- Created: Friday, 30 March 2018 15:40
- Written by FRFI
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 4, May/June 1980
The black people of St Pauls drove the racist police off the streets! They have achieved a glorious victory for all oppressed people and the whole working class! For four hours on Wednesday 2 April St Pauls was a ‘no-go' area for the British state. The sight of black people taking the offensive to defeat the police is a terrifying prospect for the imperialists. The revolutionary movement of black people is striking blows right to the heart of the British imperialist monster. The British state is counterattacking in an attempt to crush the resistance of black people. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! salutes the tremendous victory in St Pauls and calls for full support for the defence of those arrested.
The police raid on the Black and White Cafe was one of many raids on black meeting places in Bristol. A few weeks earlier the blues on Brook Lane had been closed down by the police. When the police came to the Black and White at 2.30pm on Wednesday 2 April they were mounting yet another attack on the black community. The police came prepared for resistance. Apart from the twelve police making the raid, five dogs were used and a back-up force of over thirty police were waiting nearby. The police met more resistance then they could contain. Resistance from angry black people who have had enough of racist harassment and brutality from the police.
The police arrested Bertram Wilkes, the proprietor of the Black and White. They searched and harassed customers in the cafe. The police started removing crates of drink. News of the raid brought people onto Grosvenor Road outside the Black and White. Kids leaving school, unemployed youths and women — all dropped what they were doing to come and defend their cafe.
The police tore a man's trousers. They were abusive and refused to compensate him. Street fighting began soon after. Stones started flying. By 5pm a Panda car was smashed up. The police were forced away from the Black and White. The police had come to harass the black community and they got their fingers burnt! The police were beaten!
By 6pm the news was still spreading. More and more people arrived back from work and went out to Grosvenor Road. Everybody was smiling. Everybody knew the police had been beaten.
The police came back for more. At 6.30pm a police recovery vehicle hitched up the burnt out Panda car and started towing it away down Grosvenor Road towards Sussex Place. A squad of police with riot shields retreated behind the recovery vehicle. Black people were lining the street to cheer the departure of the police. Then the police started with their dogs on the crowd from the opposite end of Grosvenor Road.
The black youths moved into action. Stones, bricks and bottles rained down on the police. The police hesitated, then they turned and ran! The police got into their cars, before they could drive ten yards, all their windows were smashed. The police jumped out and ran off!
The youths made a pincer movement, trapping fifty police on City Road. The police managed to get through, the youths chased after them. The police clambered into waiting Transit vans and sped off to regroup their forces and await reinforcements.
Victory is sweet! On City Road at 7.30pm hundreds of youths gathered in joyful mood. Throughout the day it was black youths who led the fighting. Here and there white youths were in the crowd. They joined their black brothers and sisters on the front line: The oppressed white workers of St Pauls support the blacks when they take on the police. The only white people to get any trouble were the press photographers who tried to hide behind the police! This was no 'race riot'. It was a riot against the racist police and the racist system that the police defend. And the police were smashed!
The youths turned in earnest to destroy the property of the oppressors and the racist system. Eight police cars and a police van were set alight. An office equipment store was raided. The windows of the Social Security building were smashed, it was agreed to leave the building intact. Then the youths moved back up Grosvenor Road to Sussex Place. Lloyds Bank was set afire. The robber bank that screws its riches from out of the hands of oppressed people is subject to the wrath of the people! When the oppressed people of Soweto in South Africa rose up they destroyed the robber Barclays Bank. The oppressed people of St Pauls rose up and destroyed the robber Lloyds Bank!
The Post Office and the betting shop went soon after. These were the main targets hit — the police, government buildings and the bank. The youths struck back against the imperialist state that oppresses and robs black people!
Certain other shops were then raided. Poor white workers joined in the distribution of the merchandise. Old age pensioners and young kids just took what they needed. Many shops were not even scratched.
No go for four hours
For over four hours St Pauls was a no go area for the British state. Chief Constable Weigh admitted this, 'As soon as we moved a police vehicle into the area it was attacked'. The police were forced to release Bertram Wilkes. The police did not attempt to seal off St Pauls. Traffic kept coming through and local people stood on the street to direct cars.
Over a mile away several hundred police gathered outside Trinity Road Police Station. Weigh called in two hundred reinforcements from neighbouring counties. It was well past 11pm before the police moved back towards St Pauls. 500 police were deployed to seal off side streets and regain Sussex Place. The police came back, but too late to deny that on 2 April 1980 in the battle of St Pauls, black people scored a glorious victory over the British imperialist state.
News of St Pauls flashed across the country. The oppressed knew that a victory had been gained and they grew in confidence. Black youths fought the police in Finsbury Park in London. In Moss Side, Manchester black people fought the police. White workers followed their example. On a Birmingham council estate fighting started. One hundred white working class youths from the Southmead council estate, an Irish area in Bristol, met up and fought the police. A month before six police had beaten up a lad in the cells of Southmead Police Station. If the idea came from St Pauls, the white youths had their own reasons for fighting the police. The police brought in reinforcements from Redland and Bridewell. 18 arrests were made on Thursday and Friday night. Three youths have been charged with making petrol bombs. One lad went to ask why his brother was being arrested. For this 'crime' he was handcuffed and dragged to the waiting police van. Several police attacked him in the van, and he was beaten up again in the police station. The police broke his nose yet he is charged with assault on the police! The agitation of the black people in St Pauls drew white workers into the front line against the British state. Black people are already in the vanguard of the whole working class struggle to defeat British imperialism!
The state counterattacks
The Thursday after the revolt saw a massive contingent of 300 police in St Pauls. Two coach-loads of black people coming to give support were stopped on the motorway and turned back by the police. Police Land Rovers, equipped with wire meshing to protect the windows, drove up and down. Army personnel photographed the remains of Lloyds Bank. A group of kids were taunting the police, 'Why did you run away?'.
The policemen bent over backwards to be friendly bobbies in front of the TV cameras. When black kids playing football knocked off the helmets of policemen, they just grinned and put them on again! Behind this cheerful facade the state was mounting a major operation of surveillance, raids and arrests.
Chief Inspector Lane, community relations officer, announced plans to increase the number of 'community' constables from one to ten. These are to be 'policemen first' and ‘community workers second!'. Their purpose will be to maintain a 24-hour watch on the area. So-called 'community policing' is simply another tactic used by the police in their efforts to smash organised resistance to the British state. The police in St Pauls started to gather information by chatting to young children. Easily recognised CID men sloped around. Over the next few days 1,500 people were interviewed. Homes throughout the area were raided. Residents in Badminton Road, just off Sussex Place, had their belongings turfed out onto the street.
The police picked up people in ones and twos and took them in for 'questioning'. Officers specially trained in extracting information have been brought into Bristol. 'Questioning' consists of abuse, intimidation and beatings. On the night of 2 April the corridors of Trinity Road Police Station echoed to the shouts of ‘Get in there you black bastard'. One youth was taken to Trinity road where he was presented with a statement already concocted by the police. The statement included an admission of throwing stones. The youth refused to sign and he was eventually released. Another youth was taken to Trinity Road and he was asked about his whereabouts on 2 April. He refused to give any information. One of the three police in the cell rapped in his knuckles across the youth's face. The youth was then beaten about the head and his ears were boxed so badly that he couldn't hear for two days. After this ‘questioning' the youth was told to return on 6 June.
The courts are also being used as part of the counterattack – just as they were in Southall. Fourteen people nine black and five white – appeared in court on 3 April. The magistrates granted bail on condition that those charged either observed a curfew from 8pm to 7am, or they stayed out of St Pauls altogether! One black woman was refused bail. Despite the fact that she has four young children she was remanded in police custody! The whole court proceedings were racist. The court ushers tried to force the many Rastafarians in the public gallery to remove their hats. This met a blunt refusal and the racists were forced to back down! The black people showed their contempt for Britain's racist 'justice'. They refused to stand for the magistrates entering and leaving the courtroom.
So far, over 60 arrests have been made. Whenever a bail application comes before the magistrates, the public gallery is packed with black people. This show of strength and a united resistance against the state's attack has already achieved minor victories. On 14 April the woman who was first refused bail came before the court a second time. The courtroom was packed out with her supporters. The magistrates were forced to grant bail.
Defend St Pauls!
After the police onslaught on black people in Southall in April 1979 the state used its racist courts to try and crush the Southall Youth Movement. After the police were smashed in Bristol in April 1980 the state is trying to prevent a lasting organisation emerging from within the black community. The British state knows full well that its racist police force will meet further resistance from black people. The British state is trying to ensure that the outcome of future confrontations will not be defeats such as it received in St Pauls. The police will be equipped and further trained to deal with 'riot' conditions. At the same time the state will use every weapon available to it to isolate the revolutionary organisation of black people. The cases of those arrested start coming up from 1 May onwards. Individuals have been charged, but the whole of the black community is under attack. The whole working class movement must help combat the state's attempt to crush the resistance of black people in Bristol. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! urges its readers to use every opportunity of gaining support for the defendants and the Defence Committee.
United Defence Fund, c/o 146, Grosvenor Road, St Pauls, Bristol 2
DEFEND ST PAULS!
END POLICE ATTACKS ON BLACK PEOPLE!
SMASH THE RACIST STATE!
RULING CLASS RESPONSE
Politicians, Labour and Tory, Police Chiefs and newspaper editorials were all insistent in their declarations that the events in St Pauls were not a 'race riot'.
Their insistence on this led them to make the most extraordinarily frank admissions. Bristol Police Chief Constable, Weigh said:
‘I don't think there was anything racial about this. It was a riot against authority.'
Tory MP for Bristol, Waldegrave, agreed:
‘It was not a race riot in the sense that black and white communities are fighting each other. It is a resistance to the police and this has spread.'
The Guardian added its voice to the chorus:
‘Bristol, Notting Hill, Lewisham ... none were, in the classic sense of blacks against whites, "race riots", ... These were bitter, anti-police riots led by black youths.'
Quite why the ruling class should have been so insistent on telling the world the truth, that what happened in St Pauls was an anti-police anti-state anti-authority riot, at first seems hard to explain. But deeper thought about their reaction provides the answer. They were particularly concerned to deny any 'racial' overtones to the St Pauls events because they cannot afford to admit the truth – that black people had risen up against the police because of the racial oppression they suffer in all aspects of their lives.
Nobody was faster in denying that the St Pauls uprising has any connection with racial oppression than Tony Benn. He said:
‘It is important that relations between the police and all the communities should be considered. It is not fair for us to ask the police to carry the burden which arises partly from rising unemployment, social deprivation and other circumstances in our urban areas and affects communities as a whole not only ethnic communities.'
Benn chooses to forget that three quarters of the black youth of St Pauls are unemployed; that black people suffer the highest unemployment rates, the worst housing and the lowest paid jobs. He also forgets the fact which led initially to the St Pauls uprising – the continual and brutal police harassment which black people are subjected to.
Politicians, Labour and Tory, were also united in their determination that such an uprising should never again occur. They split into the two classic ruling camps about how such prevention should be effected. The two camps are similar to the technique of police questioning known as the hard-man soft-man' act. Both hard and soft were equally determined to prevent further rebellion.
Hard-man Eldon Griffiths, Tory MP and adviser to the Police Federation, said:
‘if one thing has been demonstrated in Bristol it is the necessity to have in urban areas where there is tension, a reserve or some form of Special Patrol Group which can be moved swiftly into action to deal with riots and arson'!
There speaks the voice of naked repression! Crush rebellion at all costs!
The soft-man role was played by left Labourites. They said:
‘People have been saying for many years that we have to tackle the problems of alienated young blacks ... urgent action by the Government is needed so that young unemployed blacks can be helped to become members of our society.'
The soft-men advocate stamping out rebellion by increasing public spending, alleviating un-employment and poor housing. How nice it sounds! But it is an idle dream. For as long as imperialism exists then black people will continue to suffer the double burden of exploitation and racial oppression. Indeed, imperialism, moving as it is into deeper and deeper crisis, has no option but to adopt the hard-man line and to crush with ruthless force the rebellions of the oppressed.
And that is, indeed, the solution which has been adopted by the ruling class, as Whitelaw's statement in Parliament on 28 April shows:
‘Good community relations, good policing with increased numbers of police. This, given a sensible attitude by the communities, is the way forward;'
The British ruling class is preparing its state machinery — its military and police — for increasingly open and brutal repression against black people.
THE FALSE FRIENDS AND ST PAULS
The forces of the British state have regrouped to recover from the defeat in St Pauls. These open enemies of the working class and the oppressed will strengthen the military machine of the British state in an attempt to ensure that it will never again suffer such a humiliating thrashing at the hands of the oppressed.
At the same time the British petit-bourgeois socialist organisations — CP, SWP, IMG etc – have been working to undermine and isolate the struggle in St Pauls. We have long been familiar with the sabotage activities of the British petit bourgeois left. These false friends claim to be on the side to the working class and the oppressed whilst in reality they ally with the racist Labour party and consistently attack and seek to isolate the revolutionary black vanguard.
The response of the false friends to the St Pauls uprising very clearly exposed the racism which lies at the heart of petit bourgeois socialism. The Communist Party of Great Britain chose its words carefully.
‘This was not a race riot. It was more in the nature of a primitive uprising ...'
Note the terms the CP chooses to use when dealing with the fight back by black people – ' primitive uprising'. The mentality is that of a thoroughgoing British imperialist racist but in this case – a frightened one! For the CP is aware that such 'primitive uprisings' are the very stuff of which revolution is made. That is why the CP said fearfully:
‘Riots are no answer to the Tories. The inner-city communities (this is the CP's and indeed the ruling class's sickly term for black people) must be helped to organise themselves for real political and social struggle.'
There it is! 'Black people' (sorry 'inner city communities') must be 'helped' to 'organise' themselves. What racist arrogance! Does the CP mean to provide practical and political support for the hard revolutionary struggle ahead? Heavens above no! By 'help' the CP means:
‘They must be won to see that the way forward for solving their problems lies in defeating the Tories and securing a new type of Labour Government.'
‘Leave your 'primitive' forms of struggle', says the CP. 'Burning down Lloyds bank and fighting the police is very, very primitive,' says the CP. Instead join us in the real 'advanced' struggle to elect another racist Labour Government.
The black vanguard like all the oppressed has already rejected the Labour party as a racist and rotten party. Far from being 'primitive' the uprising in St Pauls showed spontaneous anti-imperialist consciousness. No doubt this is what struck terror into the CP and its ilk.
The 'Militant' group, the Trotskyist wing of the Labour party, also joined in this attack:
‘Unless young people can be offered an alternative to the misery of the dole queues, sections of the youth will undoubtedly vent their rage in destructive ways even resorting to smashing up their own communities.'
When the oppressed rise up and gain victory the reactionary 'Militant' lies about smashing up ‘their own communities'. They obviously believe that Lloyds bank and the police are part of the 'community'. The Militant is also keen to offer 'help' of the same kind as the CP's. According to them the labour and trade union movement must
‘mount a campaign in the area to explain the issues.'
Here we have another group of 'advanced' British social-chauvinists who cannot believe or bear to even consider that black people not only know 'the issues' but are organising to deal with the major 'issue' – the British state. It is they, the black vanguard, whose experience and example will 'explain the issues' to the rest of the working class.
The Militant's scheme for mounting a campaign in the area received their answer in St Pauls. On 12 April the local Labour Party Young Socialists turned up with banners and placards to mount a demonstration in defence of those arrested which they, the LPYS, claimed to be organising. They were not allowed to get away with this manoeuvre and were firmly prevented from undertaking this particular 'explanation of the issues.'
The SWP was keen to join in the chorus of ‘advice':
‘The opportunity is here to put across our ideas and solutions to end the degradation of an oppressed community.'
What do these 'ideas and solutions' amount to? Socialist Worker gave us valuable insight by reporting verbatim the local Bristol SWP cadre's intervention in St Pauls. The local cadre — Alan — according to the Socialist Worker was talking to a group of black youths in St Pauls:
‘Alan was just brilliant with this gang'
says Socialist Worker. Let us listen to the ‘advanced' and 'brilliant' Alan as he puts across the SWP's message.
‘Now listen lads, soon there is going to be a demo about Blair Peach. We're going to put a mocked-up coffin in the pig shop. Do you know who Blair Peach was by the way?'
‘Right its true you won last night. But we've got to build a real campaign around here.'
Does that not sum it up? Arrogance, contempt and the final dismissal of 'your victory last night' with ‘We've got to build a campaign around here'. And let us not forget that the Blair Peach demo which was clearly central to the SWP's 'intervention' in St Pauls had as its major slogan — 'Disband the SPG'. The SWP, like the CP and the Militant seek to drag revolutionary movement back into the safe paths of social-democratic and reformist politics. The black youths who fought the police in St Pauls were actually undertaking the fight not to call for this or that tinkering reform of the police, not for this or that section to be disbanded, but to smash them! In that they were politically a million light years in advance of the SWP.
The petit bourgeois socialists have shown once again that their intention is to isolate the struggle of the black vanguard. By slandering it and calling it 'backward', they hope to prevent the black vanguard's revolutionary message from influencing other sections of the working class.
It will not succeed! The growing anti-imperialist movement amongst black people will beat off the attacks of its open enemies and its false friends. We have every confidence that in doing so an increasing part of that movement will turn to communist politics and indeed will play the major role in purging the working class movement of the chauvinism and opportunism that imperialism and its allies have bred there.