An account and analysis of the rise of communalism, multiculturalism and the creation of the British "Muslim community" under New Labour.
In1 1997 New Labour came to power with the promise of sweeping away the last vestiges of the old British establishment, with all the class ridden and racist attitudes it had entailed, and create a new diverse, meritocratic and multicultural Britain. Exemplifying the emergence of this new multicultural Britain, the very same year saw, with the active encouragement of New Labour politicians, the formation the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which clamed to represent the two million strong 'British muslim community'. However, five years later the honeymoon between New Labour and the 'British muslim community' seemed to be over. As ten of thousands of muslims mobilized to join the national anti-war demonstrations in the months before the invasion of Iraq, the 'British muslim community' appeared as a cohesive political force opposed to New Labour's foreign policy.
Buoyed by the huge up swell of popular opposition to the war, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), together with their leftist allies within the Stop the War Coalition, saw the opportunity of breaking into the big time of bourgeois politics on the back of this wave of anti-Tony Blair feeling. To this end Respect was set up in 2004 as a broad electoral alliance that sought to harness the popular opposition to the war and transform it into an opposition to New Labour as a whole.
Yet vital to the success of this project, particularly as the anti-war movement began to subside, was the need to bring the 'British muslim community' on board. So as not to put muslims off, the SWP insisted that Respect eschew left-wing 'shibboleths' such as women's and gay rights. They went to the mosques and echoed the arguments of the more radical political Islamicists by claiming that Bush's 'Global War on Terror' was in fact a war on muslims - both abroad, with the attack on muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also at home with the succession of anti-terrorist legislation - that should be opposed by all muslims as 'muslims'. And like the more radical political Islamicists they denounced New Labour as being Islamophobic and racist.
Yet for all their efforts to pander to muslim sensitivities, Respect failed to win over the 'British muslim community', which remained wedded to New Labour. As we shall argue in this article, this attempt to bring the 'British muslim community' was doomed to fail since it was based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what the 'British muslim community' is and the nature of its connection to New Labour.
In Part 1 we shall consider how the politics and ideology of New Labour both emerged out of and transmuted the ideas and politics of the counter-culture and New Left of the 1960s and 1970s. In particular we shall show how anti-racism became transformed into the ideology and practice of communitarianism and multi-culturalism. In Part 2 we shall turn to consider how the 'British muslim community' emerged as a formal and abstract 'community' out of the various concrete Asian communities across Britain. In Part 3, we shall examine the relations between New Labour and both the 'British muslim community and the various Asian communities that it seeks to represent. And we shall see why although the government's support for the 'global war on terror' placed a strain on these relationships, it did not break them.
Part 1: From New Left to New Labour
The ascendancy of New Labour in 1997 saw the culmination of a remaking of the establishment that had already been taking place for several years before. The establishment now consists of significant numbers of people who came to politics around 1968, when radical social change was in the air. This class of 1968 now runs Britain. In a sense, the political world has been turned upside down.
The class of '68 come from a broader cross section of society than their old establishment forebears. The social conditions of the post-war period - in particular social mobility and the expansion of both university education and the white collar service sector - have meant that some of the New Labour ruling class went to grammar schools and some even grew up on council estates - for example Jack Straw, David Blunkett, Alan Johnson, and Hazel Blears.
The emergence of this new, upwardly mobile establishment has been accompanied by a new consensus around the nature of 'society' and 'politics'. This new consensus is at least in part explicable in terms of the political and social experience of this class of '68. The consensus is over such issues as multiculturalism and makes sense of New Labour's relation to 'the muslim community'.
Community and 'community'
Bourgeois society is the negation of community, for in bourgeois society people do not relate to each other directly (whether in terms of authority, equality or whatever) but through commodities. Local 'communities' are simply people who by accident share the same living space. Yet long after the decline of traditional community relations in Britain, the concept of 'community' is important in the new establishment consensus, and is bandied about such that it seems to refer to just about any category of people, whether they actually know each other and relate to each other in some way or not.
Hence it is a commonplace now in bourgeois discourse to refer to the 'black community', the 'gay community' and so on. But this is not just talk. There is, as the right have bemoaned, an orthodoxy in the establishment around the moral and material status of these 'communities'. The rights and interests of the different 'communities' are given various forms of support through financial and legal relationships with the state. 'Equal opportunities', for example, has been expanded and consolidated to become a structural part of every organization and a powerful arm of government in its own right. And there is always a need for structures to ensure fairness since there are always (members of) 'groups' who might be discriminated against. While 'positive discrimination' is still not explicitly sanctioned, the police, for example, actively welcome applications from gay, female, vertically challenged, differently abled, 'ethnic' and other supposed representatives of 'minority' groups.
The rights of different 'communities' and categories of people are so taken for granted they are barely commented on nowadays, except by the more unreconstructed and nostalgic mouthpieces of the rabid right. Yet what we are referring to here is a massive cultural change that has taken place, from a relatively narrow national culture of conformity to one where 'diversity' is seen as a virtue by the establishment. Forty years ago, for example, who would have believed that Sussex Police would encourage their officers to attend the ostentatious Brighton Gay Pride parade - not in order to police it but to celebrate their identity as gay police officers! The police, like other organs of the state, recognize that they operate more efficiently if in their demographic profile they reflect the society that they operate on - i.e., a society constituted essentially of different given 'communities' and interest groups.
Multiculturalism - the recognition of the essential worth and nature of pre-given 'cultural difference' - is a key plank of the consensus around the virtue of diversity. Multiculturalism has a long history. But, under New Labour, for the first time in the UK it has become embodied in state policy and practice. The idea has been central to New Labour's contribution to the creation of a politicized 'muslim community'. Multiculturalism not only assumes that there are different given cultures (with given or essential natures and interests) embodied in different communities, in practice it operates on the assumption that such 'communities' have a relatively solid internal structure, with recognized leaders etc. who the state can deal with. As we shall see, this isn't always the case. Yet, more than some other ethnic minority groups in the UK, traditional muslim families and their wider social networks do resemble a 'community' with a structure. There is no equivalent New Labour relation with 'the black community' (or, at least, it is not at all the same) as there is with the 'muslim community' and its political organs.
As indicated, these new establishment principles and policies - of society as constituted of different 'communities' and of multiculturalism - in part can be traced back to the experiences of the class of '68. In part at least, therefore, the New Labour establishment is a descendent of the New Left.
Critics of this 'continuity' thesis might rightly point out that there is a glaring and obvious discontinuity between the two - that while the New Left was anti-American (not least over the Vietnam war) New Labour is notoriously 'shoulder to shoulder' with the United States, and severe on those within the Party who have been critical of American policy, who are branded unrealistic, naïve, immature etc. Yet alongside such a break from the past, there are also clear and obvious continuities. For New Labour, every minor policy initiative and change within existing strategy and direction is described as 'radical', echoing the language and aspirations of those involved in the events of '68. What is interesting is the way that the co-existence of these two sorts of tendency within the new establishment has led to a crisis for New Labour. The relativism inherent in the new establishment values of multiculturalism and diversity, inherited from the radical days of 1968, conflicts with the new establishment's equally strong commitment to universalism - in the form of its war in Iraq, which was justified on the basis of democracy. As we shall see, one manifestation of this crisis is that, with the war, multiculturalism has lately come under attack from liberals as well as the right, due to the threat of 'home grown terrorism' (i.e. some members of ethnic minorities violently opposed to the 'British way of life').
To understand how the radical and revolutionary impulses of 1968 could be the basis of establishment policies and practices today that consolidate and build upon the counter-revolutionary right-wing offensive of the 1980s, we need to step back and look more closely at the different meanings that could be found in the events of this earlier time. The explosion of events was on the one hand a re-emergence of visceral class struggle, in terms of attacks on the cops, state, businesses, employers, war and numerous government institutions. But the form and participants of the struggles also opened the way for seeing 1968 as a historical turning point for the class struggle as such. Was the proletariat expressing itself differently but the same in essence? Or did 1968 in fact mark the end of 'class politics' - the struggles of different groups of people, often outside the traditional forms and structures of the labour movement, signifying that society was now fundamentally structured according to quite different social strata and entities? To understand how and why New Labour has followed one strand of the New Left in taking the latter position, we must understanding the nature and origins of the New Left itself.
Origins and nature of the New Left
The roots of the New Left go back before 1968, and are based on disillusion within the Old Left. First, the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 represented a massive blow to the idea of 'actually existing socialism' in the East. How could Stalinist Eastern Europe be 'progressive' if it sent tanks sent in to crush workers' councils? To these former supporters of the Soviet Union were added those who were increasingly critical of its oppressive practices at home.
Beyond the Soviet Union, the other bulwark of the old left was the gradual progress of social democracy in Western Europe. In the UK, after the second world war, the post-war settlement heightened expectations of what was possible through parliamentary means. The Labour government was elected, and there were immediate plans to nationalize aspects of the economy and basic infrastructure. The National Health Service was established; there was an extensive programme of social (council) housing, and the welfare state was developed to support those who couldn't work. Yet all these high hopes were soon dashed with the defeat of the Labour Party in the 1951 general election. Thirteen years of Conservative rule followed. While the relative consensus between the parties served to consolidate most of the social democratic gains, there was no further progress. The left were on the outside again (most notably in this period in the form of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament). The subsequent re-election of the Labour Party in 1964, promised much but delivered less than its predecessor. Tony Crosland, by no means a left winger of any description, made plans to nationalize some of the leading companies in the country! But in fact, rather than further progressive change through social democracy, the Labour government made a number of compromises - most notably perhaps their adoption of Polaris nuclear missiles.
After these disappointments, then, the period around 1968 was a massive inspiration. The prospect of real, radical social change was discernable in the various events around the world: the Chinese cultural revolution (1966), the near revolution in France, May 1968, the anti-war and civil rights riots and protests in the USA, and the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia were just the most well known examples. While there were industrial actions by workers as workers, the subjects of many of the strikes, occupations, street confrontations, and campaigns were not workers qua workers but organized students and others not of the old left at all, and weren't constrained by the traditions of the workers' movement. In fact, the involvement of many young people fresh and new to politics led some to interpret the events as a 'clash of generations'. If the New Left was the product negatively of the failures of social democracy and Stalinism, positively it was the political expression of this resurgence and reinvention of the mass impulse towards social change by a new generation of activists.
But if the tumultuous events of 1968, particularly those in Paris, showed that the most radical social change was a real possibility, the nature of this social change, the identity of those who would carry it out, and - importantly - the reasons why it failed were subject to a variety of interpretations. The New Left was not an homogenous or unified movement or perspective coming out of 1968, but is rather a plethora of currents, movements, and trends across the left and libertarian spectrum that arose from that time.
On the one hand, the New Left expresses the resurgence of class struggle and hence of tendencies which emphasized class analysis in various forms. The Chinese cultural revolution had already raised the profile of Maoism as an alternative socialism to Stalinism; and a number of non-Stalinist Marxist groups were involved in the events of 1968. There was at the time and subsequently a re-engagement with the ideas of Marx. Older revolutionary traditions that had until then been eclipsed by the duopoly of Stalinism and social democratic reformism were re-energized. Versions of Trotskyism flourished, for example. The Situationist International and those who followed them famously drew upon the ideas of council communists, such as Pannekoek; left communism and the ideas of Bordiga too had a revival (e.g. the International Communist Current).
On the other hand, some New Left tendencies stressed the 'cultural' aspects of the events of 1968. In these accounts, struggle and hence revolution was no longer about economic scarcity and the old class-based politics but about oppression and hence liberation of various forms. Social change was linked to lifestyle and personal politics; and the agents of change were the 'new social movements' of such groups as women, blacks, gays, youth, squatters, anti-nuclear and ecological campaigners and so on. These cross-class cleavages became the basis for the 'identity politics' of the 1970s and 80s, fragmenting the New Left.
As we shortly see in more detail, ten years later there was an economic downturn and a right-wing backlash. In this context, the hopes of many of the New Left still bore the stamp of that time of radical change but became more modest in practice. Many of the same people who condemned the unprincipled compromises of social democracy, and argued that change could only come from outside the establishment, now looked to the inside for change. With the reality of revolution apparently fading into the distance, the only possibility of any kind of social transformation now seemed to be through much more gradualist reformist means for the foreseeable future. Many of the 1968-inspired New Left therefore now entered the Labour Party for 'the long march through the institutions' to a better society.
This turn from outside to inside the institutions was made possible by changes that had been taking place in British society since the last war, which had affected many of the class of '68. Before describing these changes, however, we need to remain with the events of 1968. As we shall see, the celebration of group diversity and difference was not only inspired by the autonomous struggles of different groups but was also prompted by a defence against a last-ditch attack by the Conservative old right in its efforts to hold on to a notion of supposed homogenous Britishness.
Imperialism and racism of the old British Right
On April 20th 1968, barely two weeks before the revolutionary events were to break out on the other side of the English Channel, Enoch Powell, the then shadow secretary of state for defence, delivered his notorious 'rivers of blood' speech to the Birmingham Conservative Association. Powell argued that the numbers of immigrants from both the West Indies and the Indian subcontinent over the previous two decades had become far too large to be assimilated in to the British way of life. As a result, as they settled in Britain and had children, the immigrant populations were establishing their own separate and alien cultures in many of Britain's major towns and cities that would inevitably come into conflict with the culture of the indigenous White population. On the basis of lurid anecdotes drawn from his white constituents, Powell warned, that unless concerted measures were immediately taken to repatriate immigrants, serious racial conflict would sooner or later become inescapable.
Enoch Powell, like most of the Conservative Party, had previously welcomed the large scale immigrations from both the West Indies and the Indian subcontinent as a means of dealing with the acute labour shortages, and the consequent strengthening of the trade union bargaining position, that had arisen during the long post-war economic upswing. Indeed, as Minister of Health between 1960-63, Powell had actively promoted the policy of recruiting workers to fill unskilled jobs in the NHS from the West Indies. However, over the winter of 1968, culminating with his 'rivers of blood' speech, it became clear that Enoch Powell had made a decisive about-turn with regard to the issue of immigration.
Powell, had not been the first Tory politician to break ranks with the then existing official Conservative policy on immigration in order to play the 'race card'. In 1964, much to the embarrassment of Conservative Central Office, the Conservative Party in Smethwick constituency in Birmingham, had waged a vehemently racist anti-immigration local election campaign to win control of the local council - one of the few electoral gains made at a time when there was a nation wide swing to the Labour Party.
However, Powell's speech was particularly significant because he was a prominent front bench politician for the Conservative Party, and one of the party's few recognized intellectuals. But what is more, with his old fogey image and the frequent allusions to the literature of ancient Greece and Rome which littered his speeches, Enoch Powell seemed to many to epitomize the persistence of the old British establishment and the Victorian order and values that served to uphold it. Indeed, for liberals, modernizers and progressives, Powell was a reminder, amidst the hopes raised by the election of a Labour government after years of Conservative rule, that Britain remained a 'class-ridden' society, in which social rank was strictly demarcated by accent, dress and mannerisms, formed through an elitist and class based educational system. Powell's 'rivers of blood' speech underlined the fact that the Victorian order, and the insular, reactionary and racist attitudes it engendered, was still very much alive.
The British establishment, and the Victorian order which upheld it, had emerged in the late nineteenth century as a result of the alliance, and gradual fusion, between the newly emergent industrial bourgeoisie and the declining ruling landed aristocracy. After the tumultuous social change and intense class conflicts of the early decades of the century, which had been brought about by industrial revolution and rapid urbanization, both the industrial bourgeoisie and the landed aristocracy had been united by the aim of consolidating the existing social order and their position within it, particularly in the face of an increasingly militant and organized working class.
During the early years of Queen Victoria's reign, the industrial bourgeoisie had been permitted to run the new industrial cities while the landed aristocracy continued to rule the countryside and govern national affairs. However, with the agricultural depression of the 1870s and 1880s and the consequent decline in land rents, the economic independence of the landed aristocracy was steadily undermined. The political and social position of the ruling establishment became increasingly dependent on the transfusion of wealth and economic power of the industrial and commercial bourgeoisie. Successful businessmen, who wished to consolidate their gains by obtaining influence in the corridors of power and by enhancing their social status, were increasingly able to gain admittance to the institutions and social networks that together constituted the ruling establishment. They were encouraged to buy country estates, to go hunting and grouse shooting; to invite the titled to lend prestige and authority by sitting on the boards of their companies; to marry their daughters into aristocratic families and to send their sons to public school to be educated in the classics alongside the sons of the upper class. In such ways sections of the bourgeoisie could be slowly assimilated into the establishment and what remained of the old landed aristocracy could secure their privileges and social position as part of the governing class.
This gradual assimilation of the bourgeoisie into the ruling established order necessarily entailed the maintenance, and indeed a reassertion of distinctions of social rank. Yet while Victorian Britain remained a sharply 'class' divided society it became increasingly ideologically united behind the supposed common allegiance to 'Queen, Country and Empire'.
The rapid growth of the British Empire in the final three decades of the nineteenth century had important economic advantages that served to underpin the emerging Victorian order. Firstly, the Empire had to be run. It provided expanding secure and well remunerated posts both in the army and the civil service for the sons of the landed aristocracy. For the capitalist, the Empire provided protected markets for the commodities they produced, privileged access to raw materials and cheap labour, and an outlet for banking and finance. At the same time easy profits that could be made from the Empire allowed British capitalists to make timely material concessions to the working class that served to mitigate class conflict at home.
However, just as important as these economic advantages in cementing together the sharply 'class' divided late Victorian society, particularly as far as the working class was concerned, was the inherently racist ideology of Empire. Britain was seen as taking up the torch of Western civilization that dated back to the ancient world of Greece and Rome. The British Empire, like that of Rome, brought the benefits of civilization to the world, but on a far greater scale. Yet while the spread of the British Empire could be justified in terms of bringing the benefits of Western civilization to the 'primitive' peoples of Africa, Asia and elsewhere, this was insufficient to justify continued British rule. After all if these 'primitive' peoples were civilized by the British Empire why could they not then eventually rule themselves. The answer to this was racialism, that is that the non-white races were biologically inferior and were therefore inherently incapable of ruling themselves in a civilized manner. The British therefore, it was concluded, had a right, and indeed a duty, to rule. By the end of the century, like elsewhere in Europe, the racist theories of racialism and eugenics had become pervasive to the point of being common sense in Britain, with even socialist intellectuals accepting them.
The social and political changes following the first world war, particularly the continued growth of organized labour, combined with the decline of Britain's economic hegemony, which culminated in the dismemberment of the British Empire, undermined the basis of the old Victorian order. By the end of the second world war large sections of the old establishment had come to accept, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, that if the British working class was not 'to go Communist', and if British industry was to compete with that of Europe and the USA, then Britain had to be modernized. By the 1950s, all but the most diehard right-wing Tories came to accept, in the face of national liberation movements and pressure from the USA, that Britain's former colonies would sooner or later have to be granted independence. While in domestic affairs it was accepted that the social distinctions and class privileges of the old Victorian order had to be dismantled. The only issue was the pace of change.
One of the central planks upon which this post-war consensus was built was the post-hoc justification of the second world war as a war that had united Britain, with its long established democratic traditions, against Nazi and fascist totalitarianism. With the revelations of the Nazi holocaust, eugenics and racialist theories, which as we have mentioned were once so pervasive in both ruling class circles and amongst intellectuals, were now thoroughly discredited. Indeed, suggestion of racism was now to become a taboo in 'polite society'.
The myth that Britain had been united in a war against the Nazis and their fascist and racist ideology served the British left well in its efforts to build a national consensus around social democratic reforms. It could be argued that the great sacrifices made by the nation, particularly by the working class, had to be rewarded by a fairer more progressive Britain. However, it was a convenient myth for many on the right since it covered up the widespread anti-Semitism and pro-Nazi sympathies amongst the British ruling establishment during the 1930s - ranging from members of the Royal Family down to proprietors of national newspapers such as the Daily Mail.
For many on the left, in 'daring to speak out' in his 'rivers of blood' speech, Enoch Powell had betrayed the persistent covert racism of large parts of the British establishment. However, while this may have been the case, for Powell the old establishment, having already betrayed the Empire for its own short-term advantages, was now standing by while Britain's thousand-year-old culture and traditions were about to be overwhelmed and destroyed. Indeed, Powell had little but disdain for many of those who now made up the establishment who were prepared to sacrifice ancient traditions and principles for the sake of preserving their privileges a little bit longer and who failed to live up to his romanticized view of the old Victorian order.
In making his 'rivers of blood' speech Enoch Powell was clearly aiming to make his appeal, not to the right wing of the establishment but directly to the 'lower orders. Indeed, The speech was full of anecdotes expressing the fears of the Tory working class and lower middle class that their exalted position in the world was under threat and that now that the Empire was gone the tables would be turned and 'the black man will have the whip hand'. Powell's speech certainty resonated amongst large sections of the working and lower middle classes. Not only was Enoch Powell inundated with messages of support but at the time his speech was widely credited with contributing to the Labour Party's subsequent unexpected defeat in the 1970 general election.
For the new left, Enoch Powell's 'rivers of blood' speech and its aftermath was a defining episode in terms of both the issue of racism and in its relation to the old left. Indeed, it was to play an important part in the subsequent development of the new left's ideas concerning multiculturalism. Following his speech Enoch Powell was widely denounced by nearly all mainstream politicians. Even the Sunday Times denounced Powell for 'racialism' and he was promptly dismissed from the shadow cabinet. Yet in response to the subsequent popularity of Enoch Powell's speech, as had happened previously when the issue of immigration raised its head, within months a new immigration law was passed aimed at curbing the right of entry for immigrants from the New Commonwealth - that is from those parts of the former British Empire whose populations were predominantly black or Asian.
The question that arose was why liberals and social democrats in government and parliament had so easily capitulated to the demands of Powell and his racist right wing populism. Was it because these well meaning liberals and social democrats were simply weak kneed? Or was it because they were implicitly racist themselves to some unacknowledged degree?
It is probably true that many of those at the time, who both rallied to his support or vehemently opposed him, saw Enoch Powell as defending the old-style racialism. However, Enoch Powell was careful to avoid arguing that 'coloureds' were biologically inferior and thus unable to be fully integrated into civilized British society. What prevented the integration of black and Asian immigrants into British society was their alien culture. Thus there was nothing to stop blacks and Asians from adopting the British way of life as individuals, but as groups asserting their own distinct culture they could not. As such the difference between Powell and the mainstream proponents of assimilation was simply a question of numbers. That is, how many blacks and Asian immigrants could Britain absorb.
Indeed, to the extent the liberal policy of assimilation assumed that it was appropriate for immigrants to adopt British culture, it was just as racist as Powell - it was part and parcel of the new style racism based not on biology but on culture. This rise to the notion of multiculturalism, with its insistence on the equality of cultures, we will see was to emerge over the following four decades as the new dominant consensus.
The aftermath of the 'rivers of blood' speech
The positive response to the 'rivers of blood' speech served to highlight the endemic racism and social conservatism of significant sections of the British working class. For many in the new left this served to strengthen their rejection of the old left's faith in the working class as the primary agent for social change and underlined the need to look for new agents of social change, which were being constituted by the new social movements, such as the young, women, blacks or the oppressed people of the Third World.
For others in the new left this endemic racism and social conservatism in the working class was the result of the labourist ideology embedded in the institutions and leadership of the traditional British labour movement. Often invoking Lenin, it was argued that from its very inception in the mid-nineteenth century the reformist British labour movement had been dominated by a 'labour aristocracy' whose relative privileged position was dependent on the super-exploitation of oppressed peoples of the British Empire. As a result there had been a long history of complicity on the part of the British Labour movement with imperialism, and a failure to combat the racism it engendered within the working class. From this it was concluded that the British labour movement had to be radically reshaped or a new more revolutionary one built out of the militancy of the rank and file.
Either way, for both the 'new new left' and the 'old new left', the widespread conclusion was a rejection of the Labour Party and its reformist politics for much of the 1970s. But by the end of the 1970s the political climate had begun to change as the dark clouds of reaction began to draw in.
The 1970s were a period of economic uncertainty and increasing political polarization. Amidst soaring inflation and rising unemployment, the revolutionary hopes raised by '68, and sustained through to the miners' victory in 1974, had by the late 1970s been overtaken by fears of a right-wing backlash and a 'return to the '30s'. Deepening economic crisis, and with it the hastening of Britain's long term economic decline, coupled with cuts in public spending on housing and public services were all serving to accentuate racist sentiments, particularly amongst the economically insecure lower middle classes and less well off sections of the working class. Blacks and Asians were easy scapegoats and faced not only persistent discrimination by employers and police harassment but also frequent racist abuse and mounting physical attacks by racist gangs.
On the back of this rise in overt racism, fuelled by lurid tales in the tabloids, came the rise of the National Front. The National Front had been founded in 1967 as a means to unite the various fragments of the old British Union of Fascists and other tiny fringe far right-wing groups. At that time it had been easily dismissed as merely a collection of harmless nutters. Ten years later the National Front was threatening to become a serious political force. It was beginning to make significant gains in local elections and had become bold enough to attempt to seize control over the streets by holding sizeable marches through immigrant areas. Fears grew on the left that sooner or later the British ruling class would abandon its post-war anti-fascist ideology and turn to the National Front to find a solution to the deepening economic and political crisis facing Britain.
Undoubtedly the National Front was able to tap into the racist currents that were still widespread within British society, and which had been brought to the surface by the deepening economic and political crisis of the 1970s. However, at the same time, longer term ideological and cultural changes, which had been developing since at least the end of the second world war, meant that there were far stronger anti-racist currents that could be mobilized.
Victory in two world wars had certainly served to bolster British nationalism; but in both these wars Britain was seen as championing democracy, firstly against the Kaiser's authoritarian militarism and then against Hitler's Nazi Germany. Consequently, even for people with right-wing opinions, any affinity with Nazism, and its anti-Semitic white supremacism, was widely seen as being unpatriotic - quite unBritish in fact. This was always a formidable barrier for the acceptance of the National Front as the party of British nationalism.
Furthermore, although the world wars had served to inflate a sense of British superiority this was soon to be punctured. In 1956 Britain was humiliated at the hands of the Americans when, in the face of US opposition, the British and French governments were obliged to call off their combined invasion of Egypt to re-capture the Suez Canal that had been nationalized by Nasser.
The humiliations of 1956, combined with the final demise of the British Empire by the early 1960s, brought a general recognition of Britain's diminished position in the world. Of course, it was precisely this realization that Great Britain was no longer as great as it once was - along with the belief that this was due to the failings of the British ruling elites - that had served to fuel the popular support for both Enoch Powell and subsequently the National Front. However, for many, particularly amongst the younger generations of the time, the notion of 'making Britain great again' was simply a hopeless nostalgia for a by-gone age. After all, what had been so great about Britain apart from its ability to conquer half the world?
This acceptance of Britain's decline in the world, and with it a rejection of British chauvinism, brought with it an increasing acceptance of other cultures. Indeed, for the generation born after the second world war, embracing other cultures offered a means of escape from the conservative and insular confines of British culture, whose drabness had been accentuated by the post-war austerity of the 1950s. As a consequence, central to the British counter-culture of the 1960s was a trans-culturalism, which sought a cross fertilization of cultures - from India to that of black America.
As a result, when the children of the wave of immigrants from the West Indies of the 1950s and '60s came of age and began to assert their culture this was not seen by most young whites as a threat, as Enoch Powell had foretold, but as an exciting opportunity. Ska, reggae and ganga became a common point of reference to both young whites and blacks. Hence when social tensions erupted into full-scale riots in the late 1970s and early 1980s these were not race riots, as Powell had predicted, but anti-racist and anti-fascist riots. In the riots that followed the Notting Hill Carnivals in the mid-1970s, in the Lewisham and Southall riots of 1977 and in the country wide riots of July 1981, young blacks, whites and indeed Asians joined together to fight the racist actions of the police and to stop the National Front.
In 1977 the Anti-Nazi League (ANL) was formed as a broad front to oppose the political advance of the National Front. In drawing in everyone from Anarchists and Trotskyists through Labour Party members to liberals and even a few Tories, the ANL served to bring together the New and old left in a common fight against racism and fascism. With the slogan the 'National Front is a Nazi Front' and by tapping into the anti-racism of the counter-culture with its 'rock against racism' campaign the ANL succeeded in halting the electoral advance of the National Front. This, combined with the physical defeat of the National Front's attempt to dominate the streets, meant that by the end of the 1970s the threat posed by the National Front was receding.
However, although the advance of the National Front was halted, Thatcher won the 1979 election by landslide - an electoral success in part due to her willingness to 'play the race card'. Echoing Powell's 'river of blood' speech, Thatcher had expressed the fear of Britain being 'swamped' by immigrants. Indeed, by echoing Powell, Thatcher was able to take the wind out of the National Front's sails and make the Conservative Party the representative of those who feared further immigration.
In the face of the new Thatcher government many on the new left now flocked into the Labour Party. The new left now began its long march through the institutions ending up as new labour as we shall now relate.
The rise of the new middle classes
The class of '68 were born into a world where the old Victorian social order that Powell was seen to represent was already dying. As we have argued, while some of the ideas of the new establishment find their origins in the events of 1968, the class of 1968 were only able to become the new establishment - to move from the outside of New Left social movements to roles within the institutions - due to by changes that had been taking place in British society since the last war. In particular, changes in social mobility altered the class position of many. Their changed class positions are themselves part of the explanation of the new establishment consensus over the 'muslim community'. We now turn to briefly outline these changes in social mobility that allowed a generation with quite different social background than their forebears to emerge as the UK's most influential leading politicians, civil servants, intellectuals and entrepreneurs.
The post war settlement is the key to understanding the enhanced social mobility that took place after the war. One of the features of the settlement was a huge university building programme, which made it possible for many working class and lower middle families to send their offspring to university or polytechnic for the first time. Further and higher education were no longer in effect the privilege of the toff class. This massive expansion of higher education was matched by growth in the public sector more generally - the lower end of the civil service, local authority services, and the national health service all expanded. Thus those graduating from university now found new management, white collar and other higher-status places waiting for them.
The growth of higher education made bourgeois society in the UK much more meritocratic and rational, as more people were appointed on the basis of formal qualifications regardless of family background. The growth of middle class jobs in effect meant that a whole swathe of working class people became middle class in one generation. The first people to make this transition were the post war baby-boomers, those people born in the 1940s and 50s. These same people who would become young adults around 1968. They therefore made up a large part of the New Left that grew from the events of this time. When the prospect of revolution receded, it was these same people who then pursued more modest objectives. They often did this through the ranks of the Labour Party, or through reformist and 'single issue' campaigns and pressure groups, or through liberal institutions, or local government.
By the 1980s, many of the new middle class New Left class of '68 found that the their earlier modest strategy choices now took the form of appealing career ladders. New opportunities opened up to them in the developing creative industries (media, advertising), in higher education, and in the civil service.
In this context, their working class origins became increasingly forgotten, and the class analysis that had once been as relevant the exciting new perspectives of the late 1960s now seemed to have little applicability to their lifestyles, aspirations, identities and social circles, and their politics. After all, it seemed to them, the working class were often the problem itself not part of the solution at all. It was the old-fashioned, conformist working class where sexist attitudes, homophobic opinions and racist expressions were found to still exist unabashed.
Indeed, these kind of points were not peripheral but central to the new political consensus that was emerging in the new middle class and their allies in the old establishment. For example, political correctness - the imperative to use language that does not offend different groups - could be seen as the natural extension of one of the key innovations of the New Left (i.e. the recognition of the autonomous potential of various different groups). Thus social change could indeed be achieved, and the remaining barriers to equality and freedom for all the different groups of people making up society, could be overcome. All that was needed then was for these new middle classes to be in positions of power, on the inside.
Hence for example the unarguable attack on the dominance of 'white middle-aged (middle class) men', with their assumed oppressive attitudes, was first made in the Labour Party - through the argument for black and female candidate short-lists. This attack on the monoculturalism of the old elite was then pressed through allied groups such as the National Council of Civil Liberties (now Liberty) and other liberal charities, think-tanks, intellectuals and lobbying groups. The attack was understood as a rallying call for the positive contribution that minority groups could make, for the essential value and worth of these groups, who had been excluded for no other reason than the prejudice of tradition. It was a call for a more rational and fair society.
The strategy flourished in the Labour Party's local government strongholds. The clearest and most developed expression was in the Greater London Council (GLC). 'Red' Ken Livingstone oversaw the appointment of numerous highly paid professionals to look after special interest groups such as blacks, gays, women, gay women, black gays etc. etc. But the creation of jobs for the representatives of these 'communities' and interest groups was significant in forming careers that took 'radical' people from the outside and put them on the path to the establishment. Any number of community activists, who had originally organized independently, got vast amounts of funding from the GLC, which eventually took them from the outside to a career path on the inside. The careerization of radical feminists is an obvious case in point.
Throughout the 1980s, the Conservatives were still in power nationally, so the New Left attacked the old establishment from the outside. The GLC and other labour strongholds saw themselves and were seen as anti-establishment. This was true, in the sense that the campaigning groups and individuals that Labour councils such as the GLC supported were critical of the status quo: they campaigned around such issues as police racism, for example.
Yet, the old establishment was also under attack from the inside. Prime minister Margaret Thatcher was herself not from the upper middle class but had come to power through forging an alliance between the old establishment and the new, an alliance which in fact served to undermine the old establishment. Thatcher and her ministers promoted old-fashioned establishment values such as the traditional family and gender roles, nationalism, and racism. But she also sacked a number of the old school tie brigade and promoted into her cabinet new middle class and former working class grammar school boys like Norman Tebbit, Kenneth Clarke, and John Major.
In effect, with the support of some of the old establishment in an alliance of old and new right, Thatcher pursued neo-liberal policies on the freedom of money capital. Sweeping away all barriers to the movement of money-capital meant destroying some of the traditions, customs and rules of the old establishment. The most explosive expression of this was the opening up of the City and British banks to just anyone with money (including foreigners) - the 'Big bang' or 'Wimbledonization' of the City. This liberalization went hand in hand with with decimation of manufacturing (with its entrenched management and well as labour practices) and the retirement of old school tie mandarins such as 'Sir Humphrey' in the changing civil service. The changes Thatcher's government introduced therefore served to complete the formalization and rationalization of the bourgeois revolution. Merit and profit were finally dislodging the stupifying influence of tradition in almost every area of society.
The continued pursuit of nationalism, however, with its ethnocentrism and irrational loyalty to the traditions of the nation state came into conflict with this free market 'revolution', most obviously in the Conservatives' contradictions over Europe. As we shall see, New Labour's pursuit of the war in Iraq and its 'modernization' of society has embodied a similar contradiction.
The ideological and political transition to New Labour
Post-modernism: The bridge from New left to New Labour
As early as the 1950s American sociologists had begun to argue that with the relative decline of American manufacturing industry, and the consequent growing economic importance of 'the service sector', America was becoming a 'post-industrial society'. In the early 1970s, drawing on such ideas, historians of art and, in particular architecture, began to argue that this economic and sociological transition was being reflected in a cultural shift away from the 'modernism' associated with the industrialization of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, to 'post-modernist' forms of art and architecture By the late 1970s, these ideas were broadened, and given much greater philosophical depth, with their merger with the various strands of post-structuralist philosophy emanating from France. The various and often mutually inconsistent theories and notions that resulted, which came to be known under the rather broad rubric of post-modernism, swept across the faculties of the social sciences and the humanities of Britain's universities in the 1980s.
The ideas of post-modernism, and more particularly post-structuralism, had a strong appeal to the rising generation of academics who had benefited from the large-scale expansion of higher education in the 1960s and that, as a consequence, had been drawn from a much broader section of society than any previous generation of academics.
First of all, for those who had been radicalized by their involvement in the new left and the counter-culture, but who had now given up all hope that there would be any immediate revolutionary change in society - and had consequently 'sold out' and embarked on an academic career - post-modernism offered a means to preserve their sense of being radical and critical. Indeed, post-modernism often drew on many of the political and cultural themes of the counter-culture and the new left and, what is more seemed to give them a more radical theoretical and philosophical basis. As a result, post-modernism could appear to many young academics at the time as being, at least theoretically, far more radical than the rather 'outdated' nineteenth century ideas of revolutionary Anarchism or Marxism that they had once adopted in their student days.
Secondly, post-modernism provided this new generation of academics with rather devastating weapons with which to storm to the old elitist, white and male- dominated bastions that still remained within academia, as well as the means to carve out a niche for themselves in the newly expanded world of higher education. Post-modernism provided the distinctive subject matter for a whole new range of academic departments; such as cultural studies, media studies, women's studies, black studies and so forth. At the same time, in the older existing academic disciplines, such English literature and sociology, post-modernism provided a radical new alternative that could undercut the established orthodox theories.
One of the first university departments that post-modernism colonized was that of English literature. English literature, particularly at Oxford and Cambridge, was traditionally regarded as something of a backwater. A subject deemed suitable for the small number of women students that in less enlightened times had managed to reach the level of a university education. For a time in the 1980s, English departments, particularly the one at Cambridge, became the cutting edge of the Post-Modernist offensive. The notion, dating back to Mathew Arnold in the late nineteenth century, that the role of the universities was to defend the elitist 'high culture', defined by a cannon of great literary works, from the barbarism and philistinism of mass popular culture was ruthlessly attacked. The class walls between high, middle and low brow culture had to be torn down, while the voices of those that had been long suppressed and excluded from the white, male-dominated great cannon, had to be heard and recognized. Thus the artwork of the Beano and the lyrics of Bob Dylan could be considered just as worthy of academic study as the paintings of the 'Grand Masters' or the poems of Keats. The writings in English of women, as well as the Black and Asian writers of the former colonies had to be considered as just as much a part of English Literature as the predominantly white male writers recognized by the great literary cannon.
However, the Post-Modernist offensive did not remain confined to undermining what was after all the rather conservative and Victorian notion that the essence of Western civilization, and indeed its superiority, was embodied in its high art and literature. In much of the social sciences the established schools of thought, whether liberal, conservative, or even Marxist, all sought to emulate to a greater or lesser extent the empirical methods and reasoning of the natural sciences. The radical challenge of post-modernism was to attack empricism foundationalism of the social sciences by undercutting its very roots. The Post-Modernists set about attacking the underlying notion that the history, and, with this, the superiority of Western civilization and culture was defined by the progress of reason, which, with the scientific revolution of the seventeenth and eighteenth century Enlightenment, had thrown off the shackles of superstition and religious dogma so as to find its highest expression in science and technology.
For the shock troops of post-modernism this notion of the progress of reason and science was merely the conceit of a 'euro-centric meta-narrative'. It was not simply that the there was no such thing as empirical facts independent of the theory that was to be verified or falsified by them; but that there was no such thing as an objective truth that could be known by reason. Both the solidity of the knowable 'object' and the 'rational subject', the twin pillars of the epistemology of science and indeed the Enlightenment, were 'deconstructed' and 'de-centred'. There was, it was declared, nothing knowable beyond 'discourse' or the 'text' - there was only the free interplay of signifieds and signifiers, which ultimately only referred to themselves and their differences. Science, it was asserted, was no more than a narrative, which, as such, had no more claim to a superior or privileged status than any other narrative, including those it had claimed to have overcome, such as magic or religious dogma of other, allegedly less advanced, cultures.
History and progress, and hence the very claim that Western civilization was in some way more advanced than other societies and cultures, was merely a fiction. As such, history as known by Hegel, Marx and other Enlightenment figures, was merely a 'grand narrative'. There was no such thing as history, only a multitude of stories; and hence there was no such thing as historical progress (hence it was meaningless to talk of something being progressive or reactionary).
By the end of the 1980s post-modernism had reached it apogee. The university departments that were most susceptible to post-modernism had by then already become colonized. The notion of 'post-modernism', and a vague understanding of the ideas associated with it, had now become a part of the common knowledge of the 'educated classes' beyond the walls of the lecture theatre. 'Post-modernism continued to have an appeal to the social milieus associated with Britain's rapidly expanding cultural, media and advertising industries. However, for those of the post-68 generation who were on the verge of taking senior positions in the management of British capital and state, the intellectual nihilism of post-modernism, while retaining a certain fascination for some, was of little practical use in running the everyday reality of capitalism.
With the self-indulgent obscurantism of much of its writings, its glaring logical incoherence, together with the startling ignorance of the natural sciences it claimed to critique and the injudicious remarks concerning world affairs of its more vulgar proponents - most notoriously Baudrillard's insistence that the Gulf War did not happen - only served to open post-modernism up to ridicule and hasten its decline. By the early 1990s post-modernism was becoming distinctly passé. With the collapse of the USSR, and the consequent neo-liberal triumphalism, it became fashionable once again for intellectuals to speak of 'progress', 'modernization' and the 'end of history'.
Nevertheless, despite its decline, post-modernism was to have two distinct, if at times contradictory, legacies for the new ruling ideology that was to find its clearest political expression in the then emerging New Labour 'project'. First and foremost, post-modernism was to bequeath a strong predisposition towards cultural relativism within this emerging ruling ideology. As such post-modernism was to provide the intellectual basis for the relativist multicultural consensus, which insisted on the difference and incommensurability between cultures, that, as we shall see, was to influence much of New Labour's thinking on social policy.
Secondly, post-modernism, for all its supposed ultra-radicalism, paved the way for the acceptance of neo-liberalism and market fundamentalism, which was to be the defining element of the New Labour project. The pseudo-radicalism of post-modernism was always readily apparent as soon as its principal proponents were lured out of the comfort of their academic preoccupations to address some concrete political issue, when, almost invariably, they would reveal themselves to be either middle of the road liberals or conservatives. But this was not due to the proponents of post-modernism falling short of their theory, but was inherent in post-modernist theory itself. In denying the 'modernist' and enlightenment appeals to reason, history and reality, post-modernism denied any actual possibility for systematic total social transformation. Post-Modernists either had to be content, like Foucault, with the fragmentary reformism of everyday life; or else, like Baudrillard, to an inherently conservative acceptance of the inevitability and inescapability of what simply is. Such resigned acceptance easily slipped into a celebration of the freedom and individualistic hedonism of the market. After all, it could be argued for example that by playing with the ever shifting semiotics of differing commodities, the free market allows the consumer to constantly redefine their image, and hence roles and identities through what they buy. As a consequence, the well paid post-modernist academic could easily conclude that shopping could be a subversive activity.
At least as far as the educated and upwardly mobile 'class of 68' were concerned, it could be said that post-modernism did more to bring about the acceptance of neo-liberalism than any of its chief advocates, such as Hayek or Freidman, could have dreamed of doing through their explicit polemics and propaganda. But, of course, there was a certain irony in all this in that post-modernism ended up contributing to the resurrection of the most pervasive of all 'meta-narratives' of the nineteenth century - that of classical economic liberalism: in which history is told as the progressive freeing of the market and the individual from state interference. Indeed, as we shall see in Part III, the latent contradiction between the post-modernist legacy of relativism underpinning New Labour's multi-culturalism, and the universalism of its acceptance of neo-liberalism, was to come to the fore following the attack on the Twin Towers and the subsequent invasion of Iraq.
But the question we must now ask is how did post-modernism, which after all was merely an intellectual fashion which could have well remained entrenched within the realms of academia, help give rise to the New Labour Project? As we have mentioned, the catalyst that hastened the demise of post-modernism and the rise of New Labour was the decline and fall of the USSR. The decline of the USSR and its eventual collapse brought to a head a longstanding conflict between traditionalists and modernizers in the communist parties of Western Europe. This conflict in many ways prefigured the similar struggle in the Labour Party in the early 1990s. Indeed, as we shall now see, many of the ideas that were to become central to the New Labour project were developed by the modernizers of the old Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB).
New Labour: New Britain
Unlike its sister parties in France and Italy, the old CPGB had always remained a relatively small party. However, despite its size, the CPGB had from its inception exerted a considerable influence over the British labour movement. Right up until the late 1970s, the CPGB had maintained a highly organized presence within both the leadership and the rank and file of the trade unions. What is more, from the 1930s onwards the CPGB had been an important centre of attraction for left-wing intellectuals, whose ideas held significant sway over what was otherwise an atheoretical and pragmatic British labour movement.
With the industrial militancy of the early 1970s, many of the more 'realistic' elements of the British new left had been drawn to the CPGB. For those reacting against the utopianism and disorganization of the movements of 'post-68', the CPGB offered a highly disciplined organization that had deep roots within what could be seen as an increasingly militant working class. Of course, the CPGB was still very much of the old left: it remained very much a Stalinist party, while its aging militants were often socially conservative and were slavishly committed to an unquestioning defence of the USSR. Yet, in contrast to the response to the invasion of Hungary in 1956 where the Party had simply closed ranks against all internal and external critics of the USSR, the trauma caused in the CPGB by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 now seemed to open up the possibility for radical reform of the Party.
In their efforts to modernize the Party, new left intellectuals in and around the CPGB in the late 1970s began to import the 'third way' politics and theories of Euro-communism, which were at the time emerging in France and Italy. In attempting to find a 'third road' that could combine the democratic pluralism of liberal European capitalism with socialism, the advocates of Euro-communism required the old Communist parties to jettison both their last remaining revolutionary pretensions and their commitment to establishing a monolithic dictatorship of the proletariat. At the same time, the tired old dogmas and politics based on a rigid economic determinism, it was argued, had to be replaced by the far more subtle theories of social change that stressed the importance of culture - one of the principal source of such ideas being Antonio Gramsci.
Compared with France and Italy, the task of the British Euro-communist modernizers was perhaps far easier. The CPGB had long since abandoned any hope of displacing the Labour Party as the mass party of the working class and had instead adopted the role of guiding the Labour Party along the 'parliamentary road to socialism'. Indeed, by the early 1980s the modernizers were already able outmanoeuvre their Stalinist opponents to capture key positions in the CPGB, and had taken control of what was to become the Party's influential monthly journal - Marxism Today.
In becoming what was to be known as the house journal of 'yuppie socialism', Marxism Today did much to popularize, particularly amongst the rising post-68 generation of Labour politicians, the culturalist theories of both post-modernism and the neo-Gramscianism put forward by Stuart Hall and his fellow academics at the Centre for Cultural Studies at Birmingham University. At the same time Marxism Today also popularized the complementary theories of post-Fordism, which despite the post-structuralist anti-foundationalism of the post-modernist purists, could be seen to provide an updated and Marxist economic basis for both the culturalist theories of post-modernism and neo-Gramscianism.
Drawing on the theories of the French regulation school it was argued that the post-war boom of the 1950s and 1960s had been based on a Fordist regime of accumulation in which the mass production of standardized commodities had been balanced with their mass consumption through the implementation by the state of Keynesian policies of demand management. In the 1970s this regime of accumulation had gone into crisis, which had prompted a fundamental restructuring of capitalism. For the theorists of post-Fordism this restructuring had already given rise to the beginnings of a new regime of accumulation based on flexible and specialized production, which allowed commodities to be customized to meet the tastes of relatively small groups of consumers. The emergence of this post-Fordist regime of accumulation underlay the shift away from the mass politics and mass culture that had been recognized by post-modernist writers.
This shift to post-Fordism meant that the old style of mass politics, which had underpinned old-style socialism and social democracy, was now out of date. It was argued that with her appeal to individual aspirations and advancement, Thatcher had already recognized this economic and cultural shift. What the 'left' needed to do was to abandon its old ways of thinking and take a leaf out of Thatcher's book. The 'left' had to appeal, not to collective class interests but to individuals as aspiring consumers. Just as Thatcher had built a Gramscian style 'hegemonic project' that had mobilized the cultural shift towards individualism and consumerism to shift Britain to the right, the 'Left' had to mobilize these very same tendencies to build a 'hegemonic project' that would push Britain in a more 'progressive' direction.
Following the fall of the USSR the modernizers of the CPGB succeeded in liquidating the Party, and promptly joined the mission to modernize the Labour Party. Several of the leading figures that had been associated with the now defunct Marxism Today became key advisors to the then still small cabal of modernizers that were coalescing around what was to become known as the New Labour project. These advisors not only contributed ideological ammunition to win arguments, but also their long experience of bureaucratic manoeuvring was to prove invaluable in capturing the controlling heights of the Labour Party.
Of course, the New Labour project, as a practical ruling ideology, was the result of a convergence of various and often mutually inconsistent ideas and theories. However, the ideas that had been promoted and popularized by Marxism Today played a vital part in distinguishing New Labour from both the social democratic politics of 'old Labour' and Thatcherism.
Combined with the fashionable theories of globalization, which claimed that the old social democratic and Keynesian policies that sought to manage national economies were no longer feasible, post-Fordism lent an air of inevitability to Thatcher's neo-liberal economic reforms. The social democratic political beliefs of old Labour were seen as arising from the now out-dated corporate and class politics of Fordism. As a consequence, it was argued that the Labour Party could no longer appeal to the class loyalty of those who 'worked by hand and brain' since the working class no longer identified themselves as producers but as individualistic consumers. There was therefore no alternative but to abandon efforts to appeal to collective solidarity and instead embrace the politics of 'individual choice'.
From a very early stage in her rule Stuart Hall had pointed out that Thatcher was not merely an old-style reactionary Tory. Her right-wing populism, which sought to promote 'a property owning democracy' and 'a popular capitalism' through the sell-off of council housing to council tenants and nationalized industries to the general public rather than to the financial institutions of the City, was in stark contrast to the elitism of the old Tory right-wing. Indeed, Thatcher had not only succeeded in breaking up the old social democratic post-war consensus but in doing so had also hastened the demise of the old establishment and the last remnants of the old Victorian order that had upheld it. Hence, perhaps rather ironically, it was Thatcher that to have inaugurated what Gramsci might have seen as a top down 'passive revolution' that had served to modernize the British state and capitalism.
Nevertheless, although the New Labour ideologues were prepared to admit with hindsight that Thatcher's neo-liberal economic reforms were on the side of history, and hence in some sense 'progressive', there were key aspects of Thatcher's right-wing populism that were could only be considered reactionary. Her willingness in echoing the new racism of Enoch Powell in expressing fears that Britain would be 'swamped' by immigrants in the 1979 election campaign; her vehement militaristic British chauvinism displayed in her commitment to buying the hugely expensive Trident nuclear weapon system and her accompanying Cold War rhetoric; and her insistence on defending 'traditional family values', had all been essential to Thatcher's electoral appeal - particularly amongst lower middle class and working class voters born before the second world war.
As New Labour made clear right from the outset, following Tony Blair's election as leader of the Labour Party in 1994, there would be no return to the old social democratic policies of 'old Labour'; there would be no re-nationalization of the industries and public utilities privatized under the Tories, there would be no redistribution of wealth through high progressive taxation and there would be no repeal of the Tories' anti-trade union laws. New Labour made it clear it was committed to continuing the neo-liberal policies of the Thatcher and Major governments. However, within the limits of the post-Thatcher settlement New Labour promized to set different priorities to alleviate and rectify the worst aspects of Thatcher's legacy. After more than two decades of stringent curbs on public spending, New Labour promized increased investment in health and education, 'a New Deal to help the unemployed back in to work', higher welfare benefits targeted at the 'deserving poor' such as pensioners and 'poor hard-working families' and larger regeneration budgets for 'deprived areas'. These promises, coupled with the subsequent introduction of the minimum wage, offered some hope and relief to Labour's traditional supporters, particularly those in the old industrial cities of the North that had suffered the most from the defeats of organized labour by Thatcher and who had borne the brunt of her class vindictiveness.
However, the extent of these promises, and the degree to which they could be implemented in New Labour's first term of office, was severely circumscribed by the over-riding concern to restore government finances without reversing the tax cuts imposed by the previous Tory administrations. In order to make an appreciable difference, what little money that could be found from juggling the government's spending priorities had to be concentrated through targeting particular groups and areas.
Hence, in accepting the post-Thatcher settlement, the scope of the economic and material differences New Labour could offer were highly restricted. Instead, New Labour's broad appeal, which was to be central to its landslide victory in the 1997 election, was based on the promise to promote a 'new Britain' that would be inclusive, diverse and multicultural. The New Labour government would be in stark contrast to the narrow-minded social conservativism promoted by the previous Tory governments. Whereas both Major and Thatcher had repeatedly deplored the changes in culture and sexual mores that had gathered pace since the 'permissive sixties', the New labour government would embrace such changes and actively promote the equality of women and gays as well as religious and ethnic minorities and accept non-conventional families. Under New Labour, Britain would no longer look back to its imperialist past and define itself in terms of its military prowess; it would define itself in terms of its cultural dynamism exemplified by the then current trends of Britpop and Britart of 'cool Britannia'.
Having been repelled by the increasingly desperate attempts by Conservative leaders to rally its aging core supporters by moralistic speeches and policy initiatives; such as Peter Lilley's vilification of single mothers, 'section 28' of the 1988 Local Government Act, which banned local authorities from 'promoting' homosexuality, and John Major's much derided 'Back to Basics' sloganeering, for large sections of the electorate, particularly those belonging to those generations which had come of age since the 1960s, New Labour's 'New Britain' had a broad cross-class appeal. Yet New Labour's culturalism did not simply have a broad appeal to the electorate; more importantly it also appealed to key sections of the bourgeoisie.
Of course, in the boardrooms of Britain's major companies Thatcherism had been seen as vital in restoring the fortunes of British capitalism. But once the restructuring of British capitalism had been achieved the need for the Conservative Party to appease the xenophobia and euro-scepticism of its increasingly restless supporters had become more and more tiresome.
Now that it had embraced neo-liberalism, New Labour offered a welcome change. This was perhaps no more true than for the banks and financial institutions of the City of London. As one of the principal bastions of the old establishment the City of London had traditionally been the natural enemy of the Labour Party. However, New Labour was particularly in tune with the new meritocratic and cosmopolitan City of London that had emerged since the 'big bang'. As a centre for global finance capital, the new City of London had little time for conservative and imperialistic attitudes that had typified the old City. The new City exhibited a bourgeois multiculturalism: all cultures had to be given equal respect so long as they did not interfere with profit-making and the free movement of capital around the globe (i.e. they were just variegated forms of bourgeois culture). Indeed, as the City of London's emergence as the leading world centre outside the Middle East for 'Sharia compliant finance' necessary for the recycling of billions of petro-dollars has shown, cultural differences could be highly profitable for Labour's new friends in the city. [this is a point that perhaps needs expanding on later on]
Communitarianism and New Labour's 'Third Way' New Labour, communitarianism and functional sociology
As we have seen, the largely French-inspired theories of neo-Gramscianism, Post-Fordism and indeed post-modernism, particularly as interpreted and popularized by Marxism Today, by changing the intellectual climate in and around the Labour Party, provided the bridge between new leftism and New Labour. However, for New Labour's key architects, the more immediate intellectual influences, which were to give rise to the practical politics and policies which were to define New Labour, came from across the Atlantic. Gordon Brown and Tony Blair drew inspiration for their 'Third Way' from the apparent success of the policies then currently being implemented by Bill Clinton in the USA. In doing so they necessarily adopted much of the closely associated theories of functional sociology and communitarianism that underpinned and justified them. Hence, with Bill Clinton acting as the intermediary, Amitai Etzioni, the leading American theorist of communitarianism, was invited to give seminars to Labour Party policy makers in London. At the same time, Anthony Giddens, who had played a central role in reviving the functionalist sociology of Talcott Parsons in the 1980s, was commissioned to write the primer for New Labour's 'Third Way'.
Functional sociology had developed in the 1950s as an ideological defence of the post-war settlement in America. As such it had upheld the principles of a pluralistic liberal democracy based a predominantly free market capitalist economy against not only what was seen as the totalitarian socialism of the USSR, but also British style social democracy. But, at the same time, it had to both justify and prescribe the limits of the increased role of the state that had come about as result of the 'big government' policies that had followed Roosevelt's New Deal of the 1930s. As a consequence, a central theme of functional sociology, and subsequently Communitarianism, was the problem that neither the liberal democratic state nor a market capitalist economy were sufficient in themselves in ensuring the social reproduction of capitalist society.
Although it was presumed to be the most efficient economic system, the market capitalist economy necessarily fragmented society into competing groups and individuals, all pursuing their own narrow, often divergent, self-interests. As a consequence, the capitalist economy necessarily gave rise to individual and group conflicts that were dysfunctional to the reproduction of society as a whole.
Of course, it was also presumed that the liberal democratic state provided the most rational means to overcome these conflicts. It could provide a legal framework, which could limit the dysfunctional actions of economic agents, and it could act as a neutral arbitrator in resolving conflicts of interests. Furthermore, it was also accepted that the state might intervene to address market failures, to ensure the provision of public goods and services that would not otherwise be provided by the private sector and to alleviate poverty and economic distress that might undermine public order.
But the problem was that by itself there was no guarantee that a liberal democratic state would actually act in these ways to resolve dysfunctional conflict and ensure the orderly reproduction of society. Indeed, if the pluralistic democratic political system simply reflected the conflicting interests of the economy then economic conflicts would simply be mirrored in the state. The state would then be captured and run by the politically most powerful sectional interests. The state may then exacerbate social conflicts and ultimately undermine the liberal democratic state itself. After all, the state could only act as an arbiter to the extent that it was perceived as being in some sense neutral. Furthermore, the rule of law in a liberal democracy depended on a degree of consent of those governed. The more the law was seen as being biased towards one group or class the more it would have to be imposed by authoritarian and repressive means.
Alternatively the state could rise above particular interests and impose what it saw as the general interests on the groups and interests of society as whole. But what was to prevent the state, or more specifically the state bureaucracy, from emerging as a particular interest like any other, and thereby end up imposing its particular interests as the 'general interest'?
Either way it seemed that a liberal democratic capitalism was doomed to either disintegrate into the disorder of competing interests due the centrifugal forces of the economy or else would end up with a totalitarian or authoritarian state. A liberal democratic free market capitalism would therefore seem to be unsustainable if not impossible.
However, for functionalist sociologists this was evidently not the case; liberal democratic free market capitalism was certainly alive and well in the USA if not elsewhere. What was it about actual liberal capitalist societies that ensured their orderly reproduction?
As we have seen, for the functionalist sociologists although the liberal democratic state and the free market capitalist economy were considered as providing the most rational and efficient means to achieving given political and economic ends, they did not determine these ends, nor could they ensure that such ends were congruent with each other. The question then was how were these ends determined and reconciled. The functionalist sociologists' answer was that liberal capitalist society necessarily gave rise to a distinct cultural sphere in which the amoral and asocial economic agents constituted by the competitive market were educated and socialized to become ethical citizens. As such, the ends pursued by groups and individuals were not merely those of narrow hedonistic self-interest but had a broader moral and social dimension. Furthermore, in interacting through this cultural sphere as ethical citizens, a general consensus could emerge that could reconcile particular interests through the emergence of a generally accepted idea of what was the 'common good' and 'public interest', which could then serve to define what should be the ends and purposes of state policy.
For the theorists of communitarianism the most important basis of this cultural sphere was the 'community'. Communities were constituted by the nexus of voluntary social relations between individuals that extended beyond the family, and as such were distinct from social relations mediated by the market and the state. The existence of communities became evident in the form of voluntary bodies, charitable institutions and in religious groups that actively bound their members together in the pursuit of ethical and moral ends.
Both the theorists of functional sociology and communitarianism could trace their origins back to the late nineteenth century. Whereas Talcott Parson's claimed his functional sociology was rooted in the classical sociology of Weber and Durkheim, communitarian theorists have traced their ideas back to the British philosopher, Thomas Hill Green. Green's philosophy had been an attempt to go beyond what he saw as the limitations of utilitarianism that had underpinned classical economic and political liberalism of the early nineteenth century. In doing so he came to reject the long tradition of British empiricism and instead looked to the classical German philosophy of both Kant and Hegel. By the end of the nineteenth century Green's philosophical works had gained considerable influence amongst British intellectuals and provided one of the central foundations for the ideas of New Liberalism that was to guide the policies of Liberal Party at the turn of the century.
Both the classical sociology of Weber and Durkheim, and the philosophy of Green can be seen as part of the broader re-orientation of bourgeois social theory that emerged at the end of the nineteenth century in response to 'the social question' and the problem of defending the existing order posed by the rise of organized labour. Of course, the problem of ensuring the orderly reproduction of capitalism, particularly in relation to the working class, had long been an issue for bourgeois social theorists. Adam Smith, writing a hundred years before, had warned of the dangers that could arise from the mind-numbing effects of factory production and the material deprivation caused by the drive to force wages down to a bare subsistence level. Smith feared that these consequences of capitalist accumulation might threaten social cohesion through both the material and moral degradation of the working classes. The possible breakdown of the social reproduction of the working class because of material and moral deprivation was to be a recurrent concern for classical political economists and other bourgeois theorists right down to the mid-nineteenth century.
However, with the advance of organized labour from the middle of the nineteenth century, the main concern 0f bourgeois theorists became less that the material deprivation of the working class would lead to family break down, rising crime and the spread of disease. Instead the main concern of the bourgeoisie was that the growing strength of an organized working class would ultimately lead to revolution and the expropriation of private property. The response to this threat had been to make timely political and economic concessions that aimed to integrate the organized working class within bourgeois society both collectively and individually. This had led to the radical re-orientation and re-organization of bourgeois social theory in order to provide the theoretical framework to understand and guide such reforms.
New Liberalism had sought to both forestall the advance of the labour movement through social reforms and, at the same time harness its power in the fight against the old establishment and the continued power of landed property. However, following the first world war, the Liberal Party, and with it New Liberalism, was overtaken and sidelined by the electoral success of the Labour Party and the statist politics of social democracy. As a consequence, Green, and his neo-Hegelian philosophy, was soon forgotten.
In Britain social democracy became established with the post-war settlement; which saw the establishment of a comprehensive welfare state, extensive public ownership of the economy and a commitment to full employment. Social democracy served to integrate the working class within British capital and the British state by representing it as a class-for-itself, via the organizational forms of the Labour Party and the trade union movement. Yet at the same time as representing the working class as a class-for-itself - that is as a class that was both conscious of itself as a class, and sufficiently organized to advance its own interest as a class - social democracy served to preserve the working class as a class-in-itself - that is a mere aggregate of individualized workers and consumers. If social democracy was to advance the collective interests of labour and wring concessions out of the bourgeoisie it had to be able to mobilize the working class to take political and industrial action. However, at the
same time, to the extent that such concessions were ultimately dependent on the continued accumulation of capital, social democracy had to contain working class militancy within acceptable limits - it had to demobilize the working class.
This contradiction within social democracy, together with the changing technical class composition brought about by the decline of British manufacturing - came to the fore in the crisis and capitalist restructuring of the 1970s and 1980s. The very success of entrenching social democratic reforms in the post-war era had served to undermine the ability of both the Party and the trade union movement to both mobilize and demobilize the working class as a class. Social democracy had become hollowed out, making it vulnerable both to the working class offensive that threatened to go beyond the limits of capital, and to the subsequent bourgeois counter-offensive, which was to begin in earnest under premiership of Thatcher.
Thatcher was able to turn back the advance of social democracy through a two- pronged attack. Firstly, she broke the collective strength of organized labour through mass unemployment, a battery of anti-strike laws and ultimately through police repression. In doing so she sought to make it clear that any attempts by the working class to advance their interests through collective action and class solidarity was futile. At the same time, Thatcher sought to integrate the working class directly as individualized workers and consumers through her policies and ideology of 'popular capitalism'. While collective action and solidarity may be futile, there would be plenty of opportunities for working class individuals and their families to advance themselves.
However, although growing economic prosperity following the restructuring of capital in the 1980s had allowed large sections of the aspiring working class to be integrated directly within bourgeois society, Thatcher's neo-liberal policies had marginalized and 'excluded' significant sections of the working class, which in American terms threatened to become an 'underclass'. Thatcher may have defeated the 'enemy within' of organized labour but in doing so she had left a legacy of mass unemployment, family breakdown and growing levels of crime in many of Britain's declining inner cities. The 'social question' was no longer the problem of organized labour but once again the problem of 'social cohesion' and 'social inclusion'.
Communitarian social theory was adopted by New Labour as the theoretical framework to address this 'problem of the working class'. Indeed, with the emergence of the new conservatism of David Cameron, the arguments of communitarianism have become an essential part of the ruling political consensus and ideology. As Cameron puts it: if Thatcher mended the broken economy now the problem is to mend the broken society.
Communitarianism as ideology and practice
Communitarian theorists argued that the establishment of the welfare state, combined with the hedonistic individualism promoted by both the spread of the 1960's counter-culture and the neo-liberalism of the 1980s, had undermined the sense of community and social responsibility that were essential in holding society together. In a diverse multi-cultural society, in which the standard traditional family was in irrevocable decline, the appeals to national unity and a return to family values put forward by the right were no longer sufficient to ensure social cohesion. Yet calls for the extension of rights and entitlements and for the redistribution of wealth to deal with the 'social problem' were also out of date. For the communitarians, rights and entitlements had to be balanced with social obligations and duties. At the same time the state had to take a more extensive and proactive role in fostering communities.
For many of those in the post-68 generation who were now reaching senior positions within the management of the state and capital, these arguments had a certain resonance. First of all, the communitarian idea of 'community' was certainly reminiscent of the notion of 'gemeinschaft' - as a social form based on direct and unalienated human relations - that had gained a wide currency in the new left in the '60s and '70s, and which had been used as the basis of the criticism of the alienated social forms of the commodity and the state. Secondly, the communitarian stress on the plurality of communities was in accord with the emerging consensus around multi-culturalism and contrasted with both the narrow and outdated monoculturalism and individualism of Thatcher and Powell. Thirdly, the communitarians' rejection of the libertarianism of '60s counter-culture and their stress on social duties no doubt chimed for many in the post-68 generation, who were now middle-aged with their own family responsibilities. Finally, for those in New Labour, who were now taking over the running of the state, communitarianism offered a new role for state intervention in society now that 'globalization' had supposedly ruled out effective state intervention in the economy.
Although communitarianism may claim to be class neutral in theory, this is certainly not the case in the ideology and practice of New Labour. For the bourgeoisie and the middle classes attempts to promote social responsibility and a sense of community have been based merely on exhortation and incentives. The middle classes have been urged to be ethical consumers and recycle their rubbish, while companies have been encouraged to adopt policies of corporate responsibility and engage with their 'community'. But 'community engagement' usually means increased 'networking' with national and local politicians and government administrators that has been necessary to prepare the way for public-private partnerships, private finance initiatives and other forms of privatization of public services, which have required a breakdown of the old divisions between the public and private sector.
In contrast, New Labour's attempts to inculcate a sense of social responsibility in the 'problem' sections of the working class have taken on a far more coercive aspect. Pseudo-contracts have been imposed on the unemployed, parents and those in council or social housing. Failure to comply with what New Labour deems as adequate socially acceptable behaviour can lead to benefit cuts or even eviction. Furthermore, in order to promote a sense of community, particularly in 'problem neighbourhoods', by curbing anti-social behaviour, neighbours have been encouraged to grass each other up to the authorities over the most minor of nuances. Instead of intervening as a last resort to arbitrate in neighbourly disputes, the authorities take sides. With the consequent issuing of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) quite draconian restrictions can be placed on individuals alleged to be guilty of anti-social behaviour, often merely on the basis of hearsay evidence and with little immediate opportunity to contest the case made out against them.
In short, 'community' has become a vacuous term in New Labour speak. On the one hand it has merely served as a cover for privatization. On the other hand it has been used to justify the increasingly intrusive policing of sections of the working class. Indeed, rather ironically, communitarianism in practice has served to pre-empt any emergence of any sense of community and social solidarity that might be in any way in opposition to the state and capital.
The fundamental problem of communitarian theory is that the problem of the decline of Community is not a simple result of social policy. It is a problem resulting from capital itself. The advance of capital into every facet of life necessarily leads to the destruction of direct human relations and their replacement by the alienated forms of the commodity and the state. Capital and human community do not simply exist side by side but are in antagonistic relation to each other. Thus, in promoting the advance of capital's rule through their neoliberal policies New Labour serves to undermine and hollows out the communities that they claim to wish to promote.
Indeed, in their efforts to promote and 'engage with the community', state agencies have had to invent quite abstract and empty 'communities. Hence, for example, everyone living in a certain area is deemed to constitute 'the local community', everyone who is gay constitutes 'the gay community', anyone who happens to be disabled is part of 'the disabled community' and so forth even if the members of these communities have no connection with each other than within the heads of state administrators.
This is not to say that communities in some sense do not exist in Britain. However, the strongest communities are the vestiges of those traditional and pre-capitalist forms of community that have been transplanted from the Indian sub-continent as a result of successive waves of immigration since the 1950s. As we shall see in Part II, it is these Asian communities that were seized upon and vigorously promoted by New Labour politicians, not only for ideological reasons but for practical political purposes. These communities, with their traditional social conservativism, not only serve to exemplify New Labour's idea of 'community' but also, through their communalist politics, served to provide a vital electoral base for New Labour.
Part 2: The establishment of the 'British muslim community'
Until about 20 years ago there was no such thing as a 'British muslim community'. In this part of the article we will see how the 'British muslim community' emerged out of the socio-political development which also brought about the rise of New Labour: the retreat of class struggle both internationally and in the UK, the related retreat of social democracy which sought to represent the working class, and the increase of social mobility as a result of the post-war settlement. An important question is how the 'British muslim community' was created from the existing muslim communities in Britain, and why this development did not lead to other national identifications such as, for example, a 'British Black community'.
In order to answer this question, we will first consider the creation and characters of the concrete communities of immigrants in Britain, their differences and the specificity of south Asian muslim communities. Next we will see how two historical factors (the application of the so-called 'multiculturalist' strategies in the UK and the rise of political Islam) contributed to the formation of the present concept of 'British muslim community' and the creation of a body which represents it. In particular, we will see how the same social and historical context promoted, on the one hand, the ascendance of a highly politicized Asian middle class, able to constitute a representative body for an abstractly defined 'muslim community' at a national level. Yet, on the other hand, this same social and historical context tended to increasingly divide the concrete Asian communities. We will also see that these two aspects of the 'British muslim community', its concrete division and abstract unity, were necessary and opposite and reflected a dynamic of mutual support and power antagonisms between the petit bourgeoisie within the muslim communities and the ascendant middle class.
Immigration in the UK and the creation of muslim communities
In this section we will consider the context created by the retreat of class struggle and the establishment of the socio-political strategy of 'multiculturalism'. This strategy was first pioneered in the 1980s by new left Labour in the Great London Council (GLC) and other councils with a large presence of black/Asian populations as a response to the anti racist riots which had threatened the political stability of Britain - and was later developed at a national level under the New Labour government. We will look at the relation between the ideology behind the multiculturalist strategy (which we have introduced in the previous part) and its concrete nature as a specific class alliance. We will also see how this strategy aimed at dividing the working class along ethnic lines and encouraged, as a consequence, increasing divisions within the concrete Asian communities.
The largest waves of immigration came to Britain in the 1950s and 1960s, and were mainly from the West Indies and the Indian subcontinent, major parts of the British empire. In the '50s the government, started a campaign of recruitment of manpower from the West Indies in order to fill the demand for labour of the post-war boom. Young men mostly from Jamaica and Barbados were used to fill labour demands for menial work in the public sector (National Health Service, British National Rail, bus services etc.).
Also, following the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, thousands of Indians and Pakistanis (including people from the area which would become Bangladesh) emigrated to Britain. People from south Asia tended to find jobs in factories in industrialized areas of England, some of them, who had capital to invest, opened corner shops or ran post offices. Following the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971 a new wave of Pakistani and Bangladeshi people arrived and settled in Britain.
Until the Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 1962 all Commonwealth citizens were be able to come to Britain without any restrictions. However, from the 1960s through the 1970s British legislation increasingly limited immigration, while however facilitating the arrival of spouses and close relatives through so-called 'family reunification schemes'. These family reunification schemes were historically fundamental for the creation of immigrants' communities in Britain.
Immigrants from same areas tended to cluster together in areas where rents were cheaper, people spoke the same language or, when it was the case, they already had some family or village connections. This tendency created large urban areas of given ethnic populations e.g., Brixton in London. However, clustering together does not in itself create 'communities' and does not explain the structure or character of existing communities. The characters of various communities and their differences were the result of historical and social factors: the character of the original social relations, how far these relations were transplanted to Britain, and the opportunity they had to be reproduced.
West Indian workers were recruited from among the poorest plantation workers in Jamaica or Barbados. They originated from African slaves, and their family structures were traditionally matriarchal and non hierarchical. The process of emigration, implemented through British government schemes, weakened and often disintegrated the immigrants' family relations. This does not mean that African-Caribbeans did not make efforts to create relations of solidarity or 'communities': they felt the brunt of racism even more strongly than Asians and had to struggle to survive against widespread white British hostility and discrimination. In these conditions, women would often join together in self-help groups and female relatives would try, as much as possible, to live in the same neighbourhood in order to support each other.
In contrast the Asian communities were both highly hierarchical and patriarchal, and allowed for tight control of individuals and families by community leaders. These relations were deeply rooted in south Asian society and had the opportunity to be re-created in Britain. While African-Caribbeans were recruited by the British government under government schemes, south Asians who moved to Britain did so on their own initiative. Men from relatively wealthy and powerful families who could afford to travel and set themselves up in Britain would then attract individuals from their same village, helping them to find jobs and accommodation. The power structure of the original village structure was then reproduced in Britain on the basis of patron-client relations - ethnic identity was then based on a material, economic, relation of dependence, fundamental for the individual's reproduction and survival in an alien country.
The various inter-relations of power among families were then reproduced in the new generations through subsequent arranged marriages, which connected families together, and which could be implemented through strong patriarchal authority. Thus, while a patriarchal Asian community would be reproduced as a closed community, the loose and matriarchal African-Caribbean community was more amenable to integration in wider British society.
Besides the communities of south Asians, muslim immigrants came to Britain in smaller numbers from other areas of the world. For example, Asians emigrated to Britain from African countries such as Kenya or Uganda following their independence from Britain. Many of these emigrants had been part of a relatively privileged social layer and the middle class in the African countries of origin, and were more likely to integrate into wider British society as bourgeois individuals.
Other muslim immigrants in the UK were Arabs or Persians allowed into the UK from the Middle East as refugees. Although they too tended to join relatives and hence cluster together in given areas, they had no opportunity to form structured communities like those of Indians, Pakistanis or Bangladeshis, as they trickled into the country as individuals under, by then, extremely tight immigration restrictions. Furthermore, despite sharing the same religion they did not, and could not, integrate themselves within the already established south Asian communities.
Thus at the dawn of the establishment of 'muslim Britain' there was no such 'muslim' unifying identity at all. The process of immigration seen above created structured communities of south Asians tightly tied together through family connections and arranged marriages. These communities were separated not only from the white British population, the African-Caribbeans, and other Arab immigrants, but they were also divided between themselves. Not only were south Asians in Britain divided by nationality and languages, not only might they originate from countries which were alien or hostile to each other, but they were also divided into even smaller, closed, extended family groups: there were, for example, Sylhetis (or better families from the Sylhet area of Bangladesh: Sunamganj, Habiganj, Beani Bazar, Maulvi Bazar, etc.), not 'Bangladeshi' - let alone 'muslims'!
The community, the individual and the class
The community structures imported from south Asia to Britain faced contradictory forces within the British capitalist system.
On the one hand, African-Caribbean and Asian immigrants experienced racial hostility from the native white lower middle class and sections of the working class. This separation and hostility forced the individuals to look within their community for mutual help and solidarity and tended to reinforce the community as a closed system.
On the other, the direct social relations within communities could only survive and reproduce themselves through commercial relations with an outside - the capitalist system in which the community was immersed. This would inevitably weaken the direct relations in the community: when what counts is the money in the individual's pocket, the relevance of personal relations of gratitude, loyalty and kinship start to be put under question.
The process of fragmentation and individualization was of course stronger for the new British-born generations, who felt less strong ties with their original families in Asia, and who tended to assimilate with other children at school or outside school. These young people experienced conflicting feelings toward their authoritarian family and society, which protected and nurtured them, but also exercised control over them. They resented being packaged for an arranged marriage, when their schoolmates talked about romance. They were excited about experimenting with music, drugs or other activities which their parents would find objectionable.
While capitalism tended to fragment the community into bourgeois individuals, it also constituted the condition for alternative, class based solidarity. The Asian working class had to earn a wage to live, and, as all the working class, experienced alienation, antagonism, and the material need to oppose capital collectively. In addition, it was not true that all of south Asia was a backward pre-capitalist blob. Many workers came from areas of India and Pakistan where capitalism had already established its contradictions through the British empire and had already experience of unionized struggles in workplaces, and a secular and Marxist perspective. By the 1950s the Communist party was a major political force in India, showing that the workers movement which it sought to represent was certainly not a tiny drop in the ocean of a fundamentally religious-based society.
Indian workers imported their traditions of unionized class struggle to Britain long before the 1950s: the 'Indian Workers Association' (IWA) was formed among a very small number of Indian workers in the 1930s to support the struggle for independence in their country of origin. After the immigration waves of the 1950s the IWA saw a revival and inspired the creation of the 'Pakistani Workers Association' (PWA) and the 'Bangladeshi Workers Association' (BWA), which organized industrial workers. During the '60s and '70s these organizations were involved in struggles for equality in workplaces, against the increasingly strict immigration government policies, and against racism.
The IWA (PWA and BWA) were pulled and pushed by the contradictions mentioned above. On the one hand these Asian workers' organizations often reflected separations inherited from the Asian subcontinent (castes, families, etc.). On the other, the praxis of struggle necessitated the creation of common understanding and solidarity across ethnic divisions. During the '60s and '70s the Asian workers organizations created wide fronts with white workers' organizations, leftwing parties and anti-racism campaigners in struggles against racism.
The separation of white and immigrant workers created by government policies, as well as the internal 'community' divisions among the Asian workers themselves, were thus challenged by active participation to common struggle. This practical experience was reflected by the development of consciousness among the Asian organized working class. Class identity, equality, solidarity across ethnic groups and races, challenged not only the racism of white union leaders and the white right wing, but also the identity of the Asian individual originally defined along community lines.
The new generation's struggles - the riots of 1981
Around the beginning of the 1980s young Asian people were protagonists in street riots in urban areas across Britain.
African-Caribbean youth were not new to street riots - since the late 1950s they had clashed with racist white youth and the police. Yet these new riots would have a different character: they would not be 'race riots' but anti-police, anti-fascist insurrections; and African Caribbeans, Asian and white youth would take part in these battles against the common enemy, or would emulate each other in different towns. The riots peaked in 1981, when fights and battles spread across Britain like wildfire (Brixton, Toxteth, Southall, Moss Side, Leeds, Handsworth, Leicester, Halifax, Bedford, Gloucester, Coventry, Bristol…).
Before the beginning of the '80s Asian youth were not generally involved in riots. Protected but also disciplined by their patriarchal, authoritarian families, they could see a future for themselves in their fathers' industry or shop and felt no incentive to rebel. In contrast, African-Caribbean youth came into confrontation with the established social order long before Asians did precisely because their communities were not as closed and structured, and individuals had to try to integrate earlier within British society. As a consequence, they were more vulnerable to racism and discrimination.
However, with the end of the '70s and the Thatcher era things would also change for Asian youth. With the closure of large factories in the north and mass unemployment the struggle was bound to move from the factory to the street, and would involve the younger generation.
This new wave of struggles had an effect on the understanding and self-identity of the new generation of Asians. Groups involved in those struggles would meet, discuss and think about demands and possibilities, developing the conscious side of their practical experience. One of these organizations was the 'Asian Youth Movement'. The AYM reflected the emergence of a new cross-ethnic identity, which was precisely the result of solidarity across ethnic and/or religious divisions. In order to challenge any such divisions, the participants defined themselves as 'black', a positive and inclusive definition taken up in spite of racist propaganda. Also the AYM reflected a common identification of the enemy in the repressive authorities (including the police and the threat of fascism). Significantly, and coherently, the AYM would also attack and criticize despotism within their own community - the power of the mosques and the imposition of patriarchal authority, above all on women.
While capitalism tended to separate the new British-born generation of Asians from their own communities and turn them into individuals desiring bourgeois freedom, these struggles created a secular, non-religious, non-ethnic unity, which could provide these young people with the strength to challenge their traditional authorities.
This secular and non-ethnic consciousness mirrored the practical unity of the participants in the antifascist riots of the '80s, which was the fundamental factor that made them politically relevant. Indeed, it was precisely because these riots were not 'ethnic' riots that they could spread across Britain threatening Thatcher's authority.
The obvious response from the state to this threat was therefore to divide the class - and the obvious dividing line was the ethnic. With the Scarman report in 1981 the state began to construe the problem of rebellious youth as a mainly racial and ethnic issue.
It was true, as Scarman noted, that racist policing and discrimination were an issue for black people - yet Scarman looked at young people's antagonism to the state, which had common grounds and a common enemy, and reduced it into an 'ethnic' or 'minority' issue. Its recommendations for the local authorities, to adopt 'community policies' which tackled ethnic issues, would fit more with the New Labour ideology of multiculturalism than the old Tory ideology. In fact, as we will see next, these recommendations would be brought into practice within the so-called multiculturalist strategy by (mostly) Labour councils and would divide and pit sections of the class against each other: precisely, along ethnic lines.
A response: The multiculturalist policy
As an answer to the riots, since the beginning of the '80s a number of local authorities pioneered a new specific social policy, which would be called 'multiculturalist policy' (or simply multiculturalism).
The GLC led by Ken Livingstone began the most renown multiculturalist project, made of 'consultations' with 'ethnic communities' regarding the public sector, 'equal opportunity' policies, and the establishment of race relations units in the Council and the police. Within this initiative, representatives from ethnic communities would be also given roles within public institutions (such as hospitals, schools, etc.) and in the Council. A whole new network of relations between the local authorities and individuals within the 'ethnic' communities was encouraged to develop.
Bradford council started a similar project in 1981, in the aftermath of the city's riots, and issued a race-relations plan which declared Bradford a 'multiracial, multicultural city'.
Through the '80s to the '90s multiculturalism would grow from a 'loony lefty' practice limited to a handful of councils to a mainstream, widely accepted, ideology, whose vocabulary is unquestionably accepted as 'common sense' and would have a central role in the social policies of New Labour.
Within the multiculturalist strategy councils like Bradford financially supported the creation of lobby groups around cliques of notables and authoritative 'community leaders'. This normally led to the creation of 'councils of mosques' or other similar religious lobbies: for example, Bradford Council supported the creation of the Bradford Council of Mosques; the Federation for Sikh Organizations and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
Within the multiculturalist strategy, religious organizations received funds from local authorities and were treated as main interlocutors - this role would strengthen their prestige and power within their 'community'. In return, they were delegated a number of social activities through which they would get in touch and control individuals in their community (e.g. care for the elderly or the management of unemployment).
Behind its postmodern gloss and its sentimentality for ethnic and cultural diversity, then, the multiculturalist project constituted a new class alliance. It meant in practice the redirection of wealth from the working class within the community to their leaders and their pet projects.
It is important to add that the multiculturalist policies tended to privilege the Asian communities and would then pave the way to the future development of a 'muslim Britain - instead of a 'black Britain'. As the multiculturalist strategy relied on the authority of 'community leaders' to re-impose social order within their communities, since the beginning, it tended to neglect the African-Caribbean 'communities': unlike the Asian structured, patriarchal communities, the prevalently matriarchal African-Caribbean communities, loose and lacking structured means to control their youths, were not convincing partners for the local authorities.
This would create the increasingly strong liaison between new Labour politicians and the south Asian communities - which would lay the foundations for the alliance of New Labour and the 'British muslim community'.
Identity as ethnic identity
For the Asians who had experienced class struggle in the '70s, the re-imposition of bourgeois law and order on the street and market discipline would through the '80s signalled the abandonment of class identity.
The retreat of class struggle left a void - bourgeois fragmentation. Paradoxically, but not surprisingly, this fragmentation and separation was encouraged by the implementation of multiculturalist policies: by offering funds to groups in recognition to their cultural identity, these policies constituted a major material factor which helped to fragment the Asian population into competing ethnic groups, alien and often hostile to each other.
Also secularism declined as religious issues were now encouraged to emerge, welcomed from both sides of the multiculturalist alliance. From the perspective of community leaders, indeed, religious issues were about re-establishing their social control. While for those who were to become the New Labour ruling elite, the celebration of 'ethnic' and traditional cultures was a 'radical', excitingly postmodern and safely classless alternative to the anti-establishment ideas of the '70s.
Crucially, however, the creation of religious lobbies having a role in local political life would encourage the transformation of cultural issues into political demands. This was particularly true for the muslim lobbies since this transformation coincided with the popularity of political Islam as a political ideology based on religion.
Thus throughout the 1980s muslim lobbies which had been set up and supported by local authorities became the focus for vociferous campaigns and protests over religious demands, rallying the people of their community in support. As an important example, the Bradford Council of Mosques began campaigning in 1983 over single sex classes, the provision of halal meat in schools, and other such issues and involved parents and young people in these protests. In return for lobbying and protesting the working class was offered a spectacular contemplation of the abstract power of 'their community' vis-à-vis the outer world (mainly white, and western). This power was in fact the concrete power of religious leaders vis-à-vis their faithful.
We will see that this political activity would allow lobbies such as the Bradford Council of Mosques to acquire a key role in the creation of 'muslim Britain'.
A new unity in political Islam and the emergence of the 'British muslim community'
A key element essential to the establishment of the 'British muslim community' was the rise at a world level of the ideology and practice of political Islam, following the end of the cold war, the decline of national liberation movements and of social democracy. In this section we will see how political Islam provided the ideological grounds for an abstract unification of concretely fragmented muslim communities and how national struggles around Islamic issues promoted the constitution of national lobby groups which would act as representatives of the 'British muslim community' vis-à-vis the emerging New Labour government. We will also consider the paradoxes of the abstract unity and concrete divisions of this representative body and the power and class conflicts expressed by them.
The retreat of class struggle and the rise of political Islam world-wide
Multiculturalism was only one side which encouraged the emergence of the so-called 'muslim community' in Britain: the other was the rise of political Islam.
The conjuncture of the new class alliance based on multiculturalist policies and the rise of political Islam was not a coincidence. These two facts originated from the same historical change: the retreat of class struggle internationally, the consequent retreat of social democracy, the end of the cold war and of national liberation movements across the globe. In muslim countries the retreat of pan-Arab and Stalinist modernising tendencies encouraged the resurgence of Islamist movements.
The Islamist 'Muslim Brotherhood', notorious for assaulting left wing militants in the streets of Cairo and organising assassinations of Egyptian government leaders, re-emerged at the end of the 1970s. The Muslim Brotherhood had been suppressed in Egypt in 1948 but spread to other muslim countries as an underground organization. With the decadence of pan-Arabism, the Muslim Brotherhood had the opportunity to be resuscitated. Encouraged by the possibility offered by the new political situation to impose itself as a mainstream political current, the Muslim Brothers' organisations in most countries have recently undergone a facelift of bourgeois respectability.
In 1978-9 the US, Saudi Arabia and the Pakistani government funded and encouraged Islamist combatants to fight the USSR occupation of Afghanistan. At an ideological level, this war served to confer prestige to key promoters, first in line Saudi Arabia and its version of strict and anti-west Islamic fundamentalism, Wahhabism.
Concurrent with the war in Afghanistan was the 'Iranian Revolution' of 1979. The revolution in Iran against the old pro-US regime of the Shah was the outcome of a widespread social insurrection which followed intense struggles and strikes in workplaces. Despite the great mobilization of the class, eventually the revolution was recuperated and subdued under an Islamic regime led by the Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Rudollah Musavi Khomeini.
Since 1979, rivalry over influence of the Islamic world would continue between Khomeini and the Saudi establishment. Wahhabi's world-wide prestige was based on oil revenues donated by Riyadh to Islamic groups and 'charities' worldwide. It was for example Saudi Arabia which massively funded the construction of recent new mosques in the UK. Saudi Arabia also controlled the publication of religious materials for world-wide distribution. This had a profound effect in the diffusion of political Islam in the UK in the '80s and '90s.
While Saudi Arabia based its influence on the material power of money, the rising Shia star preferred to count on the immaterial glitter of ideology. The international fury at the end of the '80s around the Rushdie affair offered to Khomeini the unmissable opportunity to become the recognized worldwide champion of Islam: using his authority as Ayatollah, Khomeini issued an Islamic order ('fatwa'), asking all muslims to try to kill the British writer and muslim renegade. Eventually, the 'fatwa' deflated. Despite the fact that all of the Islamist world was united in morally condemning Rushdie, the fatwa was opposed by most Islamist organizations, and neglected by the sullen Saudi regime and eventually nobody bothered to kill Rushdie. However, we will see that the Rushdie affair would be central to the creation of a national organization representing the 'muslim community' in Britain.
The retreat of class struggle and the rise of political Islam in Britain
In Britain, the retreat of class struggle, the atomization of muslim individuals and the new social mobility of the Thatcher years prepared the terrain for the appeal of political Islam. Political Islam was a new ideology which predicated the unity of muslims not only across national states, but, importantly, across local communities - the unity of individuals as abstract muslims. Political Islam had thus an appeal for those individuals whose traditional ties had been weakened and for whom the community-based traditions of their fathers had lost their relevance. These were two specific different categories of muslims: the emerging middle class and the youth.
We have seen that in the 1980s a new generation of middle class emerged from the lower classes, thanks to the social mobility of the post-war years. These were not only New Labour politicians (as mentioned in Part 1), but also individuals from ethnic communities, including Asians. However, climbing the social ladder into mainstream Britain also implied the weakening of old ties and the fragmentation of the middle class as bourgeois individuals. Political Islam offered to these middle class individuals a form of Islamic belonging and political identity which did not need to be based on old social ties and practices - in practice, an abstract bourgeois, new world-view.
Middle class professionals and businessmen, who need to be considered part of the respectable socio-political establishment, tend to favour moderate forms of Islamism, like Jamaat e-Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood. Jamaat e-Islami originated in Pakistan during the Pakistan war and has a special appeal for individuals of Pakistani descent. The Muslim Brotherhood has a similar appeal for muslims of Arab descent.
For the youngest generations political Islam would offer an answer to isolation, to the frustration and the void created by the retreat of class struggle and the years of Thatcher's individualism. To these young people, political Islam presents itself as a political force able to challenge the status quo and oppose the exploitation of 'muslims' worldwide. Young muslims look to more radical organizations, which are less compromising about western values or issues such as Israel and US military control of the Middle East. The largest of such radical groups is, apparently, Hizb ut-Tahrir, with about 8,500 members: this is an internationalist organization originating in Palestine, but has a broad appeal for young British muslims of any descent.
In the next and final section we will consider the role of political Islam in the creation of the national lobby which sought to represent the 'muslim community' in Britain.
The Rushdie affair and the emergence of the Muslim Council of Britain
We have seen that by the 1980s there was no such thing as a 'muslim community' in Britain, and that the multiculturalist strategies tended to separate and alienate even more various communities from each other, by encouraging local lobbies to pursue parochial interests. At the beginning of the '80s religious (even Islamist) community leaders would simply rally their members around local issues, like the education of local girls. Despite appeals from the Tory government to create a single representative body, the muslim communities had been indeed unable to come together at all.
But in 1987 a national scandal motivated key local lobbies to come together at a national level: the publication of the notorious novel The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie.
Since the beginning, the Rushdie affair was an Islamist affair - which mobilized individuals through fundamentalist Islamist networks world-wide. In September 1988 Indian members of the fundamentalist Jamaat e-Islami contacted Manazir Ahsan, the director of the British Jamaat e-Islam's 'Islamic Foundation' in Leicester. Ahsan was proactive in spreading the word in Britain even outside his own organization, as he contacted mosques leaders or other Islamic centres and magazines across the country.
These efforts led to the creation in October 1988 of a national lobby: the UK Action for Islamic Affairs (UKACIA), with a group of middle class intellectuals, professionals and businessmen including Ahsan and university educated businessman Iqbal Sacranie (then a trustee of a mosque in Balham, southwest London) at its core. This lobby took the Rushdie affair to the national level (as well as to Teheran, stirring up the infamous fatwa).
Locally, the protest had a hotspot around Bradford Council of Mosques, which had been contacted by Ahsan. By then this local lobby had already acquired prestige due to its capacity to rally its community around Islamic issues and was expected to be centrally involved in the Rushdie campaign. Bradford's mosque leaders responded by writing to the prime minister about the issue. However, the protest in Bradford soon escaped the 'respectable' leaders' control. On 14 January 1989 local muslims, many of whom were radical youth, staged a public burning of the book, which quickly brought Bradford Council of Mosques and its 'community' into disrepute. Bradford's community leaders were accused of supporting medieval views and methods, and some of them were accused (probably correctly) of sympathising with Khomeini's fatwa. Caught in the storm, Bradford Council of Mosques got eclipsed by the more middle class and respectable national lobby UKACIA. However, its priestly leaders such as Maulana Sher Azam would become active members in UKACIA.
UKACIA unsuccessfully campaigned for Rushdie to be condemned under the British blasphemy law. Yet, despite its defeat, UKACIA's activity constituted a milestone for the future development of the 'muslim community'. For the first time, a rather broad national group had been created, uniting politically motivated middle class individuals as well as mosque-based leaders of local Asian communities.
In the following years, elements from UKACIA, networking with other groups across the UK, worked towards the creation of a national lobby who could confidently claim to represent 'the British muslim community': the 'Muslim Council of Britain' (MCB).
However, the divisions among the real muslim communities were such that it took nearly ten year to complete this task: the MCB was inaugurated only in 1997, the year of the historical election of New Labour to power. This was perhaps not a coincidence, and we would rather speculate that the perspective of a New Labour government catalysed and speeded up the process.
So eventually this long and troubled pregnancy was over and the MCB was born in November 1997 with the government's blessing and Iqbal Sacranie as president.
The MCB was a large umbrella group, which included more than 400 affiliates: mosque councils which represented concrete Asian communities, professional bodies which represented abstract 'communities' (such as the 'muslim dentists'), as well as more openly political organisations.
The most important of these organisations, which would have a protagonist role in the later anti-war movement, was the 'Muslim Association of Britain', (MAB). The MAB was created in the same year around a group of middle class individuals of Arab descent close to the British Muslim Brotherhood, and was interested in presenting itself as a moderate and respectable alternative to radical Islam.
With mosque organizations, representatives of 'muslim dentists' and the MAB in it, the MCB could claim to represent the 'muslim community' as a whole. So was the unity of British muslims into a great community achieved? Not at all. This unit resulted from the political campaigning and activity of a core of motivated individuals, with central elements belonging to Islamist organizations like Jamaat e-Islami or the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet however, this unity of heart and minds did not reflect any unity of real muslim communities.
This was a fundamental contradiction for the MCB: while on the one hand the MCB needed to be broad and comprehensive in order to claim to be really representative of the 'muslim community', on the other hand it had to welcome within its umbrella members with diverse and often alien interests. Due to this contradiction, we will see that the MCB would lack unity and political direction when such a unity was politically needed: during the anti-war movement.
This contradiction was also reflected in tensions between generations and classes within the leadership of the MCB. The old guard of religious scholars in the MCB hardly recognized the authority of those younger professionals and businessmen who had initiated the national lobby, but needed their role as mediators. These professionals had the right education to speak to the New Labourite establishment, the media and the bourgeois world. While the ulemas (religious leaders) had real connections with their local communities, their language was inadequate: the multiculturalist New Labour establishment had encouraged traditional culture and language but only for strict use within their community!
On the other hand the Asian middle class, although quite reactionary, had the right outlook and above all the right political and social connections.
Yet most of these middle class individuals could claim to represent the 'muslim community' only in abstract: to this aim political Islam provides them with the appropriate ideology for the task. With its stress on the abstract unity of 'muslim', political Islam allows individuals to present themselves as the legitimate representatives of a 'community', whether or not this 'community' coincides with any real one. In its moderate versions such a Jamaat e-Islami or the Muslim Brotherhood, then, political Islam has been instrumental to the new middle class generation in their competition for power against their old fogies, like postmodernism has been instrumental to a new generation of Labourites against the old political establishment.
Part 2 Conclusion
The new class alliances in the 1980s and the retreat of class struggle created the conditions for the formation of a 'British muslim community'. Yet this 'community' emerged paradoxically from a movement which tended to increasingly fragment the concrete muslim communities in Britain, and at the same time tended to create an abstract concept of a unified 'muslim community'. In the next and final part we will see how this 'muslim community' can exist only in a symbiotic interrelation with New Labour based on 'communalist politics'. We will also see how it was in the interest of both New Labour and the MCB to preserve this symbiotic relation during the stresses and strains of the recent events (September 11 and Islami terrorist scare, the war in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, and the threat of new social unrest).
Part 3: 'Don't mention the war!'
The 'muslim community' and New Labour: Complementarity
In Part 2 we saw that immigrants from south Asia sought to transplant and reproduce their original community relations in Britain. We also saw that, although the necessary integration within the advanced capitalist society of Britain tended to strain and fragment the Asians' direct relations, these relations still survive to a certain extent and continue to connect large extended family groups. Individuals and families in Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi communities are still linked through mutual obligations and patron-client relations, and families are still tied by what remains of traditional moral duties and obligations, such as respect for elders. Although these connections are not as strict and binding as those in the original Asian communities, they still define 'concrete communities' which can be mobilized at a political level.
As an integral part of the process which transplanted Asian communities to Britain, immigrants from the Indian subcontinent also imported their traditional communalist-based politics. Communalist politics is a form which bourgeois democracy tends to assume in areas of the world where structured community relations co-exist with capitalism. In such areas, local community leaders are able to mobilize large numbers of votes for given politicians using their influence over networks of extended families. In return the local leaders receive access to privileges or public funds which they can administer or distribute to their community.
In India we can trace the existence of communalist politics back to political relations in the pre-capitalist south Asian system. In those times the basic social units were hierarchically structured economically self-sufficient villages. These units would relate to whatever high authority was in power at any time as indivisible units and, for example, would be taxed as a whole through negotiations between local leaders and representatives of the high authority. With the emergence of capitalism and the imposition of democratic forms these traditional relations were transmuted into the form of communalist politics.
Communalist politics has found a symbiosis between traditional community relations and the democratic system, which are at least in principle incompatible. Communalist politics tends to distort the very nature of modern democracy that rests on the assumption that society is made by equal-and-free individuals, and that they can be numerically represented by an elected system.
This symbiosis is a form of class alliance which serves to control the Asian working class. The community leaders are never the poorest in the community. They are small businessmen (who can provide jobs), landlords or other 'notables' such as religious leaders. As a result they have a certain degree of personal power over the heads of the families in the community, which allows them to regulate behaviour and conduct as well as to control votes.
This power is then transmitted to the individual members of the community via patriarchal relations within each family. On the one hand each family has an interest in supporting their local leaders and their political connections. On the other hand, they depend on their community leader's discretion in distributing wealth and/or favours and feel under pressure to oblige all members in their family to be 'well behaved', i.e. respect and maintain the social and political status quo.
It is important to note that communalist politics can only sustain itself as long as the political system can guarantee material support to local leaders and their organizations, but also, importantly, as long as the community leaders can guarantee to have the power to mobilize their community at election time and maintain social peace and cohesion.
Communalist politics and the Labour Party
In Britain communalist politics involved the relations between community leaders and the British political parties at a local level, and in particular, the Labour party.
For decades the Labour party had enjoyed a special relation with Asian communities. This relation had nothing to do with old Labour's ideology or national politics, let alone its connection to the trade union movement. Simply, most Asian communities were in fact located in poor inner city areas, which were traditional strongholds for the Labour Party.
As the Asian communities grew and established themselves and as the trade union movement declined after the mid-80s, local Labour parties in many inner city areas came increasingly to depend on the communalist vote.
The election of New Labour in 1997 offered the historical occasion to allow the projection of the long-established communalist politics to the national level, but this projection necessitated the creation of a unified body which could claim to represent the 'muslim community' nationally and liaise with the new government. In section 2 we saw how a unified body, the MCB, emerged out of a politicized middle class milieu who had previously come together around the Rushdie affair.
The MCB acted as the mediator for the 'British muslim community' and was consulted by the New Labour government on 'muslim issues'. And crucially it was recognized as a privileged advisor on funding for muslim initiatives which would benefit local 'community' organizations. On its part, once in government, New Labour began to pursue a series of what could be seen as pro-muslim policies. Thus, for example, abandoning the traditional Labour commitment to secular education, the New Labour government sanctioned the foundation of state-funded faith schools including Islamic schools. This was a vital concession to both community leaders, who saw Islamic schools as a means of preserving their communities, and Islamist leading members in the MCB who saw such schools as means of propagating Islam. The Government also provided national funding for various initiatives fostering muslim culture. Following the July bombings in London in 2005 the Government, at the behest of various muslim pressure groups including the MCB, passed legislation against religious hatred, which was promoted by New Labour's spinning machine as a sign of solidarity for the 'law abiding muslim community'.
The three poles of the national alliance
With New Labour in power and the MCB acting as advisor on 'muslim issues' the 'British muslim community' had then become a reality. But what is this unified thing that has been created? It is not simply a number of individuals, lobby groups or communities, and not simply an abstract Islamist concept either. Rather, it is a combination of all these concrete and abstract elements, based on the interrelations, interests and tensions of three socio-political poles:
a) the leaders of real but divided Asian communities
b) a national lobby which claims to represent a unified but abstract British 'muslim community'
c) the Labour Party
Communalist politics is founded on the interrelations between these three poles.
In order to take advantage of a national communalist relation with New Labour, local leaders need a national, unified lobby, which they were unable to create by themselves due to their material divisions. As we said earlier, they also need mediators with the right connections and political skills. Only this mediation can guarantee their access to government support and funds, which is essential for their continuing control over their local communities.
The middle class national lobby of businessmen and professionals which came together during the Rushdie affair, often politicized and connected to Islamist organisations like Jamaat e-Islami, were able to create the MCB as a unified body. Yet they still need the involvement of a myriad of divided and parochial local leaders who have the real control over concrete communities and guarantee both electoral support to New Labour and social cohesion.
The third pole of this alliance, New Labour, needs the support of the 'muslim community' (in both its abstract and concrete aspects) for its electoral success. New Labour thus needs both a national representative whom they can consult, as well as the possibility to reach particular concrete communities. In a word, the Labour party needs the interplay of the representatives of the national, abstract, community and those of the concrete communities.
The 'muslim community' and New Labour: Contradictions
We have seen so far how the elements of the political alliance of New Labour with the 'British muslim community' needed each other. However, this same alliance also contains contradictions, which would come to the fore with the 'war on terrorism' and with the anti-war movement. We will see that most of these contradictions resulted from the class nature of this political alliance. New Labour had to juggle contrasting interests of sections of the ruling classes, as well as the discontent of the working class and the potential threat to social order from sections of it, in particular young Asians.
New Labour caught between the language of big capital and the language of political Islam
There was a clear contradiction in New Labour, between the universalism implied by its neoliberalism and proselytising of liberal democratic values abroad, and its cultural relativism, which had informed its multiculturalist policies at home.
This contradiction arose from New Labour's abandonment of social democracy and their need to seek support from sections of the ruling class with diverging interests. On the one hand New Labour's universalism reflects its close affinity with international capital and in particular the finance capital represented by the City of London. On the other hand, New Labour's multiculturalist strategies for social cohesion at home have paved the way for a national alliance of New Labour and the 'British muslim community', represented at a national level by middle class elements, often embarrassingly close to Islamist organisations.
This contradiction came to the fore following the attack on the World Trade Centre in September 2001. After this attack the Bush regime took the opportunity to forcibly re-order the oil rich regions of the wider Middle East by invading first Afghanistan and then Iraq. This was justified in terms of bringing the universal values of 'freedom' and 'democracy' to this 'backward' region of the world. In what became known as the 'global war on terror' Islamic 'fundamentalism' now replaced communism as the principal enemy of western 'freedom and democracy. For the political Islamists, Bush's 'global war on terror', and his invasion of the 'muslim countries' of Afghanistan and Iraq, was a barely disguised attack on Islam itself. The interests of British capital required that British foreign policy should support the US. Yet this sat uneasily with New Labour's domestic social policy of multiculturalism, particularly its alignment with the 'British muslim community'.
Later we consider how New Labour sought to navigate this ideological contradiction. But first we must look at how the 'global war on terror' impacted on the 'British muslim community' itself.
The conflict in the Middle East and the conflicts in the MCB
The 'war on terror' would also bring to the fore the inherent contradictions in the MCB, and in the 'British muslim community' which it represented. We have seen that the MCB reflected the unity in opposition of concrete local communities, divided along ethnic lines, and whose division was encouraged by the material gains offered by various multiculturalist policies. This division had been overcome through an abstract unification offered by the ideology of political Islam - the unity of muslims as just abstractly 'muslims', irrespective of their belonging to families or local groups originating from different places with different languages and cultures, or of their real differing material and class interests.
In some respect the 'war on terror' was a blessing for the Islamist groups who had recently emerged as political protagonists. The Muslim Brotherhood-inspired MAB, which did not suffer from the inherent divisions of the MCB, eagerly joined the anti-war movement and the national Stop the War Coalition. Later, even the MCB supported the anti-war demonstrations. The Islamist interpretation that the war was an attack on Islam, and hence on all muslims, which had to be opposed by the 'muslim community' constituted a powerful ideological tool for the mobilization of millions of muslim individuals across the country.
The large anti-war demonstrations offered the tangible manifestation of what so far had been a purely conceptual entity - the 'British muslim community' was there en masse, it was visible, it marched in the street and shouted at Downing Street! In order to actually achieve this mobilization, MAB and other Islamist leaders had to face, and practically overcome, the parochial separations and traditional reciprocal hostility of various concrete communities across the country. This work and its result strengthened the position and prestige of middle class Islamist leaders.
However, this mobilization was connected with the abstract aspect of the 'British muslim community'. We have seen in the previous section that the existence of this unified 'community' was based on the interplay of ideological and material aspects: economic gains and a national electoral alliance with the New Labour government. This made both community and national muslim leaders be very careful about opposing New Labour and even the war.
We will see in the next sections how this contradiction unfolded and how it explains why Respect failed to gain a political advantage from the anti-war movement.
Muslim youth and Islamic radicalism
The balance of opposition and unity in the communalist alliance of New Labour and the 'muslim community' in Britain, the fact that the multiculturalist strategies served to break down class struggle, and the fact that the anti-war movement did not lead to any political alternative seems to suggest that the British ruling class has found the secret to reaching an almost Hegelian synthesis of its contradictions. This is in fact untrue: like all alliances among sections of the ruling class, this one also does not abolish the antagonism of the proletariat - whose needs and demands necessarily contradicts any established equilibrium.
As we have seen, fundamental for the communalist relation of MCB and New Labour was the capacity of community leaders to both mobilize their community at election time, and guarantee some degree of social control. Yet with the progressive integration of British-born Asians into British capitalist society, the community leaders' ability to deliver on this guarantee is steadily declining.
The promoters of this alliance sincerely believed that providing funds for religious and cultural demands would serve to pacify and satisfy the 'ethnic minority' and gain their loyalty, and community leaders counted on the power of traditional patriarchal respect and religion on individuals for re-imposing order. However, while state funds were diverted from the working class into the hands of local rulers and mosques, the working class within the Asian communities clearly saw through the vacuity of multiculturalist and communitarian practices. Lacking housing and decent income many Asians continued to be antagonistic to the state, the local authorities and, last but not least, the police.
In particular, the young generation increasingly resented the special relations between their community leaders and local authorities, which clearly appeared alien to their interests. As we said earlier, due to the creeping atomization of their relations with their own community, these young people did not feel bound to duties or allegiances to their elders, let alone their old priests or local leaders. As a result, community leaders and the patriarchal family increased their moral power over young individuals.
As we will mention briefly below, social unrest among young Asians continued through the 1990s and 2000s, and increasingly took the form of 'race' conflict between young gangs. The riots in Oldham (Great Manchester, May 2001), Leeds, Burnley, Bradford (June) and again Bradford, Stoke-on-Trent (July), were sparked by clashes between white and Asian gangs, stirred up by local election campaigns by the BNP. After the riots of 2001, in the Ritchie Report we read:
Police links with minority ethnic communities are at present based on a network of community leaders who in our view lack authority and credibility (p. 13).
The fact that the community leaders appeared to lack the power and credibility to maintain social order was an alarming factor for the stability of the communalist alliance. In response to these riots, the government started distancing themselves from their old 'multiculturalist' approach: in December 2001 Blunkett initiated a 'debate about citizenship' which would eventually lead to the introduction of a 'citizenship test' for obtaining a UK passport and blamed 'shockingly divided communities' for the riots.
But besides riots and street fights the capacity of community leaders to maintain authority and control was challenged by the success of radical Islam among young people. In response to frustration and out of resentment with their elders who seem to compromize with the establishment, young Asian people looked with growing interest to radical Islam. Thousands joined groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir, girls took up the full veil, boys adopted extreme sexist and conservative views - outdoing the authority and patriarchy of their own parents and thus defusing their power on their same terrain.
The inability of community leaders to prevent the diffusion of radical Islamist ideas was exacerbated by the 'war on terror'. The political Islamist propaganda of middle class leaders of MAB and MCB, which they needed to promote themselves and to mobilize the 'muslim community', only served to legitimize similar Islamist ideas of more radical groups which only seemed to take the moderate positions of the Muslim Brothers or Jamaat e-Islam to their logical conclusion and coherently opposed, without the rather pathetic weaknesses or embarrassing compromizes, New Labour and its aggressive foreign policy.
The 'war on terror' and the events that followed would reveal that the threat of radical Islam was not at all a threat to the bourgeois system: rather it was a threat to the credibility of MCB and the stability of its alliance with New Labour.
The war and the veil
Not in the name of the 'British muslim community'?
After the shock of the riots in May-July 2001, 'muslim Britain' would have to face its biggest public relations problem ever. In September 2001 a small band of radical Islamists from Saudi Arabia, connected to Osama Bin Laden's Al Qaida, managed to destroy the World Trade Centre in New York. There had been many Islamist bombings around the world, but this attack was given a special significance by the US government: the western world was not safe, Islamic terrorists could hit the US. The 'war or terror' began, with US-led invasions first of Afghanistan and then Iraq, ideologically propped up by a never ending series of commemorations for the victims of the 11th of September. The dead in the towers' rubble would only be the first of a large number: they would be followed by the innocent victims of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Although the geo-strategical reason for the war was obvious, George Bush claimed that this war was 'a clash of civilizations', between the democratic western world against the uncivilized Islamic threat, and even called it a 'crusade'. Ironically, Bush's words would be perfectly approved by those proclaiming to represent the opposed 'civilization': political Islam. By presenting the attack on the Middle East as an attack 'on Islam' political Islamists around the world sought to rally muslim populations against the west and pro-US governments.
However, creating a 'British muslim' movement against the war was not so easy for the MCB, which had concrete divisions and interests. The leaders of the MCB were split between the Islamist call and the need to save their special relations with New Labour: it was in the interests of the 'muslim community' to play a moderate, pro-government card.
Things were not easy for New Labour as well. Although Blair was desperate in following Bush to Afghanistan and interested in exploiting the 'terrorism scare' to justify this war, he could not adopt Bush's ideological 'clash of civilization' call - or risk a disaster for the government's relations with the 'British muslim community'.
Immediately after September 11, then, both the British government and the MCB had common interests in defusing serious political conflicts around the issue of the 'muslim community', and to oppose both political Islam and the suggestion that 'all muslims' were a threat to civilization. On its part the MCB made every effort to reassure the government that the 'muslim community' was moderate and rejected terrorism, while the government reassured the MCB that the invasion of Afghanistan was not against Islam (and muslims) but against Bin Laden.
However, these efforts did not solve the inevitable problem - Blair had an interest in attacking Afghanistan, while within the MCB opposition to the war remained. Although the MCB was not interested in a full-frontal confrontation with the government and even refused to support the first anti-war march, the MCB leaders eventually came together and signed a letter which asked the government to avoid a war in Afghanistan and seek diplomatic responses to the September 11 attack. Going a bit further, a council of religious representatives within the MCB issued a fatwa which declared the bombing of Afghanistan unlawful. In response, Blair apparently stopped returning the MCB's calls in a grump.
When it was clear that despite his friendship and trust for the 'British muslim community' in Britain Blair would attack the muslims of Afghanistan, a serious split threatened the MCB and eventually the MCB had to support the anti-war movement and endorse the following demonstrations. Yet Blair continued to keep his phone off the hook and preferred to relate to his New Labourite muslim MPs. Worrying for their careers (and their privileged positions in their communities) all the MPs except one signed a paper approving an attack on Afghanistan. Later, however, they disowned it.
In 2002, the StWC involved the proactive MAB in sponsoring a demonstration for Palestine. Subsequently, the MAB got actively and enthusiastically involved in the anti-war movement during the years 2002-3 and was at the front of the massive demonstrations against the attack on Iraq. It also formally joined the Coalition in 2002. In contrast with the teetering MCB, the smaller and more homogeneous MAB showed to have a stronger political line; however, this coherent politics was possible because the MAB was a small and politically defined organisation - and for this reason it could not claim to represent 'the muslim community'.
The anti-war movement had reached its apogee on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, when, on 15 February 2003, two million people marched in London against the war. However, already by the end of April the war was over and the movement went into sharp decline eventually leaving little more than the leftwing rump. The MAB retreated from the front of increasingly shrinking demonstrations while the 'muslim community' returned to the protective communalist wing of New Labour.
In May 2005 New Labour was re-elected to power with the aid of the muslim vote; and, as a cherry on the communalist cake, in June 2005, Mister MCB, Iqbal Sacranie, was knighted for 'services to the muslim community, to charities and to community relations'. With a fanfare of royal celebrations peace was again made between the New Labour establishment and the 'British muslim community'.
Put your house in order
However, new problems lurked ahead. Despite introducing increasingly tight police measures and implementing a long series of increasingly draconian Anti-Terrorism laws, the government had continued targeting the wrong people. Searches were made in asylum seekers' homes, and people were charged with immigration offences or accused of using their grandma's favourite laxative, ricinoleic oil , to make 'ricin bombs'. At the same time, the Anti-Terrorism Act was used to threaten and arrest liberal peace campaigners, and the 'terrorism scare' was exploited to introduce a new computerized system for state control, the 'Identity Card'.
In the face of all these 'anti-terror' efforts, on July 7 2005 Britain had its own mini-version of September 11. A small group of rather amateurish young Islamists planned to blow themselves up on the London underground system and succeeded in blowing up three trains and a bus, causing 52 deaths. Immediately, revelations came out that three of them were British of Pakistani descent born in Leeds or Bradford. One was a Jamaican immigrant, who had recently converted to Islam through his contacts with young native Asians. As if this was not enough, two weeks later another group of young British muslims was involved in a follow up terrorist attack which, this time, failed miserably. There were more muslim young people spread throughout Britain, who were plotting suicide attacks! This revelation shook the assumptions on which the MCB and the government had collaborated - that the terrorist threat was from abroad, and that the 'muslim community' was able to contain its children. One of the material foundations of communalist politics was crumbling.
Up until then the government had centred their counter-terrorism operations on refugees from muslim countries, most of whom had little connections with the long established muslim communities in Britain. At the beginning of August 2005 , in a speech presented as historical, Blair stated that 'the rules of the game had changed'. Although Blair stressed that the 'muslim community' had been and still was the government's partner in dealing with terrorism, he said that the government now planned to extend measures like 'control orders' which were previously limited to foreign national suspected of terrorism, so that they could be applied to British people.
Yet the extension of police powers, and the targeting of 'home grown terrorists' to combat terrorism threatened to alienate established muslim communities. As a consequence, the Government stressed the need for a partnership with the 'law-abiding British muslim community' to counter the spread of extremist political Islamic ideas amongst young muslims. In October 2005 the government launched a consultation called 'Preventing Extremism Together', which was concerned with the problem of confronting radicalism among the youth. One of the outcomes of this consultation was the creation of the 'Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board', in June 2006, with the MCB onboard. This body was expected to supervise the activity of Mosques in Britain and fight pockets of radical propaganda.
In return for the co-operation of 'the muslim community', and to counter the rise of anti-muslim feeling generated by the July bombings, the government introduced new legislation. On February 16th 2006 the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill received royal assent. It seemed that peace had been restored between New Labour and the British 'muslim community'.
While Islamic terrorism was unable to threaten the renewed peace between the government and 'the muslim community', new controversy was stirred up in the Summer of 2006 by a massacre of a different nature. On July 12 Israel invaded Lebanon in an effort to drive Hezbollah from southern Lebanon. Yet Israel's hopes of a quick victory in a matter of days were soon dashed. As the Israeli army struggled to make headway against the stubborn resistance of Hezbollah's forces, Bush and Blair procrastinated about calling a ceasefire. While shootings and bombings continued for days, it became clear that Bush and Blair had been complicit in Israel's attack on Lebanon and were waiting for Israel to achieve its military objectives before calling for a ceasefire.
Blair's pro-Israeli stance was another test for New Labour's Islamist allies in the MCB. The procrastination of Bush and Blair in calling for a ceasefire while Lebanese villages were being destroyed by Israeli warplanes was widely condemned and briefly revived the anti-war movement. Pressure from the anti-war movement was stepped up on Blair to fulfil previous promises to leave office.
Pushed into a corner by criticisms and expecting an Islamist backlash, the government decided to make a concerted effort - to put pressure on the moderate 'muslim community' and oblige them to take a position, once and for all, against radical Islam. In September 2006 Home Secretary John Reid urged muslim parents to watch out for signs of extremism in their children. Shortly after, in October 2006, in an article for a local newspaper, government minister Jack Straw wrote that he preferred that muslim women who came to his surgeries removed their veils so he could see their faces when he was talking to them.
In support of Straw, Tony Blair said that the full veil was a 'mark of separation', Gordon Brown added that that 'it would be better for Britain if fewer muslim women wore veils', and Harriet Harman said that she 'wanted the veil abolished'. The New Labourite choir received unanimous ovations from the tabloids and the BNP.
The government's message was clear: the 'muslim community' had to guarantee to draw a line between good and moderate Islam and radical Islam and take a distance from it, and that it was able to set their 'own house in order'. As never before, the government appeared to take a firm position regarding the assimilation of 'the muslim community'.
With the message came also the threat: to dump the MCB and replace it. Yet with what? We have seen that the 'British muslim community' was a construct, resulting from the interplay of interests of various political and community groups and New Labourite politicians. Outside this construct there were divided communities or simply individuals. Nevertheless the government went for the bluff and promoted a new national group: the 'Sufi Muslim Council'. Launched at the Houses of Parliament in July, the Sufi Muslim Council was rapidly brought to prominence following the end of the Lebanon war - its leader Haras Rafiq was allowed star appearances on TV news programmes and Newsnight and his group was presented as a credible representative of the 'Moderate British muslim community'.
But it was far too easy for the supporters of the MCB to find holes in the Sufi group. It was immediately found that Rafiq was a young businessman with no background in lobbying or community work. Worse, Rafiq had close relations with members of the Labour Friends of Israel, and his spiritual inspiration came from the US-based Islamic Supreme Council of America, whose leader, Sheik Hisham Kabanni, was very close to the neo-conservative government and an apologist for the Israel occupation. If common muslims might not feel 'represented' by a lobby like the MCB because of its Islamist inspirations, they would even less feel represented by a bunch of Israeli apologists!
At any rate, by Christmas all tensions were over again. The Israeli army had been defeated by Hezbollah and had retreated. Blair announced that he would resign. And the 'British muslim community' returned back to ranks. Peace was made again and, as soon as the old allies of New Labour appeared willing to collaborate, the Sufi group vanished to thin air - from whence it had come.
Respect and Islamophobia
The anti-war movement offered exciting times to the SWP (SWP), the biggest Trotskyist group in Britain. The SWP was central in setting up the Stop the War Coalition and controlling its workings. The anti-war demonstrations in 2003, with millions on the streets, made them daydream to be at the lead of a new political movement, a large front involving the millions of muslims who had been willing to protest.
Dumping the Socialist Alliance, which had attempted to unite various far left groups, the SWP entered negations with the central Birmingham Mosque and the prominent green journalist and campaigner George Monbiot to create a broad popular front to be known as the Peace and Justice Coalition. It was hoped that this Peace and Justice Coalition would draw in both the Green party as well as the MAB to give electoral expression to the anti-war movement. However, both the MAB and the Green Party refused to join. Unrepentant, the SWP did not abandon the idea of a broad popular anti-war front and at the beginning of 2004 it succeeded in bringing together a number of extremely small left-wing parties, some individual community leaders who had been involved in the anti-war movement from areas like Towar Hamlets and Birmingham, and anti-war star and martyr George Galloway MP, who had been expelled from the Labour Party for his opposition to the war in Iraq. A new party, Respect, was born, with George Galloway as its figure head.
For the SWP the aim was clear - to have a large front with 'the muslims', which, the SWP simplistically assumed, coincided with Islamist leaders. Yet in order to have a front with the Islamist world the SWP needed to abandon its traditional lefty line on a number of issues which would create controversy among their prospective allies: gay rights, sexual equality, even their simplistic 'teach yourself Marxism' went out the window. In exchange, the SWP members were asked to 'teach themselves political Islam': first of all, the idea that the wars in the Middle East were anti-muslim crusades.
SWP theorists were called to re-think their criticism of political Islam, which they loyally did despite the intellectual embarrassment caused by having to contradict their own writings. Chris Harman had to revise his evaluation of political Islam, which he had presented in 'The Prophet and the Proletariat'. In that pamphlet Harman concluded that, although one needs to understand why Islamist groups gain support from the proletariat, the left cannot ally with them. In a memorable conference of the academic Marxist journal Historical Materialism in December 2006, Harman explained why the left can ally with political Islam (or at least with some, progressive, Islamists like Hezbollah).
Having embraced the creed of political Islam, the SWP assumed as theirs the view that any political attack against Islamist organizations or regimes was an attack against 'muslims' - so racism tout court. The SWP was happy to silence criticism of social repression out carried on workers, women, students and gay organizations in countries like Iraq and Iran. Those who dared to speak out were accused of being 'anti-Islam racists'. Later, 'Hands Off the People of Iran', a leftwing organization which opposed both US imperialism and the regime of Teheran would be banned from the StWC. Instead, representatives of al-Sadr's power circle were invited to London and given a platform at StWC's rallies.
A frenzy of activity was imposed on the SWP's foot soldiers, they were asked to leaflet mosques and create alliances on campuses with Islamic youth groups. This activity reached its hysterical peak when in 2006 the government appeared to take a harder position on radical Islam. The StWC used the government's threats to the MCB to accuse New Labour of 'Islamophobia' and call for a national conference.
Yet after all this activity and long canvassing, the SWP was not able to lure many muslims into their front. In Brighton we observed with amusement that the SWP's mosque leafleting was totally unsuccessful: the most politically motivated Islamists would see a socialist party as an enemy, while moderate 'community leaders' and mullahs would rather not be involved in political activity at all; and were probably embarrassed by the StWC's enthusiasm about Islamism.
At the national level, already by the time Respect was set up, the main organizations of muslim Britain had turned away from the anti-war movement. The more active MAB, which had joined the anti-war movement and the StWC, showed not to be interested in Respect, and did not support its own ex- president Anas al-Tikriti when he stood as a Respect candidate in the European elections of 2004. Eventually only a pro-Respect splinter from MAB, the 'British muslim Initiative' led by al-Tikriti, continued to support increasingly shrinking StWC demonstrations.
Unsurprisingly, in all its life span until the bitter split of 2007, Respect was not able to get more than twenty councillors, twelve of them in Tower Hamlets and had only one MP - Galloway.
So what had gone wrong? Although it was willing to oppose New Labour and its politics, the SWP could not see the concrete basis on which New Labour had founded its electoral support in muslim Britain. More idealistic than New Labour, the SWP had taken the concept of 'muslim community' for granted, they had accepted the Islamist ideology which presented the 'muslim community' as unified by Islam, and expected that pure ideological outrage against the war 'on Islam' would turn all 'muslims' away from New Labour.
It is true that such ideological views were a fundamental part in the electoral alliance between New Labour and the MCB - however, we have seen that both New Labour and the MCB had been painfully clear about the contradicting material aspects of their alliance. And above all on the need to fund this alliance on the material provision of funds and resources which Respect could not hope to promise to community leaders! While it is not on bread alone that shall man live, man definitely votes for those who have bread, and this was New Labour.
While the 'muslim community' voted almost unanimously for New Labour, Respect only received the votes of Galloway's faithful constituents. The exceptional muslim votes came from odd pockets like Tower Hamlets, which, for historical reasons, had not been able to develop a structured local community which could enter into a multiculturalist and communalist alliance with New Labour.
However, where Respect won muslim votes they were gained through the same communalist politics which their idealistic and simplistic approach prevented them from critically identify as a mechanism of class domination. As the Weekly Worker revealed, Respect candidates in Birmingham were owners of shops and flats of entire streets and could gain electoral support from their tenants because of the blackmail of property relations. Not only did the SWP compromize with homophobic Islamists - it also endorsed a class politics which exploited the power of the petit bourgeoisie over the working class within the muslim communities.
Despite the SWP's idealism, the greedy and petit bourgeois foundations of their politics gave them the final backlash. When the anti-war movement declined and the SWP split up from Galloway, most Respect councillors preferred to follow Galloway. Only four out of twelve in Tower Hamlets remained on the SWP's side, but within months, three defected to the Labour party and one to the Tories. That's where the bread was.
Croissants and roses: A conclusion
At the time of writing (Autumn 2008) it is more than seven years since the launching of the 'global war on terror' following the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York. It is also more than five years since the huge anti-war demonstrations on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, which mobilized the 'British muslim community' to march against New Labour's foreign policy. As we have seen, in the intervening years the anti-war movement has declined and the tensions between New Labour and the 'British muslim community' have subsided. Now even the SWP has at long last seen that the attempt to win over the muslim vote over the issue of the war has been a dead end; and in order to extricate themselves the SWP has had to provoke a rather acrimonious split in Respect.
So what now for New Labour and the 'British muslim community'? A little more than a year ago all seemed to be well for New Labour. Tony Blair, who had come to personify the disastrous invasion of Iraq, had at long last gone. Under their new leader they could now move on from the splits and divisions that had arisen from the war in Iraq. Not only had peace been more or less restored with the 'British muslim community', but more generally New Labour could bask in their achievements of the past ten years in creating their new Britain. All but the most extreme in the bourgeois political spectrum were now essentially New Labour. The old Labour left had been unable even to muster enough nominations to get on the ballot paper and Brown had been elected leader of the Labour party unopposed. At the same time, the Conservative party under the new leadership of Blair clone David Cameron now claimed to be more 'New Labour' than the Labour party.
Yet their moment of triumph under Brown was not to last long. The success of New Labour had ultimately depended on the long economic upswing. This had allowed them to pursue pro-business policies and low taxes for the middle classes at the same time as substantially increasing public spending on health and education. Now that, in the words of Mervyn King Governor of the Bank of England, the 'NICE' decade is over for the British economy, the New Labour electoral base is breaking up. Over the past year the large-scale desertion of its long neglected traditional working class supporters has shocked the Labour Party. For the first time in more than a decade there would seem to be a real possibility of a Tory government.
Under Cameron, the leadership of the Conseravtive party has accepted the ruling consensus of a 'new diverse, meritocratic and multicultural Britain' established by New Labour - although this acceptance will have to be tempered by its need to mollify its die-hard Thatcherite activist base. Indeed, Cameron is perhaps more committed to communitarianism than New Labour has been; seeing it as a means to reduce the role of the state by harnessing voluntary community and religious organisations. As a consequence, a Conservative government is likely to be well disposed towards building alliances with the MCB, and it is highly likely that the businessmen and professionals of the abstract national muslim community will not be adverse to transferring their affections to the Tories.
The multiculturalist strategies that have served to sustain divisions within the working class are likely to continue under a Conservative government. But as we have seen, the emergence of the 'British muslim community' depended not only on state-sponsored multiculturalist policies but also on the rise of political Islam. As the war passes into history will political Islam still be able to hold together the diverse Asian communities? And perhaps more importantly will the ideology of political Islam still be able to maintain its hold over the more militant sections of the young Asian working class? This all remains to be seen.
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