A political history
Author: Sarah Glynn

This exploration of one of the most concentrated immigrant communities in Britain combines a new narrative history, a theoretical analysis of the evolving relationship between progressive left politics and ethnic minorities, and a critique of political multiculturalism. Its central concern is the perennial question of how to propagate an effective radical politics in a multicultural society: how to promote greater equality that benefits both ethnic minorities and the wider population, and why so little has been achieved. It charts how the Bengali Muslims in London’s East End have responded to the pulls of class, ethnicity and religion; and how these have been differently reinforced by wider political movements. Drawing on extensive recorded interviews, ethnographic observation, and long sorties into the local archives, it recounts and analyses the experiences of many of those who took part in over six decades of political history that range over secular nationalism, trade unionism, black radicalism, mainstream local politics, Islamism, and the rise and fall of the Respect Coalition. Through this Bengali case study and examples from wider immigrant politics, it traces the development and adoption of the concepts of popular frontism and revolutionary stages theory and of the identity politics that these ideas made possible. It demonstrates how these theories and tactics have cut across class-based organisation and acted as an impediment to tackling cross-cultural inequality; and it argues instead for a left alternative that addresses fundamental socio-economic divisions.

Sarah Glynn

a brief flowering on the back of the double failure of what is still referred to as the mainstream left. The Labour Party, remoulded and not simply rebranded as New Labour, had failed to bring the long-awaited fairer society, abandoning its core supporters along with its socialist policies. And it had taken the country to war in Iraq against massive popular opposition and on grounds that were increasingly being questioned. New Labour’s failures were felt especially strongly in Tower Hamlets. Not only had the Labour government presided over continued social

in Class, ethnicity and religion in the Bengali East End
Sarah Glynn

, beginning in the 1980s, the expansion of financial services and related businesses in the former dockland area of Canary Wharf and spilling out from the City of London has created pockets of great wealth. Parts of the old centres of immigration and working-class areas more generally are rapidly succumbing to the dual pressures of office expansion and gentrification. However, despite an influx of people on very high salaries, Tower Hamlets – the borough formed in 1965 through the amalgamation of the old boroughs of Stepney, Bethnal Green and Poplar – is still noted for

in Class, ethnicity and religion in the Bengali East End
Sarah Glynn

Glynn 07_Tonra 01 19/06/2014 12:54 Page 147 7 Bengalis in the council chamber The community-based activism of the late 1970s led to a pragmatic move into mainstream Labour politics.1 For many activists this was the logical next step, despite the fact that party politics had been only peripheral to the struggles described in the previous chapter, and that in some of the housing battles Tower Hamlets Labour Council had been on the opposing side.These activists generally continued to see themselves as representatives of the Bengali community, but argued that they

in Class, ethnicity and religion in the Bengali East End
Sarah Glynn

positions tied together by relations of patronage and economic and political dependence. She explains, ‘It is towards the gusthi [patrilineage] that an individual owes allegiance in matters beyond the domain of the household.’ And that ‘by maintaining … patronage relations with poor kin, rich members of a lineage are guaranteed social and political support’.35 A Tower Hamlets community worker described to me the role her father played as village elder back in Sylhet. She explained, ‘The whole village is still a very sort of close-knit community, and the oldest, or the

in Class, ethnicity and religion in the Bengali East End
Abstract only
Nadia Kiwan

within a mainstream political party which has no external community label. However, as detailed by many others, there are often community or culturally inflected dynamics at play, which means that the councillor is often elected as a representative of the local ‘Pakistani community’, or the local ‘Bangladeshi community’ (see Garbaye 2005, for example). Culturally (or nationally) defined organisations refer to specific civil society groupings which define themselves as such – for example, the Bangladeshi Youth Movement in Tower Hamlets or Newham Bengali Community Trust

in Identities, discourses and experiences
Sarah Glynn

Council (GLC) – who owned three in five local authority houses in Tower Hamlets – and Tower Hamlets Borough Council found themselves rehousing different people from the same houses and tenements again and again. By the mid-1970s a large majority of Tower Hamlets residents lived in public sector housing,31 but very little had been built in Spitalfields, at the heart of the Bengali area, even after slums had been cleared. In the fights of both the slum tenants and the squatters, Bengalis played a significant part. In his account of the squatters’ movement of the late 1960

in Class, ethnicity and religion in the Bengali East End
Sarah Glynn

Muslims playing a full role in civil society, and the concluding message to a well-attended convention on ‘Muslim Priorities in the West’ in York Hall in August 2001 was for Muslims to impress non-Muslims with their actions wherever they were.8 While right-wing blogs9 like to ‘expose’ Islamist sympathies among members of the Tower Hamlets Labour Party and accuse them of entrism, there is nothing secret about the Islamists’ aims. For some, this approach is too cautious, too slow, too compromising. For them there are more radical and revolutionary groups that set aside

in Class, ethnicity and religion in the Bengali East End
Sarah Glynn

demonstrates the tenacity of patriarchal understandings. Increasingly, Bengalis are moving out of Tower Hamlets in search of greener spaces, better schools, and more affordable and available housing (or even in order to rent out their now valuable ex-council flat). However, there are many who have made a bit of money and still live in the area and this is encouraged by the changes that have taken place in parts of the borough itself. Middle-class Jews moved out. So have some middle-class Bengalis, but this is no longer simply a poor and working-class area. Many of what could

in Class, ethnicity and religion in the Bengali East End
Sarah Glynn

of power politics and the way party leaders jostle for control.33 For the British Bengalis Glynn 04_Tonra 01 19/06/2014 12:50 Page 87 BRITISH BANGLADESHIS studying A-level politics at Tower Hamlets College, corrupt Bengali politics may be just good for a laugh. One of them told me: All we hear is the amount of bribery that’s going on, ’cos our parents talk constantly about it … And so we don’t understand this stuff really, and the stuff we do understand we just laugh at it. And so, like, when we were talking about the EU in politics, it’s like a couple of

in Class, ethnicity and religion in the Bengali East End