Free For All: The nine year old leader - C.L.R. James

Free For All: The nine year old leader - C.L.R. James

James discusses a 1981 riot in Manchester, northern England.

Race Today, 14, 3, May-June, 1982;

Free For All. I love that title. Freedom is a very rare thing: it is for example rare in the account of great events. It was only a few years ago that a French historian really got down to it and brought out some of the greatest and most important events in the French Revolution. You may think that that is History, with a capital ‘H’, because it is one of the greatest events and everybody, particularly the professional historians, ought to know something about it.

But enough of that. I have been exercising my freedom to say a few things about history which are not only important in general but relate directly to the riots which took place in Britain during last summer. Darcus Howe is talking to an American about those events. He picks up a paper and reads this.

“Listen to this,” he said. “After the uprising in Moss Side [Manchester] last July they appointed a local Manchester barrister called Hytner to enquire into what happened, and how it started. Here’s what he writes:

“ ‘At about 10.20 pm a responsible and in our view reliable black citizen was in Moss Lane East, and observed a large number of black youths whom he recognised as having come from a club a mile away. At the same time a horde of white youths came up the road from the direction of Moss Side. He spoke to them and ascertained they were from Withenshawe. The two groups met and joined. There was nothing in the manner of their meeting which in any way reflected a prearranged plan. There was a sudden shout and the mob stormed off in the direction of Moss Side police station. We are given an account by another witness who saw the mob approach the station, led, so it was claimed, by a nine-year old boy with those with Liverpool accents in the van [in the lead].'”

You believe that you have read this and that you understand this: pardon me if I tell you that I don’t think you have. Let me select a passage and draw it to your attention.

[He] observed a large number of black youths whom he recognised as having come from a club a mile away. At the same time a horde of white youths came up the road from the direction of Moss Side. He spoke to them and ascertained they were from Withenshawe. The two groups met and joined. There was nothing in the manner of their meeting which in any way reflected a prearranged plan. There was a sudden shout and the mob stormed off in the direction of Moss Side police station.

That my friends is the revolution. There is no highly educated party leading the backward masses. There is no outstanding leader whom the masses follow because of his great achievement in the past. There had been no prearranged plan. They met and joined, they shouted and they stormed off, (note this particularly) in the direction of Moss Side police station.

The great leader? Before I deal with that, let me quote from one of the greatest historians of the 20th century [Georges Lefebvre]. I can quote at once because I made quotations from it in ‘The Black Jacobins’ (edition Allison & Busby, page 338n).

“... It is therefore in the popular mentality, in the profound and incurable distrust which was born in the soul of the people, in regard to the aristocracy, beginning in 1789, and in regard to the king , from the time of the flight to Varennes, it is there that we must seek the explanation to what took place. The people and their unknown leaders knew what they wanted. They followed the Girondins and afterwards Robespierre, only to the degree that their advice appeared acceptable.

“Who then are these leaders to whom the people listened? We know some. Nevertheless, as in all the decisive days of the revolution, what we most would like to know is forever out of our reach; we would like to have the diary of the most obscure of these popular leaders; we would then be able to grasp, in the act so to speak, how one of these great revolutionary days began; we do not have it.”

So much for these great leaders. This time we know that it was a boy of nine who was leading this particular part of the revolution. I don’t think I have anything more to say here. But for the greater part of my long life, I have been saying and preaching and teaching “the two groups met and joined. There was nothing in the manner of their meeting which in any way reflected a prearranged plan. There was a sudden shout and the mob stormed off in the direction of Moss Side police station.” Work at it please.

Source; Race Today, 14, 3, May-June, 1982

Posted By

libcom
May 15 2006 00:23

Share

Attached files