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The Socialist Ideal in the Labour Party from Attlee to Corbyn

Martin R Beveridge
Merlin Press, Dagenham, 2022. SC pp.210, ISBN 978-085036-776-8 £14.99

This fairly short book traces the development of the 'Socialist Ideal' and its relationship to the Labour Party. There will be few surprises for students of Labour Party politics, but the author gives a concise account of the evolution of socialist ideas from the 1920s through to Corbyn's election as leader.

Considerable space is given to the development of socialist ideas in the 1920s and 1930s, notably the impact of the 'Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' on Labour thinking. Beveridge views the rank-and-file membership to be constantly more radical than the parliamentary party and its leadership, a gulf echoed in the trade unions for much of the period. However neither left nor right consistently presented a united front and the differences within these wings might have benefited from further analysis.

The whole period is characterised by divisions whereby the right-leaning leadership was hostile to many of the left's ideas. The differences revealed by the Bevanite opposition following the 1945-51 Government showed a fundamental difference in approach which has remained largely to this day. The right viewed the Party's role as improving health and welfare, controlling unemployment and operating within the existing capitalistic structure. The left saw the '45 -'51 Government's achievements to be merely the start of a fundamentally socialist economy and society. This framework was followed throughout the period as the party leadership remained committed to this line and often sought to control the radical wings through internal rule changes and other bureaucratic means.

Beveridge tries to deal with the range of views and developments throughout the period but there is perhaps too much material to cover in a book of this length.

Each chapter opens with the main points to be made and ends with a summary of key developments outlined. There are quotes from other works on these developments on virtually every page and the author helpfully often gives his view as to their author's standpoint. Consequently it is a useful summary of the evolution of the 'Socialist Ideal' and modern 'ethical socialism', but a synthesis rather than a new perspective.

The interviews with various individuals at the end of the book provide some interesting reading but are little more than anecdotal.

Not a book for the general reader but for those with a keen interest in how the Labour Party and its thinking has developed post 1945. He ends with an optimistic note for supporters of socialism arguing that the ideas have continually evolved from a rich and varied discourse and will continue to do so as the world continues to change at a rapid pace and old party structures have to deal increasingly with extra-party organisations

Peter Darby

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