Lewisham ’77 – Myth and Anti-fascist History

Fourty years ago this summer [2017], one of the most decisive events in 1970s UK anti-fascism took place in South East London.

On 13 August 1977, the far right National Front (NF) set off on a march from New Cross to Lewisham in what was intended to be a major show of strength. Lewisham NF organiser Richard Edmunds had promised the NF’s ‘biggest-ever rally… Everybody will know that the Front is marching’, while national organiser Martin Webster had talked of the march as part of its racist and anti-communist struggle: ‘The Reds have had it all their own way and the only way you can fight Communism is to confront it. We believe that the multi-racial society is wrong, is evil and we want to destroy it’. Earlier that year the NF had won over 119,000 votes in the Greater London Council elections and, although it did not succeed in winning any seats, the party had cause to believe that it was a growing force.
In the event, thousands of people mobilised to oppose the march, and as it started from New Cross there was hand to hand fighting as anti-fascists broke through police lines and seized NF banners. The local paper reported:

‘Suddenly the air was filled with orange smoke, and a hail of bricks, bottles and pieces of wood fell onto the Front from demonstrators and householders leaning out of their windows… At one point the Front marchers stopped. Half the marchers remained in Pagnell Street, afraid to walk into the hail of missiles… One young man, perhaps 16 years old, rushed into the Front ranks and grabbed a flagpole from one of them, broke it in half and held the pieces up while the crowd cheered. Others hurled dustbins and fence stakes into the Front column from close range’ (Kentish Mercury 18.8.77). In later clashes in Lewisham town centre, police used riot shields for the first time in England as they confronted anti-fascists and local young people. [Read more →]

Jim Higgins: More Years for the Locust – The Origins of the SWP (Book Review)

Jim Higgins
More Years for the
Locust – The Origins of the SWP
Unkant Publishers, London, 2011.
ISBN 978-0-9568176-3-1

HigginsLocust001

Jim Higgins (1930-2002) was amongst the relatively large number of militants who left the ‘official’ (i.e. Stalinist) Communist Party in 1956 after the shattering experiences of reading Nikita Khrushchev’s ‘Secret Speech’, which denounced the crimes of Stalin, and the crushing of the Hungarian uprising. First, he joined ‘The Club’, a splinter from the erstwhile Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) lead by Gerry Healy, which was to become the Socialist Labour League, and later the Workers Revolutionary Party. Soon after, he joined the small Socialist Review Group (founded 1950) around Tony Cliff, which had also grown out of the RCP. This group would later turn into the International Socialists, which later became the Socialist Workers Party.
The topic of Higgins’ book is exactly this pre-history of the SWP. [Read more →]

Crisis in the SWP, or: Weiningerism in the UK

“There isn’t enough bile to conjure up the shame and disgrace of all of this, nor the palpable physical revulsion, nor the visceral contempt building, nor the sense of betrayal and rage, nor the literal physical and emotional shattering of people exposed to the growing madness day in and day out.”
Lenin’s Tomb blog, “Crisis in the SWP,” Jan 11, 2013

The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) is – or was until recently – widely considered to be Britain’s “largest revolutionary organization”. The party has been rocked by internal dissent and has lost many members. This development was triggered by allegations of sexual abuse against a leading cadre by a young female comrade. The person in question was the national organiser, Martin Smith, who was nicknamed “Comrade Delta” in the communications of the SWP. The party tried to brush the scandal under the carpet. They set up a commission consisting essentially of friends of the accused, who then proceeded to “exonerate” him. After asking the victim questions about her sexual past and her drinking habits, they predictably decided that the rape allegations were unproven. The pretext to handle this mockery of justice by a kangaroo court was that the “bourgeois court system” could not be trusted “to deliver justice.”

Perhaps in a previous age this sham could have worked. But when details of the case were “leaked” online it forced many to take a stand. Numerous blogs were set up and a number of members started to breach party discipline.
[Read more →]

Revolt of the Ravers – The Movement against the Criminal Justice Act in Britain 1993-95

It is now twenty years since the British government first announced that it was bringing in new laws to prevent free parties and festivals. The legislation that ended up as the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 prompted a mass movement of defiance with long lasting and sometimes unexpected consequences.

Many people would see the origins of the story in the Castlemorton free festival in May 1992. Thousands of people had headed into the English West Country in search of the planned Avon Free Festival. After a massive police initiative – Operation Nomad – they ended up at Castlemorton Common in the Malvern hills. The festival that kicked off there featured sound systems including Bedlam, Circus Warp, Spiral Tribe and DiY. It soon became too big for the police to stop as up to 40,000 people from all over the country gathered for a week long party – many of them attracted by sensationalist TV and newspaper coverage.

It was the biggest unlicensed gathering of this kind since the state had smashed the Stonehenge festival in the mid-1980s. What made Castlemorton different was not just the soundtrack but the crowd. The free festivals of the 1970s and early 1980s grew out of a post-hippy ‘freak’ counter culture, later reinvigorated with an infusion of anarcho-punks and ‘new age travelers’. The growing free party scene in the early 1990s included plenty of veterans from such scenes, but also attracted a much wider spectrum of ravers, clubbers and casuals. The traditional divide between marginal sub-cultures and mainstream youth scenes was breaking down as people from all kinds of social, cultural and style backgrounds converged to dance together in warehouses and fields. What’s more, the movement seemed to be expanding rapidly beyond anybody’s control.

Soon there were calls for new police powers. In a parliamentary debate in June 1992, the local Conservative MP, Michael Spicer, spoke of the festival as if it had been a military operation, describing it as ‘the invasion that took place at Castlemorton common in my constituency, on Friday 22 May… On that day, new age travellers, ravers and drugs racketeers arrived at a strength of two motorised army divisions, complete with several massed bands and, above all, a highly sophisticated command and signals system’. He went on, ‘The problem of mass gatherings must be dealt with before they take place… chief constables should be given discretionary powers to ban such gatherings altogether if they decide that they are a threat to public order’.

[Read more →]