While the WRP was fighting the trade unions on behalf of the GLC, trouble was developing on another front in the class struggle. Thousands of oppressed immigrant workers and youth in London, Manchester and Liverpool rose up against the squalid conditions of capitalism and the brutality and racism of the police. These rebellions expressed not only the hatred of the youth toward Thatcher but also their contempt for the hoardes of social democratic office holders who function as the wardens of the inner-city ghettos. These rebellions were by no means accidental, and expressed the frustration generated by the incessant betrayals of the Labourites: their hypocritical appeals for patience, their refusal to mobilize youth against the forces of the capitalist state, and their inability to improve their conditions.
The fact that the WRP was seen by thousands of youth in Brixton and Toxteth as the allies of the reformists only intensified their frustrations and convinced them that there existed no way to make their views known except through a spontaneous uprising. If these rebellions were without leadership and program, the WRP must be held largely responsible. In the summer of 1981, what alternative could the WRP offer to the rebellious youth seeking a way to fight the Tories and their reformist servants? Its talk of an “anti-Tory” struggle led by the left talkers could only appear comical to youth who instinctively despised these hopeless Parliamentarians. Nor could it propose a turn to the working class, for the WRP had just instructed the unions to submit to the discipline of the GLC. In short, the WRP had nothing to show the youth except a blind alley.
The political logic of the WRP leaders’ capitulation to the reformist agents of the capitalist state found its most obscene expression in their hysterical denunciations of the rebellions—to which they habitually referred as riots—and their attempts to deny that there existed any real objective basis for the explosive tensions. Instead the News Line insisted that the rebellions were really state provocations. This formulation conveniently allowed the WRP leaders to denounce the rebellious youth in the name of the “anti-Tory struggle” while, at the same time, avoiding any political attack on the local Labour governments which presided over the beseiged areas.
In an editorial which appeared in the July 11, 1981 issue of the News Line, the WRP opined that “Labour-controlled councils are being plunged further into debt by the riot damage and the huge cost of policing.” Why didn’t the WRP tackle this problem by demanding that the GLC throw the cops out of the areas?
On July 18, 1981, the News Line published a statement of the WRP Political Committee entitled: “The Riots: Police-Army Provocation?” It attempted to prove that the rebellions were the product of a conspiracy masterminded by special agents of the state who were “working to create bloody conflict in Britain.” It claimed that the “riots” had been orchestrated to enable to Tories to carry out “a violent pre-emptive strike against the working class using terror and intimidation against all government opponents”
Calling for “total vigilance against police infiltrators and army agent provocateurs,” the WRP insisted that the rebellion “was not simply a spontaneous outburst against unemployment or social deprivation inflicted by Tory policies. On the contrary, each incident was deliberately generated by the actions of the police special units.”
Blackguarding large sections of the East Asian and Black community as provocateurs or their dupes, these cowardly scoundrels complained that “the police made no attempt whatsoever to stop the smashing of windows and looting.”
Acting as the mouthpiece of the GLC, the WRP Political Committee noted resentfully that “All the Cities and Boroughs where the riots have taken place are Labour-controlled.” Rather than analyzing this weighty political phenomenon, the Healyites offered their condolences to the reformists: “Riot damage is going to add enormously to their running costs under conditions in which Heseltine has refused to yield a penny more. The situation is fast approaching when these local authorities will not be able to cope with the cost of policing and defending the remnants of essential social services.”
The statement concluded: “We restate our complete opposition to young unemployed people falling for police provocations and engaging in looting and acts of vandalism. This will not solve any of the problems they face and only provide candidates for Whitelaw’s concentration camps when the real struggle is against the Tories and for the social revolution.”
Those who wrote and voted for this statement deserved to be run naked through the streets of Brixton and Toxteth and spat upon. The reactionary charlatans on Healy’s Political Committee could not concede what even the Tory jurist Lord Scarman was forced to admit in his Commission report that was issued several months later: that there existed objective causes for the youth rebellions.
In December 1981, two months after the publication of the Scarman report, WRP General Secretary Banda replied to its findings in a lengthy article spanning eight pages in the News Line. It was a belated attempt to clear the air of the stench created by the Party’s line on the rebellion and restore the WRP’s credibility among the youth of Brixton and Toxteth. Perhaps it was also an attempt on Banda’s part to settle accounts with his own conscience.
Banda’s analysis amounted to an unintended but devastating indictment of the position of the WRP Political Committee. Dedicating his article to the memory of youth killed during the rebellions and “to the tenacity, unity and courage of the thousands of youth and adult workers who defended their homes and communities against police terror and Tory government provocations,” Banda’s version of events totally contradicted the claims made by the WRP during the past summer.
Far from labelling the youth as provocateurs, Banda celebrated their struggle: “For a whole weekend they held the streets against hundreds of police from all parts of the Metropolitan region...
“Brixton burned. But the arson destroyed more than property. It also destroyed, in the minds of many workers, any belief that peaceful co-existence with the forces of state repression—the police—was possible. It revealed with stunning clarity the implacable hatred of millions for the Tory government and the bankrupt capitalist system which had forced them into grinding poverty and deprivation.” (News Line, December 5, 1981)
Banda’s document was written neither to expose Healy nor correct the Party. Now that the rebellions were safely over and Lord Scarman’s findings had endowed the street battles of the previous summer with a certain legitimacy, it was Banda’s specific task to whitewash the record of the WRP. But he was right on one thing. Brixton burned and the arson destroyed more than property. It destroyed the political credibility of the WRP leadership among the working class youth.