[Marxism] Wow! Someone worse than Jack Barnes

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Nov 30 05:40:45 MST 2013

NY Times November 29, 2013
In London ‘Slaves’ Case, 3 Women Isolated Under a Maoist Guru’s Sway

LONDON — They have become known as the “Brixton slaves,” three women who 
say they were held against their will for 30 years in a South London home.

When a man and his wife were arrested last week, some wondered briefly 
whether this was Britain’s Ariel Castro moment, recalling the man who 
imprisoned three women in his Cleveland home for a decade. Then 
speculation quickly turned to forced marriage and domestic slavery.

But the tale that has emerged is stranger still. It involves a Maoist 
guru who promised followers liberation by the Chinese Army, a 
cricket-playing Welshwoman who died after plunging out of a third-floor 
bathroom window, and parents trying to kidnap their own children.

Two of the women who called a charity hotline on Oct. 18 and left the 
home of the couple they identified as their captors a week later had 
actually met the couple in a far-left splinter group and moved into a 
“collective” with them in the 1970s. The two women have been identified 
in the British news media as Aisha Wahab, 69, from Malaysia, and 
Josephine Herivel, 57, from Northern Ireland, both from a middle-class 
background and college educated. The third woman, a 30-year-old Briton 
identified as Rosie Davies, appears to have been born into the 
collective and may never have gone to school, investigators said.

The picture of the three women’s lives that is gradually emerging from 
accounts by relatives of former collective members, neighbors, charity 
workers and the police is one of an isolated existence in a small 
sectlike group tightly controlled by a 5-foot-4 man named Aravindan 
Balakrishnan, now 73.

Mr. Balakrishnan — or Comrade Bala, as he was known — arrived in Britain 
from Singapore in the 1960s and ran a Maoist center on a street corner 
in the Brixton district of South London with his Tanzanian wife, Chanda. 
He was expelled from the leadership of a small Maoist group, the 
Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist), for “splittist 
activities.” He reportedly mocked the group as the Communist Party of 
Elizabeth (Most-Loyal) and went on to found the even smaller Workers’ 
Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, with about two dozen 
members who wore Mao lapel badges.

Mr. Balakrishnan had the charisma of a “guru,” said Steve Rayner, an 
Oxford professor who in 1979 wrote his Ph.D. thesis on leftist groups in 
Britain and studied the Workers’ Institute. “He clearly held a strong 
grip over the membership.”

Ms. Wahab, who had come to Britain with her Malaysian fiancé, was so 
smitten with Mr. Balakrishnan that she threw her engagement ring into 
the Thames, according to her sister Kamar Mautum, who was interviewed by 
The Daily Telegraph.

In 1978, after an attack on a police officer, the authorities raided the 
institute’s Mao Memorial Center and arrested 14 members, including Mr. 
Balakrishnan and his wife. The center subsequently closed, and the 
collective broke up, but a small group of people stayed with the couple, 
including Ms. Wahab and Ms. Herivel, investigators said.

So far, almost nothing is known about life inside half a dozen 
properties the group occupied over 30 years, all in southeast London. 
The police only this week started questioning the three women, who have 
been cared for by trauma experts in an unidentified location since 
October. But fragments of the experience of a fourth woman — another 
former collective member, who appears to be the mother of the youngest 
woman — offer a glimpse.

Sian Davies, an avid cricketer from rural Wales, moved into the 
collective while studying at the London School of Economics in the 
1970s, according to her cousin Eleri Morgan. Ms. Davies died in 1997, 
seven months after falling out of the bathroom window on Dec. 24.

As soon as she joined Mr. Balakrishnan’s group, Ms. Davies cut off 
almost all contact with her family, said Ms. Morgan, a retired 
schoolteacher in London. The two grew up together, and Ms. Morgan often 
saw Ms. Davies after both moved to London in the mid-1970s.

“Almost from one day to the next, she vanished and her phone stopped 
working,” Ms. Morgan said in a telephone interview. The only time Ms. 
Davies visited her mother, one day in the late 1980s, she was 
accompanied by two group members. “They never left her alone with her 
mother,” Ms. Morgan said.

Ms. Davies’s mother, desperate to track down her only daughter, at one 
point hired a private investigator. But the group, which relocated 
frequently, appeared to always be one step ahead. Ms. Davies’s 
boyfriend, Martin, also a member of the group, had been “snatched” and 
taken home by a man his parents had hired, Ms. Morgan said.

Even when Ms. Davies was hospitalized for seven months for spinal 
injuries after her fall, the group did not inform her family, Ms. Morgan 
said. “My auntie only found out after Sian had died and police came to 
tell her,” she said.

Ms. Morgan went to the hospital to identify her cousin’s body and picked 
up a small bag of belongings. News reports say that Ms. Davies died with 
only five pounds to her name, having transferred an inheritance to the 

At a hearing, when a judicial inquiry into Ms. Davies’s death ended with 
an “open verdict” unable to determine its circumstances, Ms. Morgan came 
face to face with Mr. Balakrishnan. “I thought, what a weedy little 
man,” she said. “He was short, toothless — he had no upper teeth — and 
wore thick glasses that came down on his nose. I couldn’t understand how 
anyone could follow this man.”

But academics who study group dynamics say the Brixton collective may 
have represented a classic case of sectarian behavior.

“This reminds me quite a lot of the cases we are working on,” said 
Amanda van Eck, a researcher at the London School of Economics who 
studies small religious groups. “Especially in very small underground 
groups, you can have very coercive environments. If there is no website, 
no P.O. box, no connection with the outside world for a very long time, 
you tend to get some very problematic interpersonal relations.”

The police have said the women had “controlled freedom.” They were seen 
shopping at a nearby supermarket, and the youngest wrote love letters to 
a neighbor, The Guardian reported, albeit saying that she felt “trapped 
like a fly in a spider’s web.”

Slavery, Ms. van Eck said, “is probably not a helpful term here.”

“In the end,” she said, “they walked out of the door.”

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