There was a wide range of people paying tribute to Avtar Singh Jouhl who died on October 7th at the age of 84. Avtar Singh Jouhl was a tireless leader of the Indian Workers’ Association, as general secretary (1961-64; 1979-2015) and national organiser (1964-79), briefly working in 1967 in London to work for the IWA newspaper, ‘Lalkar’ (Challenge). Described by The Times as published in Brussels, 1500 copies “printed in Punjabi, it has been flown to London at no small expense and sold to Indian immigrants in Britain as part of an effort to convert them to Maoist revolution.” [i]
Avtar had been active in the organisation since coming to Britain in 1958, a leading workplace militant and antiracist activist in the West Midlands from the late 1950s until the 1990s. He was a respected and listen too activist: as he said,
“We learned to take up the issues that related to the workers, rather than just talking to them from a Marxist viewpoint. If you organise in that manner, the workers will trust you and respect you.”[ii]
In 1958, Avtar Jouhl was instrumental in setting up the Birmingham branch of the IWA. The Association’s initial role was to support local workers, helping them to write letters and supporting any claims of unfair dismissal. One of the IWA’s main campaigns during the 1960s was against immigration legislation, in particular the 1962 Commonwealth Immigration Bill.
The Birmingham Mail reported the death of Avtar Singh Jouhl has triggered an outpouring of tributes from activists and campaigners.
It is testimony to the work and the style it was done that a tribute carried in the Morning Star, written by Avtar’s friend Paul Mackney, the former General Secretary of NATFHE/UCU, the trade union for teachers in further and higher education, noted that Avtar opposed all organisational sectarianism and threw the full support of the IWA behind united fronts such as the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (CARF), Campaign Against Racist Laws (CARL) and the Anti-Nazi League (ANL) . [iii]
That Avtar’s life was marked across the political spectrum from the mainstream BBC, favourably featured in Radio 4’s “Last Word”, to various small leftist groups, uniting Trotskyists and supporters of Xi’s China, meant The Socialist Worker carried an obituary, stating “Avtar was a principled fighter all his life. The struggles he led made a difference to black, Asian and white workers.” But not mentioning his adherence to Maoism. Often in interviews the focus was on his lifetime of activism rather than his Marxist philosophy as evident when reflecting on a life of struggle in the IWA and the trade unions in 2019. Republished on ‘The Communists’ website, a self-attributed description from the CPGB(ML), an interview carried in the SWP’s International Socialism journal in October 2019. The article, “Lifelong class fighter against racism”, rightly describes Avtar as “part of a generation of black and Asian militants whose struggles against racism and for workers’ rights have transformed the working class and the trade union movement in Britain.”[iv]
A life-long Marxist, Avtar was awarded the Order of the British Empire (civil division) in 2000 for ‘services to Community Relations and to Trade Unionism’. This does raise issues for others when a life time of activism, politically campaigning and welfare work within the community has seemingly eschewed a revolutionary party-building orientation.
The Guardian obituary was headline, “Anti-racism campaigner and trade unionist who successfully challenged segregation in 1960s Britain”.Like other tributes recalled thatin 1965, Avtar invited Malcom X to Smethwick, near Birmingham, to see the type and extent of racism and the ‘colour bar’ then prevalent in the area, just weeks before the African-American revolutionary leader was assassinated.
His work campaigning to end the racial segregation in drinking establishments in Smethwick, West Midlands drew the attention of Malcolm X who visited the town, on 12 February 1965, and was taken to a segregated pub, the Blue Gates, with Jouhl and Indian activists to witness where non-white customers were forced to drink in separate rooms.
There are many colourful examples of local actions and campaigns in Birmingham that illustrate that Avtar played a very full role in the life of the community. The IWA took up welfare and political issues affecting Indians living in Britain, including fighting all forms of discrimination. They also took positions on some social issues. For example, in the 1960s and 1970s the IWA held a campaign against the marriage dowry. They were active on a local and national level – swelling demonstrations in the struggle against racism, work among the industrial unorganised leading them into the trade union movement, and the struggles of the working class in Britain. Not surprisingly there was a focus on the revolutionary struggle in India, but also mobilising support for anti-imperialist struggles throughout the world, and in support of the socialist countries.
Feb 1978: IWA (GB) leaders Jagmohan Joshi (bottom left), Teja Singh (second from bottom right) and Avatar Johal (bottom right) meet members of the Communist Party of China at Mao’s birth place in Shaoshan, China. The image is indicative of the IWA (GB)’s Maoist tilt, which informed their stance on the Naxalbari insurgency as well as their anti-racism work in Britain. [i]
Besides the IWA, and the trade union movement, Avtar played a leading role in the Association of Indian Communists in Britain (Marxist-Leninist) (AICML), which guided the work IWA. Part of a triumvirate leadership with Jagmohan Joshi and Teja Singh Sahota, who was elected as Vice President of the national IWA in 1959 and served as its President from 1967-1991, the IWA and the AIC were staunch supporters of the Chinese revolution and friends of China, maintaining close comradely connections with the country, particularly through the 1960s and 1970s.
There was a danger of exaggerated expectations on the political Left of the Association of Indian Communists because of its association with the IWA, whose large membership did not necessarily exceed the objectives “to further India’s attempt to achieve independence, to promote social and cultural activities and to foster greater understanding between Indian and British people.”
There was also the added factor that curtailed the contribution of such national minority organisations like the AIC. Nationality based formations reflected the issues and divisions of evident in Indian politics and the fractious nature of the IWA is seen in the catalogue of organisational splits and creation of alternative (but similarly named) rivals.[ii]
A Unity Conference on June 9th 1990 at Smethwick, Birmingham, with the merger conference taking place 16-17 February 1991 saw Avtar Jouhl became General Secretary of the merged Indian Workers Association (GB) and Prem Singh, General Secretary of the other Indian Workers Association, became the President.
There was a retained friendship and support for China in the post-Mao era, becoming a patron of the “Hands off China! Campaign” launched in 2008 by the CPGB-ML, who claimed Avtar as a member. Maybe that commitment to anti-revisionist politics morphed into the generic Marxism-Leninism that encompasses the mishmash of revisionist fragments and those who see socialism in action in China and North Korea?
After almost 30 years in the foundry industry, in 1987 Avtar was appointed by South Birmingham College as a trade union studies tutor at Birmingham Trade Union Studies Centre. He remained an active trade unionist. In the early-1990s, Avtar was elected to the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the lecturers’ union, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (Natfhe) 1992-97.
When asked in an interview in 2019, “Looking back on your life as an activist, what are you most proud of? “Avtar replied,
I am content that I have served the working class by advancing socialist policies, building trade union organisation, antiracist and anti-imperialist campaigns, as well as leading struggles for equal rights and participating in welfare work.”
As part of the mythology of British student radicalism two incidents – at Cambridge and Bangor University – grow in the telling. So what is this, about a riot by Maoists at Bangor University in the early 1970s?
Of the events fifty years ago contemporaries “cannot recall hearing anything about this event.” [David Mayes, studied at University of Wales, Bangor 1971]. Others reactions was along the lines of “Errrr…..don’t remember that one. But there was a lot of it about. “Although Chris Jones , [there in 73] described Bangor “as the last stronghold of university Maoism in the U.K. I think. There were Maoist books in the Bookburn the 2nd hand bookshop. “Whence the differences?” was the most common book. I didn’t hear of any riots though. But I did hear that in 72 the Maoist students refused to take their final exams on political grounds.”
“Whence the Differences” was a collection of Chinese editorial articles produced as part of the anti-revisionist polemic, and discarded books in a second-hand bookshop would suggest faded glory rather than abandoned in the chaotic passion of youthful rebellion. Former Zoology student Gwydion Madawc Williams [“I was a teenage Maoist, but stopped believing after we learned of the bizarre flight and death of Lin Biao (Lin Piao). “] graduated 1974 recalled some details of the maoist presence:
A faction of the movement not known for their riotous behaviour despite plenty of opportunities in the Six counties. So, a riot in Bangor? Unlikely from the maoist-identifying students. Perhaps stories are getting conflated as student protests at University College of North Wales UCNW in the 1970s focused mainly on calls to expand the role of the Welsh language. Radical students would disturb lectures held in English and paint slogans in Welsh on the walls of the Main Building, resulting in a number of suspensions of these activists.
One of the known hotspots of student maoism in the UK as illustrated in London in the late 1960s when the London RSSF prove to be a nucleus for future maoist organisations. [i]Bangor wasn’t on the radar.
The Garden House riot of February 1970 has been part of Cambridge folklore. As Cambridge Alumni Magazine tells it
“A dinner to promote Greek tourism at the Garden House Hotel was disrupted by a student demonstration against the country’s ruling military junta. The protest turned violent, the hotel was damaged, and both police and students were bloodied. Eight members of the University received short custodial sentences for their part in the disturbance.” [ii]
Cambridge was less activity than other places: students elsewhere – the LSE, Hornsey Art College, various polytechnics – always seemed to be more active and militant. Protest was not a regular aspect of student life.
There were interventions as in November 1968, a large demonstration outside the Cambridge Union against the visiting speaker Enoch Powell, who had been sacked by Edward Heath from his position as shadow defence secretary following his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. Student newspaper Varsity reported: “Enoch Powell’s visit to the Union last Sunday passed off without an incident. The threat of violence was never put to the test, as demonstrators outside the Union waited for hour after hour for a Powell who refused to appear.”
Students marched the town’s streets on the issue of Northern Ireland in the same month.
There was, in a reflection of the times, the development of a militant left including maoist activists [iii], and alternatives like an independent voice in the setting up of the “1/- Paper” [The Shilling Paper] a left-wing, anti-establishment alternative to the student newspaper Varsity. It was international issues that stirred what was a minority of the student body into activism.
Vietnam War was a focus for demonstrators in the late 1960s, as was the apartheid regime in South Africa. In February 1969, 200 campaigners from the Cambridge University South Africa Committee marched on Trinity College in objection to the its’ resident performing arts society The Dryden Society’s planned tour of the country. The crowd was addressed by the expelled Bishop of Johannesburg, Ambrose Reeves, and the South African poet Dennis Brutus. The tour went ahead that summer with the Dryden Society performing to segregated audiences. There were ulterior motives for several members of the touring party, who used the tour as cover to clandestinely film the conditions in which South Africa’s black majority lived on behalf of the Pan-Africanist Congress. It resulted in the critically acclaimed documentary film End of the Dialogue (known in South Africa by its Zulu name of Phela-ndaba) which drew greater international attention to the plight of black South Africans living under apartheid. [iv]
Anger at the military dictatorship in Greece came to a fore during Greek Week in 1970, which was organised by the country’s tourist board and supported by travel agents in Cambridge to promote tourism. [v]
May 10th 1970, students occupied Abbott’s Travel Agency in Sidney Street, and burnt posters on the pavement outside, as was reported in Varsity by a 20-year-old Jeremy Paxman. A series of protests culminated on Friday 13th May at the Garden House Hotel, where a dinner was being held to celebrate the conclusion of Greek Week. Around 400 students picketed the hotel, but the peaceful protest descended into violence as the police attempted to break up the demonstrators.
It was regarded as a blatant provocation: “Greece…was ruled by a military junta with an appalling record on human rights and deserved to be isolated and shunned, rather than visited and supported.” [Caird, 21 at the time]
The Shilling Paper of Friday 13 February was a call to action for the evening’s protest. The front page stated: “Tonight, the lickspittles of Cambridge gather to celebrate the ‘success’ of Greek Week in Cambridge … Whether or not they will succeed in passing their evening pleasantly at the Garden House Hotel is up to us.” The back page was given over to a cut-out poster – a red Z overlaid with “Greek fascists hold propaganda party – all invited!”
The riot was described thus:
“.. tension escalated after demonstrators began hammering on the windows, and a member of hotel staff turned a firehose on them from a first-floor window. The lights in the garden failed, and the police found themselves under a hail of stones. Tempers were frayed, windows broken, and truncheons drawn. Before reinforcements with dogs arrived, several protestors broke through to the dining-room, or were pushed in by the bottleneck of bodies on the thin terrace. Some of them were set upon by guests … whacked about the head with a soup ladle. Tables were upended, and crockery and bottles shattered on the floor. By the time the police managed to clear the demonstrators, more than £2000 of damage had been done. Two policemen had been injured by missiles.” [vi]
Arrests, police raids on student digs and exchanges in the letter columns in local papers followed.
“The demonstration, frankly, did get a bit out of hand and a number of us – including me – were arrested, eventually being charged for a variety of alleged offences including riotous assembly, possession of offensive weapons. To the authorities, this was a heaven-sent opportunity to make an example of long-haired, trouble-making leftie students who should have known better. It was an election year and we were a very convenient target.” In July, six students were jailed, with Caird receiving an 18-month sentence.
There was widespread criticism of Judge Melford Stevenson’s handling of the trial; the leader column in The Times was typical of broadsheet reaction, querying the need for such lengthy gaol terms: “An exemplary sentence should be no more severe than is necessary to set an example … While the judge was right to take a serious view of a deplorable affair, he has been very severe.”
Melford Stevenson in retirement, he told a reporter that the Garden House protest was “undoubtedly a case for deterrent sentences, and that is what I passed. The significant thing is that since then, no major incident of such student violence has happened.”
Asked if he regrets his part in the Garden House Riot, Caird says: “I genuinely don’t think I would have done anything differently. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and it was stupid to get myself arrested, but I would not hesitate to go to that demonstration again.” Caird expressed similar sentiments in a Varsity interview in November 1971, having spent 12 months at Wormwoods Scrubs and Coldingley Prison: “The only moment that really hurts is the clamping on of the handcuffs”.
The student input into the progressive struggles of the 1960s and 1970s involved a broad spectrum of political sympathies. In a situation more typical of student activism in the Britain of the 1970s, protests after Greek Week, as Emily Chan charts, seemed to be more focused on the immediate concerns of university life. [vii] Still, in that self-referential manner inculcated at Britain’s oldest universities, Cambridge Alumni Magazine, Cam 61 said of the incident “Perhaps no episode of student protest in post-war Britain attracted so much media attention, or provoked greater public debate.”[viii]
[iii] In the early 1970s, the maoist book distributors New Era Books had a contact address in Glisson Road that was looked after by student members at the university. In 1974 the operation moved to a retail site in Finsbury Park, North London.
[vii] Emily Chan, Dissent: a brief history of student protests and demonstrations. Varsity 9th November 2012. Demands for reforms to the disciplinary system at Cambridge led to a picket of over 800 students outside the Senate House in October 1970, which attracted heavy police presence. There were protests in 1972 against the government’s plans to reform student unions. January saw around 600 took part in a local march, and a Cambridge contingent of 700 joined the NUS rally of 35,000 in London. In February 1972, a student sit-in at the Old Schools house, Cambridge University main administration offices, voiced student anger at the University’s hostile response to proposed examination reforms. This was followed by more sit-ins at Lady Mitchell Hall, a large lecture theatre and at the Faculty of Economics in February 1973, after the rejection of examination reforms to the economics tripos. The 1973 sit-ins ended with a march of 1,500 students to Senate House, where they handed in a petition with more than 3,000 signatures calling for the start of negotiations for reform in all faculties.
Mayday 2022 saw a return to the streets in London, with assembly at Clerkenwell Green for now traditional march and rally in tourist town, Trafalgar Square. The London May Day organising Committee set the slogans
FOR TRADE UNION RIGHTS – HUMAN RIGHTS
FIGHT AUSTERITY – FIGHT RACISM
As the Morning Star describes it “the one day of the year that celebrates workers’ achievements and battles.”
Leading up to this Mayday, confined to isolated bed rest by Covid inflection – so much for it being the tailend of the pandemic – thoughts turned to what is needed for the future.
Research note: More than an Internet thing
Ever since 2008, there has been attempts to stimulate interest in creating an appropriate UK Marxist Leninist Maoist organisation to move forward. This tenacious fifteen years of encouragement and support to re-spark organised Maoism in Britain has involved the same few activists, either veterans of the Maoist movement or new young converts, with the fraternal internationalist aid of likeminded co thinkers.
Back in December 2008, an evening meeting at Conway Hall London was convened to address the question of «The Present International and National situations and the tasks of creating a revolutionary communist party in Britain».
In Scotland at the start of the 1970s, two anti-revisionist groups operated: one a component group of the Communist Federation of Britain (Marxist-Leninist), the Glasgow Communist Movement and political rivals associated with Spanish Civil War veteran, and Edinburgh trade unionist Tom Murray organised in the Workers’ Party of Scotland (Marxist-Leninist).
The WPS (ml) had its origins when the Scottish elements the Committee to Defeat Revisionism For Communist Unity. Arguing that the level of class antagonisms (and hence class consciousness) continued to remain higher in Scotland than in England, the decision in principle to form the WPS (ml) was taken in Edinburgh in May 1966 by anti-revisionist veterans. The Scottish Vanguard, paper of the WPS (ml), was launched in 1967 (published irregularly until 1979). The WPS (ml) soon embarked upon a propaganda offensive producing leaflets and the Red Clysider, and Dundee and Tayside Vanguard in 1971. Open about their Maoist orientation, the WPS (ml) took part in elections, including the 1969 Gorbals by-election, when they came last behind the Communist Party.
The WPS(ml) initially supplied literature from its Literature Dept.at its contact address c/o 21, Castle Road, Newton Mearns, Glasgow (advertised in The Scottish Vanguard 1967).They sold, usingan accommodation address [c/o The Bookstore,63, West Port, Edinburgh], duplicated pamphlets they republished by the late Michael McCreery, “Destroy the Old to Build the New”, “The Way Forward”, “Notes on the Lower Middle Class & the Semi-proletariat in Britain”, “Organise at the Place of Work” and “The Patriots”.
It boasted an extensive literature list with English language publications supplied from Chinese, Albanian and Vietnamese state publishing houses.
“The W.P.S. is in a position to offer a great variety of literature on Marxism, Leninism, The National Question, The Greet Ideological Controversy, Questions of Scottish Culture. Particularly important are the basic books written by Marx, Engels. Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, Enver Hoxha. It included pamphlets and “Quotations From Chairman Mao Tse-tung” [at 3/6] and Enver Hoxha’s “The Role and Tasks of the Democratic Front for the Complete Triumph of Socialism in Albania”, “Some Aspects of the Problem of the Albanian Woman”, “Report on the Activity of the Central Committee of the Party of Labour of Albania to 5th. Congress November 1966”.”
The constitution of the WPS (ml) was adopted in Edinburgh on December 5th 1970. The Party stated:
“our programme is one of action. We must secure the results which our workers have been striving to attain for whole generations and which are still outside their grasp: full employment and prosperity for all, a crash programme to solve the housing problem, justice for the veterans of labour and attractive prospects in Scotland for our youth.”
Agitational leaflets were available mail order, The Manifesto of WPS(ML) adopted in May, 1967 was available and Scottish Vanguard specially recommended their own publication and printing of “POLITICAL POWER A CLASS ANALYSIS” By DR. S. W. TAYLOR. Price 7/6. Postage l/-
Scottish vanguard did note that in the Summer 1968 Clyde Books, at High street Glasgow were now stocking “Scottish Vanguard”.
In 1969 Vanguard announced, “Our New Literature Service
Readers will be interested to learn that our Party expects soon to acquire its own centrally situated Bookshop in Glasgow and that facilities have already been secured for setting up a fully stocked agency for the sale of the widest possible range of Marxist, International and creative literature especially Chinese and Albanian publications, in the bookshop soon to be opened at 105-107 Morrison. Street, Edinburgh”. [Vol3 No.6]
The WPS (ML)’s support for Scottish nationalism and independence drew sharp criticism from other anti-revisionist groups. The WPS (ml) were instrumental in popularising the work of Scottish communist, John MacLean, partly through the founding of the John MacLean Society. While the Workers’ Party of Scotland (Marxist-Leninist) published several pro-Gaelic articles in its paper Scottish Vanguard, in May 1969 it produced the first translation into GAELIC of the “Three Constantly Read Articles” by Mao Tsetung (“Serve the People”, “In Memory of Norman Bethune” and “The Foolish Old Man. Who Removed the Mountains”) Price 1/-. Postage 4d. And WPS (ml) Chairman, Tom Murray reported that an anonymous Gaelic scholar was considering undertaking the translation of ‘The Thoughts of Chairman Mao’ (The Times April 25, 1970).
The WPS (ml) expanded its retail presence, adding to its Edinburgh outlet by opening a shop, Vanguard Books at 270 Paisley Road West, Glasgow G51 1BJ, managed by Matt Lygate who worked onsite in the small printshop producing pamphlets, leaflets and posters promoting the workers’ revolution.
The WPS (ml) achieved notoriety in the spring of 1972 when two leading members founder and Gorbals electoral candidate Matt Lygate and fellow WPS(ml) member Colin Lawson were convicted (along with two non-members) for armed robbery of the Royal Bank of Scotland in the Glasgow suburb of Pollokshields, having been arrested the previous year following a tip off a raid on the party’s Glasgow bookshop that discovered weapons and £10,000 cash. Lygate, MacPherson, Doran and Lawson were arrested.
Lygate received the longest prison sentence in Scottish legal history for a non-violent crime, receiving 24 years and serving 11. They were originally to be prosecuted for treason, the first case since John Maclean, but the charges were later dropped to bank robbery. The trial saw the heaviest sentences recorded in a Scottish court for non-violent crime: 26 years imprisonment for McPherson; 25 for Doran; 24 for Lygate; and 6 for Lawson. An appeal brought a reduction of only two years for Lygate: in the words of one legal authority, he had received eight years for his crime and sixteen years for his politics. On being sentenced Lygate and McPherson had looked to the public gallery and with clenched fist shouted: “Long live the workers of Scotland”. A third WPS member, Alec Watt, handed himself in to police later and admitted complicity.
While protesting at the severity of the sentences, and noting the political function of the judiciary, the main thrust of a statement issued by the WPS’s Central Committee “A Crisis Met and Overcome” was to disassociate the Party from the “romantic adventurism” of Lygate and Lawson. It stated that Lygate’s group acted without authorisation.
Lygate embarked upon his sentence claiming status as a political prisoner and campaigned tirelessly for prisoners’ rights and welfare: eight years of his term were spent under the draconian Class A regulations and he was released having served over eleven years in 1983.
Limited opening times were advertised for the bookshop following the 1972 trial of party members: restricted to Saturday 12-4.30pm, and Scottish Vanguard goes to a bi-monthly publishing schedule.
Only the Paisley premises remained in 1973.
Alongside the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, Enver Hoxha, Vanguard Books promoted the work of John MacLean and James Connolly. Also advertised was Red Star Press’ editions of Dimitrov’s Report to the 7th Congress of the Communist International, 1935 , “For The Unity of the Working Class Against Fascism”. It retains limited opening hours: Wednesdays 6-8 pm and Saturdays 10 am – 2 pm. But offered a mail order service and book-list of socialist literature. It acted as subscription agents for Scottish Vanguard – £1 sub. for 12 issues and Peking Review – an invaluable political weekly on Chinese & world affairs – £1.80 per year.
The Radical Bookshop Listing provides the dissolution date of 1981 for Vanguard Books.
Membership of the WPS (ml) had declined in the late 1970s and early 1980s down to a handful of activists. There was a brief burst of political engagement centred on international questions in the late 1970s over the issue of The Three-Worlds Theory that saw attendance at international conferences and the 1978 Consultative meeting of British Marxists-Leninists. However, the WPS (ml) adopted a marginal and minority position advocating ‘Democratic Defence’ that stated “Soviet social-imperialism is the main enemy of the peoples of the world at the present time”.
With the death of Tom Murray in February 1983, the Party came to an end.
However, after Lygate’s release from prison later that year, and a brief flirtation with the Scottish Republican Socialist Party, who had initiated a “Free Matt Lygate Campaign with the Glasgow Irish Freedom Action Committee [GIFAC] and the Revolutionary Communist Group, Matt Lygate appeared in Glasgow to announce the relaunch of the party as the Workers Party of Scotland (without the ML) . He produced a publication, “The People’s Voice” in 1988 repeating the old WPS (ml) call for a Constitutional convention and advocated a Unilateral Declaration of Independence for Scotland. Matt Lygate died January 10 2012.
1967- 1979 Scottish Vanguard (British Library has in General Reference Collection P.701/147)
The politics of the WPS (ml) were politically challenged by another Maoist element, the Glasgow Communist Movement, GCM comprised of activists that coalesced through anti-revisionist struggle in the Young Communist League and formed a component group of the Joint Committee of Communist, and Communist Federation of Britain (Marxist-Leninist).
The birth of the Glasgow Communist Movement, initially known as the Glasgow Marxist Group, was celebrated with the production and distribution on May Day, 1967, of a pamphlet introducing the non-aligned journal, The Marxist in Glasgow. It was around the journal that the participants of the first meeting of the group assembled together. Politically related in the mid-1970s was the Workers Bookshop, at 81 George Street, Glasgow G1 [Open daily 10-5 late night Wednesday 8.30] run by the Glasgow Group of the Communist Federation of Britain (ML).
They regarded the WPS (ML), as part of UK’s “petty-bourgeois nationalism” represented by the Scottish Nationalist Party and the Welsh Nationalist Party. GCM’s critical stance on the struggle for Scottish independence was informed by the position that any struggle which is not a part of class-struggle is a dangerous distraction from real issues and, therefore, has to be vigorously opposed.
The GCM argued: The bourgeois democratic revolution, as Lenin pointed out, was completed here ages ago and thus the democratic development of nations in Britain has long since ceased. Bourgeois democracy in this country is now in process of rapid decay and a corporate state is developing instead. All that can be achieved through bourgeois democracy has been achieved in Britain. So to proceed towards socialism there is no intermediate stage of ‘People’s Democracy’ or ‘National Democracy’ for Britain – here all problems of revolution are those of direct transition to socialism.”
The GCM policy statement, Where We Stand, stated it “recognises that the degree of exploitation is different in England, Scotland and Wales. These places also have cultural differences and aspirations for independent development. Therefore, the Movement, while standing for immediate separate administrative bodies for each of these places and proclaiming their right to secede, will not advocate separate working-class organisations for these places at present. For, national aspirations for independence can only be satisfied after the replacement of the present system by a socialist one through unified struggle against the common enemy constituting a single class.”
The classic arguments on self-determination, complete with quotes from Stalin on the national question were reiterated by C K Maisels, writing in The Marxist, that the WPS (ML) was wrong; the only strategic remedy can only be the direct transition to socialism via the proletarian revolution. There is no intermediate stage in metropolitan imperialist countries.
The Undercover Policing Inquiry, UCPI, led by retired judge Sir John Mitting, has through the evidence put online inadvertently begun an archive on the Women’s Liberation Front, one of the infiltrated groups target for undercover police operations that also supplied British internal security agency MI5 with information. [i]
These previously secret police reports provide a partial account of the activities of the spied upon group, that could supplement other sources and accounts (such as leading member Diane Langford[ii] ) and as the spy in the midst reported:
“The WLF produced their own literature. I think it [“Women’s Liberation”] was printed at a bookshop that had a printing press, although I never visited it myself. It may have been “Banner Books”.“
The Women’s Liberation Front, was a small London-based feminist group with Maoist leanings. its meetings hosted at one of the member’s homes. Its leading members were closely associated with the Revolutionary Marxist-Leninist League under the leadership of Abhimanyu Manchanda, previously known for activities in the British-Vietnam Solidarity Front, and subject to a separate undercover assignment.[iii]
Reports were file by an undisclosed Undercover Police officer given the designation HN 348, and active in the early 1970s.[iv] While no full cover name is known, now in her 70s, she recalled using the cover name ‘Sandra’, and having seen some documents listing members of the Women’s Liberation Front that name ‘Sandra Davies’, she conceded this may well have been her. The evidence seems conclusive, yet she still wouldn’t completely confirm it was her.
She said it was “made clear that my role was just to observe and report back.” [v]
As part of her undercover profile, HN348 Sandra, established a cover address (a shared house in Paddington to which she went only occasionally) and pretended to be a Goldsmiths student.
Assessing her work infiltrating women’s rights groups in the 1970s, she does not believe her undercover work was worthwhile.
“I stand by what I say – I could have been doing much more worthwhile things with my time than my work with the SDS.”
Some of those sceptical and critical of the undercover police deployment would agree with her:
“she appeared to have had about as minor a deployment as is possible for a spycop – long ago, not for long, deployed into one group that doesn’t appear to have warranted spying on even by the police’s standards.
As it turned out, this was the point; her testimony demonstrated the lack of guidance given to officers, and the seemingly total absence of any consideration of the impact of this intrusion on the lives of those targeted.” [vi]
Indeed, that ’Sandra Davies’ was a full-time spy on them for near-on two years, producing no intelligence of any value demonstrated the generalised, hoover-up approach to information gathering, checking on people who pose no threat. The group had come to public attention for its role in the disruption of the Miss World event live on television in November 1970 – a year before Sandra HN348 joined it.
Sandra Davies’ own statement says the activists she spied on were not breaking any laws, just hosting meetings, leafleting and demonstrating – ‘all within the bounds of the law’ – and that she did not witness or participate in any public disorder during her entire deployment. So what was the point?
‘I was tasked to observe them because Special Branch did not know much about them’
The inquiry heard how women’s groups including Women’s Voice, Greenham Common, Spare Rib collective, Brixton Black Women’s movement and others were infiltrated – leading Philippa Kaufmann QC to ask “what possible justification could there be for infiltrating such organisations other than a deep hostility to women’s equality?”
In another report from November 18, 1969, officer HN336 filed, the subject of concern was a postgraduate who had begun “involving herself to some considerable extent” with the Tufnell Park Women’s Liberation Front.
“Aged about 23 years, height 5 foot 2 inches; long dark brown hair; oval face, attractive features; sometimes wears a fawn woollen dress, brown knee-length boots and a brown herring-bone patterned overcoat. It is understood she had just completed a degree course at [redacted] University.” [vii]
Sandra HN336’s target, the Women’s Liberation Front, which later became known as the Revolutionary Women’s Union [viii], campaigned for equal pay, access to contraception and paid maternity leave. The undercover officer, Sandra, claimed the group was of interest to Special Branch because of possible links with “more extreme groups” such as the Angry Brigade and “Irish extremists.”
The monitoring group ‘Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance’ noted in relation to
The Inquiry was shown a report [UCPI0000026992] of a WLF study group on 11 March 1971, comprising of seven people meeting in someone’s home.
Davies reported that one woman present praised the recent actions of the IRA, which she described as ‘a good way to start a revolution’. She’d put the words in quote marks.
We should note that, at this time, the IRA was only attacking British military targets in Northern Ireland. It is extraordinary that this comment on current affairs, made in a private home with no intent for action of any kind, was deemed worthy of reporting and filing by Britain’s political secret police. So much for ‘you are free to express your opinions’.
There seemed to be little else in the way of Davies reporting on the Irish situation she’d suggested as one of her true targets.” [ix]
There was a pattern of weekly WLF meetings held in the evenings at people’s private homes. They were mostly study groups, reading political texts and discussing them. Some of Sandra Davies’s reports were on meetings of the six person WLF Executive Committee. Women’s Liberation Front AGM minutes 1972, records spycop ‘Sandra Davies’ elected as treasurer.
Reports were filed on a talk by Leila Hassan from the Black Unity and Freedom Party (BUFP), ‘general discussion’ of a ‘The East is Red’ –described as a ‘Chinese Revolutionary film’, meeting of the Friends of China, and document UCPI0000027026 was a report of a WLF meeting, dated 8 December 1971. The speaker had returned from a trip to China and ‘was clearly very impressed by the Chinese system’. This developed into a group discussion about all aspects of everyday life in China, including the use of acupuncture.
Other topics of reports to Special Branch were on the Black Unity and Freedom Party asking the WLF to contribute home-made sweets and cakes to a children’s Christmas party in 1971, a jumble sale being organised by the WLF, and idle personal gossip about individual circumstances or relationships. There were reports on a school strike organised by the Schools Action Union in May 1972, running to 13 separate numbered paragraphs of intelligence – with a lot of detail. It named several of the children who’d been arrested.
Tom Ford noted, Sandra’s report included the “subversive” activity of wanting better child-care:
“Members would also be visiting Chapel Street Market each Saturday and Sunday, 840 signatures had been collected. It was hoped eventually to deliver the petition to Islington council with a demand for a nursery in the area.”
A copy of the petition, included in the police report, said: “We demand that day nurseries be set up wherever there is a need. They should be cheap, open all year round and staff should be fully trained and well paid.”
Sandra HN348 did not see any of the WLF members she spied on acting violently or committing crimes. Instead the purpose of spying on the group was to know whether it was “worthwhile” to infiltrate it, she said. She described the group as vocal but aspirational only and taking part in demonstrations with placards and banners. Its membership was “No more than 12” was her count.
One of the meetings HN348 Sandra spied on that concerned the possibility of setting up a national movement of socialist women was only attended by two activists. She reported that attendees of one such meeting in Guildford, Surrey, in June 1972 were “a group of fairly moderate women with no particular political motivation who have recently been campaigning for nurseries in the Guildford area”.
It is not surprising that her own assessment of her deployment was, “I do not think my work really yielded any good intelligence, she said in self-defence in her written evidence, “but I eliminated the WLF from public-order concerns,” [x]
Diane Langford, who is named in relation to various reports on the WLF, raised the issue of homophobic, sexist and racist language in reports from the SDS, which included “racist, anti-Semitic, sexist and judgemental descriptions of people’s appearances that fill police officer’s notebooks”.
Diane Langford told the inquiry how “discovering the groups I was involved in and the Women’s Liberation Movement as a whole were secretly surveilled has been a traumatising experience”.
She explained how it was “harrowing to find out about the pernicious attitudes of officers, masquerading as comrades and friends and sisters, who inveigled their way into our homes, meetings, families and lives” and that “the betrayal of trust is unforgivable”.
Describing the intrusion, Langford noted how the SDS “hoovered-up our data”, with reports providing individuals’ names, ages, physical appearance, family relationships, social security status – “even a sample of a woman’s handwriting”. [xi]
She told the inquiry how in the reports “we find the work of people working in good faith in the hope of creating a future free of oppression, distorted by the grubby lens of officers who cannot understand what they are spying on”.
Sandra’s testimony to the Inquiry, on events of 50 years previous, stated,[xii]
“the women’s movement was really growing. The Angry Brigade were linked to the women’s movement and so were lots of other left-wing extremist groups that were latching onto it. This was before the Equal Pay Act 1970 had come into force. There were certain jobs even then where you had to leave when you got married. I did not understand the logic of that: it seemed unfair. Even in the police service, women had the same powers as men but I was only paid 90% of what the men were paid. I was interested in women’s issues, such as contraception and nurseries. I was genuinely interested when those topics were discussed in the bigger meetings, but not the extremist activities.”
“The activities the groups I infiltrated were involved in were hosting meetings, leafleting and demonstrations. They were all within the bounds of the law. The political ideology they were promoting did not spill over into what they were doing. They were just very vocal. Of course. the MPS were concerned about whether it would spill over. The Irish situation was very bad at the time and there were links between Ireland and some of the groups we were infiltrating.”
I considered one of the main aims of the SDS to gather intelligence to draw links between different groups and individuals.
Reported on what the WLF were saying and the literature they were distributing, focused on what they were going to do. I would also pick up leaflets and report on the Chinese revolutionary films that were shown.
I simply reported the location of any meetings, the numbers at that meeting, the start and finish times, and what was discussed. I reported any future plans and the likely numbers if there was a demonstration. For example, I reported that “a rally would commence at 1 pm in Trafalgar Square and four RWU members would attend” in the Special Report dated 28 September 1972 (Doc 7, Tab 56 UCPI0000011758.) which would help with police preparation.
“At the time, I felt quite detached from the activists and that I was not in any particular danger, especially at the public meetings which were open to anyone. But it was always in the back of my mind that someone would point a finger at me and accuse me of being a UCO, which would have been embarrassing at the least.”
Frequently when asked about specific reports, Sandra’s standard reply was “I do not specifically recall writing this report and so I cannot fully explain why this information is included”.
“I have seen the Special Report dated 22 January 1971 written by HN45 (Doc 9, UCPI0000011740) I note that, at paragraph 3, HN45 states the meeting was to plan activities for the WLF, British Vietnam Solidarity Front and Friends of China. This makes it look like a much bigger movement, but there were only fourteen people present at that meeting and very often these groups had an overlap of the same people. I note also that, at paragraph 5, he refers to the start of a new branch of the WLF in North London being run by <retracted> and <retracted> I was not aware that intelligence from HN45 prompted my recruitment to join this group, although this possibly could have happened.
I agree that the WLF/RWU was revolutionary in terms of their Maoist ideology, which was opposed to democratic values. The way they talked suggested they would have liked to have overthrown Parliamentary democracy, but “overthrow” is a huge word and this was a small group, so it was not something that they could have done in reality. I was not even aware of the WLF being involved in any criminal activity apart from putting up posters (if that would be considered criminal) and there is no record in the reports of any WLF member committing any act of public disorder or being arrested at any demonstrations.
I did not say much at these meetings. This did not arouse suspicion as many of them were very vocal and glad to have a passive ear sitting there listening to them.
The WLF was much more talk than action. I was tasked to observe them because Special Branch did not know much about them and wanted to find out what was really happening.
Her judgement was that the Police “did not really know very much about the smaller groups and wanted to know more to see if they were of significance to state security or any real threat to our democracy. It was not until the SDS got involved that we knew if it was worthwhile to infiltrate a group. I do not think my work really yielded any good intelligence, but I eliminated the WLF from public order concerns.”
I have been asked why I thought Special Branch needed to know the sums of contributions being made by members present at the meeting held on 25 November 1971, as stated in the Special Report dated 1 December 1971 (Doc 1 7, UCPI0000010923 1). I have found this document very difficult to read as it is of poor quality. It is not clear to me what the contributions related to except that they may have been to cover running costs for a Centre in Leamington Spa. It may have been for the Nurseries Campaign, which is mentioned a few lines above. The availability of free nurseries in the community and attached to places of work was a key issue for the women’s liberation movement at that time. I do not specifically recall writing this report and so I cannot fully explain why this information is included. As far as I recall, my reports covered as much as was necessary so my senior officers and others could understand the tone of the meeting and the types of things they were discussing. The activists were talking about nurseries at the larger meetings as well, so it was a prominent issue and relevant to the right for women to work as the nurseries would support that right.
I have been asked why I thought Special Branch needed to know that some of the group would be making homemade sweets and cakes for the Children’s Christmas Party on 18 December 1971, as stated in the Special Report dated 13 December 1971 (Doc 18, UCPI0000010932 I). I note that paragraph 5 of that report states that the Children’s Christmas Party was being run by the Black Unity and Freedom Party (“BUFP”), who had asked the WLF members for contributions. I do not specifically recall writing this report and so I cannot fully explain why this information is included. But as stated above, I think some of the main things the senior officers were interested in were the links between groups. With this in mind, the information might have been included to support the link between the BUFP and the WLF.
This report also refers to an Irish woman coming from Dublin at a time of troubles in Northern Ireland and being arrested for her links to the Angry Brigade. I knew very little about the Angry Brigade, even at the time, except that alarm bells rang if they were mentioned as they were very active and had links with the IRA. The report states that this information had come from <<retracted>> via <<retracted>> I do not recall the connection between <<retracted>> <<retracted>> . or <<retracted>> and the Angry Brigade. I assume it was mentioned in the hope that somebody would have been able to make a connection somewhere along the line. This is another example of how the reporting could attempt to draw links between these people. In the 1970s, direct action in Ireland was affecting so many people’s lives.
I have been asked why I thought Special Branch needed to know that one of the members had been accused of having an affair with the husband of another member, as stated in the Special Report dated 4 January 1972 (Doc 14). The report refers to this accusation being made by <<retracted>> “of Banner Books” and prompted <<retracted>> to end her employment at that bookshop. I do not specifically recall writing this report and so I cannot fully explain why this information is included. But I recall that this bookshop was quite significant: there was another Maoist group involved with them and they had a printing press there. I do not recall if they were printing “Women’s Liberation” at Banner Books, but they may have been. This information once again shows the links between organisations, in this case the breakdown in the relationship between the WLF and Banner Books. It also gives a flavour of the meetings and the level of things that were discussed. The accusation of an affair would also have been a potentially major event in the history of the WLF. The Maoist philosophy is quite purist and they would frown upon things such as affairs. In Maoist China, they even had a lot of strict rules about their style of dress and how they presented themselves because the clothes they wore depended on their status.
I have been asked about reports recording meetings in the homes of private individuals. The WLF meetings I attended were often in the homes of <<retracted>> I was just invited to the meetings, I told my senior officers, and there was no suggestion that I should not attend because the meetings were held in people’s homes.
An event like a jumble sale might reveal links between different people and different groups that attended, all under the auspices of a fundraising sale. It was something the WLF was doing, as opposed to ideology and rhetoric, which I would not have recorded. This report would put a flag in the diary on that date so someone could be directed to attend. I cannot recall the sale itself, but it might have been something I attended.
My recollection is that the Marxists hated the Trotskyists and the Trotskyists hated the Marxists, but everyone hated the Maoists.
[vii] Tom Ford, Revolutionaries? Undercover cops spied on mums calling for better day care. Islington Tribune November 20, 2020
[viii] The Women’s Liberation Front held their AGM on 6 February 1972. They agreed to adopt a new constitution (that meant only women could be members) and new aims and a change of name, The Revolutionary Women’s Union.
Its new list of aims said it sought:
‘To organise women in general, working class women in particular, to fight for the elimination of all exploitation and oppression and for a socialist society.
‘To expose the oppression suffered by women and to relate this to capitalist society and to oppose those who confuse the effects of women’s oppression for the real cause, ie the private ownership of the means of production.’
The group wanted to achieve these things as a path towards things that sound largely moderate and desirable to modern ears:
‘To demand equal opportunities in employment and education.
‘To fight for equal pay for work of equal value.
‘In order that women have real opportunities to take part in social production, we demand that crèches and nurseries are installed at the place of work, education and in the community, wherever there is a need.
‘All women should have the right to have children or not. In order to make this right effective, alongside child-care facilities, adequate contraceptive and abortion information and facilities should be made available free on the NHS.
‘To demand maternity leave for a definite period with no loss of pay, in the pre-natal and post-natal periods, and the right to return to the same job, guaranteed by law.
‘To fight against all discrimination and injustice suffered by women in all realms of society, in laws as regards marriage and divorce, in the superstructure; customs and culture.
‘To fight against the discrimination suffered by unmarried mothers and their children.
‘To wage a consistent struggle against male chauvinism and to strive to educate and encourage men to participate in all our activities.
‘To take our full part in the struggles against the growing attacks on our standard of living and our democratic rights and against the growing racism and fascist policies of the ruling class.
‘To mobilise women to support the anti-imperialist struggles of all oppressed peoples for the realisation of our common aim, the ending of the system of exploitation and oppression.’
In a one line acknowledgement, The Actuary noted, Mr Ivor Kenna, an Associate based in the UK, passed away aged 89.
The Oxford graduate (St Catherine’s 1949) had a richer life to tell as a veteran activist as his partner in life and politics describes it:
“He always said he did not want to seek idle fame. He never wanted to be famous. But he attended meetings and spoke up for issues he believed in. He was so good at remembering all the facts. He worked all his life for emancipation for the working class.” — Flo Kenna, Islington Tribune 25 June, 2021
They were the first to start a union at the Prudential Assurance Building in Holborn where he worked as an actuary. Called the Guild of Insurance Officials, it was later absorbed into Unite. While a Trojan like expenditure of energy and effort could be said to mark his life, and any historical account of the anti-revisionist movement in London would be peppered by references to Kenna’s presence, the actual legacy is harder to discern.
If you live long enough there is an emblematic respond to you: early on, heart-felt sighs would greet the sight of Ivor rising to his feet in a public meeting; a tolerated sectarian irritant would be the most charitable attitude. Forever on the periphery of the political fringe, temporary alignment and relationship were always being made ever since he broke with the Communist Party of Great Britain in the early 1960s when Secretary of the Finsbury branch. Ironically The New Worker, weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain, reported “This week’s postbag brought in £608 including £200 in memory of Ivor Kenna which pushed the running total up to £2,851.”[Week commencing 25th June 2021]. In the past their politics were polar opposites.
The CPGB(ML), associated with fellow veteran, and past sparring partner, Harpal Brar, were overly generous in their assessment that “Ivor did everything he could to halt the decline of the movement caused by Khrushchevite revisionism.” Ivor and Flo was there at the beginning of the struggle initiated by Michael McCreery, who issued a statement denouncing both Khrushchev and the revisionist leadership of the CPGB. The Kennas were involved in the Committee to Defeat Revisionism , for Communist Unity (CDRCU) and were expelled from the Communist Party in 1964. His disruptive, anti-leadership stance within CDRCU was duplicated throughout his attendance of other ML group meetings. (Research Note: Fracturing of the CDRCU). Despite its longevity the two=person Finsbury Communist Association was described years later by the Communist Workers’ Movement as not being
”a serious ML organisation; it has never offered much constructive criticism, has concentrated on circulating gossip and producing articles which discredit Marxism-Leninism (struggle against the Albanian line is not helped, for example, by silly remarks about how dusty Albanian bookshops are).” (CWM, Letter to Marxist Industrial Group in 1979)
The FCA survived around a fractured anti-revisionist movement populated by more notable outliers and small groups who equally failed to move beyond their petty-bourgeois obsession and seriously engage in the party-building commitment.
For their part, Ivor and Flo pride themselves on looking “unpleasant facts in the face with a view to finding a solution …it is necessary not only to tell the truth oneself but to attack those who are peddling lies and deceit.” (Finsbury Communist 49 Feb 1969)
FCA’s main charge, consistently maintained regardless of who they were criticising, is that ultra-leftism had held back the ML movement. To prove their point they were contend to emphasis what they characterise as much of the irrelevance of ML activity in Britain.
In 1978, the FCA judged that “the British ML movement has two outstanding features at present (1) substantial ignorance of, and disagreement about the actual situation in Britain (2) almost compete ignorance of what to do about that situation.” (Finsbury Communist 161 June 1978)
Time had jaded that enthusiasm of the FCA. In 1966 it had been of the opinion that” There are now organised ML groups in most parts of the country and some degree of unity in action has been reached.
All that is holding us back from forming a party is the lack of theoretical unity.”
In that year, FCA did contribute to the theoretical struggle over what constituted a class analysis of Britain. There were some criticisms of McCreey’s “Notes on the Lower Middle Class and the Semi-Proletariat in Britain!’ and Peter Seltman’s more substantial “Classes in Modern Imperialist Britain”. But it was the production of a 17-paged duplicated contribution, “Class and Party in Britain” that gave the true flavour of the FCA.
Coming from the revisionist CPGB, the FCA had constituted part of the District Committee so spoke of the “past 20 years of revisionist betrayal”. There was also involvement in the CDRCU and Ivor was thrown out of McCreery’s flat after one argument. However the FCA did correctly identified the need for and anti-imperialist and internationalist perspective within the anti-revisionist movement by calling for “complete identification with the cause of the workers and peasants in the colonies and neo-colonies”.
The hostility towards the Labour Party and the revisionist CP had not lessened, nor the conviction that higher prices had to be paid for Third World products. Self-determination for Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Cornwall had been, adopted as FCA policy. Individually both Ivor and Flo were involved with the Celtic League. And self-determination for the Celtic nations, including Cornwall and the Isle of Man has been a basic principle of the FCA.
However its analysis of classes in Britain, the FCA talked of “a peasantry and a pretty well-subsidised peasantry it is”‘ as existing in Britain seemingly oblivious to the conditions of farm labourers and land ownership patterns in rural Britain. There were references to “non-imperialist capital” which was questionable given the nature of monopoly capitalism and the actual operation of British Capital.
Further ‘theoretical insights’ resulted from the occasional public meetings held at the Sekforde Arms (London EC1) in late 1972. These were on the subject of Marx’s Labour theory attended by Arthur Evans, Mike Earle and Harpal Brar. Evans and Earle excused themselves from a follow-up meeting at which a transcript was produced concluding that everyone in Britain including the working class benefited from imperialism. The FCA claimed this as their contribution to the ML movement:
” Our chief claim to fame was in showing 1) that the British people benefit from imperialism 2) just how exactly they benefit 3) And therefore the British workers much less the Middle Class, are not revolutionary.” (Finsbury Communist 121 Feb 1975)
The FCA were never on the wagon-train of ‘revolution is just around the corner’. They maintained the plodding pace of churning out the Finsbury Communist, attending other people’s meetings, making interventions and keeping up their correspondence file.
The attitude to China was complete agreement with whatever China’s policies was at that time, as he was reported to have explain it : “ I don’t think the Communist Party of China can be said to have ever made a mistake because whatever it did seemed like the best thing to do at the time.”
The FCA always qualified as a small group in ML terms: an organisation with fewer members than initials in its name. There was once an attempt in 1976 to join with various local people in, Finsbury in setting up the grandly named’ Working Class Party ‘ but complaints that FCA maintained a separate existence led to a break-up in the project. Later they persisted and worked with the local Islington branch Independent Working Class Association, set up by people from Red Action, but again the working relationship broke down.
The view that they were a flea-like irritant for most of the ML movement, Chairman of the RCLB describing their politics as ” a bourgeois game. They have contempt for the revolutionary struggle of the working class and their organisation is a mere excuse for the most self-indulgent individualism …Their stand is an insult to and an attack on the cause of building the Revolutionary Party of the working class.” (Letter to Cde Hickey (CWM) dated 22.2.1979)
There were attempts at joint work by the FCA in the late 197Os on the subject of building a movement to oppose Soviet Social-Imperialism. FCA co-operated with the Marxist Industrial Group in a number of meetings, participating for a while in the Interim Committee but such ad hoc enterprises wilted in the face of reality.
It was not until January 1989, twenty-five years after it came into existence that Finsbury Communist contained a reader’s letter asking “what do you stand for?”
As far as the ML movement was concerned the FCA favoured “some form of unity between the FCA, the Marxist Industrial Group and the Revolutionary Communist League and various individuals who appear to have a lot in common.” (Finsbury Communist 288 Jan 1989)
Unfortunately for the Kennas, the RCLB simply failed to acknowledge the existence of the FCA.
But the FCA remained’ steadfast and true’ as the old Boy Brigade motto has it. They organised Sunday evening discussion sessions at 72 Compton Street (near Farringdon Underground) as another ritual to the FCA’s existence.
The self-assessment the FCA gave of the ML movement applied as much to themselves,
“Briefly, the Marxist Leninists did not succeed in working out how they should function in imperialist society; a society which, for all its inner contradictions, seems likely to continue for many years yet.
The results is that the movement is now obviously reduced to a few small groups and individuals, generally without roots anywhere and with not the slightest ideas where they are going. Unity conferences programmes and manifestos become redundant within: a few months, when faced with reality. At times like this it is useful to remember one’s achievements. But these achievements are only in the realm of ideas. Ideas cannot survive outside the human brain. And so the movement has a duty to consider how best it is to survive and grow.” (Finsbury Communist May 1981)
In all of its existence, the FCA did not contribute to the growth of that movement. In: 1970 the FCA claimed that they owed “its existence partly to the correct criticism levelled at the Western Communist Parties by the CPC in 1963” (Finsbury Communist 66 July 197O) unfortunately the FCA never took those criticisms to heart, and remained largely irrelevant, on the fringes of the ML movement, opportunistically tolerated by some sections, shunned by others.
The FCA found new opportunities and associates were made of old opponents ,when it became active in the political conglomerate that united self-described Stalinist, Marxist-Leninists, pro-Soviets and the odd maoist in the Stalin Society.
Organisationally, Ivor kept busy as London Branch secretary of Celtic League and the friendship organisation Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding – SACU, and the anti-revisionist Finsbury Communist Association. In later years he was a stalwart of the Stalin Society and spoke at the CPGB (ML) meetings. Compiler of online China Eye’s “Sinophile by Flo and Ivor Kenna”, he maintain a record of postal contributions going back to SACU’s foundation and SACU News in the 1960s. Ivor was a constant letter writer, his name attached to many missals to a wide range of publications from the local Islington Gazette, Camden New Journal, to less mainstream outlets like Morning Star and Weekly Worker.
And over the years, he would churn out the Twitter equivalent The Finsbury Communist and maintained the production of this four-paged duplicated monthly since February 1965, as the vehicle for a running commentary on life and politics in Islington’s Finsbury ward, the Left movement and the world.
THERE ARE probably police spies and certainly mad people in the left movement. However, calling a comrade a police spy or a madman effectively blocks discussion. May I offer an alternative explanation? Some of us believe that the objective situation is ripe for revolution or, at least, for radical change. These I term the instant revolutionaries. Others on the left believe that it will be a long haul.
The instant revolutionaries keep themselves in a state of continuous alert. But still revolution or radical change does not happen. They try every means that they can think of to convince people to rise up. Still nothing happens.
The first explanation that occurs to them is that people are being misled. It is but a short step from there to a belief that they are being deliberately misled. Who would deliberately mislead people? Agents of the ruling class, of course.
I was in an organisation once where one of the members was convinced that the leadership was a ruling class fifth column and circularised all and sundry accordingly. The leadership over-reacted and the comrade was expelled. The real explanation for the comrade’s conduct is that he is an instant revolutionary who was disappointed with the organisation’s progress. This does not just happen with those of us who are, like John Maclean, on the left of the left. When the Socialist Labour Party was formed, Ken Livingstone as much as asserted that Arthur Scargill had been put up to it by MI5. Ken Livingstone has plans for the Labour Party which entail keeping the left within the party.
So, please, let’s stop throwing round labels such as police spy, madman, or even stalinist, trotskyist or maoist, etc, in order to avoid reasoned analysis of other comrades’ arguments and of the objective situation.
Letter to Labour Affairs , part of the former B&ICO stable of publications
It is with great regret that we learn of the death in London of Ivor Kenna, an Anti-Revisionist and campaigner for national rights. He died on Thursday, 3rd June. As Flo Kenna has told us: “He really enjoyed your publications”. Ivor was born on 28th July 1931, so he just missed his 90th birthday. Flo and her husband were true comrades: they were married for sixty years. A sad loss.
I was very interested to read Brendan Clifford’s quotation from Sir Charles Dilke: “The Anglo-Saxon is the only extirpating race on earth” . The Anglo-Saxons extirpated the Maoris, until the Maoris stopped them, the Australian aborigines to some extent, the Tasmanians complete, the North American nations, to some extent.
New Zealand, Australia, Tasmania and North America are in temperate climes, suitable for Anglo-Saxon settlement.
Nearer home there were white Christian nations to deal with. If the inhabitants were prepared to become English-speaking they would play a useful role in the British Armed Forces alongside Englishmen in conquering as much of the world as possible.
The Cornish were to be treated as English (see John Angarrack’s book Our Future Is History).
The Scottish and Welsh languages were banged out of their speakers by such devices as the Welsh Not.
Ireland was more of a problem. Seventeenth century English population experts such as Petty seriously discussed getting rid of the Irish out of Ireland by any means necessary and settling English people there.
Later on in the 1840s, potato blight spread remarkably quickly to Ireland and North-West Scotland, leaving England untouched.
The Penal Laws did have some success in turning Catholics into Protestants.
Henry of Navarre, who turned Catholic to become King of France said “Paris is worth a mass”.
Irish people who turned Protestant were of the opinion that material possessions and higher social status are worth not having a mass.
“Michael James” was the cover name used to protect Covert Human Intelligence Sources, an undercover police operative designated HN96 by the official Undercover Policing Enquiry [UCPI]. Towards the end of a five year deployment (1978-1983) that targeted the East London Troops Out Movement and IS/SWP, James filed a report providing details of the principal contact of the Maoist RCLB. Like most of the information and gossip supplied by these “spy cops” it was mostly in the public domain as the organisation’s contact was a north London bookshop address freely given out, and printed in its paper, Struggle/Class Struggle since 1974! Perhaps the added value element was the observation that the name individual [JB] was also a member of East London TOM where no doubt “Michael” had conversed with JB. (see UCPI0000018423 dated 13th July 1982)
Newspaper organiser, SWP Clapton branch SWP Hackney District Committee Membership & Affiliation Secretary, Troops Out Movement Chair of Steering Committee, Troops Out Movement
That spy cops have been infiltrating political organisations, activist groups and trade unions is not news. That these spies have reported on campaigning activities as well as on the personal lives of group members and their contacts has been frequently disclosed. Michael James was part of a wider domestic spying operation targeted at democratic participation in politics as the UCPI disclosed in 2017 that more than 1000 groups were targeted by spycops . The inquiry gives a glimpse of scale of state infiltration examining the activities of over 130 undercover officers, who spied on more than 1,000 mostly left-wing political groups over more than 40 years. Not just radical left-wing groups engaged in legal protest, infiltration targets included social justice campaign groups, anti-racists groups, environmental campaigns and animal rights activists. There are hundreds of victims who become friends with undercover officers. They have trusted them, let them into their homes, and allowed them to spend time with their families. And there are more than thirty women who have been deceived into romantic relationships with undercover cops, some fathered children and then abruptly disappeared. Other unsavoury incidents saw reports on children sent to Special Branch, and individuals reported on at specific requests from Box 500 [MI5].
The spy cops hovered up information: personal names, addresses, relationships, commitment to mental health institutions – basically any gossip going along with the mundane organisational tasks involved in the mechanics of protest or arranging a conference. They would copy the attendance sheet, and pass on speculation about speakers, and other administrative detail hardly being secret when blazoned on posters and adverts to get people along! The quality of what was gathered was supposed to create a picture and understanding of the activist’s concerns, and “potential threat”. Actually, the British Left were exercising their democratic legal rights; it was the unethical, unregulated and unadvertised activities of the state’s agents that has been exposed by the evidence submitted to UCPI. Generally, the evidence illustrates undercover officers as engaging in behaviours and practices including:
• Dishonesty; • Unauthorised accessing of records; • Emotional manipulation; • Abusing positions of trust; • Sexual offences; • Other conduct related issues.
The Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI) was established in 2015 in response to evidence brought to light through the Ellison Review of “appalling practices in undercover policing” during the investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Allegations made by former-spy, Peter Francis, included that he had been told to find information that could be used to smear the Lawrence family. The current abuses were disclosed in the spring of 2021 when the “independent, judge-led” UCPI examined the activities of the Metropolitan Police’s secret political unit, the Special Demonstration Squad, from 1973-82.
The inquiry announced that the next set of hearings, which will continue to cover the period of 1968-1982, won’t take place until 2022. For the victims who were spied upon in the 2000s, this means it will be 2025 before they give their evidence: a full decade after the inquiry began.
Mainstream coverage of the Inquiry has been sporadic. Proceedings are monitored by civil activists concerned at the abusive practices of the Metropolitan Police Special Branch since 1968, and by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPIOU) controlled by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). They record and publicise and examine police infiltration into political and activist groups over a period of four decades.
A few links to other sites and publications with greater informed detail about Corporate and police spying on activists
In a follow up to the previous post that looked at infiltration by the state in the revolutionary movement during the flowering of protest in the late 1960s and 70s in Britain saw one element of the security apparatus, Special Branch, have its lens focused upon the newly emergent forces of the anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninists. The Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) was a covert unit under Special Branch supervision that existed within the Metropolitan Police Service between 1968 and 2008. So far the cover names of 45 out of a total of at least 144 undercover officers have been disclosed during the ongoing official Undercover Policing Inquiry. The previous post looked at the released reports of the anonymous clandestine police spy, assigned the designation HN13, on the marginal Far Left Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist). Among the other state agents exposed have been those engaged in spying upon the small if energetic , short-lived Revolutionary Marxist Leninist League led by one of the prominent personalities of the movement, Manchanda.
Constable HN45 “Dave Robertson” served as an undercover police officer engaged in secretly surveillance of London Maoists active in the Revolutionary Marxist Leninist League led by A. Manchanda. Activist Diane Langford, reported on by the copspys, remarked:
“The reason given for spying on us was to gather intelligence about forthcoming demonstrations and possible infractions of public order. The futility of this is illustrated by a demonstration consisting of a maximum of a dozen of us, walking with cardboard placards, in support of Huey Newton in 1969. We were astonished to arrive at Grosvenor Square to be met by at least a thousand uniformed police and row upon row of parked up police vans.” [i]
Although the consensus is that the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign had been a target of DC HN45, “Dave Robertson” joined the RMLL study classes held at Manchanda’s home, 58 Lisburne Road, from 1970 onwards, and report on the Revolutionary Marxist Leninist League and its associated organisation principally the Britain-Vietnam Solidarity Front. Testimony at the Undercover Policy Enquiry referred to.
“ a meeting at a pub in King’s Cross. It references, halfway down: “There was no chairman and the only speaker was Al Manchanda, who spoke on the subject of ‘Soviet revisionism and collusion with US Imperialists’.” And then you conclude with referencing: “No mention was made of any future activities.” And the report lists a number of names of people that were present: Al Manchanda, Diane Langford and Sonia Seedo are those that we can see on the page. “ [ii]
Others names were redacted by “privacy” overlays.[iii]
DC HN45 Robertson reported February 1971 on the personal circumstances that Manchanda’s wife worked full-time while he remained at home caring for their small daughter – presented as a practical experiment in the field of women’s Liberation. He informed Special Branch that Manchanda considered the position of Secretary of the RMLL to be a full time responsibility and awarded himself a small weekly payment of around £4 out of organisation funds. The purchasing power of £4 in 1971 equivalent to £50.31 today.
In her written OPENING STATEMENT to THE UNDERCOVER POLICING INQUIRY, Diane Langford observed:
“HN45 displays a vindictive hatred of Manu and a peculiar obsession with our personal relationship and child-care arrangements. He sent detailed reports to the Special Branch about what he apparently saw as transgressive behaviour – a man looking after his own child – and expressing horror that I was ‘sent out to work.’ He informs his superiors of Manu’s ‘insufferable anecdotes’ about our baby. Strangely, nothing in there about us overthrowing the state machine.
HN45, ‘Dick Epps’ et al were part of a manipulative, racist endeavour to justify their pay packet by portraying Manu as being an imminent danger to the state, implying he espoused the idea of going on demonstrations only to foment violence. This is utter rubbish. He never had any illusions about the possibility of ‘smashing the state machine.’ On the contrary, he was pragmatic about the possibility of challenging the power of the State head on. His scepticism about the willingness of sections of the white working class to give up privileges derived from colonialism annoyed many on the left and, apparently, HN45.”[iv]
Evidently good at establishing rapport within the group, Constable HN45 was said to have developed a friendship with Mr Gajawan Bijur, owner of the Banner Bookshop in Camden, that since it was opened in 1968, become one of the principle outlets for the dissemination of official Peking-line literature .
A report to Special Banch stated: “Bijur has recently opened a second bookshop in Brixton to which he wishes to devote more of his time and is currently looking for a suitable ‘comrade’ to run the one at 90 Camden High Street.” It noted that in the course of his penetration of Maoist groups, DC [HN45] is becoming a confidante of Bijur.
“By coincidence, he has asked DC [HN45] of the Special Operations Squad to take it on, or to recommend a reliable substitute. ….Bijur would like the position filled by 14th February, 1972.
What those advantages would be: “(i) It would entrench our officer in Bijur’s esteem and probably make him acceptable in most Maoist circles.(ii) He would become privy to the inner workings and policy of ‘Banner Books’. (iii) He would probably have access to records and mailing lists of persons of interest to Special Branch. (iv) He would be able to provide a plan of the bookshop and would have access to the keys of the premises.”
From his released reports by the UNDERCOVER POLICING INQUIRY we learn of the busy schedule of a newly recruited “political activist “ as HN45 reported on:
Meeting of the Revolutionary Marxist Leninist League held at the Union Tavern, King. Cross Road, C1 on Sunday, 15 November 1970 from 7.30 pm to 10.30 pm that was tended by 12 persons. The chairman and only speaker was Abhimanyu MANCHANDA who delivered a long lecture on ‘How the Soviet Revisionists carry out all-round restoration of capitalism in the USSR”.
27th November Camden Studios, NW1, a leaving party for representatives of the Democratic republic of Vietnam organised by RMLL drew 40 people, only about eight were not from RMLL and associated groups. Disapprovingly as several hundred invitation had gone out to the London Left. Manchanda spoke and Diane Langford, representatives from Friends of Korea, Pan African Congress and South West Africa National Union made short remarks. Following this, Gajawan BIJUR spoke and present bouquet of flowers.
On Sunday, 29 November 1970, at Camden Studios, just off Camden Street, about five minutes’ walk from Mornington Crescent Tube station, a public meeting was organised by the Revolutionary Marxist Leninist League and Friends of China’ to celebrate the 26th Anniversary of Socialist Albania. The meeting which commenced at 7pm and finished at 10 pm. Manchanda was the chairman and only speaker to the audience of 16, one of whom was seemingly from the revisionist CPGB, engaged in a heated argument with Manchanda in the Q & A session.
Planning RMLL activities for the year 1971
January 20th 1971 Wednesday evening meeting to plan RMLL activities (including the Women’s Liberation Front (WLF) and its newspaper “Women’s Liberation”, Friends of China and the Britain-Vietnam Solidarity Front (BVSF) was attended by 14.
A potential move into industrial work saw applications targeted at Fords at Dagenham and the Metal Box co. in North London (principally women and Asian workers). The formation of a WLF branch in the Palmers Green area was to support campaigning at the latter site. Diane Langford was to initiate a more general orientation to women members of the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades (SOGAT) in the printing industry through her workplace. (SOGAT now part of Unite)
“The question of regular weekly public meetings, film shows and Other activities were discussed but no firm plans were made. Manchanda was to drew up a calendar. of dates and venues for such meetings and this would be submitted in due course.”
The RMLL were to produce its own journal, scheduled for March to coincide with commemoration of the Paris Commune, with Manchanda as editor who “hoped to get some assistance from the Chinese News Agency. Manchanda was less keen on the suggestion of opening a bookshop favouring RMLL run pop-up bookstalls. Whether there was any consideration by Manchanda of the political relationship and support already sustained by the proprietor of Banner Books to the activities of the group would be speculation.
Political classes for beginners were to continue weekly at Lisburne Road, Belsize Park, North West London, NW3. A monthly weekend school, in addition to weekly meetings, for members was planned to discuss political activities and plan future strategy.
Overlap with other undercovers
The entry of the Undercover Research Portal at Powerbase – investigating corporate and police spying on activists – noted that DC HN45 was not alone in surveillance, infiltration and reporting upon the Maoist milieu in London.
“It is notable that a number of the venues frequented by the RMLL, such as the Laurel Tree and The Enterprise Pubs, as well as the Camden Studios, were also frequented in 1969 by another SDS undercover officer John Graham when he was infiltrating another Maoist influenced group, the Camden Vietnam Solidarity Campaign. According to the Undercover Policing Inquiry Graham also reported back on the Revolutionary Socialist Students’ Federation.
A third SDS undercover, using the name ‘Alex Sloan‘, targeted one of the groups that split from the RMLL: the Communist Workers League of Britain, which was behind the Irish National Liberation Solidarity Front and also active in and around Camden. Like Robertson, ‘Alex Sloan’ was deployed 1971 to 1973.
A fourth undercover infiltrated the Women’s Liberation Front, set up by Diane Langford, when in the early 1970s the RMLL developed a focus on feminist issues and the growing women’s liberation movement. The address for the new group was house on Lisburne Road which Diane shared with Manchanda and served as an effective headquarters for the RMLL and its associated groups. In 1972-1973 the Women’s Liberation Front was targeted by female SDS undercover, known only as ‘Sandra’ (HN348).
The activism and internationalism that characterised the RMLL was overshadowed by events in October 1971 at the Second National Women’s Liberation Conference in Skegness.
The RMLL’s Women’s Liberation Front, and other maoist-aligned activists were active in the movement but, as Langford recalled,
“The reputation of the Maoists within the Women’s Liberation Movement was rock bottom. Women were trying to develop a new, autonomous movement and we were seen as male-dominated and spouting tired old anti-imperialist rhetoric. In particular, women long remembered the incident at the national WLM conference in Skegness in 1971 when Harpal Brar leapt onto the stage and wrestled the microphone out of a woman’s hand. After that, conferences were solely for women but that didn’t stop some men from trying to gate crash and even assault women attending.”
The report to Special Branch from its agent HN348 “Sandra”, noted Meysel Brar was chair for part of the proceedings and that fellow WLF member Chris Mackinnon ”made her usual maoist pronunciations” that provoked a suspected pre-planned walk out of about 150 associated with the Gay Liberation Front. Meysel was said to have continued the meeting “as if nothing had occurred”. The next session proved as contentious when the patriarchal, self-entitled and violent actions of the RMLL member abused and assaulted other attendees:
“A number of persons spoke, amongst them was XXXX. As he left his seat he was surrounded by about twenty screaming women who poured abuse on him. He promptly punched two of them and dragged another along by her hair. He meanwhile poured his scorn on them, describing them as “a queer lot of bitches unfit to be called women let alone members of the Women’s Liberation Movement”, many women left the hall weeping and wailing. On attaining the platform XXXX pointed out he was a member of an affiliated group and had contributed towards the conferences expenses. It would be undemocratic for him or any other man to be asked to leave.” [v]
Unfortunately, within the wider Women’s Liberation Movement this was falsely seen as characteristic of the Maoist approach to the issue. While there was a common position that women’s liberation was a class question, in the constellation of activist groups there was differences that were not always appreciated. So, regretting the dissolution of the broad-based WNCC, the Women’s Liberation Front drafted a letter in November 1971 to go to all groups within the WNCC that stated:
“the usurping of that democracy during the recent conference had been highly irregular” and argued for a reinstatement of the WNCC structure. [vi]
At Skegness, the first four demands of the WLM were passed
1. Equal Pay
2. Equal Educational and Job Opportunities
3. Free Contraception and Abortion on Demand
4. Free 24 hour Nurseries.
But also the Women’s National Coordinating Committee was voted out of existence, in favour of local and regional conferences and organisation.
The Women’s National Coordinating Committee (WNCC) had been created in 1970 as a coordinating body for the broad Women’s Liberation Movement and the groups that were affiliated with it. An appeal for resurrection from the WLF failed to garner support. In the aftermath of the negative reputation that spread, a polemical reply was produced by the actual culprits of the ACW’s Union of Women for Liberation. The Hemel Hempstead based group originated in 1969 as a split from Manchanda’s Revolutionary Marxist-Leninist League and led by Harpal and Mysel Brar . Prolific propagandists, the UWL published its version in Lessons of Skegness: a brief account of the proceedings of the Women’s Nation al Co-ordinating Committee Conference at Skegness (October 15-17, 1971) and an exposure of the dirty role of the Trotskyites, revisionists and feminists. Hemel Hempstead 1972] [vii]
For the WLF Turkish women comrades made a massive banner depicting a woman raising her fist with broken shackles. The Women’s Liberation Front passes through Trafalgar Square on March 6th, 1971.
The police infiltrator, Sandra HN348, reflecting years later on spying on the WLF, told the official judge-led Undercover Policing Inquiry, that she did not believe her undercover work was worthwhile. The inquiry is scrutinising how police used at least 139 undercover officers to spy on more than 1,000 political groups over more than 40 years. “Sandra” said she did not see any of the members she spied on acting violently or committing crimes. “I do not think my work really yielded any good intelligence, but I eliminated the WLF from public-order concerns,” she said in her written evidence. Why the police sent an undercover police officer to infiltrate a very small women’s rights group that lawfully campaigned for equal pay, free contraception and better nursery provision, “the officer claimed the group was of interest to Special Branch because of its links with “more extreme groups” such as the Angry Brigade and “Irish extremists.” Morning Star The Women’s Liberation Front had come to attention of the Special Branch unit “through its links with the Revolutionary Marxist-Leninist League”.
“Women’s liberation was viewed as a worrying trend at the time,” said HN348 Sandra.
“She attended weekly meetings held in campaigners’ private homes that were attended by about 10 people. As she was trusted, she became the treasurer of the group’s main committee, whose meetings were also held in private homes and attended by around five people.
During this time, she regularly submitted reports to her supervisors about the group, documenting details of a possible affair between two activists, plans to bake cakes to raise money, film showings and a campaigner’s holiday to Albania. She also compiled a detailed report on a protest march organised by hundreds of children in 1972 to improve their schools.” [viii]
One of the meetings HN348 Sandra spied on that concerned the possibility of setting up a national movement of socialist women was only attended by two activists. She reported that attendees of one such meeting in Guildford, Surrey, in June 1972 were “a group of fairly moderate women with no particular political motivation who have recently been campaigning for nurseries in the Guildford area”. Appearing before the inquiry the now-retired police officer said: “I could have been doing much more worthwhile things with my time.” Sandra told the inquiry she did not think her work had “really yielded any good intelligence” although her deployment helped her superiors conclude that the Women’s Liberation Front did not pose any threat to public order.
Later in life, there was agreement from Diane Langford,
“I found it difficult to comprehend why our puny efforts caused so much concern to the authorities when everything we did was within the law and totally transparent.”
Posters protesting about undercover policing outside the Royal Courts of Justice in 2019. Photograph: David Rowe/Alamy Stock Photo
Suspicions specifically about HN45 Robertson were recalled in Diane Langford’s 2015 political memoir. The account, while amusing is hazy as to when the reported concerns were aired or acted upon by the RMLL.
“From time to time the police infiltrated our group. A moustachioed Scottish man, Dave Robertson, aroused suspicion because he was always driving a different car. When challenged he claimed to be working for a car rental firm. On another occasion he’d told me he worked at a club called the Tatty Bogle. One of the comrades went down to check it out and found this to be untrue. At Manu’s suggestion, we didn’t confront Dave, but assigned him the most onerous tasks: collecting heavy banners and placards in his car and carrying them on marches. He was always called upon to buy everyone drinks and asked to memorise long passages from James Maxton, an obscure Scottish Marxist.” [ix]
There was a ring-side seat for Special Branch in the fateful split in the RMLL as HN45 “Dave Robertson” attended a meeting was designed for some form of attack and almost to depose the leader, at the Saturday “Extraordinary meeting” March 13th 1971 at Lisburne Road. It was a long meeting, attended by 17 people that lasted from 1.30 in the afternoon to 10.30 at night.
As a bit of light relief, somebody played the guitar and set Chairman Mao’s speech “Take not a needle and a thread from the masses”, and that was sang to the group.
HN45’s note of the purpose of the meeting was: “… ‘to cut down to size’ the organisation’s leading personality A Manchanda … whose offensive manner, dogmatic attitude, bullying techniques and general inefficiency have become too much for even his admirers to swallow.”
His testimony at the Undercover Policy Enquiry was that “There was a lot of in-fighting amongst themselves that I took no part in”.
He claimed that “I didn’t really get deeply personal with any of those people, I just picked up what I — I found from people at the thing, and just dealt with it and reported it, and tried to put it into some semblance of order”
“Initially, Mr Manchanda [was to take] … the chair but because of the nature of the business to be discussed it was decided that he should vacate the chair, and [so somebody else was] … elected [for] chairman … [of] the meeting.” It appears that what then took place is that people gave speeches or discussions and delivered positions from documents that they had prepared in advance, and that they read from documents for some time. Do you recall being asked to prepare something in advance of the meeting?
You write there: “Manchanda, in his defence, launched into a characteristic diatribe ….
“… against certain members of the RMLL, particularly [Privacy and Privacy] and spoke for two hours, mainly spent in reading from a prepared statement …”
“The nub of his defence [he says] was that he had nothing to answer; everything had been done in the interests of the organisation and the working class.
You note however that he felt he had to plead IL health in dealing with the accusations during this meeting, that he produced his diabetics card, that he referred to the recent birth of his daughter,
“They are not really convinced either that his claim of sending his wife to work while he stays at home is a ‘practical example of Women’s Liberation’, is entirely virtuous.”
“There then followed a general discussion with [Privacy] speaking in Manchanda’s defence. [Privacy] read a copy of a letter she had previously sent to Manchanda making a very personal attack on the private morals of [Privacy] arising from an incident that had taken place sometime previously. This reduced [Privacy] to tears.”
whether or not Manchanda is expelled the damage to the RMLL is irreparable. Apart from Manchanda there is no one with sufficient personality to hold the organisation together and if his critics lose the [Privacy] day they have said too much for him to suffer their continued presence.” 1 A. Yes, I — that’s my — that must have been my view at the time, and I have no — no problem with that.
Ultimately that there was a vote to ask Mr Manchanda and indeed Diane Langford to withdraw from this group. [x]
The March 15th meeting was followed up with 18 people attending another Sunday meeting on the 28th March to resolve the crisis within the RMLL. [xi] Manchanda again chaired the meeting and read from a five page foolscap prepared speech, “he excused his own short comings by blaming the state of his health and he attacked certain other members…for laziness in their work in the organisation” reported the state infiltrator HN45. The conciliatory offer “to work in co-operation with others” did not withstand the accusations levelled at Manchanda of being a fraud and attacks upon Diane Langford. The differences between he two factions were unreconciled. Evidently there were five supporting Manchanda against an uneasy alliance of remaining dissident RMLL members and supporters.
Agreement to hold a further meeting on April 4th 1971 in an attempt to resolve the political deadlock was agreed. However the several attempts to reconcile the differences failed.
In the immediate aftermath of the split in the RMLL, a Special Branch report (dated May 20th 1971) noted that the dissident group of members continued to operate as RMLL claiming to have suspended Manu and Diane, ending the small weekly wages and assistance with rent and telephone bills. It stated the old RMLL never exceed ten full members attributing this directly to Manchanda’s “closed shop “ practices as the new RMLL refocused on a growth strategy based in West London beginning with Monday night political instruction classes.
The smaller supporters group of Manchanda, including Sonia Seedo, were working under the auspices of WLF hoping to overcome the dissident leadership and regain leadership of RMLL. And refusing to acknowledge their suspension from the RMLL.
We know more than just the police account of the split in the organisation as the internal maneuverings and intrigues of the short life of the RMLL was made public by the polemist Harpal Brar in the ACW attack publication, How Liberalism Split the REVOLUTIONARY MARXIST-LENINIST LEAGUE published in June 1972. [xii]
The ACW emerged, based on the Hemel Hampstead branch, after a split in August 1969 saw half the RMLL membership Leave the organization. With the new split in March 1971, the RMML ceased to function. The disintegration of the RMML was followed by a fallow period in Manchanda’s political activity: it coincided with a period of ill-health.
By August, the dissident faction announced the old RMLL dissolved and some of the former members – Mike & Sharon Earle and Chris & Dave Mackinnon – reconstituted themselves as the Marxist-Leninist Workers’ Association to carry on the political work of the old organisation. It was said to be modelled on the North London Alliance in defence of Workers Rights and received expressions of support from the Black Unity & Freedom Party, Schools Action Union, Marxist Leninist Education Association and Communist Federation of Great Britain (sic). By February 1972, Special Branch received reports that: “ Of the organisations which originally pledged support…only the Schools Action Union have actually done so.” The informant noted that the organisation had not been very active in the political field, not held any public meetings or commemoration since its inception. There had been poorly attended political classes and private meetings. Membership was estimated at no more than 15. Much of the political work has been channelled through the London Alliance of which there was dual membership. [xiii]
Still the wheels of police bureaucracy turned and in May 5th 1972 a report to Special Branch made the assessment that the British Vietnam Solidarity Front was “virtually inactive since the disintegration of the old Revolutionary Marxist Leninist League in the spring of 1970 which resulted from personal differences between Manchanda and others.”
Since then Manchanda has lost most of his credibility as a political Leader. Attempts to revive the BVSF met with no success when he “did not receive a single reply” when he sent a circular to various people and organisations to support a new campaign against the Vietnam war. Twenty turn up to a public meeting In Camden Studios he arranged; “all were personal contacts”.
Manchanda resiliently persist in campaigning and a further report dated January 18 1973 [xiv] provided details of a private meeting of the BVSF Committee attended by six people to organise for the demonstration against the inauguration of President Nixon with a march to Grovenor Square. It was like old times; every Maoist group in London, including the Internationalists, but not the CPB (ML) would be sending contingents to the Indo-China Solidarity Campaign organised march. Influenced by the Trotskyist International Marxist Group, Manchanda “is desperately trying to unite a maoist front in order to defeat the superior numbers of the IMG” noted the police spy, as they both vie to assert their waning influence.
Information on the state agent HN45 “Dave Robertson” and his activities can be found at https://powerbase.info/index.php/Dave_Robertson_(alias). HN45 was deployed undercover with the SDS between October 1970 until there was an incident that compromised his cover in December 1973 witnessed by Diane Langford at a meeting at the London School of Economics – when recognised by Ethel who looked straight at him, saying “Scotland Yard coming to arrest us” Notes from transcript of Tuesday, 27 April 2021
Subsequent unsourced quotations come from the various released file of the on-going Undercover Policing Inquiry.
[ii] Notes from HN45 transcript of Tuesday, 27 April 2021
[iii] Active in the group was (N.M. (Sonia) Seedo, holocaust survivor and writer; In the Beginning Was Fear by N. M. Seedo published by London : Narod Press, 1964 & They Sacrifice to Moloch (1967).
Inconstantly, intimate and up-close, Head of Seedo (1965) depicts the Romanian refugee and political writer Sonia Husid, one of Leon Kossoffs’ most regular sitters. Kossoff one of Britain’s most prolific figurative artists of the last century)
[iv] Diane Langford OPENING STATEMENT to THE UNDERCOVER POLICING INQUIRY
[v] Released File UCPI 00000027017 (Name XXXX redacted in released copy)
Infiltration by the state in the workers’ movement has a long pedigree, and within living memory there are numerous examples of the surveillance, manipulation and disruption of independent political organising that challenges the status quo regardless of its political allegiance. The flowering of protest in the late 1960s and 70s in Britain saw a vibrant and varied opposition that attracted the concealed attention of state agents. One element of the security apparatus, Special Branch, has had the lens focused upon its practices when spying on the Left, including the newly emergent forces of the anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninists in Sixties’ Britain through infiltration by field officers. The Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) was a covert unit under Special Branch supervision that existed within the Metropolitan Police Service between 1968 and 2008. So far the cover names of 45 out of a total of at least 144 undercover officers have been disclosed during the official Undercover Policing Inquiry. The tale of one anonymous clandestine spy, assigned the designation HN13, is an incomplete record through reports submitted on the marginal Far Left Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist). [i]
DC HN13 was an experienced office. He joined the Police Force in the late1960s and the Branch in the early1970s, then approached in 1974 to join the Special Demonstration Squad. Married with young children, there were no disclosures of improprieties involving, as with other undercover SDS field officers, seducing and fathering children of targeted activists. Prior to his deployment the CPEml had a name for headlong rushes into confrontations; whether Barry/ Desmond Loader was acting as ‘agent provocateurs’ is unknown however he was twice prosecuted for public order offences in his false cover name and convicted once. Despite this, the Undercover Policing Inquiry Chair, John Mitting, stated that there is no known allegation of misconduct during the deployment.
His widow confirmed in a very brief statement that he stole his cover surname from a deceased child from Wiltshire, and that he had told her of the surname during his deployment into the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) from 1975 to 1978. [ii]
Active in the East London Branch, Loader was also an active member of the Party’s cultural activities offshoot, the Progressive Cultural Association (PCA), and the East London Peoples Front, and the Outer East London Anti-Fascist Anti-Racist Committee. DC HN13’s reports provide a flavour of the activity and demands placed upon the activists of the CPEml in the period he was spying on them. Evidence of hype-activism that brunt out cadre evident in the singular account of attending a social, going back afterwards for a meeting that lasts into the early hours of next morning and then volunteering to provide the materials for a morning leafletting session!
He also filed reports on the activities of the Communist Unity Association (Marxist-Leninist).
Pictured below PCA leader, and CPEml Central Committee member , the composer Cornelius Cardew (1936-1981).
Confrontations with the Police
In the 1970s, members of the CPE had a reputation for rushing at police lines in demonstrations, seemingly without strategic consideration, that served to raise the group’s profile in relation to the police – and the CPEml became a target for Special Branch.
Party comrades who were leafleting were ‘brutally attacked’ whilst by the police at a demonstration in East Street market in South East London in 1972. Several received prison sentences.
The CPEml placed the confrontations and violence within an environment of a decaying capitalism:
Whilst increasing fascist legislation, the monopoly capitalists are also stepping up their harassment of working people and progressive organisations. In the last couple of years, large numbers of progressive people have been harassed, intimidated and attacked by the British police. Last December, some supporters of the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) were attacked by the London police and planted with drugs, ammunition, explosives and have been committed to trial at the Old Bailey on concocted charges. Comrade Lindsay Hutchinson, an active supporter of the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist), is at present serving a five year sentence on concocted charges of “malicious wounding” and “assault”. Many other progressive people and Irish patriots living in England have been given jail sentences of up to 30 years on concocted charges. Many workers pickets have been fascistically attacked by the police who encourage strike breakers to break the picket lines and attack striking workers: and working people have been murdered by the police. Is this not violence and terror of the highest order? [iii]
Following a police raid on a ‘house used by comrades and fabricated evidence’, in January 1974, four members of the party were found guilty of possession of petrol bombs and assaulting police. They received 12-month sentences for possession of petrol bombs and were fined for assaulting police.
Also in 1973/74, several party members were arrested for the (again, fabricated) charge of the theft of roof lead, after their car was stopped on Queens Town Road, Battersea.
Given the confrontational experience of members that saw members arrested (and identified) it comes as no surprise that Barry Loader’s reports are peppered with references on proposals by the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) to launch a campaign on behalf of its members on bail for offences arising from various demonstrations, and to organise pickets outside courts such as Redbridge Magistrates’ Court. This defence of democratic rights campaigning prove both time-consuming and energy sapping, with ramifications on the lives of members. Commenting in July 1978 on arrests at an Irish demonstration in Birmingham the previous May, Loader reported CPEml policy was that “although imprisonment is to be seen as a means of taking the political line into prisons, leading members should remain free to carry on their function within the Party.” Adding, “It is also likely that the cost of her appeal will be met from Central Party funds.”
No Platform and Anti-Fascism
In the 1970s across higher education campuses, students launched a number of protests at right-wing and fascist speakers. These incidents in the early 1970s were a ‘prelude’ to what became known as ‘No Platforming’ such speakers.
One well-publicised incident allegedly involved student members of the CPE from Birmingham and elsewhere:
On 8 May 1973, the psychologist Hans Eysenck, whose theories were rooted in the controversial theory of eugenics, attempted to deliver a lecture at the London School of Economics, but faced heavy protests from students. A group of Maoists stormed the stage and assaulted Eysenck.
The CPE (M-L) was also vocal and active in broader anti-fascist politics during the 1970s and early 1980s at a time when National Front was a rising force on the street and sometimes at the ballot box. During this time the NF was successfully challenged on the street by a variety of anti-fascist groups.
In 1974, the CPEml were also present at the Red Lion Square counter-fascist demo during clashes between anti-fascists and the police took place. During this violent confrontation, one protester Kevin Gately received severe head injuries from which he died. Members of the party also gave evidence at the subsequent public inquiry into the incident – which was chaired by Lord Scarman.
Loader reported on people involved in actions against the National Front (NF), such as the organisation of demonstrations, pickets, and leafletting and confronting the NF directly. Barry Loader attended the counter-NF demonstration, the Battle of Lewisham on 13 August 1977. He was injured during the event, receiving a blow to the head – the first of the two times he was assaulted by uniformed police.
Internal Special Branch documents show that Loader met to share his experience and provide recommendations for methods of policing future demonstrations with Deputy Assistant Commissioner along with Peter Collins (HN303), DCI Pryde and DI Willingale following the Lewisham demonstration. [iv]
ARRESTED TWICE & ‘BATTERED’ BY POLICE AGAIN
Loader was arrested twice while in his cover identity. The first occasion, in late 1977, was for ‘insulting or threatening behaviour’ following a clash with the NF outside Barking police station. Chief Inspector Craft of the SDS recorded that Loader was ‘somewhat battered by police prior to his arrest’ [v]
Seven other individuals from Loader’s group were also arrested. Superintendent Pryde maintained contact with a court official during the proceedings in April 1978. He informed them that one of the defendants was a police informant who they would be ‘anxious to safeguard from any prison sentence’ [vi]
Ultimately, the charges against Loader were dismissed. Three of the other seven individuals were found guilty and fined on 12 April 1978 [vii]
Just three days after his court appearance, Loader was arrested a second time during trouble at a National Front meeting held at Loughborough School, Brixton on 15 April 1978.
He was again charged with threatening behaviour under s.5 of the Public Order Act 1936, along with three others [viii]
At the hearing, an application was made to hear all the defendants’ cases together. However, the Magistrates decided to hear Loader’s case alone. This was, allegedly, because Loader had been involved in a separate incident to the other defendants, who had infiltrated an NF meeting while Loader stayed outside.
In fact, records reveal that Superintendent Pryde established contact with a court official during the proceedings and told them that one of the defendants was:
‘a valuable informant in the public order field whom we would wish to safeguard from a prison sentence should the occasion arise’.
Unlike the previous arrest, however, it is noted that Loader’s cover name was specifically given to the official [ix]
All the defendants, in this case, were found guilty, with Loader being fined and given a one-year bind-over of £100. It is noted in the Minute Sheet that this sentence was considered ‘very useful’ as it would allow Loader to keep a low profile for the remainder of his deployment [x]
It was not all confrontations on days out in the CPEml. Other activities included in loader’s reports map out the activists’ busy schedule of meetings and commitments. From supplying accounts of private meetings of the East London Branch of the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) held at Barking Polytechnic, various planning meetings to small social gatherings, the files of Special Branch were filled with minutiae of undercover intelligence gathering, including the gossip about individuals from CPEml and Indian Workers Movement living together thought worthy of inclusion in Special Branch’s intelligence files, along with reports on individual “comrades”, an active member of the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) who failed to attend court on charges of assault, and his efforts to avoid arrest moving to Canada and changing his name. Loader providing a description of his current appearance for the files.
A National Conference of the CPE(ML) on the anniversary of the October Revolution to be held in Birmingham at the YMCA, late October 1977 drew the attention of SDS coordinating with West Midlands Special Branch even though they acknowledged, “There is no public order issue involved”. Photographic surveillance was arranged, it was “hoped that a good identification of national membership and information on the future policies of the C.P.E. -M.L. will result.” [xi]
The attendance was estimated at around 200 and included SDS Field Officer, HN 13 “Desmond /Barry Loader” who was well-practiced on reporting on the CPE (ML).
Among the SDS reports put into the public domain when released by the Public Inquiry included those on open public events, of both the CPEml and its associated organisations (like the Progressive Cultural Association, PCA) when Loader took the opportunity to purloined the contact sheet from PCA events and names were cross referenced with existing Special Branch files [xii]
There were also internal PCA evening meetings, such as that held 15th May 1977 in Belsize Park NW3 attended by 30. Others covered a meeting of the Progressive Cultural Association to discuss its activities in a proposed anti-monarchy campaign.
In July 1977 a report submitted on a meeting of the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) held under the broad front-group name of Outer East London Anti-Fascist Anti-Racist with Indian Defence Committee in Ilford. When that faltered CPEml broad front activities were consolidated in a new organisation, entitled the People’s Front.
By February 1978 Loader reported the CPEml was engaged in a “rigorous self-examination” with the leadership conscious of drift within the organisation.
The previous Christmas 1977, as an “alternative to the feudal, bourgeois Christian festival”, a national meeting of CPEml had been arranged December 23rd to January 1st. (A not uncommon gesture as another group arranged a Standing Committee meeting for Christmas Day morning!).
Some 60 persons were present in Birmingham (referred to as new centre of CPEml). However, the context of the systematic shift in political allegiance and political identification with the positions of the Party of Labour of Albania are missing from the Special Branch reports. Its historic First Congress was held in 1978. [xiii]
Much of the main address given by Carol Reakes was published as an extract in issue 63 of Workers Weekly. At the previous October 1977 Birmingham conference on Trostskyism, she told members that what was needed was “considerable improvements needed” in the regularly, distribution and study of the paper, Workers’ Weekly. A familiar exhortation on the Left.
The emphasis on building an industrial base, the organisation of the masses around one party (them), developing a leading role in the anti-fascist/anti-racist struggle and the ‘Bolshevization’ of the CPEml especially in relation to its internal discipline. All these themes occurred at this time across the spectrum of anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninist groups in Britain. In London the CPEml’s emphasis was Ford’s at Dagenham. The more industrially established Communist Party of Britain (ML) was identified as the organisation’s main Left opponent in this period.
What was announced was the formation of the ‘Little Red Guards’, despite the misgivings of a minority, Barry Loader reported to Special Branch that “their inaugural ceremony involved the receiving of a red scarf (to be worn when meeting) an address from Carol REAKES on the significance of their role and the singing of revolutionary children’s songs”. Some 12 children are “believed to be involved” age range 4-10 years. They will meet on a Saturday “to be given a ‘low key’ political talk in the morning on basic issues, such as evolution and the history of labour in the morning, and in the afternoon taken on an outing to places of interests, such as the docks or a ferry crossing.”
January 1978 saw a joint Indian Workers Movement/CPEml East London branch meeting to “denounce the sham of India’s Republic Day” (January 28th), and after the mobilisation for the “Bloody Sunday Commemoration march, an evening concert organised by PCA at the Trinity Community Centre, East Avenue E12 under the slogan “British Imperialism Out of Ireland!”
Commensurate with significant anti-fascist activity, there was a probable fascist attack on the election headquarters of the South London People’s Front in the 1978 Lambeth Central by-election. Coincidentally, going against the documentary evidence of Barry Loader’s infiltration, the recollection of Michael Chant, the current party General Secretary, was that Loader did not appear until 1978 at election hustings in for the constituency of central Lambeth where Stuart Monro stood under ‘South London People’s Front’. Michael Chant recalled that:
“In the Lambeth Central by-election of 1978, Stuart Monro stood as a candidate representing the South London People’s Front, supported by CPE(ML). A campaign centre was set up in a private house in Stockwell, where mailing out of election leaflets, organising of canvassers, and other activities took place. It was only at this time that Barry Loader […] appeared and offered to help. Given he had no known links to any progressive activity and his general bearing, he was immediately suspected of being an undercover policeman. However, following Lenin’s dictum to put suspected spies to useful, but not compromising work, he was assigned to washing-up duties in the kitchen, large-scale cooking being required to feed the election volunteers. Loader carried out his duties diligently, but was not invited to any discussions or to participate in any planning activities. When the election period ended, he disappeared, and a visit to the address he had given revealed only an empty bed-sit.”
A post-script to Loader’s career was that a note made of a meeting with Commander Buchanan in 2013 suggests that Loader had difficulty reintegrating with the police following his deployment [xiv]
The successor party to the CPE, the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) were later infiltrated by another SDS officer Malcolm Shearing (alias) between 1981 and 1985. [xv]
E N D N O T E S
[i] These notes on HN13 – known as ‘Barry’ rather than ‘Desmond’ by former CPEml members – and his activities draws heavily from the work undertaken by the Undercover Research Portal at Powerbase – investigating corporate and police spying on activists.
Undercover Policing Inquiry released Special branch documents in May 2021 related to the activity of HN13 cover names “Desmond Loader/Barry loader”, an active member of the Special Demonstration Squad (1975-19778) assigned to infiltrate and spy upon the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) .
Indispensable is the ongoing independent work produced by both Dónal O’Driscoll of Undercover Research Group and journalist Rob Evans on the Spycops.
Exercising franchise rights, secured by past struggles and sacrifices, in a Covid environment has seen the accelerated tendencies for campaigning politics for bourgeois institutions to focus on the digital, televised and postal delivery of argument and prejudice. The mini-manifesto of the twenty candidates seeking election as Mayor of London were compiled and distributed in a booklet for the 6 May 2021 election (the vaguely interested can explore at londonelects.org.uk) . Sadly not a declared socialist amongst them .
That’s the extent of participatory electoral democracy until another four years.