Socialism on stony ground
in Class, ethnicity and religion in the Bengali East End
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While previous chapters looked at how popular-front politics postponed the development of socialist ideas indefinitely, this looks at how their cultural background impacted on the Bengali socialists. It looks at the continued importance of religion and of patriarchal relationships, at the Bengalis’ rural roots and position as landowners, and at their blurred definitions of class and rejection of working-class identity. It looks at how structural and working-class racism encouraged a wariness of white trade unionists; and how the growth of identity politics and separate organisation helped persuade the Bengalis to dismiss left-wing organisations as the ‘white left’, and not identify common cause. It looks at the failure of the British Communist Party to make effective links with Black and Asian immigrants in the early years, and at the limits of attempts to politicise and unionise the lascars. It examines the structural difficulties of unionising clothing workshops and restaurant workers, and at various attempts to overcome these. The chapter contrasts the Bengali experience with earlier Jewish immigrant trade-unionism, which was seen as important for working-class solidarity and for cutting across racism.

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