‘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.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill