Photos by Tom Johnson
Yesterday, I wrote about how some activists had poured concrete over some anti-homelessness spikes at a branch of Tesco in Regent Street. The activists didn’t tell me who they were at the time, because they were too busy running off into the night and trying not to get picked up by the cops. But later today they got in touch, saying they were disappointed that I’d missed the tag they'd left in the concrete, which apparently read, “LBR, Homes Not Spikes.” LBR—the group the activists belong to—stands for “London Black Revolutionaries,” or the Black Revs for short. I'd met some LBR members last week, tailing them as they cruised the streets of London warning illegal immigrants that their workplaces might soon be raided by border police.
LBR's direct action approach seems to have worked—Tesco has announced that they'll remove the spikes, claiming they were never meant to deter the homeless anyway. “Customers told us they were intimidated by anti-social behavior outside our Regent Street store and we put studs in place to try and stop it," said a spokesman. "These studs have caused concern for some who have interpreted them as an anti-homeless measure, so we have decided to remove them."
I called up LBR to ask them about their act of vandalism, who they are, and why being black is such an important part of what they do.
VICE: So you guys are claiming responsibility for concreting the spikes outside Tesco.
Why did you do it?
We took direct action because we wanted to link the political objection to the anti-homeless spikes to an actual message of attempting to get them removed. We don’t go for direct action all the time, but we thought that—given the outrage against the spikes—giving a clear message to Tesco that they're not gonna be left alone could be supported by targeting the spikes themselves.
Were you pleased with how it went?
We massively underestimated the amount of concrete we had. The mixing was more difficult than we thought. We probably need some construction equipment to do it properly. But we were quite pleased with it afterward because we didn’t want to make a nice concrete flat top over the spikes. We wanted to make a mess so they had to clean it up, or seriously think about putting spikes down again. We got a few tips from the construction workers who were watching opposite afterward. Next time, our concrete pouring skills will be a lot better.
Obviously a lot of people will think what you did was beyond the pale. It was vandalism.
Yeah. We’re not even generally bothered about the concrete. Considering the sort of organization we are and the background of our members... we had no second thoughts about it. We’ll do whatever’s necessary to get it done. We always maintain that everything we do is political. Not just abstract direct action—violence and smashing stuff up.
You told me that you would do it again. Who else should be worried?
Absolutely every organization planning to put homeless spikes up. What places should do instead is give the money to a local shelter organization, a food kitchen, or a food bank, because that’s what’s going to help. It’s not going to solve the problem of homelessness, but it’s going to alleviate some of the pain and suffering in these people’s lives.
So who are the London Black Revolutionaries?
We’re a closed black and Asian revolutionary socialist group. It has anti-racist, anti-fascist, anti-homophobic, and anti-sexist principles right at the center of it. We’re formed in London and now operate in different localities, but I won’t say which ones. We’re all young, black and very political. We’re pretty disgruntled with the way other organizations lack any militancy, to the point of turning political organization into rhetoric or lifestyle. A lot of these organizations, while they are working class, they have middle-class aspirations and anxieties, which cause them to lack any real connection with ordinary working-class people.
What kind of structure do you work with?
We’re democratic. We’re organized in the form of local chapters. At the moment we have three. It’s growing quickly and we might soon have a couple of chapters in the north, which would bring into question the name “London Black Revolutionaries.”
And how many of there are you?
Fewer than 20, but I wouldn’t get more specific.
I followed you guys around the other day as you sabotaged a Home Office operation. What other stuff are you involved in?
Campaigns against police brutality and institutional racism, the bedroom tax, anti-eviction resistance... Some of our plans are to set up a kitchen—it might sound a bit romantic, but the idea is to go around certain estates and give out free food. It’s a way in which we can show people that we’re seriously dedicated to our political organization. At the same time, it’s a way of getting into conversation with people. Some of our members are going to set up a torrent site for free education to undermine the privatization of education—bringing further and higher education to people being locked out right now because of cuts and fees.
In September, we’ll be going to FE [sixth form] colleges all across London and recruiting and politicizing people. In [the student riots in] 2010 we saw that the most militant bulk was from the FE colleges and those people have gone back into apathy. People are getting politicized a lot younger but they’re also anti-political in terms of political parties. People are dissatisfied that there’s an impotence in getting things done, and we want to show that it can be done and you don’t have to have a PhD or wealth. You can be the poorest of the poor and make a political change.
Are you up to any other stuff? You mentioned you’re anti-fascists.
Yeah, we’re also involved in anti-fascist action. In February we intercepted [Hungarian fascists] Jobbik in central London. We showed them what happens when fascists come to London. We don’t want to just have demonstrations—well, we do want to have mass demonstrations and involve lots of people, but we don’t just want to fetishize having rallies when it has no impact. We want to actually get to the fascists if we can. By 2015, we want London to have the reputation of being a fascist-free zone.
Why do you focus on being black and race politics?
I have a mixed family. I have white people in my family. But I am black and Asian and that’s defined my social experience from the very first day I went to school, to the day I came out of university. That’s what happens for lots of black and Asian people. We live in a country that’s majority white people, so most of the political organizations are white as well. It’s not that this is a problem, but it means there’s a lack of specific angle or experience within these organizations. That can be a very isolating experience. These left-wing organizations are seeking to organize among working-class people but are not able to relate to as wide a layer as possible. So it’s not just an emphasis on race but an emphasis on us being working class and really poor.
Isn’t it a bit dodgy to exclude white people? Also, doesn’t that stop you from “relating to a wide layer,” as you put it?
We’re organizing over particular questions, like institutional racism, which our white fellow working-class people don’t face in the same way. We value our political allies. I wouldn’t want to think we’re isolating other people. We start at the basis of the make up of our group. We can’t aim to speak for people outside of our race or social experience. Maybe once we’ve grown, we want to be a wider working-class organization as militants—we’re open to all possibilities. We aren’t able to escape in any single way from our position. So the only thing that gives us power to alleviate some of the shitty things you have to experience is the political power we get from organizing.
Is it kind of like how LGBT rights groups are mostly run by LGBT people but that doesn’t mean they hate straight people.
Exactly. I’m hoping to get across the point that we’re not anti-white at all. Most of the activists I know are white.
You seem to have big plans for an organization so small.
We’re a modest organization but we’re highly effective for our size. We’re not going anywhere and we’ll keep going. We’re prepared to do anything it takes. Most of us have nothing anyway, so what have we got to lose?