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.
political opponents of Thompson inside the New
Left. It is also true that the ‘Nairn–Andersontheses’ Thompson was
determined to demolish were a set of claims about English history. But
the Nairn–Andersontheses were designed to explain contemporary
British society, and to thereby make possible a coherent strategy for
the British left. Not for nothing did Anderson name the most famous
expression of his and Nairn’s ideas ‘Origins of the Present Crisis’.3
Did Thompson collect ‘The Peculiarities of the English’ in the wrong
place? Would the essay have looked less incongruous
, however, address the wider context within which Nairn
located his account – the ‘Nairn–Andersontheses’ which, in the latter’s words,
drew up ‘a general map of English class society’ and constructed a ‘framework for
understanding the national crisis of British capitalism’ (1992d: 2). That is something more completely covered in chapter 3, by Madeleine Davis.
I first outline the central features of Nairn’s argument, leaning heavily on his
original two-part article and assessing where it fits with the work not only of his
collaborator Anderson but that of other leading
), set out with the bold aim of transforming the
intellectual culture of Britain, which they viewed as a pre-requisite of any real
socialist advance, by introducing and applying Marxist thought drawn mainly
from continental Europe. The Nairn–Andersontheses thus represented an ambitious attempt to pioneer a distinctive analysis of British capitalist development, its
state, society and class structure.
Despite a number of shortcomings, some justly identified by E. P. Thompson in
his excoriating and famous 1965 attack, what was distinctive and valuable about