The Future of Socialism

The Future of Socialism

The Future of Socialism by Anthony Crosland, published in 1956, is regarded as one of the most influential books in post-war British Labour Party thinkingFact|date=June 2007. It was considered by many the seminal work of the 'revisionist' school of Labour politics. [ Crosland sought to revise the Labour Party's constitutional commitment to the nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange, (Aims, Clause four, party four): "If Socialism is defined as the nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange, we produce solutions which deny almost all the values that socialists have normally read into the word.” Quoted by Hattersley in [ Hattersley, Roy, "To imagine Labour's future, rewind 50 years"] , The Times online, September 15, 2006, accessed 27 June 2007] Crosland, an Oxford academic before entering Parliament, had lost his seat in the 1955 General Election and so was able to finish the book he had been working on for several years, seeking to offer a new argument for social democracy in the context of the new political and economic consensus introduced by the 1945-51 Clement Attlee governments.

Some argue that no book of the stature of the Future of Socialism has been written since 1956, leaving Labour to live off its intellectual capitalFact|date=June 2007. However, the Future of Socialism has continued to be a reference point for intellectual debates within the Labour party and the centre-left in succeeding generations - including the SDP-Labour split in 1981, the modernisation of Labour under Neil Kinnock and the rise of New Labour. The book's 50th anniversary in 2006 sparked a new debate with leading Labour figures including Gordon Brown, Jack Straw [ [ Jack Straw, "Socialism: the new divide"] , New Statesman, 18 September 2006, accessed 27 June 2007] , Ed Miliband [ [ Why ideology matters, Ed Miliband, Fabian Society] , Google cached page accessed 27 June 2007] , Roy Hattersley [ [ Hattersley, Roy, To imagine Labour's future, rewind 50 years] , The Times online, September 15, 2006, accessed 27 June 2007] and others setting out views of its relevance to the next generation of 'post-New Labour' politics. The Fabian Society which copublished the new 2006 edition set out the argument about 'renewal' of Labour's thinking after a decade in power requires a further generation of 'revisionist' thinking which seeks to emulate Crosland's contribution in the 1950s.

A central argument in the book is Crosland's distinction between 'means' and 'ends'. Crosland demonstrates the variety of socialist thought over time, and argues that a definition of socialism founded on nationalisation and public ownership is mistaken, since these are simply one possible means to an end. For Crosland, the defining goal of the left should be more social equality. Crosland argued that

Crosland also argued that an attack on unjustified inequalities would give any left party a political project to make the definition of the end point of 'how much equality' a secondary and more academic question.

Crosland also developed his argument about the nature of capitalism (developing the argument in his contribution 'The Transition from Capitalism' in the 1952 New Fabian Essays). Asking, 'is this still capitalism?', Crosland argued that post-war capitalism had fundamentally changed, meaning that the Marxist claim that it was not possible to pursue equality in a capitalist economy was no longer true. Crosland wrote that,

Crosland argued that these features of a reformed managerial capitalism were irreversible. Others within the Labour Party argued that Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan brought about its reversal.

A third important argument was Crosland's liberal vision of the 'good society'. Here his target was the dominance in Labour and Fabian thinking of Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb, and a rather grey, top down bureaucratic vision of the socialist project. Following Tawney, Crosland stressed that equality would not mean uniformity:

Reaction and reputation

The book was highly controversial at the time of its publication, given the heated dispute between the Gaitskellites and the Bevanites over the future direction of the Labour Party. A review of Crosland's book in the left-wing "Tribune" newspaper became famous for its headline 'How dare he call himself a socialist'. [The New Statesman in 1959 compared those who wished to take his view of socialism out of the Labour Party with Christians wanting to drop Christ. It began: "The title of my sermon 'Should We Drop Christ?'". Cited by Miliband, [ "Why ideology matters", Ed Miliband, Fabian Society] , Gooogle cached page accessed 27 June 2007] The book was however largely positively received in the media and right-wing circles of the Labour Party.

Labour thinkers and academics have continued to debate the relevance of Crosland's thinking to more recent political debates within the party. A significant criticism of Crosland in the 1960s and 1970s made is that he had been too sanguine about the prospects for economic growth and so was concerned more about the distribution of wealth than its creation. He had written in "The Future of Socialism" that

Crosland himself acknowledged in "The Conservative Enemy" the validity of the criticism of this view, and in this and his later writings and speeches he addressed the question of growth more centrally.

Crosland, New Labour and after

There are different views on the influence of Crosland on the creation of New Labour. Some see New Labour as arising directly from the revisionist tradition set out in the Future of Socialism, and applying these ideas to the politics of the 1990s. In particular, Tony Blair's decision to rewrite Clause Four of the Labour constitution is seen as achieving a central revisionist goal. ["he can justly claim to have been the original inspiration for the new Clause Four, which was Tony Blair's seminal achievement in the first few months of his leadership." Jack Straw, [ "Socialism: the new divide"] , New Statesman, 18 September 2006, accessed 27 June 2007]

However, New Labour was not keen to promote this link to the party's intellectual tradition, given the marketing of the party as having broken with the past. In substantive terms, while New Labour can be regarded as broadly revisionist, it was ambivalent and reluctant to explicitly commit itself to 'equality' as a goal of Labour politics, although its policies were redistributionist and aim to reduce child poverty in particular. [Steven Fielding. 'The Labour Party: Continuity and Change in the making of new labour'. PALGRAVE MACMILLAN, 2003. ISBN 0-333097393-3 pp. 179-180,p. 188 ]

Politicians seen as representing the Crosland tradition, most notably former deputy leader Roy Hattersley, who were regarded as firmly on the right of Labour politics throughout their careers, have now tended to find themselves arguing from the left of New Labour. [ cf. op cit] However, leading New Labour figures have also drawn on Crosland's work. Gordon Brown has demonstrated a particular interest in Crosland and his legacy, giving a 1997 Crosland memorial lecture to the Fabian Society, (which was later published in the 1999 book 'Crosland and New Labour' edited by Dick Leonard), and writing the foreword for the 2006 50th anniversary edition of the book. Recent Labour Education Secretaries including Ruth Kelly and Alan Johnson have also drawn on Crosland's thinking in speeches and articles.

Despite its reputation, and the frequency with which it is invoked in contemporary Labour debate, the book was out of print for some time, with second hand copies scarce and sought after. To mark its 50th anniversary, the book was republished by Constable & Robinson in association with the Fabian Society in the autumn of 2006, with a foreword from Gordon Brown, an introduction from Dick Leonard and an afterword from Susan Crosland.


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