Communists and the enlistment of ‘native’ soldiers in the Second World War

From the CPSA pamphlet, 'Death From the Air'.

From the CPSA pamphlet, ‘Death From the Air’.

Although there was no uniform policy across the British Empire, in South Africa and Australia, ‘natives’ were discouraged from enlisting in the armed forces during the Second World War and if enlisted, were not provided with the same level of training and equipment given to white soldiers. In both countries, the Communist Party were one of the groups that agitated for their enlistment into the armed forces and to be given the same training and equipment as all other soldiers. The Communist Parties of South Africa (CPSA) and Australia (CPA) had supported the war effort ever since the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 and called for a ‘people’s front’ against the Axis Powers. Both the CPSA and the CPA had long histories of anti-racism and fighting for the rights of the indigenous populations in both countries, as well as a long involvement in anti-colonialist activism.

At the outbreak of the war and following the Nazi-Soviet Pact, both the South African and Australian parties denounced the war as an ‘inter-imperialist war’ between rival imperial powers and argued that there was not difference between fascism and British/French colonialism. For Australia’s Indigenous and South Africa’s black populations, the horrific treatment they experienced at the hands of the government (and part of the British Empire) seemed in some ways to confirm this argument. The CPSA wrote in a 1940 leaflet:

It is an insult to the intelligence of the African, Coloured and Indian people to ask them to fight against a system of Nazi tyranny when they themselves suffer under terrible oppression and injustice.

However when the Soviet Union entered the war, the Communist Parties wholeheartedly supported the war effort and attempted to encourage the indigenous populations in South Africa and Australia to also support the war, even though this would mean, in the short while, supporting British colonialism and its Dominions. In a CPSA pamphlet from early 1943, the Communist Plan for Victory, the Party acknowledged that the racism faced by black and other ‘non-white’ South Africans discouraged them from supporting the war effort and that fascist propaganda exploited this. The pamphlet said:

The policy of race discrimination breeds discontent, apathy and even passive hostility to South Africa’s war effort…

It is this system of White domination that the Japanese propagandists have relied upon to gain sympathy from non-White peoples and weaken the Allied nations.

The same pamphlet warned that if fascism was victorious, things would be worse than under present system:

A victory for Fascism means more race oppression and the adoption throughout the world of a deliberate policy of reducing the conquered peoples to a position of serfdom.

A Hitlerite victory will mean for the non-White peoples of South Africa the adoption of a rigid policy of racial discrimination and segregation, the loss of even the few democratic rights which they now possess, the forcible suppression of their national organisations and trade unions, and the rule of the sjambok.

In 1942, the black General Secretary of the CPSA, Moses Kotane, wrote a pamphlet, Japan – Friend or Foe?, which called for the ‘non-Europeans’ in South Africa to realise that the Japanese would not provide them with their freedom and it was time to support the war effort, and prepare to push forward with the struggle for national liberation:

Our country is in danger of being invaded by the enemies. It is our duty to see that no enemy is allowed to come here. In doing so we shall be fighting for our own freedom. We must demand that non-Europeans be properly trained in the use of arms and be armed to defend our country; that we be trained for and allowed to do skilled work; that all soldiers, irrespective of colour, be treated alike as regards pay, conditions and chances of promotion; that the Pass Law and Poll Tax, segregation and trading restrictions be abolished.

The CPSA proposed that this would give non-Europeans an equal share in the eventual victory over fascism and would prepare them:

for the period after the war when they will have to play their part in building up a Socialist South Africa.

From a CPSA statement, 'Why We Must Support the Government In the War Against Fascism', 23 June, 1940.

From a CPSA statement, ‘Why We Must Support the Government In the War Against Fascism’, 23 June, 1941.

The Communist Party of Australia advocated a similar argument for the Indigenous population of Australia and their enlistment into the war effort (although it was not as central to the Party’s programme as the South African party). In an issue of the CPA’s weekly paper Tribune from July 1942, the CPA called for Indigenous soldiers to be given modern weapons as the authorities were reluctant to arm them. The British had not armed the local populations in several South Asian countries and the islands near Australia and the CPA argued against this policy, which also affected Indigenous people in Australia. The article claimed:

The heroic Chinese guerillas have often fought with even less than spears. They fought for their homeland, their national liberty.

Australian Aborigines will fight in the same way – to disarm them means disarming allies in the face of an enemy. Why not give them modern arms? Teach them to use these, and produce some of the best guerilla fighters this war has known?

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 11.47.31 pm Although accused by some of swapping the anti-imperial struggle for an alliance with the national bourgeoisie that ruled the British Empire, the Communist Parties of South Africa and Australia emphatically supported the war effort after June 1941 and promoted this as a progressive war against fascism and racism. Part of this anti-fascist and anti-racist struggle was campaigning for the end of racial discrimination within the armed forces, who were at the forefront of the war effort (although few indigenous soldiers from either country were sent overseas). Both the CPSA and the CPA were amongst the few groups to call for the integration of indigenous soldiers into the rest of the armed forces and to be provided with the same training and equipment as other soldiers. This is an overlooked part of the history of both parties, their anti-racist activism and the Party’s contribution to the war effort in both countries. Seventy years on from the end of the Second World War, this history is worth exploring further.

From the 'Programme of the Australian Communist Party', 1945.

From the ‘Programme of the Australian Communist Party’, 1945.

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Filed under Anti-colonialism, Anti-racism, Australian history, Colonial/Postcolonial History, Communist Party of Australia, Communist Party of South Africa, Empire, Fascism, Indigenous activism, Nazi Germany, Racial discrimination, Second World War, South Africa

The Communist Party and the 1981 riots

Over the weekend of April 10-12 1981 (34 years ago this last weekend), black and white youth rioted on the streets of Brixton and these riots, along with the riots that spread across the country’s inner cities in July of the same year, became a symbol of the unrest caused by Thatcherism, as well as the long and uneasy relationship between Britain’s black communities and the police. The following post is based on a draft chapter from my forthcoming book on the Communist Party of Great Britain and anti-racism, but is still being tinkered with at the moment – so any feedback is welcome!

Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 7.26.19 am

Between the events of Southall on 23 April 1979 and July 1981, there had been increasing riots in inner city areas across Britain, where black and white youth had reacted against the police and in some places, such as Southall, fascist agitation. Although there has been major emphasis in studies of the Thatcherite Government from 1979 to 1990 on Thatcher’s abhorrence of the trade unions and the focus of her Government on destroying an organised labour movement, the riots that occurred across Britain in 1981 have been largely overlooked. While the anti-union legislation and the Miners’ Strike are important elements of the dominance of Thatcher’s neo-liberalism during the 1980s that involved high levels of confrontation between the state and the labour movement, the first major confrontation between the repressive institutions of the state and the ‘subversive’ sections of British society was not with the trade unions, but with Britain’s black population, particularly black youth in the inner cities.

The first major riot was in Bristol on 2 April 1980, followed by a much larger outbreak in Brixton between 10-12 April, 1981 before culminating in riots across Britain in July 1981. These riots can be seen as the reaction to the lack of a political voice by Britain’s black communities and to the racism of the police directed primarily at black youth, as well as against the Conservative Government. The riots were symptomatic of the wider disillusionment, shared by both black and white youth, with the Conservative Government’s repressive police tactics and monetarist economic policies, which contributed to high unemployment. The problem of police racism, at the centre of these riots, was, as Stuart Hall wrote, ‘where blacks and others encounter a drift and a thrust towards making the whole of society more policed’.[1] By the early 1980s, the police strategy in the urban inner cities was making a strong and visible presence of police power under the auspices of maintaining ‘law and order’ and taking a strong stance against street crime. As the Communist Party declared in May 1980, ‘the hawks are in control in the Metropolitan police force’.[2]

The first major confrontation was on 2 April, 1980 in the St Paul’s District of Bristol, when approximately fifty policemen raided a café that was patronised primarily by Afro-Caribbeans, which caused a confrontation between 2,000 mainly black citizens and over 100 policemen.[3] The confrontation was significant because of its scale and intensity, including burning and looting of private property and the racial aspect of the incident.[4] The clash was, Dilip Hiro wrote, a reaction to the confrontational tactics of the police against the black community.[5] The CPGB saw that the events in Bristol ‘were no “spontaneous riot” because there was nothing spontaneous about racial oppression – or its response’.[6] What Bristol demonstrated, Neville Carey predicted in Comment, was that ‘we are heading towards open warfare in deprived areas containing large numbers of unemployed youth’ as the police were being increasingly used to deal with troubles caused by the combination of racism and unemployment.[7] A petition with these immediate demands was circulated by the CPGB following the riot, but Carey admitted that the Communist Party was ‘doing far too little’ in working with the black communities, who mistrusted the opportunism and arrogance of the white left.[8] Carey warned that it would ‘take a great deal of mass pressure from the Left and progressive movements to stop this Law and Order government from encouraging the use of even greater force to deal with social discontent’.[9] But Bristol was only ‘the shape of things to come’.[10] As Harris Joshua and Tina Wallace wrote, ‘the same basic pattern of violence was to be repeated in almost every major city with a black population, precipitating a crisis of race unprecedented in the post-war era, and a crisis of law and order unprecedented since the 1930s’.[11]

On 10 April, 1981, a riot broke out in Brixton after the police stopped an injured youth on the street and the crowd reacted to the heavy police presence. Two events preceded the Brixton riots that contributed to eruption of action against the police. In January 1981, a fire on New Cross Road in Deptford led to the deaths of thirteen black youth. The fire was believed to have been started by a white racist, but the police investigation failed to arrest anyone connected to the fire, further angering the black community.[12] This resulted in large protests by the black communities, with little involvement from the white left and progressive movements, which was different from the political mobilisations of the late 1970s around Grunwick and the Anti-Nazi League. The mobilisation of thousands after the New Cross Fire ‘indicated the extent to which they had been frustrated… from expressing themselves politically’.[13] This mobilisation was against the disinterest and ineptitude of the initial police investigation and the mainstream press until the black protest had ‘drawn attention to the deaths and the official silence by marching through central London’.[14] Paul Gilroy wrote, ‘The tragic deaths set in motion a sequence of events which lead directly to the explosion in Brixton in April 1981, and provided a means to galvanize blacks from all over the country into overt and organized political mobilisation’.[15]

Another event that contributed to the Brixton riots was the strategy launched by the police in the week before the riot. Operation ‘Swamp 81’ was launched by the Lambeth police on 6 April, 1981. The purpose of ‘Swamp 81’ was to ‘flood identified areas on “L” District [Lambeth] to detect and arrest burglars and robbers’ with success, according to the police, depending on a ‘concentrated effort of “stops”, based on powers of surveillance and suspicion proceeded by persistent and astute questioning’.[16] In four days, the squads stopped 943 people and arrested 118, with only seventy-five charged, one with robbery.[17] The fact that so many police were deployed to street patrols in the immediate days preceding the riots contributed to the massive police response to the riots. Even after the first confrontations on 10 April, the operation continued with an extra ninety-six officers deployed to Brixton on 11 April. After the initial confrontation between police officers and a crowd of black youth on the evening of 10 April, 1981, rumours of police violence and several other incidents involving police and youths erupted into rioting across Brixton on 11 April and was finally quelled the following day. In the course of the events over that weekend, around 7,000 police officers were deployed to Brixton to restore order, although as John Benyon claimed, ‘during the worst night of violence on Saturday 11 April it seems that a few hundred people were involved’.[18] In the aftermath, 450 people, including many policemen, were injured, with 145 buildings and 207 vehicles damaged and the total damage bill amounting to £6.5 million.

After the Brixton riots, there was outrage from the Government, high-ranking police officials and the mainstream press, with Lord Scarman appointed to launch an inquiry into the events. But as Dilip Hiro wrote, ‘the root causes which led to the Brixton rioting persisted and Britain experienced a spate of violent disorders a few months later’.[19] Most major cities with black populations experienced rioting of some level, beginning on 3 July in Toxteth and Southall before spreading to Mosside and then to most other cities over the weekend of 10-12 July, 1981. ‘The incidents which ignited the disturbances varied enormously from place to place’ noted Chris Harman, with some incidents sparked by police harassment, others by racist attacks and fascist agitation or elsewhere, ‘the eruptions were “spontaneous” – youth on the streets just started looting and that was it’.[20] The official estimate of the total costs of damage caused during the July riots was £45 million, with £17 million caused to private property.[21] Around 4,000 people were arrested and ‘of the 3,704 for whom data was available, 766 were described as West Indian or African, 180 as Asian, 292 as “other” and 2,466 or 67% were white’, while around sixty six percent were under the age of twenty one and about half were unemployed.[22]

‘Crisis in the Inner Cities’: The Communist Party’s Reaction

The CPGB’s National Race Relations Committee (NRRC) had first begun preparing for a discussion conference, ‘Racism and the Police’ in October 1980, declaring that the ‘role of the police has become a central issue of anti-racist politics…loom[ing] large in any serious discussion of “institutionalised” racism and how to combat it’.[23] The NRRC invited representatives from black organisations, political parties, anti-racist, civil liberties and legal organisations, labour movement bodies and individuals to ‘assist the process of drawing up clear proposals for which the labour, democratic and anti-racist movements can campaign’.[24] The NRRC acknowledged that it would ‘not be a policy-making Conference’, but felt that the issue of police racism ‘urgently needs bringing down from the level of generalities to practical proposals’.[25] The conference was attended by around 160 delegates and put forward a ‘Charter of Demands’, published in Comment on 21 February, 1981 and then reproduced, along with the conference speeches, in a pamphlet Black and Blue, published in November 1981.[26]

The editors of the pamphlet, Dave Cook and Martin Rabstein, emphasised the wide range of groups involved in the conference, although many of the groups were represented by members of the Communist Party. Through this conference, the Communist Party believed it was ‘performing its key role of welding together…toward[s] the construction of the broad democratic alliance’.[27] The Party hoped that the ‘Charter of Demands’ was ‘one component part of a programme to democratise, to force democratic victories in the teeth of what will be the most powerful opposition in various parts of the apparatus of state’.[28]

Keeping with the framework of the broad democratic alliance, the ‘Charter’ called for consultation between the police and ‘genuine representatives of black communities’ as Britain’s black communities needed ‘community policing with democratic accountability and control, not saturation policing’.[29] ‘Hard’ policing, such as Operation ‘Swamp 81’, was seen as keeping the black communities under control, rather protecting it and the ‘Charter’, like the resolutions put forward at the CPGB’s National Congress, called for the removal of ‘SUS’ and the disbanding of the SPG.[30]

Included in the ‘Charter of Demands’ were proposals put forward by the Communist Party previously, calling for ‘race relations and public order law’ to be ‘firmly enforced against racists’ and ‘given more teeth to outlaw the advocacy and practice of racism’.[31] As with the Party’s stance on immigration control, the Race Relations Act and anti-fascism, the repressive and anti-left bias of the state was weighed against the practical use of the state to combat racism. The police, who were at the forefront of the fractuous relationship between the black communities and the state, were widely seen as incapable of mending community relations, but, in line with the ideals of the broad democratic alliance, the CPGB stated its commitment to the ‘rights of the “non-political” individual – the right to be free of harassment, the right to walk without fear on the streets’, which the Party believed needed to be protected by some kind of police force.[32]

After the riots in July, the CPGB’s Executive Committee released a statement, ‘Crisis in the Inner Cities’, describing the disturbances as a reaction to long-term problems that had developed in the urban inner-cities, ‘in the context of both the deep crisis affecting our economy, and the particular consequences of Thatcher’s policies’.[33] However the Party noted that it was ‘crude economic reductionism’ to simplify the argument to ‘economic crisis = disturbances on the streets’, recognising the ‘important racial dimension’ of the riots.[34] The riots were not an isolated issue of ‘law and order’, but partly a wider reaction to the repressive actions of the police and the monetarist economic policies under Thatcherism, with the CPGB leadership stating:

 Thatcher is blind to the part played by her disastrous economic and social policies in causing the disturbances, and the police chiefs are blind to the connections between their everyday methods of policing and the violence they face.[35]

Therefore, the black and white youth were ‘not rioting against society at large, but were rioting against the police, against unemployment, against racism’.[36] The Party saw the broad democratic alliance put forward in The British Road to Socialism as the necessary strategy for the working class ‘to force democratic victories’ within ‘the most powerful opposition in various parts of the apparatus of state’,[37] which looked to working within the present system for immediate victories while attempting to build popular opposition for long-term reform. The response by the labour movement and the left had to be, the Party declared, more than simply ‘getting rid of the Tories’, instead it was to ‘respond to the immediate demands of the black community’, as the Party urged these organisations to campaign at local level, ‘linked to the need for left alternative policies nationally’.[38]

Lord Scarman’s Report and the Denial of Institutional Racism

Unlike the triumphalism of the state and strong Government celebrated by the Conservatives after the Falklands War and the Miner’s Strike, the aftermath of the 1981 riots saw the Government having to partially retreat from its forceful ‘law and order’ position and make concessions that police tactics in the black communities did involve racist and alienating behaviour. Although there was much speculation over the cause of the riots and numerous objections to their violence, many acknowledged that the heavy-handed police actions in the black communities over the previous decade had been a principal factor in provoking such a violent reaction by black youth.

Lord Scarman’s Inquiry was primarily focused on the events in Brixton, although the Government asked Scarman to take the July riots into account, but as Joe Sim noted, ‘This request was not evident in the final draft’.[39] The Scarman Report, wrote Stuart Hall, ‘was no panacea’, but ‘broke the prevailing law-and-order consensus’ that left the police blameless,[40] instead arguing that the ‘problem of policing a deprived, multi-racial area like Brixton cannot be considered without reference to the social environment in which the policing occurs’.[41] In reference to the environment of deprivation that existed in Britain’s inner cities, which increasingly suffered from the monetarist policies of the Conservative Government, the Scarman Report explicitly stated that there could be ‘no doubt that unemployment was a major factor… which lies at the root of the disorders in Brixton and elsewhere’.[42] Scarman acknowledged that the black community face similar problems to the wider working class in areas such as education, unemployment and discrimination, but on a much more severe scale. The result of this was that ‘young black people may feel a particular sense of frustration and deprivation’.[43] Scarman also found the riots to be ‘a spontaneous reaction to what was seen as police harassment’.[44]

However while Scarman criticised some of the actions by the police, the Report, on the whole, stood in favour of the police force. Scarman concluded that ‘the power to stop and search’, one of the immediate factors for racial harassment by the police, was ‘necessary to combat street crime’.[45] From this decision, Scarman found that ‘the direction and policies of the Metropolitan Police are not racist’, but did admit that ‘racial prejudice does manifest itself occasionally in the behaviour of a few officers on the streets’.[46] What the Brixton riots did reveal for Lord Scarman was ‘weakness in the capacity of the police to respond sufficiently firmly to violence in the streets’, finding that ‘the use of “hard” policing methods, including the deployment of the Special Patrol Group, is appropriate, even essential’.[47] Scarman concluded that ‘racial disadvantage and its nasty associate, racial discrimination’ still existed in British society, but controversially declared that ‘“Institutional racism” does not exist in Britain’.[48] This denial of institutional racism by Scarman demonstrated, according to Martin Barker and Anne Beefer, that Scarman’s Report was ‘a liberal Report, but one within entirely racist parameters’.[49]

The Scarman Report was criticised by the Communist Party’s National Race Relations Committee for its failure to recognise the existence of institutional racism, describing the Report as ‘full of contradictions’.[50] Some positive elements to the Report conceded by the Party were the connections between the disturbances and the economic crisis, racism within the police, community policing, the banning of racist marches and anti-racist training for the police, although many of these points included criticisms of their weaknesses.[51] Other parts of the Report were described as ‘just plain bad’, with the Party asserting that the Report contained ‘no explicit criticism of the Government’s economic and social policies’, the token gesture of a liaison committee with only ‘consultative’ powers, the negligent mention of racist attacks on black people and most importantly, the denial of institutional racism.[52]

At the CPGB’s National Congress in December 1981, the Party repeated the call for an accountable and co-operative police force, working with the black community, while calling for greater Party work within local communities, particularly in response to unemployment, the police and racism.[53] On the issue of racism, the Party recognised the ‘rightward shift in British politics affecting all aspects of life’ and expressed ‘great concern [at] the growing activities of racist and fascist organisations, and particularly the growing attacks on black people’.[54] The Anti-Nazi League had defeated the National Front electorally but fascists were ‘now returning to [the] traditional policy of street terrorism and underground activity’.[55] In the struggle against racism, the Party stated that it ‘must seek to win many more black members to its ranks’, but recognised that this was difficult and would ‘only happen inasmuch as the Party is consistently involved in fighting on the issues that the black community recognises as the most urgent’.[56] While the CPGB saw potential for the Party and the Young Communist League to help the youth, such as those involved in the riots, to ‘become involved… in non-anarchic, non-individualistic forms of mass action’, the Party failed to make headway in the black community and the Party’s membership continued to decline. Youth unemployment did not propel many youth towards the left, with the ‘overwhelming majority of the young unemployed remain[ing] apolitical’ and as Kenneth Roberts wrote, ‘Rather than being channelled into party politics, their discontents are more likely to be expressed on the streets’.[57] By the time of the 1985 riots in London and Birmingham, Thatcher had defeated the trade unions in the Miners’ Strike, had seen the British Army victorious in the Falklands War and had led a sustained campaign of privatisation of British industry – unlike the vulnerability experienced after the 1981 riots, Thatcherism was now at its hegemonic height.

British Crime - Civil Disturbance - The Brixton Riots - London - 1981

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[1] Stuart Hall, ‘Policing the Police’, in Dave Cook & Martin Rabstein (eds), Black & Blue: Racism and the Police, CPGB pamphlet, London, 1981, p. 7

[2] Jackie Heywood, ‘Police Hawks Come Out On Top’, Comment, 10 May, 1980, p. 151

[3] Dilip Hiro, Black British, White British: A History of Race Relations in Britain, Paladin, London, 1992, p. 85

[4] H. Joshua & T. Wallace, To Ride the Storm, p. 7

[5] D. Hiro, Black British, White British, p. 86

[6] Hackney CP Branch Internal Policy Document, n.d., CP/LON/BRA/09/11, LHASC

[7] Neville Carey, ‘Bristol Police Fail in Take Over Bid’, Comment, 26 April, 1980, p. 136

[8] N. Carey, ‘Bristol Police Fail in Take Over Bid’, p. 137

[9] N. Carey, ‘Bristol Police Fail in Take Over Bid’, p. 136

[10] Chris Harman, ‘The Summer of 1981: A Post-Riot Analysis’, International Socialism, 2/14, Autumn 1981, p. 1

[11] H. Joshua & T. Wallace, To Ride the Storm, p. 7

[12] D. Hiro, Black British, White British, p. 87

[13] Darcus Howe, ‘Brixton Before the Uprising’, Race Today, February/March 1982, p. 69

[14] P. Gilroy, There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack, p. 130

[15] P. Gilroy, There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack, p. 129

[16] Cited in, Lord Scarman, The Scarman Report: The Brixton Disorders 10-12 April 1981, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1986, p. 95, Italics are my emphasis

[17] D. Hiro, Black British, White British, p. 87; P. Gilroy, There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack, p. 132

[18] D. Hiro, Black British, White British, p. 88; John Benyon, ‘Going Through The Motions: The Political Agenda, the 1981 Riots and the Scarman Inquiry’, Parliamentary Affairs, 38/4, 1985, p. 409

[19] D. Hiro, Black British, White British, p. 88

[20] C. Harman, ‘The Summer of 1981’, p. 5

[21] D. Hiro, Black British, White British, p. 90

[22] J. Benyon, ‘Going Through The Motions’, p. 410

[23] Conference Invitation to ‘Racism and the Police’, October 1980, CP/LON/RACE/02/11, LHASC

[24] Conference Invitation

[25] Conference Invitation

[26] ‘Racism and the Police’, Comment, 21 February, 1981, pp. 6-7

[27] D. Cook & M. Rabstein, ‘Inner City Crisis’, in D. Cook & M. Rabstein, Black & Blue, p. 6

[28] Dave Cook, ‘Charter of Demands’, in D. Cook & M. Rabstein, Black & Blue, p. 32

[29] ‘Racism and the Police’, p. 6

[30] ‘Racism and the Police’, p. 7

[31] ‘Racism and the Police’, p. 7

[32] D. Cook & M. Rabstein, Black & Blue, p. 6

[33] ‘Crisis in the Inner Cities’, Executive Committee Statement, 12-13 September, 1981, p. 1, CP/CENT/CTTE/02/06, LHASC

[34] ‘Crisis in the Inner Cities’, p. 2

[35] ‘Crisis in the Inner Cities’, p. 6

[36] ‘Crisis in the Inner Cities’, p. 9; Italics are in the original text

[37] ‘Crisis in the Inner Cities’, p. 11

[38] ‘Crisis in the Inner Cities’, p. 10; p. 11

[39] Joe Sim, ‘Scarman: The Police Counter-Attack’, Socialist Register, 1982, p. 58

[40] Stuart Hall, ‘From Scarman to Stephen Lawrence’, History Workshop Journal, 48, Autumn 1999, p. 188

[41] L. Scarman, The Scarman Report, p. 194

[42] L. Scarman, The Scarman Report, p. 205

[43] L. Scarman, The Scarman Report, p. 194

[44] L. Scarman, The Scarman Report, p. 195

[45] L. Scarman, The Scarman Report, p. 207

[46] L. Scarman, The Scarman Report, p. 198; Italics are my emphasis

[47] L. Scarman, The Scarman Report, p. 201

[48] L. Scarman, The Scarman Report, p. 209

[49] Martin Barker & Anne Beezer, ‘The Language of Racism – An Examination of Lord Scarman’s Report and the Brixton Riots’, International Socialism, 2/18, p. 108

[50] ‘The Scarman Report’, December 1981, CP/CENT/CTTE/02/06, LHASC

[51] ‘The Scarman Report’

[52] ‘The Scarman Report’

[53] ‘Social and Economic Policy’, Comment, 5 December, 1981, p. 39

[54] ‘Racism’, Comment, 5 December, 1981, p. 37

[55] ‘Racism’, p. 37

[56] ‘Racism’, p. 38

[57] Kenneth Roberts, ‘Youth Unemployment and Urban Unrest’ in, J. Benyon, Scarman and After, p. 182

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Filed under 1981 riots, Anti-racism, Bristol, British 'race relations', British far left, British History, Colonial/Postcolonial History, Communist Party of Great Britain, Contemporary history, Criminology, Law & order, Marxism, Marxism Today, Police violence, Policing history, Profiling, protest, Protest laws, Public order issues, Racial discrimination, Racist violence, Riots, Scarman Report, Southall, Southall 1979, Stuart Hall, Thatcherism, Tories, Uncategorized, Young Communist League, Youth culture

Even more Communist online resources

This is just a very quick post, taken between writing binges to complete my book manuscript, to let people know about some more online resources for those interested in Communist and Soviet history. The Internet Archive is a very random collection of stuff, but someone has uploaded a whole load of scanned Soviet documents from the 1960s to the 1980s in English, which are worth looking at.

Secondly, the group Socialist Truth in Cyprus (London Bureau) has uploaded hundreds of Communist documents from the 1920s to the 1960s. Most of from the Soviet Union, but the Communist Party of Great Britian and the Communist Party of India are also represented.

I am slowly making my way through these resources, but I should really get back to writing about the CPGB and anti-racism! Enjoy.

 

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Filed under Announcements, Archives, International communist movement, Maoism, Marxism, Marxism-Leninism, Pamphlets

April 1980-81: The riots in Bristol and Brixton and their histories

St-pauls-riot

April 2 is the 35th anniversary of the riots that broke out in the St Paul’s district of Bristol in 1980, the first major confrontation between black youth and the police of the Thatcher years. April 10 will be the anniversary of the Brixton riots that occurred the following year. These episodes of public disorder are often overlooked in the history of Margaret Thatcher’s Prime Ministership, but are important to understanding the confrontational nature of Thatcherism.

I wrote this article back in 2010 on how different histories of the 1980 and 1981 riots have emerged since then and how different black and left-wing activist groups interpreted the riots. And to complement this piece, in 2013 I published this article on how the histories of the 1981 riots informed how various people interpreted the 2011 riots.

That’s it for now. Once I’ve finished this book manuscript, normal blogging should resume. As usual, any feedback or comments is welcome!

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Filed under 1981 riots, Anti-racism, Bristol, British 'race relations', British far left, British History, Communist Party of Great Britain, Contemporary history, IS/SWP, Police violence, Policing history, protest, Protest laws, Public order issues, Race Today, Racial discrimination, Racist violence

CFP: From Civil Rights to the Bailout (NIU Galway)

Here is a post from my friend David Convery:

SOCIAL MOVEMENTS, WORKERS AGITATION AND LEFT-WING ACTIVISM IN IRELAND, 1968-2010

CALL FOR PAPERS

Irish Centre for Histories of Labour and Class

NUI Galway

19-20 June 2015

From the Civil Rights Movement to contemporary protests against austerity, the years since 1968 have witnessed widespread and varied social movements in communities, workplaces and colleges throughout Ireland, North and South, that have fought for, and resisted, social change. These movements have spurred the growth of numerous organisations ranging from those advocating limited reform, to those advancing revolutionary change in society. However, despite its immediate relevance to an understanding of contemporary Ireland, the lack of historical research conducted in the agents and resisters of social change since 1968 is a noticeable gap in the study of class and politics in Ireland. This interdisciplinary conference hopes to address this. We welcome scholarly contributions of 20 minutes from established academics to students on any issue that falls under the remit of the conference title. The conference also affords us the opportunity to preserve and generate sources for the benefit of future researchers. We hope to offer workshops on oral history and the preservation, including digitisation, of documentation such as leaflets, posters and periodicals. To this end, we especially want to hear from activists in movements and organisations from the period who may be interested in sharing their experiences and documentation in a friendly and open environment.

Possible topics for papers include but are not limited to:

  • Civil Rights in Northern Ireland
  • Trade union growth, activism, and change
  • Workplace strikes/occupations
  • Left Social Democratic groups (e.g. Socialist Labour Party, Liaison of the Left, etc)
  • Socialist Republicanism
  • Trotskyist, Communist, and other Leninist groups
  • Anarchist and other libertarian groups
  • Catholic Worker, Christian Socialist groups
  • Left-wing periodicals
  • Community campaigns (e.g. housing, drugs, hospital closures, water charges)
  • Second Wave Feminism and Women’s rights (e.g. equal pay, access to contraception, divorce, abortion rights)
  • LGBT rights
  • Anti-globalisation movement
  • Anti-war movement
  • Solidarity campaigns on issues abroad (e.g. Nicaragua, Vietnam, Miners’ Strike, apartheid in South Africa)
  • Student activism
  • Media representation of social movements, trade unionism, and left-wing activism

If you wish to present a paper, please send an abstract of no more than 300 words and a short biography including affiliation, if any, by 31 March 2015 to David Convery at david.convery@nuigalway.ie

If you were/are an activist in this area and are interested in attending, please let us know at the same address by the same date. We would be especially grateful if you could inform us if you are willing to share your experiences as part of an oral history interview and/or have documentation which would be of interest. All documentation will remain the possession of the owner.

Further information about the conference can be found here: https://fromcivilrightstothebailout.wordpress.com/

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New Communist History Online Resources

Just a quick post to let those interested in Communist history that there are two new online resources to play with!

Firstly, the Russian Archives have now made the Comintern Online Archive free to access. The website is only navigable in Russian at the moment, but after playing around with Google translate, I have been able to find some very interesting stuff. This article from the Library of Congress in Washington is very helpful in outlining what each file group are by reference number.

Secondly, the University of Wollongong has digitised all 148 issues of Australian Left Review, the monthly journal of the Communist Party of Australia from 1966 to 1993. Similar to the CPGB’s Marxism Today, the ALR was the outlet of the Eurocommunist/Gramscian wing of the CPA, with significant crossover between the ‘Euros’ in both parties.

I have been trying to get the draft of my book finished, so I haven’t had enough time exploring these two resources, but hopefully soon I will be able to blog about some of my finds. Happy hunting!

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Integration and limitation: Labour and immigration, 1962-68

Last night, Channel 4 aired a program on the 1964 election in the seat of Smethwick, where immigration became a controversial topic and was used to reason why Labour lost a safe seat to the Conservatives. I have written about the use of a racist slogan during the election campaign before (here and here), but this post gives a wider context for the changing political landscape at the time and why the Smethwick election had a long-lasting impact the Labour Party. It is based on an extract from our book Race, Gender and the Body in British Immigration Control, which came out last year.

Throughout the 1950s, the official position of the Labour Party on immigration control was one of consistent opposition. When the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill was debated in Parliament in November 1961, the Labour Party opposed it on the same grounds it had presented in 1958. Gordon Walker, Labour MP for Smethwick, contended that the Conservative Home Secretary R. A. Butler ‘advocates a Bill into which race discrimination is now written – not only into its spirit and practice but into its very letter’.[1] Labour’s opposition to the introduction of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act was based on both political and economic arguments.[2]

Politically, the Labour Party favoured a more benevolent British Commonwealth and defended the right of free entry for Commonwealth citizens, attacking the Conservatives for ‘having rejected the Commonwealth’ and what it supposed were ‘the principles on which it was founded’.[3] The Labour Party opposed the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill on the principle that it was racially biased, and ‘consistently accused the government of implementing racism’.[4] During the Bill’s second reading, Walker declared that Labour would ‘bitterly oppose the Bill and will resist it’ as it was ‘widely and rightly regarded as introducing a colour bar into our legislation’.[5] Labour’s economic argument was that the flow of migration had been regulated by the demands of the British economy, with leader Hugh Gaitskell stating that ‘the rate of immigrants into this country is closely related and … will always be closely related, to the rate of economic absorption’.[6] As Gaitskell explained, throughout the 1950s until 1959, there was ‘an almost precise correlation between the movement in the number of unfulfilled vacancies … and the immigration figures’.[7]

Some authors, in particular Paul Foot and Peter Alexander, have emphasised the principled opposition of Gaitskell, as leader of the Labour Party, who presented an official, unified, formal position on the concept of immigration control for Labour.[8] Foot wrote that Gaitskell understood ‘much better than his colleagues the general principles behind the international migration of labour’, and believed in the British Commonwealth as a ‘world-wide multi-racial community network’.[9] In Parliament, Gaitskell declared that the Bill was ‘a plain anti-Commonwealth Measure in theory and … a plain anti-colour Measure in practice’[10], and Denis Healey, Labour’s spokesperson on colonial issues, pledged at a meeting of immigrant and Commonwealth organisations that a Labour government would repeal the Act if elected.[11]

However, the Labour Party’s official position changed soon after Gaitskell’s death in early 1963, when Harold Wilson became leader of the party. Whereas previously Labour’s opposition to immigration control had been officially ‘unconditional’, now Wilson claimed that the party ‘supported and … do support certain provisions of the Act’.[12] Wilson announced that ‘[w]e do not contest the need for control of immigration into this country’ and accepted the continuation of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act.[13]

Wilson’s statement that Labour accepted the concept of immigration control was the beginning of a growing consensus between the two major parties that non-white immigration from the Commonwealth was a problem. The defeat of Labour MP Gordon Walker to Conservative candidate Peter Griffiths, primarily fought on the issue of immigration, made many within the Labour Party move towards an acceptance of strict immigration controls, believing that opposition to controls could be cited by the Conservatives as a sign of Labour’s weakness. Griffiths used the issue of immigration, supported by the Conservative Association, local anti-immigration advocates and fascist groups, to disrupt the traditional support for the Labour Party in Smethwick. The most notorious and infamous aspect of this campaign was the slogan, ‘If you want a nigger neighbour, vote Labour’, about which Griffiths commented, ‘I would not condemn anyone who said that. I regard it as a manifestation of popular feeling’.[14] The Labour Party’s interpretation of the loss of Smethwick (a loss of 7.2 per cent against an average swing across the nation to Labour of 3.5 per cent)[15] was, according to Labour Minister Richard Crossman, that ‘[e]ver since the Smethwick election it has been quite clear that immigration can be the greatest potential vote-loser for the Labour Party’.[16]

Despite the official front, the Labour Party had been internally divided on the issue of immigration for many years. The official position on unconditional right of entry had seemingly only been held together by the leadership qualities of Hugh Gaitskell.[17] The notion of the Labour Party yielding in the face of racist public opinion has been well documented in the history of race relations in Britain. Yet, as Kathleen Paul has observed, the concept of a ‘hostile public push[ing] an otherwise liberal administration toward ever greater “immigration” control’ is the ‘picture presented by policy makers themselves’.[18] Both Labour and the Conservatives had adopted unofficial means to prevent Commonwealth immigration into Britain in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s. While the traditional history views the Smethwick result as impetus for Labour’s acceptance of restrictions upon non-white Commonwealth immigration, Kathleen Paul’s assertion that these measures were ‘driven not by the explosion of “race and immigration” into the electoral arena but by imperatives internal to the governing elite’ is far more convincing.[19]

In March 1965, Wilson stated that the Commonwealth Immigrants Act was ‘not working as was intended’, recommending that ‘a fresh examination of the whole problem of control is necessary’.[20] The result of this re-examination of immigration policy was the White Paper Immigration from the Commonwealth, published in August 1965. The White Paper suggested that the problem involved how to ‘control the entry of immigrants so that it does not outrun Britain’s capacity to absorb them’.[21] The emphasis of the Labour government’s platform on immigration during this period was on the notions of ‘integration’ and ‘absorption’ of Commonwealth immigrants, but the government believed that integration could not occur without immigration controls. Labour MP Roy Hattersley summarised this by declaring that, ‘without integration, limitation is inexcusable; without limitation, integration is impossible’.[22] To this end, the White Paper made two main proposals: the discontinuation of the Category C vouchers and a large reduction in the number of vouchers issued.[23] Category C vouchers had been the most issued voucher since their introduction, with 42,367 issued between July 1962 and September 1964.[24] More importantly, the total number of vouchers was to be reduced from around 20,000 a year to just 8500 a year, with 1000 reserved for citizens of Malta and ‘not more than 15 per cent of the vouchers issued in Category A will go to any one Commonwealth country’.[25] Effectively this meant that Old Commonwealth countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, which had fairly small populations, were entitled to the same number of vouchers as the more populous Commonwealth countries like India and Pakistan. Regarding the Labour government’s fears of ‘evasion’ of control, the Paper also proposed stronger powers for Immigration Officers to refuse entry to those who were not considered ‘bona fides’.[26]

The result of the White Paper’s release was that consensus was reached within government circles that Commonwealth immigration was undesirable and threatened social cohesion in Britain. As Roy Hattersley stated in Parliament in March 1965, ‘I believe that unrestricted immigration can only produce additional problems, additional suffering and additional hardship unless some kind of limitation is imposed and continued’.[27] Previously speaking as ‘a passionate opponent of the Act’, Hattersley came claimed in 1965 that, ‘with the advantages of hindsight, I suspect that we were wrong to oppose the Act’.[28]

The Labour government’s policy of integration featured heavily in the White Paper, which recommended the implementation of tighter restrictions on Commonwealth immigration while tackling racial discrimination in the domestic sphere. This led to the introduction of the first legislation against racial discrimination in late 1965 to ‘complement’ the White Paper. The Race Relations Act 1965 was introduced to ‘prohibit discrimination on racial grounds in places of public resort’ and was enacted in November 1965[29], but was a much weaker Act than had been proposed by MPs such as Fenner Brockway since the mid-1950s. While reservedly welcomed by both progressive and immigrant organisations, the Race Relations Act was inherently tied to the notions of integration and restriction. As Dilip Hiro wrote:

Taken together, the 1965 White Paper and the 1965 Race Relations Act signalled the convergence of the two major political parties on the issues of immigration control and racial justice. An advance, albeit minor, on the front for ethnic minorities was conceded by the Conservatives in exchange for a retreat by Labour in the matter of immigration restrictions.[30]

The Labour government believed that immigration control and the Race Relations Act would ease the process of integration for non-white immigrants from the Commonwealth into the ‘British way of life’. This process of integration, reinforced by legislation against the most overt forms of public racial discrimination, would help ‘stamp out the evils of racialism’.[31] As Peter Alexander wrote, ‘[i]mmigration control was expected to reduce racism. The reverse happened. And with increased racism came further controls’.[32]

While the number of colonial migrants on work vouchers decreased through the mid-1960s, other colonial migrants (on British passports issued overseas) started to increase in numbers, especially after Kenya won independence in 1963. This point in time symbolises the beginning of an ‘Africanisation’ campaign that ‘prompted many [Kenyan South Asians] to migrate to Britain rather than face continued discrimination’ in Kenya.[33] A ‘steady flow’ of Kenyan South Asians migrated to Britain between 1965 and 1967. In 1967, the Kenyan Government passed a law under which these British citizens of South Asian descent could reside and work in Kenya only on a temporary basis. This created an increase in migration to Britain and prompted demands from sections of the media and Conservative MPs, such as Enoch Powell, that restrictions be applied to these Kenyan South Asians.[34] Powell claimed that the number of South Asians arriving from Kenya would reach a total of 200,000, but the reality was a much smaller 66,000 out of a potential 95,000, with 29,000 already settled in Britain by February 1968.[35] In late February 1968, the Labour government ‘steamrollered through Parliament in three days of emergency debate’ the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968 with the ‘sole purpose of restricting entry into Britain of Kenyan Asians holding British passports’.[36] According to this Act, British citizenship was determined by the birth of a person or of one of their parents or grandparents in Britain. This effectively excluded the Kenyan South Asians, or any other non-white citizens of the Commonwealth, from British citizenship. Despite the rhetoric that the 1968 Act was impartial and not racially biased, the reality underpinning this amendment was the Labour government’s intention to prevent further non-white immigration to Britain.

Zig Layton-Henry described the 1968 Act as the ‘logical outcome of appeasement that the Labour government had adopted in order to achieve the bipartisan consensus with the Conservatives and to reduce the electoral salience of the issue’.[37] However, this was more than merely a pragmatic issue of Labour attempting to not appear ‘weaker than the Conservatives on the issue of immigration controls’,[38] but was the result of a deeper reassessment of the idea of British nationality as Britain’s colonial empire collapsed. White British citizens born abroad were ‘never referred to as “immigrants” under any circumstances’. The term ‘immigrant’ was reserved for non-white Commonwealth migrants, and by the late 1960s the equation of ‘immigrant’ with ‘black’ had become the prevailing attitude.[39] The Labour Party had originally opposed immigration controls on the grounds of the ideal of the free movement of people and trade throughout the Commonwealth. However, the right to enter and live in Britain without restriction did not mean that Commonwealth immigrants were ‘regarded as British in any other sense’.[40] For Labour, the ‘Commonwealth ideal had never been intended as a defence of [unrestricted] black immigration to Britain’. And, as Caroline Knowles has stated, the increasingly tougher controls on immigration seen in the 1960s demonstrated that Labour ‘reconstructed immigration away from Commonwealth and labour needs’, perceiving immigrants as ‘an invasive and oppositional political community to indigenousness’.[41]

In 1968, Robert Moore wrote that ‘[r]acialists have nothing to lose and everything to gain by pressing the Labour Government even harder’.[42] The long-term effect of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968 was to create a distinction between the predominantly white British citizenry who could claim lineage within Britain and the predominantly non-white Commonwealth citizenry who could no longer claim to be ‘British’, which in turn barred the Commonwealth immigrant from entering Britain. In this we can trace the beginning of the double standard citizenship rule which divides ‘desirable’ and ‘undesirable’ migrants according to country of origin.

 

Opposition to the 1962 Bill (via National Archives UK)

Opposition to the 1962 Bill (via National Archives UK)

[1] Hansard, 16 November, 1961, col. 706.

[2] Robert Miles & Annie Phizacklea, White Man’s Country: Racism in British Politics (Pluto Press, London, 1984) p. 42.

[3] Miles & Phizacklea, White Man’s Country, p. 42.

[4] Miles & Phizacklea, White Man’s Country, p. 42.

[5] Hansard, 16 November, 1961, col. 1716

[6] Miles & Phizacklea, White Man’s Country, p. 42; Hansard, 16 November, 1961, col. 793-794.

[7] Hansard, 16 November, 1961, col. 794; R. Miles & A. Phizacklea, White Man’s Country, p. 42.

[8] Paul Foot, Immigration and Race in British Politics (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1965) pp. 174-175; Peter Alexander, Racism, Resistance and Revolution (Bookmarks, London, 1987) pp. 34-35.

[9] Foot, Immigration and Race in British Politics, p. 175.

[10] Hansard, 16 November, 1961, col. 799.

[11] Foot, Immigration and Race in British Politics, p. 173; Marika Sherwood, Claudia Jones: A Life in Exile (Londo,: Lawrence & Wishart, 1999) p. 99.

[12] Cited in Foot, Immigration and Race in British Politics, p. 170; Hansard, 27 November, 1963, col. 365.

[13] Hansard, 27 November, 1963, col. 367.

[14] Cited in Miles & Phizacklea, White Man’s Country, p. 49.

[15] Miles & Phizacklea, White Man’s Country, p. 50.

[16] Richard Crossman, The Diaries of a Cabinet Minister, vol. 1: Minister of Housing 1964-66 (London, Hamish Hamilton, 1975) pp. 149-150.

[17] See Foot, Immigration and Race in British Politics, pp. 161-175.

[18] Kathleen Paul, Whitewashing Britain: Race and Citizenship in the Postwar Era (Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1997) p. 177.

[19] Paul, Whitewashing Britain, pp. 177-178.

[20] Hansard, 9 March, 1965, col. 249.

[21] Immigration from the Commonwealth, Cmnd. 2739, HMSO, London, 1965, p. 2.

[22] Cited in Miles & Phizacklea, White Man’s Country, p. 57.

[23] Immigration from the Commonwealth, p. 6.

[24] Figures calculated from Control of Immigration Statistics 1 July 1962 – 31 December 1963, HMSO, London, 1965, pp. 15-16; Control of Immigration Statistics 1964, HMSO, London, 1965, p. 11.

[25] Immigration from the Commonwealth, p. 6.

[26] Immigration from the Commonwealth, p. 8.

[27] Hansard, 23 March, 1965, col. 380-381.

[28] Hansard, 23 March, 1965, col. 380.

[29] Race Relations Act, 1965 .

[30] Dilip Hiro, Black British, White British: A History of Race Relations in Britain (London, Paladin, 1992) p. 211.

[31] David Ennals, ‘Labour’s Race Relations Policy’, Institute of Race Relations Newsletter, November/December 1968, p. 437.

[32] Alexander, Racism, Resistance and Revolution, p. 34.

[33] Paul, Whitewashing Britain, p. 179.

[34] John Solomos, Race and Racism in Britain (Palgrave, Houndmills, 2003) p. 60; D. Hiro, Black British, White British, p. 213.

[35] Alexander, Racism, Resistance and Revolution, p. 36; D. Hiro, Black British, White British, p. 214.

[36] Fryer, Staying Power, p. 383.

[37] Zig Layton-Henry, The Politics of Immigration: Immigration, ‘Race’ and ‘Race’ Relations in Post-War Britain (Blackwell, Oxford, 1992) p. 79.

[38] Layton-Henry, The Politics of Immigration, p. 79.

[39] Ann Dummett & Andrew Nicol, Subjects, Citizens, Aliens and Others: Nationality and Immigration Law (London, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1990) p. 201.

[40] Caroline Knowles, Race, Discourse and Labourism (London, Routledge, 1992) p. 94.

[41] Knowles, Race, Discourse and Labourism, p. 96, 103.

[42] Robert Moore, ‘Labour and Colour – 1965-8’, Institute of Race Relations Newsletter, October 1968, p. 390.

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Filed under Anti-racism, Border control studies, British 'race relations', British History, Britishness, Commonwealth Immigrants Act, Contemporary history, Enoch Powell, Harold Wilson, Immigration, Race Relations Act, Racial discrimination, Smethwick, Tories, UK Labour Party