Hannah, S. (2018). A Party With Socialists In It.

This book provides a thorough breakdown of the internal party politics of the Labour Party since its formation. Giving accounts of the different faction at different times, their achievements and how they positioned themselves in regards to the left factions of Labour.

The analysis in this book also provide a clear argument of why the Labour Party may not be able to deliver on left wing commitments of worker dominance and anti-imperialism.

Hannah, S. (2018). A party with socialists in it: a history of the labour left. London: Pluto Press.

[John McDonnell in the foreword] The result was an increasing acknowledgement that another kind of leadership could be just as effective as the great orator style. This was the quieter, every day, getting-on-with-the-job style that Attlee portrayed. X

The crash of the 2007-8 soon put the paid to that. The whole organisation of our economy and society was thrown into question once again. At the bottom of a recession people are generally too busy trying to survive to challenge the system. Xi

By and large, the history of the Labour left has been one of defeat. Xiv

Hardies own view of socialism was a thoroughly gradualist one, focused on parliamentary legislation. As he explained in 1904: ‘I can imagine one reform after another being won until in the end socialism itself causes no more excitement than did the extinction of landlordism in Ireland a year ago.’. 7

[Arthur Henderson, a Labour MP in 1907, said] ‘I have the strongest desire to respect the feelings of conference. I must, however, have some regard to those I directly represent in Parliament.’ Labour did not support universal suffrage until 1912. 9

Victor Grayson was elected Labour MP for Colne Valley in West Yorkshire at the youthful age of 27… In parliament he immediately clashed head-on with the leaders of the parliamentary Labour Party (PLP)… In his maiden speech he attacked the imperialism of the Liberal government in India, causing some contestation among fellow MPs… He lost his seat in 1910 and went on during the First World War to back the British imperialism he previously vociferously denounced. 12-13

Labour was a member of the Marxist-initiated Socialist International and sent delegates to its Stuttgart Congress in the 1907. Ramsey McDonald sat with socialist from around the world, including Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg, to discuss the international position of militarism, war and women’s rights. Delegates voted for a motion that committed their parties to opposing the war and, if it did break out, ‘to use the political and economic crisis created by the war to rouse the populace from its slumbers, and to hasten the fall of capitalist society’. 14

As soon as war was declared, Jingoism swept the country and most of the working-class movement fell into line, rallying to the cause of Britain’s war machine. 14

Unlike Labour, the ILP adhered to the spirit of the Stuttgart Congress. They launched a campaign around housing rights in Glasgow, targeting parasitic landlords who charged soaring rents as workers flooded into the city to work in munitions. 16

[The 1918 constitution] introduced the famous Clause IV: ‘To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry and service.’ 20

[The unions have block votes and the PLP practice complete independence. There is limited means for average member to exercise power.] 21

The idea of Labour being ‘the party of the working class’ became less and less prominent the closer it got towards power. Brockway later summed up the effect of Westminster on his fellow MPs: ‘I have spent three years in prison and three years in Parliament and I saw character deteriorate in Parliament more than in prison.’ 28

Many Labour MPs were seduced by the glamour of parliamentary life and the society occasions organised by the rich wives of powerful men… Men like MacDonald, the illegitimate son of a domestic servant, were susceptible to the charms and flattery of those who specialised in corruption. 29

The ILP anticipated reaction from the entrenched powers-that-be to undermine the democratic mandate and urged Labour to stand firm. 32

The complete lack of discipline and loyalty to the ILP displayed by it MPs was breath-taking. They were using the ILP to secure their nominations, but once elected they entirely ignored the organisations policies and calls for a socialist backbone. 34

Many Labour MPs concurred with the equivocal attitude of McDonald, concluding that the strike was a tragic event that should be brought to a swift end. They were nervous of the potential power of three million workers on strike, of how they may shift the balance of forces within Britain towards ordinary workers and the poor. The transformative nature of the struggle terrified them as it disrupted their carefully cultivated gradualist parliamentary strategy. 38

The tragedy of the first Labour government was repeated only this time with far more damaging results. 48

McDonald led the most integrationist wing of his party into an uneasy alliance with the class enemy, ending up distrusted by the Tories and hated by his fellow socialists. 52

‘The choice before the Labour party ‘, Tawney outlined the prevailing fears on the left: ‘If the privileged classed position is seriously threatened they will use every piece on the board, political and economic, the House of Lords, the Crown, the Press, disaffection in the army, financial crisis, international difficulties, and even, as newspaper attack on the pound showed, the émigré trick of injuring one’s own country to protect ones pocket – in the honest conviction they are saving civilisation.’ 61

The league won a vote in the at the 1932 conference for the nationalisation of the Joint Stock Banks to prevent capital flight. 62

Labour was formally committed by its 1933 conference to support ‘socialisation and self-government’ in India, but in 1935 Attlee proposed an amendment that would grant India only Dominion status – far short of truly democratic independence. 63

Britain rules India in a way that robbed the people of education and thus of the political capacity to run their own affairs – creating a vicious circle in which continues British occupation seemed necessary. 63

When Oswald Mosley… organised a provocative march through London’s East End to terrorise the Jewish community, more joint actions were organised. While Labour leaders and The Daily Herald urged Labour members to ‘Keep Away’ and stay indoors, the Socialist League, ILP and CPBG organised a massive anti-fascist demonstration that confronted the Fascist on Cable Street and broke up their march route, humiliating the racist Black Shirts and proving the strength and unity of the workers movement – despite opposition from official leadership. 68

Ernest Bevin appealed to the importance of maintaining Britain imperial role in the world in order to ensure stability and peace internationally. After all, if the anti-imperialist aims of the Labour left were adopted then there would be a scramble by Germany, France, and others to grab ex-colonies, leading to even more wars. 72

[During WWII] The sweeping state ownership of key industries for the war effort demonstrated that in times of crisis relying on the market to deliver efficiently was impossible, which made Labour’s nationalisation agenda seem far more like common sense… Public ownership was no longer seen merely in terms of class war, but as a new form of socialism that was beneficial to both workers and the capitalist – all part of the national good. 79

The Attlee government rules with the consent of the ruling class, which is why Attlee, who had earlier argued that you couldn’t get ‘socialism without tears’, now seemed to be able to introduce widespread nationalisation with no upset at all. 79

The King himself had a hand in the Cabinet, pushing for Bevin to be foreign minister instead of Attlee’s preference, Hugh Dalton. Attlee acquiesced. 80

The consensus around the need for radical measures to prevent radical dissent was best expressed by the representative of the ruling class themselves. The Tory MP Quentin Hogg voiced their fears when he warned parliament in 1943 that ‘If you don’t give the people social reform, they will give you social revolution’… As such, the 1945 Labour government can be seen as the balance of forces at the time. 81

Dalton at the exchequer, Bevin at the foreign ministry and Morrison as Deputy Leader and Leader of the House of Commons were a powerful faction of the right at the heart of government. 82

Attlee pursued no significant democratic reforms and constitutional arrangements were untouched; the House of Lords was left intact. 82

State intervention is acceptable so long as it increases business and profit opportunities. This meant that in exchange for the NHS, some state ownership and improved welfare provision, the capitalists demanded a higher level of exploitation of the working class. The outcome was 30 percent increase in production between 1946 and 1948 with no corresponding increase in wages. 84

Nationalising the hospitals had not been in the manifesto – Bevan had to fight for it against opponents like Morrison and the British Medical Association, who did not want to become state employees. 84

The opposition ground down the nationalisation bill and the political will to implement it… The outcome of the fight over steel nationalisation was the Parliament Act of 1949, which limited the ability of the Lords to interfere with the Commons. A more radical government would have proposed abolishing the Lords entirely, but in true British fashion Attlee decided only to tinker around the edges. 85

When the détente between the Union leaders and the Cabinet failed to stop workers taking actions over wages or working conditions, the Attlee government was not averse to using the army to break strikes. In fact, between 1945 and 1951 the army was ordered on 18 separate occasions to cross picket lines and do the job of striking workers. 86

A large part of Labour election victory was down to the belief that they could better negotiate and work with the Soviets, unlike the bellicose Churchill who favoured a confrontation. 87

[Bevin helped to establish NATO] 87

Bevin was very happy to spend money of on continuing conscription and establishing permanent army bases around Europe. 87

[Emery Hughes, an MP, asked] ‘If we are going to have this milestone of a large army around our necks, where are we to find the money for housing, education, better health services and all the other things that people will expect from a Labour government?’ 86

A backbench rebellion forcing a change in government policy to please the left was simply unacceptable, and discipline had to be reintroduced. In masterful fashion, Attlee, Dalton, Morrison, and Bevan chose a combination of stick and carrot to batter the left back into irrelevance, or at least into silence, whichever was easier. 91

Bevin was a past master of the standard trick used by trade union bureaucrats against their political enemies: smear them as middle-class outsiders in the workers’ movement in a demagogic appeal for votes. 92

They key political problem was that the left limited itself to criticism of how much should be nationalised, rather than starting a debate over what was meant by collective ownership. 95

Attlee had proposed cutting back on social policy as a calculated sacrifice to support British imperialism. 97

The main concern Bevan and others had was to ensure that the military campaign did not detract from the social welfare programmes. However, the US demanded more and more money to be spent on the war machine. They forced Britain to spend £100 million on NATO, taking the UK’s military expenditure up to 7.5% of GDP. 98

Gaitskell introduced a bill that proposed takin teeth and eye treatment off the NHS. Bevan, a proud man with the NHS as his crowning achievement, threatened to resign if the bill was pursued. 98

The controversy opened up running battles between welfare and warfare, with the left still urging the government to do more for the poor and working class at home instead of spending money on wars on behalf of the United States. 99

In Place of Fear describes a country divided between property and poverty, with democracy as a mediating arena of struggle. 101

[Militants were tolerated within the party, but they were not allowed to combine their efforts.] 104

Although CND was in fact very moderate in its demands, the scaremongering and attacks by the establishment gave it an aura of radicalism. 107

The collapse of Bevanism provides one of the most statutory and essential lessons for the Labour left – never rely on a single leader, especially one with the extraordinary pressure of parliamentary politics bearing down on them. 110

Tony Benn served in Wilsons Cabinet but was not a particularly left figure at that time; becoming famous for his campaign to shut down pirate radio stations operating off the coast. 125

In 1964, Labour had lost a safe seat in Smethwick in the Midlands to a Tory running on the infamous slogan ‘If you want a nigger for neighbour, vote Labour.’ 133

Labour had initially opposed immigration controls on Commonwealth citizens and had fought Tory legislation on this issue in the early 1960s. But their electoralist instincts began to overwhelm them in the late 1960s. 133

Millitant… they were wedded to the strategy of working in and through the Labour Party to achieve socialism. Their goal was to transform the Labour party into a Marxist party – or at least have a majority of Marxist MPs in the PLP – where they would use an enabling act to swiftly nationalise the top companies across the country, introducing workers control and ensuring production for need not profit. 140

Interestingly considering they were to become such a target for the rights hatred, most of Militant’s politics were not particularly radical. They were pretty standard -for the time- labour movement policies: a 35-hour week, a better minimum wage, more workers control over hiring and firing, opposition to arms spending and to Tory anti-union laws. 142

[In South America and specifically in the case of Allende in Chile] A transformative left government can be destabilised through the usual mechanisms (international economic sabotage, undermining the currency), but the transformative movement from below is what terrified the ruling elites and the US state department. The workers and peasant themselves took over factories and businesses if they suspected the owners of engaging in sabotage. They organised and took over rationing committees. A first aborted coup earlier in 1973 had been met with massive occupation of factories and a huge march of over 1 million people. 148

A left government backed up by a mass movement had still been defeated by a military takeover, so where did that leave the AES? 148

Fresh from the battles over the first Wilson government and keen to see the more radical demands of the 1974 programme implemented, they proposed the reasonable demand that politician should act on their manifesto commitments. But such a position was considered scandalous because it cut right through the highly cherished autonomy of the PLP, who believe politicians should act on their own ‘goof judgement.’ 156

1978 resolution to conference to on mandatory reselection were lost because Hugh Scanlon abstained, against the wishes of his own union delegation. He warned Labour to focus on industrial policies and dismissed the moves to improve party democracy as ‘chicken shit’.

[The Labour party campaigns left but governs to the right]. 162

In a speech to the PLP in 1980, Ben outlined his chief concern over the ‘blockage to Parliamentary democracy’, citing four major obstacles – the European Community, the IMF, the House of Lords, and American military bases stationed in the UK. 170

The SDP was used as a cudgel with which to beat the left – they were blames for driving them out with the lefts incessant demands and disruptions. When the Labour right threatened an all-out war against the left that might destroy the party, Benn bowed to pressure and began to demobilise his followers. 172

[1983 Labour election defeat] The actual cause of the defeat was a combination of factors. The first was the SDP, who split the Labour vote. Michael Meacher MP argued that it was not policies but internal politics that were responsible for the defeat. Commenting on Benn’s campaign for Labour Deputy Leader in 1981, he said: ‘It showed how bitterly the right will fight… There was never less than half a page of vitriol in the press per day and the source was the right wing of the Labour party. They were feeding stuff into the press even though it did cataclysmic damage to the Labour party… It was more a cause of the defeat in 1983 than the Falklands’. 176

[Left has historically had strong support in the CLP and conference but not within the PLP]. 178

The Unions were seen as a barrier to the principle of free market monetarism, as obsolete institutions that frustrated wealth creation. As part of the reorganisation of British society, the unions had to be tamed – and the main enemy was the mighty National Union of Mineworkers, with their leader Arthur Scargill. The NUM occupied the nightmares of the Tories after bringing down the Heath government in 1974. 179

The threat of job cuts in the mining industry was seen by the NUM as provocation which triggered a national strike that lasted almost a year. The grassroot of the Labour left threw themselves into solidarity work, raising money and food for the strikers and their families in addition to organising speaking tours around Europe and beyond… While conference delegates were supportive of the struggle, this did not translate into much support from MPs. Only the ‘usual suspect’, people like Corbyn, Benn, Skinner and McDonnell, threw themselves into the fight, visiting picket lines and using their public influence to back the striker. 179

Thatcher herself was brought down by a combination of internal Tory division over Europe and her catastrophic Poll Tax – a supreme piece of legislative hubris from a government that thought it couldn’t be beaten. Socialist both inside and outside the Labour helped launch a mass non-payment campaign. 193

The general political and organisational retreat of the left under the hammer blows of the right had given Kinnock a free hand to dispense with remaining troublemakers. The NEC became adept at witch-hunting and smashing the left wherever they were influential. Left candidate for elections were removed by the NEC, to ensure the party has ‘the right message’ for the electorate. 195

Unlike Kinnock, Blair had never been a socialist or even a social democrat. His father was a conservative minded self-made man and Tony was largely apolitical until his wife Cherie recruited him to Labour. He wasn’t ‘betraying’ his roots as he had no roots to betray. 199

Being ‘a party of protest’ was both reckless and useless – only parliamentary success mattered… In 1996, funded by rich backers like Lord Sainsbury, the Blairites launched a pressure group called Progress to further their aims in the party. 199

Mandelson believed compromise was essential – compromise with the right-wing media, with big business and with rich entrepreneurs… Mandelson frankly admitted that New Labour was comfortable with people ‘getting filthy rich’. 200

New Labour was born out of defeat not victories. Even some of the old guard could see what was happening. Kinnock initially railed in private against the new leader, despairingly concluding: ‘he’s sold out even before he’s even got there … Tac, health, education, unions, full employment, race, immigration … It won’t matter if we win, the bankers and stock brokers have got us already, by the fucking balls, laughing their heads off’. 201

Blairism was a package of measures designed to erode and eventually cut the link with the working-class base of the party, the better to serve the needs of the global elites. 202

[Under Blair] Even policies heralded as progressive, such as funding increases for the NHS and schools, came with a sinister logic according to which the private sector had to be integrated into, and profit from, the public sector. Even the national minimum wage was brought in at very low level to reassure business interests. 204

Labour conference became thoroughly stage-managed affairs, more of a corporate networking opportunity than a democratic policy making body. The rules were changed in 1998 to stop CLP submitting motions directly to conference; instead they had to go to the National Policy Forum, a tightly controlled ‘consensus’ body run by Blairites. Central to this consensus was weakening the Union link. Social liberalism had no love for trade unions. The goal was to render them mere subordinates in a partnership that prioritised business interests. 205

Just as New Labour had absorbed the Thatcherite consensus into the bones, so too the unions had absorbed Thatcher’s anti-union rhetoric; they also believed that strikes and working-class militancy were things of the past. 206

The RMT – a founding union of the party -was the first in the history to be expelled, after it backed a Socialist standing against Labour in Scottish elections. 207

Robin Cook resigned from the Cabinet in protest, followed by Clare Short. In all, 121 Labour MPs voted against the war in February, rising to 139 in March, in one of the largest backbench rebellions in Parliamentary history. 211