Interpreting the unions–party link

This chapter outlines the key features of two perspectives and indicates some limitations. The two perspectives are the liberal-social democratic pluralist perspective; and the perspective of socialist and Marxist writers. Much of this perspective was inspired by Ralph Miliband's Parliamentary Socialism. A good starting point for understanding the post-war perspective on the unions-party link of liberal and social democratic pluralists is the concept of 'pluralistic stagnation', applied to British politics by Samuel Beer. The chapter illustrates the limitations by discussing neglected aspects of the crucial period that falls, roughly, between 1974 and 1983, years that cover both the collapse of the Social Contract and the labour alliance's subsequent civil war. Pluralism, as political theory, celebrated the liberal democratic political system and portrayed it as driven by the free competition of parties and interest groups, from which preferences emerged that parliamentarians and a neutral state machine implemented.

in Interpreting the Labour Party
Approaches to Labour politics and history

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.

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This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book considers the 'new political history' by way of a comparison with earlier 'realist' analyses of the party, which explained its historical development with almost exclusive reference to the social nature of the electorate. It looks at one of the assumptions underpinning the concept: Labour's supposed isolation from the rest of European social democracy. The book considers the shifting political projects of the New Left in relation to its developing analysis of the Labour Party over the last forty years. It analyses Ross McKibbin's approach to the relationship which roots the evolution of the Labour Party, and the limits to its growth. This approach is analysed in the consciousness and cultures of organized labour in the first decades of the twentieth century.

in Interpreting the Labour Party