Race Today Collective on the reformist turn of black politics in the 1980s.
'WHAT WE LACK'
Race Today, December 1985
Amid the public din and clamour which followed the revolts in Handsworth, Brixton and Tottenham, the one voice which loudly and clearly stated what the vast majority of young blacks think and feel was Bernie Grant's. This is a very peculiar state of affairs, young blacks, who led and participated in the revolt are in the main under 25, are not members of the Labour Party and hardly vote for it. Yet Bernie, well intentioned we are sure, is close to 50 and leader of the Haringey Council in his capacity as a Labour councillor. This begs the central question: what has happened to the political leadership which ought to come from within the ranks of young blacks?
It is necessary to go back in time. In the late '60s, we witnessed the first organised mass, black movement in Britain. The major issue then, as it is now, was the excesses of the British police. Organisations were formed in almost every black community in this country, newsletters and newspapers were published, demonstrations were held, the roving bookshop was started; we engaged in political education classes, spoke on platforms organised by ourselves. formed and developed international contacts and held conferences, The list is long, These organisations were financed not by Moscow, Libya, local government, or central government but by ourselves. We produced a string of leaders. There was, at the head of the movement, a woman, Althea Jones Lecointe. Add to this Leila Hassan, Barbara Beese, Mala Dhondy, George Joseph, Darcus Howe and Farrukh Dhondy. They spoke not only on black community matters but on a whole range of national and international issues; political, social, economic and literary. In short, a political foundation and tradition was established in the black community upon which future generations could build.
We have retrogressed and we have to address ourselves to the reasons why if we are to emerge from this vacuous state. We contend that the continuing development of a radical and revolutionary culture is being undermined by the entry of educated young blacks into the Labour Party and a wholesale imbibing of what we refer to as 'welfarism'. The Labour Party has almost ruined an entire generation of black activists. The pursuit of the seat in the House of Commons or in local councils has replaced genuine, black, political activity. What do they do in the Labour Party we ask? Apart from knocking on doors, attempting to explain to voters Labour's halfbaked socialism, they spend all their energies in endless manoeuvring and manipulation which they dignify by the term 'political activity'.
This is not mere abuse. Only days ago, a black, prospective parliamentary candidate, after endorsing Hattersley's economic medicine as the cure-all for Britain's economic decline, stated her task as 'empowering the working classes, black and white'. Any A-level student of politics would know that this is the last thing the Labour Party could or would do; that is the surest way to self-destruction. But such are the trite and banal political statements that come from those who float around in a sea of political nothingness; their speeches on political economy are without content, mere babble, a far cry from the heights scaled in the past. Where are the political journals, the newsletters. the pamphlets which circulated week after week in the black community only 18 years ago? Now Labour Party activists complain about who discriminates against them, call for positive discrimination in favour of themselves and their kind, but would not be seen dead publishing a journal of their own. They bully their way into getting a few lines in left journals but that is about all, at the same time we are literally swamped with a sea of welfarism funded by grants from the state sector. So that the first thing that comes to the mind of a young black man or woman on the verge of political activity is the formation of projects, and that which is furthest away is the formation of a self-sufficient political organisation which advances the revolutionary and radical political traditions.
The revolutionary spirit is alive and well and lives in Handsworth, Tottenham and Brixton while the revolutionary political movement flounders. We need to rekindle and develop upon the organisational flair which characterised the '60s.