There’s an increasing concern about neo-fascist infiltration of school playgrounds today – so it’s worth a quick glance back to what the situation was like in the late 70s and early 80s when neo-Nazis were very active among school pupils.
Football terraces were good recruitment grounds for the far right but schools were another arena of activity. In one report, there was a quote from a fascist group:
We welcome young people. We make or break them. Many are coming to us with the rise in unemployment. Skinheads are prime material – raw and aggressive. They need an identity. The whole point of getting children is to indoctrinate them. We are building a Nazi society through the youth of today.
Chilling stuff. The British Movement and National Front were particularly active. I recall one pupil from my school returning from a BM conference (from memory in Brussels in 1980) replete with skinhead cut and a perma-snarl. He walked up to me in the school library and informed me that I was a “pinko…leftie…etc”. John Tyndall, chairman of the NF in the 70s said that “until children reach an age at which they are able to determine their own values, some sort of values have to be instilled into them”. According to the 1974 NF manifesto, schools were to be segregated on the basis of race and liberal studies – or “academic Marxism” as they called it – would be banned.
The NF’s youth wing took over the magazine Bulldog and that became its main recruiting tool in schools. It included a campaign to remove “red teachers” from the classroom. They sometimes found themselves competing with other far right groups like Viking Youth, led by Paul Jarvis – who was also looking for recruits in the Scout movement! The BM produced a publication called Fact Finder, which included a “Lie Detector”. According to this, the heroes of the Nuremburg Trials were those on trial! Needless to say, holocaust denial featured highly.
Reported incidents in 1980/81 included:
- May 1980 – black pupils at a Camden school attacked by skinheads from the National Socialist Party of the United Kingdom
- October 1980 – BM recruiting at schools in Dartford, Kent
- October 1980 – Young National Front campaign against a teacher at a Dover school
- February 1981 – Manchester school daubed with swastikas and NF symbols
- March 1981 – 33 pupils, mostly Asian, leave a classroom at a Birmingham school before a fire-bomb explosion – racist attack suspected
Digging this National Front filth from my archives, I was struck how far to the right the mainstream political parties have moved these days. There was the NF calling on Britain to leave the Common Market (forerunner of the European Union) and now it’s de rigeur to be eurosceptic to a degree – any enthusiasm for the European project seems to have evaporated.
On immigration – the main parties haven’t yet advocated repatriation but the assumption that immigration is a ‘bad thing’ has become dominant. Back in the 70s, the NF wasn’t shy about talk of “sending THEM back” – even if the people they were referring to were second even third generation black and Asian Britons. Today, UKIP has called for the children of immigrants to be classed as migrants and all parties have promised to ‘get tough’ on immigration and remove benefits.
The NF made great headway spreading lies about immigrants grabbing social housing – yet that assumption goes unchallenged today by many mainstream politicians. Ditto the health service being overrun by so-called “health tourists”. And we’ve had British jobs for British workers rhetoric from politicians on the left that would have been screamed down as utterly racist 30 years back.
What’s your view? Here’s the leaflet from the bad old days:
Even in a lifetime, parts of London can change dramatically and Shoreditch is a huge transformation story. Thirty five years ago, it was a battleground between neo-Nazis and anti-fascists. National Front supporters would strut through Brick Lane intimidating the local Asian population and spray painting swastikas and racist graffiti. And in 1978, the NF set up its headquarters in deepest Hoxton – 73 Great Eastern Street to be precise.
In the spring of 78, the Anti Nazi League and Rock Against Racism organised a huge anti-racist carnival in Victoria Park, Mile End – which I attended with my school mates. In our group was the son of Len Murray, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, a fellow pupil at my school. On what was a magical day, we watched The Clash play in the park as well as the Tom Robinson Band – not a combo remembered much by anybody aged under 40.
Later the same year, south London got its chance to rock against the National Front with a carnival in Brockwell Park. But the word went out that while the capital’s anti-racists were watching some great bands – the Nazis would be taking over the east end. The call went out for some of those who opposed the NF to forego the music and counter-demonstrate against the far right in Shoreditch. Here’s the original leaflet.
After 1979, there was a calamitous rise in unemployment – especially among the youth. In northern cities like Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle – a kind of dole culture took hold. You could be forgiven for thinking that not having a job was the norm while being in work was some kind of privilege. Local authorities and trade unions funded unemployment centres. I recall the centre in Liverpool on Hardman Street with a pub attached at the back called The Flying Picket where you might bump into Alexei Sayle at the bar on some nights.
Some of these centres produced cheap newspapers for and by the unemployed. They would normally reflect the opinions of the dominant political group within the centre – often on the ultra-left. Here are some examples – note the attack on the TUC for not doing enough for the unemployed. A common theme at the time was that the Labour Party and trade union leadership were sadly wanting in the face of the Thatcherite onslaught.
Does anybody remember a campaign in 1982 to keep Croxteth Comprehensive open in Liverpool? The closure of this school gave the impression – along with dozens of other policies – that the Tories in Westminster didn’t give a damn about inner city areas. It’s hard to imagine now – with our more touchy feely Tories – how Thatcher made it abundantly clear what she thought of Scotland, the North and traditional working class areas. They were not part of her future.
At this time, the Croxteth district of Liverpool had over 90% youth unemployment. I remember those official statistics of the time that showed how bleak things were – let alone the unofficial stats. The Crocky wasn’t just a school – it was a community facility, a beating heart in an area beaten up by recession.
Emptying out my parents’ attic as they downsize, I opened a tatty plastic bag and out fell a load of political badges from the 1980s. These were worn with pride on my lapels at various demos back in the day. They date from about 1979, when I’d have been 16 years old through to around 1984 and the miners’ strike. As a snapshot of what we fought, cared and fretted about – they’re truly fascinating. And the language now seems a bit dated on some of them.
Take a look at the photos below and I’ll just chat through some of them. Nuclear arms – big obsessions. There were surveys at that time where most young people honestly believed there would be a nuclear catastrophe in their lifetime. Remember we had the Soviet Union versus Uncle Sam and in 1981, I went on the massive CND demo to Hyde Park. I remember one old dear screaming at me that I was as bad as those Hitler loving pacifists in the 1930s Peace Pledge Union. Another big demo that year was the People’s March for Jobs and you can see a big badge there for that.
The 1981 Brixton riots put the focus on the SUS laws – stop and search by police, which impacted on black kids a lot more than white. And it’s still an issue today – how depressing! The anti-racist badge saying “will you choose to abuse” seems a bit patronising and corny now – your views? Note the brilliant badge with Home Secretary William Whitelaw and his detergent that would whitewash police tactics over Brixton – still think that’s amusing.
On the global front – you had Chile under the Pinochet dictatorship and of course we all know how much Thatcher liked him. There’s also a Polish Solidarnosc badge as the movement against Stalinism in that country took hold – then faltered. Spain had emerged from the Franco dictatorship and the socialist party – the PSOE – was about to take power. Though the promised socialist revolution never materialised. Rhodesia gave way to Zimbabwe at the end of the 70s and you can see a badge there. Ireland and the ‘Troubles’ were a constant feature with bombings in the north and on the mainland UK. In 1979, Lord Mountbatten was blown up. Thank goodness that all seems like ancient history now.
Above all else – there was a visceral hatred of Thatcher. When I watch all these 80s progs saying we were all yuppies in that decade, it makes me furious. Nobody who was there would recognise that narrative. We were heavily polarised as a country. You either loved Maggie or hated her – and your style of dress and badges reflected that.
The Kings Road in Chelsea had experienced a hiatus in the swinging 60s then got a new shot in the arm with the advent of the futurists, new romantics and poseurs in the early 80s. Ordinary kids from the suburbs flocked to the old thoroughfare to gawp at Vivienne Westwood’s latest offerings at World’s End of just sashay up and down the strip.
I remember starting in a pub at one end of the road, being handed some or other pill and then – in black shiny leather pants, dyed hair and eye liner – asking “where’s the party?” to any passerby and unbelievably getting in to all kinds of house parties.
It’s all gone. But here it is to remind you if your memory stretches back that far.