- Created: Tuesday, 15 November 2016 14:50
- Written by Maxine Williams
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 1 – November/December 1979
It is now five months since the British state used its police force for a brutal and murderous assault against the black and Asian people of Southall. Accustomed by years of practice, the British state has since taken all measures necessary to cover up what happened on that day. Blessed with the most servile labour movement leader-ship and the most cringing media, British imperialism has now moved smoothly on to the stage which normally follows its bloodiest deeds — the prosecution and persecution of the victims of its assault.
The British state has quite consciously decided to hammer those who were arrested at Southall. The cases of those charged are being heard at Barnet Magistrates Court, 20 miles from Southall, thus making mobilisation in defence of those accused as difficult as possible. The conviction rate is 87% clearly showing the state's intention to use the trials as a further weapon against the black people of Southall. And not content with all this the Court is now using a Magistrates Act of 1361 to bind over those who have gone to court simply as witnesses for the defence. On September 26 the magistrate said to Mr Rampal, a defence witness:
‘You were also a member of that hostile crowd and have come here to excuse your friend.'
He then bound over the witness to keep the peace for 12 months on a surety of £100. Clearly the fact that in so many of the cases defence witnesses prove the police case to be a pack of lies has become an embarrassment. The result is this latest tactic of binding over witnesses in an effort to intimidate them.
The number arrested – 800 — and the number of those going through the courts — 342 — shows how enormous was the assault launched on April 23 in Southall. Its scale and ferocity make it the worst single attack against black people in Britain.
A huge police operation beginning early on April 23 virtually sealed off Southall. Using 5000 police, including the notorious SPG, the British state was determined to force the black people of Southall to submit to the humiliation and insult of a meeting being held in Southall by the racist thugs of the NF. More than that, the British state was determined to show by its actions that it would not tolerate organised resistance to any aspect of the racial oppression which black people suffer; that it would smash that resistance. To do this the British state used methods which have become familiar to the Irish people over the past ten years—brutality, assault and murder. When the oppressed dare to rebel the thin veneer of British 'democracy' is pushed aside to reveal the British imperialist monster a thirst for the blood of its victims. The savagery of this carefully planned attack left one man, Blair Peach, dead and 1000 others injured, many severely. One victim of the police described what happened to him:
‘First a mounted police horse kicked me and then I was grasped by the hungry wolves and kicked right in the guts ... The police picked me up and threw me over a five feet wall ... On the other side of the wall more British police pounced on me like vultures and then there was no end to it, they were kicking me and hitting me with their fists and then I passed out.'
This man suffered damage to his kidney, a fractured pelvis and multiple internal bruising. Another young man was so severely beaten that both his testicles have since had to be surgically removed. Multiply the injuries hundreds of times and a true picture of the savagery emerges. A local community group's premises were raided. The police ripped the building apart and those who had sought shelter and medical aid there were repeatedly beaten as they were forced to run the gauntlet through lines of truncheon swinging policemen.
This brutal attack was no freak or isolated incident. It must be seen as the most serious single assault in a continuous campaign against black people by the forces of the British state. Day in and day out the immigration laws, the police and the courts are used to harass and persecute black people. In that deadly campaign black families are split up, black people are beaten on the streets and in police stations and black people rot in prison framed by the police and courts. The result of such oppression has been growing resistance. Black people are in the forefront of opposition to the British imperialist state. The state's attack at Southall had a clear purpose — to try to destroy the revolutionary challenge to its power which is developing amongst black people in Britain.
The British state has written many bloody pages in the history of oppression. It has been responsible for countless massacres and atrocities throughout the world. And after each particularly bloody deed there have always been those who have leapt forward to say that this or that massacre was not the responsibility of British imperialism but of individual soldiers or policemen rioting or showing excessive zeal in their butchery. When the British state murdered 14 civilians in Ireland on Bloody Sunday 1972 it did so as part of its strategy to terrorise the risen nationalist people into submission. Yet the blame was laid with individual soldiers supposedly panicking. The purpose of this argument is a simple one— to cover up for British imperialism, to hide the fact that it can only rule by terror. It proves this daily in Ireland. Equally, since British imperialism is blatantly incapable of providing equality and justice to black people in Britain then it must use force to keep them where it wants them — at the bottom. And it must then use more force to smash the resistance which this oppression inevitably produces.
After April 23, just as after Bloody Sunday, the usual chorus started up, this time stating that it was the result of the SPG rioting out of control. The British left led the chorus. The SWP went so far to back up this view that it printed two articles by Paul Foot the purpose of which was to contrast the 'out of control' SPG with the (presumably under control) 'decent minded' ordinary policemen. Black people will be surprised to learn that:
‘Decent minded policemen, and there are lots of them, are often shocked at the bullying and racialism which is permitted and even encouraged in street patrols.' (Socialist Worker 26.5.79)
‘Police often do help people.' (ibid)
How conveniently the SWP forgets the fact that there were 5000 police at Southall of whom 200 were SPG; that Swarm Singh Grewal died in a Southall police station full of lots of 'ordinary policemen'; that such `ordinary policemen' make black peoples' lives a misery. But above all how carefully and conveniently the SWP twists reality until the brutal deeds of the British imperialist state are the result not of its very nature but instead, of its 'out of control' servants.
The same trick has been performed by the IMG [International Marxist Group]. Tariq Ali, in an article in the Guardian (24.9.79) showing how the frame-up of the Southall defendants is being conducted by the courts ends by complaining that the British judicial system is:
‘... less accountable and less democratic than the judiciary in virtually every other bourgeois democratic state.'
His solution is to bring the judiciary under control by having them elected. Perhaps it has escaped his notice that in the USA the fact that judges are elected has made no difference to the fact that US prisons are crammed full of black victims of frame ups. Elected or appointed, the judiciary is there to serve the interests of imperialism and those interests demand injustice, racism and brutality.
But the British left was not content with thus covering up for British imperialism. It went one stage further — to condemn the black and Asian people of Southall for fighting back against the British state. The CP [Communist Party] said: ‘Of course racism will never be defeated by throwing stones at policemen. Squalid little street fights with the police on the part of tiny groups are no answer to the problem.' (Morning Star Editorial 24.4.79)
And the Socialist Challenge eye-witness account of April 23:
‘Tariq Ali stresses the same message (ie ‘no provocations') but the impatience of the 'young lions' is overwhelming. They attack a bus and clashes with the police follow. Walls are knocked down so that bricks can be used as missiles. It is a big mistake born of anger and frustration and as the day evolves everyone will realise this is so.' (Socialist Challenge 26.4.79)
Such an attitude to resistance by black people should come as no surprise. The British left has consistently condemned the Provisional IRA, a movement which has heroically and effectively fought British imperialism to a standstill in Ireland. The British left is quick with its sympathy for victims but as soon as victims become fighters then the tears rapidly dry and the abuse starts. It starts with terms like `mistaken', 'squalid', 'unwise' and ends up, as it has done in the case of the British left's attitude to the Provisional IRA, with streams of vitriolic abuse.
As the war in Ireland has progressed, as the Provisional IRA has proved to be a skilful and effective national liberation army so it has become obvious that two sides exist in that war and that British socialists have to choose their side. The RCG unreservedly supports those fighting British imperialism in Ireland. But the major part of the British left, finding the middle ground no longer exists, have come down on the side of British imperialism and against the Irish people. And with its response to Southall the British left has given another warning that when black people fight back, and as that fightback grows, then once again the British left will side with British imperialism.
Bloody Sunday in Ireland and the associated war of terror by British imperialism in Ireland led inevitably to greater resistance by the nationalist population; led inexorably to Bloody Monday when that figurehead of imperialism, Mountbatten, along with 18 British soldiers were executed by the Provisional IRA. Imperialism cannot break the resistance of the oppressed. Repression will call forth resistance. April 23 in Southall has stoked the fires that one day will destroy the British imperialist monster.
SOUTHALL IS INNOCENT! DROP ALL CHARGES!
Throughout this country the Black community has been subjected to horrific and violent racist attacks and provocation. The death of one Brother Gurdip Chagger in June 1976 in Southall was one of such countless incidents.
The death of Gurdip Chagger sparked off a new leaf in our struggles for equality and justice. The youth of Southall demonstrated that they had had enough, leading to the formation of the Southall Youth Movement and similar groups in other parts of the country. The events in Southall on 23 April 1979 are much more sinister and have grave repercussions for our community in this country. The decision by the Tory Council to allow the racist National Front permission to hold a meeting and spread their filth in the heart of the coloured community was part of a deliberate strategy of provocation. The
police accompanied by their notorious SPG deliberately came into Southall to smash the community — old and young, men women and children. A police state was in operation in Southall. Over 800 people were arrested and 342 of our brothers and sisters charged for daring to defend our community against racist provocation. Many were seriously injured — Blair Peach was killed. The purpose of the manoeuvre to move all the Southall defendants' cases to Barnet Magistrate Court, some 20 miles away, is to demoralise the community and smash any resistance. Heavy sentences and fines are being imposed on our brothers and sisters appearing at Barnet, where the contradictory police evidence has become its hallmark. We are all on trial at Barnet. Defeat for Southall is a defeat for us all.
Southall Defence Fund Appeal
The Southall Youth Movement has made the ultimate sacrifice of all in the defence of Southall and our right to exist. More than half of all arrested on 23 April were our members. Two of our members, Birk and Rai, have already been sent to prison. The severity of the imposed sentences is such that it is estimated some 70-80 more defendants will be sentenced to imprisonment. What took place in Southall does not just affect Southall, it affects the whole of the Asian Community in this country. We need your help to save our brothers and sisters who have made the sacrifices. We hope that you will express your solidarity by donating generously to the Southall Youth Movement Southall Defence Fund. All donations for the Southall Defence Fund to be sent to: SYM 12 Featherstone Rd Southall, Middlesex. All cheques payable to SYM or Southall Defence Fund.