A story of struggle

Black and British: A Forgotten History

By David Olusoga

Published by Pan, 2017, £12-99

Reviewed by Geoff Jones

The historian David Olusoga is both Black and British. One of his earliest memories, growing up as a mixed-race child on a council estate in the 1970s, is of his white mother and their family being driven from their home by National Front thugs. His excellent book gives a detailed history of the relationship between white and black people in Britain from earliest times – a history largely ignored in our schools even today.

Until the sixteenth century Britain had very little direct contact with the African continent. The very few black people who made their way here, such as John Blanke, court trumpeter to Henry VIII, were probably regarded with curiosity rather than hostility. However, from the 1600s on, in the age of exploration, things changed dramatically.

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Letters & debates: Tories, the fightback, and Corbyn and the EHRC

Unfair on vultures?

In the December-January issue of the Socialist Party journal, Socialism Today, No.244, one of the article headlines describes the Tories as vultures (Tory Austerity Vultures Regroup).

This is a little unfair. Vultures provide an invaluable service to the ecosystem and to people by removing carcasses from the environment before they decay, thereby reducing the spread of disease.

Tories, on the other hand, do not prevent the spread of disease.

G Rueppelli, London

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Editorial: How far can the Starmer counter-revolution go?

In any battle the tactical details and their timing always have an element of the accidental and unexpected in them. Keir Starmer’s suspension of Jeremy Corbyn from the Labour Party on October 29 and – after the decision by a disciplinary panel of the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) to reinstate Corbyn on November 17 – the withdrawal of the parliamentary whip, may not have followed a prepared script.

It could be, as the former Labour Party chair and Corbyn-supporting MP Ian Lavery said of the October suspension, that there was “a miscalculation” involved, at least initially. Others, like the columnist Owen Jones, have spoken of Starmer’s ‘panicked’ reaction to events.

But a move against Corbyn himself had been an inherent possibility in the single-minded campaign against ‘Corbynism’ that Starmer has conducted since his ascent to the Labour leadership earlier this year.

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Editorial: The Establishment HRC does the job

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report, released on October 29 – Investigation into Antisemitism in the Labour Party – is a serious challenge to the rights of the workers’ movement to organise independently of the capitalist class and its agencies.

The report is written in a coy legalese not explicitly attacking Jeremy Corbyn’s four-and-a-half year leadership of the Labour Party, although easily re-messaged by the media to do so with the venal BBC again to the fore.

There is a nod to the right of Labour Party members to “express their opinions on internal party matters, such as the scale of antisemitism within the party” (which Keir Starmer promptly overturned with his suspension of Corbyn).

But the ‘welcome’ given to the report and its recommendations even by those defending Jeremy Corbyn, is mistaken. This is a deeply political document, doing a job for the capitalist establishment.

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Tory austerity vultures regroup

The end of austerity has been heralded many times by leading Tories over the last few years but never actually arrived. Behind the populist declarations nothing has been done to reverse the deep and damaging cuts of the last decade. Government departments were asked to cut budgets by five per cent at the start of this year. The living standards of the working class remain squeezed.

However, coronavirus has forced Boris Johnson’s government to spend big. As in many other countries, the Tories have turned to state spending to try and limit the catastrophic economic falls triggered by the health crisis – £280 billion of pandemic-related spending has already been made, including £73 billion for job retention measures.

This ‘Covid Keynesianism’ runs contrary to the Tories’ usual neo-liberal instincts. There are ideologues on the right of the party who have swallowed their own lies that austerity was an economic necessity hook, line and sinker. There have been rumblings of discontent from these deficit hawks even as the health crisis rages on. They’re already looking to sharpen the axe for public spending.

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A Farage comeback?

In October Nigel Farage, former leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), applied to the electoral commission to change the name of his current party from the Brexit Party to ‘Reform’.

He has presented it as the ‘anti-lockdown party’, as well as advocating electoral and constitutional reform. He talks about the economic damage done by lockdown measures and advocates the discredited theory, opposed by most scientists, that isolation of the most vulnerable could go alongside allowing ‘herd immunity’ to develop free of any restrictions for everyone else.

Given his past success with right-wing populism through UKIP, could he be on the way to a comeback? Some liberal commentators have poured cold water over Reform’s prospects, citing a YouGov opinion poll at the beginning of the most recent national lockdown, which said 72% of people supported going into lockdown with only 23% opposed. However, support was lower than at the beginning of the first lockdown measures when it was 93%, and things can change again.

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Spying on socialism

Almost six years after it was set up, the first phase of the Undercover Policing Inquiry – the Mitting Inquiry – finally took place for fourteen days from 2 November 2020. HANNAH SELL looks at the lessons to be learnt, and introduces the opening statement to the Inquiry made by the legal team for three Socialist Party members.

The first tranche of the Inquiry covered the formation of the ‘Special Demonstration Squad’ (SDS) in 1968, then known as the Special Operations Squad, and its activities up until 1972. The next phase, covering from 1973–1982, is due to take place in the spring of next year. The Inquiry as a whole, chaired by the retired judge Sir John Mitting, is expected to finish as late as 2026.

Moving at a snail’s pace the Inquiry is also not very public. Unlike other recent public inquiries the first phase was not livestreamed as demanded by core-participants. It has not released the names of the big majority of the organisations spied on, nor has it given us the real – or even the cover – names of the majority of spies. The ‘non-state core participants’ – those who were spied on – have in almost all cases still received none of the police files relevant to them. The SDS reported to MI5, the domestic secret security service, but the latter’s actions are not part of the Inquiry.

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Opening statement to the Undercover Policing Inquiry

These are extracts from the Opening Statement by James Scobie QC (Garden Court Chambers), Piers Marquis (Doughty Street Chambers) and Paul Heron (Public Interest Law Centre) on behalf of Dave Nellist, Lois Austin, Hannah Sell, Richard Chessum and ‘Mary’. The full statement can be found at bit.ly/PILCopeningstatement 

The bulk of the tactics that have outraged and disgusted society to the extent that this Inquiry had to be called, were being used as far back as 1975. They were not aberrations. They were repeated time and time again. They were systematic and systemic.

Lois Austin and Hannah Sell helped set up Youth Against Racism in Europe; a campaigning group aimed at a united response to racism and racist violence. It was a mass protest movement, advocating peaceful change, combating racism with socialist ideas rather than violence and campaigning around the concept of ‘jobs and homes, not racism’. A significant part of their campaign was against the British National Party (BNP) in Tower Hamlets and South East London. In the latter, the BNP set up their headquarters in Welling. They began recruiting locally, even outside of schools, and the incidence of racist attacks increased significantly and escalated in severity. In February 1991 Rolan Adams was murdered. In July 1992 Rohit Duggal was murdered. In April 1993 Stephen Lawrence was murdered. That is real crime that needed to be prevented. That is a job for the police.

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Trump out but not down

As in the 2016 US presidential election Donald Trump was heavily defeated in the popular vote and on this occasion in the undemocratic electoral college too.  But the conditions that created Trumpism have not gone away, argues ROBERT BECHERT of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI).

In the US and around the world millions greeted Trump’s defeat in November’s presidential elections. His removal from office, notwithstanding his legal claims, will be widely welcomed. Clearly there will be changes within the US and international repercussions – although many of the worldwide changes will be in trying to act more closely with traditional US allies than in fundamental policy shifts, for example in dealing with the Chinese regime.

But while Trump’s defeat was welcomed, the limits of Joe Biden’s victory were clear. Despite his huge vote there was no ‘blue wave’ for the Democratic Party. And it was not just Biden’s but also Trump’s vote that soared in the polarised election. The Republicans can, depending on January’s special election in Georgia, hold the Senate and, in this election, made gains in the House of Representatives.

As the Independent Socialist Group, CWI supporters in the USA, explained: “Biden mostly ran against Trump rather than for meaningful policies”. A result was that in some areas there was less motivation to vote.

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Lesser evil Democrats won’t end Trumpism

JEFF BOOTH, of the Independent Socialist Group, reports on the situation in the US and what needs to be done after Biden’s victory.

The outcome of the 2020 elections can only be understood in the context of the economic and social crisis in the US. Covid-19 infections are exploding. People in the US suffer from the most deaths due to coronavirus of any country. The recession that is now gripping the US was in process before the pandemic hit. But the pandemic accelerated the economic downturn and as the recession deepens, tens of millions face increasing job, housing, and food insecurity.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics “long-term unemployment (27 weeks and over) continues to rise,  increasing by 1.2 million in October. State and local employment continue to decline, falling 130,000 in October. The labor market is down 1.3 million state and local government jobs over the last eight months – most of it (more than one million) in education”.

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