Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Blair's Short Course History of the Labour Party

I don't spend a lot of time looking at the official website of the Labour Party, but this did catch my eye. This is the new official history of the Labour party, updated to take in the 2005 election. Now I wasn't expecting them to mention the Iraq war nor their 1997 commitment to an 'ethical foreign policy', nor was I expecting them to comment on Iraq WMD and Blair's pledge that 'I'm a pretty straight sort of guy'. However, I didn't expect it to read like something Stalin might have commissioned in 1935 to celebrate the achievements of 'Socialism in one country'. Aren't Labour supposed to be the party of 'Democratic Socialism', not dictatorship? Yet throughout it, the 'great leader' is held up, and the costs of any notion of democracy in the party (let alone social democracy or even socialism) spelt out. 'The lessons we should draw from our history are not all positive. Labour was in government for just 23 of its first 100 years. On occasions we have also been the victim of division and disunity which, as we all know, has cost us dear in electoral terms.' Obey the leader - or else!

We hear how 'the Labour Party was created in 1900: a new party for a new century. Its formation was the result of many years of hard effort by working people, trade unionists and socialists, united by the goal of changing the British Parliament to represent the interests of everybody.' One instinctively blinks at the last sentence. 'To represent the interests of everybody'? Capitalists and all? I thought the Labour Party was formed to represent the interests of labour - otherwise it would have been called the 'Everybody party', surely?

Of particular interest is the way that the betrayal of Labour leader and Prime Minister Ramsey McDonald in 1931 is covered. We hear how 'unemployment caused a crisis within the cabinet. Politically unable to either cut benefits or increase taxes to deal with the financial problem caused by high unemployment, the government was split and fell. Yet MacDonald did not tender his resignation to the King, but instead offered to form a National Government with Liberals and Conservatives. From being one of its founding fathers, Ramsay MacDonald had turned his back on the party and was seen to have betrayed Labour.' 'Was seen to have betrayed Labour' - a nice way of putting it. Perhaps Blair thinks abandoning Labour and joining the Conservatives was not really much of a betrayal...

What is most interesting is what is left unsaid - or rather who has become erased from Labour's 'new history'. There is no mention of Tony Benn, nor Benn's hero Nye Bevan. I suppose they are lucky not to be declared 'Trotskyist wreckers' or somesuch. Yet the 'unpeople' also include the likes of James Callaghan and Keir Hardie! It ends with a homage to the 'great leader', Tony Blair.

'The 1997 election campaign saw the Tories in decline - over sleaze, tax rises and division. Labour's campaign, by way of contrast, was smooth and efficiently run. ...As a Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair has given new direction to the country and begun to build a better Britain... On 7 June 2001 Tony Blair led Labour to a second successive victory in a General Election, winning by another landslide...Four years later, on 5 May 2005, Labour achieved a first in its history: a third consecutive term in government... On the steps of Downing Street the next day, Tony Blair said: "It's a tremendous honour and privilege to be elected for a third term and I'm acutely conscious of that honour and that privilege.When I stood here first eight years ago I was a lot younger but also a lot less experienced. Today as well as having in our minds the priorities that people want, we, I, the government, has the knowledge, as well as the determination and commitment, to deliver them."'

Read the quote at the end carefully - Tony Blair is not celebrating the Labour Party getting a Third Term in Government - it is Tony alone that won! 'I, the Government'...he sounds like Louis XIV, the 'Sun King' who once said 'L'etat, c'est moi!' We should not be surprised - Blair is the new 'Sun King'. Glory to the leader! Oh Tony the sun shines brightest when it shines on you!

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At 11:20 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't buy your suggestion of Labour being solely a workers' party at any point in their history. Labour has always been a capitalist party, and has never pretended otherwise. Labour policies of yesteryear - nationalisation, regulation, the welfare state, benefits, workers' rights - have all aimed to make capitalism meet the needs of all classes. Blair is not an abberation - he is the inevitable result of an often feeble social democratic party working within a feverish capitalist system. This is something that those of us who question the plausibility and workability of revolution, and who instead look towards left-wing (I mean properly left-wing - more left-wing than there has ever been in this country) social democracy, must bear in mind.

On a different note, you point out that the current government is prone to suppressing details or facts it considers distasteful. Can anyone tell me how the government has responded to the 19 recommendations of a TUC report entitled "Forced Labour and Migration to the UK" earlier this year? For those of you who missed it, the report stated that forced labour (under UN Human Rights definitions) was widespread in the UK. This sort of thing is usually considered the preserve of Sudan, Myanmar etc al, but no - it is happening here too. The report was published soon before the General Election: the government did not comment on it then and, to my knowledge, have since swept its findings still further under the carpet.

At 3:07 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

Thanks for your comment.

I agree with you that Blair is not an abberation as a Labour party leader - Labour has often been led by bourgeois types such as Ramsey MacDonald and Harold Wilson. Such leaders are ideal to lead any social democratic party which limits itself to trying to make reforms within the confines of the capitalist system.

Yet just because Labour has always worked within such confines does not, I believe, make it a capitalist party per se, even today. It still recieves a huge bulk of funding from trade unions and trade unions created the party. Many working class people still see the Labour Party as somehow 'their' party and such loyalties, built up over a century, are not going to vanish overnight - even with Blair doing his best to try to break the link between Labour and the organised working class.

Thanks also for highlighting the TUC report - it makes shocking reading. There is an interview with one of the authors here, if you have not seen it already:

Two things stuck out for me. The first was the story of a Nigerian woman working in Britain who was working two jobs silmultaneously in order to survive - so working about an 18 hour day. If you have read 'Nickled and Dimed', about low wage workers in the US, this story is familiar - but in Britain you do not really expect it.

I also once worked on a farm in East Anglia picking strawberries as a school kid. Most of the others working there were migrant workers from Eastern Europe, probably working illegally. I got about 15 quid for a full days really hard manual work - you were paid for what you picked. It reminded me of that.

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