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.

ITLP_C03.QXD 18/8/03 9:55 am Page 39 3 ‘Labourism’ and the New Left Madeleine Davis This chapter assesses the contribution made to analysis of the Labour Party and labour history by thinkers of the British New Left. In part constituted in opposition to old left tendencies, including Labour, the British New Left took an independent, broadly Marxist, position. Its thinkers thus offered theoretically informed analyses of the party and its role – mainly, as will be seen, in terms of the category labourism – that were highly critical. They were preoccupied in

in Interpreting the Labour Party
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The Nairn–Anderson interpretation

Questions Anderson, P. (1992b [1987]) ‘Figures of descent’, in Anderson, P., English Questions Anderson, P. (1992c) ‘The light of Europe’, in Anderson, P., English Questions Anderson, P. (1992d) English Questions Benn, T. (1992) The End of an Era Berger, S. (2000) ‘Labour in comparative perspective’, in Tanner, D., Thane, P. and Tiratsoo, N. (eds) Labour’s First Century, Cambridge Birchall, I. (1980–81) ‘The autonomy of theory: a short history of New Left Review’, International Socialism, 10 Chun, L. (1993) The British New Left, Edinburgh Crosland, C. A. R. (1956) The

in Interpreting the Labour Party

peculiarities of historical processes as they are recorded in the complexities of historical evidence. References Unless indicated, the place of publication is London. Adelman, P. (1972) The Rise of the Labour Party, 1880–1945 Bealey, F. and Pelling, H. (1958) Labour and Politics, 1900–1906. A History of the Labour Representation Committee Black, L. (1999) ‘Social democracy as a way of life: fellowship and the Socialist Union, 1951–9’, Twentieth Century British History, 10:4 Chun, L. (1993) The British New Left, Edinburgh ITLP_C07.QXD 18/8/03 Alastair J. Reid 9:59 am

in Interpreting the Labour Party