ReviewsGraham Bash

A party with socialists in it

ReviewsGraham Bash
A party with socialists in it

THIS IS A MUST-READ for all of us still trying to come to grips with the rise of Jeremy Corbyn. It is a well-timed explanation of the class contradictions, the class compromise of Labourism, at the root of the Labour Party from its creation to the present day.

As Jeremy Corbyn wins two leadership elections and confounds his critics at the general election, Simon Hannah asks the fundamental question - will the movement behind Corbyn “transform society and politics or be seduced and integrated into the status quo?” That is the fundamental question that is yet to be decided - but the value of Hannah’s book is that it locates our present day dilemmas and possibilities as part of a historical process.

The historical basis for the Labour Party was from the very outset always limited and compromised. Unlike so many of its European counterparts, the Labour Party was born in conditions which rendered it ideologically weak, which gave autonomy to the Parliamentary Labour Party and with an organisational relationship to the working class which was always indirect and passive, and based on the separation of trade unionism and politics.

Above all, this book reminds us of both the potential and the shortcomings of previous left wing movements within Labour. As the saying goes, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Hannah examines the movements behind the Social Democratic Federation, the Independent Labour Party, Stafford Cripp’s Socialist League, and the Bevanite and Bennite movements. All these developed in different ways - and all failed in different ways. Was this inevitable? Or are there lessons we can learn to ensure that Corbyn can succeed where others have failed?

Hannah does not provide all the answers. None of us can. But he asks many of the right questions - and in so doing, he helps to give us a fighting chance.

As we face the struggles ahead, perhaps we need to recall the very best of the traditions of the Bennite movement of the early 1980s - in my opinion the highest point of the Labour left till the rise of Jeremy Corbyn.

It was based on a vision that embraced the working class and trade union base of the Labour Party, and which sought a relationship with the working class which was democratic and accountable on a programme that was socialist. It was outward looking, widening its base from the labour movement to embrace other social movements and oppressed groups. If the Labour Party has always embodied a fundamental class contradiction, our task is to resolve that contradiction and build a Labour Party - together with the broader movements of the oppressed - as an organ of working class representation and power. In reminding us of our history, Simon Hannah helps us prepare for our future.

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or book/a-party-with-socialists-in-it/ simon-hannah/9780745337470 » Graham Bash is co-author of 100 Years of Labour. To obtain a copy write to the Briefing office (see page 2 for details) with a cheque for £3 to Labour Briefing.

South Thanet CLP, political officer of Jewish Voice for Labour and member of the Editorial Board of Labour Briefing