[Marxism] Lenin's Tomb history of British Labour Party

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue May 3 14:06:58 MDT 2005

Labourism is an atypical fixture of European social-democracy. Born in the 
lean years of defeats for the working class, it thrived only after the 
locust years of 1914-18. The New Unionism of the 1880s and 1890s 
notwithstanding, the bulk of the working class was still not unionised when 
the Labour Representation Committee was formed in 1900 from a coalition of 
the Fabian Society, the Social Democratic Federation, the Trade Unions 
Congress and the Independent Labour party. An employers' offensive, 
prompted in part by the Great Depression, was battering the working class 
(culminating in the Taft-Vale judgement of 1901), and the formation of the 
LRC was effectively a defensive move against this, given the unlikelihood 
of the hegemonic Liberals doing anything to defend the interests of 
workers. The bet was that it would be more possible to pressure a Liberal 
government into ventriloquising workers' interests if the working class had 
independent representation, with its own whips and policies. The intention 
was not, as with continental socialism, to radically alter the structure of 
capitalism either by reform or revolution, but to seek some melioration for 
the needs of workers within the existing constitutional arrangements.

After the Liberals won in 1906 on a 'radical' ticket, the LRC was 
re-constituted as the Labour Party. Just as it had been ally to and 
parasitical on liberal progressivism, the Labour Party's initial success in 
gaining MPs was part of the Liberal revival. Insofar as there was any 
commitment to socialism, it was either the 'state socialism' of the Fabians 
(which included, as well as patrician oversight of the workers and 
industry, the British guardianship of non-adult races) or the 'ethical' 
socialism of Kier Hardie, Ramsay McDonald and Philip Snowden. (McDonald, of 
the three, produced the most copious theoretical work in defense of his 
socialism). Religious-style language about 'the new Jerusalem' abounded. 
Structurally, a party of the trade unions (with unusual voting bloc 
procedures which still persist, thus providing the illusion that the 
working class was in some sense genuinely represented), ideologically there 
was no commitment to the working class that was not integrated into an 
appeal to nationhood. Privileging class struggle at best made a virtue of 
the necessary sectional fights for improvement within the system, or sorely 
misrecognised the commonality of British interests. McDonald was persuaded 
that between capital and labour were the general interests of the 
"community" (a totemic imprecation that has become a cynosure of British 
Labourism, old and new). The SDF, a sectarian outfit under the leadership 
of the former Tory Henry Hyndman, had already departed the LRC in 1903 - 
and was not mourned in passing. And, at any rate, the SDF did not approve 
of industrial struggle, holding that such activity was a diversion from the 

full: http://www.leninology.blogspot.com/



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