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New Left Review I/135, September-October 1982

David Coates

Space and Agency in the Transition to Socialism

It is now over a decade since John Saville’s survey of the Labour Party’s history led him to the view that ‘at least some things should become clearer as time moves along: that Labourism has nothing to do with Socialism: that the Labour Party has never been, nor is it capable of becoming, a vehicle for socialist advance; and that the destruction of the illusions of Labourism is a necessary step before the emergence of a socialist movement of any size and influence.’ Yet for all the vagaries of Labour Party history since, that view has never gone unchallenged. On the contrary, more and more socialists—and revolutionary socialists at that—have slipped back into the Labour Party of late, arguing instead that only through participation in its internal struggles can the cause of socialism be advanced significantly in Britain. So it is not surprising that when my argument appears in NLR 129 reasserting the need for independent socialist politics, questioning the adequacy of the ‘alternative economic strategy’ and doubting the capacity of any Labour Government to use that strategy as a stage in the transition to socialism, that other socialists should have felt the need to reply critically and quickly—as Tariq Ali and Quintin Hoare have done in NLR 132 and as has Geoff Hodgson in NLR 133. [*] I would like to thank Gordon Johnston, Ralph Miliband, David Beetham, Lionel Cliffe, Mike Davis, Arthur Lipow, Rob Stones and Jim Parry for reading and commenting on an earlier draft of this article. [1] John Saville, ‘Labourism and the Labour Government’ in R. Miliband and J. Saville eds., The Socialist Register 1967, London 1967, p. 68. [2] D. Coates, ‘Labourism and the Transition to Socialism’ New Left Review 129 (September/October 1981) hereafter lts; Tariq Ali and Quintin Hoare, ‘Socialists and the Crisis of Labourism’ New Left Review 132, (March/April 1982) hereafter scl; and Geoff Hodgson, ‘On the Political Economy of the Socialist Transformation’, New Left Review 133, (May/June 1982) hereafter PEST.

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