“We write for the people we fight for,” “We are here because you were there,” “if those who have don’t give, those who haven’t must take” – Siva’s politics can be told in aphorisms. He was one of the most gifted political writers of the 20th century in Britain, a political militant, an incredible analyst and a disaffected pamphleteer. Dying at the start of 2018, he left a legacy that surprisingly few respect.
Siva moved to the UK from his native Sri Lanka when he was in his mid-thirties. He had four children and a wife. They moved following the ethnic conflict between the Sinhalese and Tamil populations. Siva just about saved his family by impersonating an army officer. When he got to the UK, he moved to Bayswater and saw the race riots of 1958, where marauding white gangs targeted the black population. His experiences of racial violence had a profound effect on him. He would go on to define the roots of racial violence, positioning race and class in a dialectical relation that defined capitalism. He cut through the left that were class reductionists, and he cut through the nationalists who just saw race. In his life, he oscillated between being more of class warrior and seeing race as the fundamental organising principle. His analysis never took anything for granted, he mapped technological development like few could, and developed terms and analysis that illuminate the present in ways few others have.
Daniel Renwick will look at Siva’s later works. His last bit of writing began “whatever Brexit does or does not mean, it certainly means racism,” which Renwick will use to introduce terms like xenoracism, imperialism in the silicon age and globalism. There’s a particular understanding of race and class that once grasped. makes it impossible to sever the international from the domestic, the borders from the pickets, the working class from the labour pools of the periphery. A politics that locates all and seeks to unite all of the actors militating for change is the task, we need that unity to “catch history on the wing” and seize the time. Or we accept the barbarism.
Ambalavaner Sivanandan (1923 – 2018) was a Sri Lankan novelist, Director of the Institute of Race Relations, a London-based independent educational charity, and Editor of its journal Race & Class. His novel, When Memory Dies, won the 1998 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in the Best First Book category for Europe and South Asia. A selected bibliography of Siva’s writing on race and class can be read here.