This week the first two reviews of our book Youth Activism and Solidarity, about the Non-Stop Picket of the South African Embassy in London during the 1980s, have been published. One is aimed at an academic readership and the other for activists and campaigners.
The first review was written by Diarmaid Kelliher, an academic geographer from the University of Glasgow, and was published on the website of Antipode: a radical journal of Geography. Diarmaid is a well-placed to comment on our work as his own research examines the historical geographies of London’s connections to the British coalfields before and during the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike. As a result, he is familiar with working class and radical activist networks in London at the time and has contributed much to debates about the geographical aspects of solidarity. You can read his review here (pdf).
Diarmaid’s review is a positive and sympathetic engagement with our work, but (as you would expect) he also offers some thoughtful and perceptive critiques of aspects of it too. Early on he describes the book as,
a thoughtful reflection on the nature of solidarity, perhaps most notably how for many of the youthful picketers this political activism shaped their experiences of “growing up”
He engages with our reflection that some of the key infrastructures of left-wing politics in London at the time – such as radical bookshops and a network of community centres – through which the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group and many other campaigns organised – have now seriously been depleted. For Diarmaid,
This is a suggestive point, and a more developed picture of those infrastructures of solidarity, and also their decline, would be productive in understanding the construction of networks of solidarity
One of his other critiques is that, given the central role of members of the Revolutionary Communist Group in founding and sustaining City Group and the Non-Stop Picket, we could have offered “a little more on the RCG’s particular version of Marxism, and how this shaped political perspectives and organisational forms”. I think it is fair to say that Helen and I had some lengthy discussions about how much depth to go into about the RCG’s politics (particularly given the book was being published in a book series focused on ‘childhood and youth’). However, as Diarmaid acknowledges, I have written elsewhere about how the RCG’s political perspectives, and experience of Irish solidarity work from the 1970s onwards, shaped how they understood and approached national liberation struggles in general and anti-apartheid solidarity specifically. More than this, somewhere in the region of a quarter of the picketers we interviewed had a close political relationship with the RCG (for at least a period of time) and several of their long-term, and founding members are quoted at length in the book. Those perspective are there, but possibly we could have analysed them out further.
Diarmaid ends his review with the following lines, which please us enormously:
Part of the importance of Youth Activism and Solidarity is that the care and detail with which the non-stop picket is recounted gives those of us who were not there a real sense of what it was like, allowing us to learn some of the lessons of that campaign and, hopefully, to more effectively and equitably organise solidarity in new contexts.
In the context of Diarmaid’s criticism that we could have done more to discuss the political influence of the RCG on the solidarity practiced through the Non-Stop Picket, the other review that was published this week is significant. That review was published in Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! the paper of the Revolutionary Communist Group and was written by Susan Davidson, a long-term supporter of the group who participated in the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group from its foundation. It is a measure of the importance placed on their role in the Non-Stop Picket that the entire centre page spread of the paper is dedicated to her review.
For the most part, Susan’s review recounts and summarises the history of the City Group and the Non-Stop Picket. In the process she recalls some of my favourite stories from the book and quotes a range of our interview material to illustrate these memories. Although she highlights the leading role of members of the RCG in the picket, she also acknowledges that,
The Picket is notable not only for its longevity, organisational structure, legal challenges and success, but also for its mobilisation of hundreds of young people who agreed to its discipline and invented its forms. That is the essential subject of this book: the commitment and creativity of youth in the struggle against the state.
Our book ends with some reflections on the lessons from the Non-Stop Picket for campaigning today. For Susan, this attempt to articulate ‘usable pasts’ from City Group’s anti-apartheid campaigning and experiences of solidarity is one of the strengths of the book, and the layout of her review draws particular attention to this.
We are pleased to read these reviews of the book and look forward to seeing more (which we know have been commissioned) as they come out over the next few months. If you are interested in reviewing the book for a newspaper, magazine, blog, or academic journal, review copies can be ordered here (at the publisher’s discretion).