Skinheads came in two waves – wave one in the 1960s and early 70s was a working-class, anti-hippy movement. Wave two in the late 70s was more aggressive and partially politicised by the extreme Right at the fringes. 1980 was seen as a high point for wave two but after the 1981 riots, it went back into decline.
The skinhead sub-culture was by no means racist and fascist at the outset. In fact, it was heavily influenced by Jamaican music and fashion. That wasn’t an accident because its white working class exponents often lived next door or near to Afro-Caribbean families. Especially in the new council estates that sprung up in the 1960s.
These young people looked at the peace-and-love mantras of the hippies in the 60s and shrugged their shoulders or worse. It meant nothing. It was complacent and bourgeois. And it simply didn’t reflect their lives. Which was all fair enough.
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Skinheads often went to the same clubs and discos as black youth. That only really became a significant problem in the late 1970s when wave two of the skinheads came along. Because by then economic decline and rising unemployment gave extreme Right groups like the National Front and the British Movement an opportunity to recruit white working class youth.
The extreme Right had been slow to realise the potential of these youth subcultures for recruitment. In the late 1970s, the Left had championed the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism organising massive ‘carnivals’ against neo-fascism. Eventually, certain voices within the NF and BM prevailed and they began making tentative moves into the skinhead scene.
It is regrettable and documented that some young skinheads did routinely get some beers and maybe speed down their neck and go off to beat up Asian Britons going about their lawful business. On a few occasions, these attacks resulted in murder.
Where I grew up in north east London, there were pubs that became an intersection between skinheads and the National Front. One pub in Loughton, Essex was so terrifying that I never actually set foot in there. Jewish friends of mine shuddered just to pass it on the high street.
Below is a piece from The Observer in which it pronounced that 1980 was: The Year of the Skinhead!