BM Blob on racism, the media, sociologists and the 1981 riots.
'The Only Race Is The Rat Race' - graffiti Notting Hill Gate, 1968
Racism exists in the UK alright. But the mixed character of the rioting overcame racial separations pushing it well into the background. Powerful sections of the State would have liked it to be otherwise and actually tried to foment racial confrontation. In Derby police forced mainly white youths running amuck in the smart city center into the ghettoised Normanton Road and Peartree area. Fortunately this tactic came unstuck because a battle ensued involving white, black and asian youth who more or less fought the police together. Was this an example of overt police racism or were they calculating on disrupting class unity? Certainly as a means of stirring up hostility, the race question in press reports was secondary to the practice of highlighting incidents which taken out of context looked like the work of animals.
In the pages and pages of bumph written on the riots most have stressed racial/ethnic differences rather than class factors. Apart from the gift horse of Southall everyone has to admit racial confrontation (excepting police of course) hardly figured in the riots. But how come so many writers who invariably turn out to have secure prestigious, well paid jobs in Universities, Polys' or in the Race Relations Industry almost instinctively opt for race rather than class? Is it because race is one of those collective nouns intrinsic to the continual existence of the Nation State? Certainly both trendy academics and race relations careerists would like to see the status quo changed. But only within the confines of the Nation State making for instance the lily white British State more 'a State of the whole people' (positive discrimination etc). At best they will only ameliorate racism never totally abolish it which requires nothing less than the international extension of proletarian revolution sweeping away all national territories and Nation States. All their venom and contempt are ultimately held in reserve to counteract this.
Actually there are few things more irritating than the tut-tutting reprimands of the various arms of the race relations industry faced with 'racist' jokes. They are totally unselective in these matters unaware that 'racial' jokes can actually defuse rather than stir up trouble. They seem not to have any experience of situations where such things have happened. More probably than not the Race Relations Board will in the future moderate their attitude because on the level of shitty entertainment (Tiswas, OTT) minorities are starting to give as good as they get. This reflects a far more open ended and much funnier situation below where there is a stronger desire than ever to escape out of the ethnic, regional, national bolt holds. Being able to laugh at oneself is part of this process.
The media on the face of it was unprejudiced. However a current of racist innuendo was apparent particularly in the press reporting. In the circumstances its appearance was predictable: the British bourgeoisie when driven into a corner disparage their opponents more through suggestion than out-right calumny. The practise of calling blacks 'immigrants' was especially offensive when applied to districts like Liverpool 8 where a sizable black community has existed for close on 100 years.
During riot week hols, radio and TV were crammed with instant interviews of staid psycho-sociologists in top universities. They would always finalize their homilies (what else?) with the need for more effective police measures. But this was drama! In future what we are likely to see, is an 'enlightening' mountain of material, taped on video and in print, interpreting the weeks events. It is more than likely Leicester University's Center of Mass Communications will publish some report examining the influence of the media on the riots but not the impact of the rioters on the media. They will for ever fight shy of raising this upsetting question.
In Brixton rioters attacked photographers from the Daily Star, burnt out ITN film vans and in Toxteth attacked the [i[Guardian[/i] reporter who then pretended he was a dosser to get his copy. However, the sad fact is, the rioters were too negligent about media infiltration and many poor sods were later picked up by the coppers after being identified in photos. There were unsubstantiated rumours that TV networks had handed footage of the riots over to the police. Failing this the police in any case were taping television coverage on their videos.
TV items particularly the early evening news must have had an effect but to accurately assess its influence isn't as easy as it sounds. The British Film Institutes Broadcasting Research Unit funded jointly by the BBC and the IBA in a sociologial survey to be published later in '82 claimed the 'copy cat' effect was greatly exaggerated. Maybe. Up to a point kids did emulate what they'd seen on TV. For instance youths gathering on Wood Green High Road in N. London the morning after the riot there, loudly played back tape recordings of news reports just to goad the police. Chris, a 17 year old Greek Cypriot said 'I hope this gets us in the papers. I hope this counts as a big riot like Liverpool'.
On the other hand the younger generation watch less TV than any other generation since television first became a mass consumer item. Apologists excusing declining literacy point to the effect of TV as decisively influencing this historic change. The relative lack of interest shown by the youngest generation in TV suggests there is a basic sea change toward the media in general going on. With luck the media is about to be blown out. Certainly according to the Daily Telegraph the heads of TV corporations are deeply worried people. The date, July the 13th, '81, the end of riot week is telling showing how convulsions tend to bring out point by point the concentrated fears of the bourgeoisie. Maybe the heads of TV will more than roll. When interest in the box is declining they obviously have more to fear than just being made redundant.
In fact the Police thought the youth grapevine was by far the most effective media for communicating a message which burst out simultaneously in all parts of the country. It was throughout the entire week their only promising insight.
The riots at least should prove a lucrative source of income for that symposium of oily rags the Sociology of Deviancy.
One of their most notable celebrities the dishonourable Jock Young wrote (together with a certain John Dea) an article on the riots in that lefty rag The Chartist. It is a classic of its kind ending by condoning what it had just written off as a compromised solution. He knows the Labour Party and trade unions have acted as a drag on the working class preventing it from ever achieving a revolutionary consciousness. Yet he proposes the trade unions shake themselves out of their torpor and become 'channels for the political organization of young people with minimal contact with work.' This will only, lead to the 'compromise solution' he has just panned. But that is what he is secretly after. This example of the purest cynicism shows the pivot around which his life revolves: a sinecure for life and a string of wretched sycophants whom he can wrap around his little finger.
Young does not mention by name 'the reconstructed Labour Party' but that is what he has in mind when he alludes to 'an extension of democracy at a local level' to counteract institutions which have been originated 'from above'. The sort of mass democracy Young pretends he wants at a local level sporadically appeared once the riots had died down and people spontaneously came together to discuss the events. As will become clear later these meetings were emphatically not political and the presence of political parties was hotly resented. Though it was never said so clearly they were, admittedly very much in embryo, a new form of power containing within them the dissolution of State power. It is nonsensical therefore to say 'we are witnessing the return of rioting as a form of political expression for those for whom all other channels of political activity have either dried up or are non existent' (ibid).
To further suggest as he does there are parallels between these riots and those of the late 18th and early 19th century when a factory based proletariat was in the process of being formed is stretching it more than a bit. Illusions about the wonders of Parliamentary democracy were then rife. When the mob burnt down Nottingham Castle in the early 19th century they were protesting against the delay in the passing of The Great Reform Bill in 1832. A good century and a half later and the cup of political reforms is just about drained. If his comments on America in the same article are anything to go by, Young is well aware of this even though when it comes to assimilating immigrants Britain has much to learn from America. Yet the sly dog goes through reel after reel of typewriter ribbon saying there are solutions when deep down he knows as well as anybody short of revolution there are none. Predictably the article closes with an appeal for the 'political de-marginalisation' of inner cities; 'more police accountability to local government' and the decriminalization of "soft" drugs - the cause of many a combustible hassle (e.g. Notting Hill April '82) between the police and young blacks.
All along the front line the Sociologists of Deviance have been afraid to say the obvious. They have toyed with revolution in the past solely to hit the jackpot and the highspots putting on their soluble-in-water war paint of radicality to aid their sexual conquests. Being yesterdays martyrs to the lost cause of Trotskyism is not to their fashionable tastes. Quitting the Socialist Workers Party they have not sunk below the horizon as the sun finally set on a Bolshevik seizure of State power. They now look to the reconstructed Labour Party as a more realistic option offering the hope of a glittering prize in place of former mock heroic dreams of a commissarship.
One of their favourite tricks is to let fly with radical sounding phrases which are later retrieved for bourgeois democratic ends. In his article on the riots the fork tongued Young sounds really enthusiastic. But don't let that fool you. Another of them Stan Cohen in an article on prisons he wrote several years earlier had this to say, 'The prison is a small (and not necessarily permanent) terminal point of a much larger process of social change'. (New Society, Dec. 74). Fuck you jack if you were dumb enough like some of us to think for a sec' this is an earnest plea for the abolition of prisons. However the remark is strictly remedial in intent pertaining to the development of non-custodial punishments. Considering the penal obsessions of the English judiciary it should have done wonders for the deviant sociologists fading lustre of radicality but the bluff doesn't serve like it once did.
Over the past decade the Sociology of Deviancy has dealt with the social disintegration of modern capitalism. Parcelled up into discreet bundles of essays, books and articles, this has included sabotage, survival in high security prisons, drug taking ripping off, pornography, suicide, soccer violence and Weathermen/Women bombing (uncritically clapped on the safer sidelines by that creep Paul Walton).
Originally much influenced by the Chicago school of Sociology in the aftermath of '68 they looted further afield lobotomizing more radical theories coming from France, particularly the Situationists. By striking matches under the rigor-morticized toes of State functionaries the aim of these intelligence spies of the State then as now is to promote reforms. Like grub street journalists the depths they are prepared to sink to have yet to be plummeted. The shameless Jock Young for instance before being scared off by revolutionaries was about to blow the whistle on the black economy. What did he care if as a result life was made even more insupportable for millions of people?
Finally just for the record they are drawn irrestibly to big time villanry (like John McVicar) seeing there a distorted reflection of their own high flying careerism. However much they may protest to the contrary, petty criminality is for nonentities going very much against their success-minded grain.
Having rejected the proletariat they are bound to reject whatever's proletarian in petty criminality. They have for example little first hand knowledge of and indeed sympathy for the conscientious resolve not to pick on the proletariat that lies behind much petty criminality. Jock Young for instance subscribes to the view 'most working class crime is directed against working class people' which is hard cheese on shoplifters, scroungers and the like.
Time was not that long ago when Phil Cohen hadn't a good word to say about the Sociology of Deviancy. Now he has cut his losses and teamed up with them. And how. Having rejected the 'wageless society' as Utopian dreaming he must eventually turn on every other revolutionary conviction. The path from revolution to reform is paved with the utmost malice and we weren't the only ones who were stunned to learn he had been lecturing at Hendon Police college.
As a result of his experiences there he has proposed a 'special police education unit' - composed equally of police with a university training in social science and academics with a knowledge and understanding of the force' (City Limits) under the control of the GLC Police Committee. These suggestions hardly differ at all from those made by Shirley Williams (SDP) who in a speech (April 6th '82) given at the Police Training Centre in Hutton, Lancashire stressed the need for police cadets to 'learn more about the political social and economic background of the country and of their own areas'. She made a point, obviously, of not supporting the 'left' wing dominated police committees but in all other respects her proposals are the same as Phil Cohen's.
The class rather than racial character of the rioting rules out an American style purely ethnic educational program in police colleges. Phil Cohen realized this and was only able to rap the knuckles of the police cadets on the race question by first probing the sensitive nerve ends of the class system as reproduced in the police force. This same duality, acknowledging class in order to belittle it from an unrevolutionary middle of the road, middle class standpoint was evident in Knuckle Sandwich a book he wrote with Dave Robins (former editor of the late '60s underground newspaper Ink). Published in 1978 the book's interesting empirical details like the regionally mixed character of Manchester United's football hooligan supporters are all but swamped by the ludicrous conclusion: 'Racism not revolution is in the air'. The riots knocked that on the head good and proper but for the liberal patriciate the race issue has the advantage of avoiding the thornier problems posed by a thorough going class war against capitalism. And Cohen doesn't like it when the proletariat becomes too independently minded neglecting to pay him the respect he so often abuses.
Both Cohen and Robins are experts at tapping charities but the money is never diverted to revolutionary ends. Rather grants from e.g. the Leverhume Trust go towards setting up yet another social work con (e.g. Street Aid in Soho and Covent Garden). But give credit where credits due because Cohen had during the London Street Commune of '69 displayed qualities the cowardly and parasitic Sociology of Deviancy have always lacked. Regretfully he wished even then to impose a super annuated sub cultural research unit on this audacious squat interring its radical potential beneath a respectable sounding appeal for money.
Organised racism and inter-racial resistance
The one big racial incident which by default preceded riot week resulted from the National Front/British Movement guided skinhead invasion of Southall's Asian community. The battle which followed, as the young asians cleared the streets of fascists and torched their musical venue at the Hamborough Tavern was thankfully untypical of what was to come. On the whole racist attacks, in contrast to the orchestrated invasion of Southall, tend to be less well organized and more individualistic.
Undeniably over the last year or so, there has been a series of ugly and horrific acts, carried out by white racists, against blacks and asians. The most notorious occurred in Deptford on January '81 when 13 young blacks were burnt to death after an all night party. A Coroner returned a verdict of not proven but collusion between police, fascists and the higher and murkier regions of the State was the real point at issue. Also at the end of the week of fire, after the funeral of Mrs Doreen Khan and her 3 children a riot of asian youth broke out in Walthamstow, E. London. They died as a result of a petrol bomb attack on their home early in July. On both occasions the police, adding insult to injury, detained for questioning friends and relatives of the victims, repeatedly grilling them hoping to shift the blame for the tragedies on to them. Mr Khan, already a broken man recovering in hospital from his burns, was doubly shattered when he got to learn of this.
These isolated attacks are horrendous but must not be used to disguise the way blacks and whites have spontaneously come together (outside the reach of lefty contrived orchestration) and fought white racists. There's the memorable battle of Chippenham, Wiltshire on May 30th '81, where in a supposedly dumb fuck country district, black and white fought white racists after an incident at a night club. Also, the example comes to mind of the suicidally depressed black youth who was stabbed to death at a Peckham fish and chip shop on June 20th '81 by skinheads. Earlier in the evening when attacked by the same skinheads, who were later to kill him, white and black youths had come to his aid. However not all teenage killings are random or racial in character. During riot week at the Black Uhuru concert in the Rainbow, Finsbury Park a black kid was stabbed to death by another black kid after an argument over dividing the spoils. For both black and white if violence cannot express itself lucidly by destroying commodity relations, then it is going to turn in over in a whirligig of brutality. Racism finally is part of that whirligig.
'Standing at the corner swinging a chain,
Up comes a copper and he takes my name,
Takes out my razor and I slit his throat,
Blood all down my teddy boy coat.'
('50s psycho billy street Ted song from Co. Durham and W. Yorkshire)
It's a very complicated whirligig too. There's no clear cut distinction so far between pathological behaviour and a near revolutionary assault on the old world. Often youths are yenning for a bruize any which way they can. After all society is organized in a hierarchical fashion and those at the bottom of the ladder know they are looked down on by almost everyone. They inflect the general values of society by setting up their own pecking order whose values run counter to those of respectable society. Youths who are looked up to are those who have been involved in the most punch ups, those who have been arrested the most times. Their university is the slammer. Youths on the lam try to achieve a status and recognition for themselves which they cannot achieve in any other way. This made itself felt in the riots and it is pointless denying it at the same time as it merged into a class experience. A youth arrested in Manchester for throwing a petrol bomb into a police van frankly admitted in court. 'I did it to make a name for myself.'
Johnny you're too bad. Waiting here in limbo for the proletarian tide to turn.
Black youth have the highest levels of unemployment of any section of society. Lacking money to consume, their resentment has often resulted in a form of indiscriminate aggression. Small wonder then that they have turned to mugging. All too often the victims of muggings are poor whites who live in close proximity to them, the people least responsible for their plight.
However being black does not imply immunity. At the 1977 Caribbean Carnival in Notting Hill, blacks were also mugged alongside whites. During a Carnival dance in Hammersmith, a gang of black youths invaded the dance hall mugging and beating people savagely. This incident was mentioned by older blacks who were shocked by it serving to emphasize just how estranged they had become from their own kith and kin. It said a lot for the myths of racial identity to hear these youths denounced in terms echoing racist police and magistrates.
But having exposed racial solidarity for what it's worth, they then go and put the boot in on class solidarity. Sometimes it does look as though they don't give a piss for anyone. A quite justified pride at having made such. an impact during the rioting can so easily be turned into an abuse of power. Drunk with success.
And then there's family complications too. Parents of black youth tend to regard any symbols of rebellion or visible signs of black pride with fear and suspicion. There is a very definite breakdown in relations between younger and older blacks. Aggravation between parents and children is not common to them but it is much more pronounced in the black community.
This is a legacy of 19th century colonialism. One writer in the Jamaican Gleaner said that the facts about slavery and the obvious ways in which blacks were kept down are well known. 'But what is not so generally appreciated is the way in which we are colonized in our minds'. The standards of Victorian society were imposed on blacks and these attitudes have persisted among blacks long after they broke down in the Imperial country. Many West Indian and African parents are very authoritarian and take a heavy handed Victorian attitude when it comes to discipline and orderly behaviour.
Many blacks have fought a losing battle to maintain old fashioned standards in the face of a permissive society. The kids rebel against this and many run away from home. Some are even thrown out by their parents when they become too defiant. There is an echo here of the phrase from Victorian melodrama, 'Never darken my door step again.'
In the first year of its existence a hostel for homeless kids in Waltham Forest catered for 64 black kids and 11 whites. This probably gives a fair indication of the breakdown in black families in proportion to whites. In some cases it resulted from social deprivation which neither the kids nor their parents could do much about. In most cases it springs from a conflict between kids and their parents, arguments about dreadlocks, a father forbidding his 17 year old son to have a girlfriend etc. The parents of an Islington youth were so frightened he would get into trouble that they forbade him to go out and tried to keep him home every evening. He ran away and became homeless at 14. He was eventually picked up by the police with a gang of other boys and brought to trial for mugging. His parents fear had brought about that which they feared the most. The discipline West Indian parents want to enforce can become excessively harsh and this has been criticized by some black community workers with the unfortunate side effect of lending credence in the eyes of the kids to their function as social controllers. Really they should tell them to sod off double quick. This has on occasion happened. In one local incident we know of a number of homeless blacks who squatted a property in Notting Hill Gate put the frighteners on a local rasta-dandy social worker sent in as the para-State's secret weapon to get them to quit the premises.
Some parents have expressed an antagonism to social security and the social services from authoritarian family based attitudes rather than any revolutionary point of view. One black guy said on TV 'How can I discipline my son when he can leave home when ever he likes and get money from the SS.' He also was hostile to social workers because they provided black kids with all the necessary back up when they leave home. Black parents see what they believe to be a too permissive society and the social services as conspiring to undermine the authority of black parents and frustrating their efforts to raise their children in a 'proper' manner. One black woman in a letter to The Times said that parents were blamed for failing to discipline their children and letting them run wild. 'Parents are frightened of being too strict for fear of welfare officers coming in. The welfare officers are dying to snatch black kids away and put them with nice white aunties and uncles for love and affection.' This condescending bullshit sums up State benevolence: it even produces a sneaking sympathy for the repressive fucked up black parents.
The Notting Hill Carnival riots from '76 to '79 were almost exclusively a black show. By the summer of '81, everybody was mucking in. By then unemployment had easily doubled. Inspite of the forgoing remarks, unemployment was a contributary factor even if not consistent with a dour 'Right to Work' myth of downtrodden masses hungry for work at any price.
For those in the straight jacket of Surburbia a survey conducted by Liverpool University of 20 year olds living in inner city areas might have produced surprising results. For those accustomed to living in inner city areas they were as stale as yesterdays news and further evidence of the Universities stuck fast in their time machines, waking up to the obvious. The findings were made known in August 1980. The survey showed that not all the youths were unemployed because they had not been able to find work or had been made redundant. Jobs had been given up voluntarily. The principal reason given was boredom. The second, dislike of superiors and inability to get on with work mates and thirdly dissatisfaction with pay. Youngsters would take a low paid menial job and find themselves unable to put up with it and so they would go on the dole. After a period of time the boredom and poverty of life on the dole would become unbearable. So they would try a job again. They cannot stand work and at the same time cannot stand life on the dole. With the recession biting hard, there weren't enough jobs to keep them all in employment all the time but as the kids did not want to be in permanent unemployment, there was enough jobs to fall into when they felt like it. This situation just about kept the lid on the inner cities. However since the survey the situation has dramatically worsened, although for us hopes of a new world have dramatically brightened. At the time of the Toxteth riots there were only 12 jobs on offer for school leavers at the Job Centre. There was literally nothing for them to even 'fall' into.
These attitudes outlined above differ markedly from those of their parents and grandparents who coming from the West Indies in the '50s were prepared to take anything available. The young blacks born in the UK expect something 'better'.
Perhaps more so than their white counterparts they are prone to a brittle image worship falling somewhere between golden-calf idolatry of music, dancing, fashion and theater and easily provoked aggression. Slavery maybe abolished but it remains very much in the minds of young West Indians and some refuse any job that has the slightest stigma attached to it. One young black girl for instance wanted a job in fashion. After a great deal of difficulty she managed to get fixed up as a receptionist/model with a West End clothing firm. The girl was delighted until she discovered part of her duties was to make tea for other staff. She promptly turned the job down.
Undeniably the huge increase in unemployment has resulted in an increase in crime. An unemployed white teenager said 'Sure there's robbery - when your dole runs out, which is quick, you have to do something to live. Everybody round here does it.' There's even desperation just to get the feel of dole money in your hand too. During riot week, some black youths in Hammersmith post office menaced a long queue of black and white unemployed people waiting to cash their giro's by shoving everyone aside to be served first. Edgy mounted police had been stationed outside the post office in case of trouble and these young blacks, outta their skulls with hope, were looking for any occasion to provoke a riot. But in their understandable eagerness they were well out of line and this silly action only served to put everyone against them in the airless and crammed post office. Even so, the cops were scared of dealing with them.
The Turban Rocks
What we are beginning to see (the riots were the living proof) is the end of racism. Even a bum liberal like Mr Raj Nayan, a senior officer for Leicester Council for Community Relations appreciated this. 'I think we're seeing an embryonic movement of poor working class white kids teaming up with poor black kids' (Daily Telegraph July 15th '81) and as an unemployed London East End skin said of the middle classes: 'They're terrified of the blacks and whites rising together and storming the suburbs. That's where they ought to riot in Finchley and Richmond, not in Moss Side'. (The Guardian, July 10th '81) And the once submissive asians played their part too. Asian kids are breaking away from the traditional values of the Muslim, Hindu, Sikh stranglehold. Elders of the Asian community repeatedly call for youth to remain peaceful and law abiding but their appeals increasingly fall on stony ground. If now you want to see the revolt of Islam, then here it is - the revolt against Islam. The asians kids have more that's obnoxious to fight against - chaperoned girls, arranged marriages, wives behind locked doors, a culture of passive resignation to one's supposed lot. Now they are making the greatest breaks of all from the nightmare past - actually through a see sawing interaction with black and white kids whose respect for the family is at an all time low. The old asian values are crumbling fast. Even so, the Sikhs long fighting tradition held them in good stead in Southall. Specially selected racist skins who thought they could easily throw a scare into the predominately Sikh Southall community sure as hell got their ethnography fucked up. They are not submissive East End Bengalis who in any case are beginning to square up to racist provocation. Their standing in the Brick Lane area of East London has gone up by leaps and bounds since they first started to resist racist thugs unaided. At Southall there was an explosion of anger against the police. In the later phase of the rioting, asians living in other places, particularly Bradford, were to get involved. In Bradford several asians were later framed and confessions beaten out of them. During the preliminary hearings a high proportion of whites were evident in the pickets surrounding the court house.
Although the police do not pick on them to the same extent as young blacks, asians constantly complain that the police are indifferent to racist attacks and will do nothing to protect them. Inspite of the constitutional illusions inherent in this sort of reasoning, it does at least represent a step in the direction of organising one's own defence.
One incident which particularly angered young asians in Southall was an attack on one of them by three white racists who carved swastikas on his stomach. The police did not believe him and charged him with wasting police time. Many young asians are angry with their elders who they see as too passive in the face of racist attacks and police indifference. In Southall, in response, militant youth have organised themselves into the Southall youth movement in order to defend themselves, preferring not to put their faith in the established asian organisations dominated by their elders. Many of the Elders are store owners, supermarket under-managers and restaurant owners - those asians in fact with a direct interest in protecting capital. The Indian Workers Organisation - a thoroughly misleading title - is dominated by this crew. However worker oriented the ad hoc defense committees also call on asians to lay down their arms. The Coventry Committee Against Racism for instance made up of councillors and trade union reps is not much more than a lefty talking shop. Its main aim now is dissuading young asians against self organisation against police and fascists. Shamelessly the committee call this self organisation 'vigilante' aware doubtless the term, because of the use made of the vigilante in the USA has a nebulous fascistic implication.
The splits then developing in the Asian community reflect to some extent those in the black community. There are uneven features to this and they don't always amount to unequivocal class progress. But much that is reactionary (religion and the status of women amongst asians in particular) and harmful to class struggle is at the same time being jettisoned.
Attitudes amongst whitey (the chitties) have been changing fast also. Respect for asian workers has been growing steadily amongst white workers once they began to stand up and fight back. The long battle by a largely asian workforce at Imperial Typewriters at Leicester in 1973, even though accompanied by trade union lock stock and barrel illusions nevertheless forced admiration out of the local white working class who previously had often voiced ugly racist sentiments. Standing up to the bosses, not allowing yourself to be put down by the police or other authorities, is the surest way of knocking racist attitudes out of those white proletarians in a similar structural position. They then become the best ally in the struggle for libertarian revolution. In the riot at Luton on Saturday July 11th '81, black, white and asians went on the rampage together. There was a back log of racist activity in the town but this act of multi-racial insurgency was a shining example of integrated rioting. Once having gone on the rampage there was no stopping the crowd and soul brother black and asian business in Moss Side, Brixton and Liverpool provided no immunity against a more fundamental attack on commodity relations.
Also one must bear in mind there have been a number of multi-racial strikes. Class as a working category matters more than race in Britain. At work irrespective of colour of skin, black, white, brown and green are treated as equals. Like a piece of shit in other words! As a divide and rule wage cutting operation, the wave of post war immigration blew up in the face of its creators. Whether for sound reasons or not the unions made certain of that.
However it is somewhat ironic considering workers wages in the UK are now often below those of immigrant workers in the better off parts of the EEC. During the recent BL set-to someone remarked how the predominantly white labour force was having to knuckle under and accept conditions normally reserved for immigrants in other major European car plants. More by luck than good management the British State has not succeeded in creating broadly based privileged categories of white workers who also act as overseers to less privileged 'immigrant' workers. It will therefore encounter considerable obstacles should it ever attempt to intentionally re-organise white workers around the race question.
Skin complex. Ne-Ne Na-Na Na-Na Nu-Nu
Standing up changes attitudes before changing reality. Skinheads after the battle of Southall reflecting on that experience began to leave some of their bad old ways behind. In fact many were apologetic later. As one said at an Oi gig in Peckham immediately after Southall: 'Why do they think all skinheads is Nazis? Just cos' I'm white and working class doesn't mean I'm racist.' Earlier in the year a skin quoted in The Guardian (May 23rd '81) said, teenagers join right wing groups 'just for the punch up' and 'we hated the police too.' Unfortunately the guy was exchanging one set of 'extreme' capitalist values, for a nicer but finally no less insidious opposite: the anti-nazi league. The skins are like souped up versions of the Cossack hordes, wanting activity and life above all else but always, or nearly always, through the aggro stakes. During riot week, skinheads joined with blacks on many occasions. Brixton, Croydon and Upton Park in London. Further north, in Leeds, a large skinhead contingent coming from all over the city joined in with mainly black youth in Chapeltown. Finally there is the odd jewish skinhead who goes round rassing out reactionary Hassidyn Jews.
In some areas there is a more permanent tie up between skinheads and blacks. Not for nothing are the London Notting Hill skinheads called 'commie skins' by others belonging to the hell fire fraternity. This does not mean they have been infiltrated by the local CP or Trot group, or even felled by the general liberal/left ambience of the area. Something of the sort has brushed off but chiefly they are pretty unique amongst skins when it comes to articulately defending their point of view. They were for instance maligned as an NF contingent in '79 when members were denied entrance to a 'Rock Against Racism' gig at Acklam Hall. They hit back fiercely wrecking amongst other things a couple of sound system transit vans. A RAR rep described them as racist thugs. But outside Acklam Hall there was no such clear cut racial demarcation. As skins, punks, rude boys and rastas slugged it out, most of the older and heavier blacks collected on the steps outside of the garage/sound system repair shop stood impassively by watching the fun and games and expressing no preference for either side. The Gate skins were so incensed by the coverage in the musical press that they wrote a collective letter of protest to The New Musical Express denying any involvement in racist groups. To no avail. The liberal/left anti skinhead consensus meant they were cast as NF boot boys in an attack on (presumably) Acklam Hall in the film Breaking Glass starring the nauseating Hazel O'Connor whose street credibility consisted in knowing how to use show biz connections to cast herself as a rebel punk superstar.
The skins possess all the quality and defects of modern day barbarians and vandals. In one week in May '81 they firebombed Indian and Commonwealth clubs and a Hare Krishna temple in Coventry. What did they have in mind? The transcendence of religion? Well, even though such acts are unnecessarily barbaric, it comes into it. They have after all been caught ransacking Methodist chapels though they never receive anything like the same publicity for wrecking such home grown articles. Inversely, during the riots in Derby a group of asians were seen carrying a large cross through the streets. The cross was later recovered but Our Saviour had been nicked.
But this was no Islamic anti-image jag, more probably it was a protest against a band of young catholics who marched with all the sensitivity of an elephant through Derby's semi ghettoised district singing 'We Shall Overcome'.
Nonetheless the attacks on religious symbols in Coventry were interpreted by asians as racist and its an accusation that cannot be lightly dismissed. Skins often do hit the right enemy but random cruelty (hitting old age pensioners etc) like that of black muggers, provides perfect material to the word smithies of sensational news copy. Screaming headlines are tied up with circulation wars but the 'news' they help in this respect to convey is one of psychotic lawlessness everywhere. This has the added advantage of keeping the proletariat locked away day and night in fearful little boxes of routinised existence. At one moment skins can drag the filthy rich out of their de-luxe cars in Chelsea, hand out a fistful of fives to ex-PM Sir Alex Douglas Home and split into the night. At other moments they succumb to a maimed psychotic rage lacking any class content whatsoever.
The Sheffield stomp
There was a few weeks before the mass rioting, a vivid example of class conscious skin activity. One Saturday, skins and a handful of blacks and punks (already a break thru') organised a demonstration themselves in Sheffield to protest against police harassment. Standing on the steps of Sheffield Town Hall, skins hollered out impromptu agit verbals to the rest of the assembled mob before proceeding to rampage through the city center. En route, they caused thousands of pounds worth of damage to the Crucible theatre, which with its £100,000 grant from Sheffield City Council had been invaded five times in the past 18 months by mods, soccer fans, as well as skinheads. These guys and gals really have taste because the Crucible theatre is a showpiece of 'enlightened' leftist theatre/music which in the past played host to every conceivable shade of dramatised bad conscience including the Sadista Sisters and Red Ladder (or, as it has come to be known locally 'Gets Sadder') But the one thing a skin sees red at is that mixture of inexhaustible guilt and superiority typical of audiences likely to attend the Crucible theatre. A skin and his girlfriend find it offensive because in every case they are written out of the script as barbarians, picked on and pilloried as an example of everything that's bad. Guilt likewise is a luxury they can ill afford. By negating this aspect of culture, they were making a class protest. How did Bruce Burchall a regional cultural organizer feel about all this? It's a fair bet he conveniently forgot how he once called for something like a total assault on culture.
Two Sheffield social workers had planted the idea of a demonstration in the skinheads when they had suggested calling a protest meeting. The local Sheffield Labour Party had then participated in the event. So did the local Euro' MP looking even more ludicrously out of place. As per usual a Labour Party councillor David Morgan blamed the trouble on a minority of vandals. But as the editorial in the Sheffield Telegraph more accurately pointed out on June 22nd '81… 'The element that raided the Crucible was estimated by staff at 150, the march itself numbered only 200'.
Though the local Labour Party was held to be guilty by association the main culprits according, to the Regional Chief Constable Brownlow were the youth workers. Like so many in the ultra repressive State Apparatus, Brownlow counts the soft cops amongst his pet hates. For some inscrutable reason, mutual acknowledgement that they are performing equivalent repressive functions is scant. The social workers didn't after all justify the wrecking of the Crucible theatre.1
What happened in Sheffield was skinhead energy and destruction at its best. During riot week, 2,500 coppers in Sheffield were put on full alert for use against rampaging skins, more in fact than were on standby during the steel strike of Jan/March 1980 when steel workers and miners tried to close down Hadfields for scabbing.
Hull and Hell and...........
50 miles to the N.East lies Hull. During riot week a different saga unfolded in Hull epitomizing some of the worst aspects of skin activity. In addition to wrecking the city center rival gangs of skins, punks etc set upon each other. Symbols of wealth like the Leeds Building Society plus a number of large stores, including Binns, were trashed. But excepting anti police verbals (one guy was jailed for shouting 'kill the pigs') class consciousness generally rose no higher than the Humber river bed.
Shouting football slogans some rioters nutted ordinary people standing in bus queues. One youth threw a concrete block through a bus window while passengers were still inside.
This chaotic response not surprisingly created amongst some Hull transport workers a passing sympathy for the police. The local TGWU official with the backing of the rank and file made preparations in concert with the police and the Transport management to close down the Ferensway bus station at the center of the riots. The Hull Daily Mail rubbed its hands in glee as workers, management and police clasped hands throughout this mid summer week of countryside proletarian insurgency.
Over the past 10 years the Hull working class have exhibited a notable radicality, even as recently as the Winter of Discontent, which makes this understandable reaction doubly sad. They are not by nature hostile to class violence and sabotage. For instance during the '72 Dock strike in the UK some Hull dockers cut ships, moored at the disputed container wharves up river, adrift. But they didn't then go on to root out innocent crew members to give them a thrashing as local skins might have done if their performance throughout riot week is anything to go by.
No one knows in advance whether skins will take a left turn or a right turn or drive straight on into a brick wall. There are unconfirmed reports of fascist organizations pumping skins full of drink, drugs and racist wind prior to sending them out on a dirty-dozen mission.
Some skins could in future be recruited by para military organisations like Column 88, Leaderguard and the League of St. George. The latter is reputed to lead right into the heart of this most secretive of States. Throughout the world State manipulated terrorism is growing in importance (e.g. Italy - the Red Brigades, Spain - GRAPO - plus authenticated examples in France, Brazil and to a lesser extent in Chile) and there's no reason to think it couldn't form part of a counter revolutionary strategy here.
The colonial armies of the British Raj utilised terrorist atrocities and as recently as the Heath Government, agent provacateurs/the Littlejohn Brothers) were employed to infiltrate the IRA and carry out bank raids in the Irish Republic. The names of their employers reads like something out of Burke's Peerage: Lord Carrington, the Defence Secretary, Geoffrey Johnson Smith and finally the Littlejohn's friend Lady Pamela Onslow an ex social worker. They have never denied the charge levelled at them by the Litllejohn bros.2
Fascist groups inevitably gained members during and after the rioting but the media was obsessed with uncovering evidence of left wing and IRA infiltration. The hidden face of protest was invariably one or the other. The News of the World (July 19th '81) hysterically reported that black power leaders had made their first contact with 2 Provisional IRA leaders in Chapeltown, Leeds. Wearing balaclavas was to the press evidence enough of IRA involvement and the daily tabloids carried photos of youths wearing them. In fact balaclavas were only worn to protect the hidden face of protest from vampirish press photographers.
Finally the Special Branch, clutching at straws, unearthed a couple of terrorist suspects. Jean Weir along with an Italian girlfriend were arrested for allegedly throwing a molotov during the Brixton riots in April '81. Bratach Dubh which Weir belongs to had critically praised the Red Brigade in a pamphlet entitled Armed Struggle in Italy. When it came to suggesting the violence on the street was manipulated by unseen hands, a refusal to condemn State manipulated terrorism outright made the job of the press that little bit easier.
- 1In some senses, the wrecking by the white youth was often more 'aimless' than the often selected targets of the blacks (c/f later in the account of the battle of Liverpool.) After riot week in the great mod battle of Keswick, a travelling theatre was again torched and on August '81 bank hols. the model railway station at Brighton was molotoved by white youths.
- 2There is a real possibility the Birmingham pub bombings atrocities of '74 were not carried out by the IRA. The six convicted men have always protested their innocence claiming confessions were beaten out of them. The IRA lias never admitted responsibility for the pub bombings which is unusual. Forensic evidence used to convict two of the men has been discounted. A swab test revealed traces of ammonia and iron nitrates on their hands, a compound substance left by both gelignite or smoking! Both men were smokers. Like the bomb in the Piazza Fontana detonated by the Italian Secret Services ending Italy's 'hot autumn' in 1969, the Birmingham pub bombs were in all probability planted by an arm of the State. To achieve what? To disorientate Brummy's militant proletariat? During the now famous miners strike, engineering workers from Birmingham's extensive industrial belt had joined with the miners and picketed Saltley Power station. Together they had inflicted a memorable defeat on the British Government. However the bombs did nothing to dampen class struggle but they did achieve the immediate aim of the Special Branch; preparing opinion for the passing of the Anti-Terrorist Act which was implemented immediately after the outrages. In future the Act could be more fully used than at present for detaining subversives.
And what of later episodes of class struggle? If the bomb planted on the Canvey Island gas and oil terminal during the Winter of Discontent had not mercifully been defused in lime a fire ball would have ripped through Canvey Island leaving maybe thousands dead. It would have in addition cremated a strike wave which included hospital ancillary workers. The bomb was said to have been planted by the IRA but a nagging doubt remains like a toothache which won't go away. Just Supposing…? Pro republican sentiments in the Republic (e.g. the Irish Times) though not wholeheartedly for the strikes (Ireland was itself about to be plunged into a big strike wave) never the less took pleasure in seeing the British Government squirm. The IRA is respectful of moderate republican opinion and whenever possible would prefer not to antagonise it unnecessarily - so it is highly unlikely that the Canvey Island bomb was the work of the IRA.