“It is a new Society that we are working to realise, not a Cleaning up of our present tyrannical muddle into an improved, smoothly-working form of that same “order”, a mass of dull and useless people organised into classes, amidst which the antagonism should be moderated and veiled so that they should act as checks on each other for the insurance of the stability of the system.”
William Morris, Commonweal, July, 1885
NLR is a development of Universities and Left Review and The New Reasoner. The political discussion which those two journals have begun, and the contacts they have made are the basis of the New Left. Whatever we are able to do in the journal will, we believe, be an organic growth out of the two different traditions from which we began. In particular, we are anxious to maintain the wide scope of NLR. We are convinced that politics, too narrowly conceived, has been a main cause of the decline of socialism in this country, and one of the reasons for the disaffection from socialist ideas of young people in particular. The humanist strengths of socialism—which are the foundations for a genuinely popular socialist movement—must be developed in cultural and social terms, as well as in economic and political. What we need now is a language sufficiently close to life—all aspects of it—to declare our discontent with “that same order”.
The purpose of discussing the cinema or teen-age culture in NLR is not to show that, in some modish way, we are keeping up with the times. These are directly relevant to the imaginative resistances of people who have to live within capitalism—the growing points of social discontent, the projections of deeply-felt needs. Our experience of life today is so extraordinarily fragmented. The task of socialism is to meet people where they are, where they are touched, bitten, moved, frustrated, nauseated—to develop discontent and, at the same time, to give the socialist movement some direct sense of the times and ways in which we live.
At the same time, the traditional task of socialist analysis will still remain. The anatomy of power, the relationship of business to politics, the role of ideology, the analysis of transitional programmes and demands, are all central to that discussion of the state, without which there can be no clarity, either of theory or practice.
The journal, then, will range widely. But in political terms, NLR represents a real break-through for us: a break-through, both in terms of regular, frequent publication, a skeletal but permanent organisation, as well as the new audiences with whom we can communicate. Because of the disaster of the Election, and the loss of direction within the establishments of the left, many people are anxiously feeling their way forward. Three years ago, such people might have regarded NLR as a wierd intellectual junket. Now they feel that our emphasis upon socialist analysis and education is a common concern. On our side, we feel the urgent need to enlarge our own experiences by drawing into discussion people who have a different sense of the society. Our hope is that NLR will bring to life a genuine dialogue between intellectual and industrial workers.
At some point, the distant wariness between intellectual and industrial workers must be broken down. It is one of the most dangerous aspects of the present plight of the socialist movement. Our hope is that NLR will begin to knit together this broken conversation. This is particularly important when we consider the question of social ownership. Many of those in the Labour Party and the Trade Unions who declare for social ownership, have reservations about the form which it should take. So have we. The present form of nationalisation is not a socialist form: it does not give ordinary men and women direct control over their own lives. Nor does the “public corporation” form of nationalisation confront—as a socialist measure should—the urgent problems of a modern industrial society: such questions as bureaucracy, the distance between men and decisions which affect them, the problems of over-centralisation, and the vested power of the new propertied classes. Here, a whole neglected tradition within socialism needs to be imaginatively rediscovered: but that will be a sterile task, if it is not enriched by the experience of men and women who work in industry. We must confront this question of bureaucracy, which touches us all, together.