December 8, 2023

The 70s 80s 90s Blog

Three Decades of History with TV historian Tony McMahon

Anti-Nazi League carnival in 1978

2 min read
In 1978, the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism held a huge Carnival at Victoria Park in Mile End where The Clash and other bands played
Anti Nazi League

Aged fourteen, I went on the huge Anti-Nazi League carnival in east London in 1978. Pictured above is me in my autumn years (joking!) with the original ANL promo leaflet. It’s become a truly iconic image.

The Anti-Nazi League was set up in 1977 after the so-called ‘Battle of Lewisham‘ where an attempt by the National Front to march through this south London borough was thwarted by an enormous counter demonstration.

The sister organisation to the Anti-Nazi League was Rock Against Racism (RAR) set up a year earlier. Not sure what the politics between the two campaigns were but they seemed to coordinate well during the late 1970s. RAR was set up in reaction to a certain pop star who I won’t name and shame here voicing his support for the National Front and Enoch Powell at one of his gigs.

As teenagers in a suburb of east London, we’d all come into contact with the National Front and other extreme Right groups of one hideous type or another. And we’d seen attacks on Asian Britons and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries. All pretty grim – so we wanted to make a big statement.

And along came the Anti-Nazi League Carnival of April 1978!

I turned up late at the tube station and missed my mates so ended up going on my own. Got out at Embankment tube and watched loads of punks vaulting over the barriers while I politely inserted by ticket stub – as you did in those pre-Oyster days.

Then walked up towards Trafalgar Square glancing nervously at the big police vans nearby. I’d never seen anything like this and they were clearly looking for some aggro. The noise in the square was something else. A band was playing and the cheering was deafening.

At some point, we began the very long march to Victoria park in Mile End. I mean seriously, could you get people to go that far these days? Recall passing under the railway bridge near St Paul’s that was taken down in the 80s and then arriving at the park to hear more bands on a big stage including….The Clash!

But a small confession to make. I just don’t remember The Clash on stage at all. What my memories feature are X Ray Spex and the Tom Robinson Band.

5 thoughts on “Anti-Nazi League carnival in 1978

  1. Great clip, Tony. Your comment has made me a feel bit better about never having seen the Clash, a lasting regret. But I did see Tom Robinson at the Gants Hill Odeon, who were great.
    You were probably too busy buying rock against racism badges from the Cobyn look-a-like on the video to notice the Clash. As the leader of the free world would say, so sad!

    1. The Gants Hill Odeon – I saw Star Wars there when it came out in….1977. Strange you mention the weird people at the Anti-Nazi League gig because even at the tender age of 14, I seem to recall getting into a conversation with some bearded SWP type. Shudder to think about it.

  2. I worked one evening a week at the ANL office. I had been involved in the Left since the tender age of 14 and Lewisham was both my stamping ground and somewhere that needed to be defended from the fascists. It could have been very bloody but we persuaded the West Indian lads from the youth club in New Cross not to put petrol in the milk bottles they intended to chuck at the NF. The Carnival was amazing and I was a steward – the sight of the many thousands in Trafalgar Square may you feel that we could win against all the forces ranged against us….

    1. Hi – Sorry for neglecting the blog for a couple of months! Work got in the way. Yes, that day in 1978 was epic. And as you say, we could have to re-visit this kind of mass action against the extreme Right in the near future. Seems like the period we’re living in now is a replay of all the old tensions that we knew in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But obviously with big and quite disturbing differences. And it’s clear that a lot of issues around race were left unresolved. Thanks for your contribution and if you ever feel like penning a piece for the blog – I’m considering guest contributions. No money I’m afraid! Just glory 🙂 Tony

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