ReviewsChristian Hogsbjerg

A fitting tribute to Darcus Howe

ReviewsChristian Hogsbjerg
A fitting tribute to Darcus Howe

THE JOURNAL Race Today, which had its origins as a liberal journal of the Institute of Race Relations, in 1974 was transformed by the late black Trinidadian radical Darcus Howe (1943-2017) and the Race Today Collective (RTC) into a journal of black and Third World liberation.

The politics of the RTC were inspired by the revolutionary Marxism of Howe’s great uncle, CLR James, who also contributed to it. In a fascinating 1978 speech analysing Thatcher and the Labour Party, Howe stressed in a Jamesian manner that with respect to fighting racism, “the principles by which we live” were that “the black working class will be in charge, and that the black struggle has an independence, validity, and vitality of its own”.

With those principles to the fore for the next 15 years, Race Today established a reputation as “required reading for any black activist”, as Diane Abbott puts it, with a sharp, critical edge and a strong focus on struggles of black and Asian workers in Britain, cultural resistance and women’s liberation.

The editors are therefore to be congratulated for giving us an anthology of some of the most critical pieces carried by Race Today in an accessible format so that a new generation of anti-racist activists can get a flavour of this important radical publication.

Some sense of the journal’s quality can be seen from some of the rare little gems republished here, including an interview with Toni Morrison, Linton Kwesi Johnson writing on Bob Marley, Walter Rodney writing on ‘Class and nationalism in Africa’, Arthur Scargill and Jayaben Desai discussing the Grunwick strike, John La Rose on the dub poet Michael Smith, alongside critical reportage from some of the key battles for racial justice and against police brutality during the 1970s and 1980s.

The volume is structured thematically, ranging from ‘British Politics’, ‘Black Youth in Revolt’, ‘Sex, Race and Class’, ‘Asian Communities and Asian Workers’, ‘Challenging British (In)justice’, ‘Culture’ and ‘Black and Third World Liberation’, with introductions to each section by leading activists and scholars - including Linton Kwesi Johnson, Stafford Scott, Farrukh Dhondy, Kenyatta Hammond Perry and David Austin.

The work concludes with reflections on the legacies of Race Today for the struggles today, by the likes of Gareth Pierce, David Roediger and Leila Hassan. The volume is dedicated in memory of Darcus Howe and it stands as a timely, fitting tribute to a great socialist.

» Christian Hogsbjerg is a historian based at Brighton University and the author of several works including CLR James in Imperial Britain (2014).

is a historian based at Brighton University and the author of several works including CLR James in Imperial Britain (2014).