enough to secure devolution in 1979 because of the Labour Party’s Scottish MP Robin Cook’s qualification clause in The Scotland Act. The Scottish parliament was eventually formed after another referendum in 1997.[i]

Gordon Wilson, a key figure in the SNP for decades, serving as assistant national secretary from 1963 to 1964, national secretary from 1964 to 1971 and executive vice-chairman between 1972 and 1973, took over the party’s leadership following the failed 1979 referendum on Scottish devolution.

One of the outcomes of the SNP’s decision vote against the government was the rise of a new generation of SNP politicians in the left-wing ’79 group’, a faction within the party. The idea for the 79 Group came from Rosie Cunningham, then assistant research officer for the SNP, and her brother Chris, during the devolution referendum in early 1979. The 79 Group, which included Alex Salmond, Rosie Cunningham and Margo MacDonald, attempted to pull the SNP further to the left. At the SNP national council meeting a few days after the result of the referendum, Margo MacDonald argued that because working-class Scots had supported devolution and middle-class Scots had opposed, the SNP , the 79 Group called on the SNP to target urban working-class voters as a radical alternative to the unionist Labour Party.

It seemed clear that the 79 Group’s aim of transforming the party was going to be a long, difficult one, however, opposition to the Thatcher-led Tories during the 1980s encouraged an equation of Scottish interests with left-wing politics. The 79 Group spent several years unsuccessfully arguing for more radical policies within the SNP. Its three guiding principles were nationalism, socialism and republicanism.

The following sketch draws heavily on the work of David Torrance, biographer of both Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond, who has chronicled the development of the 79 Group.

A group of eight SNP members who shared this opinion met on 10 March 1979. Before they could meet again, the SNP lost nine of its 11 seats in the 1979 general election; the poor result prompted a period of internal questioning by many SNP members about the direction the party should take. More than 30 attended a second meeting at the Belford Hotel in Edinburgh on 31 May which agreed to set up an “Interim Committee for Political Discussion”. This interim committee later became the 79 Group. … Three spokespeople were appointed, including Margo MacDonald and Alex Salmond. Stephen Maxwell became the group’s principal political theorist. (He authored the policy paper case for leftwing nationalism .)

They began producing campaign material in support of their policies, and standing for internal SNP posts. The established SNP wing, referred to as “traditionalists”, disliked the party appearing ideological. Winifred Ewing eventually formed the ‘Campaign for Nationalism in Scotland’ as a second internal SNP group to oppose the 79 Group. The party was riven by internal conflicts in the first four years of Wilson’s leadership over the emergence of the 79 Group that formulated a left-wing vision for the SNP and the ultranationalist Siol nan Gaidheal, described as “proto-fascist” by the party’s then leader, Gordon Wilson. The broad based membership were not committed to the establishment of a “socialist and republican Scotland”. At the 1979 SNP conference, 79 Group candidates were heavily defeated by those in the SNP who put achieving independence over all other policy considerations.

SCOTTISH RESISTANCE

The 79 Group were reinforced when in 1980, the former Labour MP and founder of the Scottish Labour Party (SLP), Jim Sillars, joined the SNP. The following year at the 1981 SNP conference, five members of the 79 Group were elected to the SNP National executive. It marked an increase in influence and, after a speech by Sillars, conference supported a motion calling for “a real Scottish resistance” including “political strikes and civil disobedience on a mass scale”. The new policy, dubbed “Scottish Resistance”, was unveiled in September 1981 with a logo consisting of figures with raised clenched fists. Sillars, who was elected as the SNP’s Executive Vice-Chairman for Policy, was put in charge of the campaign with the details planned by the Demonstrations Committee. He led the campaign on 16 October 1981 by breaking in, with five other 79 Group members, to the Royal High School in Edinburgh which had been converted to be the Scottish Assembly. The intention had been to symbolically read out a declaration on what the Scottish Assembly would have done to counter unemployment, but the participants were arrested before they had the chance, and a planned later mass demonstration was cancelled. Sillars was later fined for wilful damage by breaking a window to get in.

Radical symbolism, and rhetoric used exaggerated the political conversion to left and radical politics. The activities and political thrust of 79Group were presented as divisive and harmful by the SNP leadership. The 1982 conference of the SNP voted to ditch the civil disobedience campaign “Scottish Resistance” policy.

Gordon Wilson, the leader of the SNP at that time, warned delegates in the conference hall in Ayr, “I’m now convinced that the party will not recover its unity until all organised groups are banned,” he storms. “Those of us who put Scotland and the party above narrow personal or political obsession cannot and will not tolerate behaviour which is divisive and harmful.” [ii]

Wilson threatened to resign unless the conference passed a motion to proscribe all organised political groupings within the party passed by 308 to 188.

In light of the conference resolution, the 79 Group tried to circumvent the resolution and formed an interim committee as a “Scottish Socialist Society” outside of the SNP. The interim committee was nearly the same as the executive of the 79 Group. The National Executive declared that membership of this committee was incompatible with that of the SNP and moved to expel the leading 79 Group members. Alex Salmond, Kenny MacAskill, Stephen Maxwell, and others were expelled after unsuccessful appeals (later altered to suspensions that paved the way for their reinstatement). Roseanna Cunningham was not expelled, on the grounds that she was not a member of the interim committee. Margo MacDonald was not expelled but resigned from the SNP in protest. Other members of the 79 Group in party offices were left alone.

There was a diversity in this internal political opposition that lack a coherence to reshape the SNP. David Torrance noted, “the 79 Group suffered internal divisions of its own. A major point of disagreement was republicanism. Pushed by Rosie Cunningham and Gavin Kennedy, other members, such as Mr Salmond did not consider it a priority. Other social issue were treated similarly: a proposed opposition to a back-bench abortion bill at a 1980 meeting, the minutes record Mr Salmond querying the issue’s political relevance to the 79 Group.[iii] In terms of the party’s ideological outlook, the 79 Group’s impact was hard to detect, at least in rhetorical terms its analysis was evident during the referendum campaign. Over time, Salmond’s “socialism” softened to become “social democracy”. The group’s fervent Republicanism contrasts to Mr Salmond’s later support for the Queen. He pledged to keep the monarchy if there was a Yes vote for Scottish independence.

The SNP are to the left of Labour on many issues. This does not mean they are a socialist party; pragmatism has got the SNP this far. There is the absence in the struggle for independence of a wider ideological framework. The assertion of the rights of small nations can often fall to a romantic notion. The 79 Group did not recast the SNP as a radical left-wing alternative to Labour, it did make the Nationalist movement more politically professional and moderately left-of-centre competitor. Nowadays the SNP talks of “independence within Europe” (a position raised by Stephen Maxwell) and is proposing a social democratic anti-austerity agenda and is standing by its commitment to get rid of trident nuclear missiles. When the effect of the 79 Group is judged in an electoral context, the Group can be seen as central to the party’s mainstream, at least in terms of personalities. The group was eventually banned and its leading members were expelled in 1982. Its members were subsequently readmitted in the late 1980s and Salmond won the leadership contest in 1990. Many attained senior positions in the Scottish Government after 2007; former First Minister Alex Salmond (2007-2014) was a leading member of the group, as was Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish justice minister. Stewart Stevenson was transport minister and Roise Cunningham – the 79 Group’s original secretary –minister for the environment.

In November 2014, Nicola Sturgeon succeeded Alex Salmond as leader of the SNP after the previous month’s referendum result saw Scotland vote against becoming an independent country by 55.3% to 44.7%. On a turnout of 84.59%, some 1,617,989 [44.7%] voted YES, while reflecting the division within Scottish electorate, a majority 2,001,926 [55.3%] voted No to the question, “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

Pro-independence outside of the SNP

The SNP has seen a number of left and far left groupings that advocated independence and the question asked has been what would it take to ‘bring the pro-independence left together’? Projects to unite the pro-independence left in campaigns and organisations have, so far, flounder on the political contradictions between the consistent groups. Unlike in the broader-based SNP where politics was often subsume to the singular expression of independence sentiment, and any focus on what post-independent Scotland would represent remains a vague ambition, the political nature – and preferably republican and socialist – is contested within the more polemical pro-independence left groups. They are not interested in promoting a nominally ‘independent’ Scotland in which little or nothing has changed but merely exchanges the union jack for the saltire. Many of these groups have tried to work within the SNP, and like the 79 Group were unsuccessful in bringing about a transformation in the SNP that shaded red its tartan nationalist sentiments.ayecomrade

Formed in 1973, the Scottish Republican Socialist Clubs, based initially in Glasgow, predated the 79 Group with a similar mission to introduce socialism to the Scottish National Party (SNP) and grow support for Scottish independence among the left. Inspiration was drawn from the politics of Scottish Marxist, John Maclean and expressed support for James Connolly and Irish republicanism. There was a split the following year that resurrected the name of John Maclean’s Scottish Workers Republican Party. In 1976 most of the members of the SWRP joined former MP Jim Sillars’ Scottish Labour Party active between 1976–1981. When the SLP disband its members scattered; some re-joined the Labour Party, others chose to join the SNP, including both Sillars and Alex Neil, former UK Labour Party’s senior Scottish researcher.

After the expulsion of the 79 Group from the SNP, a substantial section of the SRSC split to form the Socialist Republican Socialist League. The other section of the Republican Clubs were instrumental in the formation of the Scottish Republican Socialist Party in 1982. In 1993 the SRSP created the Scottish Republican Forum.

Towards the end of the last century, the SRSP joined with the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) reforming as a cross-party movement in a small activist group, the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement. There was some dual membership with activists of both SRSM and the SNP. This came to an end in December 2004, when the SNP leadership designated the SRSM as a proscribed organisation.

The SNP national secretary Dr Alasdair Allan explained “Membership of this organisation [SRSM] has in the past not been viewed as inconsistent with membership of the SNP.However, as this organisation is now advertising itself as being affiliated to the Scottish Socialist Party, the NEC has deemed the SRSM to be a political party. Consequently, members are advised that membership of the SRSM will no longer be treated as consistent with membership of the SNP.” [iv]DSC_7987

The SRSM itself disengaged from the SSP in October 2006, when the SRSM announced that it was disaffiliating from the Scottish Socialist Party, citing unhappiness with unionist elements within the party and the failure of their third attempt to entrench a commitment to independence in the party constitution.

“…..However, the wider reason for our decision is the Party’s minimal activity on the national question. While there is no doubting the SSP’s unequivocal stance for a Scottish Socialist Republic that has been made clear in manifestoes, there is doubt within the SRSM about how the Party intends to carry it forward. We believe that our cause has been relegated behind a list of issues rather than made central to these issues. I do not mean to open up a long political argument. I merely intend to at least give you the courtesy of a reason. This was a majority decision. A minority of SRSM members, myself included, intend to stay in the Party as individual members. I trust that the SRSM’s status as a cross-party movement will mean that this should not pose a conflict.“[v]

February 1996 saw a coalition of left-wing groups come together in the Scottish Socialist Alliance in which the largest group was Scottish Militant Labour, previously part of a trotskyist group operating inside the UK Labour Party.

The fragmentation of the left was a historical legacy that saw different groups left of the Labour Party, existing with sectarian “divisions within divisions”, all working against each other. The success of Sheridan and SSP policy co-ordinator Alan McCombes, two of the founders of the SSA, was to unite most of the elements of the left under one banner. Scottish Militant Labour (CWI), formed the majority of the SSA and then SSP leadership, had once been firmly in the Left British unionist camp. However, in 1998 they changed their position. In 2001 a split in CWI breakaway, International Socialist Movement constituted the majority of the SSP leadership. Other UK Left forces represented in the SSP were the small Workers Unity Platform (WUP) (CPGB-Weekly Worker, Alliance for Workers Liberty and Revolutionary Democratic Group), and the larger Socialist Workers Party (SWP) who joined the SSP in 2003. (The SWP has since abandoned its unionist position with its continuation of the UK state to maintain working class solidarity and given its support to Scottish self-determination and independence.) Individual members of the Communist Party of Scotland, formed in 1992 when the CPGB disbanded, joined the SSA although there was no formal affiliation between the two organisations. This unity of the left highlights an obvious point: if the SNP were truly a “radical” left-wing force, none of the other parties would have room to exist.

The decision was taken to transform the SSA into a party to contest the first elections to the new Scottish Parliament, when, as the Scottish Socialist Party,Tommy Sheridan, then convener of the party, was elected in Glasgow. The period following that election saw sustained growth for the SSP, where it doubled in size in twelve months, and the RMT trade union affiliated to the party. In 2003, the SSP was buoyed by the election of five additional MSPs across Scotland. It lost all MSPs in the 2007 elections.

That the differences between the component organisations were retained with the SSP was clear following the forced departure of Sheridan, after a trial about his personal life where fellow executive members testified for the crown prosecution; group warfare spilled out into the public domain. The SSP began to unravel in the face of the media circus around the trial. Sheridan was associated with, for a short time, a new organisation, Solidarity that launched itself in 2006. One contested analysis of the debacle that followed was provided by the participant Republican Communist Network in its 2011 analysis, Beyond The SSP and SOLIDARITY – ‘Forgive and forget’ or ‘Listen, Learn and then move on’? [vi]

logoconnolly-commemoration-2016images

 

Founding members of the Scottish Socialist Party in 1998 , the far left Republican Communist Network, associated with Allan Armstrong who writes extensively on the subject of republican communism, produced a journal called Emancipation and Liberation. The Republican Communist Network (RCN), which is in the socialist republican and ‘internationalism from below’ traditions of James Connolly and John Maclean, were first constituted as a platform in the newly founded Scottish Socialist Alliance (SSA) in 1996.

It formally disaffiliated from the Scottish Socialist Party in 2012 explaining that in its judgement the SSP no longer united the majority of the Left in Scotland, taking the opportunity to work with majority of socialists, who by then were outside SSP (and Solidarity) ranks and that a new organisation would be needed to bring about such unity in the future. In that spirit RCN was an active participant in the non-party-political campaigning organisation, Radical Independence Campaign affiliating at its first conference in Glasgow in November 2012.  Its slogan was “Another Scotland is Possible.” It was active on issues of social justice, sustainability, democracy, equality and peace, and welcomed activists from all parties and none. RCN remained a small but consistent voice for left wing republican nationalism in the pro-independence movement. However in May 2016 RCN declared that it was no longer an interventionist political organisation, but would continue as a forum to encourage political debate amongst the Left.

Outside of the SNP, the pro-independence radical trend has continue to create new vehicles and movements, realigned activists into new (albeit temporary) relations. It was new small but youthful organisation – the International Socialist Group (ISG) (a breakaway from the SWP) – to take the initiative which brought the majority of the Left in Scotland together in the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) launched on November 2012.th-10

RCN observed that “RIC is a coalition that includes revolutionaries and non-socialist reformers. This is as how it should be in any genuine united front formed in a non-revolutionary situation. The non-socialists in RIC, e.g. from the SNP or the Greens, are openly organised independently outside RIC, as well as having individual members within RIC to put across their views. The RCN, SSP and SWP are affiliated to RIC, whilst Common Weal, which promotes Nordic-style social democratic politics, is also affiliated.”

Amongst the most recently RISE (representative of its values: Respect, Independence, Socialism and Environmentalism) have asserted a more ostentatiously left-wing agenda in favour of independence and in which Scotland’s lively arts scene plays an important part. Born from the Independence referendum, launched in August 2015, it again brings together an alliance of socialists, campaigners, trade unionists, community activists, cultural figures and academics. It presents itself as “Scotland’s Left Alliance”.rise

In October 2017, RISE issued an optimistic statement “unequivocal in its support for the independent republic of Catalonia”.

“RISE believes the international community must now recognise Catalonia as a sovereign and independent state. In particular, we call on the Scottish Government, the UK Government and the European Union to recognise Catalonia’s new independent state status based on the right of nations to self-determination.

“This vote was the only possible democratic response of the Catalan Parliament to the violent repression of the Spanish state of the 1 October referendum and its attempt to impose direct rule through article 155.

“All attempts by the Spanish state to destroy the independent republic of Catalonia must be resisted internationally. RISE will be participating in protests and other forms of solidarity to show that supporters of democracy across Europe and the world stand with, and will defend, the Catalan republic.”[vii]

 

In the 2014 Referendum debate the overwhelming majority of the Left in Scotland opted to give critical support to the ‘Yes’ campaign. The SSP was permitted (along with the Green Party) to join the official SNP front – ‘Yes Scotland’ but producing their own arguments in THE CASE FOR AN INDEPENDENT SOCIALIST SCOTLAND.

Sheridan, shunned by the SNP leadership, launch his own strongly Scottish nationalist ‘Hope over Fear’ road show. The small minority of the Left, who were in the ‘No’ campaign in Scotland, consisted of the Red Paper Collective (an alliance of Labour Lefts and the Communist Party of Britain), the Left populist, George Galloway, and the Glasgow South branch of the Left Unity Party. Both the SSP and the breakaway Solidarity led by its Tommy Sheridan opted to join the ‘Yes’ campaign.

When Scotland has voted against becoming an independent country by 55% to 45% it did not lay the question to rest. The murmur of another referendum remains as the SNP argues that it is strongly committed to giving Scotland a choice at the end of the Brexit process. In a speech given by Nicola Sturgeon at Bute House on Scotland’s future in March 2017, she laid out a near future where the Scottish Government would not introduce legislation for an independence referendum immediately, suggesting that at the end of Brexit negotiations the Scottish Government would set out its judgment on the best way forward – and on the precise timescale of the people of Scotland having a choice on their future.[viii]


 

ENDNOTES 

[i] On its return to power in 1997, Labour set out its plans for a Scottish Parliament and a referendum in September that year. 1,775,045 (74.3 per cent) voted in favour of a Scottish Parliament, with 614,400 (25.7 per cent) against; and 1,512,889 (63.5 per cent) supported giving the Parliament tax-varying powers, with 870,263 (36.5 per cent) against. The Scottish Parliament was established in 1999. It was a dozen years before the SNP could break labour’s hold and in the 2011 elections the SNP won a resounding victory.

[ii] David Torrance , SNP fall-out that saw Salmond expelled but put Party on new path .The Scotsman March 18 2009

[iii] David Torrance , SNP fall-out that saw Salmond expelled but put party on new path .The Scotsman March 18 2009

[iv] http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/snp-moves-to-expel-left-wing-republicans-1-1049445

[v] Letter to the SSP [National Secretary Pam Currie] from the SRSM [Gerry Cairns Convenor SRSM] October 29, 2006

[vi] http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/12/23/beyond-the-ssp-and-solidarity-forgive-and-forget-or-listen-learn-and-then-move-on/

[vii] http://www.rise.scot/blog/

[vii]https://www.snp.org/nicola_sturgeon_speech_scotland_s_referendum

RIC

Photo of Edinburgh RIC banner – Patricia Kirk and John Lanigan

 

Further reading

  • Torrance,‘The journey from the 79 Group to the modern SNP’, in G. Hassan (ed.), The modern SNP: from protest to reaction (Edinburgh, 2009), pp. 162-7.
  • Torrance, The Battle for Britain: Scotland and the Independence Referendum (London, 2013)
  • Maxwell, Arguing for Independence: Evidence, Risk and the Wicked issues (Edinburgh,2013)
  • Geoghegan, The People’s Referendum: Why Scotland will never be the same again (Edinburgh 2015)
  • Macwhirter, Disunited Kingdom: How Westminster Won A Referendum but Lost Scotland (Cargo Publishing 2014)
  • Pittock, The Road to Independence? Scotland Since the Sixties (London 2008)
  • Macdonell, Uncharted Territory: the story of Scottish Devolution 1999-2009 (London 2009)
  • Scott & I.Macleay,Britain’s Secret War: Tartan Terrorism and the Anglo-American State (Edinburgh, 1990)

 

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43. The Penny Drops

At the seaside there were machines where you dropped a penny in a slot at the top and it tumbled down between perspex sheets onto a flat moving shelf already filled with coins. The addition of another penny would push the sheet of coins forward on the shelf and (hopefully) dislodge the front mass of coins over a lip into the collection tray below the machine. Whether this was the origin of the phrase “the penny drops” is really immaterial, it is the implication of reward, of someone getting something that struck home in a conversation when visiting Dad. Now 83 and a socially conservative member of the labouring class, he worked in the scrap metal trade until industrial injury forced an early retirement approaching fifty. In the kitchen making lunch, he said out of the blue a basic economic truth observed, gleaned after a life time of reading, and often reflecting, the Daily Mail,

“The more I think about it, the more I see how the bosses live off their employees. They get paid for the work others do, and they get the rewards when things go wrong. I guess you’ve always realised that.”

Not withstanding that my own book-smarts understanding is well-known to my father his understanding has developed independently and late in life. However it is the lived experience that still provides the confirmation of the theoretical. When you know family members own economic situation whereby a widowed sister, working as a teachers’ classroom assistant, earns less than £10,000 a year – media talk of the low paid instantaneously has a human face. When a brother has a 38 hour standard week at just over £10 an hour, and the company pays time-and-a-half for 12 hours overtime to make-up a fifty hour working week on the factory floor, the reality of statistics about average wages is all too clear. I don’t mix with many earning above the average wage. The working poor is a term commonly heard in tv news reports, yet few of us see ourselves as that which is testimony to the vast gulf that exists in wealth distribution. And when another brother working in retail supply only has Sunday and Saturday afternoon off, that occupation can adversely affect health and social life is clearly etched in the juggling of family commitments and need for space.

Capital remains a social relation. It is personal, it dictates lives – in whatever rudimentary form the penny drops, it’s a lesson that should never be forgotten.

42. Independent radical black politics: looking at the BUFP & BLF

uk-black-powerThere is a history after Empire Windrush docking in 1948. Since then the involvement of black Britons in the assertion of their own equality in post-war Britain receives little recognition or acknowledgement. There is a rich vein to explore and acknowledge with the varied and complex history of self-organizing within different minority communities that have help shaped British society through expression of their political awareness, active democracy and involvement against the racism of state and society, raising the demands for equality and justice.

Even a narrow focus on any decade in recent British history brings to light a varied and complicated history of struggles for civil rights and justice to be respected in terms of family rights, immigration, employment, defence of communities from racist attacks and policing that was as vibrant and heroic as its American counterpart. The organisation of independent and emphatic opposition pointed to a disengagement and alienation away from existing channels within “the system”.

While the British media focused on the sensationalist and the individual in its coverage, promoting the “Spokesman”, presenting a leader to explain the complex social movement as with Tariq Ali and the anti-Vietnam war protest, there were self-seeking individuals long gone who could rise to the occasion : self-proclaimed leaders were clearly open to skilful media manipulators, self-publicists ever ready with a flamboyant soundbite for journalists, who made them their first ports of call for information on Black Power. This gave them a public profile that was entirely out of proportion to their influence in the black community and often led to their personal opinions being reported as the policies of their organisations. This of course, meant any discussion of the philosophy or stance on issues were through that distorted prism of that individual.

The focus here is introducing the organisational form that independent radical black politics was active in Britain. There are two organisational expressions of Independent radical black politics that reflect a drive for self-assertion, the Black Unity and Freedom Party and the Black Liberation Front, both born out of the same short-lived organisation with the deceptively old fashioned name of the Universal Coloured People’s Association.

UCPA was founded on 5 June 1967 at a meeting in Notting Hill, with seventy-plus at the founding meeting elected Nigerian playwright Obi Egbuna as their president and Roy Sawh as his second in command. At the founding of the Universal Coloured People’s Association (UCPA) in June 1967 it had a clear self-identification as a Black Power organisation – the UCPA’s newspaper was the Black Power Newsletter. Nigerian Obi Egbuna, president of the UCPA and soon founder of the Black Panther Movement (BPM), and Indian Ajoy Ghose, UCPA member, founder of the Malcolm X Montessori School. The UCPA developed in the wake of the visit of Trinidad-American activist Kwame Touré (Stokely Carmichael) speaking at the Dialectics of Liberation Conference in London[i]. Although British Black Power clearly drew inspiration from its American counterpart namesake and the struggles against imperialism, both in the countries from which its members had emigrated, and in Britain earlier in the twentieth century.

By September 1967 Sawh and his supporters had left to form a tiny splinter group. Seven months later, Egbuna He called the UCPA annual general meeting six months earlier than planned in April 1968, resigned as chairman, and founded the British Black Panther Movement, which advertised itself as a revolutionary socialist group. The U.K. Panthers aimed to spread what they termed “black consciousness” through meetings that showcased poetry, music, and film from the West Indies and West Africa.

It was intervention in CARD – Campaign Against Racial Discrimination – that drew publicity: media reports highlighted the role of Black radicals in an article headlined’ Six quit executive of anti-racialist body: “Maoist take-over” fear’ and The Times reported that the UCPA, ‘an organisation standing openly for Black Power’, had helped bring CARD to ‘crisis point.[ii]

It was the London organisations that had the most members and by far the greatest influence and impact reacting to the social and economic conditions that gave rise to black political radicalism in the 1960s and 1970s. Militant black politics was a reactive rather than an aggressive phenomenon, doctrinal rigidities that splintered the groups and eventually led to a divide between cultural nationalist organisations like the BLF and Marxist-Leninist groups like the BUFP and BPM, which balanced their focus on race to class. Like many Black Power organisations the BUFP was particularly inspired by Chinese Communism and Chairman Mao, yet never a part of the party building project that others engaged in. At the outset the BUFP used its official journal, Black Voice, to proclaim its ideology to be “Marxism-Leninism”. In 1990 it revised this to “Marxism-Leninism-Mao-Tsetung thought” and in 1997 changed it again to “Scientific Socialism”.

From the demise of the UCPA arose the two main trends of culturalism nationalism and Black radical left groups.

Socialist elements within the Universal Coloured Peoples Association unitedBUFP1971 with the South East London Black Parents’ Organisation Fasimbas, set up by George Campbell at the end of the 1960s .The Black Unity and Freedom Party held its first congress in London on 20 July 1970, deliberately selected as the commemorative day of the Cuban Revolution.

Former UCPA member George Joseph was elected its general secretary. Alrick (Ricky) Xavier Cambridge, Danny Morrell and Sonia Chang among others were involved in its foundation. In its early years the organisation had three branches, two in London and one in Manchester at the same addresses as the former UCPA rented offices. The BUFP was never a wealthy organisation and therefore lacked capital to invest in activities such as publishing. As well as street sales of Black Voice, the organisation relied on membership contributions and collections at its public meetings. It never paid its officials or members.

Former UCPA members would have been quite familiar with the BUFP’s discussion groups, demonstrations and pamphlet-producing activities and comfortable with new initiatives like summer Schools for black children. ‘We met regularly and we did a lot of campaigning, for example we did a campaign on the [1971] Immigration Act and we did various things with children – we used to have an annual Christmas party’, recalls Lewis, ‘We were also always involved in solidarity work with the African liberation Movements at the time because Angola and Guinea were Portuguese colonies, Ian Smith had declared UDI and there was an armed struggle for national liberation there. South Africa was under apartheid, so we were active participants in the South African liberation movements”‘.[iii]

The BUFP had never been the clandestine, underground organisation and it never contested elected seats either at national or local levels of the state. From the very start BUFF aimed to develop a Black revolutionary organisation; the first principle stated by the BUFP Manifesto is that it recognised ‘the class nature’ of British society; the second point was the recognition of class and class struggle, resulting in the revolutionary Leninist commitment to ‘the seizure of state power by the working class and the bringing about of socialism’.1992 BV cover

Distancing itself from what it viewed as reactionary Black Nationalism, therefore, the BUFP maintained class above racism as the primary source of oppression in society. What it did not do was belittle that impact racism had. In its activity it sought to address the inequality and damage wrought through racist oppression and practices upon the black communities. The first two points of the BUFP’s Manifesto made this explicitly clear. ‘We recognise the class nature of this society’, stated the first clause. ‘We recognise the necessity for class struggle and the absolute necessity for the seizure of state power by the working-class and the bringing about of socialism’ added the second.

As one-time member, Professor Harry Goulbourne, explained:

“The working classes had imbibed the racism of the capitalists; workers, organised or otherwise, had allowed themselves to become divided, seeing colour or race or culture as being more important than objective class interests. In Maoist terms, they had allowed secondary, non- antagonistic contradictions to over-ride the fundamental contradiction between capital and labour. This fundamental basis for organised opposition to, and resistance of, exploitation and the divide and rule tactics of capitalists, was seen to be frustrated and revolutionary action by white workers and their organisations was not to be expected in the foreseeable future.”  [iv]

What this was theoretically built upon was the notion of the effect upon the working class in an imperialist country. Lenin argued, following Frederick Engels, that an aristocracy of labour had emerged in West Europe. This meant that with the emergence of reformist social-democratic parties and trades unions, capitalists were able to gain the support of the working classes by offering non-essential reforms of capitalism. Union leaders played a crucial part in this process, because it is through them that the ‘deal’, or class collaboration, has been effected.

For the BUFP events in Britain, the Caribbean, Africa and elsewhere were properly to be understood in class terms. In colonial wars the notion was of ‘people’s’ struggle for national liberation as the first step towards emancipation from capitalism and imperialism. The group condemned the black bourgeoisie as ‘Uncle Toms’ as vehemently as it condemned capitalism and imperialism. The BUFP also sought more actively to work with white radical groups than most black groups did, not because they were white but because these groups shared or had similar ideological orientations as the group, that is to say, they placed the emphasis on class, not colour/race or gender.

Black workers were placed at the forefront of revolutionary politics in Britain. Given the history of white working class organisations which marginalised black workers’ interests, it was important for blacks to organise themselves autonomously. It was argued that they constituted the most exploited, the most marginalized and therefore the most class conscious element within the wider working classes. This view was also supported by the observation that where white liberals joined black organisations their superior resources usually result in whites controlling the agenda. Additionally, taking a principled stand to maintain its independence of thought and action, the BUFP was consistent in refusing to accept funding from national or local government departments, or charity foundations.BSWM 1989

BUFP sought to play a leading part to rebuild the Black movement, “to fight all attacks on our community by the State, racist organisations, institutions and individuals.” This includes the fight against the mis-education of black children   in state schools. This educationally subnormal (ESN) system, now replaced by special needs sections in schools was challenged by the Black community, hence BUFP launched the first Saturday school “to cater for the needs of our children”.

While most of the activities in which the BUFP engaged could be described as of a community welfare nature in Goulbourne’s account of the BUFP in the early 1970s, their community building work was guided by consistent and deeply committed political perspectives. Opposition to attacks upon the community were vigorously publicised through their paper, Black Voice, whether it was through localised campaigning or part of wider national mobilisations, throughout its existence BUFP members were active challenging racism, in its many incarnations, that affected black lives and communities in Britain.1981 Black Peoples Day of Action

Before the horrific attack at New Cross, a decade earlier the BUFP had campaigned around an attack at Sunderland Road in January 1971: 1971 Black Voice  three petrol bombs thrown into a black people’s party in a house in Sunderland Road, Ladywell, injuring 22l people, several of them seriously. Two white racists later jailed for the attack. In the week after the attack, eight members of the Black Unity and Freedom Party are arrested after being hassled by police on their way back from visiting the injured in Lewisham Hospital. This leads to a march by 150 people to Ladywell Police Station a few weeks later, and more arrests.

Attacks on members of the group by the police in the early 1970s led to several confrontations and locally celebrated court cases. The group’s support, for example, of the struggles of others such as the Irish against the 1971 Internment Act, or the trades unions’ demonstrations against the 1971 Industrial Relations Act, again led the BUFP into confrontation with the authorities. BUFP members were involved in numerous defence campaigns right up to the transformation of the organisation in 1999 as the African People’s Liberation Organisation (APLO).

The journal Black Voice, exposed evidence of police brutality towards the black community, and became integral in campaigns against these crimes. Their pamphlet ‘Who killed Aseta Simms?’ exposes the suspicious death of Aseta, who died at a Stoke Newington police station during the night of 13 May, 1971 in circumstances that the a doctor, apparently representing the police commission, who examined the body was reported to say that he could not ‘… say what was the cause of her death’[v]. She had bruises to her face and swelling to her brain ‘consistent with someone who had been beaten’, but the inquest into her death came to a quick conclusion: death by misadventure. The North London branch of the party led a campaign, involving publications, demonstrations, meetings, etc., to demand a public enquiry into the circumstances of Mrs Simms’ death.

According to its Wikepedia page[vi] , “even during its heyday in the early 1970s the BUFP was an extremely small organisation, never having more than about fifty paid-up members. For most of its history membership fluctuated between about 10 to 15. Its low point was in 1983, when following a split, it dwindled to just three regular members for a few months. However, its members were always very highly motivated, studious and committed activists.”

Members were particularly visible in support of public black community protest campaigns and demonstrations involving alleged ‘police brutality’ and other allegations of “racially motivated” violence such as the New Cross Fire march in 1981.1981 BUFP New Cross Massacre  Therefore, anyone attending community demonstrations in support of, for example, Cherry Groce (shot by police), Joy Gardner (died during a violent deportation) or Colin Roach (shot inside a police station) would certainly hear a BUFP member lecturing the assembled crowd about the ills of capitalism and its links to racism through a megaphone.

The BUFP was also ahead of the rest of the radical left as it visibly pay more attention to the issue of sexism and the role of women in the movement. Criticism of the prevailing sexist attitudes expressed in the Black Power movement both in the United States and the radical scene in London was well-deserved. By the early 1970s, openly denigrating women was no longer acceptable in the movement and the BUFP, BLF and the female-led BPM all had written policies on the correct treatment of their female members. A two-day National Conference on the Rights of Black People in Britain in May 1971, jointly organised by the BUFP and BPM, included a dedicated women’s session entitled ‘”Black women want freedom”- Black sisters speak out!”. The conference programme contained a page on women in the movement written by the BUFP’s Black Women’s Action Committee (BWAC). Black Voice also regularly carried articles with titles like, ‘Male Chauvinism is Counter Revolutionary’ and ‘The Role of Women in the Vietnamese People’s Resistance’.

The initiative in the formation of OWAAD (ORGANISATION OF WOMEN OF AFRICAN AND ASIAN DESCENT) in the late 1970s represented a major turning point in the political consciousness of many Black women, an activist organisation for British black and Asian women founded in 1978, founder members included Stella Dadzie and member of the British Black Panther Movement Olive Morris. It has been called a watershed in the history of Black women’s rights activism. See 1985 BUFP OWAAD The Rise and Fall Of O.W.A.A.D.

BLF leafletBlack Power groups in Britain

The split from the UCPA, reconstituted itself as the Black Panther Movement (BPM) and its offshoot the Black Liberation Front (BLF). Beside members in London, the BPM had Birmingham and Hull branches as well as an offshoot organisation, The Black People’s Action Collective with branches in Birmingham, Nottingham, Leeds and London.

The lines of difference with the BUFP involved their understanding of the concept of Black Power and the place of the class struggle in the fight for equality in Britain and elsewhere. The BPM placed the emphasis on cultural awareness and the unity of all blacks, and were ‘cultural nationalists’ given to cross class alliances. This meant that African history, culture, dress, hairstyle and so forth were of predominant importance to them. They too had an internationalist focus on events in the Caribbean and elsewhere in the Third World. Black Power reached its critical mass and achieved its greatest successes, its high water mark was, perhaps, the Mangrove Nine trial of October to December 1971.

In 1970, Special Branch produced a ‘security and intelligence’ report assessing the  “significance of recent incidents in the general context of community relations and relations between the police and coloured communities in London and giving separate Special Branch general comment with some detail about organisations and personalities.” [vii]

According to the Special Branch assessment “Black Power is at the heart of all militant action by West Indian members of the community.”   Based on that assessment, covert action was undertaken to watch and collect information on individuals and groups, and to ‘harass’ particular individuals deemed to supporting ‘Black Power’ activities. Attempts were also made to criminalise those identified as ‘Black Militants’ and as a threat to ‘harmonious community relations’ and ‘law and order’ in society. A theme evident in the fictionalised account of the black Britons who took on the system in the 1970s – and the real-life counterintelligence unit who tried to crush any black activism portrayed in the 2017 Sky Atlantic six-part series , Guerrilla, a political drama by John Ridley.[viii]

There was the case of Tony Soares, discussed below, a well-known member of the Black Liberation Front who was one of the first proponents of Black Power in the UK. Soares was charged for his editorial decision in allowing an article on making Molotov cocktails (from Black Panther Community Newspaper – Vol.4, No.2) to be reprinted in Grassroots Community newspaper.

Winston Trew explores the little known case of the ‘Oval 4’ in 1972 that saw four members of the Fasimba arrested after a fight with plainclothes police at the Oval underground. Charged with theft, after a five-week trial at the Old Bailey the ‘Oval 4’ were found guilty of attempting to steal, theft, and assault on police. All were jailed for two years in November 1972. In July 1973 they were released from prison after a ‘successful’ appeal.  [ix]

The Mangrove Nine trial was regarded as political not just because it involved black people protesting against the Metropolitan Police but also because the defendants had been the subjects of police surveillance (and harassment in the case of Frank Critchlow) for a long time because of their Black Power activism.

The Mangrove Nine trial lasted for eleven weeks between 5 October and 16 December 1971 and was widely covered by the press in Britain, as well as attracting significant interest abroad. The nine black defendants were charged with riot, affray and assaulting police officers, after a march on 9 August 1970 against police harassment of the Mangrove Cafe in Notting Hill ended in violence. The police said that the fighting at the end of the march had been part of a well organised and pre-planned riot by black agitators. The defendants countered that a disproportionately large and antagonistic police presence had deliberately provoked the marchers.

The story of Britain’s Black Panther that challenges a more palatable and benign version of 1970s history emerges from a biography of Darcus Howe, which offers the first detailed history of Britain’s little-known Black Power movement, claims that the racism it fought is being overlooked in modern narratives about the nation’s past. Howe, himself proved to have a contentious media career – by 1995, the BUFP regarded Howe as a “sellout” – however the biography by Paul Field and Robin Bunce, recounts the development of the early Black power movement and subsequent trajectory of its activists.

The Black Liberation Front

The Black Liberation Front was founded at the start of 1971 by the former Members of the North and West London branches of the Black Panther Movement. Its headquarters were at 54 Wightman Road, formerly the BPM’s North London branch address. Started in mid-1971, its newspaper Grass Roots, was edited by a variety of different people including Tony Soares and Ansel Wong.

Two incidents had propelled the BLF into a wider spotlight:tony Soares charged

Its September 1971 issue contained a reproduction of a page from the American Black Panther Party newspaper, which featured instructions on how to make a Molotov cocktail. Although The Black Panther, from which the ‘recipe’ was taken, was legally available in radical book shops and even some libraries, in March 1972 the BLF’s Tony Soares was charged with attempted incitement to arson; bomb-making; possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life and murder of persons. The Defence campaign received wide support and publicity. The manifest injustice of the charges brought against Soares and the behaviour of the judge in the 1973 trial won the BLF much publicity and public sympathy, which was marshalled by the well-supported Grass Roots Defence Committee. On the other hand, the time the BLF’s linchpin Soares, spent absent from the movement and the strain the trial put the BLF under undoubtedly burdened the organisation. In 1977, he left the organisation for entirely unrelated reasons.

The Black Liberation Front hit the headlines again, in October 1975, when three young black men claiming to be part of the Black Liberation Army, a supposed adjunct of the BLF, attempted to rob the Spaghetti House restaurant in Knightsbridge and ended up taking eight members of its staff hostage for five days. [x]

The BLF represented the more cultural-nationalist vein of Black Power thought, partly sprang from a grave disillusionment with white society at all levels. Dismissing ‘Orthodox Marxism’ as ‘irrelevant to the Black struggle’, because it was ‘drawn exclusively from Western proletarian experience, the BLF argued that ‘Real communism represents a way of life that was already in existence in parts of Africa and Asia before the coming of the white man’. The BLF’s reasons for not wanting to work with whites did not just have their basis in theory, but were a reaction to white working-class and trade union racism. ‘Organised, militant and so-called progressive workers supported Enoch Powell’, its pamphlet explained.[xi] This separatist perspective meant that the BLF focused entirely on organising within the black community and withdrew from activities, such as demonstrations, that were intended to provoke a response from the white community.

‘As a small minority in Britain, we cannot claim we will liberate the country or change its system. That is something the native working class must do for itself, announced an editorial in Grass Roots, ‘[Our] sole concern is survival for Black people in Britain and socialism in their homelands’! [xii]

Outside of the black community the BLF was best known for Grass Roots .  Issues Grassroots headpublished in 1976 and 1978 cover similar issues to those included in other radical and left-oriented press disseminated local black news as well as information about revolutionary struggles throughout black diasporas – racist attacks, police harassment, unjust deportations – but the paper indicates its commitment to what has been described as ‘cultural nationalism’ by its exclusive emphasis on issues relating to people of African origin. The BLF at the time seemed to attract the younger, more black nationalist, more black conscious youths. The significance it placed on education, family life, and ‘black heroes’ (where black is the code for African), and the stress it gave to Africa Liberation Day (celebrated in May 1978 with a march and a week-end of cultural and educational events) indicated its aspiration for a social and cultural life in the UK which is quite separate from that of white citizens. [xiii]

The BLF established community self-help institutions like bookstores, Headstart Grassrootsprograms, Saturday schools, women’s groups, and housing for squatters, especially women and children. Self-help initiatives like these became the foundation of the black feminist movement in 1970s Britain, and grew into lasting social welfare institutions.


In mid-1980s a series of popular pamphlets was published by the Black liberation Front that when developed had been first intended to serve as starting points in the discussions which began to take place within the Black Liberation Front in the late 1970s that challenged the narrow nationalist political line, which the organisation had followed up till then.

That political refinement dealt with many questions which were seen as important to the organisation to break away from its narrow nationalist past and to build a more revolutionary understanding of the rising struggle of the Black community.

There was a dual purpose in the publication of the Black Liberation series: in providing an understanding of the organisation’s general political position, there was available a popular and accessible explanation of the philosophy and ideas of the BLF and as a contribution to the ongoing discussion within the Black Liberation Movement.

No. 1:    Understanding Society                     BLS1

No.2:     Capitalism and Socialism                 BLS2

No.3:     Racism                                                  BLS3

No.4:     Pan-Africanism                                   BLS4

No.5:     The Black Community in Britain    BLS5

No.6: Who Controls Africa?                            BLS6

These ranged from general questions, such as understanding how societies work, to more specific ones such as the structure of the Black community in Britain. These discussions were a clear example of the development of the organisation’s political understanding since it had published, at the start of the 1970s, the pamphlet “Revolutionary Black Nationalism”. What remained consistent was an internationalist perspective drawing inspiration from the lives and example provided by such icons as Amilcar Cabral and Malcolm X, and in the space devoted to the struggles in Africa given in the pages of the BLF’s newspaper, Grassroots. The celebration of African Liberation Day remained a highpoint in the organisation’s year.ALD 87

The Africa Liberation Committee was a coalition of black groups first formed in 1972 to organise Africa Liberation Day (25th May) celebrations each year. In 1982 after a low ebb in the ALCs work the committee was re-organised and reconstituted. The New committee now comprises the Black liberation Front, The Brixton Defence Campaign and the Black Unity and Freedom Party. Part of the aims of ALC was to provide a platform in Britain for representatives of those involved in struggles taking place on the African continent.

The Black Socialist Workers Movement, consists mainly of comrades formerly involved in the B.U.F.P, spoke of the realignment and regrouping, in organisations like the B.U.F.P. and the B.L.F. in the early 1970s which resulted in the numerical decline of these organisations, and the emergence of a new class orientated revolutionary socialist philosophy in Black organisations. Indeed, the Black Panther Movement changed its name to the Black Workers Movement (BWM) in 1973 to reflect a change in emphasis that black workers should be in the vanguard of the battle against racism and its progenitor capitalism. BSWM noted, “the Black nationalist elements, tended to re-emerge in state financed organisations as paid community workers, whilst the socialist elements, have organised independently of state funding and work towards, a more- developed and class positioned political perspective”[xiv] Equally critical of the petty bourgeoisie and their attempt to take leadership of the black communities were, their old comrades in the BUFP. see 1983 BUFP Peti-bourgeois The Politics of the Emerging Black Peti-Bourgeois . Black Voice Vol.14 No.1 1983.BPCJ 1985

The Black Liberation Front had believed that racism was a much greater source of oppression than class and therefore collaborations with white people, especially the white working class, which it identified as the most racist section of society, were ill-advised. ‘Nobody can tell a Black worker that he must unite with a white worker when all the time the white worker tells him to get back to where he came from’ advised a BLF pamphlet from 1971.

There were political developments within the black communities as BLF later explained that:

The real nature of the British state’s new found concern for Black people was soon clear however, when the first target of the laws against incitement to racial hatred turned out to be Black political activists and not the racist gangs which were notorious for inciting and organising violent attacks on Black people. Nevertheless the state’s “race relations” legislation was to have a further effect on the Black movement, in that it opened the door to those who had been knocking on it for years. The Black petty bourgeois who had for years tried to persuade the British capitalists to “outlaw racism”, and who were convinced that the struggle for Black freedom could best be carried out by the oppressors of Black people, greeted the creation of the race relations industry with joy and saw it as a great new opportunity. As a result many deserted the independent Black organisations to take up jobs with the Race Relations Board and with the Community Relations Commissions. Despite these developments the Black Power movement in Britain in the late sixties and early seventies which reflected the more militant political tendency in the Black community, sent a cold shudder don the back of the British state. The state replied with a police onslaught against those Black people who were politically active. Cases such as the Oval Four, the Mangrove Nine and the attack on Grassroots were the result of direct state action against the militant section of the Black movement. However the Black community did not remain passive in the face of the police attacks, and throughout the seventies and into the eighties Black resistance grew both in size and intensity leading to such major clashes as the 1976 Nottinghill Carnival and the 1981 Brixton and Toxteth uprising. Nevertheless by the mid- seventies the organised and militant section of the Black movement had rapidly declined both in size and influence from its high-point in the early seventies. This decline in part coincided with and was partly due to the state’s Urban Aid programme, which for the first time made money available for the funding of projects to meet the social and cultural needs of Black people. The focus of organised Black activity was moving away from the political organising of the Black community and drifting towards the running of projects. [xv]

 

BLF2

The radical black groups were not immune to the general malaise that affected the rest of the political left in the late Twentieth Century, The demise and dissolution of activist organisations was mirrored in the failure to relaunch despite various initiatives aimed at “rebuilding the black movement”, the organisations were by the mid-1990s, more of a marginal fringe force. The BUFP in 1998, after two years of internal discussion and public consultation, the African People’s Liberation Organisation (APLO). The APLO was far more Afro-centric in its rhetoric and programme. The lack of the word “party” in its title was of crucial significance – signalling a potential retreat from outright battles in the political arena. A few months later the BUFP convened for the last time and formally transferred all of their collective assets to the new organisation, before permanently adjourning their last General Meeting.

 

 

ENDNOTES

[i] http://www.dialecticsofliberation.com/1967-dialectics/

[ii] The Sunday Telegraph, ‘Six quit executive of anti-racialist body- Maoist take-over fear’, 4 December 1967,p . 9 and The Times, ‘Threat to CARD from extremists’,7 November 1967,p . 11.

SEE Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr. The Politics of the Powerless: A Study of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination. ( London: Oxford University Press 1972). A Times news team wrote that ’the ominous lesson of CARD … is that the mixture of pro-Chinese communism and American-style Black Power on the immigrant scene can be devastating’ Times News Team, The Black Man in Search of Power (London, Nelson, 1968).

[iii] Former member Lester Lewis, interviewed by the R.E.Wild, 14 September 2004. Quoted in Rosalind Eleanor Wild, ‘Black was the colour of our fight. Black Power in Britain, 1955-1976. Thesis 2008 Sheffield University p96

[iv] Professor Harry Goulbourne (2000) Africa and the Caribbean in Caribbean consciousness and action in Britain

[v] BUFP Who killed Aseta Simms? 1972, p.3

[vi] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Unity_and_Freedom_Party

[vii] National Archives: Home Office HO 376/00154

[viii] http://www.historyextra.com/article/feature/guerrilla-real-history-british-black-power

[ix] Trew, Winston (2012) Black for a Cause…Not just Because. TaoFish Books. http://www.blackforacause.co.uk/

[x] See: Jenny Bourne, The line between the political and the criminal can be a blurred one. The Guardian, Monday 26 September 2011

[xi] BLF, Revolutionary Black Nationalism’.1971: 3

[xii] Grass Roots 1:2 (7 July 1971), p. 2.

[xiii] Max Farrar Social Movements and the Struggle Over ‘Race’ in Perspectives on Democracy and Protest http://www.maxfarrar.org.uk/docs/StruggleOverRaceMerlin1.pdf

[xiv] BWSM. The Black Worker Editorial Vol3 No.2 1987

[xv] BLF, The Black Community in Britain. Black Liberation Series No. 5

 

* Heavily indebted in use of the following sources

Black Voice & conversations with Dannie Morrell

Rosalind Eleanor Wild, ‘Black was the colour of our fight. Black Power in Britain, 1955-1976. Thesis 2008 Sheffield University

Goldbourne, Harry .Africa and the Caribbean in Caribbean consciousness and action in Britain. David Nicholls Memorial Trust 2000

 1991 BUFP march

Further reading

Angelo, Anne-Marie. “We All Became Black”: Tony Soares, African-American Internationalists, and Anti-imperialism.

Bourne, Jenny “Spaghetti House siege: making the rhetoric real” in Race & Class, October 2011

Robin Bunce & Paul Field, Obi B. Egbuna, C. L. R. James and the Birth of Black Power in Britain: Black Radicalism in Britain 1967–72 . Twentieth Century British History, September 2011. Volume 22, Issue 3, 1, Pages 391–414

Robin Bunce & Paul Field. Darcus Howe: a political biography. Bloomsbury 2015

Goldbourne, Harry .Africa and the Caribbean in Caribbean consciousness and action in Britain. David Nicholls Memorial Trust 2000

Trew, Winston N .Black for a Cause… Not Just Because…: The case of the ‘Oval 4’ and the story it tells of Black Power in 1970s Britain. 2015 

41. Forgotten The Littlejohn Affair?

In August 2017 the Irish film company Element Pictures announced, the story of a convicted bank robber who claimed he was a British spy is to be made into a feature film.[1]

Ok, it can’t be much of a secret conspiracy if it has its own Wikipedia page[2], and the National Archive clears states   “The K B Littlejohn Affair: This record is closed and retained by Ministry of Defence “, and a film is in production, however sometimes things get forgotten from the 1970s and have a twilight existence. The story of the Littlejohns’, convicted armed robbers who claimed to be a Secret Intelligence Service/Official IRA double agent, and escaped from Mountjoy Prison in the centre of Dublin, was teased out by Socialist Labour League’s journalist, Alex Mitchel who shined a light on this particular episode in the covert war taking place in Ireland. The pamphlet Anatomy of Dictatorship: The Littlejohn Affair [text here Littlejohn] placed the affair within a context of leftist catastrophism and in the early/mid 1970s saw Ireland as an army laboratory for repression to be applied in Britain. As Mitchel, ex-Sunday Times and ’World in Action’ reporter, described it:

“The military clique which flourishes at the centre of the Heath government has a burning hatred of the trade unions and the working class. These people fear the historical development of the working class towards the ownership and control of industry and national wealth and they will do anything to thwart it…They must be fearless exposed so the working class has no illusions about the character of the coming struggle.”[3]

The fears of a coup, and there was much speculation about this at that time [4], the ceaseless exhortations to work harder because the final “crisis of capitalism” was (always) at hand, was reflected in another SLL (renamed the Workers Revolutionary Party) publication, The Secret State.

The magazine, Lobster[5] went into detail on the covert attempts of the time in “Wilson, MI5 and the Rise of Thatcher: Covert Operations in British Politics 1974-78” of which the Littlejohn Affairs seems but a sideshow.

The 1975 publication from Clann na hEireann, The Littlejohn Memorandum [Text here  The-Littlejohn-Memorandum-The-true-story-of-British-and-Irish-Espionage-Services-active-in-Ireland-to-day-Clann-na-hEireann-1975] outlined the intelligence structure, and was well researched on names and addresses, touching upon some British intelligence operations in Ireland which were to receive greater prominence such as the MRF’s Four Square Laundry surveillance. It drew upon the revelation of Littlejohn during his twenty month stint on the run after escaping from Mountjoy.

 

[1] The Sunday Times August 6 2017

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_Littlejohn

[3] Mitchel, A. Anatomy of Dictatorship: The Littlejohn Affair. London: Socialist Labour League (1973:31)

[4] In 1986 Lobster magazine scooped mainstream media by uncovering the secret Clockwork Orange operation, implicated in trying to destabilise the British government. See: Wilson ‘plot’: The secret tapes http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4789060.stm, Peter Wright, Spycatcher (1987) for starting point into the rabbit hole.

[5] Issue 11: April 1986 Forward by Kevin McNamara MP. “Brutally summarised, our thesis is this. Mrs Thatcher (and ‘Thatcherism’) grew out of a right-wing network in this country with extensive links to the military-intelligence establishment. Her rise to power was the climax of a long campaign by this network which included a protracted destabalisation campaign against the Liberal and Labour Parties – chiefly the Labour Party – during 1974-76. We are not offering a conspiracy theory about the rise of Mrs Thatcher, but we do think that the outlines of a concerted campaign to discredit the other parties, to engineer a right-wing leader of the Tory Party, and then the right-wing government, is visible.”

 

 

 

 

40. A varied and complicated history of struggles for civil rights and justice

Black History Month is celebrated in October in the UK.

For many young Black people in Britain, one would argue that it is very easy for them to recall the names of US Civil Rights icons, better than any standout Black UK Civil Rights activists who fought the struggle .Generally more is known about the Civil rights struggle in the United States than any contributions over that same period of the involvement of black Britons in the assertion of their own equality in Britain.

Even a narrow focus on any decade in recent British history like the 1980s brings to light a varied and complicated history of struggles for civil rights and justice to be respected in terms of family rights, immigration, employment, defence of communities from racist attacks and policing that was as vibrant and heroic as its American counterpart.

1969 Black power newsletter

We also had a Black power and Black Panther movement in Britain, and this was the first such branch outside of the US. And how well known are Olive Morris (1952 –1979) a founding member of the Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD) in London and established the Brixton Black Women’s Group and Darcus Howe (1943 –2017) broadcaster, writer and civil liberties campaigner. There are books on Rosa Park and students study the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 but know nothing about Paul Stephenson and the bus boycott that took place in Bristol in 1963? He also went to trial for refusing to leave a pub until he was served beer, knowing that it was common practice for some pubs to show signs stating “No blacks, no Irish, no dogs”. Likewise the famous and lauded March on Washington in 1963, a people mobilised like the Black Peoples Day of Action when up 20,000 people marched from New Cross to Central London in protest at the burning to death of 13 black teenagers at a party in New Cross.

1981 Black Peoples Day of Action

A lot of October’s black history seems to revolve around American and African history, why isn’t black British history as readily available. There is a rich vein to explore and acknowledge with the self-organisation of communities, their political awareness, active democracy or even active involvement against the racism of state and society, raising the demands for equality and justice.

Throughout the 1980s there were a whole spate of campaigns in response, not to the individual racist or right-wing provocations ,as in Lewisham in 1977, but to what was seen as ‘racist state attacks’ upon the minority communities and its life. The mushrooming of opposition and solidarity in London alone that involved a number of Black community based groups and empathic defence campaigns such as the Black Action Group, Black Liberation Front, Black People’s Campaign for Justice, Cherry Groce Family Support and Community Defence Campaign, the Cynthia Jarrett Campaign, Newham 7, Southall Rights, Bangledesh Divided Families Campaign, Roach Family Support Campaign, the Wilson Silcott campaign, Broad Water Farm Defence Campaign, the Tottenham Three campaign.

BV what price

There were various local community based initiatives, such as the Hackney Anti-Deportation Campaign ,and mobilisation that had a national reach such as the Anwar Ditta Family Campaign, now used as teaching material in citizenship classes. Coverage to such citizen participation was given in the minority press, in campaign literature and in publications like “Race Today” and “Race & Class” still produced by the Institute of Race Relations.

community protest

Such ephemeral activism was outside of the established political structures where there was a push for the creation within the Labour Party for a Black members Section as a pressure group throughout the late 1980s. That group split when four members of the Black section who were prospective Parliamentary candidates – Paul Boateng, Diane Abbott, Russell Profitt and Bernie Grant – condemned fellow prominent member, Sharon Atkins for publically stating that “it was more important to represent the interest of Black people than to win a seat for Labour.”. The four Black parliamentary candidate issued a statement endorsing the disciplinary action taken against Atkin, “our overriding interests [is] getting Labour into Government…nothing can be allowed to get in the way of this.”

racist murders

However that historical legacy remains in library archives, a neglected aspect of modern British society subject to an amnesic indifference that smothers different voices. The curriculum currently evades the contributions that Black Britons made towards the Civil Rights movement in Britain .The book, “Black Star, Britain’s Asian Youth Movements” is an exception, providing the historical narrative of one of those trends in society that often receive scant coverage in more mainstream and educational history books. It traces the birth of the Asian-based youth movement engaged in community self-defence and involved in the trial of the Bradford 12, acquitted when offering a community self-defence plea to charges of preparing petrol bombs.

 

The combination of welfare and campaigning work by organisations like the Indian Workers’ Association (established 1938) reflected its Punjabi roots and it remained concerned with political and social developments in India. The IWA (GB) campaigned against the repression of political opponents, particularly Indira Gandhi’s government imposition of a State of Emergency between 1975 and 1977, in the Alliance Against Fascist Dictatorship for People’s Democratic India.

The attempt to build militant broad campaigning organisation was seen in the early 1960s Joshi initiated the formation of the Coordinating Committee Against Racial Discrimination (CCARD), a broad based campaigning committee of 26 organisations fronted by Victor Yates, MP for Ladywood. It was formed to oppose the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Bill. The IWA, in conjunction with other bodies such as the West Indian Standing Conference, and the Standing Conference of Pakistan, fought hard against this legislation, putting together a pamphlet entitled Victims Speak and posting it to each Member of Parliament. Unsuccessful in this campaign, the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination (CARD) inaugurated in February 1965. In April 1968 IWA leader Jagmohan Joshi (1936-79) convened the Black People’s Alliance, attracting 50 delegates representing 20 Indian, Caribbean, Pakistanis and African organisations throughout Britain.

Paikar 1986 cover

Throughout the 1970s Joshi’s IWA continued to challenge state racism through participation in the Campaign Against Racist Laws (CARL) and the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism. They campaigned on many fronts supporting a   strike by Asian workers in 1965 at Courtauld’s Red Scar textile mill in Preston and, in May 1974, Asian workers at the Imperial Typewriter Company in Leicester on strike over unequal bonus payments and discrimination in promotion. Later involved in landmark struggles in support of the Asian women workers at Grunwick photo processing plant in north west London.

Organisation like South Asia Solidarity Group, Newham Monitoring Project, Pakistan Workers’ Association all point to the lesser known histories that contribute to modern British society. These largely unacknowledged contribution that provide both legacies and lessons that can enrich the experience of Black History Month.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1968, Grosvenor Square – that’s where the protest should be made

vietnam

The opposition to the Vietnam War in Britain had begun as early as 1953 when a vietnam comiccommunist sympathizer, Commander Edgar Young, formed the British–Vietnam Committee (BVC) and began publishing the Vietnam Bulletin. The CND – Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament – also raised Vietnam as part of their protests. CND’s position sought to strengthen the United Nations’ role in the conflict for the ‘implementation of the 1954 Geneva agreements’ and ‘the holding of national elections in north and south Vietnam’.

In 1962 the BVC held a rally with 70 protesters outside the US embassy in London. The movement grew in intensity after the US began bombing North Vietnam and introduced ground troops in February 1965, sparking protest demonstrations at universities around the country and the formation of the Communist Party dominated British Council for Peace in Vietnam (BCPV) in April 1965. The British Council for Peace in Vietnam (BCPV) that was set up by a group of people close to CND had been the main campaign groups that addressed the Vietnam War until the mid-1960s.

Under its president Labour MP Fenner Brockway, the BCPV called for a negotiated settlement and British dissociation through a concerted poster and newspaper campaign.

The English philosopher, Bertrand Russell was an early campaigner on Vietnam, tearing up his Labour Party membership card in disgust at the failure of Labour to take an independent stand on Vietnam. More importantly Russell used his connections and money for a new initiative in support of the Vietnamese people.

The first formal call to the British Left for the setting up of a solidarity campaign came on 20 December 1965, in a special public meeting of nearly 200 people organised by the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the founding of the National Liberation Front.

why vietnam solidaritywhy-vietnam-solidarity [text]

“On the platform of this boisterous affair were Ken Coates, Mark Lane, an American, well-known on both sides of the Atlantic for his writing about the Kennedy assassination, and Ralph Miliband, who along with John Saville, had just begun publishing the Socialist Register.  Miliband’s presence on the platform was significant in that he represented an important segment of the new left.” [i]

Founding the solidarity movement

The founding conference of the VSC took place on 4-5 June1966 in Mahatma Gandhi Hall in London. Over 200 delegates that included a number from Labour Party constituencies, Labour Party Young Socialist groups and a few trade union branches. Notably over 40% of delegates came from several Maoist groups led by Manchanda, editor of the West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian News.

The group, around the Nottingham journal “The Week” who were IMG Trotskyites, had a narrow majority at the 1966 VSC conference. They believed that the South Vietnam NLF was not a revolutionary organisation, refused to endorse the four-point programme of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the five-point programme of the South Vietnam Front for Liberation. They characterised the government of North Vietnam as “Stalinist”. One did not have to be a great theoretician to work out that their chairmanship of the founding conference of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign might lead to a walk-out.

Manchanda, who had foreseen such an eventuality had booked another hall nearby where the conference was reconvened immediately. Chinese observers from the embassy and the Hsinhua news agency, the Vietnamese News Agency journalists resident in London who were the unofficial ambassadors of the country in London, representatives of solidarity groups in Asia, Africa, Haiti, the Caribbean, Belgium, Holland, Italy and Switzerland. All the African Liberation Movement delegates who were in the pro-Chinese camp, including the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania, SWAPO and ZANU, walked out together. The CPGB and other pro-Soviet groups remained with the Trotskyist-dominated meeting.

The two organisation had been created in 1966, both emerging from the same conference.

Manchanda has often been reviled in leftist gossip and blamed for splitting the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign. Unfortunately, not many of people who repeat this story correctly remember the circumstances.[ii] In a statement explaining their actions, Manchanda emphasised the political support given to the National Liberation Front,

“We found ourselves in a position of being unable to participate in the conference when a faction sought to impose on the movement a set of aims which were contrary to the views expressed by Lord Russell in his opening statement to the conference and as agreed previously in the Preparatory Committee. “We, as always, dearly wish to co-operate with all those who desire to see a successful conclusion to the just struggle of the Vietnamese people, which can only end in complete victory for the National Liberation Front, the sole representative of the people of Vietnam. “At the same time, we must resolutely oppose all those who refuse to accept the programme of the Vietnamese people as the only basis for waging a successful campaign for solidarity in Britain, and so contributing to the inevitable victory of the Vietnamese people and a just and lasting peace.[iii]

Leading VSC member Ernest Tate observed,

“Their exit, though not unexpected, came as quite an astonishing turn of events when it actually happened. Still, the conference remained in session and went on to adopt a series of proposals to take the campaign forward.”[iv]

On that day two organisation in solidarity with the Vietnamese emerged: Vietnam Solidarity Campaign (Trotskyist-led, the IMG’s Black Dwarf newspaper, on Carlisle Street, offering temporary staff headquarters) and the Britain-Vietnam Solidarity Front (Maoist-led based at Manchanda’s house).

Britain-Vietnam Solidarity Front

Initially the smaller BVSF was less prominent than the dominant VSC, and the BVSF did not really function at all until the beginning of 1968. By the year of the great mass demonstrations against US imperialism, the Britain Vietnam Solidarity Front had grown into a national organisation with strong international links. Their national conference, according to the BVSF Bulletin, Summer 1968, was “attended by 34 delegates from London, the Midlands, North and South England as well as 14 fraternal delegates and 12 observers from the Republic of Ireland, Portugal, Denmark, Mozambique, Kenya, Azania and Malaya … Telegraphic messages were received from Afro-American leader Robert F. Williams …. the South Vietnam Peace Committee and the Federation of Trade Unions of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.”bvsf bulletin

The main organisation to express unqualified support for the Vietnamese people’s struggle and for the NLF, was the Britain-Vietnam Solidarity Front (BVSF). Manchanda and others  attacked the Communist Party [CPGB] position that followed the Moscow line of promoting peace talks.

“If the Vietnamese people refuse to ‘negotiate’ and submit to the aggressor, then there is a danger of a world nuclear holocaust – as some people put it ‘a single spark can lead to a world conflagration’ (Krushchev). Hence, not only the people of Vietnam, but the whole world, is being asked to submit to the nuclear blackmail of US imperialism. That for the sake of world peace, the independence of Vietnam is expendable.”

Anything other than victory to the NLF was seen as denying the self-determination of the Vietnamese people. As it was argued in a Britain Vietnam Solidarity leaflet:

“Using the slogan ‘Peace in Vietnam’ is in fact demanding that the Vietnamese people give up their struggle for the independence of their country. It implies racial arrogance, denying the people of colour of Vietnam the same right to defend themselves and their homes that is accepted for white North Americans and Europeans.”

Interviewing Manchanda  in his bed-sitter in Hampstead Mary McCarthy records,

“He explained with patience the doctrinal differences between them. It was a question of correct slogans about the Vietnamese war. For a long time, the Trotskyists of the Vietnamese Solidarity Campaign had refused the slogan “Victory for the NLF,” on the ground that the NLF, a coalition of a number of class elements, had a bourgeois nationalist complexion; their slogan was “Support for the Vietnamese Revolution,” i.e., for a non-existent phenomenon. Similarly with the Maoist slogan, “Long Live Ho Chi Minh,” rejected by the Trotskyists on the ground that Ho had betrayed the revolution at Geneva in 1954, also that he exemplified the cult of personality and was a “bureaucrat.” “If Ho is a bureaucrat,” observed Mr. Manchanda, with glee, “I wish we had more bureaucrats in this country.”[v]

March 17, 1968: Vietnam War comes to London as demonstration turns violent

It began with the marches assembling in orderly fashion with an estimated crowd of around 80,000 gathering in Trafalgar Square to protest against American action in Vietnam and the British government’s support for the United States. This was an immense upsurge in support and activism. Vietnam became an issue, an important expression of the youth radicalisation of those years. The previous VSC demonstration in London on 2 July 1967 attracted 5,000 protesters and resulted in thirty-one arrests after clashes with the authorities.[vi] One participation saw momentum building for the campaign:

The demonstration of October 22nd 1967, however, went better than we expected. The numbers were not fantastic, perhaps a couple of thousand, but there was a militant spirit; we took over the streets, in contrast to the marching 4 abreast and stop at traffic lights of the CND. Turning into Grosvenor Square we found that the police had put a cordon diagonally across part of the road, creating a restriction. This caused some pushing and shoving, but the march was moving on. The park in the square was surrounded by a box hedge which in those days was only about two feet high, and was guarded by only a thin line of police. I jumped over the hedge and ran into the park. A policeman chased me but soon stopped and turned back to see that the rest of the marchers were pouring through the gap he had left. We had nearly an hour of confrontation. I got as far as the parking meters just outside the US Embassy building before being pursued by a policeman charging on horseback. Eventually enough police arrived to push us out of the square. Militant opposition to the war was front page news and the activist layer was greatly energised.[vii]

Bruce Robinson at Trafalgar Square described the scene,

“The Square is full of the flags of the National Liberation Front (the “Vietcong”), who, only weeks previously had launched the Tet Offensive that had taken a largely rural guerilla war into the cities of Vietnam, getting as far as the gates of the US Embassy in the capital Saigon. Someone throws red dye into the fountains to symbolise the blood shed in the war.”[viii]

There they heard speeches from the likes of Tariq Ali, leader of the UK’s Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, and British actress Vanessa Redgrave, who announced that they would be delivering a letter of protest to the US embassy. The pair then led around 8,000 protesters to Grosvenor Square. Near the front a contingent from the German SDS, with arms linked chant, “Victory to the NLF”, “Hey, Hey LBJ [US President Johnson], how many kids have you killed today?” and, in honour of leader of North Vietnam, “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh” — accompanied by jogging up and down.

Redgrave’s group was allowed through to deliver the letter, but the crowd was held back and then refused to back off.

Bruce Robinson recalled,

Reaching Grosvenor Square, they found the US embassy surrounded by hundreds of police, standing shoulder to shoulder in a vast cordon. The front of the march heads through the police cordon and privet hedges and makes for the Embassy, meeting lines of police with arms linked. Waves follow pressing harder. From two other sides of the square, lots more police, including horses, randomly lay into anyone they can, even those watching from the sidelines. Stones, earth, firecrackers and smoke bombs were thrown as mounted police officers were called in to disperse the crowd.battle ground

By the time order was restored some four hours later, there were over 250 arrests and over 50 protesters and 25 police officers had been hospitalised.

The ‘Punch Up’

It is wrong to say the violence on the streets of London knew no precedent [ix]– for a start that would displays a shocking lack of knowledge about the protests of the 1930s – but it did shocked the watching public reading the lurid press coverage. Majorie Holt for the VSC referred to the March 17th events in Vietnam Solidarity Campaign Bulletin 13 (published in April1968):

“V.S.C. has been subject to a great deal of criticism, in the press and from organisations who have “come along with us” about the militancy of Sunday’s demonstrations. On the issue of Vietnam it is obvious that all other protest channels have reached an impasse, since enormous numbers of people ( particularly the young) have joined our already massive backing. We have, since October 22nd, made it clear that the V.S.C. Ad hoc Committee is an umbrella movement, covering all shades of opinion and protest. Nobody is compelled or expected to support militancy – all that is necessary if violence breaks out is for those who disapprove to retire from the scene!”

As Diane Langford pointed out….Tariq, Robin Blackburn and others were whistling The Red Flag in Hyde Park while the battle raged outside the lair of American imperialism, the Grosvenor Square embassy.[x]

All this was documented in a contemporaneous article, by Mary McCarthy who judged that “The Trotskyites, in slogans and stance to the “left” of the Maoists, in practice were to the right of them. The Maoists, generally thought of as inflexible revolutionary extremists, showed pragmatic wisdom and adaptability. The style of Tariq Ali was radical; the style of Mr. Manchanda was modest petty bourgeois, recalling the home lives of Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky himself.”

With the increase of violence and Tariq Ali’s declared intentions to invade the American Embassy ‘for as long as the Vietcong held the American Embassy in Saigon,’[xi] condemnation of the VSC and student activism was widely publicised by the press. Newspapers were declaring that ‘this kind of thing has to be stopped’ [xii] and The Times redistributed their crime reporters to maximise coverage for the 27 October 1968 demonstration taking place in London. The establishment used a hysterical media campaign focusing on the threat of bloodshed and revolution to combat the escalating support for demonstrations.

According to Tariq Ali, however, ‘never at any stage did anyone seriously involved in VSC imagine that the October demonstrations would be anything more than a show of the anti-imperialist left’s strength. But the establishment embarked on a campaign of black propaganda and disinformation. They did it for two reasons: to isolate the march from the bulk of the population by raising the fear of violence, and because they over-reacted, panicked after May (Paris 1968). France shook the ruling classes throughout Europe, and the British decided to take no chances that the disease would spread. Hence their ferocious attacks on VSC and on me personally.’[xiii]

21st July Demonstration

July 21st March on the embassy is less well remembered than the VSC organised demonstrations. It began as an initative of the Young Communist League in an attempt to tap into the growth of militant student action in the UK. In inviting various groups to join them in forming a broad committee to organise a demonstration in London on July 21, they intended to head the coalition and secure support for a Communist Party plan to send bikes to Vietnam via a forthcoming Communist Festival in Bulgaria. But the plans back-fired when they failed to get a majority on the July 21 Committee. Organisations such as the BVSF, Folk Singers for Freedom in Vietnam, and the Internationalists secured a majority on the Committee and adopted a line of policy and slogans giving complete support to the NLF and calling for victory against imperialist aggression. This went against the negotiation line of the Communist Party and the YCL leaders pulled out of the ’July 21 Committee for Solidarity with Vietnam’. In the tradition of the Left, the YCL went on to form their own similarly named committee.

The Britain Vietnam Solidarity Front had emerged as a new force to be reckoned with and played an important part in mobilising militants through the genuine ’July 21 Committee for Solidarity with Vietnam’.

Following the July 21 demonstration, plans were made by the VSC for the big march on October 27. The October 27 Ad Hoc Committee initially decided that the march would be organised under the slogan ’Victory to the Vietnamese Revolution’ and that it should not go to the US Embassy. The BVSF was excluded from the Ad Hoc Committee. The three main organisations which were finally represented in the Ad Hoc Committee were the International Socialists (IS), the International Marxist Group (IMG) and the Young Communist League (YCL).

On the initiative of the BVSF, another Committee was formed – the ’27 October Committee for Solidarity with Vietnam’, which began to plan for a parallel march aimed at demonstrating outside the US Embassy. During the weeks prior to October 27, press, radio and TV devoted more space and time to the forthcoming event than they had to anything similar for many years. The BVSF was singled out as a dangerous firebrand bunch of fanatics whose only purpose was to rush into a punch up with the police. The Trotskyist-Revisionist Troika at the head of the Ad Hoc Committee for the round-London ramble helped out by labelling the BVSF as disruptionist and adventurist. [xiv]

So two co-existent marches occurred on October 27th: the VSC inspired “Ah Hoc Committee via Downing Street, and the ’27 October Committee for Solidarity with Vietnam’, which plan for a parallel march aimed at demonstrating outside the US Embassy.

Several weeks before October 27 a sharp controversy had developed about the target of the demonstration – whether or not the march should go to the US Embassy. Despite the bravo headline of Black Dwarft – “We shall fight, we shall win, London, Paris, Rome, Berlin” – McCarty accurately described the perception of many observers, not only on the far left:

“Tariq Ali, ……………..Having attacked Grosvenor Square in March, he did not wish to “repeat himself” in October, for the only way of topping the previous performance there would be by a heightening of violence. Hence he spoke of Grosvenor Square as “a death trap,” to which he was unwilling to commit his followers. De-escalation, according to this reasoning, then became inevitable—a change of pace and direction, to Downing Street and Hyde Park, rather than to the US Embassy, and in disciplined, orderly formation, instead of in fighting salients.”

Mary McCarthy thought Tariq Ali

“ was thinking, clearly, in terms of showmanship…. Moreover, in his concentration on the manner of the demonstration, he lost sight of the matter: the US war in Vietnam.”[xv]

This demonstration was the subject of more advance press and television publicity than any similar event for years. It was a media drama, Tariq Ali, a young mustached Pakistani, leading the way to Downing Street, and Abhimanya Manchanda, a middle-aged clean-shaven Indian, to Grosvenor Square. The general impression was created that on October 27 London was to see a repetition if not of the student uprising in Paris, then certainly of the fighting in Berlin.

The observation of fellow Maoists from the JCC on the October 27th march 1968 noted the media hype around the protest. [xvi]

“For weeks previously the newspapers had been preparing their readers for the big day with stories of conspiracies and intrigues involving the occupation or destruction of buildings, bomb plots, and plans for the total disruption of communications in London. Special TV programs were devoted to ’The October Revolutionaries’” .

A Metropolitan Police Special Branch report noted,

During the early planning stages of this demonstration it was apparent that the question of the use of calculated violence as a political weapon was causing division in the ranks of the V.S.C members. The Maoists felt that violence was inevitable and said so. The more cautious representatives of the International Socialism and International Marxist groups paid lip service to the vision of a peaceful demonstration. In the event the Maoists did not gain any places on the National Council or the national ad-hoc committee, and are outpaced as apostles of violence by the more volatile anarchists. All the indications are that the Maoists and anarchists will disregard any sort of instructions – from Police or march leaders – and take an independent line on the day.[xvii]

The American author, Mary McCarty touched on this subject in her long piece for the press:

“On the issue of violence vs. non-violence, there did not seem to be a real theoretical difference. The Manchanda group had been described in the newspapers as favoring violence, and the Tariq Ali group not, but actually Tariq Ali was organizing dramatically for violence—that list of first-aid stations, the instructions published in The Black Dwarf on what to do when gassed—on the supposition, amounting to prophecy, that the police would start or “provoke” it, whereas Mr. Manchanda, when I asked him whether it was true that he planned to storm the US Embassy, shrugged and said simply, “We are too few.” In Grosvenor Square, the next day, a lilting voice I thought I recognized as his could be heard urging restraint on the crowd, though possibly this was merely pro forma. “

Mary McCarty’s recollection was similar to that of Diane Langford’s experience upon entering Grosvenor Square:

When we reached the US Embassy the police were waiting, riot shields poised. Horses were snorting and steaming and we felt the terrifying thunder of hooves resonate under our feet. Mounted police were waving batons and, as the crowd poured into the square, we came face to face with a wall of shields and sticks. Charge after charge was launched, the police lashing out with furious, twisted faces. Batons connected with heads, blood poured. A lilting voice I recognised as Manchanda’s was calling, ‘Don’t be provoked! Remain calm.’ [xviii]

The attitude of those Marxist-Leninists who participated in the October 27 demonstration was that a genuine demonstration of solidarity with the Vietnamese people’s struggle should concentrate its main attack on the main enemy -US imperialism. Therefore the main target of the demonstration could only be the US Embassy in London.

“Tariq Ali is a revisionist playboy who’s planning to take people on a guided tour of the West End and into Hyde Park. The lair of U.S. imperialism is the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square and that’s where the protest should be made.”    

 Manchanda –

 

October 27 1968: Police clash with anti-war protesters

Mike Martin remembers: There was so much publicity in the media for what was billed as the “October Revolution” that there was little incentive to campaign; after all the Evening Standard carried a centre spread showing the route. … We did what we said we would and marched on the agreed route*1. There was no violence apart from having to deal with a group of fascists who tried to attack the platform. Meanwhile, the Maoists had their fight in Grosvenor Square. The day was something of an anticlimax especially for anyone who took the “revolution” hype seriously[xix]

 ‘Street Power’: Briefing to all demonstrators, 1968  street power

Advice to marchers from the October 27 Ad Hoc Committee. An earlier demonstration against the Vietnam War, on 17 March 1968, had led to violence outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, London. The 27 October demonstration was mostly peaceful but very heavily policed.

“wait until they left”

The breakaway group led by the Maoist Britain-Vietnam Solidarity Front was almost thwarted by the march organisers who were aware of the plan and feared violence would erupt. Ernie Tate of the VSC recalled the plans in hand to counter the BVSC and ensure the large majority were persuaded to march from the Charing Cross Embankment on a roundabout route via Whitehall, to Hyde Park:

We took action to ensure that the ultra-left would not try and divert everyone to the American Embassy. We placed recognized leaders – myself included — immediately behind the ultra-left contingent. Tariq Ali played an invaluable role here. When they made their move at Trafalgar Square to head towards the American Embassy, we simply turned around and stopped the demonstration and let the Maoists and their friends head off and Tariq took up a megaphone to explain what was happening to those behind us. The ultra-left and anarchists hesitated a little while and began yelling insults at us, but we told the people around us to wait until they left. I estimate they took around 5000 people..”[xx]

hqdefault

The protesters had broken away but were confronted by a wall of police. Security for the march was high. A thousand-strong team of police was stationed outside the US Embassy and policemen lined the route of the march with back-up following in coaches.

Petition to Downing Street

The rest of the march, which was organised by the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, continued peacefully to Hyde Park. On route, Tariq Ali, the head of the VSC, handed in a 75,000-signature petition to 10 Downing Street to ask the government to stop supporting the U.S. in its war against Vietnam.

A record from contemporary newsreel of the demonstration:

https://www.britishpathe.com/video/vietnam-demonstrations-1 [xxi]

———————

Once in Grovesnor Square the protesters formed a human chain and charged at the police wall but failed to break through. McCarty recalled “the pushing and shoving and squeezing, which occurred whenever a charge of demonstrators was driven back into the square or into South Audley Street or when the police, having yielded ground, surged forward in a double wedge. At those moments I was conscious of a fear, for us all, of being crushed or trampled”[xxii]

Clashes continued for around three hours, with some of the violent protesters throwing stones, fireworks and other objects. But the 1,000 officers on guard, who included mounted police, were able to hold back the protestors led by the Maoist Britain-Vietnam Solidarity Front, and, after hours of stalemate, they all dispersed. Was it true the police joining the demonstrators in singing “Auld Lang Syne” as they prepared to call it a night?

Afterwards

In the event, October 27th was a successful anti-climax: successful in terms of numbers and atmosphere, but an anti-climax in that it was ultimately just a demonstration and none of the political problems had been dealt with.

Following the October 27th demonstration, the editorial of Vietnam Solidarity Campaign Bulletin 19 (published November 1968) in a piece of political spin, stated:

“The demonstration on October 27th represents a sweeping vindication of the work of our campaign, and a significant contribution to the world-wide movement of support to the fighting people of Vietnam…….the fact the demonstration did not become a riot was due to the fact that the authorities conceded our right to occupy the whole street unhindered.”

However, there were more sanguine judgements carried by those who rightly saw the march as marking a critical time for the campaign, pointing out that “it was hoped that prior to the demonstration new people would be involved in …political preparation for the demonstration. This failed to materialise in any significant degree. …our aim to provide an alternative view of Oct.27th to that disseminated by the news media, has proved largely illusory.”  And there were complaints regarding the “bureaucratic nature of the VSC organisation and the gulf which separates the organisation and the mass support it has”.  Political  opposition to the VSC positions had been expressed by the existence of the BVSF. [xxiii]

The Vietnam Solidarity Campaign declined rapidly, reviving as at the time of the invasion of Cambodia in 1970. The single issue protest cannot continue indefinitely mobilising people on issues without giving them a political perspective and linking them to the social forces that can make their aspirations reality. Otherwise, no matter how large, militant or imaginative, they will drift away.

Coverage of the events of that October 27th created further antagonism towards student activists, and enthusiasm for protest diminished from 1968 onwards with the London demonstration on 16 March 1969 only managing to attract 4,000 protesters. The memorial meeting called for Ho Chi Minh, who died in October 1969 saw its end as an active coalition. Chris Harman of IS pointed out Uncle HO had been responsible for the massacre of the Vietnamese Trotskyists in the nineteen forties. The Communist Party and official North Vietnamese speakers left the platform, and Bob Purdie of the IMG, a different variant Trotskyist group, declined to support Harman when he spoke next.

The collapse of movements that had been focal points in the course of ‘68 was not unique to Britain. The peak of mobilising significant numbers was recognised at the time. But the experience had energised a new generation of activists, Phil Hearse put this growth into context :

One has to have a sense of proportion however. The Communist Party had around 30,000 members still (with about 5000 in the Young Communist League), despite the trauma of the Hungarian 1956 revolution, which saw thousands of its activists leave. By contrast the SLL at around 300 members was much bigger than the other revolutionary groups, but only because these groups were tiny. IS, later the SWP, had only a few dozen members and their leader, Tony Cliff would say they could have the annual conference in his front room.[xxiv]  

It was the International Socialists led by Tony Cliff who recruited most successfully from the VSC according to Tarqi Ali. IS went from 450 in 1967 to over 1,000 by the end of 1968, in contrast, the IMG, which was much closer to the common student-oriented politics of the year and was also central to the VSC, grew much more slowly until later in 1970.

On the far left there were other divisions than just the radical Maoist opposition.[xxv] While fellow Trotskyists in The Militant organisation remain stubbornly in its Labour Party grove aloof from the VSC but still selling papers on the sidelines, Gerry Healy’s Socialist Labour League distributed a leaflet, Why we are not marching, to the Vietnam demo on October 27th; Because the march was, they claimed, just a stunt to distract attention from the SLL,

“The Socialist Labour League refuses…to participate in the demonstration. Our task is to direct all young workers and students towards serious consideration for the theory and role of Trotskyism and the Fourth International towards the building of the revolutionary party.”

 

The BVSF itself went into decline. Behind the BVSF was the small maoist group led by Manchanda, the Revolutionary Marxist-Leninist League. In quick successions two separate groups of activists were to break away and added to the Maoist constellation of small planets in London[xxvi]. As Sam Richards made a common observation that [xxvii]    

“the RMLL working in the BVSF had confused the single issue campaign with the wider strategic task of building a revolutionary party. Such solidarity activity was treating the broad front as the party organisation. Such an approach was seen repeated again as with the INSLF, North London Alliance and other occasions as the movement learnt how to work more appropriately and effectively in the broad movement and amongst the working class and people.”

The BVSF saw common errors in the work of the young activists particularly the sectarianism evident in the policy statement of the BVSF, which pledged the organisation to fight for the ‘unity of the whole working class in defence of their living standards and democratic rights and in their struggle for social advance’. This, a commitment appropriate to a revolutionary party of the British working class, reflected the confusion about what constituted a broad front organisation of solidarity with the people of Vietnam. There were lessons about Left Sectarianism to be learnt as The Marxist noted:

The statements produced by the BVSF are all too frequently written in a heavy-handed cliche- ridden style which is of no use to convinced Marxist-Leninists and frankly unintelligible to the broad mass of people for whom the statements are presumably intended….. Such a writing style either reflects or can lead to a sectarian working style…. Perhaps the worst example to date of what we mean is to be found in the October 1968 Bulletin of BVSF which was distributed on the march. One article in this bulletin has a full headline which reads ’YCL Revisionist Leaders Unmasked as Police Agents and Stooges of US imperialism’.

People cannot be won if they are not permitted to develop in struggle, but are simply told: “We are correct, join us.” We must instead show how we are correct both through concrete work and by drawing correct conclusions from this work. Winning people to our position does not mean their passive acquiescence, but rather their lively participation. Marxism-Leninism cannot be learned by rote.

As the Joint Committee of Communists later explained:

The ‘Revolutionary Marxist-Leninist League’, for a short time a member group of the JCC, attempted to promote a strategy built solely around the issues of the national liberation struggle in Vietnam. Primarily because of its petty-bourgeois base it was (and is) unable to build up links with the working class or in any way develop the internal contradiction between Labour and Capital on which the proletarian revolution in Britain will be based. It also epitomised the ‘leftist’ error of which Lin Piao reminds us: that is, one-sidedly pursuing struggle’ to the exclusion of ‘unity’.

* *

Ironically, in 2008, when it was announced that the US embassy was withdrawing from its central London fortress, moving to south of the river in the Nine Elms area of Wandsworth  , Tarqi Ali suggested ” When it finally happens, Grosvenor Square veterans should make sure there is a properly organised wake with proper music, etc. They should be sent off in style. Old memories must not be obliterated. ”

He did not remind people that it was Manchanda, not Tarqi Ali who argued that

“The lair of U.S. imperialism is the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square and that’s where the protest should be made.”

 

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/oct/03/usa.foreignpolicy

 

ENDNOTES

[i] Ernest Tate, Building the VSC. Delivered at the Left Before 1968 conference, organised at UEA by the Socialist History Society and the University of East Anglia Department of History, February 13/ 14, 2016

[ii] Diane Langford & Claudia Manchanda. Letter to Marika Sherwood (2000) https://dianelangford.wordpress.com/

[iii] “The following is a statement CONCERNING THE VIETNAM SOLIDARITY CAMPAIGN issued by all those who found it necessary to walk out from the conference called on June 4-5, 1966, at the Mahatma Gandhi Hall, Fitzroy Square, London W.1. to launch a Vietnam Solidarity Campaign in Britain……………..”

[iv] Ibid. Ernest Tate, Building the VSC.

[v] Mary McCarthy, Letter from London: The Demo .The New York Review of Books, Volume 11, Number 11 · December 19, 1968 reproduced at http://abhimanyumanchandaremembered.weebly.com/vietnam-solidarity.html

[vi] VSC Bulletin, July-August 1967, no. 6, p.1

[vii]  Mike Martin. A short account of the International Marxist Group

https://redmolerising.wordpress.com/2015/12/17/guest-post-a-short-account-of-the-international-marxist-group/

[viii] Bruce Robinson, 1968: Vietnam solidarity and the British left

http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2008/03/20/1968-vietnam-solidarity-and-british-left

[ix] See: Clive Bloom, Violent London: 2000 Years of Riots, Rebels and Revolts 2010

[x] Diane Langford, Letter to The Observer 4th October, 1998

[xi]  The Sun, 19 March 1968, p. 16

[xii] Daily Mail, 19 March 1968, p. 6

[xiii] R. Fraser, 1968: A Student Generation in Revolt, p. 279

[xiv] The Vietnam Movement: Report from Glasgow Communist Movement and South West London Marxist-Leninist Group. The Marxist, Vol. 1, No. 9, Spring 1969.

[xv] Mary McCarthy, Letter from London: The Demo .The New York Review of Books, Volume 11, Number 11 · December 19, 1968 reproduced at http://abhimanyumanchandaremembered.weebly.com/vietnam-solidarity.html

[xvi]  The Vietnam Movement: Report from Glasgow Communist Movement and South West London Marxist-Leninist Group. The Marxist, Vol. 1, No. 9, Spring 1969.

[xvii] Metropolitan Police Special Branch, Vietnam Solidarity campaign “Autumn Offensive” Reference to papers 346/68/15 (2) 10th day of September 1968

http://www.isg-fi.org.uk/spip.php?article637

James Callaghan, Home Secretary in 1968, later admitted that the 17 March demonstration caught the police totally unprepared. In an interview for Peter Taylor’s BBC documentary ‘True Spies’, one Special Branch officer remembered: ‘We had no training at all for demonstrations. We were just bussed in in a coach, didn’t know what we were going to do; no preparation for it whatsoever’. Echoing this, another noted: ‘We underestimated how many were coming. We were ill-equipped at the time and couldn’t bring enough men in to control it consequently when the violence erupted. We were amateurs then’.

http://specialbranchfiles.uk/vietnam-war-story/

[xviii] Diane Langford, The Manchanda Connection July 2015 https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/uk.secondwave/langford.pdf

[xix] Mike Martin. A short account of the International Marxist Group

https://redmolerising.wordpress.com/2015/12/17/guest-post-a-short-account-of-the-international-marxist-group/

[xx] http://www.isg-fi.org.uk/spip.php?article637

[xxi] A British Pathe newsreel shows the beginning of the march in Trafalgar Square, where peace activists, including actress Vanessa Redgrave, assembled. And the reporter claimed that among them were “trouble maker” and filmed those with bushy beards carrying anarchist and communist flags. Then, in a smoke-filled Grosvenor Square, police were shown tacking to the ground and carrying away some protesters amid a hail of noise and firework missiles. In the streets surrounding the square fireworks and other missiles were thrown but no injuries were caused and police considered them to be isolated incidents. Some of the 117 policemen injured during the clashes were also filmed being stretchered away.

[xxii] Mary McCarthy, Letter from London: The Demo .The New York Review of Books, Volume 11, Number 11 · December 19, 1968 reproduced at http://abhimanyumanchandaremembered.weebly.com/vietnam-solidarity.html

[xxiii] Vietnam Solidarity Campaign Bulletin 19 published November 1968

[xxiv] Phil Hearse, The crystallisation of a new militant left. Delivered at the Left Before 1968 conference

[xxv] Points made by Ian Birchall in Against the Grain, the British far left from 1956 p201

[xxvi] The Association of Communist Workers, launched in 1969 and led by Harpal Brar and Edward Davoren, who in August 1969 went on to lead the Irish National Liberation Solidarity Front that had at its core the Communist Workers League of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) that publicly emerged in 1972-73.

https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/uk.secondwave/index.htm

[xxvii] Sam Richards, The Rise & Fall of Maoism: the English Experience

https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/uk.secondwave/uk-maoism.pdf

 

EYES LEFT

woodsmoke

“Ultra-Left”, “Far Left”, “Political fringe”, “sectarian extremists” – those politically drawn to the edge suffer spirited polemics and insult – a tawdry political re-enactment society –   occasional academic interest and rare media scrutiny usually hyped up by right-wing “Reds Under the Beds” coverage [ as in this pamphlet from aims-of-industry-reds-under-the-bed] (so stop reading the Daily Mail).

A characteristic critical observation is the “habit of believing a significant and meaniful contribution has been made to the solution of a problem by stating what would be a desirable result without relation to the existing situation and balance of class forces.”

That comment voiced by Betty Reid, stalwart of the revisionist Communist Party of Great Britain [damn, illustrating my leftist tendencies there, should have removed the adjective].

For those with a nostalgic interest in the Far left in Britain she is instantly recognised as the author of a Communist Party pamphlet, Ultra Leftism in Britain published wayback in 1969. The CP was reticent in acknowledging other forces on the Left as its hegemonic hold unravelled, so this was a rare foray into “publicising” political lines it disagreed with. Polemical exchange, or attacks upon others, was common place on the political left and often entertaining to read the flawed reasoning and positions in political lines that were opposed to one’s own, like when reading the daily newspapers. So Reid’s populist discussion of the plethora of Trotskyist tendencies, anarchist and syndicalist groups, with passing mention of the Maoists but not, if memory serves, of the Socialist Party of Great Britain- one of the oldest of the fringe – provides a sketch of the far left landscape of the day. [Copy of her pamphlet here Reid 1969]

What stimulated this search of the bookshelves?

News of the forthcoming Waiting for the Revolution: The British Far Left from 1956 from Manchester University Press.

Contents

Introduction: The continuing importance of the history of the British far left – Evan Smith and Matthew Worley

1 Revolutionary vanguard or agent provocateur: students and the far left on English university campuses, c. 1970-90 – Jodi Burkett

2 Not that serious? The investigation and trial of the Angry Brigade, 1967-72 – J. D. Taylor 3 Protest and survive: the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Labour Party and civil defence in the 1980s – Jacquelyn Arnold

4 Anti-apartheid solidarity in the perspectives and practices of the British far left in the 1970s and ’80s – Gavin Brown

5 ‘The Merits of Brother Worth’: the International Socialists and life in a Coventry car factory, 1968-75 – Jack Saunders

6 Making miners militant? The Communist Party of Great Britain in the National Union of Mineworkers, 1956-85 – Sheryl Bernadette Buckley

7 Networks of solidarity: the London left and the 1984-85 miners’ strike – Diarmaid Kelliher

8 ‘You have to start where you’re at’: politics and reputation in 1980s Sheffield – Daisy Payling

9 Origins of the present crisis? The emergence of ‘left-wing’ Scottish nationalism, 1956-79 – Rory Scothorne and Ewan Gibbs

10 A miner cause? The persistence of left nationalism in postwar Wales – Daryl Leeworthy

11 The British radical left and Northern Ireland during ‘the Troubles’ – Daniel Finn

12 The point is to change it: a short account of the Revolutionary Communist Party – Michael Fitzpatrick

13 The Militant Tendency and entrism in the Labour Party – Christopher Massey

14 Understanding the formation of the Communist Party of Britain – Lawrence Parker

Eye-watering academic price for the hardback, but a previous volume edited by Evan Smith and Matthew Worley is now available in paperback. Against the Grain: The British Far Left from 1956 claimed to be the first general history of the British far left to be published in the 21st century.

Contents

Introduction: The far left in Britain from 1956 – Evan Smith and Matthew Worley
PART I: Movements

1. Engaging with Trotsky: the influence of Trotskyism in Britain – John Callaghan

2. The New Left: beyond Stalinism and social democracy? – Paul Blackledge

3. Narratives of radical lives: the roots of 1960s activism and the making of the British left – Celia Hughes

4. Marching separately, seldom together: the political history of two principal trends in British Trotskyism, 1945-2009 – Phil Burton-Cartledge

5. Opposition in slow motion: the CPGB’s ‘anti-revisionists’ in the 1960s and 1970s 98 – Lawrence Parker

6. Dissent from dissent: the ‘Smith/Party’ Group in the 1970s CPGB – Andrew Pearmain

7. British anarchism in the era of Thatcherism – Rich Cross
PART II: Issues

8. Jam tomorrow? Socialist women and Women’s Liberation, 1968-82: an oral history approach – Sue Bruley

9. Something new under the sun: the revolutionary left and gay politics – Graham Willett 10. ‘Vicarious pleasure’? The British far left and the third world, 1956-79 – Ian Birchall

11. Anti-racism and the socialist left, 1968-79 – Satnam Virdee

12. Red Action – left-wing pariah: some observations regarding ideological apostasy and the discourse of proletarian resistance – Mark Hayes

13. Anti-fascism in Britain, 1997-2012 – David Renton
 

Something for everyone, illustrating the ideological variety, splintered nature and issues that consumed the political activists of Britain’s far left. So Waiting for the Revolution is not quite a sequel to Against the Grain, but volume two of more an ongoing work-in-progress.

Already the dedicated work of Marxist Internet Archive  with sites like ETOL, providing an On-Line Resource Center for the Study of the International Trotskyist Movement ,and the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line, providing a historical archive of information on and primary documents from the world-wide Anti-Revisionist Movements, there exist an extensive record of the far left , now supplemented with dedicated websites like these from the Trotskyist melee:

posadas

http://quatrieme-internationale-posadiste.org/EN/index.php

Established 1962, when J. Posadas and the Latin American Bureau of the 4th International broke from the international leadership of those days. The idea was to stay, on a one hand, faithful to the programmes and the aims of the organization that Trotsky had founded in 1938; and on the other hand, to participate fully in the organization of the new forces of the revolution. These appeared after the Second World War, through the triumph of the Soviet Union and the powerful development of the colonial revolution.

red moleThe Red Mole A modest contribution to the history of the Fourth International in Britain eg International Marxist Group variety.

https://redmolerising.wordpress.com/

sparts

formerly the International Spartacist Tendency

http://www.icl-fi.org/index.html

 

big flame logo   Big Flame were a Revolutionary Socialist Feminist founded in Liverpool in 1970, the group initially grew rapidly in the then prevailing climate on the left with branches appearing in a number of cities. They published a magazine, also entitled Big Flame, and a journal, Revolutionary Socialism. They also devoted a great deal of time to self-analysis and considering their relationship with the larger Trotskyist groups. In time, they came to describe their politics as “libertarian Marxist“. In 1978 they joined the Socialist Unity electoral coalition, with the International Marxist Group.

In 1980, the Libertarian Communist Group joined Big Flame. The Revolutionary Marxist Current also joined at about this time.  Big Flame was wound up in about 1984.

https://bigflameuk.wordpress.com/

And, again seeking to construct the 4th International:

Revolutionary Regroupment http://www.regroupment.org/main/page_home.html

There is certainly no end to the entertainment with enough material from such prolific publishers to stimulate further volumes in the history of the far left.

37. Remembering Ahmed Cheikh of African Dawn

Just as reading poetry is a poor substitute for a performance, these words cannot convey the warmth of personality, the optimism and energy that came from the person of Ahmed Cheikh. Cheikh was a Pan African activist poet who, best known as a cultural activist, contributed, as part of the Political Economy Study Group, to the first edition of Eurocentrism and the Communist Movement . Even in the cold London streets, his activism reached out as an African citizen of world against injustice. He helped found Black Action for the Liberation of Southern Africa (Balsa) which worked with the Black Consciousness Movement of Azania and the Pan-African Congress to break the stranglehold of Anti-Apartheid Movement’s sole recognition of the ANC, and supported the neglected, less fashionable struggles as in Eritrea.

He was principally known as a poet and founder member of the poetry and music collective African Dawn. They released a couple of LPs – African Dawn and Chimurenga – and were part of the development of a revolutionary solidarity culture throughout the 1980s and 1990s. A regular at the old Africa Centre in Covent Garden and ever present in social evenings to recite poetry accompanied by traditional African instruments played by “African Dawn”. He worked with other artists like the poet Pitika Ntuli – member of Pan African Congress – of Azania (South Africa) and when not at a solidarity evening or promoting art events and exhibitions, he was busy on the Poetry circuit,

Perhaps Cheikh’s best known political statement – calling it a poem does not convey the resonance it produced – always performed with gusto and empathy through his lyrical and sonorous performance, “Please do not call me South Afrika” was produced as a fund-raising poster by the RCLB who had published it in their paper.

 

Please Do Not Call Me South Afrika

I am Azania land of black folks Grain grown when stones were still as soft as butter. I am Azania land of Zenji Truth made redundant by the tyrant´s gang I am Azania I ran wild and free – I tamed iron long before the steel-ore plunderer came.

I have seen kingdoms rise I have seen kingdoms fall. I once stretched my hands up to the coast of Somalia. Deep deep by the great walls of Zimbabwe. There my name is entombed. I am Azania once land of hospitality.

I flung my arms to captain Diaz en Vasco da Gama for I thought them lost. We sang and ate, danced and laughed. I had plenty to give for I knew nothing of their design. Then one day, one infamous day in 1652, the treacherous seas belched forth. Three drunken ships at table bay Dromedaris, Reiger, Goede Hoep.

As dusk was inching We met We crushed. Their ribs into our Assegais my sons and daughters fell too, in a hail of settlers´ bullets. Battles of yesteryear are engraved in my memory. I praise you sons en daughters of Thaba Bosio, Isandlawane, Sandile´s Kap, Keiskamahoek, Bloodriver I praise you all.

I am Azania – land of Black folk. I bent but not break. My name it self – a platform and programme scattered the white mists over Kliptown. I am Azania Mangaliso Sobukwe heard my call – then there was Sharpeville. I am Azania the name reconcilled with itself in deeds of Bantu ka Biko

The name wrapt up a forest of black fists in Soweto. I am Azania – battered flesh in the Bantustans, Sturdy voices of Robben Island. I am Azania – the mind vintilates back its own breadth, sweat, tears en blood trapped in gold particles. I am Azania – mourn made murmuring murmuring made cry, cry made shriek, shriek drilling in the settlers´ears.

I am Azania – the feared black bull in the tomentors dreams. I am that black dot on the boers white history books. Black consciousness unbound only the pure I take for I have no time I am Azania land of ZENJI – burning truth churns the tyrants- gang truth made the dream and dream made the truth Please do not call me South Africa.

*

He was not only an exponent of revolutionary culture but also authored a study, David M.Diop: The Aesthetics of Liberation [Ahmed sheikh text], as part of the exploration of the tradition and politics of Orasture, the aesthetic of African creativity and its implications for black artists.

ahmed-cheikh.png

Ahmed Cheikh was born on 26 November 1954 and died 12 September 2009 in his home Town of Dakar, Senegal.

Families and friends of Cheikh Ahmed Tidiane Gueye organized a memorial event in the Institute of Education, University of London on 28 November 2009. It was an event, featuring various artists and poets with traditional African instruments, reflecting his progressive ideas and development in revolutionary thought and spirit.

Petros Tesfagiorgis recalled the internationalism that characterised Chiekh’s solidarity with the plight of the people of Africa including the cause of Eritrea through music and poetry. In 1996, at the Municipality Hall of Asmara, Ahmed was on TV-ERE reciting poems in commemoration of Abdurrahman Babu (1924-1996) a leading African Maoist thinker and statesman from Tanzania.

“What was remarkable was that when Sheik was introduced to the audience, he stood gracefully tall in his long Senegalese robe looking at the audience silently for few seconds. He then opened his mouth by saying, “I am happy to be in liberated Eritrea and among my people”.

“He then looked straight into president Isaias’s eye – an invited guest himself- who was sitting in front row, and expressed his profound concern that African leaders get to power in the name of the people but forget their promise once they assume power; he said it with extreme seriousness as if he was reminding the President not to take that road. That was the beauty of Sheik, he does not compromise when it comes to the rights of the people. “

 

In his last recorded interview Cheikh talks about the role of Pan Africanism, socialism, and the responsibility of the artist.

He said, “Artists have a responsibility to shake things where they are dormant”. Through his internationalist reach and anti-imperialist consciousness, he lived up to that responsibility.

____________________________________________________________________________

 

Posting draws upon:

Petros Tesfagiorgis, Tribute to the late Sheik Ahmed of Senegal, a poet and a friend of Eritrea December 2009

http://asmarino.com/articles/458-tribute-to-the-late-sheik-ahmed-of-senegal-a-poet-and-a-friend-of-eritrea-and-x-mass-remembrance-of-all-prisoners-of-conscience.

In Memoriam: Cheikh Ahmed Tidiane Gueye (26 Nov 1954 – 12 Sep 2009)

Posted on 21/05/2014 by theworkersdreadnought

https://theworkersdreadnought.wordpress.com/2014/05/21/in-memoriam-cheikh-ahmed-tidiane-gueye-26-nov-1954-12-sep-2009/

36. Just read…..

Dave Smith & Phil Chamberlain

Blacklisted: the secret war between Big Business and Union Activists

New Internationalist Publications. 2nd edition, 2016. ISBN 9781780263410   £9.99

____________________________________________________________________________

BlacklistedExposed, decades of denials, lies and deceit by construction companies as they blighted the lives, careers and families of tens of thousands of workers for objecting to deadly working conditions on the building sites around us.

Written both as a piece of investigative journalism and a testimony to the bitter struggle it provides personal accounts of resisting the vile practices of the Companies’ Human Resources as it lays bare the scale and persistence of the conspiracy detailing the role of large corporations, the state, the security services and police, and even the occasional trade union bureaucrat in the surveillance of a wide range of activists and through denial of work.

The victimised fought back.

The Blacklist Support Group’s determination and campaign eventually saw a High Court public apology  [found here] sweated out of major construction companies that acknowledged the role of the Economic League, the Services Group and the Consulting Association bankrolled to systematically gather information, maintain and use secret blacklisting against trade unionists and others.

It documents the collusion that was suspected by all involved in the industry, it names names drawing upon extracts from blacklisted files and maps out the scale and extensive practices that these companies wanted to be “their dirty little secret”.

35. People Defending Themselves

“Conservatives have done their utmost to portray trade unions and their members as ‘the enemy within’, introducing regressive anti-worker laws to stop people defending themselves,” said Len McCluskey, general-secretary of Unite. “That is not progress; it’s giving bad bosses a free ride.”

The comment was promoted by a press article that stated,

Strike levels were close to an all-time low last year as industrial relations between workers and bosses experience a new level of understanding, well according to a report in The Daily Telegraph. [Why changes to how we work mean the ‘bad old days’ of strikes may be gone by Alan Tovey, Industry Editor. Daily Telegraph 30 May 2017]

Official data from the Office for National Statistics [ONS] show that in 2016 a total of 322,000 working days were lost because of stoppages – the eighth-lowest figure since records began in 1891.

A strike is a last resort and work place militancy reflects a weakness of the organisations that claim to represent workers. Union Unite echoed the view that to get to a stage where staff walk out, it effectively means that there has been a breakdown in communications, and also that pay remains the most common cause of industrial action.

The number of strikes was record at 101 last year. However, ONS analysis of the data reveals that instead of a large number of small scale strikes, “large-scale stoppages have become more common” like the workplace dispute of junior doctors’ grievances over changes to their contracts.

Since 2008 the impact of financial crisis and redundancy laid the ground for a long-term decline in willingness among staff to walk out over pay. Wider economic uncertainty meant workers felt they have less bargaining power and simply put up with what they saw as poor pay.

“Strikes are far less common these days and tend to be short, with going on strike always a last resort when bosses refuse to negotiate or compromise,” said Frances O’Grady, TUC general-secretary.

In the last decade, 2011 proved the worst year for labour disputes, when public sector workers staged a number of stoppages over controversial pension changes – some 1.39 million working days calculated as lost. And regardless of the demand, whenever there is a national dispute, from fringe Trotskyist groups for the TUC to get off its kneels and call a General Strike, that possibility is but a pipe dream. There is a misplaced nostalgia for we are unlikely to see a sudden surge in workers picking up placards and standing around blazing braziers as was a frequent sight in the 1970s and 1980s. Unions have seen a steady reduction in their membership for decades

Employees in professional occupations were more likely to be trade union members than other employees. Employees in the professional occupations account for 37.3% of union members, a cavet to that is new classification to compile the statistics , among other changes, moved nurses and midwives, and therapy professionals, both relatively highly unionised occupations, into the professional group.

However, the changing profile of a trade unionists is reflected in the observation that the proportion of employees who were trade union members was greater for people with a higher qualification, such as a degree, compared with those with lower level qualifications, or no qualifications. Nearly a third of university graduates would be union members such as teachers in the education sector.

In 2015, 3.80 million public sector employees belonged to a union in the UK, In the private sector, there were 2.7 million members. Current membership levels are well below the peak of over 13 million in 1979. The proportion of employees who were trade union members was at 24.7% in 2015. This is the lowest rate of trade union membership recorded since 1995.

Trade unions, like British society, has an aging membership profile with about 39% of trade union member employees aged over 50 in 2015, while only 28% of employees are in this age group. The proportion of trade union members aged below 50 has fallen since 1995, whilst the proportion aged above 50 has increased.

[Trade Union Membership 2015: Statistical Bulletin]

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/525938/Trade_Union_Membership_2015_-_Statistical_Bulletin.pdf

The Decline in Unionisation

Heavy industry, which was heavily unionised, has virtually disappeared with the switch into services. The rate of union membership in manufacturing, which has traditionally been seen as a high union membership industry, has fallen substantially in recent years to 16.8% in 2015.

The long-term trend for a much lower proportion of private sector employees who are trade union members, relative to the public sector, continues.

Many services companies are smaller businesses where employee relations tend to be informal and staff are more amenable to the company’s ethos and control and smaller businesses are more likely to strike individual pay deals than implement the corporate-union negotiated settlements. Services jobs can also be seen as more transitory, with a threat that there is a ready supply of people lining up to take positions and other jobs are available, meaning staff would rather put up with a difficult situation or simply go find a better job than go to the trouble of striking. Accommodation and food services had the lowest union membership at 3.5%.

The likelihood of belonging to a trade union varies substantially by sector. Employees in industries with higher proportions of public sector workers are more likely to belong to trade unions, including the ‘public administration and defence’ and ‘education’ industries.

Rather than huge workplaces, modern business can also tend to be more dispersed – such as a large retailer with lots of outlets each employing only a handful of staff – making it less likely for issues to spread to large portions of the workforce, taking it to a point where there is anger on such a scale to drive a ballot for industrial action. Union membership is more likely to be an insurance premium than a commitment to the collectivist solidarity philosophy. Unions are defence mechanism not vehicles for social advancement other than in the realm of pay and conditions at the workplace. It is about “People Defending Themselves”.

Employee Engagement

Grievances are also going underground . Rather than strike, workers just disengage, doing their job but without any motivation apart from getting paid.

This raises another worry: Britain’s low productivity rate:

“The persistent weakness in productivity has puzzled economists and there are many alternative theories to explain it, including: weakness in investment that has reduced the quality of equipment employees are working with; the banking crisis leading to a lack of lending to more productive firms; employees within firms being moved to less productive roles; and slowing rates of innovation and discovery. None is sufficient on its own to explain entirely what has happened, making it difficult to predict when and if productivity growth will return to pre-crisis rates of growth.”

[Daniel Harari, Productivity in the UK. House of Commons Briefing Paper. Number 06492, 27 April 2017]

It is important to note that changes in labour productivity may be driven by a number of other factors, many of which have little to do with the innate qualities or efforts of employees.

YETfun-at-work

Perhaps it is personal: “People Defending Themselves”. New technology in the office environment allows for plenty of diversion from the task at hand, a victim to click-bait interests, browsing before shopping, online bookings and the ubiquitous addiction to social media – all eat into company time.

Elsewhere, work remains social – talking about the weather, the telly, spouting recycled sport trivial – the coffee break, the paralysing drama of the printer paper jam, awaiting deliveries – all see the clock tick by and work does get done but the intensity, the rhythm of work diluted, slowed to manageable proportions. Monetary reward – pay, bonuses, etc – is the advertised currency of reward for work (supposedly as a company’s failings are seldom reflected in cuts to directors rewards) then a pay cut – albeit freeze or inflation induced – should be matched by a decline in output per hour worked as being paid less to do more has little appeal.

Understand that we should take pride that

“International comparisons of labour productivity show that the UK was ranked fifth of the G7 countries, with Germany top and Japan bottom. In 2015, UK productivity was 19 percentage points below the rest of the G7 average, the same as in 2014 and the widest productivity gap since at least 1995 (when the data series began).” Harari 2017

Read it another way: labour exploitation is less effective. Resistance to Labour being used simply as labour more successful: “People Defending Themselves”. In the ‘Command and control’ structure that employees operate – not those over-priced artisans servicing the luxury market of people with money and little taste nor those professions of creative freedom with its glided caged illusions – but in the work place where social relations are dictated by assigned roles, there the human conflict is borne – not to let the bastards grind you down. Refusing to work overtime, applying health & Safety requirements , working to contract without goodwill all impacts upon the work environment because employers need willingness and people missing legitimate work breaks, a shorter lunch, that ten minutes to finish a task. There is the resilience of resistance expressed in small acts of defiance, shaving away the working minutes in non-productive activity. The alienation from the workplace, not to let the workplace dictate who you are – me, I’m a model/ a lawyer/ a train driver/ student – not to identify with the means or mechanisms you use to acquire social substance. The company uniform is something you discard at the end of the shift. Charge your phone at work and no thought of quilt crosses your mind. It’s just one of those things, of no little consequences or another mental brick in the wall?

And, yes this was written at work.