30th Anniversary - The Bradford 12 and the fight against racism

The Bradford 12 were young Asian men, members and supporters of the Asian Youth Movement, who were arrested in July 1981 on charges of conspiracy. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! joined their year-long defence campaign and our paper carried the report of their victory in issue number 21, July/August 1982. ‘After a trial lasting eight weeks in Leeds Crown Court the jury found them all not guilty of the charges of conspiracy and making an explosive substance with intent to endanger life and property. A great victory has been won for all oppressed people against British imperialism.’

Self defence is no offence

In the course of the two month trial, the 12 and their barristers fought tooth and nail to bring out the real political issues. They succeeded in showing the extent of the racist onslaught against black people and their reasons for undertaking self-defence. Talochan Gata-aura, the only one of the 12 to go into the witness box, described the events of 11 July 1981, when news was received that coach-loads of fascists were approaching Bradford. After recent attacks in Southall, Coventry and Walthamstow, he believed that death could have resulted from a skinhead invasion. Petrol bombs were made, he said, to ‘erect a shield of fire to deter attackers from coming into black areas’. He attacked the police for their record of protecting fascists and covering up racist attacks.

Tariq Mahmood Ali, who conducted his own defence, told the jury, ‘If I am confronted by a situation where hordes of murderous thugs are about to attack my people, and if the authorities have done nothing about it, then I would have no alternative but to use those methods of defence that are appropriate to the attack... I am not a terrorist.

I am a victim of terror.’

This was England 1981

The summer of 1981 had seen nationwide inner-city uprisings against police repression (see page 5). But police aggression was only one aspect of the state racism directed against immigrants and black people. As ever, racism was a useful tool for a ruling class determined to attack the living standards of the poorest workers in a time of recession and public sector cuts. As always the British media acted in the service of the state and contributed to an increasing climate of reaction. The street-fighting forces of the National Front and other British nationalist groups were protected by the police and courts as they unleashed attacks on immigrant and black communities. In April 1979 over 800, mainly Asian, people had been arrested in a protest against the National Front holding a meeting in Southall. Over 5,000 police had left 1,000 injured and had killed Blair Peach in defence of the racist thugs. This was the domestic context in which the Bradford 12 prepared to defend their community.

One struggle – one fight

The Asian Youth Movement knew that the racism they experienced in this country was a reflection of the continuing imperialist plunder and exploitation of their parents’ countries of origin and of all oppressed peoples. Zimbabwe had gained independence in 1980 after a ten-year armed struggle and the world was convulsed by national liberation movements against British imperialism in Ireland, Palestine and South Africa. These struggles called out to progressive, anti-racist and anti-imperialist groups in Britain for international solidarity.

Echoes of the 1980s

Once again, British capitalism is in crisis and the government of the day is pushing forward the same kind of austerity measures and cuts in public services that Thatcher had introduced in 1981. Once again, state racism is being used to divert anger away from the ruling class, the banks and the multinationals, onto the minority populations. The media and other servants of state propaganda, from academics to the gutter press, churn out relentless hatred against asylum seekers, East European workers and Travellers. Islamophobia has reached new heights, backed by punitive ‘anti-terror’ measures aimed at humiliating and silencing political opposition. Once again, British imperialism goes on the offensive with military might unleashed to protect the global interests of the capitalist class in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

A principled victory

The victory of the Bradford 12 was achieved by the determination of the defendants and their supporters to organise an inclusive, non-sectarian and political defence campaign. This lesson must be learnt for today. Only a united anti-racist anti-imperialist movement can challenge the attacks of the rotten, parasitical and decadent system that attempts to maintain power at any cost to humanity. The struggles of the past were not all victorious. Many defence campaigns were sabotaged by opportunists and trimmers whose real agenda was support for the Labour Party and who confined the righteous anger of the people to the limits of the official trade union movement. The Bradford 12 campaign had no truck with this.

At a 20,000 strong demonstration against racism in November 1979, Manjit Singh, Chair of the Bradford Asian Youth Movement, had attacked Tony Benn MP for the racist policies of the Labour government to loud applause and jeers from the crowd. If we are to build successful campaigns today whether they are against cuts in public spending, against Britain’s wars, against deportations and racist immigration law or against the targeting of Muslim people, we must learn from the past and that is why we must remember the Bradford 12.

Susan Davidson

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 221 June/July 2011


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