Black radicalism and separate organisation
in Class, ethnicity and religion in the Bengali East End
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Chapter 6 provides a detailed examination of the impact of identity politics. It begins with a critical look at the development of black radical ideas, their dismissal of the ‘white working class’, and their failure to set out how sectorial struggle could lead to working-class unity. It concentrates on the experience of the Bengali Housing Action Group, a squatters’ organisation coordinated by black radical activists from Race Today, and on anti-racist resistance spearheaded by second generation Asian Youth Movements. These campaigns succeeded in securing homes for many families and in generating a sea-change in community consciousness and confidence as Bengalis asserted their right to stay in Britain and be treated decently. However they left a legacy of geographical clustering and of separate community-based organisation that failed to address wider socio-economic inequalities. The chapter compares this identity politics with the 1930s, when the Communist Party used campaigns against racism and for better housing to unite the working class across the racial divide, to undercut support for fascism, and to build support for left ideas. It concludes by looking at how public money has been used to incorporate once-radical organisation into the establishment and institutionalise competition between different community groups.

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