By JANE KELLY
LONDON-In April, three nail bombs exploded here. Two went off in areas of Black communities-Brixton in South London, where about 40 percent of the population is Afro-Caribbean and Brick Lane in East London, home to the Bangladeshi community.
Then April 30, another bomb was detonated in a gay bar in Old Compton Street, in Soho, an area of many gay and lesbian bars and restaurants.
Many people have been badly injured, including three fatalities from the latest attack, several traumatic amputations, and people badly hurt from shrapnel, flying nails, glass, etc.
Despite initial police reluctance to accept that the Brixton bomb was racist in intention-after the claim by Combat 18, the White Wolves, and later several other neo-fascist groupings that they had set it off-it became clear to everyone that the far right had been at work.
The later bombing of a gay bar was not unexpected. Indeed, the police had been warning leaders of the gay and lesbian community to be on their guard against possible further attacks.
So far several people have been arrested and let out on bail and, as we go to press, one person is still being held. Police are claiming that explosive material was found in his house outside London.
Why has this happened now and what does it mean about the state of the far-right political groupings in Britain? One significant element referred to by many commentators was the publication of the McPherson Enquiry Report into the racist murder of Black teenager Stephen Lawrence and the failure to prosecute five suspects.
This came out with far reaching criticisms of the police failure to investigate the murder, called the Metropolitan (London) Police force “institutionally racist,” and demanded immediate steps be taken by the police force (nationwide) and all other public sector organizations to put into place training and procedures to eradicate racist responses.
The week of its publication there was little else in the media, with television programs re-enacting the enquiry, interviews with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Condon-demanding he apologize to the Lawrence family for the complete failure of his police force to properly investigate the death of their son-and numerous discussions of Black peoples’ experiences at the hands of the police.
The acceptance both by the government and by the population generally that the police and other organizations are “institutionally racist” has had a major impact on the Black community, giving them greater confidence that complaints and criticisms will be taken seriously.
The founding meeting of a new National Civil Rights Movement in Britain, held in March this year and modeled on the American example of the 1960s, proved yet again how necessary it is for the Black community, along with the Irish and those seeking political asylum in Britain, to organize together to fight racism. Numerous family campaigns, fighting for justice in cases of deaths in police custody and racist murders, were represented at the meeting.
It is also true that while the “New” Labour government is following Tory policies with regard to economics and employment as well as continuing the program of privatization, on many social issues-such as the gay age of consent, which is in the process of being equalized with the heterosexual age-they are more progressive.
This is of course contradictory. While the Labour Party in opposition promised to set up the enquiry into the Lawrence affair, which they did after they were elected, at the same time they are putting in place draconian legislation against those seeking political asylum in Britain.
This is the context in which the far right finds itself extremely isolated and on the defensive. While they have been able to kill and maim with their lethal nail bombs, the response by the population of London has been to organize meetings and demonstrations and to argue that an attack on any one section of the community is an attack on us all.
This was the theme behind a demonstration held in London on May 1. Traditionally a trade-union demonstration, it was transformed into an alliance of the working class and the oppressed, with a march from Brixton to the May Day rally in Trafalgar Square and then continuing on to Soho.
Such an coalition has not been seen since the great Miners’ Strike of 1984-5, when solidarity with the miners included the labor movement, women’s groups, lesbian and gay organizations, and Black and Irish groups.
One debate that has resulted is the question of whether to ban the far-right groups associated with these outrages. Ken Livingston, former left-wing leader of the Greater London Council, now a London MP, has called for the introduction of a Prevention of Terrorism Act against them, similar to that used against the Irish community, and for such far-right groups to be banned.
Home Minister Jack Straw, to the right politically, has said he is not persuaded that this would be of any help, for banning would simply drive them further underground.
Socialist Outlook, the newspaper of Fourth Internationalists in Britain, is opposed to the introduction of further state measures, including the banning of political organizations, which would be used against the left as well as the right. Instead, street demonstrations and self-defense must be the response.
It seems that this is the response of those groups directly targeted and most of the rest of the population too. “YOU CAN”T KILL US ALL!” said the posters put up around Soho after the bomb went off.