[Marxism] British Labour

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Nov 24 14:13:57 MST 2017

It is the internal dynamic of this socialism which constitutes the 
second basic problem of the Labourist movement. We have already seen the 
elements found within it, and their relationship. In the Labour Party, 
Fabianism became the dominant, right-wing leadership tradition, the 
source of the ideas governing most of the action of the party. Its 
leaders were all to be either avowed Fabians (Attlee, Gaitskell) or 
implicit Fabians, whatever their apparent background and orientation 
(Macdonald, Henderson, Lansbury). The Independent Labour Party became 
the Labour left wing, in chronic instinctive protest against the 
leadership but intellectually subordinated to it and incapable of 
effectively replacing it. Labourism, therefore, acquired from the 
beginning a peculiarly weak left. This is, in a sense, the intimate 
tragedy of Labourism—for the left has always expressed the most vital 
working-class elements, the most active and genuine socialist forces 
potentially able to develop their own hegemony over party and State. But 
expressing them in the fashion and under the conditions indicated, the 
Labour left has really completely frustrated these forces, putting them 
at the disposition of the right-wing reformists. It has been unable even 
to seriously influence the leadership, except under rare circumstances 
and momentarily. Hence, the Fabian-inspired leadership tradition, 
permanently supported by the trade unions, could acquire a great 
stability and continuity—a kind of dynasty, in fact, with its own 
characteristic internal procedures of recruitment and co-ordination, 
almost independent of the party in general. And this permanent, organic 
power in its turn of course obstructed any farther real evolution of the 
left wing—it is as if the Independent Labour Party tradition, which was 
apparently the beginning of a real British mass socialist party, was 
paralysed by entry into the matrix of Labourism and the conditions it 
found therein. Hardie and the other ILP leaders anticipated that they 
would be able to rapidly convert the Labour Party to socialism, their 
socialism. Instead, the conditions of Labourism, and their own weakness, 
transformed them into a mere permanent opposition, always urging the 
Labour Party to move left and always unable to make it move, only half 
conscious of their own position and its true meaning, unable to act 
within Labourism but unable to see any alternative to Labourism, 
oppressed by Fabian triviality and timidity but with no workable 
alternative to offer—such was the result of the ‘short cut’ to socialism 
which Labourism had seemed to represent. Such was the paradox of 
Labourism—the distinctive form of socialism which arose out of British 
conditions, and in effect prevented any farther socialist evolution from 
taking place.

Tom Nairn, "The Nature of the British Labour Party part 1", NLR 
Sept.-Oct. 1964

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