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International Socialism, Summer 1966


John Strauther

From Our Readers

[Racism in Britain]


From International Socialism (1st series), No.25, Summer 1966, p.15.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Robert Rein’s review of Paul Foot’s Immigration and Race in British Politics (IS 24) displays misleading comparisons and serious deficiencies in its understanding of British conditions.

First, in discussing immigration and not racialism (while in Britain the word ‘immigrant’ has come to mean coloured – white Commonwealth immigrants are not included; Irish are exempt and other Europeans ignored), Rein has neglected the common root of the racial problem in Britain and the USA – slavery. American and West Indian Negroes share the same historical experience of degradation and exploitation, to which British and American imperialism owe their foundation, and neither country nor race, black or white can afford to forget it. Slavery is after all the reason why Negroes became British and American citizens. Their immigration was in both cases forced. To this extent, and in their cultural expropriation or domination, their situations are parallel, and the journey from the West Indies to Britain is the equivalent of the American trek North to the cities from the fields. The exception Rein makes for the Indians on cultural grounds is valid, but Black Britons differ from Northern Negro Americans only in being more recent newcomers to urban industrial life, and have shown remarkable powers of adaptation.

Unlike Rein, however, the British public does not distinguish between ‘wogs’ of different origins. They still begin, if not at Calais, East of Suez and at the borders of Smith’s Rhodesia, and the ‘no coloured’ sign applies equally to the West Indian Negro labourer and the Indian or Pakistani lawyer, chiefly to the (class) indignation of the latter. It is one of the main tasks of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination to overcome such imperialist-induced conflicts, in which field it represents almost the first and only organised attempt. The overt racialism of the British has a long and powerful history, descending through Kipling and the primary school from a declining imperialist context, and in this is increasingly dangerous, not less.

Violence is an endemic feature of British race relations, in which Notting Hill was only the ‘Watts’ spectacular, as conversation with immigrants or merely a walk in some London streets will confirm, though of course, in the true manner of British hypocrisy, this is officially unacknowledged. The local group of CARD in the Islington area of London recently collected evidence of repeated incidents of violence against Indian and Pakistani immigrants, the existence of which the police and press both denied until forced to admit them. This can hardly be unique, and the earlier West Indian immigrants particularly can tell of fierce struggles to establish their safety and self-respect.

The sexual theme is not absent from British racism either, but offers some interesting variations on the American (as anyone who has heard Roy Sawh speaking at Hyde Park will know). Here, in contrast to the American South, at any rate, the overwhelming majority of inter-racial sexual relationships are between black men and white girls, primarily owing to the extreme sexual imbalance of the immigrant population (coloured, of course – Continental au pair girls excepted). Until very recently there were hardly any coloured girls in Britain. Hence the pattern emerging is not one of white guilt for the rape of black slave girls (this took place in the Colonies), but envy of the immigrants’ prowess, expressed as ‘They only come here to take our women.’

For these reasons I believe the ‘New York’ rather than ‘Paris’ model more apt in the British context. The racial problem, and the class struggle with which it is intimately connected, as the most conscious immigrant workers are aware, is extremely deep-rooted in British history and society and will not be easily, or separately, overcome. This is what makes Rein’s conclusions so out of place.

Anyone who has read the story of the Indian workers’ strike at Woolf’s, Southall, and the reaction to it of the ‘progressive’ bureaucracy of the Transport and General Workers’ Union [1] will know better than to adopt his recommendation to the TUC. Likewise, in the light of the recent election campaign and its run-up from Smethwick to the Labour Government’s racialist White Paper, adopted last year by the Labour Party conference no one in Britain, let alone in International Socialism, could accept his extraordinary naive closing paragraph.

The British Campaign Against Racial Discrimination, to its disadvantage, was founded in the image of the respectable (Martin Luther King-NAACP) American Civil Rights movement, superimposed over the real problems as a pressure-group and drawn into the Government’s Johnson-style ‘consensus’ policy through the Archbishop’s National Committee for Commonwealth Immigrants. CARD has so far failed to develop the radical grassroots involvement of black and white exemplified in the States by SNCC, the Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee, and the Students for a Democratic Society. The need for a movement has not even been recognised, yet it undoubtedly exists. Its development will have the same importance for the struggle against British imperialism as the American Freedom movement has had in relation to the opposition to US imperialism’s war in Vietnam. As such, it is essential.


1. See What Happened at Woolf’s: The Story of the Southall Strike (advertised elsewhere in this issue).

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