The Labour Party: 'Socialism' and Society since 1951

By Reynolds, Paul | Capital & Class, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

The Labour Party: 'Socialism' and Society since 1951


Reynolds, Paul, Capital & Class


The Labour Party: 'Socialism' and Society since 1951 Manchester University Press, 1997, pp.xi + 171. ISBN 0-7190-4269-0 (hbk) 35.00 ISBN 0-7190-4270-4 (pbk) 11.99 This edited collection of documents on the development of the Labour Party since 1951 comes at an apposite time for students of Labour politics-Blair's `New Labour' as the zenith of the revisionist/moderniser project. Fielding is guided in his selectionaimed at a sixth form and undergraduate audience-by three themes which he regards as central to understanding the nature of change in the party since 1950. These themes are: disagreements over the social basis of electoral support needed to bring Labour victory and the impact upon its politics; disagreements over its policies particularly the issue of common ownership; and the problem of the contradictory tension over the party as a Parliamentary and extra-parliamentary organisation. Fielding outlines these issues and provides a brief historical and theoretical context and guide to the selection of readings with clarity and transparency. He explains the decisions which guided his balance of published and unpublished sources, of which a significant proportion are local and internal sources from the `treasure trove' of the Labour Party archive at the Museum of Labour History in Manchester. This work from an author established in the study of Labour Party politics will be a useful addition to the teaching literature for undergraduates on political courses.

Reviewing such a text raises some interesting questions about how such documentary selections are put together. Fielding does include some excellent pieces-Ken Coates on Blair (7.4, p. 147-8) is refreshing-and he shows considerable discrimination-Chapter 3 on the Wilson leadership between 1963-70 contains some telling excerpts. Nevertheless, the broad range of the selections does beg the question of the need for more narrowly conceived themes. For example, he includes an excerpt which introduces 'Christian Socialism' in the first chapter covering 1951-59 (1.13, p. 13-44) but then fails to return to the theme until he looks at Blair's politics at the end of the text. Either the theme could have been picked up and developed with selections showing the different traditions of 'socialism' within the party throughout the period, or themes of electoral politics and differences within party politics and organisation do not require this reading to be present.

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