The carnival is not over

Who can say with any certainty what exactly they were doing 40 years ago? I can today. It is the evening of 30th April 2018 . Forty years ago, on this day, and at this time, I was feeling so tired but so exhilarated. Several hours earlier I had been one of tens of thousands of anti-fascists filling Trafalgar Square and the streets around, holding lollypop-style placards with ‘Anti-Nazi League’ (ANL) and an arrow printed in black and red on a yellow background, or on punk-pink Rock Against Racism stars. I was 20-years-old but already a seasoned marcher who had trailed from Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park or the other way around several times waving our placards and banners, shouting our IMG_2856slogans, mostly towards bemused West End tourists. But this day was different. We were heading out of the centre and going five miles east to Victoria Park, on the Hackney/Tower Hamlets border, where a stage had been set up by ‘Rock Against Racism’. Many of the new wave artists who had shaken the music scene – the Clash, X-Ray Specs, Tom Robinson – were going to be there to show their followers that their allegiance was to the cause of anti-racism and anti-fascism.

As we got close to the park we were walking through streets where I had walked in fear on an anti-fascist demonstration just a few months earlier, when we were easily outnumbered by waves of fascists crowding on to the streets from the estates we walked through, pouring out of the pubs, sieg-heiling, spitting and shouting. There was no doubt these streets belonged to them.  They were the community and we were interlopers making a temporary incursion on their territory .As our Jewish Socialist banner passed, they paid us special attention, screaming that we were “going to the gas ovens”. The National Front (NF) was at its peak, claiming 20,000 members. Like Mosley’s movement before it, its London heartland was in the decaying, deprived areas of East London.

But today, on 30th April  it was our turn. By the time we reached Victoria Park, the crowd had swollen to 80,000. The streets in which we had been so abused and terrified a few months earlier, were ours on that day.  The march was so dense that we filled the whole road and both pavements.

On almost every anti-fascist demonstrations I had been on up to that point, we had ucjsbt_1dsj_mshouted “Black and White – Unite and Fight”, but the marches had been predominantly white. This one was different. Especially when we were in the park it was clear that this was a black and white demonstration. We were physically expressing our demand for equal rights for all. Our unity across ethnicity and also sexuality was reflected on the stage too where Steel Pulse’s reggae riffs and the Clash’s punk/new wave sounds combined beautifully, and the whole crowd rocked to Tom Robinson’s ‘Glad to be Gay’, and joined in the chorus.

I was there with other Jews… but not without a fight. Our ‘leaders’, the Board of Deputies, had pulled out all the stops to try to prevent Jews from supporting the biggest anti-fascist mobilisation in Britain since the 1930s. Why? They claimed that the ANL’s leading figures were anti-Zionists and therefore the Jewish community should have nothing to do with them. Effectively they were saying that it was more important to keep out of range of comments someone might say about a conflict 2,000 miles away in the Middle-East than to unite here and now with communities that were bearing the brunt of racist attacks, having their homes firebombed, being beaten up on the streets, by the same forces that were daubing swastikas on Jewish gravestones. It seemed a callous and narrow attitude, then, as well as a self-defeating one.

For several weeks the letters pages of the Jewish Chronicle were filled with argument and counter-argument about this issue. When the ANL held a public meeting in the Jewish heartland of Golders Green, and with Jewish speakers on the platform, it was forced to hold it in a Unitarian church because the Board had told synagogues not to let their premises to the ANL. I remember Aubrey Lewis, who cut his political teeth in street battles against fascism and campaigns against poverty in Manchester in the 1930s, and was one of the founders of the Jewish Socialists’ Group, telling us that the Board were not really worried about young Jews becoming enticed by anti-Zionism, they wanted, above all, to keep young Jews away from the Left.

Like the East End Jews of the 1930s before them, lots of suburbanised young Jews from Ilford, Southgate, Hendon and Finchley  ignored the Board. When we arrived in Trafalgar square on that day, some of the first people we encountered were other Jewish youths from left-Zionist groups – Mapam and Habonim –  who knew exactly why they were there.

That day was a crucial step on a political journey for many people. Some of those young Zionists will have pondered on the contradiction of a Zionist movement that told them that you can only escape from antisemitism, not fight it, while they marched within a huge multi-racial crowd, that was optimistic that it could defeat racism and fascism and build a truly equal multi-cultural society, as they chanted: “Here to stay, here to fight!”

05scenepunk02There were non-political youngsters who went to the carnival to see their favourite bands only to find these bands, in this context, had strong political messages too, messages that may have conflicted with the ideas and sentiments these young people heard at home from their parents and neighbours. Their heroes were imploring them to make a choice, to take a stand. It opened my eyes – and ears – to the crucial need for politics and culture to  mix and strengthen each other.  Yet, looking back now, we were still in the early days. That day the stage had white bands, it had black bands, following each other, but they still hadn’t caught up with their audience, who were already uniting with and embracing each other. It was a year later, and 100 miles away from Victoria Park – in the Midlands – that two-tone music burst on the scene with bands with both black and white members such as the Selecter, the Specials, the Beat.

So how did I mark the day 40 years on? I joined a protest and spoke on a multi-racial

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Photo: Jess Hurd

platform outside parliament in support of the Windrush generation. I brought greetings to the demonstration from the Jewish Socialists’ Group and Jewish Voice for Labour, remarking that minority communities know the importance of supporting each other, but adding that, “What is really striking over the last two or three weeks, and what is really unnerving Theresa May and her government, is the solidarity shown by the majority of society for the Windrush generation.”

And I know that one of the reasons I was there tonight was because of where I had been and what I had been doing 40 years earlier. Later tonight I will put on some music, from the late ’70s, and hear the rebellious voices of Pauline Black and Gaps Hendrickson on my favourite Selecter Album, Too Much Pressure, and hoping those words also mean something for Theresa May and her disdainful and heartless band of racists, nationalists, and imperialists on local election day this Thursday.

 

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Recognise who was behind Powell too

I once had the opportunity to do serious physical harm to Enoch Powell and it still shocks me that I even contemplated it. It was around 1987. I had arranged to meet a Palestinian friend outside Gloucester Road tube. She would be taking me to a meeting nearby of other Palestinians and supporters of their struggle for justice. As I waited for her, I saw an old man, fairly smartly dressed and wearing a hat, who was having to make quite an effort to climb the stairs that led up to ground level from the tube. He was definitely familiar. It took no more than a few seconds to recognise Enoch Powell. I felt rage inside for so many victims of racial violence, including young people with their lives ahead of them who had died, their attackers ultimately inspired by his hateful words. I fleetingly, but seriously, contemplated turning and “accidentally ” bumping into him as he reached the top of the stairs, making him tumble down them.

I am a socialist because I choose love over hate and believe in the capacity for (almost everyone) to become fully human, cooperative, and imbued with a desire to live equally with their fellow human beings. I hate the policies that cause such misery and impoverishment for many, but I rarely personalise that. In Powell’s case I make an exception, and still feel 50 years on from his Rivers of Blood speech, that the BBC have been marketing with such tabloid sensationalism, (just responding to everyone’s deep interest in the phenomenon, you understand), I can feel hate, although I know it is a different kind of hate to that which he admitted harbouring as a young man.

Last night I hurt my back digging in corners of my office space so that I could rummage through a couple of boxes of old pamphlets for one I knew was there somewhere. Sure enough I found it. Published in June 1969, by the Labour Research Department (LRD), Its title, Powell and his Allies, was printed in a suitably Gothic font. I have never thought it a coincidence that his searing and poisonous “Rivers of Blood” speech was delivered on Adolf Hitler’s birthday, a date on which small groups of far-right activists have not only held memorial ceremonies but often committed outrageous acts. Hitler would have been celebrating  his 81st birthday that day, had the Nazis succeeded and his own health been sustained.

I remembered correctly that the LRD pamphlet began with a short verse written by Powell as a young man, which gave a clue to the values that would shape his later life:

“I hate the ugly, hate the old
I hate the lame and weak.
But most of all I hate the dead
Who lie so still in their earthen bed,
And never dare to rise”

IMG_5421The pamphlet exposes the typical features of Powell’s speeches that inspired admiration among those susceptible, and hatred among those who saw it plainly for what it was: the sense of foreboding, the harsh and threatening language, the wildly exaggerated statistics plucked from thin air, meant to scare and enrage his audience, the cynical attempts to personalise his arguments with made up characters, which also betrayed his sexism – the helpless “little old lady” – the sole white inhabitant in the street, terrorised by her black neighbours, trailed by “wide grinning piccaninnies” who can’t speak the language properly  except for the word “racialist” which they chant; the little old lady who is made to feel “a stranger in her own home” by her new and unwelcome neighbours, painted in the least flattering way.

The pamphlet says: “His metaphors and adjectives are almost exclusively ugly and cruel; his speeches are splattered with ‘evils’, ‘insane’, ‘mad’, ‘lunacy’, ‘tyranny’, ‘conspiracy’, ‘filthy’, etc.” it draws attention to violent and military associated phrases that pepper his speeches too: ‘invasion of our body politic’, ‘alien territory’, ‘occupied’, ‘detachments from … the West Indies or India and Pakistan encamped in certain areas’, ‘whip hand’, ‘blood’, ‘national disaster’.

In telling us about his allies – the key purpose of the pamphlet – it reveals an important point lost on too many anti-racists, who often imagine the kind of people who would respond positively to these hateful messages as poor, uneducated, hopeless, and embittered; an underclass looking for someone to blame for their own condition.

We know that Powell generated active support from low paid workers – dockers in an industry that was rapidly declining, Smithfield Market porters, who got up to do their hard physical work at unearthly hours. When those porters joined dockers on a political strike to march to Parliament in support of Powell, they were led by Danny Harmston, a bodyguard for the veteran fascist Oswald Mosley in the 1960s. Harmston himself stood as a parliamentary candidate in Islington for Sir Oswald Mosley’s fascist Union Movement in the 1966 General Election. But the great strength of this pamphlet is how it shows the support Powell got from the highest echelons of society especially in the business world

And Powell gave something back to them. Alongside his well-known racist views, Powell 6a0120a58872a6970b013480715be5970c-800wisaid “When I see a rich man I give thanks to God.” He described how, when he was kneeling in church “i think to myself  how much we should thank God, the Holy Ghost for the gift of capitalism”. Powell attacked the concept of council housing as “immoral and socially damaging”. He condemned the “work-spreading, profit-hating, almost Luddite attitude of trade unionists”, and called for “denationalising industries. All of them”. In a very candid moment, interviewed by the Daily Telegraph in October 1968, he describes himself as “a virus. I am the virus that kills socialists.”

One group of key Powellite supporters organised themselves in the “Society for Individual Freedom”. They enthusiastically lapped up his racist messages which they married with their absolute commitment to free enterprise and shrinking the state. At the time they had 35 MPs and several members of the House of Lords among their members. They were captains of industry such as Sir John Rodgers, MP for Sevenoaks and director of the world’s largest advertising agency; Lord Lyle, simultaneously a director of Tate and Lyle and of Rhodesian Sugar Refiners; and Lord Renwick who chaired the institute of Directors and sat of the board of British United Industrialists, which gathered huge amounts of money from companies to hand over as donations to the Tory Party. In other words, he had a lot of support from the upper and  upper-middle classes who have inflicted so much capitalist damage on people’s lives as well as through their influence in politics. And these people were racist through and through, supporting the vestiges of white supremacy in Rhodesia and South Africa. The Tory Monday Club, on the far-right of the party was another home for these types, and their strongest period was in the decade after Powell’s speech.

At the other end of society it did indeed give strength to that underclass who felt disenfranchised and disempowered, and who drew a simple conclusion from Powell’s words – to go “Paki-bashing”, to put bricks through the home of African-Caribbean neighbours. Almost a decade on from Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech there was a spate of vicious racist attacks especially in East London which resulted in the deaths of a young Sikh, Kenneth Singh, in Newham, a Bengali clothing worker, Altab Ali, in Whitechapel,  Micheal Ferreira, a young man from a Caribbean family in Hackney, and another young  Bengali, Ishaque Ali. But the first murder victim in East London was Tosir Ali in April 1970 – a Wimpy Bar worker – attacked by two skinheads as he walked home from work. They slit his throat and left him to die.

That violence was commonplace in the febrile atmosphere created by Powell and the far right organisations he gave a boost to, such as the National Front (NF) formed in 1967. In the next few years the NF was able to recruit many of those young skinheads and give them a fuller ideological “education” about who their enemies in society were. And while we remember the names of those whose lives were actually ended, we are less familiar with the catalogue of young people who suffered life-changing, life-limiting, injuries that can be traced back to the speeches of incitement by Enoch Powell.

Ten years after his Rivers of Blood speech he briefly returned to the limelight to give a speech in Billericay, Essex, in which he spoke of the “swamping” of inner cities. Inciting his audience not just to anger but to action, he told them “Violence does not break upon such a scene because it is willed or contrived … but because it lies in the inevitable course of events… those who foresaw and feared they would  be swamped will be driven by… strong impulses and interests to resist and prevent it”. The very next day 150 NF-supporting skinheads did just that, as they rampaged down Brick Lane attacking Bengalis on the street and in their shops, injuring many.

It was those victims, and the often powerless but poisoned perpetrators, who were deep in my consciousness as I saw Powell slowly ascending the stairs of the tube station I was waiting at, but I also had in mind those very well placed in high society who easily marry deeply racist ideas with commitment to their gods of profit, property and economic 7d721f7c-6a75-4252-ba53-37fff9e648e9_mw1024_n_spower and control. Several years after Powell was booted from the central political stage and regarded as a bitter has-been, his admirers such as Margaret Thatcher were elbowing their way to the top. Today, in the era of Theresa May, the vestiges of the Monday Club and Powellism are found in the Traditional Britain Group, a deeply racist and dangerous organisation, filled with people from the most economically privileged sectors of society, led by Tory members Gregory Lauder-Frost and Lord Sudely. They regularly  provide a platform for alt-right antisemitic, Islamophobic, white supremacists from several countries. Our struggles against racism and fascism must always be a struggle simultaneously against capitalism and the upper eschelons of society.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time for Labour’s leaders to call their opponents’ bluff

30530954_10156227870123320_5400229481258418176_nJewish families in Dollis Hill, north-west London, woke yesterday to find they had been the targets of a horrifying antisemitic attack. This was not an unpleasant Facebook post, or a garbled report of what someone said to someone else about what was said at a meeting, but huge swastikas and Nazi SS symbols painted on the pavement outside houses in a street where many Jewish people live, on the window at a bus stop and on street signs. It was similar to a spate of incidents that targeted Jewish families in another part of north west London in January 2017. On that occasion the attacks included a brick with antisemitic messages arriving through one family’s window. The victims of this weekend’s outrage must have been thinking, if only there was an organised campaign against antisemitism that would come down immediately, give support to the families, tell them who they think the perpetrators might be, and offer them a plan of action.

Well, it turns out there is such a campaign, but it was too busy to help yesterday. The self-styled “Campaign Against Antisemitism” (CAA), was instead standing in the rain holding Union Jacks as it demonstrated outside the national office of the political party that has brought in almost every single piece of equalities and race relations legislation in Britain, and whose MPs can regularly be found addressing anti-racist and anti-fascist gatherings. The crowd the CAA attracted booed the name of Labour politicians, and at least one speaker compared Jeremy Corbyn to Adolf Hitler.

If there was one crumb of comfort for rational, sane people from this Alice in Campaign-Against-anti-Semitism-1298387Wonderland scenario, it was that despite many thousands of pounds being spent on targeted advertising  for this “national” demonstration, all they could muster was a few hundred. The Jewish Chronicle, whose reporters are no Corbynistas, put the figure as low as 500 demonstrators. Even if these were all Jews – and evidence provided by photographers of faces in the crowd and placards of Christian Zionists organisations who were bussed down from Scotland belies this –  we are talking about a mobilisation of, at most 0.2% of Britain’s Jews. Other observers who took panoramic photos of the crowd at its height put the figure at no more than 150-200. The organisers, used to inflating their own importance, naturally inflated the figures as well – to 2,000, a figure repeated in Israeli newspapers. Our domestic newspapers, which failed to report a considerably bigger demonstration in central London the day before, to protest the killings of unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza, nevertheless reported yesterday’s flop uncritically.

If the larger protests in Parliament Square led by the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council on 26th March, alleging “endemic” antisemitism in the Labour Party, could draw a thin veil over a patently pro-Tory agenda, by offering speaker slots to anti-Corbyn Labour representatives, there were no pretences yesterday. One invited speaker, a former Labour Party donor who quit the party last month, who spoke of the need to rebuild relations between the Jewish community and the Labour Party, was shouted down with cries of “Off! Off! Off!” and “Vote Tory!”

londonvigil-kAY--621x414@LiveMint

Flowers outside Finsbury Park mosque after murderous islamophobic attack

Nobody can or should seek to deny that antisemitism has deep roots in many European societies, including Britain, but to imagine it arises disproportionately within the party which has the strongest record of opposing all racism, is perverse (and contradicted by the latest You Gov analysis). Antisemitic attacks should never be downplayed. Unfortunately there are elements within the left who mistakenly do that. But it is also important to keep matters in perspective. It tends to rise and fall in tandem with other forms of racism that have been fuelled in Britain in very lean years economically that have heightened social stresses. Islamophobic hate crimes in London soared 40% in 2017 from 1,205 to 1,678. The perpetrators, where identified, are usually white racists. National figures last updated in March 2018 show Black people and especially Black youth, are six times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. Roma people and Poles have also been targeted in viciuous racist hate crimes.

So, who can turn this racist tide around? The party whose Foreign Secretary talks of piccaninnies, led by the former Home Secretary who introduced the infamous “go home” vans, targeting migrants who had “overstayed”? A party whose policies on every reliable measure have increased poverty, despair and homelessness, leaving increasing numbers of people prey to those who will seek to turn their anger, hopelessness and frustration into scapegoating of immigrants? Really?

There is an opportunity on 3rd May to answer this question by electing committed anti-racists and anti-fascists as councillors, from a Labour Party that has unequivocally positioned itself, under its current leadership, as an anti-austerity party. Less than a month ago, the Tories were on the ropes and fighting with each other over Brexit. Many Tories wanted Theresa May to quit but feared an even more divisive and incompetent successor. The polls were showing that they would struggle to hold on to their flagship councils in London such as Westminster and Wandsworth, and that they could even be in trouble in Barnet, where Jewish voters, conditioned by constant propaganda to see Labour as the home of the “new antisemitism”, make up 20% of the electorate.

But that palpable sense of panic in Tory ranks has been pushed out of the news by an opportunist campaign that has latched on to a tiny number of real incidents involving Labour members and antisemitism that need to be addressed. That campaign has wildly and deliberately exaggerated their overall significance, thrown in ambiguous historical incidents as if they are of burning significance today; and completely obscured the bigger picture of rising racism against a range of communities that has occurred on the Tories’ watch and with Tory complicity.

Those pushing that campaign – right wing dominated Jewish bodies, falsely claiming to be representative of the politically and economically diverse Jewish community in Britain –  have acted predictably. But the real culprits are the mainstream media, from the “quality“ broadsheets to the tabloids (with a couple of honourable exceptions), who have willingly fallen into line behind this campaign, and have ignored or marginalised other critical Jewish voices. The media are quite cynically betraying the victims of Tory misrule over the country – people from all communities, including the Jewish community – who are experiencing the Tories’ heartless attack on health, social services and social care, the working families forced to use food banks, the spiralling numbers of young workers on zero hour contracts, and the growing numbers of homeless.

It is time for the Labour leadership to call the bluff of these newspapers and of the opportunistic campaigns promoted by puffed-up but unrepresentative Jewish “leaders”. Labour needs to set rather than follow the agenda here, and state boldly that it understands exactly what is at stake for the most vulnerable sectors of society in these elections, sectors which include many members of ethnic minorities.

Labour must declare that between now and those elections, it will not be diverted by negative headlines and accusations of being soft on antisemitism, from the task of delivering a result that will bring many more anti-austerity and anti-racist councillors into office, who will make a profound material difference on the ground in their local communities. Labour should state that it expects every single Labour politician at national and local level to make this their number one priority. It was a good sign that no Labour politicians joined the CAA rally yesterday.

Labour should declare that it will take no lectures on this from the Tory Party that, at the

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American white-supremacist Richard Spencer

European level, happily works with openly xenophobic, anti-migrant and antisemitic parties, while here in Britain it maintains fluid boundaries with antisemites, Holocaust deniers and revisionists, alt-right eugenicists and identitarians, through the Traditional Britain Group which is led by the active Tory members, Lord Sudeley and Gregory Lauder-Frost.

And Labour needs to demand something of its own supporters and activists: that they should be wise to provocations, and refuse to be drawn into any more petty confrontations with those perpetuating diversionary debates.

We need to keep our eyes on the prize – an overwhelmingly positive result in the local elections that will be the springboard for defeating the party of privilege and division, and their cynical supporters, at the General Election.

There will be a vigil in Dollis Hill from 7-10pm Tuesday 10th April: https://www.facebook.com/events/435612193528744/