Friday, January 12, 2007

Beyond Fabian Flannel

Do We Start from Here?

In 1972 Michael Barratt Brown wrote what for its time was a penetrating analysis called "From Labourism to Socialism" (Spokesman Books). Unfortunately the journey eventually went in the opposite direction.

If we want to advance the cause of socialism in this country, how can we now do it? I fully reject the idea that in current British circumstances it is possible for the Labour Party (or any alternative) to suddenly bounce us into socialism. The alternative is the longest of long hauls.

We now have a degenerated form of Blairism in operation. Compass as I argued yesterday, challenge this by advocating a left-wing form of Blairism. They seek to regulate the power of capital, but not to start undermining its operations.

Yet this limited Compass programme isn't even yet on the agenda and is unlikely to be advanced if and when Gordon Brown becomes leader.

The Long Slog

Even with a new compass, it is still some distance to anything that can be recognised as labourism in modern dress. We last approached even a right-wing form of labourism in the heady days of John Smith. And it is only when we travel that far into the future, that an updated form of "From Labourism to Socialism" can seriously be back on the agenda.

So what can democratic socialists do within the Labour Party to hasten this long journey?

First, avoid the entrapments of attempting to storm the citadel, John McDonnell style. It is counter-productive. Secondly, keep checking that the many compromises that are needed just to carry on working within a Labour ethos are principled ones and not sell-outs. Finally, keep socialist ideas alive by bringing them into what passes for dialogue in the Labour Party.

Because I see no alternative to nibbling away, my next stop is to visit tomorrow's Fabian Conference. Well you can't expect it all to be fun. The trick in to try to turn what used to be Fabian gradualism into what Michael's old friend Raymond William's used to see as the need for a long revolution.


Steve Hilton said...

The problem with the party at the moment is that so much is discussed behind closed doors. I work in Westminster, and I often feel completely disenfranchised. I hope the party makes it clear to Brown that the closed government of the past ten years is no longer acceptable and that the endless chase for headlines must stop. Rather than government set out in "media matrixes", we ought to revert to the parliamentary principles and party principles of discussion and perhaps more pointed honesty.

I think the deputy leadership bodes well. With many candidates and, for once, a decent free election, the battle for ideas can commence. It is heartening to see the candidates go out to local CLPs and actively campaign for votes - battered party members feel listened to again. This I feel will be the beginning of renewal, rather perhaps than Brown's succession.

Thanks Harry for reading All The More Reason, it is very much appreciated.

Harry Barnes said...


Thanks. In theory life in the PLP should prefigure the type of society we hope to build - even though nowadays most of the Party sees that in terms of "progressive" measures rather than democratic socialism. Even with the current limited horizans, the general run of life in the PLP falls far short of this. It would help if the Party leader circulated in the tea rooms and the bars to listen to Labour MPs and what they pick up in their Constituencies.

The Deputy Leadership contest is valuable. It is a pity the same can't be said for the Leadership campaign. This is why I came up with "Will the real Peter Hain please stand up?", posted on 16 November. I am open to any better idea.