Month: December 2013

Counting down the top 10 posts of 2013

countdown1Everyone does a list at this time of year and this blog is no different. For those who have recently tuned in to Hatful of History, here’s a countdown of the most read posts this year, from 10 to 1:

10. The legacy of Enoch Powell

9. Inside the paranoid Maoist cults of 1970s Britain

8. History and the Notion of Authenticity in Control and 24 Hour Party People

7. Seeking the origins of a racist Tory slogan at Smethwick 1963-64

6. The British left and BME workers

5. UKIP, the BNP/EDL and the political space on the far right

4. Unravelling the Thatcherite narrative: The 1981 riots

3. Is 2013 the Socialist Workers’ Party’s 1956?

2. Is this a turning point for the British far left?

And number 1 is…

1. Families divided then and now: UK spousal visa requirements 1976 and 2013

countdown2

So there you have it. It seems the extremes of British politics, the far left and the SWP, as well as UKIP, the BNP and the far right, have both been popular subjects with readers. But by far, the most read post is one on the requirements for UK spousal visas – I am not sure how many find this page by mistake after looking for genuine advice in Google.

If you haven’t checked all of these posts out yet, please do so. And happy 2014!

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Historical research into black power in Britain

This article in The Guardian today caught my eye, arguing that the history of the black power movement and radical black activism in Britain was in ‘danger of being forgotten’. The article was referring to a new biography of Darcus Howe, the black activist and editor of Race Today during the 1970s and early 1980s, by Robin Bunce and Paul Field. Bunce and Field argue that the history of black struggle has been overlooked in recent British history and it is true that scholarship in this area is not large, but I’m not sure that it is deliberate as Bunce and Field make out.

Darcus Howe at the Mangrove Nine Trial in the early 1970s

Darcus Howe at the Mangrove Nine Trial in the early 1970s

Narratively, the history of black activism has been subsumed into the wider history of anti-racism in Britain and the story of radical black activism/black power, which rose in the late 1960s and waned by the late 1970s, often forms part of a longer narrative. Similar to the history of the wider anti-racist movement, radical black activism may have had victories in the 1970s, but the narrative arc ends with the implosion of radical politics in the 1981 riots and the crushing defeats under Thatcherism. (I have written about the convergence and divergence between black activists and the ‘white’ left in the 1970s and 1980s here)

Practically, researching the history of radical black activism and black power is made difficult by the (scarce) amount of resources that can be obtained by historians. Publications produced by black activists in Britain remain rather difficult to find and archival material of their campaigns is only recently been compiled. Collections such as the Black Cultural Archives in Lambeth, the Race Relations Archive at the University of Manchester, the Sivanandan collection at the University of Warwick Library and the Institute of Race Relations Library are important for helping historians begin to write this history. Although Bunce and Field have made use of archival material from the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police’ Special Branch, files relating to black power and radical black activism in the National Archives are rather few. A quick check of the National Archives’ catalogue shows that there are about 10-15 files on black power in the UK publicly available. (I am sure there would be much more available through FOI) The next step for historians interested in this area is to conduct oral history interviews with people involved in black activism during this time – something which the Organised Youth project have been doing lately.

365

Before Bunce and Field’s recent monograph, there have been other studies on black power and radical black activism in Britain. The most recent would be Anne-Marie Angelo’s work on the British Black Panther Party (based on her PhD on the internationalism of the Black Panthers in the UK and Israel). But the others are now over a decade old. Another PhD from 2008, by Rosalind Wild, looked at black power in Britain and its origins from 1955 to 1975. Colin. A Beckles published an article in 1998 on the black activist bookshops in the UK, describing them as ‘Pan-African sites of resistance’. Kalbir Shukra and Brian Alleyne have both written about black politics, including black radicalism, but their books were published in 1998 and 2003 respectively. A. Sivanandan’s collection of his works from the 1970s to the present, Catching History on its Wings, has some material on radical black activism reproduced from Race & Class journal, of which Sivanandan was the founding editor.

In the period being discussed (the late 1960s to the early 1980s), the use of the term ‘black’ was a political term and often encompassed both Afro-Caribbean and South Asian people. In this period, there was significant crossover in activism between the Afro-Caribbean and South Asian communities, as well as with white activists, but there was also divergence, and activism that focussed on the problems specifically facing certain communities. There have been two books on radical activism within Britain’s South Asian communities. Anandi Ramamurthy has recently published Black Star which is a fascinating account of the Asian Youth Movements that started in Southall and spread across Britain in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In 2003, Rahila Gupta published a history of the Southall Black Sisters, a South Asian feminist organisation that emerged out of the anti-fascist protest against the National Front in 1979 (where Blair Peach was killed). While differing from ‘black power’, this shows that research into radicalism amongst Britain’s ethnic minority communities does exist and is growing.

I look forward to reading Bunce and Field’s book and I hope this spurs more research into the history of radical black activism in Britain.

Why studying film helped me become a better historian

When I was an undergraduate, I planned to major in film studies, but I eventually switched to a double major in history and politics, keeping film studies as my minor. Although I didn’t keep up with my studies in film theory after I undertook my Honours and PhD in history, I look back on my film studies classes and realise that these classes helped me understand history in a way that was different from what I gained from my history courses. After having my first article on film and history published this year (and after rewatching Sans Soleil and La Jetee online), I thought I’d write a brief post on how studying film helped me become a better historian. Below are the three things that film studies taught me that I have now applied to my historical thinking and research:

1) Narrative history is a story-telling format

Studying how film creates a narrative (usually by following one or a number of protagonists, having a start, middle and end, following story arcs, etc)  illustrates that all (well, most) narratives tell a story that is constructed by the film-maker. Things that are superfluous to the telling of the story are left out, key moments are emphasised, arcs are created to give sense to a series of events to transform them from randomness into an ordered story. This is obvious because a film (usually running between 90 and 180 minutes) only has a certain amount of time to convey an entire story that (normally) makes narrative sense – an isolated temporal/visual experience with a beginning, middle and end.

What I came to realise (particularly after reading Hayden White in Honours) is that historians do the same thing. We select details, edit out the superfluous and construct a sense of order out of random historical events to convey significance to certain things. Historical studies may cover short or vast periods of time, but normally they follow a certain narrative structure.

Brian Fateaux (whom I quote in this article) wrote about constructing a narrative out of historical events for the film Control:

it is impossible to accurately retell and represent each and every moment of Joy Division’s musicology. It is necessary to choose from the available documents, interpreting or reinterpreting them in such a way that forms a persuasive aesthetic and narrative, reflecting the popular understanding of the band.

The same processes are at work when we historians select how to arrange the evidence we have collected and how we bestow significance upon certain historical details. As White wrote in Metahistories:

It is sometimes said that the aim of the historian is to explain the past by ‘finding,’ ‘identifying,’ or ‘uncovering the ‘stories’  that lie buried in chronicles; and that the difference between ‘history’ and ‘fiction’ resides in the fact that the historians ‘finds’ his stories, whereas the fiction writer ‘invents’ his. This conception of the historians’ task, however, obscures the extent of which ‘invention’ also plays a part in the historian’s operation.

2) There is a gap between the record/memory of an event and ‘what really happened’

Historians rely on evidence to construct narratives about the past. This historical evidence is predominantly in the form of written records, either archival or published data, but, of course, we often use other forms of evidence in our research, such as oral testimony, photographs, film, audio recordings, paintings/drawings and physical artefacts (to name a few). In our work, we must acknowledge that there is a gap between what the historical evidence ‘says’ and what actually happened. Often this is in the case of the archival record – the ‘smoking gun’ is sometimes not there and we have to acknowledge that without certain archival evidence, we cannot make certain assertions. We must also acknowledge that historical evidence only records a certain point in time and has to be fit into a wider context, put together with other forms of evidence.

The gap between the historical record and the historical event was made really clear by reading Gilles Deleuze’s Cinema books for film studies. In Cinema 2: The Time Image, Gilles Deleuze writes of how the cinematic recording departs from the time which is recorded and existence of a historical moment – as it happened and as it is recorded. Laura Marks, in this 1994 article, explains that Deleuze ‘proffers an image of time as always splitting, like a hair, into two parts’, distinguishing between the ‘presents which pass’ and the ‘pasts which are preserved’. Succinctly, when film is created, a moment in history is recorded, but there is a distinction between the moment itself, which passes in an instant, and the physical image that is produced. Deleuze asserts that we should not confuse the two – ‘The past is not to be confused with the mental existence of recollection images which actualize it in us’. While Deleuze/Marks are talking about the difference between the film image and the event being filmed, the same concept exists for any type of historical evidence. 

3) Memories are problematic for historians

Following on from the last point, the 1982 film Sans Soleil by French auteur Chris Marker (a film I remember watching in third year) highlights this splitting between an event occurring and the photographic representation of the event – between the historical event and the historical record. As Anton Kaes described in his bookFrom Hitler to Heimat, in Sans Soleil, the fictitious narrator, Sandor Krasna poses the question, ‘I wonder how people who don’t film, who don’t photograph, who don’t use tape recorders, remember’. Memories of an event are created through their recording into some format that exists as the historical evidence of this event occurring – if the historical record doesn’t exist, events may be forgotten. But the film, as Kaes points out, also shows how our memory of events can be problematized by the historical record and sometimes there can be a disconnect between the two. As noted by Kaes, Marker demonstrates that our filmic and photographic images compete with our memories; that our memories of events are not captured in film – ‘I remember a January in Tokyo, or rather I remember the images I filmed in January in Tokyo. They have replaced my memories, they are my memories’. 

The historical record is also complicated by the fact that we often have to (particularly if we work with oral testimony) rely on the competing memories of different individuals involved. As I wrote in this article, historical research ‘should reflect more than just a singular metanarrative, but recognise that history is often a series of competing narratives that overlap and intersect at various points’. This was clearly demonstrated by watching Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, where the story of a rape in feudal Japan is told by four different individuals and the film highlights the inconsistencies between the four accounts. The ways in which different people interpret the same event has been described since as ‘the Rashomon effect’. In my article on cinematic portrayals of Joy Division, I quote historian Peter Burke who argued, ‘[i]f there is one lesson that… films teach, it is the difference between the ways in which different individuals or groups view the same events’. This is something that all historians learn to acknowledge, but Rashomon made this explicit.

I certainly think that studying film made me understand historical methods much more and I was able to use film to think through some of the historical problems that I encountered as a postgraduate student. If I was putting together a syllabus for a film and history topic, I would definitely include the three films I have referred to in this post – ControlSans Soleil and Rashomon.

Is 2013 the Socialist Workers Party’s 1956?

Marx's famous dictum from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon

Marx’s famous dictum from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon

After the SWP convened its ‘special conference’ in March this year, I posted a blog positing the question whether this was a turning point for the far left in Britain. I wondered whether the number of people turning away from the SWP and its diminishing stature within the wider leftist, labour and progressive circles in Britain would mean that the SWP would head towards oblivion or start the long road towards regeneration. I used the example of the Communist Party of Great Britain in the years following the events of 1956 to contrast with the contemporary scenario of the Socialist Workers Party. Although I disagree with Marx and would argue that history does not repeat itself, maybe past events, such as the CPGB’s wilderness years between 1956 and 1964-68, might highlight some things that may occur in the fallout of the SWP’s schisms. A number of people questioned whether the events of 2013 were analogous to those of 1956 for two reasons. Firstly, quite a few people stated that the schism in the CPGB was much more momentous, losing about 8,000 members from around 24,000, compared with the much smaller numbers involved in the SWP fallout. Secondly, some of those more inclined to the SWP suggested that while this controversy was a source of friction, it was not on the same magnitude as the CPGB’s crisis – that this, in their eyes, was a minor problem more akin to the fractures which occurred over Respect and over the Rees/German split.

Now that the SWP’s annual conference has passed and this has led to a much wider exodus of prominent SWP members, including Pat Stack and Ian Birchall, I would now argue that the crisis facing SWP now is similar to the crisis faced by the CPGB in 1956. The old leadership has remained (fairly) intact and seems to suggest that it considers adherence to democratic centralism is more important than reflection and substantial reform. The SWP leadership seem to believe that its self-proclaimed role as the revolutionary socialist vanguard of the working class must be maintained at all costs, and that sincere re-evaluation and reform might jeopardise this.

Alex Callinicos, leading figure of the current SWP

Alex Callinicos, leading figure of the current SWP

Can we look at the period between 1956 and 1968 and make any reasonable assumptions about the next decade for the British far left?

If we look back to the British far left after 1956, there are a few points that could be made about the situation of the far left in 2013. In 1976, Peter Sedgwick described the period between 1956 and 1968 as a time of ‘political adolescence’ and it is fair to say that this period was one of rejuvenation and a shift in political focus. While still numerically the largest group to the left of the Labour Party, the CPGB could not maintain its position as the most influential far left group and was rivalled by the figures of the new left and the Trotskyists. Former CPGB members such as E.P. Thompson, John Saville and Raymond Williams, along with a whole bunch of fellow travellers, such as Stuart Hall, Perry Anderson and Ralph Miliband, advocated socialism mixed with humanism and encouraged a non-party aligned milieu between the Communist Party and the Labour left. Initially buoyed by its interaction with social movements such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, these people helped to inspire a new era of left-wing thought, but the early 1960s, it was evident that this did not necessarily lead to practical action and there was a swing back towards Labour, now under Harold Wilson. On the Trotskyist left, Gerry Healy’s Socialist Labour League reaped the initial benefits of the exodus from the CPGB, with a few people, such as Peter Fryer and Ken Coates, moving from the Communist Party to the SLL, but this was not because they were suddenly converts to orthodox Trotskyism, but because the SLL was the only other game in town at this stage. But Healy’s leadership caused much friction and most former CPGB members left shortly after joining. By the mid-1960s, most of those who had left the CPGB between 1956 and 1958 ended up in the Labour Party or abstaining from activist politics.

A similar situation might be in store for those who have left the SWP. Although a number of those who have resigned have stated that they would continue to be involved in activism and left-wing politics, it is much more likely that this will be in various social movements and single-issue campaigns, rather than joining another party (with the exception of possibly joining the Labour Party). The Socialist Party (formerly Militant) might be the next biggest left-wing group at the moment, but they probably won’t benefit from the SWP’s losses membership-wise, and the same could be said about the various other groups who have had long standing disputes with the SWP. One of the differences between 1956 and 2013 organisationally is the emergence of the Left Unity project. This might create a more actively involved space between the Leninist far left and the Labour Party, and this might draw the ex-SWP crowd, but how sustainable this project will be is still up in the air.

But while Left Unity is a new organisation, it is made up of many of the old faces from the far left as it has stood over the last decade. The other major process underway in the period between 1956 and 1968 was a generational change. Apart from Gerry Healy (and possibly other figures from the 1940s Revolutionary Communist Party, such as Ted Grant), most of those who formed the nuclei of the emerging Trotskyist groups were from a younger generation, predominantly joining after spending time in the Labour Party Young Socialists or in the CND. The non-party aligned new left also proved attractive to a younger generation, coming into contact through the CND, as well as new left publications such as The New Reasoner and Universities & Left Review. Even the Communist Party experienced a shift in political focus as a younger generation came up through the ranks. By the late 1960s, most of the Party’s leadership that had presided over proceedings during the crisis of 1956 had either retired or died and this allowed a new generation of CPGB members to flourish (and eventually challenge the Party’s long-term strategies), although some old-timers, such as John Gollan, James Klugmann and Bert Ramelson, remained in leadership positions until the mid-1970s.

Nowadays, the SWP leadership is predominantly made up of an older generation, recruited into the Party in the 1970s and 1980s, and now firmly entrenched in their positions. Many have claimed that the SWP had become stratified between this older leadership and a younger base of recruits, primarily university students, and that there was not much in between these two extremes in terms of membership. After this present crisis, one wonders how difficult it will become for the SWP to recruit younger people into the party and whether younger people will deem the SWP to be ‘out of touch’ and avoid them, just like many did in the 1960s and 1970s with the CPGB, eschewing the outmoded Communist Party for the newer Trotskyist groups, such as the International Socialists or the International Marxist Group.

The current SWP leadership cannot hold on forever and the real question may be whether there is still a party to revive once they are gone. Taking the example of the CPGB, after 1956, it took more than a decade to really rejuvenate, recruiting a new, younger (and more diverse) cohort of members, but also coinciding with a wider social and political upswing. Until the late 1960s, the CPGB was sustained by its presence in the trade unions and its efforts to build a ‘mass party’ started to bring some limited rewards. The SWP does not have the same level of integration into the trade union movement and many of the union leaders that it had been associated with over the last decade have now drifted towards the Left Unity project. It may be that a different generation of people will take over leadership roles within the SWP and steer it in new directions, but this would be a long process and the SWP might not be in a suitable condition to be revitalized by then. If this is the case, 2013 might not be the SWP’s 1956, but its 1989.

The CPGB leadership in the late 1940s or early 1950s (pic from People's History Museum collection)

The CPGB leadership in the late 1940s or early 1950s (pic from People’s History Museum collection)

As I said earlier, I don’t believe in Marx’s maxim that history repeats itself, but it might allow us insights into what the present holds. The SWP’s current crisis is not the same crisis faced by the Communist Party in 1956-57, but the aftermath of the CPGB’s crisis may provide some food for thought for those interested in what might lie ahead for the SWP and for the wider British far left in 2014 and beyond. From the eye of the storm, this seems like a turning point for the British far left, but only with the ability of hindsight can we really tell.

New project: Monitoring Cypriots in 1930s London

I am very pleased announce that my colleague, Dr Andrekos Varnava and I, have just been awarded a Faculty Research Grant by Flinders University to undertake a new research project, titled ‘Monitoring a ‘suspect community’ in the UK: The colonialist origins of the national/border security nexus and interwar London’s Cypriot community’. Here is the outline of the project:

The main aim of this project is to examine why and how the British authorities during the inter-war years monitored the Cypriot community in London and what impact this had on broader British immigration policy. It is our hypothesis that the Cypriot community in the UK became a focus point for the British security services, the Metropolitan Police and the Colonial Office because they were deemed to be ‘deviant’ in two ways: a) involved in criminal activities, such as gambling, robbery, prostitution, and others forms of organised crime; b) involved in subversive political activity, primarily links with the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Community Party of Cyprus. Both these ‘deviant’ characteristics not only singled-out the Cypriots for surveillance, but brought into question the migration of other Cypriots to Britain. The project will undertake an examination of National Archive documents relating to the Colonial Office, the Security Services, the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police to explore how the Cypriot community in London was characterised as ‘deviant’ and transformed into a ‘suspect community’ that needed to be closely monitored and regulated.

By looking at the ways in which the British authorities restricted and monitored the movement of Cypriots to the UK and also within the country, we seek to propose an answer to why Cypriots were singled out for immigration control 30-40 years before other British colonial subjects. We will argue that the focus upon the Cypriot community created what criminologists and security studies scholars have described as a ‘suspect community’, which creates the conditions for discriminatory practices to be inflicted upon the community, yet normalised by the authorities and wider society. 

This combines my research into the British left and UK immigration controls with Andrekos’ research on the colonial administration of Cyprus within the British Empire. The research will be predominantly based on files found at the National Archives, but will also incorporate material from the Labour History Archive and Study Centre in Manchester, the Working Class Movement Library in Salford and the TUC Archive at London Metropolitan University.

This is a very exciting new project, combining several of my research interests, but also exploring an aspect of British immigration and colonial history that I have not looked at before. Andrekos is a dedicated and prolific researcher and it will be great to work on this project with him. Andrekos will be doing the majority of the archival research in August, but I hope to get to the LHASC and WCML while I am over in June.

As usual, anyone with intersecting research interests are advised to get in touch with us!

The Tory imperial mindset and the road to immigration controls

Someone on twitter directed me to this review of Camilla Schofield’s new book Enoch Powell and the Making of Post-Colonial Britain by Vernon Bagdanor, which makes some quite contestable claims. The first is: 

According to Schofield, Powell sought to replace an empire based on white supremacy with an England based on white supremacy. She distorts, I think, the idea of empire. In practice, no doubt, the empire did often incarnate white supremacy. However, its ideology was opposed to racial domination. [my emphasis]

The second is:

By the 1950s, High Tories were using imperialist arguments to reject proposals to restrict non-white immigration. “It would be a tragedy,” declared the then colonial secretary, Alan Lennox-Boyd, in 1958, “to bring to an end the traditional right of unrestricted entry into the mother country of Her Majesty’s subjects and quite unthinkable to do so on grounds of colour.”

Powell, therefore, was being very un-Tory in rejecting the multiracial Commonwealth and a multiracial Britain.

I won’t focus on the first claim, but the second claim seems to suggest that ‘real’  Tories opposed immigration controls and favoured unrestricted migration from the Commonwealth. Lennox-Boyd, I would argue, was in a minority position on the issue of immigration control within the Conservative Party in the 1950s and that many more Tories were sympathetic to some form of restriction on colonial migration, but were placated in the short term by its economic benefits. 

The following post discusses this point at length and how the Conservatives eventually devised the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 to ‘deal with’ large-scale non-white colonial migration. Most of it is extracted from my PhD thesis, but some might also feature in our forthcoming book on ‘race’, gender and the body in British immigration control history. 

Alan Lennox-Boyd, Colonial Secretary under Eden and Macmillan, who opposed immigration controls before being made a Lord in 1959.

Alan Lennox-Boyd, Colonial Secretary under Eden and Macmillan, who opposed immigration controls before being made a Lord in 1959.

Several studies from the 1980s and 1990s, from looking at the Cabinet documents from the 1945-51 Labour Government and the 1951-1964 Conservative Governments, have highlighted how the road to the introduction of immigration control with the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 was haphazard and non-linear.[1] Their work suggests that before the implementation of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act in 1962, a number of conflicting interests, such as emotional ties to the legacy of empire, economic concerns and fears of a ‘colour problem’, made the process of legislating on this area a difficult job. But while some Conservative ministers, such as Home Secretary (under Churchill) David Maxwell Fyfe and Colonial Secretary Alan Lennox-Boyd, asserted that unrestricted colonial migration was essential for the maintenance of the British Commonwealth, the concern over the socio-political ‘problem’ that colonial migration presented to British society was dominant in the parliamentary discourse and was only tempered by immediate economic concerns (the requirement of unskilled and semi-skilled labour in the initial post-war era) until the mid-1950s. As the economy stabilised, these concerns were featured more prominently in parliamentary debates, in the media and in debates in wider society and the call for restricting immigration from the Commonwealth became harder for centrist Conservatives to resist.

From the 1980s onwards, a new generation of immigration scholars, using the now opened archival records, revised the history of immigration control and revealed that during the 1950s, the British government had tried informal controls as the ‘solution’ to its unrestricted immigration policy before starting to ‘favour restrictive legislation’.[2] A study into the reaction of the Churchill’s Conservative Government to immigration observed that by the early 1950s, both Labour and the Conservatives had ‘instituted a number of covert, and sometimes illegal, administrative measures designed to discourage Black immigration’.[3] As Lydia Lindsey wrote, ‘There was general agreement among British officials that colonial workers were not preferred in the country’.[4] Looking at the Cabinet papers of the post-war Labour and Conservative Governments, Kathleen Paul’s Whitewashing Britain showed that the British Government was ‘never “liberal” with regard to “race and immigration” and indeed tried very hard to prevent the migration of people of colour to the United Kingdom’.[5]

Before 1955, questions had been raised in Parliament over the number of immigrants from the colonies arriving in Britain and their impact upon British society. There had been apprehension towards immigration on the economic grounds of employment opportunities taken away from British workers as well as a concern for their use of social services. However concerns were also raised in Parliament over the ‘dangerous social problems’ brought to Britain by Commonwealth immigrants,[6] with objections raised that these immigrants could enter Britain ‘regardless of their health, means of subsistence, character record, habits, culture, education, need for them economically… or of the wishes of the British people’.[7]

Most immigration scholars in the 1960s and 1970s suggested that the 1958 riots, when white youths and fascists attacked West Indians in Notting Hill and Nottingham, caused the Conservative Government to re-consider the issue of immigration control seriously. E.J.B. Rose in 1969’s Colour and Citizenship argued that the Government was unwilling to impose restrictions upon Commonwealth citizens, but after the Notting Hill riots in September 1958, the Conservative Government was ‘forced… to relinquish its grip on the principle’ of uncontrolled immigration.[8] However, the British government was not provoked by the riots into taking measures towards immigration control, as a consensus was forming between the two major parties that colonial immigration was an undesired phenomenon.

As Parliamentary debates demonstrate throughout the 1950s, there was an apprehension by some MPs from both parties about the social impact of colonial immigration. However the problems faced by newly arrived migrants in employment, housing and other instances of racial prejudice were never considered and as Kathleen Paul states, ‘notably absent… was any suggestion of possible ways to improve or solve the “problems” allegedly caused by migrants’.[9] Labour MP Fenner Brockway’s Private Members’ Bill for the prohibition of racial discrimination was brought to Parliament for debate three times before the riots and was defeated, with Conservative MP Bernard Braine describing it as ‘so inconsistent and ill-conceived that it is almost an insult to the House to consider it further’.[10]

Despite the very real instances of racial discrimination that were experienced by colonial migrants in Britain, the Conservatives opposed any legislation, declaring that ‘it would be almost impossible to prove that a person had been turned away on the grounds of colour and on the grounds of colour alone’.[11] Describing Brockway’s proposals as ‘badly drafted and ill-conceived’, Braine claimed during a Parliamentary debate on the Bill that ‘a large number of coloured people… have not experienced any form of discrimination ‘ and ‘discrimination, therefore, is something which ought not to be tackled by legislation, but… by education’.[12]

Peter Fryer stated that, ‘Between 1958 and 1968 black settlers in Britain watched the racist tail wag the parliamentary dog’.[13] This was not just Conservative and Labour politicians progressively pandering to a small racist minority, but the increasing acceptance by both parties of putting into legislation the unofficial racist measures that had existed since 1948. Between the end of 1958 and the introduction of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act in 1962, the issue of immigration became increasingly politicised and synonymous with immigration from the colonies, such as the West Indies, the Indian subcontinent and West Africa. In a Parliamentary debate in the months following the Notting Hill riots, Conservative MP Cyril Osborne announced in Parliament that there was the ‘urgent need for a restriction upon immigration into this country, particularly of coloured immigrants’.[14]

In February 1961, Osborne put forward another Bill that, ‘in view of the enormous increase in immigration in recent years… and the serious social problems that are consequently arising’, urged immigration controls requiring every immigrant to have proof of a ‘guaranteed job; adequate housing accommodation; a clean bill of health; a clear criminal record and a cash deposit… to repay their return fare if they become a charge on public funds’.[15] For Osborne, immigration was the ‘most difficult, the most dangerous and most delicate problem’ facing Britain and ‘speaking as an Englishman for the English people’, he felt that ‘the problem of immigration must be tackled, and tackled soon’.[16] In the same debate, Norman Pannell declared that colonial immigration was the main problem because ‘coloured immigrants… come in greater numbers’ and that many of these immigrants from the New Commonwealth ‘come from countries… [where] there is a standard of civilisation which is lower and there are acquired habits and inclinations which conflict with the accepted pattern of [Britain]’. [17] Although some disagreed with Osborne’s proposals, the consensus that colonial immigration was a problem was being reached by the Government.

On November 1, 1961, the Conservative Government first presented the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill to ‘make temporary provision for controlling the immigration into the United Kingdom of Commonwealth citizens’.[18] The ‘indefinite continuance of virtually limitless immigration’ had to be controlled, the government declared, (falsely) stating that ‘at present there are no factors visible which might lead us to expect a reversal or even a modification of the immigration trend’.[19] Increased immigration, according to the Home Secretary R.A. Butler, posed the ‘real risk that the drive for improved conditions will be defeated by the sheer weight of numbers’,[20] putting the blame for the Conservative Government’s failure to meet housing requirements onto immigrants. Despite assurances that the bill treated all Commonwealth citizens (including Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians) equally, the true nature of the Bill as an act of controlling non-white immigration was demonstrated by Butler’s statement that:

It cannot be denied that the immigrants who have come to this country in such large numbers have presented the country with an intensified social problem. They tend to settle in communities of their own, with their own mode of life, in big cities. The greater the numbers coming into this country the larger these communities and the more difficult will it be to integrate them into our national life.[21]

This was confirmed by William Deedes, a Conservative Minister at the time of the Bill’s passing, who admitted in 1968, ‘The Bill’s real purpose was to restrict the influx of coloured immigrants. We were reluctant to say as much openly’.[22] The Conservatives presented the legislation as non-discriminatory, but in practice, Kathleen Paul wrote, ‘its restrictive effect [was] intended to, and would in fact, operate on coloured people almost exclusively’.[23]

The Bill, with reservations from the Labour Party, was passed on February 27, 1962 and the Commonwealth Immigrants Act came into effect on July 1, 1962. This was the beginning of the ‘numbers game’ and the ideal that ‘good race relations’ could only be achieved by strict immigration control, demonstrated by Home Secretary Butler’s statement that ‘if the numbers of new entrants are excessive, their assimilation into our society presents the gravest difficulty’.[24] While the Act greatly reduced the number of non-white colonial immigrants entering Britain after 1962, therefore placating to a certain extent anti-immigrationists in the government and wider civil society, the number of immigrants who attempted to ‘beat the Act’ was significantly higher than the numbers that had entered in the previous decade. In 1960, the total number of immigrants had been 57,700, but this number leapt to 136,400 in 1961 and another 94,900 in the first six months of 1962 before the Act became enforceable.[25] As Ruth Brown observed, ‘the racism of Britain’s Tory government led them to destroy in one single act the almost perfect symmetry which had previously existed between levels of migration into Britain and the level of demand for labour there’.[26]

West Indian campaigners against the 1962 Act

West Indian campaigners against the 1962 Act


[1] Shirley Joshi & Bob Carter, ‘The Role of Labour in the Creation of a Racist Britain,’ Race & Class, 25/3, 1984, pp. 53-70; Bob Carter, Clive Harris & Shirley Joshi, ‘The 1951-55 Conservative Government and the Racialization of Black Immigration,’ Immigrants and Minorities, 6/3, 1987, pp. 335-347; David Welsh, ‘The Principle of the Thing: The Conservative Government and the Control of Commonwealth Immigration, 1957-59’, Contemporary British History, 12/2, 1998, pp. 51-79; D.W. Dean, ‘Conservative Government and the Restriction of Commonwealth Immigration in the 1950s: The Problems of Constraint’, Historical Journal, 35/1, March 1992, pp. 171-194; Kathleen Paul, Whitewashing Britain: Race and Citizenship in the Postwar Era, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1997

[2] Kenneth Lunn, ‘The British State and Immigration, 1945-51: New Light on the Empire Windrush’, in Tony Kushner & Kenneth Lunn (eds), The Politics of Marginality: Race, the Radical Right and Minorities in Twentieth Century Britain, Frank Cass, London, 1990, p. 172; Bob Carter, Clive Harris & Shirley Joshi, ‘The 1951-55 Conservative Government and the Racialization of Black Immigration’, Immigrants and Minorities, 6/3, November 1987, p. 337

[3] B. Carter, C. Harris & S.Joshi, ‘The 1951-55 Conservative Government and the Racialization of Black Immigration’, p. 336

[4] Lydia Lindsey, ‘Halting the Tide: Responses to West Indian Immigration to Britain, 1946-1952’, Journal of Caribbean History, 26/1, 1992, p. 63

[5] K. Paul, Whitewashing Britain, p. 132

[6] Hansard, 13 June, 1951, col. 2278

[7] Hansard, 16 December, 1954, col. 190

[8] E.J.B. Rose (ed.), Colour and Citizenship: A Report on British Race Relations, Oxford University Press, London, 1969, p. 213; p. 220

[9] K. Paul, Whitewashing Britain, p. 156

[10] Hansard, 24 May, 1957, col. 1607

[11] Hansard, 24 May, 1957, col. 1604

[12] Hansard, 24 May, 1957, col. 1602; col. 1606

[13] Peter Fryer, Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain, Pluto Press, London, 1984, p. 381

[14] Hansard, 29 October, 1958, col. 195

[15] Hansard, 17 February, 1961, col. 1929

[16] Hansard, 17 February, 1961, col. 1930

[17] Hansard, 17 February, 1961, col. 1963

[18] Hansard, 1 November, 1961, col. 161

[19] Hansard, 16 November, 1961, col. 687; col. 689

[20] Hansard, 16 November, 1961, col. 695

[21] Hansard, 16 November, 1961, col. 694

[22] William Deedes, Race Without Rancour, Conservative Political Centre, London, 1968, p. 10

[23] Cited in, K. Paul, Whitewashing Britain, p. 166

[24] Hansard, 16 November, 1961, col. 694

[25] Hansard, 18 March, 1965, col. 311-312

[26] Ruth Brown, ‘Racism and Immigration in Britain’, International Socialism, 2/68, Autumn 1995, p. 16

Communist Party of Cuba’s ‘Gramma’ on Nelson Mandela (1985)

There have been a few commentators, such as this, arguing that the role of Castro’s Cuba in the anti-Apartheid struggle had been overlooked in the memorialising after Nelson Mandela’s death last Friday. I had just received a box of the newspaper Gramma, the English language paper of the Communist Party of Cuba, from a retiring colleague and found this article from October 1985 on Mandela and the fight against Apartheid. (Please click on the pic to enlarge)

Gramma Mandela article_Page_1

Gramma Mandela article_Page_2Hopefully people can read the article from these scans. Please let me know if they are too difficult to read.