Friday, August 30, 2019

A remarkable life


by Ben Soton

Billy Strachan by David Horsley. Caribbean Labour Solidarity, £2. Copies of this booklet are available from David Horsley:

What images come to mind on hearing the word anti-imperialism? Maybe Latin American guerrillas, beautiful Palestinian hijackers, an African carrying a rocket launcher, or maybe a fighter in the jungles of South east Asia or the mountains of Nepal.
Often forgotten are the peoples of the Caribbean who originated from Africa. Victims of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, taken from West Africa from the 17th century onwards to work in the plantations of the Caribbean and Southern US states.
The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, itself a crime against humanity, kick-started the industrial revolution in Europe. When some of their descendants arrived in Britain after the Second World War racists claimed they were “taking our jobs”. Had it not been for the suffering of their descendants these jobs would not have existed! One of these people was Billy Strachan.
Billy Strachan was born in Jamaica on 16 April 1921. After serving in the RAF as a navigator during the war, he settled in Britain in 1947. A life-long communist, anti-racist and anti-imperialist, Strachan was a founding member of the Caribbean Labour Congress (CLC).  The CLC was founded during the Second World War with the aim of representing the interests of Caribbean workers in Britain, campaigning for the independence of Caribbean nations and orienting them towards socialism.
The CLC, through its publication Caribbean News, was in the forefront of anti-racist campaigns in Britain and Solidarity with the Caribbean people against imperialism.
In 1953 the CLC was in the forefront of opposition to the illegal overthrown of the left-wing government of Guyana by British imperialism. It also showed solidarity with the people of Kenya and against Apartheid in South Africa. The CLC, along with Caribbean News, collapsed in 1956 however, due to disagreements over the direction of the organisation.
Despite this setback Strachan continued with his political activism. He was a life-long communist and supporter of socialist Cuba as well as numerous progressive campaigns. In 1959 he qualified as a barrister and wrote a number of legal books, including The Drink Driver and The Law (1973). He also wrote the influential pamphlet Sugar, The Story of a Colony published by Caribbean News in 1955.
The author argues that Strachan, despite his great contribution to anti-racism and anti-imperialism, has so-far been written out of history. He cites a number of publications, including Peter Fryer’s Staying Power – A History of Black People in Britain, which make no mention of Strachan. In the introduction he suggests that Strachan’s communist politics resulted in him being ignored by historians. It is for this reason that a publication celebrating his life is long overdue.

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