Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
‘Civil liberties, from a working class point of view, are about having the space in which to engage in political struggle – to organise alternative bases of power which can lead to the transformation of society, to record the struggle as it progresses and to express, in theory and in practice, an independent class position. This space is always contested and the occupation of any part of it carries no security of tenure.’
This quote from the immigration and human rights lawyer Ian Macdonald QC captures the historical significance of the Asian Youth Movements (AYMs) in Britain, which helped to define and reconfigure the political culture in the 1970s through to the late 1980s. Anandi Ramamurthy has ensured, through her study of the AYMs, that the politics they made would not be written out of the history of post-war Britain and of the growth of South Asian communities in the UK.
The official line in policy circles was that traditional values would make the Asian workforce more pliable, and would keep Asian youths in check so that they would be less of a ‘threat’ to social order than their West Indian peers. Meanwhile, government could continue to whip up racist hostility to Asians, especially in response to the mass expulsions of Asian families from Kenya (1968), Uganda (1972) and Malawi (1976).
In just over 200 pages, Ramamurthy describes and analyses the origins, development, political practice and internal and external challenges facing the AYMs. She situates their political trajectory very much within the racialised politics of the political parties, of successive governments and of the trade unions. Young Asians organised themselves to redefine the political narrative and demonstrate to the state that they stood in a different relationship to Britain, as their home by birth or by adoption, than their parents.
They had to confront both consensual politics and the police, who were emboldened by the racist stance of parliament itself, as were the National Front, Column 88 and other neo-fascists who propagated racial hatred against Asian and African communities and intimidated residents. Racist murders, firebombing of homes and places of worship and the destruction of property were commonplace, as was the pastime that became known as ‘paki-bashing’. The book provides a most helpful account of how the AYMs organised to resist state oppression and fascist attacks alike. This includes the activities of the fledgling United Black Youth League that led to 12 of its members being charged with making and conspiring to make an explosive substance. The ‘Bradford 12’ were acquitted, having successfully argued that it was their right to organise themselves to act in self defence against neo-fascists.
The book deals with internal issues such as the role and profile of women in the AYMs, the relationship between them and the ‘leadership’ within Asian communities that was very much a construct of local and central government, and the AYMs’ relationship with African grassroots movements. The author makes the entirely valid point that the predominantly male leadership and members of the AYMs did not join the dots between the discriminations and forms of oppression that women members faced. Acknowledging and dealing with their own patriarchal tendencies was clearly not high on their agenda.
That said, I must take issue when Ramamurthy argues that male AYM members who had mobilised widely and frequently in support of women facing deportation as a result of fleeing domestic violence were focused on racist immigration policies and not so much on the domestic violence that had traumatised the women facing deportation. This is not my recollection.
I was chair of the Black Parents Movement (BPM), Manchester, from 1976 until 1987 and jointly led with the AYM (Manchester) anti-deportation campaigns on behalf of Nasreen Akhtar, Jaswinder Kaur and Nasira Begum. Two things were uppermost in our minds: the need to ensure that the women’s safety was never compromised, and the need to emphasise that they had a human right to be treated with dignity and to be free from violence. They were not the property of their husbands and therefore their right to stay in the country should not depend upon them continuing to put their lives at risk in an abusive and harmful marriage.
The relationship between the BPM and the AYM was solid – the latter were fully supportive of our campaign against the deportation of Cynthia Gordon. Indeed, one of the strengths of the book is that it accurately depicts the African and Asian solidarity that BPM and AYM (Manchester) and Bradford Black Collective and AYM (Bradford) represented.
The story Anandi Ramamurthy tells is a far cry from today’s discourse, which is epitomised by the ghastly moniker BAME: black, Asian and minority ethnic. We can only hope that young people and their parents, of whatever ethnicity, demand this book is included in the school and college curriculum. It shows that, even before the ‘war on terror’ and Islamophobia, South Asian communities needed to engage in a defensive war on a neo-fascist and state terror that was relentlessly visited upon them.
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
’We believe in you. We are with you. We will never forget.’ Grenfell solidarity sweeps East London in mass banner drops from housing estates
Michael Calderbank profiles Jeremy Corbyn's new supporters in parliament
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to witness devastating political violence, but the world refuses to act. Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo ask why?
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced
India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya
North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero
The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava
France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati
This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help
PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank
Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media
I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to
We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS
Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank
Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland
Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones
The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya
The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.
An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now
The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee
Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell
Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths
Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe