Month: April 2014

Against the Grain: The British far left from 1956 – chapter list announcement

The proofs have been handed back to Manchester University Press. The index has been compiled. All we need to do now is wait until the book is published.

And with that, I’d thought I would finally publish the list of chapters and authors contributing to the collection. We are very happy with the wide range of topics and of authors, both activists and academics, as well as young and more established scholars. Matt and I have enjoyed putting this collection together and hope it will be widely read by all of those interested in the British far left, from either an academic or activist perspective (or both).

So here it is:

From the third issue of 'The Reasoner' (Nov 1956) by E.P. Thompson and John Saville

From the third issue of ‘The Reasoner’ (Nov 1956) by E.P. Thompson and John Saville

AGAINST THE GRAIN: THE BRITISH FAR LEFT FROM 1956 (Manchester University Press, 2014)

Evan Smith & Matthew Worley (eds)

Introduction: the far left in Britain from 1956

Evan Smith and Matthew Worley 

Part I Movements

1 Engaging with Trotsky: the influence of Trotskyism in Britain

John Callaghan 

2 The New Left: beyond Stalinism and social democracy?

Paul Blackledge

3 Narratives of radical lives: the roots of 1960s activism and the making of the British left

Celia Hughes

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

Phil Burton-Cartledge 

5 Opposition in slow motion: the CPGB’s ‘anti-revisionists’ in the 1960s and 1970s

Lawrence Parker

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

Andrew Pearmain

7 British anarchism in the era of Thatcherism

Rich Cross

Part II Issues

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

Sue Bruley

9 Something new under the sun: the revolutionary left and gay politics

Graham Willett

10 ‘Vicarious pleasure’? The British far left and the third world, 1956–79

Ian Birchall 

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

Satnam Virdee

 12 Red Action – left-wing pariah: Some observations regarding ideological apostasy and the discourse of proletarian resistance

Mark Hayes

13 Anti-fascism in Britain, 1997–2012

David Renton


Hopefully the book will be out in the next few months. As soon as publication date has been set, be sure that I will announce it on this blog.



Review – Gordian Knot: Apartheid and the Unmaking of the Liberal World Order by Ryan M. Irwin

My review of Gordian Knot: Apartheid and the Unmaking of the Liberal World Order by Ryan M. Irwin (Oxford University Press, 2012) has been published by H-Ethnic. The version on the H-Ethnic unfortunately has a few typos, so I’m reproducing the whole text here. (corrected obviously!)


Ryan M. Irwin. Gordian Knot: Apartheid and the Unmaking of the Liberal World Order. Oxford Studies in International History Series. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. xi + 244 pp. $45.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-19-985561-2.

Reviewed by Evan Smith (Flinders University)
Published on H-Ethnic (April, 2014)
Commissioned by Amy J. Johnson

A substantial portion of the literature on the issue of apartheid on the world stage has focused on how the development of the struggle against apartheid developed in the 1970s across the globe; the transnational solidarity created between the African National Congress (ANC) (and various other groups in South Africa) and organizations around the world; the wider (armed) liberation movements of Southern Africa (such as the South West Africa People’s Organisation and People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola for example); and the Anti-Apartheid Movement in the Western world. By looking at the 1950s and 1960s, Ryan M. Irwin’s Gordian Knot considers an earlier era in the struggle against apartheid. He explores how the domestic policy of the Republic of South Africa was fought internationally by newly independent African nations (in solidarity with the ANC and the Pan-Africanist Congress), particularly through the supra-national institutions of the post-war era: the United Nations (UN) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Irwin details how that the recently decolonized countries of Africa (known as the African Group) invested heavily in the idea of Pan-Africanism. They believed that apartheid in South Africa was not simply a domestic policy but a threat to the whole notion of a postcolonial Africa. While not able to influence the actions of the United Nations’s Security Council directly, these new African nations used the floor of the UN, as well as various UN committees, to challenge South Africa. While India and other decolonized countries tried to foster collaborative action between the African Group and the Western nations on the issue of apartheid, Irwin shows that this proposed collaborative action relied heavily upon the political will of the United States to intervene.

At the heart of Irwin’s account is the U.S. government’s struggle within the United States government over what course to take regarding South Africa, the United Nations’ involvement, and the African Group’s public denunciation of apartheid. By examining the internal files of the State Department and other US government agencies, Irwin shows that while the Departments of Defense and the Treasury saw South Africa as a crucial anti-communist ally and an important trading partner respectively, the State Department saw the apartheid state as a barrier to closer relationships between the United States and the newly decolonised Africa. The State Department also saw the links between the United States and South Africa as a domestic problem, as the civil rights movement made connections between apartheid rule and the state of race relations in the United States. The momentary hero in Irwin’s book is G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, who encouraged the Johnson administration to take a more confrontational stance with toward the Republic of South Africa and develop closer ties with the African nations inside the United Nations. In the mid-1960s, Williams and others in the State Department believed that an imminent legal challenge to the apparatus of apartheid in South Africa would lead the United States to agree with the economic sanctions placed upon the Republic by the UN that could potentially lead to military confrontation.

This legal challenge was the African Group’s second contest of apartheid using the supra-national institutions of the post-war era, namely, the International Court of Justice. The African nations used South Africa’s occupation of South-West Africa (now Namibia), unresolved from the days of the League of Nations, to challenge South Africa’s authority in the Southern African region. South Africa’s implementation of apartheid in South-West Africa was also challenged by the African Group as a fundamental violation of human rights. Irwin does well to outlines the build-up to the showdown between South Africa and the African Group at the ICJ in 1966 and shows how that the decision, which came as a surprise to many, defused the situation at the international geo-political level for the next decade and a half. With the ICJ not ruling against South Africa, the United States was able neutralize the UN on the issue of apartheid. Under Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, closer relations were fostered with the Republic as an investment hub and Cold War ally.

The contribution of Irwin’s book is twofold. Firstly, it is a very well told and meticulously researched story of the relationship between the United States and decolonised Africa in the 1950s and 1960s regarding the issue of apartheid. Secondly, it presents scholars with a greater understanding of why the transnational movement against apartheid shifted strategies towards direct action and armed resistance in Southern Africa as well as grassroots activism amongst the Anti-Apartheid Movements in the global West. The experience of the African nations in their actions against South Africa through the UN and the ICJ highlighted the fallibility of trying to fight apartheid through purely legal and diplomatic means, demonstrating to South Africa’s opponents that more revolutionary strategies needed to be adopted to fight the apartheid state. While Irwin does discuss this shift briefly in the conclusion of Gordian Knot briefly, it would have been more compelling to see a greater explanation of the change from the supra-national stage to the grassroots level in a stand-alone chapter.

The only other reservation that this reviewer I can make is that the book’s focus on the United States sometimes means that it diminishes the context of the Cold War and the alternative to Western capitalism presented by the Soviet Bloc in the 1950s and 1960s. Irwin asserts that “the United States had become an unquestioned hegemon by the early 1960s,” with supra-national institutions such as the UN and the ICJ reflecting the dominance of Western social-democratic liberalism (p. 72). I would argue, however, that Irwin underestimates the Soviet Union’s influence in the 1950s and 1960s, which offered an alternate path of political and economic organization and definitely impacted the development of the African nations and “threatened” apartheid South Africa. It seems likely that the Cold War and the specter of the Soviet Bloc may have had a greater impact upon the attitude of the United States towards South Africa than Irwin suggests. In fact, his argument stands in contrast with the recent book by Irina Filitova and Apollo Davidson, The Hidden Thread: Russia and South Africa in the Soviet Era (2013), which focuses on the impact that the Cold War and the Soviet “threat” had upon the West’s relationship with South Africa under apartheid.

Overall, Gordian Knot is a nicely written narrative of how international diplomacy and reliance on transnational justice failed to challenge the issue of apartheid in South Africa. It also uncovers the divisions within the United .States. government over the South African problem and illustrates how the contradictions in its policy towards South Africa resulted in the challenge to apartheid being blunted at the international level.

Printable Version:

Citation: Evan Smith. Review of Irwin, Ryan M., Gordian Knot: Apartheid and the Unmaking of the Liberal World Order. H-Ethnic, H-Net Reviews. April, 2014.

Anzac Day and Protest Culture in Australian History

As usual, the run up to Anzac Day is filled with debate over the importance of the Anzac ‘legend’ (or ‘myth’) is to Australian culture and history and how (of if) the events of 1915 in Gallipoli should be remembered. The purpose of this post is to highlight that Anzac Day has also served as a lightning rod for protest against war since the 1930s and that the reverence shown to Anzac Day in recent years (particularly since John Howard’s Prime Ministership) has not always been the case.


The Anzac myth and the ‘sacrifice’ of Australian soldiers for the greater British Empire was alive and well during the inter-war period. In the lead up to the Second World War, those involved in anti-fascism and the peace movement in Australia highlighted that the First World War was an imperialist war and that those who were pushing for war in the 1930s were also imperialists (the Soviet Union was viewed as the driver of peace in this period). Communist Party of Australia member, Len Fox, produced this pamphlet in 1936 for the Victorian Council Against War and Fascism (a CPA front organisation). Regarding Anzac Day, Fox called those who gathered around the Cenotaph as ‘militarists’ who ‘use the traditions to bring about a repetition of these blunders’. Digital versions of Fox’s pamphlet can be found at NLA website or the Reason in Revolt website.


The Reason in Revolt website has also produced an issue of Communist Review from 1939 which contains an article with a similar argument to Fox’s. The article, by Communist historian James Rawling, concludes with a robust criticism of Anzac Day:

Anzac day commemorates one of the foulest crimes that has ever been committed against the working class of this country. And yet, so powerful are the agencies of capitalist propaganda that thousands still surround the day with dreams of glory and accolades of honour. But there is one atom of satisfaction and one ground for hope amid all the celebrations and the jingoes’ rant. And that is that Anzac Day has so captured the imagination of the masses, the people of Australia so highly estimate the deeds done and the sacrifice made at Anzac, that this very day must be seized upon and covered with all the camouflage of noble sacrifice and worthwhile suffering. Far more suffering and slaughter occurred at Ypres, but that can be forgotten – Anzac Day cannot. And, once the masses of Australia understand fully the horror of that crime at Anzac, the obscenity of the offering to God Capital, then their indignation will be so much greater for all the bombast and talk of glory that surround its celebrations.

With the anti-Vietnam War protests in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Anzac Day became, once again, the focal point of protest in Australia against war and imperialist aggression. But it was in the early 1980s that protest against Anzac Day reached a new height, with the feminist organisation Women Against Rape (WAR) conducting protests across Australia on  April 25th.

A protestor is arrested by the police at Anzac Day demo in Canberra 1981.

A protestor is arrested by the police at Anzac Day demo in Canberra 1981  (courtesy of ACT Public Library Photo Collection).

The history and significance of these protests against rape and violence against women during war by the Women Against Rape organisation and their challenge to the myths surrounding Anzac Day have been discussed elsewhere by Catriona Elder and Amy Way. This article from ANU student paper, Woroni, states that these protests had began in Canberra in the mid-1970s and had grown gradually in size until 1980, when protestors clashed with police, leading to a number of arrests.

From 'Woroni' (1981)

From ‘Woroni’ (1981)

This confrontation escalated in at the 1981 Anzac Day in Canberra and in the aftermath, Federal Parliament debated (in the days before the ACT had self-government) whether legislation should be put in place to curb protest in the ACT and to protect the ‘sanctity’ of Anzac Day. This 1985 paper by Robin Handley shows that these protests were an important episode in the history of public order policing in Australia and caused significant problems for the Fraser Government, who were unwilling to use the existing Public Order (Protections of Persons and Property) Act 1971. As I wrote in an earlier blogpost, the result of this was that the Fraser Government brought in the Public Assemblies Ordinance 1982 (ACT), which is the only piece of legislation that has recognised the right of Australians to peacefully protest – although it was repealed by the Hawke Government the following year.

From feminist zine 'Treason' (1985)

From feminist zine ‘Treason’ (1985)

Feminist activists, such as those who produced the zine Treason in Melbourne during the mid-1980s, continued to protest against Anzac Day during the 1980s and also cited considerable intimidation by the police. The website Reason in Revolt has scanned two issues of Treason which describe the events of Anzac Day protest marches in 1983 and 1985.

Protest at Anzac day may have subsided in recent years, but these episodes from the history of Australian protest show that Anzac Day has been, and will continue to be, contested by many outside of mainstream politics.


35 years since Southall 1979

23 April is the 35th anniversary of the Southall ‘riot’ when police violently attacked a counter-demonstration against the National Front in the South London borough – an act of police violence that left dozens injured and one protestor dead. David Renton’s blog Lives Running has been documenting the aftermath of Blair Peach’s death at Southall in April 1979 and the fact that despite an internal police investigation narrowing the suspect list down to 6 police officers, no one was ever held responsible for the killing of Peach. I suggest that you browse the documents that David has posted over the last few weeks.

I have written about the reluctance of the British government (under both Labour and the Conservatives) to call for a public inquiry into the death of Blair Peach before, but thought I would post this brief section from my PhD thesis on the events of Southall 1979. Part of this material ended up in this article on the CPGB and anti-fascism in the 1970s.

Southall 1979

Southall 1979

Southall and the Death of Blair Peach

Southall had one of the largest concentrations of Asians in Greater London, originally attracted by the employment of Sikhs at Woolf’s rubber factory, but then expanding to other ethnicities and job opportunities.[i] The Asian community had suffered from racism for decades, but as stated in Southall: The Birth of a Black Community, ‘The black community of Southall… fought against racism all along the line’.[ii] With the murder of Gurdip Singh Chaggar in June 1976, the Asian youth of Southall became militant, with ‘no time for resolutions, nor for reliance on the goodwill of politicians’, forming the Southall Youth Movement.[iii] For the SYM, ‘the racist attacks against young black people makes black people feel it is not safe to go out at night’ and after Chaggar’s murder, ‘whilst leaders were saying keep calm and trying to play down “isolated incidents”… [w]e knew it was time to organise ourselves’.[iv] While the Indian Workers Associations had been important organisations for Asian workers during the 1960s, by the 1970s, the second generation Asian youth felt that the IWA had begun to ‘degenerate into the position of mediator, into the posture of a support force and into downright conservative, leadership-seeking reaction’.[v] The Asian youth organised around the SYM sought a more active and militant organisation. The SYM was dedicated to ‘physically keeping racism off the streets of Southall’ and countering the ‘lack of youth provision in the Borough’.[vi]

The new militancy and self-reliance of the SYM and of Asian Youth Movements across Britain reflected the influence of ‘Black Power and Third World liberation movements’,[vii] rather than the emphasis on class struggle and industrial politics endorsed by the white left. John Rose wrote in International Socialism that the formation of the SYM ‘took the entire local left by surprise’, writing that they had ‘already given chase to the racists on the streets… and ultimately they will give the racists chase in the factories’.[viii] However Rose stated that the ‘only long-term chance that the SYM has for growth and development is if the leadership comes to decisively adopt revolutionary socialist politics’.[ix] The SYM experienced difficulties in maintaining its own identity when dealing with the left, as explained by the General Secretary of the SYM, Balraj Puriwal: ‘Every time we tried to protest and give our own identity the left tried to take it over… they gave us their slogans and placards… our own identity was subsumed, diffused and deflected all over the place’.[x] There was sympathy for the left amongst those involved in the AYMs, but not at the substitution of their own identity. As Nermal Singh wrote in Kala Tara, the publication of the Bradford AYM:

The white left tell us only the working class as a whole will be able to smash racism by overthrowing capitalism and setting up a socialist state.

This maybe so, but in the meantime are we, as one of the most oppressed sections of the working class, to sit by idly in the face of mounting attacks. No! We must fight back against the cancerous growth of racism.[xi]

To oppose the National Front’s meeting at Southall Town Hall on 23 April, 1979, a community meeting, called by the Southall IWA, was held on 11 April and decided on a course of action to petition the council to refuse the NF access to the Town Hall, march from Southall to Ealing Town Hall on 22 April and that ‘all businesses, restaurants, shops, etc. should shut down on 23 April from 1 p.m. onwards’.[xii] Sharma explained that this form of protest was called a ‘Hartal’ and was ‘quite a common tactic in India’.[xiii] Sharma also emphasised that the 11 April meeting had ‘decided not to resort to confrontation with the police’ and organised a ‘massive peaceful sitdown’ outside the Town Hall.[xiv] The SWP, the ANL and Socialist Unity, an organisation led by Tariq Ali that incorporated the IMG, had called for a protest march on 23 April, but had been ‘turned down by local groupings in favour of the sit-down protest’.[xv]

The NF meeting was to begin at 7.30pm and the protest had been scheduled to commence from 5pm, but confrontations between police and youth had been occurring since the early afternoon. With over 2,700 police involved, around 2,000 demonstrators were confronted by the police and the Special Patrol Group (SPG), which began to prevent demonstrators from protesting out the front of the Town Hall.[xvi] Dave Renton has written that, ‘Between 7.30 and 9 p.m., Southall witnessed a full-scale police riot’.[xvii] The SWP pamphlet, Southall: The Fight For Our Future, described the events:

The first lines of foot police opened up and made way for SPG men with riot shields and hoards of baton-wielding police on horseback. Some demonstrators tried to defend themselves by throwing bricks. But it was useless. The mounties ran amock, joking, laughing and making racist remarks as they smashed skulls with their batons. The footmen followed up using riot shields as weapons and arresting anyone… The police violence did nothing to control the situation.[xviii]

At around 7.45pm, Blair Peach, an ANL and SWP member, was ‘struck on the head by an assailant widely believed to have been a member of the SPG’, dying of his injuries after midnight.[xix] By the end of the night, 342 people, ‘mostly Asian and local’, had been arrested.[xx]

The following day’s Morning Star, having gone to press before Blair Peach’s death was announced, reported the ‘total shutdown’ of Southall.[xxi] The paper reported the police claims of 250 demonstrators arrested during the evening and 77 arrested in the afternoon, along with forty people taken to Ealing Hospital, including eighteen policemen.[xxii] The next day’s Morning Star contained the headline, ‘Curb The Mad Dogs Of Racism!’, declaring that ‘Rees, McNee and Thatcher – All to Blame in Southall Tragedy’.[xxiii] Home Secretary Merlyn Rees was accused of allowing the NF ‘to spread its racist poison in clear violation of the Race Relations Act’ and that the ‘holding of an election does not annul the Race Relations Act, nor absolve Mr Rees of the responsibility to ensure that it is rigorously applied’.[xxiv] Metropolitan Police Commissioner David McNee was also accused of ‘protecting a handful of racist hoodlums’, when it was McNee’s ‘duty to protect the freedom of the citizens of Southall’, but he had failed to do so and, ‘On the contrary, his men assaulted them, left, right and centre’.[xxv] Thatcher was also criticised for ‘encouraging the growth of racism’ and the Morning Star declared, ‘it is sheer humbug for Mrs. Thatcher and Co. to prattle on about law and order when she talks about Britain being swamped by black people’.[xxvi] The CPGB reiterated its line that ‘throwing missiles at the police is not the way to fight racism’, but understood ‘the sense of frustration, anger and outrage’ felt by the black community in Southall.[xxvii] Whatever violent action was taken by the protestors on 23 April, the Morning Star stated that the ‘real violence in Southall was the officially sponsored violence from mobs of police, apparently including the notorious Special Patrol Group, who simply went beserk [sic]’.[xxviii] The death of Blair Peach and the violent clashes in Southall were ‘the direct result of the toleration of the National Front provocations by the authorities’, declared CPGB General Secretary Gordon McLennan, tolerance that the CPGB thought should be remedied by the use of the Race Relations Act to its full extent.[xxix]

Approximately 15,000 people marched through Southall on 28 April, 1979 in memory of Blair Peach.[xxx] An official inquest, like that held after Red Lion Square, was never held, but the NCCL held an unofficial inquest and Scotland Yard’s Complaints Investigation Bureau also conducted a report. The Leveller reported in January 1980 that this report implied that ‘prime suspicion for Peach’s murder was narrowed down to six police officers’.[xxxi] No one has ever been indicted for his murder.


[i] Paul Harrison, ‘The Patience of Southall’, New Society, 4 April, 1974

[ii] CARF/Southall Rights, Southall, p. 45

[iii] CARF/Southall Rights, Southall, p. 52

[iv] Bahaj Purewal, cited in, ‘Against Racism in Southall’, Challenge, 36, August/September 1976

[v] Race Today Collective, The Struggle of Asian Workers in Britain, Race Today Publications, London, 1983, p. 17

[vi] CARF/Southall Rights, Southall, p. 54

[vii] Anandi Ramamurthy, ‘The Politics of Britain’s Asian Youth Movements’, Race & Class, 48/2, p. 39

[viii] John Rose, ‘The Southall Asian Youth Movement’, International Socialism, 1/91, September, 1976, p. 5

[ix] J. Rose, ‘The Southall Asian Youth Movement’, p. 6

[x] Cited in, Shivdeep Singh Grewal, ‘Capital of the 1970s? Southall and the Conjuncture of 23 April 1979’, Socialist History, 23, 2003, p. 21

[xi] Nermal Singh, ‘Racism: Time to Fight Back’, Kala Tara, 1, p. 3,, accessed 14 March, 2007

[xii] Cited in, David Renton, When We Touched the Sky: The Anti-Nazi League 1977-1981, New Clarion Press, Cheltenham, 2006, p. 141

[xiii] ‘Interview with Vishnu Sharma’, Marxism Today, December 1979, p. 22

[xiv] ‘Interview with Vishnu Sharma’, p. 22

[xv] S. Grewal, ‘Capital of the 1970s?’, p. 3

[xvi] D. Renton, When We Touched the Sky, p. 143; S. Grewal, ‘Capital of the 1970s?’, p. 4

[xvii] D. Renton, When We Touched the Sky, p. 146

[xviii] SWP, Southall: The Fight For Our Future, SWP pamphlet, London, n.d., p. 3

[xix] S. Grewal, ‘Capital of the 1970s?’, p. 5

[xx] CARF/Southall Rights, Southall, p. 60

[xxi] Morning Star, 24 April, 1979

[xxii] Morning Star, 24 April, 1979

[xxiii] Morning Star, 25 April, 1979

[xxiv] Morning Star, 25 April, 1979

[xxv] Morning Star, 25 April, 1979

[xxvi] Morning Star, 25 April, 1979

[xxvii] Morning Star, 25 April, 1979

[xxviii] Morning Star, 25 April, 1979

[xxix] Morning Star, 25 April, 1979

[xxx] S. Grewal, ‘Capital of the 1970s?’, p. 6

[xxxi] ‘Six Names Out of the Blue’, The Leveller, 34, January 1980, p. 6

CFP: Racism and Anti-Racism: from the labour movement to the far-right (University of Glasgow, 5-6 Sep 2014)

Satnam Virdee, who is contributing a chapter to our far left book, has asked that I mention this two-day conference that he is organising at the University of Glasgow.


(University of Glasgow, 5-6 September 2014)

The first decades of the 21st century have seen two worrying developments for anyone concerned with opposing oppression:

  • the continuing mutation and expansion of racism into new ‘cultural’ forms, above all in the form of a virulent Islamophobia; and
  • the electoral consolidation of parties of the far-right, who are not always fascist, but committed to deeply reactionary positions on most social issues, above all in relation to migration.

These two developments are distinct, but overlapping. On the one hand, racism is more widespread than on the far right, institutionally embedded over centuries in even the most notionally liberal states and exerting an influence even in the labour and trade union movement which might be thought to have most to lose from the divisions which it engenders. On the other hand, the far-right almost always includes racism among its repertoire of mobilising issues, but has politics which extend beyond it.

The plenaries and workshop sessions will interrogate:

  • racism in all its multifarious forms;
  • the new far-right of the neoliberal era (i.e. mid-1970s onwards), in both its fascist and non-fascist aspects, particularly its growing electoral impact; and
  • how the different varieties of racism and the far right can be challenged on the ground, and by whom.

Although our focus is international, no conference held in Scotland during September 2014 can avoid the fact of the independence referendum. While the national question is not our subject, any discussion of racism inevitably has to deal with its role in national formation, particularly in the case of the imperial powers of which Britain was once so preeminent. Themes which we hope to address in relation to Scotland are the reality (or otherwise) of claims that it suffers less from racism than England or other areas in Western Europe, and the reasons why, to date, it has remained relatively immune to the electoral appeal of the far-right.

Themes which the conference might address can include, but need not be restricted to the following:


  • Racism, class and globalised capitalism
  • Racism and neoliberalism
  • State racisms, in particular the racialization of migration and asylum
  • Anti-Muslim racism and the appropriation and mobilization of feminist discourses
  • Racism and the ‘white’ working class
  • Forms of anti-racist activism: from social movements to the everyday
  • Theorizing contemporary racisms – Feminist, Critical Race Theory, Postcolonial and Neo-Marxist perspectives are particularly welcomed.
  • The legacy of anti-Irish racism in Scotland
  • Scots, the Empire and the externalisation of racism
  • Different attitudes to immigration in Scotland and England

The Far Right

  • The changing class basis of far right party membership
  • Distinguishing the ‘non-fascist’ far-right from fascism
  • Tensions between neoliberalism and far-right policy (the Tea Party, UKIP, etc.)
  • The far-right and the different phases of capitalist development
  • Working class electoral support for far-right parties
  • Campaigning against the far-right
  • Scottish Loyalism and far-right politics in Scotland
  • Why is the far-right weaker in Scotland than England?

We invite proposals for individual papers or panels from both established academics and postgraduate students, but also from those involved in addressing racism on a practical basis in advocacy groups, community campaigns, anti-racist mobilisations and trade unions.

Proposals should be no longer than 250 words and submitted to both organisers: and by 16 May 2014

South Africa and anti-Apartheid in British popular culture before Mandela (1976-1983)

This post is partly inspired by my work on The Young Ones and the cultural depictions of the history of Thatcherite Britain. In the first episode, ‘Demolition’, which aired in late 1982, Rick and Neil have an argument over whether the vegetables in the meal were from South Africa (there was an international campaign for a boycott of South African produce at the time). Apartheid in South Africa was a hot topic amongst political activists in the UK, particularly from the mid-1970s onwards, after the Soweto uprising in 1976 and the death of activists Steve Biko in 1977, and the issue permeated through British popular culture, as demonstrated by this scene from this alternative comedy show.

In the wake of the Nelson Mandela’s death in December last year, some commentators reminded readers that Mandela was not always the focal point of anti-apartheid activism or a popular representation of the oppression of the apartheid regime outside of South Africa. As the online archive of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement outlined, awareness about Mandela’s imprisonment was raised by campaigns by the United Nations and the South African Sunday Post paper in the early 1980s and this had gained significant momentum by the mid-1980s. In the UK, the image of Mandela as the representative figure of the oppressive nature of Apartheid South Africa was bolstered by the 1984 hit by Jerry Dammers (from The Specials/Special AKA), ‘Free Nelson Mandela’.

But as Dorian Lynskey wrote, Mandela was not part of the popular conception of South Africa and apartheid before the mid-1980s. Lynskey stated:

It was Steve Biko, not Mandela, who became the first anti-apartheid icon. When the young leader of the radical black consciousness movement died in police custody in 1977, he inspired songs by the folksinger Tom Paxton, the prog-rock star Peter Hammill, the reggae artists Steel Pulse and Tappa Zukie, and, tardily but most famously, Peter Gabriel.

I am interested in how South Africa and apartheid was represented in British popular culture from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, when both British popular culture and South Africa were dramatically changing. In British popular culture, it was the rise and demise of punk and its surpassing by the various streams of post-punk, as well as the birth of alternative comedy. In South Africa, the 1976 Soweto uprising signified a change in the resistance to the apartheid regime inside the country, demonstrating that ordinary people were willing to undertake militant actions against the regime and regenerating the anti-apartheid forces outside the country. After Biko’s death in 1977, many Black Consciousness Movement followers joined the African National Congress in exile and swelled the resistance to the South African government.

From 1976 onwards, Soweto and Steve Biko became the main representations of South Africa in the British popular consciousness and were referred to in various ways. Paul Gilroy notes that during the Notting Hill riots in August 1976, a number of people involved chanted ‘Soweto, Soweto’ while confronting the police. Apparently ‘Soweto’ was a familiar cry at many demonstrations and episodes of public disorder in Britain during this period. An article in the Communist Party journal, Comment, in 1980 mentioned the chant of ‘Soweto, Soweto’ at a counter-demonstration against the National Front in London as well.

Most famously, Peter Gabriel recorded the song ‘Biko’ in 1980 as part of his Peter Gabriel III (or Melt), but Birmingham reggae band Steel Pulse also recorded ‘Biko’s Kindred Lament’ for their 1979 album Tribute to the Masters and Jamaican/UK reggae producer Tapper Zukie recorded a song in 1978 called ‘Tribute to Steve Biko’.

Punk figure Malcolm Maclaren released a single called ‘Soweto’ in 1983, while Afro-Caribbean-UK dub/fusion band Steel an’ Skin recorded a song ‘Fire in Soweto’ in 1979. Most interestingly, The Clash recorded a demo called ‘Where You Gonna Go (Soweto)’ during the London Calling sessions in 1979.

From a precursory glance, it seems that the Soweto uprising and the death of Steve Biko dominated popular conceptions in Britain of South Africa and the brutality of the apartheid regime in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The boycott of South African produce (one of the many ways that the Anti-Apartheid Movement strove to bring attention to what was occurring in South Africa to the British public) was also a reference point in British popular culture in the early 1980s. For example, in Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole (first published in 1982), the protagonist recorded:

In afternoon did shopping in Sainsbury’s with my father. Saw Rick Lemon dithering at the fruit counter; he said selecting fruit was an ‘overtly political act’. He rejected South African apples, French golden delicious apples, Israeli oranges, Tunisian dates, and American grapefruits.

I think this changes with the focus of anti-apartheid activists on freeing Nelson Mandela, which was reinforced in the British popular imagination by the song ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ and the 70th birthday celebration in Wembley Stadium in 1988 (what Mark Perryman referred to as ‘the Mandela moment’).

So, I throw it over to you, connoisseurs of British popular culture – can you inform me of any other mentions of South Africa/Apartheid in British pop culture between circa 1976 and 1983 (songs, television, film)?