On Sunday 30 June, the South London African Caribbean Free Legal and Welfare Advice Surgery (SLACFLWAS) hosted a meeting jointly with the CPGB-ML to oppose oppressive and discriminatory policing and judicial persecution of working-class youth in general, and of black working-class youth in particular. The meeting was addressed by a variety of speakers, and attended by about 100 local residents and community leaders at Brixton’s Karibu education centre.
The meeting was prompted, among other events, by the unwarranted arrest on so-called ‘conspiracy’ charges, of a CPGB-ML member’s son. The young man in question, Jamal, is a fit young British man of African-Caribbean descent. He is in his early twenties, and regularly works out in his local gym together with a friend.
It transpires that Jamal’s friend also knows another young man, who is accused by the Metropolitan police (the Met) of a drug offence – although the person so accused is not known directly to Jamal. Nevertheless, phone calls were made to both the accused and to Jamal from the same mobile telephone of Jamal’s gym partner.
So what, you might well ask? Well, it turns out that this is enough for the police not only to arrest Jamal’s friend, who knew the accused, but also to arrest, detain, imprison, and issue court proceedings on a charge of ‘conspiracy to commit an offence’ against Jamal– even though he did and does not even know the alleged perpetrator!
Our comrade spoke on Jamal’s behalf at the Brixton meeting, describing his outrage and dismay at the unjust treatment meted out to his son. Jamal feels so intimidated and persecuted, said his father, that he does not see a future for himself in Britain – the land of his birth, and the only home he has ever known. He is thinking of leaving for the Caribbean when he is finally acquitted – as he fully expects to be.
Both received a warm and sympathetic hearing from an audience who shared their painful experiences and were sadly familiar with the routine nature of police harassment in their community.
After a month in jail, Jamal has now been released on bail, and his curfew has been reduced to night-time hours, but, bizarrely, the conspiracy case was not dismissed at the initial court hearing and the unjust police and judicial harassment hangs over his head as this article goes to press. Jamal’s court hearing is scheduled for Monday 9 September at Woolwich Crown Court (2 Belmarsh Road, London, SE28 0EY). We encourage Proletarian supporters to attend the court to place the necessary public pressure upon the judge to dismiss the case.
Kathy Sharp, a solicitor who has defended many criminal cases, told Proletarian that, in her experience, “It is routine for young black single mothers, for example, to receive custodial sentences for petty first offences, such as shoplifting, even when these are driven by conditions of extreme poverty and need, while similar offences committed by white working-class defendants often receive a sympathetic hearing and the lightest of sentences.”
This anecdote is indicative of the widespread and institutional racism that permeates every level of the police and judicial system, and heaps an extra level of oppression over and above the ‘normal’ level reserved for workers in general.
Barry Green, a radical barrister who has dedicated his career to defending working-class and black defendants persecuted by the police, spoke passionately against the unjust application of the laws on ‘joint enterprise’. These laws have been used to bring actions against – and pass sentences over – entire groups of young people – in particular black young people – on charges as serious as murder, when that offence was in reality committed by only one person.
Mr Green successfully defended a case in which the Met recently brought charges of murder against an incredible twenty young black men, knowing full well that the crime had been committed by just one of their number, and without the prior knowledge of his co-accused. Even their acquittal, he pointed out, was justice denied, as it had cost many of the defendants their jobs and their homes, and had led to relationship and health problems. The real issue is not the idea of joint enterprise per se, said Mr Green, but the application of that law by a racist police and judicial system that “are rotten to their core”.
That is why, while pursuing a career in the law, and encouraging others from his community to do likewise, Barry Green said he would never consider working for the prosecution, but only ever in defence. It is also why he considers the law to be a tool in the hands of the wealthy and powerful elite, which has only a very limited ability to serve the interests of the poor black community of Brixton – or of the oppressed and working-class in general.
Mr Green said he considered informing the working community of Brixton of the way in which the law was used against them, and how best they could defend themselves from those abuses, to be more effective than to simply practise law in isolation – which was his motivation for speaking at this and similar meetings. It is also why he considers the label ‘radical lawyer’ to be an oxymoron – a contradiction in terms: because (bourgeois) law is by definition the tool of the [capitalist] elite, and is used by that elite against the (property-less, proletarian) working masses.
Another speaker, Trish, illustrated the point by relating the story of her own son, a young black man who was simply walking in the street when he encountered two men having an altercation. He went to offer his assistance and was witness as one of the men stabbed and killed the other. Rather than commending him for his bravery, the police went on to charge him under ‘joint enterprise’ for murder – although he did not know either of the men – and, surreally, an overwhelmingly white jury were led to convict him.
As the aggrieved mother of an unjustly imprisoned son, whose live has been given over to trying to secure his release, Trish is facing a further threat of eviction from her council housing under the new bedroom tax legislation, since she now officially has a ‘spare’ bedroom.
Twilight Bey addressed the meeting at length on the relationship between the illegal drugs trade – which accounts for the single largest number of transactions of any sector of the global economy, and as such represents a vital part of the capitalist economic system – and the political system of imperialism, which backs the criminalisation of black and working-class youth and their induction into the prison economy.
He pointed out that the prison population is disproportionately composed of black youth – not just in his native USA, but also here in Britain – and that the prison population continues to swell year on year, even though crime rates are falling. Spending on education is down, he said, since young educated workers, lacking a future, are likely to create serious problems for the capitalists, while imprisoned workers create a slave labour force and providing prison services is another source of revenue generated from state incomes.
While Mr Bey dazzled the audience with his slick PowerPoint presentation and poetic turn of phrase, his solution was essentially Garveyite: the black community, he said, need to stop losing control of their money: ie, they need to stop being wage-earners and spenders, and start being small business-owners and capitalists. Owning a chicken farm would earn the money to buy the luxury items (BMW cars and docklands flats) that the youth are taught by society to covet, he said.
Comrade Ranjeet brought greetings to the meeting from the CPGB-ML. He opened his contribution by summing up the consensus opinion that the meeting understood the nature of the state – that it was racist and unjust. But could the brothers and sisters, comrades and friends attending the meeting ever remember or think of a time that the state had been just? No! they replied. Comrade Ranjeet went on to explain that Marxists understand that this is because the state – the police, army, courts, prison system, etc – constitutes a special body of armed men used by the ruling class to oppress the working class.
Lenin famously stated that any country where the police were paid more than teachers was a police state! The US, Britain, and other capitalist countries – not China, Korea or Cuba, as we are so often told by the capitalist media – are the chief police and prison states, and abusers of human rights, in the modern world. And this is a reflection of the fact that, in our countries, the ruling class knows it can’t offer a decent future to workers, so relies on force and coercion to keep us in our place rather than cultivation and persuasion.
Police forces in every capitalist city across Europe and the US have slogans claiming to ‘serve and protect’ the community – but who do they really serve and protect? The state is not a neutral body standing above classes, as the law would abstractly theorise, but a tool of oppression wielded by the exploiting class.
That is why, for example, during the miners’ strike of 1984/5, the police turned out in their thousands to beat the striking miners, who were defending their livelihoods and their entire working-class communities, but never once cracked the heads of the handful of mine-owners, the coal board, industrialists, financiers or their political leader, Margaret Thatcher, who were together threatening, and ultimately carried through, devastating attacks on those working-class communities.
(The Durham area, for example, was formerly home to over 100 pits and miners’ lodges, but has now not a single coal-mining enterprise left.)
The state does not have to be racist, but our rulers find racism to be an exceptionally useful tool to divide the working class, and thus to reinforce their rule – particularly at this time when we are witnessing the most severe recession and economic crisis of capitalist overproduction ever seen in human history.
I don’t have to tell you about the racist nature of the police, said Comrade Ranjeet. Working people, and particularly black youth, feel the burden of police harassment every day as a constant source of grievance and frustration in their lives. Far from trusting the police to protect us from violence, we know that black and working-class youth are frequently the victims of violence at the hands of the police.
We know that Smiley Culture, for example, met his violent end, stabbed with a knife though his heart, when surrounded by police officers in his own home. We know that instead of offering the young black teenager Stephen Lawrence first aid, police left him to bleed to death on the road from stab wounds inflicted by his racist attackers. In order to cover up this negligence, they destroyed the evidence that would have convicted his attackers, and, it now transpires, instituted surveillance not against the racist thugs who attacked him, but against his parents – more upright citizens it would be hard to imagine – in the hope of finding ways to smear them and divert attention from their own racism and criminality.
That is why the shooting – still unaccounted for two years later – of unarmed father of four Mark Duggan triggered such widespread outrage and uprisings across the country. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
The CPGB-ML was the only party in Britain that did not condemn the ‘riots’ of 2011, but rather characterised that youth uprising as an understandable and justifiable outpouring of the anger and rage of Britain’s oppressed working-class – not only black – youth, against their systematic harassment at the hands of the police. We in the CPGB-ML refuse to equate the violence of the oppressed with the violence of the oppressor. Rather, we say that this outpouring of anger was unfocussed and misdirected. It was not systematic or far-reaching enough. It lacked political understanding and clarity. It lacked leadership. And so it did not achieve the change it so desperately sought.
So what is the solution to our problems? Not everyone can be a chicken farmer, and very few – an insignificant fraction of the population – can raise themselves from the ranks of the working class to the ranks of the monopoly-capitalist bourgeoisie, no matter how often we are told that our society is a ‘meritocracy’. Rather, the tiny handful of monopoly capitalists constantly push the small-scale capitalist exploiters and petty-bourgeois business owners out of business and firmly into the ranks of the working class by the ruthless pressure of competition from their vast enterprises.
Salvation for the masses, therefore, cannot possibly lie along the path of promotion to the ranks of the exploiters. The particular discrimination against the black community results and rests in them being restricted to the deepest ranks of the downtrodden and oppressed proletariat. If unemployment for British youth lies at an unbearable 25 percent, for young black men it stands at a staggering 60 percent. When the opportunity even to earn a living wage is lacking, how are black workers to force their way into the ranks of the exploiting classes, even should they desire to do so?
The economic crisis consists precisely in the almost unlimited expansion of the abilities of modern means of production to produce the necessities of life for all humanity – food, clothing, shelter, education, culture and a meaningful existence – but their inability in practise to fulfil this promise while concentrated in the hands of a tiny clique of exploiting monopoly capitalists. Although the capitalists cheapen production by discharging ever more of their workers, in so doing they impoverish the masses, causing the market to contract to the point that the capitalist cannot sell his goods – cheap as they are. So he simply stops production and would rather dump the stockpiled produce into the ocean than satisfy the crying needs and wants of humanity.
Comrade Ranjeet went on to say that he agreed with some of the speakers who had indicated that the solution is to create real mass participation of working people in politics – but not bourgeois politics. Nothing will come of supporting the Labour party, the LibDems, the Tories, or any of the other bourgeois parties.
Mass participation must mean the real transfer of power to the hands of working people. Workers cannot expect any other group or class to wield power on their behalf and really address the problems and issues that face them. Working-class youth must understand that it is the system of capitalist exploitation itself that oppresses them. It can offer them no future; and so it is up to us to break this system of exploitation and forge our own bright socialist future.
I am proud to be here today, said Ranjeet, but saddened and ashamed also at the composition of the audience, for the struggle against racism is not the private affair of the black community. Racism affects everyone in the society who lives in it. It is a tool by which workers are divided and by which the white working class, just as much as the black working class is chained to the system of its exploitation.
Although the special burden of racism falls chiefly on black workers, the wider sections of the working class are just as much its victims, and it is the special duty of the white working class to fight against racism and eradicate it from the working-class movement, if we are ever to be free.
“Labour in the white skin cannot be free, where in the black it is branded.” (K Marx, Capital, Vol 1, Chapter 10)
Comrade Ranjeet finished by explaining that it would not be possible to espouse every aspect of our communist ideology in one short speech, and so asked the audience to take away a copy of Red Youth’s pamphlet of aims, We Want Freedom, which outlines our basic values and principles, and our way of looking at the world. It is not some cheap sales push, he said, but a valuable tool that in the hands of the working class can help to win real liberation.
He cited the words at the back of the pamphlet by Nikolai Ostrovsky, a young Russian worker who joined the Bolsheviks, and fought in the Russian civil war to overthrow tsarist and capitalist exploitation and forge a bright new future for the workers not only of Russia but of all countries, and whose creed sums up the essence of the values we hold dear:
“Man’s dearest possession is life, and since it is given to him to live but once, he must so live as to feel no torturing regrets for years without purpose; so live as not to be seared with the shame of a cowardly and trivial past; so live, that dying he can say: ‘All my life and all my strength were given to the finest cause in all the world – the liberation of mankind.’”
The speech was warmly received and, during the discussion that followed (led by Comrade Minka of SLACFLWAS), members of the audience went on to make the point that broad political unity beyond the black community, extending to all radical sections of the British working class, is needed to fight economic and political exploitation and discrimination.
Excellent Caribbean food was prepared and served for participants, and Comrade Shanice filmed the meeting. Contributions can be seen on her YouTube channel, streetnewstv .