Socialist Worker

Music was crucial to the movement

Red Saunders, one of the founders of Rock Against Racism, spoke to Socialist Worker about RAR’s work

Issue No. 1973

United at the first Rock Against Racism carnival (Pic: John Sturrock)

United at the first Rock Against Racism carnival (Pic: John Sturrock)

Rock Against Racism (RAR) started in 1976 when myself and a few friends wrote a letter to the NME attacking Eric Clapton for making racist comments. That letter brought a massive response from the public.

We were people who were passionately excited by all kinds of culture, using every aspect to attack the enemy. And we were into the idea of self activity. We had a “do it yourself” attitude to culture.

All those ideas and all that energy and organisation got thrown into RAR. Socialist Worker gave us a page in the paper to launch the campaign.

Socialist Worker gave RAR the most incredible access to a whole group of radical young people who were excited by the new urban music of the time. We would get letters from teenagers in Aberystwyth saying they wanted to do something about the Nazis in their school.

I would write back and say, you are RAR Aberystwyth, organise a gig and get on with it!

By late 1977 we were up and running — then the Anti Nazi League (ANL) was formed and it took everything to another level.

The ANL was important because it brought together the revolutionary left with a much larger layer in the trade union movement and Labour Party. They would have been nothing without us, and we would have been nothing without them.

RAR was organising small gigs, bringing together punk acts with reggae bands such as Steel Pulse and Aswad — which was unprecedented at the time. The ANL had a massive impact on us by organising anti-Nazi demonstrations and bringing in the big trade union guns.

We decided to do something big in an area that the National Front considered its own. So we chose Victoria Park in east London.

At the time all the NF pubs were in that area. It was important that the carnival wasn’t just a gig. We had a march from Trafalgar Square to Victoria Park. Some 90 percent of the audience had been on the march. That gave it a real political credibility.

This was an exciting time. We were all passionately into the music, the culture and the politics.

It all worked together because we really believed in it.

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Sat 22 Oct 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1973
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