The Black Lives Movement has spread rapidly across the Atlantic, finding an echo in Britain, with its own long history of racism and repression. Protests over the weekend saw huge numbers turning out to say ‘enough is enough’.
This weekend saw an unprecendented mass movement of anti-racist activists take to the streets in cities and towns across the country.
These demonstrations have been sparked by the police murder of George Floyd in the USA, and are in solidarity with the militant protests seen there. But they are also very clear in their demands to end racism and police violence in Britain.
It should come as no surprise that the Black Lives Matter movement has found a powerful echo in the UK – a country with its own deeply racist history; and where BAME communities are only too aware of the inequality, injustice, and oppression that is systemic within capitalism.
But the fact that such huge numbers – predominantly of young people, both black and white – have turned out in the midst of a pandemic, in opposition to lockdown laws and hypocritical warnings from Tory ministers, shows that these demonstrations against racism reflect a broader questioning. They are a clear indication of the enormous accumulation of discontent and indignation that exists against the entire broken status quo.
These explosive protests in Britain are yet another sign of the revolutionary mood developing in society – particularly amongst young people and BAME communities. And these layers, in turn, are like a weathervane, indicating which way the wind is blowing more widely amongst the working class and the oppressed.
As the reports below show, the feeling everywhere is one of anger against the injustices and inequalities of capitalism.
Tories on the backfoot
Notably, this powerful expression of outrage against racism and repression has put the British ruling class on the backfoot, with the Tories and the establishment now paralysed with fear, like rabbits caught in the headlines.
In the capital, mass demonstrations numbering tens-of-thousands were seen on both Saturday and Sunday, marching on Parliament, Downing Street, and the US embassy. Similar sized protests were seen in Manchester and Bristol, with countless others in every corner in the country – all the largest seen in years; bigger even than the movements against climate change, austerity, or Trump.
Despite mainstream media attempts to portray the London protests as violent, with Boris Johnson denouncing them for being “subverted by thuggery”, the truth is that these were peaceful and positive – yet determined.
Where there was violence, it was on the side of the police, who attempted to provoke protesters by bringing in the cavalry and charging at those demonstrating. One horse-mounted officer even managed to knock himself out by riding at full pelt into a traffic light. Needless to say, the capitalist press have tried to spin the story as one of ‘innocent policeman injured by frenzied protestors’. But thankfully countless videos exist on Twitter to show what really happened.
At around 0:03 you see the charging officer hit his head off the traffic light, the light is literally wobbling.
The police officer is then dismounted from his horse and the horse is startled.
The police brought horses to an crowded peaceful protest. Outdated & Inhumane. pic.twitter.com/BstM7K2YOw
— Jam (@lifeofjam_) June 6, 2020
Events in Bristol have sparked the most vitriol from right-wing politicians and their media mouthpieces, in response to the toppling of a statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston.
The statue has been the subject of controversy for some time, with local residents campaigning for years to remove this monument to a man who enriched himself through racism and exploitation. But local politicians have done nothing.
Yesterday, however, thousands of protestors achieved more in minutes than ‘official channels’ have done in decades, as the slave-trader’s statue was brought down by a mass of activists. The heavy metallic figure was then rolled down the streets, before being thrown into the river Avon, with the assembled crowd cheering as the sculpture sank beneath the surface.
Such symbolic actions will give activists everywhere confidence to organise and fight. The lesson is clear: if we want to achieve change, we must take matters into our own hands. Mass mobilisation is the way forward. And faced with such force and determination, the Tories and the state can do nothing.
One television interview with a local police chief offers a telling glimpse into the panic amongst the establishment, with the senior officer explaining that his team did not intervene for fear of triggering an even more militant movement.
This senior police officer in Bristol (rightly) concluded it was wiser to let a statue fall, which nobody actually wanted, to a public order situation with hundreds of arrests.
I sincerely believe that if this was London, the latter would have happened. pic.twitter.com/03i6bbzsPt
— Aaron Bastani (@AaronBastani) June 7, 2020
No doubt the same anxiety exists amongst the ruling class more widely. They can sense the burning rage in society, and know that any spark could set all the amassed combustible material alight. Hence the need for the police and the establishment to tread carefully in relation to these protests.
Capitalism is racist
Nevertheless, back in Westminster, the Tories have faced a backlash over their ham-fisted response to the weekend’s demonstrations. This only adds to the woes facing Johnson’s government, which is stumbling from one crisis to another.
Home Secretary Priti Patel in particular has come under fire for her comments describing the Bristol protesters’ actions as “utterly disgraceful”. Even Blairite grandees such as Lord Adonis attacked the death-penalty-supporting Conservative minister for her denunciatory remarks. (Although ‘respectable’ Labour leader Keir Starmer offered his usual mealy-mouthed response, equivocally condemning both the Colston statue and those who had torn it down.)
It is ok Sajid. I look forward to you arguing that it is criminal damage to remove a monument to one of the greatest criminals in English history. Who is the criminal? Who did the damage?
— Andrew Adonis (@Andrew_Adonis) June 7, 2020
Matt Hancock also managed to put his foot in it, as he attempted to downplay the BLM movement in Britain. The Tory Health Secretary patronisingly suggested that the protests were simply about injustices in America, and that racism was not a problem in the UK.
Black Labour MPs such as Dawn Butler and David Lammy rightly hit back. “People are angry in the UK for many reasons,” Butler asserted correctly. “We know there’s systemic racism in the UK.”
“Covid has highlighted the grave consequences of discrimination and poverty. People are angry in this country because the Windrush scandal and Grenfell… highlighted the structural racism in our country. So to say that it’s an imported problem is again not listening and shows no commitment to resolving the issues of racism in our own country.”
“To suggest there is only a problem on the other side of the Atlantic might make Matt Hancock feel better,” stated Lammy, “but it shows real ignorance.”
“People in this country are not only showing solidarity with George Floyd and other African Americans. We must turn this moment into one of change and justice in the UK too.”
Butler and Lammy are 100% right. Racism, inequality, and oppression are by no means unique to the USA. As placards in London and elsewhere over the weekend correctly stated: The UK is not innocent.
But nor is this a problem of this-or-that country. The whole capitalist system is racist. That is why the Black Lives Matter movement has become an international one, striking a chord across the world. As Malcolm X profoundly noted: You cannot have capitalism without racism.
The struggle against racism, therefore, must be a struggle against the system that actively breeds this racism: the crisis-ridden capitalist system that is breaking down around us. The task ahead is to mobilise and give it its final push, so that – like the Colston statue in Bristol – it can be sunk to its demise forever.
On Saturday 6 June, tens of thousands of people rallied together at Parliament Square to protest the horrific police brutality in America and racial discrimination worldwide.
Thousands stand in Parliament Square (London) in solidarity with George Floyd.
More such gatherings planned in other places across London.
Apparently, the most woke virus ever has paused the pandemic for a week to enable such protests. ✊ pic.twitter.com/tXI9v1NQaH
— An Open Letter ? (@AnOpenLetter001) June 7, 2020
These recent demonstrations have shown the sharp shift in consciousness, with many protesters expressing a need for a systemic change in order to truly abolish racism.
One protester we interviewed, for example, said: “This isn’t something new; racism is built on imperialism and colonialism. Nothing will change until that is destroyed. Society won’t see change until the system changes.”
Protestors also highlighted that police brutality and the use of force is not limited to the United States. Placards reading “The UK is not innocent” and “Racism isn’t only an American problem” filled the crowds.
Thousands chanted the names of those who have lost their lives at the hands of the police and because of racial injustice, shouting “Say his name, George Floyd”; “Say her name, Breonna Taylor”; and “Justice for Belly”.
The energy of the crowd was full of rage against the wrongdoings of the police, mourning for those who have had their lives stolen from them, and determination to be at the forefront of the fight for a better society.
With such a large crowd, different groups of protesters marched from Parliament Square to Buckingham Palace, 10 Downing Street, Victoria Station, and the US embassy.
Along the way, people jumped on trash bins, bus shelters, and even on buildings shouting “Black lives matter”. Meanwhile, workers stood outside of shops holding signs of support, bus drivers honked their horns, and construction workers shouted in unison with the masses showing their solidarity.
The overwhelming majority of the protest was full of young people of different backgrounds, coming together to express their disgust and shame towards this broken system.
“I am so proud that so many different races, ethnicities, and identities came out to support this today,” one protestor shared with us. “I am just so proud.”
The actions of the racist police have clearly struck a nerve with a great majority of young people.
The battle for racial equality and an end to police brutality however, does not end with George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmad Arbery, or the hundreds of people who have died as a result of police violence.
As Marxists, we believe that the unity of the working class, on an organised basis, fighting for revolutionary demands is essential for the liberation of black lives, and all of those oppressed under capitalism.
As Huey P. Newton stated: “We have two evils to fight – capitalism and racism.”
The Black Lives Matter demonstration in Bristol took place on Sunday 7 June, with around 10,000 people taking to the streets to protest against racial injustice and police brutality.
The slogans and home made placards reflected the mood of anger and frustration that we are witnessing across the world. This, in turn, expresses a questioning of capitalism and all its ills.
Socialist Appeal supporters marched alongside other activists with a banner stating ‘capitalism is racist’. This slogan was very well received, with many people taking photographs of it and raising their fist in solidarity.
The Bristol protest has become national news thanks to the city’s 18ft statue of Edward Colston, which had stood in central Bristol since 1895. But now it stands no more.
At the end of the demonstration, a large group of protesters returned to the statue of the infamous slave trader, tore it down, rolled it down to the docks, across the city centre, and chucked it into the river.
Protesters against systemic racism in Bristol, United Kingdom, defaced and tore down a bronze statue depicting slave trader Edward Colston, rolling through the streets and then throwing it into the river to a wave of applause. https://t.co/cc86EDQZHq pic.twitter.com/DFJ6M2a9BX
— ABC News (@ABC) June 7, 2020
The demonstration continued well into the late hours of the evening, with chanting and slogans that could be heard across town.
The mood is definitely one of recognising strength in numbers. Workers and youth are gaining the confidence to stand up, and to rebel against the institutions that exist to serve the vested interests of the capitalist class.
This highlights the enormous potential power that is held in the hands of the working class. There is no force on earth that can stop the working class when it is mobilised, organised, and united.
Manchester City Centre was full this weekend as thousands of protesters filled the streets to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matters protests that have engulfed the US in the last few weeks, but also to fight against the racism and inequality still seen in Britain.
Saturday (6th June) saw an incredible gathering. It’s hard to remember anything similar in recent years. At the centre of the protest you could barely see where the mass-gathering started and finished. Later reports confirmed over 15,000 protestors filling out Piccadilly Gardens – far exceeding anything Manchester has seen in the last decade.
Speakers at the rally exposed the ubiquity of racist police brutality, running through both the United States and in the UK. Personal stories were told to reveal the stark reality of systemic racism, with loud responses of anger, solidarity and hope coming from the huge crowd.
The protest had been stated by the organisers as a peaceful one. But peaceful certainly did not mean calm. The mood was far from tranquil, as choruses of ‘No Justice, No Peace’ and ‘Say His Name – George Floyd’ rang out loudly across the crowd.
Following the rally there was an impromptu march that covered the entire city centre. Here is where the disdain of the crowd turned towards the actions of the Tory government. “Boris is a racist”, “Justice for Windrush” and “Tory scum” were rallying cries. The anger against the racist ruling elite was palatable.
The demo on the following day (June 7th) was a smaller protest – yet still larger than anything else seen in Manchester!
As well as the similar impassioned speeches of the previous day, speakers at St Peter’s square put it to the crowd simply: Let this not be the end. We must all take to the streets every week!
Though smaller, the Sunday protest had something of a more political character, with demands for change directed at the largely unresponsive authorities at Manchester City Council. “Racism on the streets in Manchester has increased, the City Council have remained silent!”
Over both days, the crowd was largely young, audacious and lively – something clearly acknowledged by the speakers.
Manchester has shown yet again that it stands in solidarity against any form of racism and discrimination, demanding an end to police killings and the systemic racism that runs through the state.
This energy needs now be turned into bold demands, which will reveal the true enemy: capitalism. The police and the whole state apparatus exists to protect private property. And the ruling class consciously attempts to divide the working class along racial lines, to help the bosses.
Workers and youth in Manchester, like the rest of the world, have shown that we will not let this happen. We need to unite, overthrow capitalism, and put an end to the violence of the state.
Thousands gathered on Glasgow Green for the Black Lives Matter rally over the weekend. It was difficult to gauge the true size of the crowd, as hundreds of people continued to stream up the lawn towards the Nelson Monument for about an hour. There, you could hear the chants and cheers spread from the centre of the sprawling crowd outwards.
At one point the crowd simultaneously went down on one knee out of respect for George Floyd. Protestors were soon up again loudly chanting, clapping and cheering the speakers. It was almost entirely young people – students and workers of all backgrounds.
Surprisingly, Marxist society activists carried the only red flag there. This was regarded with approval. Everyone we approached was keen to take a flyer on capitalism and racism.
Observing the serious and angry mood, it was clear that this mass of people has truly been shaken – not just by the murder of George Floyd, but by the mass movement that has developed internationally against inequality and injustice.
Thousands took part in the biggest demonstration that happened in Swansea in recent memory. An even bigger demonstration took place in Cardiff.
The attendees were almost exclusively in their teens and 20s. Moreover, hundreds more workers and youth also attended in small towns in Wales – towns that haven’t seen political activity since the 1984 miners strike. South Wales has indeed been rocked by this movement.
The slogans mainly related to calling for justice for victims of this racist system – like George Floyd and Belly Mujinga. One placard exclaimed: “New gen, new system!”. The speakers highlighted the racist injustices people of colour face, either by the hands of police or systemic poverty.
Socialist Appeal activists in Wales took part, calling for a socialist system to end all the injustices that ultimately stem from capitalism. We are also going to be present at Thursday’s demonstration in Newport.
A new generation had come into action through this movement everywhere. South Wales had been no exception. And these protests show that this traditional arena of class struggle is set for a dramatic awakening.
In Cambridge, Socialist Appeal activists attended the BLM demonstration at Parkers Piece. Local news estimates that there were around 6,000 people protesting, representing one of the largest demonstrations in the city in the last decade. This is particularly notable given that there were very few Cambridge University students attending.
The mood at the demonstration was extremely radical. Slogans such as ‘You can’t have capitalism without racism’ were received exceptionally well.
The speeches at the demonstration made clear that racism is not simply an American problem, as the Tories and their media mouthpieces are trying to push. Rather, racism is a lived reality for all minorities in this country.
Black people are six times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than their white counterparts in Cambridgeshire. Barnie Hakata, one of the event organisers, emphasised that the local inequalities within the national picture are systemic. As one protestor told us, ‘the whole system has to go!’
The demonstration itself was a static one, where social distancing was observed. We kneeled for a minute silence, and the names of all those that ‘should be alive today’ were later read out.
The burning indignation against police brutality – which flows from the institutional racism of capitalist states – has obviously radicalised huge swathes who would have typically been apathetic towards politics. As the saying goes, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.
After the demonstration, hundreds of school students and young people broke off into an impromptu march through Cambridge. For many of those chanting ‘No Justice, No Peace’, the heavy realisation that this requires radical action against the system itself seemed to be appreciated.
We leafletted for the emergency event our local Marxist society is putting on about racism and police brutality. Our flyers were all quickly snapped up. We will have to print more in future!
It is very clear that the youth, in particular, are looking for ideas capable of ridding the world of all oppression, exploitation, and bigotry. Our bold, socialist slogans are resonating more by the day.
Socialist Appeal supporters in Sheffield attended a Black Lives Matter protest in the city centre over the weekend. With over 3,000 present and two solidarity protests taking place elsewhere in the city, it was one of the largest demos we have ever seen here in Sheffield.
Those attending were overwhelmingly young. But people of all ages and backgrounds were present – whether white or BAME; students and locals. This not a fight between black and white as the Tory press have tried to paint it as, but the people united against racism and the system that upholds it.
Speeches detailed how racism is upheld by all institutions of the state: from the justice system to the education system. At the end of the protest, an unplanned march took place through the city, stopping traffic.
Despite the poor weather, the mood was one of both anger and hope – and with an awareness that the struggle against racism must be a united one.
On Saturday 6 June, around 500 people gathered at Palace Green in the shadow of Durham Cathedral for an inspiring demonstration in support of the growing international Black Lives Matter movement.
Organised at a grassroots level, protesters showed incredible discipline in wearing PPE and social distancing. It is clear that many people had not been put off, despite the pandemic and media narratives surrounding the legality of protesting.
A counter demonstration by right-wing thugs had been organised in the centre of town with the aim of intimidating protestors. But this ended up being ignored and irrelevant.
In fact, you could sense a confident and energetic mood among BLM protestors, which was clear from the placards and speeches made. All expressed the fact that the violence and daily racism BAME people face cannot continue.
Socialist Appeal activists presented clear slogans such as Malcolm X’s famous words: “you cannot have capitalism without racism” pointing to the real cause of racism, which distinguished us and drew people’s attention to us, our arguments and our event we have advertised for next week. It was clear from the crowd, made up overwhelmingly of youth that people want real change, and that means fighting to overthrow the capitalist system.
Socialist Appeal supporters attended the Black Lives Matter demonstration in Plymouth this Sunday. The protest took place outside Drake’s Circus Shopping Mall, named the famous pirate and slave trader, who has also many streets and buildings named after him in the city, along with a large statue in his honour.
The crowd was made up of mostly young people, with many teenagers. Almost everyone wore a mask, although social distancing was hard to maintain, likely because the organisers did not expect so many people to be there.
The size of the protests in Plymouth were unprecedented, with thousands of overwhelmingly young people filling the streets in the city centre. Protests are rare in places like Plymouth and we have never seen one so big before. The turnout and mood was reminiscent of the recent climate change protests – but far more militant.
The anger and depth of feeling was palpable, as demonstrators spontaneously marched to the city police office. Activists surrounded the entrance, and then gave speeches and led chants.
The protest lasted for two hours and ended with an 8-minute kneeling silence. It was very peaceful for its duration. The mood was optimistic and hopeful. There were chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “No justice, no Peace, no racist police” – all from very young people with signs made from scrap cardboard.
Crowds shouted the name of George Floyd, along with others who had been murdered by the police. Many slogans focused on the racist attitude of this Tory government as well as the personal racism of Boris Johnson.
The protest was in solidarity with the racist police brutality in the United States. But it also drew attention to Britain’s racist legacy, which lives to this day.
Plymouth has deep connections to the African slave trade. It was the city from which England’s first slave trader, John Hawkins, made his initial expedition to trade captured slaves in the West Indies.
Together with his cousin Francis Drake, Hawkins enslaved between 1,200-1,400 Africans. As the signs of many demonstrators pointed out, the UK is not innocent.
The BLM protests have had a huge response from the people of Coventry, the home of two-tone, creating the biggest protest in recent memory. On Tuesday, over 300 people marched; on Sunday it was near 1000.
Wide layers of the working class have been involved. The mood has remained determinedly radical, with protestors marching on the police station chanting “Who are the murderers? The police are the murderers”.
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#blm protest in Coventry today! Fight racism with Socialism! Fight for a revolution!
Many on the protest spoke about how Britain did not just have racist police, but was the founder of modern imperialism ,which has continued to this day. Many we spoke to had no faith in the current political system to carry out the changes needed, and were therefore heading to the streets.
Protestors shut down the dual carriageway running around the city centre. We were met with widespread support from drivers – the most popular traffic jam the city has ever had.
As the march passed through residential areas, one three-year-old sat on their balcony and shouted “black lives matter”. They were met with mass applause as the protests passed by.
Large demonstrations have not been seen so much in Coventry in recent years. The climate strikes and other political events have passed with little furore. But the BLM protests have made their mark. This represents a huge turning point in consciousness.
On Saturday 6 June, Socialist Appeal activists attended the Newcastle Black Lives Matter protest. It’s estimated between 1000 and 1500 people gathered around the monument in the city centre, with social distancing maintained throughout the protest and face masks worn by all in attendance.
The protest was largely made up with young people, holding placards that condemned Boris Johnson, amongst other issues. The mood was angry, with many showing revolutionary attitudes.
Our leaflets were taken even more readily than in previous Newcastle protests, and the Newcastle Marxist Society banner attracted some attention.
Anti-police sentiment was high. An unplanned march through the city centre irritated the police, who asked us to disperse and return to the monument. This was met with booing, but reluctant compliance. A strong police presence was maintained throughout the protest, which stayed peaceful.
This movement shows a lot of potential. Marxists activists will do everything we can to support it, and to connect with this radical mood.
The BLM demo in Guildford ended in a hilly park. It was hard to see how many people were there, but it could easily have been around 1000 – almost exclusively young people.
There was some sporadic chanting throughout the march. Slogans such as “black lives matter”, “no justice, no peace”, and “change the system” were the most common.
During the march, some of the protesters started chanting back at people shaking their heads, shouting “You shake your heads at us, but not at racism”.
This is probably the biggest protest there has ever been in Guilford in recent memory, showing how many young people want real change, even here in the Tory heartlands.