Below, you will find our translation of an article that was first published in the German news weekly Der Spiegel on 8 June 1970. As far as we’re aware, it’s the only time the press in that country reported on the original skinhead wave. It would be eight years before skinheads made another appearance in Der Spiegel, once again in connection with racism and street thuggery in the East End of London.
A word of warning: in Germany, Der Spiegel has traditionally occupied a more or less ‘centre left’ position among establishment papers. Its target audience are the chattering classes, to whose prejudices it tends to pander. What’s more, despite its solid reputation for investigative journalism into government affairs, Der Spiegel has also been known to tell a fib or two – to the point of earning itself the nickname, “the gutter rag for graduates”. In other words, you’d be well advised to take what you’re about to read with a pinch of salt.
For one, we’d be grateful for any alternative sources citing 40 skinheads offering Enoch Powell their services as bodyguards during the 1970 general election campaign. This is the only time we’ve ever come across that claim, so it’s is doubtful to say the least.
Sometimes, the problem isn’t so much what the piece says, but what it leaves out. For instance, it evokes the East End’s “long tradition of discriminating against minorities” and claims, “the fathers of the skinheads used to fire their sawed-off shotguns at Jewish neighbours, encouraged by the British fascist leader Oswald Mosley”. What it doesn’t say: when Mosley came into the East End with some 3000 supporters, he had his arse handed to him by 100,000 members of the working class. Statistically speaking, “the fathers of the skinheads” would have been more likely to give Mosley’s boys a hiding than they were to fire sawed-off shotguns at Jewish neighbours.
Let’s look truth squarely in the face, though: revisionist accounts that describe original skinheads as an ‘anti-racist’ youth movement are wide off the mark. It’s true that by and large, skinheads were less racist than their parents, not to mention the first generation of white British youth to socialise with Afro-Carribeans. But Britain was a far more racist society then, and this coloured off on skinheads’ attitudes, too.
In the late 60s and early 70s, ‘paki-bashing’ was indeed rampant – but was it typical of the skinhead subculture? Keep in mind that during this period, skinhead was the dominant working class youth fashion. There was hardly an estate or comprehensive school in Britain without its own mob. Unsurprising, then, that plenty of ‘paki bashers’ sported the style commonly identified as skinhead. By the same token, these were a minority among skinheads, if a highly visible one in terms of media representation.
No doubt we’ll investigate this further in future entries. For now, let’s leave it at George Marshall’s rather apt observation that there were racist skinheads just as there were racist milkmen.
Download PDF of original 1970 article: SPIEGEL_1970_24_45439725-1
They meet outside fish & chips shops and on street corners in London’s East End: teenagers with their hair cropped short, wearing sleeveless jumpers and blue jeans that are much too wide and held up by red braces. They wear clunky lace-up boots with steel toecaps.
They call themselves skinheads: 12-20 years old working class kids who have formed into gangs in the slums of England’s big cities. There are more than 10,000 of them. With fanatical hatred, they chase bikers, hippies and the coloured immigrants of Britain.
For months, skinhead mobs have ambushed lone Pakistanis who live in the slums of London’s East End. Now they have become active in the British general election campaign: 40 cropheads offered “our comrade Enoch Powell”, the racist hard rightist of the Conservative Party, their services as bodyguards. The skinheads jump Asians and kick them with steel-toe dockworker boots (‘bovver boots’) until they are half-dead. They rob their victims and cut their faces with sharpened steel combs.
For “those brown stinkers”, as a fourteen-year-old explained his actions for the benefit of British TV viewers, “those Hare Krishnas eat garlic. They wear silk clothes that slouch all over their bodies. They rub oil into their long hair, and they don’t even speak our language. They’re just different, that’s why we mess them up”.
“The brutality of these skinheads mirrors the sick, arrogant British society”, the 32 years old Pakistani lawyer Abdul Hye explains. Hye is the leader of the Pakistani Progressive Party, which counts 300 members. “We don’t want to defer any longer”, says Hye, “we will fight back now”.
Hye’s role models are the leaders of the American black power movement. “We will organise the politicisation of the coloured masses that the whites so fear”, he says.
The Pakistanis, who suffered more than 100 attacks by skinhead gangs during the past months, have not taken any steps to protect themselves. Many of them fear trouble with the police more than beatings because they have come into the country illegally and face deportation.
In any case, the East End has a long tradition of discriminating against minorities. At the turn of the century, the grandfathers of the skinhead yobs hounded the 100,000 Jews who had come from Eastern Europe.
As recently as three decades ago, the fathers of the skinheads used to fire sawed-off shotguns at Jewish neighbours, encouraged by the British fascist leader Oswald Mosley.
Today, almost 7,000 Pakistanis live in the condemned apartments formerly inhabited by Jews, who have since become wealthy or have emigrated to Israel.
The bulk of the Asians come to London without families. Overwhelmingly, they have no notion of the British way of life and barely speak a word of English. Nor do they learn it, given that compatriots who have lived in the UK for years and have established businesses will often offer them employment.
The skinheads, on the other hand, are “fanaticised by their parents and full of prejudice against the Asians”, social workers report in a paper about the living conditions of coloured people in the East End slums. According to the paper, the parents even encourage their bald kids to go ‘Paki bashing’ – for those who are hard and know how to fight enjoy good social standing.
Abdul Hye wants the Pakistanis to become hard, too. He organises karate and judo lessons at Lavender Hill, an East End restaurant, three times a week.