Labour Party history

Articles about the history of the British Labour Party

Discussing the first two Labour governments

Author: 

Janine

When introducing a discussion at our AWL branch meeting on the first and second Labour governments, I found it useful to tell the story, then ask people to discuss some questions. The 'timeline' and discussion questions are listed below, and are attached as Word documents for use as handouts.

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THE FIRST AND SECOND LABOUR GOVERNMENTS – TIMELINE

1918: Representation of the Peoples Act

14 December 1918: General Election – coalition government led by Lloyd George wins a landslide; Labour gains 21.5% of the votes but only 57 seats.

Discussing the first two Labour governments

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The Labour Party: born of struggle

Author: 

Brian Pearce

Down to the 1880s there was no “labour movement” [in Britain] in the continental sense at all. There were strong trade unions (of skilled workers), and these unions were politically-minded — but the only parties were the two ruling-class ones, the Tories and the Liberals.

The Labour Party: born of struggle

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Hal Draper on Anthony Crosland's Social-Democratic Reformism

The idea of Gordon Brown writing on the future of socialism will come as a surprise to many, but that is precisely what he invites us to discuss in his foreword to a new edition of Anthony Crosland’s The Future of British Socialism.

Brown describes its publication in 1956 as “a decisive moment in post-war Labour history” and that it should be the starting point for “any serious discussion of the politics of social equality”.

Hal Draper on Anthony Crosland's Social-Democratic Reformism

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The Hunting of Witches and Ms Clare Short MP

Parables for Socialists 9

How can you tell when a political purge has turned into a witchhunt, and the witch-hunt has taken on a momentum of its own?

The Hunting of Witches and Ms Clare Short MP

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Blair: Thirteen years of “Labour” serving the rich — a chronology

Over the 13 years since Tony Blair was elected leader of the Labour Party, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty has, in our publications, analysed, explained and agitated against the politics of New Labour.

John Smith dies

(Socialist Organiser, 19 May 1994)

Many commentators have pointed to the “modernity” of John Smith’s leadership. In fact, John Smith’s political career and beliefs places him in a tradition of middle-class progressivism which dates back to the aftermath of World War One.

Blair: Thirteen years of “Labour” serving the rich — a chronology

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Editorial. Clause 4: the dress rehearsal

We go to press just before Labour’s special conference vote on Clause Four.
Our supporters will do everything they can to maximise the vote in support of common ownership on April 29, and win, lose or draw the serious left will keep up the fight for socialist policies inside the Labour Party.
It is worth spelling out why.
Marxists worked in the Labour Party before it adopted Clause Four. We will continue to work inside Labour if Clause Four is abandoned.
We do so because of what Labour is.

Editorial. Clause 4: the dress rehearsal

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The lessons of "1945 socialism"

Fifty years ago the Labour Party won an overwhelming victory in the general election that followed the defeat of Hitler. Labour had been governing Britain since 1940 in a coalition with the Tories and Liberals. Now it had supreme governmental power.
It used it to create the Welfare State. Draining some of the jungles and swamps of capitalism, the labour movement raised workers to a level of security and frugal well-being such as millions of our class had not known before. This was “reform socialism” at the height of its success.

The lessons of "1945 socialism"

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Fabianism, Stalinism and Blair’s new Clause Four: From state bureaucracy to market bureaucracy

By Roland Tretchet

This magazine makes no apology for repeating certain basic truths.

Fabianism, Stalinism and Blair’s new Clause Four: From state bureaucracy to market bureaucracy

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Labour Anti-Bolshevism in 1919

Reading through some old issues of the East End News and Chronicle (I think I might have mentioned by local labour history nerd-ism before), I stumbled across this short article. Although much as changed since the days when Socialist was spelt with a capital 'S' and paragraphs went on forever, some things haven't - notably, it seems to me, hostility from union bureaucrats to rank-and-file initiative and, linked to that, terror on the part of Labour right-wingers about the prospects of actually changing the world.

BOLSHEVISM IN ENGLAND - A WARNING TO LABOUR

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Poplar Council 2001: Last Words Before Prison

In 1921, thirty Labour Councillors in Poplar went to prison to protest at an unfair rating system that penalised poor boroughs. They eventually won their fight. Here are the parting messages from the Councillors (well, most of them, anyway) as printed in the Daily Herald on 1st September 1921, the date that arrests began.

Sam March - We are as determined as ever to see the matter through. The workers must stick to the fight. They must follow it up while the Council is away.

Marxist Theory and History: 

The “IS tradition” and the Independent Labour Party

Author: 

Sean Matgamna
The “IS tradition” of the 1960s was in fact largely taken from the Independent Labour Party in its last years.

The “IS tradition” of the 1960s, which members and old ex-members of the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) cherish, was in fact largely taken from the Independent Labour Party in its last years.

The first part of this article described the earlier history of the ILP. After 1946 the ILP mutated. This article tells the rest of the story.

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A case study in centrism

In the last issue of Solidarity, Mordecai Ryan outlined the history
of the ILP
, the main British "centrist" organisation of the 1930s and 40s. Its nearest equivalent in Britain today is the SWP. As mud is a mix of earth and water so centrism is an unstable and almost always incoherent mix of bits of revolutionary Marxist political tradition and aspiration with alien, reformist, etc elements.

A case study in centrism

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Britain’s biggest left party, 1893-1945, and what became of it - The history of the ILP

The Independent Labour Party (ILP) was founded by Keir Hardie and others in 1893 and “ended” some time in the 1970s, when what was left of it joined the Labour Party. For the first 25 years of its existence, it played a central role in British working class politics. Thereafter it was slowly pushed to the margins of labour politics, as its various functions were taken over by other organisations — the Labour party, the Communist Party, Trotskyist groups and, in the 1960s, by the International Socialists (forerunner of the Socialist Workers Party).

Britain’s biggest left party, 1893-1945, and what became of it - The history of the ILP

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1945 Labour introduced real reforms

While the article “1945 – was it socialism” (Solidarity 3/83) did draw out many accurate criticisms of Attlee’s government, I feel that it failed to get a grip on the real outlook of the people involved.

It gives the impression of a government which was cynically passing progressive reforms merely for the sake of reducing working-class militancy. Rather than genuinely believing in its programme, the Labour leadership was merely trying to “appease its working class base” while in foreign policy it was “freest to serve the interests of capitalism more closely”..

1945 Labour introduced real reforms

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1945: was it socialism?

By Ruben Lomas

60 years ago, the 1945 Labour government was voted into power. Staggering out of the nightmare of the Second World War, Britain’s workers — many of whom had fought in the conflict — cast their votes for a party that said it stood for their interests and, in government, would represent them. It is still looked back upon as “radical,” “reforming” and sometimes even “socialist” . But was it?

1945: was it socialism?

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Robin Cook: the honest liberal

Robin Cook: the honest liberal

By Gerry Bates

Bourgeois politicians praising other bourgeois politicians, even dead ones, is in the same category as self-praise. And as the saying goes, “self-praise is no praise”.

Their “adversarial” posturing against each other. even where they agree fundamentally, is a sham. Why should we believe them when they belatedly discover that a departed colleague was an honest person, a humane presence, a great man who might-have-been, someone who, though on the surface an opportunist scumbag, was really a person of deep and unbudgeable integrity.

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James Callaghan: of the labour movement, against the labour movement

Notoriety clung for decades to the Tory politician Enoch Powell for his 1968 speech predicting that “rivers of blood” would flow if black and Asian immigration was allowed to continue. That was a foul speech by a foul man.

It was the time when Kenya’s Asian population was being expelled on mass. They had been given British passports when the country became independent five years earlier. They were entitled to come to Britain. But they weren’t allowed to.

James Callaghan: of the labour movement, against the labour movement

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Blairism, ten years on

The biggest event in working-class politics for many decades was the Blairite hijacking of the Labour Party in the mid 1990s. John Bloxam and Sean Matgamna look at the lessons.

The Blairites transformed the Labour Party, which the trade unions founded over a hundred years ago, from the grossly inadequate and frequently treacherous "bourgeois workers' party" it had been into something qualitatively different.

Blairism, ten years on

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The delusion of 100 years?

Blair's "speech" to the trade union leadership during TUC conference - the written version of it circulated to the press - laid it hard on the line. That Blair's administration should act like a left-wing government is, he told them, simply ruled out. Return to a Labour Party seriously influenced by the unions was, he insisted, fantasy.

"The idea of a left wing Labour Government as the alternative to a moderate and progressive one is the abiding delusion of 100 years of our party. We aren't going to fall for it again".

The delusion of 100 years?

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The death of social democracy

There is an extensive Marxist literature on what I would call “betrayal”. This began in the lifetime of Marx and Engels; it continued in the 1890s when Kautsky accused Eduard Bernstein of betraying Marxism with his call for revisionism; later Lenin attacked the “renegade Kautsky” for his parliamentarianism and failure to endorse the Bolshevik revolution of 1917; subsequently it was Trotsky who, from the 1920s on, as one of the key figures in the Left Opposition, attacked and vilified Stalin for betraying the Russian Revolution.

The death of social democracy

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We need a workers' government (1980)

Author: 

Sean Matgamna


In the wake of the 1980 Labour Party conference, which saw an unprecedented rank-and-file surge to democratise the party, Socialist Organiser (forerunner of AWL) called for a fight for a workers' government. From Socialist Organiser no.28, 25 October 1980


Tony Benn drew an enormous amount of fire from the press with his speech on behalf of the [Labour Party] National Executive Committee at the opening of the Blackpool Labour Party conference.

In the wake of the 1980 Labour Party conference, which saw an unprecedented rank-and-file surge to democratise the party, Socialist Organiser (forerunner of AWL) called for a fight for a workers' government.

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