The politics of black resistance: the Spaghetti House Siege

Edited versions of speech by A. Sivanandan (who spoke alongside Rogr Lofters of BUFP) published in Afras Review  1977



Very early on Sunday morning, September 28, 1975, black men allegedly attempted an armed robbery in the Spaghetti House Restaurant,  Knightsbridge, London. One of the staff managed to telephone the police, who arrived at the restaurant about Z.45 a.m..The three black men backed down into the restaurant basement with 8 Italian staff members as hostages, and locked the door behind them. Policemen from all over London were drafted into Knightsbridge, which was blocked off between Hyde Park Corner and Sloane Street. Sir Robert Mark,  Commissioner of the Metropolitan     Police,  took charge of the Siege which lasted 5 days. Then, 6 until early Friday morning, October 3.
Italians (2 had been released earlier in the week) emerged.  They were followed by two black men,  WesleyDick and Tony (Bonsu) Munroe, who were arrested.  The third, Frank Davis,  remained in the basement and attempted to shoot himself.Wounded,  he was taken to hospital.Were these 3 black men politically motivated?
Commander Ernest Bond of Scotland Yard informed the
press that the three  “claimed to represent the  ‘Black
Liberation Front’ and that although the police were
taking that seriously the incident was still being
treated as a robbery which went wrong”           (Times, September 29).         Whilst the siege was taking place,an Italian and a German were arrested for allegedly helping to plan the robbery,  and for Sir Robert Mark  their arrest was proof that the police were dealing  with an “ordinary armed robbery with no racial or political connotation” (Daily Telegraph,  October 3).

The political dimensions of the event,  unclearly  represented in police statements and media coverage, are explored in the following pieces by R.Lofters Chairman of the “Defence Committee of the Spaghetti  House Three” and A.Sivanandan,  Director of the
Institute of Race Relations. The pieces are edited versions of a talk given by them on November 18 1977 to the Afro-Asian• Cultural Society,  Sussex University. Their talk was called, unambiguously,  “The Politics of Black Resistance – the Spaghetti House Siege”.


You have introduced me as the Director of the Institute of
Race Relations.   But such a formal introduction places
neither the Institute – once an establishment organisation
but today a servicing station for black people on their way
to liberation ** – nor myself in our histories.   Besides I
speak tonight not as an official of the Institute, but in my
personal capacity.  And I would begin therefore with a poli-
tical introduction to myself and Roger, which, very briefly,
will place us in our histories and tell you how we came to
be here on the same platform.

My name is Sivanandan.  My brother, friend and comrade
over there, his name is Roger Lofters.  I work at the Institute of Race Relations.   I am an intellectual.  I use
the word in a pejorative sense.   Roger is a working class man, he is an electrician.  I am an Asian.   I’ve come from
a country that has been colonized for 400/500 years, Roger
is an Afro-Caribbean.  His history is not merely that ofcolonization.   Whereas I was colonized in my own country,
Roger was shifted, displaced, enslaved, colonized.  But through the fortuitous history • (not so fortuitous!) of capital-
ism and colonialism, Roger and I have been brought together
in the bowels of the so called mother country, and here we have begun to find not only the common denominators of our
oppression, but a way for a common struggle to end it.  The
enslaved and the colonized, the deracinated, the Afro-Caribbean and the Asian: in ourselves, we represent a
synthesis, or, rather, we represent the symbiotic relation-
ship between the presence of black people in the metropolitan
capital, and the presence of metropolitan capital in the ThirdWorld.  Roger was talking essentially about the politics of
black resistance.  I want to talk about the resistance toblack politics, the resistance to politics in the first insta-
nce, the resistance to black politics in this country in the

What do you think Lenin did, or Mao, or Amilcar Cabral
or Fidel? (Though that was an exceptional case, and it
can’t happen again.  It was absurd. Ten people get on a
boat and take over a country.  That can only happen once in a lifetime, and only in Latin America.)  But the Russian
and Chinese revolutionaries – they caught history on the

wing.  They were not  post hoc analysts, they were ad hoc
analysts.  All our teaching and education has taught us to
analyse these things after they have gone, after they are
dead, after they have been absorbed and negated by the

system, after it has re-arranged itself to meet the new
exigencies of history and is able to say “Fine.  You want

to have an Afro hair do? You want to wear a dashiki?  You
want to shout Ho Ho Ho CM Minh in the streets of London?
Fine.   You can have it.   You can have the lot. “But revol-
ution does not come out of “dread locks”, or the sleeves of
a dashiki.

Why the resistance to politics?  What is politics about?
Politics is about power, about people who have power over
our lives – the direct power over our lives which working
class people know about; the indirect power which we as
intellectuals (right through I’m using the word intellectual
as a dirty word, untill you can prove to me that you can
clean it out, bring it back and commit it to the struggle)
should know about.  I say that our resistance to politics
comes out of one specific thing: we are ourselves in a
powerful position, comparatively, to the blacks, the work-
ing classes, the unemployed, the lumpenproletariat.  We
resist politics, political understanding, political analysis
of events because our own privileges are threatened.
Spaghetti House was there for you to see.  There’s been a
qualitative leap, a dramatization presented for you of the
black man’s plight in this country, and you don’t see it.
Why?  When did you hear of black kids taking out guns and
holding hostages in this country?  When?  Never before.
Did you imagine it in your wildest dreams?  It has happened.
Doesn’t it say anything to you?  If then you cannot see the
objective situation and make the conceptual leap then you
must address yourself to your subjective inadequacies, to
the consciousness, somewhere within you, of your privileges,
to the bourgeois games that you play with yourself.  All rad-
ical outside, and privileged within.  How you see is also who
you are.

So much for the resistance to politics as such; now for the
resistance to black politics.  In this country, the resistance
to black politics comes out of two things: the class position

of intellectuals (we’re not working class, not from the ghett-
oes, not unemployed, not homeless, not directly oppressed),
and the “returning home” syndrome of blacks.  …

The point there is not that I’m upbraiding you for
laughing.  The point is that we middle class people, we
intellectuals, have choices.  It’s a typical white liberal
syndrome that says, “Look, you don’t have to take a gun,
you don’t have to be violent.  You can do this legally, you can choose”.  The point is that black people have no choice.
The black unemployed, homeless, lumpen, worker is left
with no range of choices.  Violence is not only violence when it is overt.  Poverty is violence, and hunger and
exile.  Not to give a man a job is violence.  The violence
that Wesley and Tony and Frank are accused of represents
the violence of the violated.)

To get back to the resistance to black politics.  There is

(1) the so-called “first generation”, the people who are
here and the people who are there, the people who are
neither here nor there, and finally the people who are in

our local Bellevues or some other hospital, and (2) those
people who are here as students.  Lots of you from Africa,
Asia, Latin America or the Caribbean are here for 3 or 4

years and tell yourselves, “My politics are to do with Ghana,
or with Bangladesh or with Trinidad, and have nothing to do
with black people here.”

Black people in America  don’t have a land base, black
people in this country have a land base.  (I’m talking about
the “first generation”, not the “second”.)  They can always
say, “We’re going back to Trinidad”, “We’re going back to
India”, “We’re going back to Ghana”.  That’s an advantage
and a disadvantage.   It’s an advantage in the sense that it
allows us to synthesize the struggle of the Thirld World
against the metropolis with the struggle of the Third World
in the metropolis. As I said in the beginning, It’s a symbiotic
relationship.   When white people ask me, “Why are you
here?”, I say, “The answer is very simple: because you
were there”.   Sometimes they say “I suppose you came be-
cause the streets are paved with gold”. I say, “They are,
they are.  My gold.”  The “first generation” has both of
these dimensions: the Third World dimension and the metro-
politan dimension.  Experience of both these dimensions is

important.       (What bourgeois education does is to divorce you
from your experience.  It intervenes via the authority of your
parents, your teachers, the prime minister, the parish priest.)  Between your experience and your conceptualization
of it is the intervention of the system in all its guises, and they call that education.  That is what Wesley is talking about.
That is what Tony is talking about.  That is what Frank is talking about.   They were not confused.  They refused to be
confused.)  The positive aspect of the “first generation” is
that they comprehend both worlds.  They comprehend the

totality of colonization.

What black people are saying, by virtue of their colour
(and women should be saying this, because there is very little difference between racial and sexual oppressions) is
that to understand one’s oppression is to understand one’s
exploitation.  Inside every black man there is a working
class man waiting to get out.  It’s the “second generation”
that is going to point the way to the synthesis of race and
class.  It is the “second generation” that can be the van-
guard of a workers’ movement that will “re-put” politics
in command, in place of the economistic policies of the trade unions.  It’s not merely the question of the standard
of living that black people are talking about, but also the
quality of life.  That brings me to Spaghetti House.

*                *          *                *          *                 *

When the Institute of Race Relations moved from the
Fortnum and Mason belt, opposite the Queen’s perfumery,
to a badly heated, converted warehouse in Pentonville, its
clientele changed and it began to bring in volunteers from
the community to help it survive.  One day, there was a
young black volunteer at the switchboard and a call came
through.  I heard him trying to understand what the other
guy was saying (it happened to be someone from the BBC)
and after 10 minutes of conversation I heard the youth say,
“Oh, look man.  It’s not important.  You mothers don’t
know anything about black people.  You go and do your own
thing.”  And he put the phone down.  I was surprised and
shocked and went up to him and said, “Who was that?”
“He said, “Oh, brother, don’t worry.  Somebody who wants
to spy on black people.” I then said to him, “What’s your
name?” and he said, “Wesley.”  That was the first time I
met Wesley.  From time to time, Wesley used to come
into the Institute.   We have a superb library and he used to
come to read the literature there. He used to talk to us
about helping his people.  One day he said he was going to
the Pan African Congress.  When he came back, we said,
“Ah, Wesley, what have you been doing?”  He said, “I’ve
been working on Ujamaa farms.”    He had been working
on farms in Tanzania and he wanted to go back.  He also
wanted to do something here.  In London he had been at
Norwood Technical College and he wanted to start his
studies again.  I tried to persuade him to go back to coll-
ege, and eventually he said I was a bore and shoved me
aside.  Already the whole business of oppression and ex-
ploitation was beginning to lie like an incubus on his brain…

Roger said the three brothers were politically motivated.
What does ‘politically motivated’ mean? Roger was talk-
ing about the law.  To be black, and to do what you have to
do, just for the sake of your dignity, is to act outside the law.  George Jackson held up a petrol station for 73 dollars.

At what point does your politics begin? When do you say

‘NO!’ to the system?  We agree that the brothers said ‘NO;’
to the system.  If what you are disputing is the manner in
which that ‘NO: was said, go half way with you; if you
are then saying the manner in which it was said was wrong only because it failed not just in the particular act but in that
such acts do not even themselves shake the system, then I’ll go the whole way with you.  But naive or not the motivation, if not the act itself, was political. ..

Tony (Bonsu) – I didn’t know him personally.  But three years
ago the Institute of Race Relations was given money by a cer-
tain foundation to give to various black groups who were doing
their own thing.  By channeling the money through the Institute
they were probably hoping to find out what these self-help org-
anizations were doing.  Roger was running a summer school.
There were various supplementary schools.  One of them happened to be called the ‘Marcus Garvey School’ in Shepherd’s
Bush.  One of my colleagues at the Institute went to that place,
and it was a small 10 by 12 feet cubicle, in which there were
gathered 14 children on a Saturday and Sunday afternoon, in dank, damp, cold conditions, trying to learn something about
their own history, their own motivations, their own heroes,
their own people.  The person who was trying to set that up
was Tony, or Bonsu.  At what point do you want these people
to become political, with their anger?