In view of the welcome, richly-deserved and long overdue surge of interest in Claudia Jones surrounding her 100th birthday celebrations, I am re-publishing a letter my daughter and I wrote to Marika Sherwood in 2000. At the time, this was sent to a number of academics and concerned parties, listed below, in order to rectify historical and factual inaccuracies in the book Marika published with Lawrence and Wishart that year. We also hoped to provide a political context for the character assassination of Abhimanyu (Manu) Manchanda which was perpetuated by Marika’s repetition of various slurs.
[The header picture was probably taken on the day of the funeral of Kelso Cochrane. I identified the picture after seeing an old tv clip of the funeral. Manu was standing at the church door, dressed as in the above picture, complete with the rolled up newspaper under his arm, D.L].
July 10, 2000
Lawrence and Wishart kindly sent Diane a copy of “Claudia Jones – a Life in Exile” which we read with mounting hurt and disappointment. While we appreciate that the book draws attention to the life and work of the late, great Claudia Jones, we are sure it will come as no surprise that we are both very upset and let down by the manner in which you have chosen to portray Abhimanyu Manchanda (Manu). We write as Manu’s partner and political associate of 17 years, and as his daughter, respectively. We feel we are well qualified to respond to the undeserved, personal and vindictive attacks made upon him in your text.
Manu was devoted to Claudia and devastated by her death. He kept everything of hers, which was how these materials came into our possession, and we feel let down by the use you have made of the materials that we loaned to you on trust. Whatever ups and downs his relationship with Claudia may have gone through, it is clear, even reading between the lines of your negative portrait, that he was the person who was closest to being her “significant other” for the duration of her life in Britain.
Apart from the letters exchanged between Manu and Claudia, we have personal photographs of them on holiday together in Cornwall, with Manu’s sister and her children, as well as letters from family members in which they refer to them as a couple. Claudia was the official witness at the marriage of Chandra, Manu’s sister. Another sister of Manu’s, Raj, was close to Claudia and they exchanged gifts from various countries when either of them was travelling. We still have a Russian doll that Claudia gave to Raj.
We wonder whether you have given any thought to the way in which, depicting Manu as “a curse” reflects on the memory of Claudia? Why would she tolerate such a “curse” in her life?
To provide a balance to your text, both concerning Abhimanyu Manchanda and to fill in the vacant political landscape, we intend to place a copy of this letter with other papers pertaining to Claudia Jones and A. Manchanda.
In the event that you may have an opportunity in future to make good some of the errors you have perpetrated and myths you have helped to perpetuate, we would be grateful if you would give consideration to the following observations.
Firstly, page 18: The preserved papers, the Estate of A. Manchanda, are referred to throughout the book as “the Langford Collection.”
How could this happen?
On 20th November 1998, Diane wrote to you to reinforce the point previously made in a face to face meeting, “Regarding attribution of the pictures in your book, I have asked you to attribute all material which emanated from me, whether it has been in Donald’s possession or not, to “Estate late A. Manchanda”.
You appeared to agree. In your letter to Diane, dated 23 November 1998, the same letter in which you so correctly pointed out in relation to your work, “all historians manage history” you wrote: “When the publisher has decided what pictures to use, those obtained from you will be captioned “Estate of the late A. Manchanda”, I shall also revise the source of the papers from the ‘Langford Collection’ to ‘Estate of … ‘.
Yet we find the inappropriate phrase “The Langford Collection” throughout the book, an attribution which was never mooted, and which never would have been agreed.
Manu was a veteran of the Indian freedom struggle against British imperialism by his teenage years. He organised a camp for thousands of refugees on Nehru’s front lawn in the aftermath of Partition. Both his parents had been jailed for many years. His mother’s name appears on the monument to freedom fighters in New Delhi. Yet you chose to comment – on page 51 – he “came from a middle class family”, a label which has unpleasant connotations which are out of place in the middle of a holocaust such as Partition, or indeed by comparison with the meaning of the phrase in the context of the class makeup of the oppressor countries. His father manufactured soap by hand that he sold from a mobile cart. You do not mention the class background of anybody else.
Manu’s family were dispossessed and had to flee Lahore in the bloody aftermath of Partition. This was a time when trainloads of corpses were arriving at railway stations in the towns and cities. As a young child he had to witness his aged grandmother being left behind on a riverbank while the rest of the family crossed to safety on an overcrowded raft. While his parents served long prison sentences for resisting British imperialism, Manu was sent to live with strangers who abused him.
Page 51: “It is not known why Manu came to Britain, some say that he was expelled by the Communist Party in India.”
This is an inexcusable and incomprehensible lie. You had access to Manchanda’s papers as well as Claudia’s. Diane told you how Manu ended up in London. How can you, as an historian, justify hiding behind an expression such as “some say”? Yet you have used “some say” and “others,” to make outrageous allegations, such as, “Others are even less flattering, remembering him as a ‘confidence trickster who used her contacts to get money out of them’.”
It is obvious that in the years following Claudia’s death, the CPGB rumour-mill went into overdrive as far as Manu was concerned. This needs to be borne in mind when evaluating the vindictive personal comments you have collected such a long time afterwards and which you have failed to contextualise.
We have confirmed with comrades in India that Manu came to London after visiting the Berlin World Youth Festival around 1950-51. He was never expelled from the/Communist Party of India and was in fact warned by comrades not to return to India as a warrant had been issued for his arrest. In the 1970s he was declared persona non grata in the Indian parliament for his opposition to Indian aggression against China and for criticising India’s policy towards American imperialism in Vietnam. Perhaps you will recall that around that time the Soviet Union began treating India as an economic colony and poisoning the good relations between India and China that blossomed during the period of the Non-Aligned Movement initiated at Bandung. Manu made a powerful speech in Vietnam criticising the Indian government that led to a special session of Parliament in Delhi taking away his Indian citizenship.
Donald Hinds refers to a discussion he had with Manu and Claudia about the India-China war on page 198, in which Donald says they treated him “gently” but were unequivocal in their belief that India was the aggressor, egged on by the Soviet Union.
Diane remembers Manu turning away a chauffeur-driven Jyoti Basu from the door of 58 Lisburne Road, following a massacre which Basu’s “communist” administration in West Bengal perpetrated against a demonstration of workers and peasants. Those whose loyalties lie with Jyoti Basu and his party might not enjoy fond memories of Manchanda.
During the period – which did not end with Claudia’s death – in which Manu accrued such hostility from your respondents he vehemently opposed India’s Soviet influenced foreign policy. Documents show how he denounced a plan of the Soviet Union who had enlisted the support of Indira Gandhi and Harold Wilson to reconvene the Geneva Conference to help out the Americans when they were coming off the worse during their aggression against Vietnam.
After the liberation of Saigon, Vietnamese support for Mrs Gandhi’s state of emergency “baffled some comrades” – as Malcolm Caldwell, of SOAS, acknowledged in a note to Manu dated 15.11.75, (shortly before Malcolm was assassinated in Cambodia.) By the way, Malcolm and Manchanda were close politically and had a good personal relationship.
Malcolm wrote to Manu: “Have you had a chance to discuss Hanoi’s (official) support of Mrs. Gandhi with the Vietnamese yet? The reality is, of course, different from the appearance but it has baffled some comrades.”
Political differences with the CPGB and others also arose over the splitting of East Pakistan away from Pakistan. Manu perceived this as a further partitioning of the subcontinent which had to be resisted. He noted the dismantling of jute factories in the newly formed Bangladesh and their transportation to the Soviet Union.
He also warned of Cuba’s dependence on Soviet “aid” and the high price the country had to pay, sending troops to African countries to back up Soviet interference. He constantly referred to the strings attached to Soviet aid, exemplified by the situation that led Egypt to expel Soviet ‘experts’ and curtail arms and trade agreements with the Soviet Union
This fundamental difference in world outlook, fuelled the rancour displayed towards Manu by the CPGB and those who uncritically carried on supporting the party Iine – throughout the Soviet invasions of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan – and who are repeating canards against Manchanda right up to the present. If it is true, as you state on page 11, that Ranjana Ash, for example, remained a party member right up “until 1993,” then it is no surprise that she remembers Manu as being “dogmatic” and ”very critical”.
Incidentally, Manu never claimed to be a theoretician and was always scathing about the immodesty of those who did make big claims for themselves, perhaps earning little affection for his dislike of the arrogant attitudes rampant in the British “left”.
If Manu was a ‘confidence trickster’, then obviously he was not a very successful one. He died, as he had lived, in abject poverty. When Diane, after their marriage, went to live at 58 Lisburne Road, there were several hundred pounds of rent arrears owing. However the term ‘confidence trickster’ could usefully be applied elsewhere as we read of the unseemly behaviour of various CPGB members after Claudia’s death, when she was posthumously transformed from a thorn in their side into a great friend and a loss to “the movement”. Apparently they used her name to “collect money” in the name of an organisation founded by Manchanda himself. These are the same comrades who circulated the fallacious story that Manu had “sold Claudia’s ashes to the Chinese.”
In the months before his own death, Manu was engaged on sorting out the headstone scandal, sketchily described on pages 170 and 172. We note you could not resist repeating Mikki Doyle’s claim that she organised Claudia’s funeral, even though you did so as a footnote.
On page 51, you pose the question “Why is there such a universal dislike of Manchanda?” As we have shown, it depends who you ask. Clear evidence survives of Claudia’s affection and respect for him. For example, on page 54 you have quoted her letter from China in which she wrote:
“I needn’t emphasise how thankful I am that as a colleague and compatriot (YOU are a ‘West Indian’ – and I ‘Indian’) our links lie in our common thinking, common outlook and shared struggles – to say nothing here of friendship.”
On page 51 Lyn Jones is attributed as saying that Claudia always spoke of him fondly. Does this sound as if Claudia was part of the “universal dislike” you have constructed?
Gertrude Elias, one of the dedicatees of your book, always spoke fondly of Manu and, when we lived as a family just around the corner from Gertrude, in Lisburne Road, we often used to drop in on each other. Diane kept in close contact with Gertrude up until her death. She even attended your symposium as Gertrude’s helper.
A few years after Manu’s death, Gertrude rang us on the evening after the airing of a BBC film, “Claudia Jones – a Woman of our Time,” (1989) was broadcast. She was upset by the imputation that Claudia died alone and bereft of friends. Manu just happened to be away in China when Claudia died.
Gertrude was also upset by the Guardian article by Michelle Hanson, referred to approvingly by you, which was another example of the way in which Claudia has been portrayed as being friendless and alone. Gertrude encouraged Diane to write The Guardian to refute the cosy relationship Hanson presented between Claudia and the Communist Party, The article and Diane’s letter printed in the Guardian were among the papers you borrowed from us, Incidentally, Iltyd Harrington wrote “she died alone” in the review of your book which appeared in the Camden New Journal on April 6th this year. ”
Gertrude Elias was utterly distraught at the Channel 4 programme’s depiction of both Claudia and Manchanda, as we believe she would have been had she lived to read your book, But she was especially upset at the utterances of Mikki Doyle, The interviewer had asked,
“Was there a man in her life?”
“Yeah, there was, Heck, I don’t wanna speak ill of the dead. But he lived off her. He would never have been invited to China if it wasn’t for Claudia, One shouldn’t speak ill of the dead but…
The producer of this programme was completely duped by Mikki Doyle and was preparing to broadcast an unquestioning version of her assertion that she organised Claudia’s funeral – until the researcher came to visit us and was shown documentary evidence that Manu had bought the plot in Highgate Cemetery and organised the funeral and memorial service, A brief rebuttal by Donald Hinds, which had previously been cut from the film, was hurriedly reinstated and we are left with a few seconds of Donald saying,
“If Manchanda had not taken out an injunction, Claudia would have been buried in an unknown grave.”
The answer you provide to your question concerning “universal dislike” is based solely upon vicious personal attacks you have collected from bitter political adversaries. You have answered with a further question:
“Was it perhaps because he was so dogmatic, and would never compromise, and had little patience with those who did not share his vehemently expressed views?”
Despite being given full access to Manchanda’s papers, as well as Claudia’s, you are reluctant to enlighten the reader as to the content of these “vehemently expressed views.”
In fact, there is very little point in a biography of Claudia which leaves out her politics, especially when attempting an analysis of her relationship with Manchanda or, indeed, with the Communist Party. Politically, Claudia and Manu were practically inseparable, Differences may have arisen over style, but, as Claudia herself wrote shortly before her death, their bond was based on “common thinking, common outlook and shared struggles,”
You make a revealing statement on page 82, regarding what you call Claudia’s undimmed “enthusiasm for the principles of communism”.
“That there was an obverse side to such progress she did not see … she did not raise issues of democracy.”
As a Black woman and a Communist, Claudia was hardly likely to be raising “issues” of bourgeois democracy while the Ku Klux Klan was holding motorcades through Montgomery, Alabama, racists were strutting around the streets of the US and Britain attacking and murdering Black people, British troops were on the rampage in the Canal Zone, Aden, Malaya, trying to salvage their number one spot as the world’s policeman and the US was contending for the role by flexing its muscles in South East Asia and around the world.
Claudia strove for a people’s communist world revolution to setup a dictatorship of the proletariat and democratic centralism, to use “dogmatic” terms. Basic differences among Communist Parties over these very issues, which led to the eventual split between Moscow and Peking, came to a head after Claudia’s death, They centered precisely on the role of the state; the setting up of joint capitalist ventures and social-imperialist adventures abroad, as opposed to mass democracy at home and support for the national liberation movements and working class and progressive people internationally, “Countries want independence, nations want liberation and people want revolution!” (Mao Tsetung),
As already made obvious, your respondents harbour resentments against Manchanda up till this day for events which occurred after Claudia’s death, The 20 years, 1965 to 1985, between the deaths of Claudia and Manu were significant and painful years for the world communist movement. The schism between China and the Soviet Union became more profound and bitter and this was reflected in the anti-imperialist struggles throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America as well as in the Communist Parties in the imperialist countries.
People responded with strong emotions to events occurring in Africa, China, Vietnam, India, the Black struggles in the United States, the awakened Women’s Liberation Movement and the establishment of the Palestinian freedom struggle on the world stage,
In was during these 20 years that Manu incurred the intense wrath of the CPBG and various Trotskyite organisations for supporting the Cultural Revolution in China, criticising India’s departure from non-alignment into the Soviet sphere of influence, supporting the Naxalites in India, for “splitting” the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign and for supporting organisations such as the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania, the Black Consciousness Movement and ZANU as well as the ANC and ZAPU. [Material relevant to these issues will be published on a website about Manu which is currently under construction by the authors of this letter].
Along with Comrade Gora Ibrahim and other representatives of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania, Manu campaigned unsuccessfully for many years to unite the solidarity groups opposing apartheid. Only in Britain did such a sorry situation exist – where the CPGB-dominated Anti-Apartheid Movement could not be shifted from exclusive support for the ANC which, in turn, was dominated by the mainly white leadership of the Communist Party of South Africa. Again, this did not win him many friends among your respondents.
The issues of “splitting” and “walking out” are dealt with in greater detail later, as we feel that your readers have been completely cut off from the context in which the remarks about Manchanda have been made.
In his editorial, dated April/May 1965, “Partners in Aggression”, Manu spelt out the co-operation between the United States and the Soviet Union through the United Nations “peacekeeping” force in the Congo.
Re-reading in 2000 what Manu had written in 1965 one cannot help but see the parallels with the world we now live in vis-a-vis the role of the United Nations, even down to the same old dispute over U.S. payments.
[The article penned by Manu accused the Soviet Union of collaboration with U.S. imperialism in suppressing national liberations movements, including in Vietnam, and of being complicit in the murder of Patrice Lumumba – TO READ THE ARTICLE IN FULL, PLEASE GO TO MY BLOG ARCHIVE FOR MAY 7, 2015].
This final issue of the West Indian Gazette which, as you would have it, “a man bravely tried to carry on … ” (more of this error later) proved the last straw for the Communist Party insofar as Manu’s membership was concerned,
On October 29, 1965, he hand-delivered a letter to the members of the executive committee of the Communist Party of Great Britain, 16 King Street, WC2, about his suspension from membership. The illness he refers to was diabetes mellitus, undiagnosed for many years until it was picked up by a young doctor in Vietnam, He also had a mental breakdown immediately following Claudia’s death for which he was hospitalised. We quote from his letter:
“Before my suspension on September 23, only in June, did the District Committee ask me to see them ‘on an important political question’. As explained to the DC I could not see them then, because of my illness and the heavy responsibilities left to me after the death of Comrade Claudia Jones.”
He continues: “The hollowness if not the hypocrisy of the District Committee’s sympathy is highlighted by the facts stated below:
“(i) The treatment accorded to the late Comrade Claudia Jones, after her deportation from the U.S.A. by the Party leadership, was a betrayal of the sacred trust of the American Party, the American people and especially the oppressed Negro people whose leader and representative she was.
“(ii) The circumstances of her death, the most inhuman and vindictive behaviour of the Party leadership regarding her funeral (owing to the serious political differences she had with them, during her stay in exile in England) which has involved me unnecessarily in heavy financial commitments to solicitors and courts – all these are, to say the least, most uncomradely and inglorious examples in the course of inner-party struggle.
” … The DC’s case emerged as follows:
“(a) The contents of an editorial article in the April-May 1965 issue of the West Indian Gazette & Afro-Asian-Caribbean News, founded and edited by the late Claudia Jones – and edited by me after her death, was contrary to Party policy.
(b) Hence, my conduct, as the editor responsible for the editorial, was a breach of Rule. From my first letter to the DC dated June 16, 1965, over a period of nearly four months, I have repeatedly offered to make a written statement, provided the DC would give the following information concretely:
“(i) What is the policy of the Party on the issues raised in the editorial article they have objected to?
“(ii) How did the contents of this editorial article violate that policy?”
The District Committee asserted that the W.I.G editorial was a slander on the Soviet Union and violated the Party’s view of the role of the Soviet Union in relation to the national liberation movements,
Marika, although you took it upon yourself to sort Manu’s papers into headings such as “letters to Indians” before handing them back, we wonder whether you read any of these documents?
On page 51 of your book, Avtar Jouhl, is quoted as saying, “he had to have his own way, He became extremely annoyed if he didn’t win the vote and threatened to leave whatever organisation he was with”,
Avtar Jouhl gave a warm and comradely speech commemorating Manchanda from the platform of a memorial meeting organised after Manu’s death. However, by using this quote to imply that Manu had some kind of proclivity for “walking out” without telling us the circumstances again leaves the reader high and dry, Sometimes it’s a good idea to walk out, as when Claudia walked out on hearing her Communist Party comrades singing “Rule Britannia” at “a Party VIP’s home”, reported on page 80 of your book.
Manu’s most significant “walk-out” happened at the founding meeting of the Vietnam Solidarity campaign. He has often been reviled for this and blamed for splitting the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign. Unfortunately, not many of people who repeat this story correctly remember the circumstances,
We will focus in some detail on the Vietnam solidarity movement as this became the flash point for the no-holds-barred hostility between various political groupings and provides an insight into the differences between Manchanda and the Communist Party of ‘Great Britain.’
At the founding meeting of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, 78 delegates walked out when a group around the Nottingham journal “The Week” who had control of the Chair, refused to recognise the National Liberation Front as the sole representative of the South Vietnamese people, They also refused to accept that the set of demands known as the four-point programme of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the five-point programme of the South Vietnam Front for Liberation, should be the basis of any solidarity work. Those who walked out included Vietnamese journalists resident in London who were the unofficial ambassadors of the country in London, representatives of solidarity groups in Asia, Africa, Haiti, the Caribbean, Belgium, Holland, Italy and Switzerland. Manu, who had foreseen such an eventuality had booked another hall nearby where the conference was reconvened immediately.
The Nottingham group, who were Trotskyites, believed that the South Vietnam NLF was not a revolutionary organisation and was not worthy of support. They characterised the government of North Vietnam as “Stalinist”. One did not have to be a great theoretician to work out that their chairmanship of the founding conference of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign might lead to a walk-out.
Manchanda and others formed the Britain-Vietnam Solidarity Front which fully supported the Vietnamese struggle for national liberation, The CPGB followed the Moscow line of promoting peace talks. Articles written by Manu define the CPGB’s calls for “peace” as “submission to the Johnson Doctrine”.
“If the Vietnamese people refuse to ‘negotiate’ and submit to the aggressor, then there is a danger of a world nuclear holocaust – as some people put it ‘a single spark can lead to a world conflagration’ (Krushchev). Hence, not only the people of Vietnam, but the whole world, is being asked to submit to the nuclear blackmail of US imperialism. That for the sake of world peace, the independence of Vietnam is expendable.”
(Britain Vietnam Solidarity leaflet.
“Using the slogan ‘peace in Vietnam’ is in fact demanding that the Vietnamese people give up their struggle for the independence of their country. It implies racial arrogance, denying the people of colour of Vietnam the same right to defend themselves and their homes that is accepted for white North Americans and Europeans.”
[Distinguished American writer, Mary McCarthy, wrote in the New York Review of Books, December 19, 1968 (an article also published by the Observer) “A Letter from London” in which she describes meeting Manu as preparations went ahead for the demonstration against the Vietnam War, October 27, 1968, known as The Battle of Grosvenor Square. Maoists and others went to ‘the lair of American imperialism’ – the embassy in Grosvenor Square – Tariq Ali and others marched to Hyde Park where they whistled The Red Flag].
By 1968, the year of the great mass demonstrations against US imperialism, the Britain Vietnam Solidarity Front had grown into a national organisation with strong international links, Their national conference was “attended by 34 delegates from London, the Midlands, North and South England as well as 14 fraternal delegates and 12 observers from the Republic ofIreland, Portugal, Denmark, Mozambique, Kenya, Azania and Malaya … Telegraphic messages were received from AfroAmerican leader Robert F. Williams …. the South Vietnam Peace Committee and the Federation of Trade Unions of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.” (BVSF Bulletin, Summer 1968).
Remember, the CPGB was still pushing “peace” at any price and the Trotskyites still refused to join in any slogan which used the name of Ho Chi Minh or “Victory to the NLF” ,
About a cycle ride in Bulgaria, organised by CPGB fundraisers, Manu wrote:
“Not surprisingly, for people more interested in a spree in Bulgaria than in solidarity with Vietnam, the bicycle clique as it turned out were also unhappy about the militant slogans that had been adopted. When their attempt to change these failed they simply bypassed the Committee and put out a sticker advertising July 21 with a different slogan – ‘Vietnam: Victory, Peace, Freedom!’ – a slogan which of course would be perfectly acceptable to Lyndon Johnson.”
Manu’s ironic tone, recognisable from this piece of writing, was present also, for example, when he wrote to Claudia, about a “collective discussion”, (quoted by Donald Hinds on page 137) “In fact it is not collective as yet as your comments are one person’s comments hence one can’t call them collective, unless you are the collective.”
The Sunday Times, before being swallowed up by the Murdoch empire, flew in the American writer, Mary McCarthy, to cover the march on October 27tn, 1968, which the papers dubbed “The Battle of Grosvenor Square”. That weekend she wrote in the Sunday Times colour supplement:
“Mr Manchanda, a former teacher, was an old-fashioned classical Marxist. Like many of those men, he had a witty mind, referring to Tariq Ali as a “revisionist playboy”, and remarking, after the march was over, that he had not cared to join Tariq Ali’s “guided tour of the West End.”
“What came out of our meeting with Mr Manchanda, following on our meeting with Tariq Ali, was a series of paradoxes … the style of Tariq Ali was radical; the style of Mr Manchanda was modest petty bourgeois, recalling the home lives of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky himself. Maoist China, they say, is hermetic, suspicious, hostile to foreigners, yet the Maoist cell in Hampstead was as open as the laundromat where Mr Manchanda had been doing his smalls. Though we came from the bourgeois Press, we were not treated as trespassers but simply as guests – the reverse of what happened in Carlisle Street (Black Dwarf office) …
“This, too, was perhaps a lesson in the persuasiveness of non-violent techniques in human relations, for the next afternoon, marching up from the Embankment, when we came to the crossroads of choice at Trafalgar Square, whether to turn left with the Trotskyists down to Whitehall and Downing Street or right with the Maoists to Grosvenor Square, I had no real hesitation in making up my mind, and what slight hesitation I had was purely journalistic ….on these issues I found myself agreeing with Mr Manchanda: the main enemy is in Grosvenor Square; march on him there … ” (Mary McCarthy, Sunday Times colour supplement. October 1968).
[The Black Dwarf was a Trotsyite paper edited by Tariq Ali.]
Mary McCarthy’s long article is worth reading in full for a cool, contemporaneous appraisal of the Vietnam solidarity movement and Manchanda’s role within it.
As referred to earlier, on page 200 you have Donald Hinds saying, in the symposium, “After her death, a man bravely tried to carry on the West Indian Gazette tradition”, ”
Obviously, what Donald actually said was, “Manu” or “Manchanda” not “a man,” which makes no sense whatsoever, Perhaps this was a mishearing by the transcriber of the tapes but it is a mistake which should have been picked up, either by you or an editor or a copy editor with an understanding of the material. Or perhaps, it was just too difficult to allow Manchanda’s name to appear in any positive context whatsoever in the entire book.
Page 201: “”glossy bookshop in Camden Town of which Manchanda was the manager,” Could this be a reference to Banner Books and Crafts, which was managed by Mr B.J. Bijur, (a fellow Indian, could this have caused some confusion?) who sold books and crafts from the People’s Republic of China, as well as other anti-racist and progressive books and posters?
You might remember, if you were living nearby then, that the shop was burnt out after being torched by the National Front and an elderly man lost his life in the fire, As we were living with Manchanda at the time, I think we would have known if he was managing a bookshop, glossy or otherwise. Yet you did not avail yourself of the opportunity to ask us.
Why were such mistakes not rectified during the editorial process?
In preparing this letter, we have only scratched the surface of Manu’s political work throughout his lifetime. In the last five years of his life he qualified as a homeopath and gave free consultations to those who could not afford to pay, He believed the homeopathic method to be dialectical. Colleagues from that part of his life turned up at his memorial meeting quite unaware of his extraordinary, parallel political life.
While the main purpose of this letter was to provide a context to your portrayal of the late Abhimanyu Manchanda, we need to refer back to previous letters in which Diane had expressed her anxieties after you had to be chased up several times to get material returned, She wrote:
“As you are aware, I have looked after the papers for several years in full recognition of the awesome responsibility which fell to me following Manu’s death, and fully conscious of the questionability of white people hoarding and “managing” Blckk history and culture.” (20th November, 1998).
You replied: “While I am certainly a European, I have never, in all my years of writing on the Black presence in Britain, hoarded any materials. Anything I have is open to researchers. Why else would I be organising a conference on the need to collect ‘ethnic minority’ papers? In these days of photocopying etc. there is no need to hoard, surely, even for those who might wish to ‘manage’ the history of Black peoples. And all historians ‘manage’ history.”
On 24th November 1998, Diane answered: “My comments regarding the issue of white people having custodianship of such important material were not made in reference to you. I was simply trying to convey my sense of responsibility towards Manu and Claudia’s estate, and my belief that these should be in the hands of Black researchers and made as widely accessible as possible, as this is what has informed my commitment to dealing with the matter.”
Unfortunately, the anxieties expressed above, proved to be well-founded, In our belief, no matter how well-intentioned or anti-racist the white writer/researcher/ historian/etc, a white perspective engenders the kind of “slip-up” of which we give a couple of examples from your book.
On Page 16 you write: “In those days that a Black woman could be beautiful was an unknown concept”. The question is, unknown to whom? Your comment, which you put in parenthesis, as if to aid the reader’s understanding, of course reflects a white, racist perspective. No doubt Black people themselves were, then as now, perfectly capable of perceiving their own beauty.
And on page 44 of the book you state there were “very few Black people with any politkal experience, except perhaps in the Caribbean…”
This is contradicted on page 68, for example, where we read that in the segregated political classes for West Africans, conducted by Emile Burns, ”there were often mature men and women with years of work and, in some cases, years of political activity behind them”. We have already made mention of Manu’s own long struggle and early political activity.
Manu’s many friends and comrades, as well as his family here and in India, are deeply hurt and angered by the sour and unresolved note you have struck in this book, The truth is, all of us, especially his daughter and grand-daughter, have much to be proud of in celebrating his life,
Diane Langford Claudia Manchanda
Lawrence and Wishart
Jenny Bourne, Institute of Race Relations
Professor Carole Boyce Davies, Florida International University Alrick Cambridge, Florida International University
Diana Lachatanere, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Inder Das Gupta
Indian Workers Association
Pan Africanist Congress of Azania
Camden New Journal
Louisa John Baptiste
Professor Lola Young, Middlesex University