Law, Society, and Economy: Centenary Essays for the London School of Economics and Political Science, 1895-1995

By Richard Rawlings | Go to book overview

2
Laski's Law Behind the Law. 1906 to European Labour Law*

LORD WEDDERBURN

Few scholars had the lasting effect that Harold Laski had on his students. In Ralph Miliband's memorable phrase, he gave all to his students out of his 'glowing faith that youth was generous and alive, eager, enthusiastic and fresh'.1 His invitation was 'if you disagree, come . . . and tell me where I am wrong'.2 Distinguished scholars of very different views paid tribute to his part in founding 'political science' in England as a committed socialist with a 'disinterested devotion to the pursuit of truth'.3 Ralf Dahrendorf suggests that the question: 'Did you hear Laski?' marked a historical watershed. Unhappily, I missed him by a whisker. Arriving in Cambridge just as the School left its wartime home there in 1945, I was met instead by graffiti scrawled by young gentlemen on a wall near the Cam that read: 'Burn Laski!'. But then, Laski was chairman of the Labour Party that had just won a General Election. It is fashionable to say Laski's true legacy was his teaching; but if we put fashion aside, we find in his writings unexpected insights on labour law--and on the forces behind that law. Let us look first at the early period in the 1920s, and then at the later writing, and finally ask how his analyses fare today.


SCHOLARSHIP AND POLITICS

Laski's life was not without the struggle and vigilance by which each generation has to make its own freedom. In the 1930s, despite the great

____________________
*
A revised version of a lecture delivered on 13 November 1995.
1
I. Kramnick & B. Sheerman, Harold Laski: A Life on the Left ( London, 1993) 586; R. Dahrendorf, LSE: A History of the London School of Economics and Political Science ( Oxford, 1995) 231 on his 'Socratic ways' that helped students discover unexpected talents.
2
Kingsley Martin, Harold Laski ( London, 1953) 266.
3
Professor (now Lord) Max Beloff, "'The Age of Laski'", Fortnightly Review ( June 1950), 378; see too M. Newman, Harold Laski: a Political Biography ( London, 1993), Chapter 14.

-25-

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