Fighting Racism: the way forward


Talk  to a conference organised by the Newham Monitoring Project, November  1994 around the case of the ‘Tower Hamlets  9’.

1. Once again, like in the mid-’70s, our communities are under attack – from the fascists, the police, local political parties, the government – and once again, like in the mid-’70s we are forced to defend ourselves. And once again our young are being criminalised for daring to defend their communities. 

2. Only, this time, the racism is much more virulent, much more widespread, much more deathly. 

Navid Sadiq, Panchadcharam Sahitharan, Mohammed Sarwar, Siddik Dada, Rohit Duggal, Ruhullah Aramesh, Ashiq Hussain, Aziz Miah, Fiaz Mirza, Stephen Lawrence, Ali Ibrahim, Donald Palmer, Sher Singh Sagoo, Saied Ahmed, Rolan Adams

Fifteen deaths in almost as many months. 

And almost as many murderous assaults. Quddus Ali, Clive Forbes, Kenneth Harris, Charles Oppeng. 

One death is a death too many. 

One assault is an assault too many. 

3. Only, this time, that deadly racism has spread right across Europe and made it acceptable, made it respectable, made it the credo of the new Europe, turned the individual racisms of the individual countries into a common market racism. And, under the pretext of keeping out ‘hordes’ of refugees and asylum seekers, the governments of these countries have (in their secret meetings in Schengen and Dublin) identified black people as illegals and criminals and drug-runners and so given a fillip to popular racism which, in its turn, has provided the breeding ground for fascism.

Make no mistake about it. It is the policies of governments, the pronouncements of politicians and the practices of the state that create the culture of racism within which fascism breeds. 

Every time the government passes a blatantly racist Immigration Act or Asylum Bill, every time a Thatcher or a Churchill makes a speech about swamping of cultures or invading hordes or scrounging immigrants, every time a local authority scapegoats black people for its housing policies, the white fascist maggots creep out of the woodwork of a decaying society – a society made decadent, depraved and deformed by fourteen years of Tory rule – to murder and maim our people. 

The BNP did not give rise to racism. Racism gave rise to the BNP. 

4. It must be blindingly clear, then, that it is only by fighting racism that we can root out fascism. To fight fascism, and only incidentally racism, is merely to suppress the fascists and allow them to resurface again – as the National Front of the ‘70s has resurfaced as the BNP of the ‘90s. 

It must also be abundantly clear that, today, there are effectively two racisms: the racism that affects middle-class blacks and the racism that affects working class and workless blacks – the racism that discriminates and the racism that kills. 

And therefore, the strategies that apply to the one – lobbying MPs, strengthening the Race Relations Act, giving the police racism awareness training classes so that they can excrete their racist shit discreetly – do not apply to the other. 

Our business is to fight the racism that kills and maims. And that fight is, in the first instance, the fight to defend ourselves – BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. 

5. And we have a history of defending ourselves and our communities, a history of community struggles led by our youth. In fact most of the Asian Youth Movements – like Youth Connection today – sprang from the need to defend the community – and in the process put aside their own agendas and differences. 

The Southall Youth Movement, which sprang up after the murder of Gurdip Singh Chaggar in 1976 and went on to drive the Nazis out of the Hambrough Tavern in 1981; the Bradford Asian Youth Movement which came to the defence of the Bradford 12 who themselves had come out to defend the community, with petrol bombs if need be, when the National Front threatened to march through Manningham; and the creation, here in the East End of London, of various self-defence groups such as the Hackney and Tower Hamlets Defence Association and the Federation of Bangladeshi Youth Organisations, following the murders of Altab Ali, Ishaq Ali and Michael Ferreira – and more recently the defence of the Newham 8 and the Newham 7 by the Newham Monitoring Project, which itself grew out of the Newham Youth Movement born out of the murder of Akhtar Ali Baig in 1981. And then, of course, there was the famous case of the Virk brothers in 1977, when the slogan ‘Self-defence is no offence’ was first coined. 

All this is a part of our tradition of self-defence, a part of our culture of resistance. And the defence of the Tower Hamlets 9 is only another exercise in the continuing saga of that resistance. 

6. But self-defence is only the base line. It is around issues of self-defence that we begin to organise and cohere our community. It is the base from which we take off with our other fights against racism. It is the line of no retreat. 

But that is not enough any more. Racism is becoming too acceptable, fascism is becoming too bold. It is time we pushed back the frontiers. It is time we denied the fascists the freedom of speech that they deny others, the freedom of assembly that they deny others, it is time we drove them out of our communities. For beyond the freedom of assembly and the freedom of speech, there is another freedom – the first freedom, the freedom to life – and that is the freedom that the fascists deny us, the police defy us to have and the CPS refuses to uphold. 

7. But if we are to carry the fight to them and stop them from infecting the body politic, we need to unite with all the progressive forces that are gathered here today. And I am sure that it is in recognition of the need for that unity that you have invited us to this meeting here today. And we dare not fail. 

But we will fail unless we determine, from the outset, that the unity we want to achieve is an organic unity – a unity from the ground up, a unity that springs from serving the community under attack, that comes out of the process of that service – and is there for real, tangible, meaningful and effective. 

Not a mechanical unity, a top-down unity, a tactical unity. 

Not the two-faced unity of political parties who will unite with anyone and any body that brings them the votes – as you have seen in Tower Hamlets. 

Not the opportunistic unity of trade unions which take up black working class action when it enhances their reputation but abandon it when it can’t – as the GMB have done recently over the year-long strike of Asian women at Burnsalls in Smethwick. (Instead we want the sort of unity that the Tower Hamlets Trades Council forged with the local community in the fight against racist attacks in 1978 – and the sort of solidarity that Unison showed when it brought out the council workers against Beackon.)

Not the subsume-your-black-struggle-to-our-class-struggle unity of the Hard Left.

Not the subsume-your-anti-racist-struggle-to-our-anti-fascist-struggle unity of our anti-Nazi comrades. 

Not the you-join-us, we-won’t-join-you unity of our national black organisations. 

But a unity, as I have said before, which is organic, dynamic, from the community up. And if in the pursuit of that task, I have been harsh or unfair, forgive me. But what I’ve said, I’ve said in the spirit of self-criticism that all of us who have come here today, seem tacitly to have agreed to. 

And I say it in the hope that a real unity can be forged in the campaign that begins here today – to get justice for Quddus Ali and to free the Tower Hamlets 9 – and in the hope that that campaign burgeons into a national movement that drives the fascists from the streets, the racists from office and the Tories from power. 

Thank you.