British Communism and the Politics of Race


British Communism and the Politics of Race explores the role that the Communist Party of Great Britain played within the anti-racism movement in Britain from the 1940s to the 1980s. As one of the first organisations to undertake serious anti-colonial and anti-racist activism within the British labour movement, the CPGB was a pioneering force that campaigned against racial discrimination, popular imperialism and fascist violence in British society.

The book examines the balancing act that the Communist Party negotiated in its anti-racist work, between making appeals to the labour movement to get involved in the fight against racism and working with Britain's ethnic minority communities, who often felt let down by the trade unions and the Labour Party. Transitioning from a class-based outlook to an embrace of the new social movements of the 1960s–70s, the CPGB played an important role in the anti-racist struggle, but by the 1980s, it was eclipsed by more radical and diverse activist organisations.

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Evan Smith, Ph.D. (2007), Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia, is a Visiting Adjunct Fellow at that university. He co-wrote Race, Gender and the Body in British Immigration Control (Palgrave, 2014) and co-edited Against the Grain: The British Far Left from 1956 (MUP, 2014).

Shifting Away from the Centrality of Class
Thinking Intersectionally about the CPGB and the Politics of ‘Race’
Situating the Party’s Anti-racism within the Wider Scholarship
A Note on Methodology
Book Structure

1 The End of Empire and the Windrush Moment, 1945–60
The Communist Party’s Anti-colonial Traditions
The CPGB and the Era of Decolonisation
Left Nationalism and the Postwar CPGB
The Response of the Communist Party to Commonwealth Migration
The Campaign Against Polish Resettlement
The Legacy of the ‘Battle of Cable Street’ and the CPGB’s Postwar Anti-fascism
Anti-fascist Action against the Fascist Revival of the Union Movement, 1945–51
The Impact of Commonwealth Migrants upon the Party’s Anti-colonial/Anti-racist Outlook
The Nationality Branches

2 Anti-racism and Building the ‘Mass Party’, 1960–9
The Communist Party, Labour and Immigration Controls
The Principle of Immigration Controls
The Campaign for Legislation against Racial Discrimination
The Race Relations Acts Under Labour, 1965–8
The CPGB’s Concept of ‘Race’ in the Post-Colonial Era
The Movement for Colonial Freedom and Moderate Anti-racism
The Beginnings of the ‘British Upturn’ and the Radicalism of ‘1968’
The Trade Unions and Race
The Rise of New Social Movements and Black Radicalism
The Link with International Issues
Capitulating to Racism: Labour and the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968
Integration and ‘Good Race Relations’: The 1968 Race Relations Act
Powellism and the Rise of the National Front

3 The Crisis Emerges, 1970–5
The 1971 Immigration Act and Opposition to the Conservative Government
The Communist Party and the Reaction of the Trade Unions to the Immigration Act
Facing the Limits of Industrial Militancy
The Ugandan Asian ‘Controversy’ and the Rise of the National Front under the Conservatives
The ‘No Platform’ Strategy
Red Lion Square and the Death of Kevin Gately
The Trade Union Response to Fascism and Racism in the 1970s
Asian Workers and the Trade Unions in the Early 1970s: Mansfield Hosiery Mills and Imperial Typewriters

4 The Great Moving Right Show, 1976–9
The Building of the Broad Democratic Alliance
The Grunwick Strike
Intersectionality and the British Labour Movement
Policing the Labour Movement
The NF’s Shift to the Streets and the Rise of the Asian Youth Movements
The Rise of the SWP and the Revival of Militant Anti-fascism
The ‘Battle of Lewisham’
‘The National Front is a Nazi Front’: The Anti-Nazi League, 1977–9
Rock Against Racism
The ANL and the Wider British left
Southall and the Death of Blair Peach
‘Feeling Rather Swamped’: Thatcher and the Exploitation of Popular Racism

5 Babylon’s Burning: Into the 1980s
Further Defeats for the CPGB
The Police and the Black Communities
From Southall to Brixton: The Violent Reaction to the Police Under Thatcher
‘Crisis in the Inner Cities’: The Communist Party’s Reaction
The 1981 Riots as Social Protest
Lord Scarman’s Report and the Denial of Institutional Racism
The Broad Democratic Alliance and Municipal Anti-racism
The ‘Limits’ of Trade Unionism in the 1980s
The Push for Black Sections/Caucuses within the Labour Movement
The End of the Party


This book will be of interest to readers of British left-wing history and politics, as well as those interested in the history of British race relations, including academics, postgraduate students and activists.
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