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Remembering and reflecting on the 'Battle of Lewisham' in August 1977, when a mobilisation by the far-right National Front in South East London was met by mass opposition. A series of events to mark the 30th anniversary. Contact lewisham77@gmail.com

Monday, 4 February 2008

John Lockwood on the signifiance of the Battle of Lewisham

John Lockwood was one of the speakers at our November 2007 Lewisham '77 commemorative event. He was active in the local anti-racist movement while a postgraduate student at Goldsmiths in the late 1970s. Here we print his personal reflections on the politics of the Battle of Lewisham.

The events of Lewisham were a great victory for the myriad forces of anti racism in Britain. This was an historic victory in the sense that it changed the balance of forces between the left / liberal masses and the fascist / racist alliance that had underpinned the N.F. project and in the end… changed the course of history.

On both sides of this divide there were “broad churches”. The hardcore nazis were, then as now, very few in number, perhaps a few hundred. They needed to deploy the tens of thousands of young, poor and disaffected white youth who, whilst being violently racist were not (or not yet) fully fledged fascists. Drawing on the teachings of their master, Adolf Hitler, they sought to deliver

"great demonstrations and mass rallies [through which] we instil in the minds of the little man that although he is a worm he is part of a mighty dragon."

On our side of the divide there was a broad alliance between socialists (revolutionary and other) and “small l” liberals. Broadly speaking the socialists, informed by the above rationale, and inspired by recent successes at Wood Lane, wanted to physically confront and, by force of numbers, prevent the nazi march.. The liberals wanted to avoid any confrontation and simply display their condemnation of racism and fascism.

Personally, I never doubted the anti-racist conviction of the liberal camp but between us there was a massive gulf. We believed that if we could win the majority of non-aligned anti-racists to our position, we could break the back of the National Front. If, however, we failed to win that argument and Lewisham had been just another in the long line of anti fascist skirmishes, then nothing would have been put in the way of the fastest growing political force in Europe.

It is perhaps ironic that the most vociferous voices in the “liberal” camp were those of the C.P.G.B [Communist Party of Great Britain] whilst others who might have been expected to be card carrying (small l) liberals defied expectations… At a key stage in the bitter debates within A.L.C.R.A.F., the Communist Party proposed (as an alternative to the counter demo) an anti-racist music and poetry event involving socialist folk songs and Christian hymns, humanist poetry and prayer… but it wasn’t the far left who demolished this idea. It was a priest who declared:

"prayers: what the hell is the point of that… we need to be in Clifton Rise [the N.F. assembly point]"

…although we are frequently accused of such manoeuvres, I swear he was not a Trotskyist entryist within the clergy.

A second major contention dividing socialist and liberal ideas concerned the absolute right to free speech… many decent ant-racist people felt very troubled by the call to deny the streets to Nazis citing free speech rights. The events following the racist murder of Gurdip Singh Chaggar in Southall (1976) illustrate the absurdity of this position.

Following this murder, N.F. chairman, John Kingsley Reed, declared

“that’s one down, one million to go”
…this incitement to mass murder was contrary to new race laws… He was charged and brought to court but rather than finding himself banged up he was told by the judge:

“I wish you well in your project”
…the judge didn’t clarify if the project in question was that of genocide.

After this fiasco the absolute right of free speech seemed indefensible. If John Kingsley Reed’s freedom to campaign for genocide is absolute. And if the right of black people to walk our streets unmolested is absolute. And if these two absolute freedoms are mutually exclusive then are we not entitled to pose the question: Which of these two freedoms is the higher freedom? No sane person could be troubled by this choice.

As history records, August 13 1977, was not just another in a long list of anti-fascist skirmishes, it was the day that the Nazis were dealt a blow from which they have never, to this day, recovered.

1 comment:

Little Richardjohn said...

" we could break the back of the National Front."

"never, to this day recovered from..."

As I drifted home from Lewisham that day, I never believed that fascism had been permanently defeated by a few broken heads and the appearance of the first riot shields on mainland Britain. Fascism is a symptom of a system in crisis. We are still living under the same system, which undergoes the same crises, and which is just as likely to spawn fascist mass movements now as it ever was.

And so we have a fascist in City Hall.

http://littlerichardjohn.blogspot.com/2005/10/bermondsey-rednecks-and-why-1.html

in spite of the determination of most Londoners, of all creeds, to live in peace.

http://littlerichardjohn.blogspot.com/search?q=The+Seige+of+Lebanon..+Parliament+Sq.+5%2F8%2F06.+5pm.