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What, if anything, is socialist about the Labour party?

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Introduction

What, if anything, is socialist about the Labour party? Richard Wood Socialism is defined in the oxford English as a "political and economic theory of social organisation that advocates that community as a whole should own and control the means of production, distribution, and exchange." Philosophically this fitted the labour party and it's roots. When the labour party was founded in 1900 four constituent elements were instrumental in its make-up. Theses four elements were: the trade unions, the social democrat federation, the Fabians and the Independent labour party. They all needed socialism although only the Social Democrat Federation had a strong ideology. These groups produced a version of moderate evolutionary socialism with an idea of a fairer more just society. They claimed human nature was collectivist not individualist and could reach perfection. To reach this state intervention was needed to run industry- for the collective good. Labour, like all political parties, has changed and evolved over the years, it has most definitely moved away from it's roots and is by no means as socialist as it was. But is it still socialist at all? In order to find this out I will explore the context of old labour and socialism, the ideological debate, organisation and structural changes, changes in policy and policy-making, and Blair's 'New Labour' government. ...read more.

Middle

The modernisers have traditionally centred on the Parliamentary Labour party whilst the traditionalists have their strength in the extra-parliamentary elements- constituencies and other organisations (e.g. trade unions). The parliamentary wing of the party has always sought to be the alternative party to government and so has closely followed the wishes of the electorate and adapted policies. The modernisers have always seen clause IV and nationalisation as an electoral liability. The traditionalists did not want to loose sight of their roots however, nationalisation and public ownership were crucial ways to redress the class balance. During the Thatcher years socialists such as 'red' Ken Livingstone argued that labour should work locally to convince voters that socialism could work (e.g. Liverpool council). This proved an embarrassment to Labour leadership and the Conservatives. Power in the Labour party is divided between the Leader, the annual conference, constituencies and trade unions; therefore it is a federalist party. This reflects the debate as how much the extra-parliamentary wing should control the parliamentary wing has always been an important question in the Labour party. Much of the power in the Labour party was beyond the control of the part leadership because of this system and it is one of the reasons Tony Blair et al reformed the structure of the party. ...read more.

Conclusion

One of the reasons that the Conservatives are seen as such a weak opposition is because they agree with Labour on many things (e.g. war on Iraq). Tony Blair has changed the mechanism of leadership elections, altered the bloc vote and clause IV, introduced OMOV (one member one vote), consulted members through policy forums, and reduced dependency on trade union finance. This marks a move away from socialism and into 'democratisation' of the labour party. The party under Blair now has an acceptance of a so-called 'neo-liberal agenda'. This is shown most obviously in Blair's 'Third Way' policy, it is as Macmurray states communitarianism or ethical socialism. New labour emphasise community involvement instead of equality, a society midway between state provision and the free market. Left Conservatives favour these ideas just as much as they are by the right of the labour party. In today's labour party it is difficult to see exactly where the socialist policies lay but there are some there. The Third Way may not be traditionally socialist but there are socialist components, e.g. redistribution of wealth. At the same time there is absolutely no doubt that the labour party has moved to the right significantly Aneurin Bevan or Harold Laskii would hardly recognise the party, and traditional labour MP's such as Tony Benn often speak out against their own party. Glimmers of socialism can be seen in the labour party but the main agenda is most definitely neo-liberal. ...read more.

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