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.
‘Labourism’ and the New Left
This chapter assesses the contribution made to analysis of the Labour Party and
labour history by thinkers of the BritishNewLeft. In part constituted in opposition to old left tendencies, including Labour, the BritishNewLeft took an independent, broadly Marxist, position. Its thinkers thus offered theoretically
informed analyses of the party and its role – mainly, as will be seen, in terms of the
category labourism – that were highly critical. They were preoccupied in
The New Left
Beyond Stalinism and social democracy?
The New Left: beyond Stalinism and social democracy?
The BritishNewLeft emerged in 1956 as a response to a global ideological
crisis that opened with Khrushchev’s secret speech, but which came to
fruition when the revolutionary workers’ movement in Hungary was
suppressed by Russian tanks on the same weekend that Anglo‑French
troops invaded Egypt.1 Together these events created a space for a critique
of the world system as a totality. In this context the New Left aimed,
by contrast both with
New Press, New York, 1993, pp. 1–24; and Andy Croft, ‘Walthamstow,
Little Gidding and Middlesbrough: Edward Thompson the Literature
Tutor’, in Beyond the Walls: 50 Years of Adult and Continuing Education
at the University of Leeds, ed. Richard Taylor, University of Leeds, Leeds,
1996, pp. 144–156). When he wrote his authoritative study of the first
BritishNewLeft, Michael Kenny excavated some useful unpublished texts
from the papers of Thompson’s old comrade Lawrence Daly at Warwick
University’s Modern Records Centre (Michael Kenny, The First New Left:
The investigation and trial of the Angry Brigade, 1967–72
Alternative Press, 1966–1974 (London:
Routledge, 1988), p. 141.
13 Christie, Edward Heath, loc. 4489.
14 J. D. Taylor, ‘The Party’s Over? The Angry Brigade, the Counterculture, and the
BritishNewLeft, 1967–72’, The Historical Journal, 58/3 (2015), pp. 877–900.
15 ‘The Red Badge of Revolution that Is Sweeping Across Britain’, Evening Standard,
1 December 1971, pp. 22–3.
16 C. Hoefferle, British Student Activism in the Long Sixties (New York: Routledge,
2013), pp. 92–6.
17 The controversy around the publication of COINTELPRO project files in
March 1972, found in a raid
English radicalism has been a deep-rooted but minority tradition in the political culture since at least the seventeenth century. The central aim of this book is to examine, in historical and political context, a range of key events and individuals that exemplify English radicalism in the twentieth century. This analysis is preceded by defining precisely what has constituted this tradition; and by the main outline of the development of the tradition from the Civil War to the end of the nineteenth century. Three of the main currents of English radicalism in the twentieth century have been the labour movement, the women’s movement and the peace movement. These are discussed in some detail, as a framework for the detailed consideration of ten key representative figures of the tradition in the twentieth century: Bertrand Russell, Sylvia Pankhurst, Ellen Wilkinson, George Orwell, E.P. Thompson, Michael Foot, Joan Maynard, Stuart Hall, Tony Benn and Nicolas Walter. The question of ‘agency’ – of how to bring about radical change in a predominantly conservative society and culture – has been a fundamental issue for English radicals. It is argued that, in the twentieth century, many of the important achievements in progressive politics have taken place in and through extra-parliamentary movements, as well as through formal political parties and organisations – the Labour Party and other socialist organisations – and on occasion, through libertarian and anarchist politics. The final chapter considers the continuing relevance of this political tradition in the early twenty-first century, and reviews its challenges and prospects.
New Left Review (NLR), the composite board of which was also to
bring in Denis Butt, Lawrence Daly, Paul Hogarth, John Rex, Dorothy
Thompson and Raymond Williams.21
The coming together of the BritishNewLeft was exactly concurrent with, although with entirely unrelated origins, the mobilisation
of the nuclear disarmament movement, to which its members and
journals gave vigorous support. The unilateralist campaign had begun
to mobilise with the British government’s announcement in 1957 that
it was to develop the hydrogen bomb. The Emergency Committee for
intervention in Hungary later the same year
only exacerbated matters, leading to some 8,000 people leaving the CPGB
between February 1956 and February 1958.
The trajectory of those who left the CPGB varied. As several authors
have pointed out, this was the beginning of a British ‘NewLeft’ that
sought to combine socialism with humanism and democracy. Divorcing
themselves from party politics, Thompson and Saville started The New
Reasoner in 1957, which alongside Stuart Hall’s Universities and Left
Review became the focal point of the first wave of the New Left. By the
Anderson, P. (1992b ) ‘Figures of descent’, in Anderson, P., English Questions
Anderson, P. (1992c) ‘The light of Europe’, in Anderson, P., English Questions
Anderson, P. (1992d) English Questions
Benn, T. (1992) The End of an Era
Berger, S. (2000) ‘Labour in comparative perspective’, in Tanner, D., Thane, P. and Tiratsoo,
N. (eds) Labour’s First Century, Cambridge
Birchall, I. (1980–81) ‘The autonomy of theory: a short history of New Left Review’, International Socialism, 10
Chun, L. (1993) The BritishNewLeft, Edinburgh
Crosland, C. A. R. (1956) The
From CND in the 1950s and 1960s to END in the 1980s
Left, see pp. 331–8.
11 For the history and politics of the first New Left in general, see M. Kenny,
The First New Left (London: Lawrence & Wishart,1995); Lin Chun, The
BritishNewLeft (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1993); M. Davis,
‘The Origins of the BritishNewLeft’, in M. Klinke and J. Scherlock (eds),
1968 in Europe (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008); Davis, ‘The New
Reasoner and the Early New Left’; D. R. Holden, ‘The First New Left in
Britain’, Ph.D. thesis, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA, 1976.
12 New Reasoner (Spring 1958).