Intellectuals and Socialism: "Social Democrats" and the British Labour Party

Intellectuals and Socialism: "Social Democrats" and the British Labour Party

Intellectuals and Socialism: "Social Democrats" and the British Labour Party

Intellectuals and Socialism: "Social Democrats" and the British Labour Party

Synopsis

This study is concerned with the role of intellectuals in left-wing parties, focusing on the case of the social democratic intellectuals in the Labour Party. It suggests that at the core of Labour's paralysis lies the fact that Labour still lacks a coherent strategy, and that it has failed to resolve the ambiguities about its identity and ideology which have plagued it over more than two decades, and which were at the root of the SDP split.

Excerpt

It is now widely appreciated that an era in the history of European socialism has decisively ended. It began with the rise of the mass working-class social democratic parties of the Second International and led, in the twentieth century, both to ‘actually existing socialism’ in the USSR and eastern Europe, and under different political and ideological coordinates, to social democracy in the West. With the exhaustion and collapse of both, no ‘emancipatory’ strategy with serious prospects of policy success seemed any longer to exist.

The exhaustion of social democracy was at once economic (the end of Fordist-Keynesian accumulation), political (the decline of mass-based working-class parties), and ideological (the end of the post-war ‘consensus’). This book argues, however, that one of the most important and unappreciated facets of this brand of socialism and its denouement was its relationship to intellectuals. Intellectuals imparted to socialism both the overarching theory and the policies that identified it as such. Both its greatest achievement – ‘the Welfare State’ – and its characteristic limitations – its bureaucratism and abject reliance on the pace of capitalist growth – can be traced to the role of intellectuals. In at least apparent correspondence, the decline of socialism was accompanied by a crisis of this role. This book explores this dimension of the history and crisis of social democracy by studying the relationship between the post-war British Labour Party and its principal intellectuals, the ‘revisionist’ social democrats, and the breakdown of this relationship in the 1970s. Eventually the intellectuals broke from their party to form the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1981. The philosophical poverty and policy drift of the Labour Party since the split demonstrates, more clearly than many other cases, that the role of intellectuals had been critical for social democracy; the split itself, which formally marked the end of the relationship, shows that the emerging difficulties of this role were central to social democracy’s decline. Thus, apart from providing insights into an important element of socialism’s past successes, and into at least the intellectual requirements of any socialist renewal, which . . .

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