Egalitarian Thought and Labour Politics: Retreating Visions

Egalitarian Thought and Labour Politics: Retreating Visions

Egalitarian Thought and Labour Politics: Retreating Visions

Egalitarian Thought and Labour Politics: Retreating Visions

Synopsis

In Egalitarian Thought and Labour Politics Nick Ellison argues that the concept of equality is the cornerstone of the British socialist tradition. He examines the alternative understandings of equality which have divided the labour party since 1930 and traces the origins of the current shift away from concern for social and economic equality to an increasing emphasis on liberty and individual entitlement. Egalitarian Thought and Labour Politics is also concerned with contemporary attitudes within the Labour party, discussing the importance of the concept to debates about citizenship and market socialism.

Excerpt

For the greater part of its history the Labour Party has argued about the nature of equality and the egalitarian socialist society. This book examines Labour’s treatment of equality and related conceptions of the egalitarian future as these have been elaborated in debates about Party doctrine and policy since the 1930s. As consensus has never existed about the meaning of equality, the main objective is not to assess Labour’s record with a view to arriving at some ‘acceptable’ definition of the idea, but to explore the Party’s history of inter- and intra-factional strife through the prism of disagreement about its central organizing principle. The argument developed here is that Labour’s internal debates took place around three roughly denned visions of the egalitarian future—technocratic, Keynesian socialist and qualitative. These strands of thought are referred to as ‘visions’ because each offered not so much a fully worked-out doctrine than a hope for the future which employed different understandings of equality to develop and sustain particular policy preferences.

Technocratic socialists understood equality in terms of economic power. They were primarily concerned with public ownership, not for its own sake but because it would reduce the power of private owners and would make for greater productive efficiency. Prospects for greater equality would be improved on both counts, the prime beneficiaries being the working class. Keynesian socialists believed social reform to be more important than economic ownership and concentrated on redistribution and social equality in the mixed economy. They envisaged a classless society of social, if not economic, equals enjoying a broad equality of opportunity. Finally, qualitative socialists employed ideas of ‘fellowship’ or ‘fraternity’ to illuminate the egalitarian

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