Is Labour still socialist?

19 Jan 2013

An ideology is a set of ideas, values and beliefs individuals hold. In this article I will discuss the socialist ideology of the current official opposition, the Labour Party. Socialists hold a set of particular beliefs about human nature, this includes, obviously, the view that people are naturally sociable; socialists are very optimistic in their beliefs and idealisms, they search for `utopia`, which can be described as paradise. This comes in the form of an egalitarian society, where everybody is equal, working together through collectivism or `fraternity` and `brotherhood`. They also believe in peace, internationalism and common ownership but, most significantly, the `red thread` that runs through socialist values is equality.


Fundamentalist, Revolutionary socialists would see this through the abolishment of Capitalism, as they believe it is a corrupting and corrupted economic system. This differs from Parliamentary, Revisionist socialists who seek only to tame Capitalism to make it fairer on the working classes.

So, in Labour`s history, as the most electable socialist party in the UK, where do we see evidence of socialism in practice? Firstly, let`s go back to post-war Britain in 1945 Attlee was elected as Labour Prime Minister and with the help of the Beverage report this paved the way for a universal health service and the welfare state, two very distinctive policies based upon equality that we still recognise today. Furthermore, they also pursued the goal of common ownership as many industries were turned into nationalised organisations that the state paid and ran- demonstrating a desire to pursue a more State-based economic system. 

Labour`s old Clause IV, was a defining socialist constitution within the party, acting as its socialist `DNA`. It was their link to common ownership and nationalisation. Two goals the party was linked to until the reign of Tony Blair, although even before this Hugh Gaitskill attempted to change the constitution in 1959, a proposition which failed for him but was passed under Blair. So, to move forward towards another distinctive point in Labour`s socialist history- the Foot and Kinnock years from 1979-1992. The party had been elected out of office to Margaret Thatcher, but in opposition they were still as socialist as ever. Their defence policy was one of unilateralism, nuclear disarmament. Their economic policy was a fixed Keynesian policy of tax and spend, nationalisation and close relationship with the Unions, despite the troubles James Callaghan had whilst in office. This made the party unelectable, socialist policies were not a viable option for the electorate and the aspirational voter who chose Thatcher on three consecutive occasions. 

It was apparent the Labour party had to do something to combat Thatcher. In 1983, the revisionists in the party decided to let the ardent left wingers such as Tony Benn have their favoured socialist policies in the manifesto, Labour lost by a landslide and later the manifesto was dubbed the `longest suicide note in history` by Sir Gerald Kauffman, a long standing Labour MP. The party thought that this would pave the way for change, which did not occur until after the 1987 election defeat faced by Kinnock, the party then went through a policy review in which they changed their stance on issues such as Europe, from an anti-Europe party to a pro-European party. This was a state of revisionism the party aimed to achieve and was the start to a new project later to come.

The New Labour project under Blair, Brown and Mandelson was one that could be seen as ultra-revisionism. It saw a constitutional change to Clause IV which was updated, but still distinctively said "Labour is a democratic socialist party," although many have argued that Labour`s socialism has been `watered down` as Blair accepted the Thatcher free market economics but remained socialist when it comes to equality, especially in society, an idea dubbed as social justice. Evidence of Blair socialism comes in the form of the minimum wage, which meant that employers could not be paid less than they deserve. Furthermore, Blair`s education reforms in the form of academies demonstrated equality as it attempted to give people the right to a fair and better education, although many have since disputed this. Also, Blair and Chancellor Brown hold the record for public service spending, thus showing that tax payers’ money was being redistributed back into the collective services everybody uses. This shows despite the reforms of New Labour, socialist values were still held and put in practice, in balance with a goal to become electable once more.

Even after Blair had stepped down there seemed to be a reactionary return to socialism after the banking crisis. Brown renationalised certain banks, showing a large degree of state intervention, a key feature of Keynesian fiscal policy and also the idea of collective ownership. On top of this, Ed Miliband has further moved the party to the left with his idea of `One Nation` Labour, and I’m sure the 2015 manifesto will prove just how socialist the Labour party still is.

By Karl Stanley

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