This chapter establishes how certain international developments of the 1980s were interpreted by the British left. In France there was the Union of the Left of 1972, bringing the socialists and communists together behind a Common Programme. In Britain the socialist Alternative Economic Strategy (AES) dominated Labour Party economic thinking in the decade after 1973. During the Ronald Reagan presidency, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) became proselytisers for neo-liberalism across the globe. It was a feature of the early Reagan years that the USA was prepared to use or support force against its ideological opponents overseas, thus underlining the West European left's perceptions of US foreign policy as a support for reactionaries. Donald Sassoon favoured the Europeanist approach and he took this to entail recognition of the need for supranational power in order to control transnational economic processes.
Leon Trotsky became known in Britain after the Bolshevik Revolution in association with Lenin, as he did across the globe. Trotsky was a rich source of ideas and imagery for George Orwell, but he never accepted Trotsky's explanation of Stalinism or his defence of Leninism. Orwell's major posthumous influence was support for the most fervent anti-Communism because of his depiction of monstrous evil in Nineteen Eighty-Four; some Tribune socialists became adherents of a rival, more optimistic, analysis of Stalinism with roots in Trotskyism. Within a few years of one another, three of the Trotskyist entrist groups emerged from the Labour Party competing for attention as the Socialist Labour League, the International Socialists and the International Marxist Group. The perception that the Soviet Union in 1960 as dynamic and growing on the basis of the centrally planned, state-owned economy was not confined to elements of the left in Britain.
Class cultures, the trade unions and the Labour Party
This chapter focuses on three books by Ross McKibbin which raise interesting questions for the study of the Labour Party largely because of the type of originality in which familiar elements are given novel interpretation and arrangement. The books are The Evolution of the Labour Party, The Ideologies of Class, and Classes and Cultures. In Classes and Cultures, McKibbin develops some of the arguments while exploring many aspects of class culture in immense detail. Full employment was the context for trade union growth, and the growth of the north and its political culture, at the expense of the south and its political culture. The chapter considers McKibbin's account of the working class in the period of Labour's birth, broadly the years 1880-1914, a time when Britain had proportionately the largest working class in the world.
John Callaghan walks the reader through the various debates and contradictions seen in the Labour movement prior to the end of hostilities, as well as the dilemmas soon posed by the march of events thereafter. Along the way, he discusses Labour’s reactions to the diplomatic path pursued by Edward Grey in the summer of 1914, the subsequent impact of the Union of Democratic Control, and then Labour’s relationship with the Lloyd George government and Wilsonianism abroad. Callaghan also includes vital discussion of the continuation of hostilities beyond 11 November 1918. Here his article may be of particular use to those considering Labour’s later attitudes to colonialism and the League of Nations too
The Labour Party showed little understanding of how the City was bereft of policies for dealing with British financial institutions until after the collapse of the second minority Labour government in 1931. Planning was Labour's central economic idea and it remained so until the 1960s, resurfacing again in the 1970s and early 1980s. As D. Ritschel pointed out, 'the new concept was suddenly embraced by nearly the entire Labour movement as the missing collectivist key to the transition from capitalism to socialism'. New Labour clearly believed that Britain's comparative economic advantage lay in flexible markets, an open economy, low taxes and light regulation of business. The golden age saw an unprecedented period of full employment. It was not a time of social democratic success in government for most of Western Europe and welfare reforms in the period, including some of the more generous, were often introduced by centre-right parties.
This book is an attempt to take stock of how some of the British Labour Party's leading interpreters have analysed their subject, deriving as they do from contrasting political, theoretical, disciplinary and methodological backgrounds. It explores their often-hidden assumptions and subjects them to critical evaluation. The book outlines five strategies such as materialist; ideational; electoral; institutional; and synthetic strategies. Materialist, ideational and electoral explanatory strategies account for Labour's ideological trajectory in factors exogenous to the party. The 'new political history' is useful in understanding Labour within a less reductive framework than either the 'high' or 'from below' approaches and in more novel terms than the Left-Right positions adopted within Labour. The book assesses the contribution made to analysis of the Labour Party and labour history by thinkers of the British New Left. New Left critiques of labourism in fact represented and continued a strand of Marxist thinking on the party that can be traced back to its inception. If Ralph Miliband's role in relation to 'Bennism' is considered in comparison to his earlier attitudes, some striking points emerge about the interaction between the analytical and subjective aspects in his interpretive framework. Miliband tried to suggest that the downfall of communism was advantageous for the Left, given the extent to which the Soviet regimes had long embarrassed Western socialists such as himself. The Nairn-Anderson theses represented an ambitious attempt to pioneer a distinctive analysis of British capitalist development, its state, society and class structure.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book considers the 'new political history' by way of a comparison with earlier 'realist' analyses of the party, which explained its historical development with almost exclusive reference to the social nature of the electorate. It looks at one of the assumptions underpinning the concept: Labour's supposed isolation from the rest of European social democracy. The book considers the shifting political projects of the New Left in relation to its developing analysis of the Labour Party over the last forty years. It analyses Ross McKibbin's approach to the relationship which roots the evolution of the Labour Party, and the limits to its growth. This approach is analysed in the consciousness and cultures of organized labour in the first decades of the twentieth century.
This book considers the underlying causes of the end of social democracy's golden age. It argues that the cross-national trend in social democratic parties since the 1970s has been towards an accommodation with neo-liberalism and a corresponding dilution of traditional social democratic commitments. The book looks at the impact of the change in economic conditions on social democracy in general, before examining the specific cases of Germany, Sweden and Australia. It examines the ideological crisis that engulfed social democracy. The book also looks at the post-1970 development of social policy, its fiscal implications and economic consequences in three European countries. It considers the evolution of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) from its re-emergence as a significant political force during the 1970s until the present day under José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. The book also examines the evolution of the Swedish model in conjunction with social democratic reformism and the party's relations to the union movement. It explores the latest debate about what the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) stands for. The SPD became the role model for programmatic modernisation for the European centre-left. The book considers how British socialist and social democratic thought from the late nineteenth century to the present has treated the objective of helping people to fulfil their potential, talents and ambitions. It aims to contribute to a broader conversation about the future of social democracy by considering ways in which the political thought of 'third way' social democracy might be radicalised for the twenty-first century.
The new world that social democrats confronted from the 1980s onwards - a world of tax-resistant electorates, the globalisation of capital, and Western deindustrialisation - was one that exercised substantial constraints on traditional social democratic politics. This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in this book. The book aims to take stock of the crisis of classical social democracy in the 1970s and the consequent efforts to modernise social democracy so that it remained a going electoral concern. It argues that the cross-national trend in social democratic parties since the 1970s has been towards an accommodation with neo-liberalism and a corresponding dilution of traditional social democratic commitments. The book traces the evolution of international approaches to social democracy. It discusses the future of social democracy by considering ways in which the political thought of 'third way' social democracy might be radicalised for the twenty-first century.