A political introduction to the series of articles on What’s Wrong With Capitalism, linking the theoretical arguments to the current political debate in the Labour Party.
there are one or two aspects of the current struggle for the soul of the Labour Party which have, so far, gone unremarked. The first—and most important—is the scope of the ‘Crosland Revolution’. Few of us imagined, when Mr. Crosland began to construct his house of theory in The Future Of Socialism, that he would become the architect of the Party in the sixties. We have continued to think and speak of the reforming, ‘rethinking’, revising wing of the Party as a roughand-ready caucus of practical empiricists.
Far from it. Naturally, a good many Party men have been pushed into the Crosland embrace by circumstances—the successive defeats, the deadlocked debates, the unpopular policies, the falling membership, the absence of that god in the electoral machine—the swing Nevertheless, what they have taken on to cover the nakedness of their position, are the outer garments—at any rate—of an ‘ideology’. Mr. Crosland’s picture of capitalism and the world has behind it the pressure of an informing vision: it provides the right wing of the Party with a framework for the facts, a logical structure enabling them to explain the past and predict the future.
What we have been witnessing in recent weeks is the tail-end of that revolution. The ideological battles have long since been joined and won: first Mr. Gaitskell assented, and then, one after another, the up-andcoming intellectuals in the leadership—Mr. Healey, Mr. Gordon Walker, Mr. Roy Jenkins. By the time that Industry And Society appeared at Brighton, in 1957, the picture of reformed capitalism, the managerial revolution and applied Keynesian economics which Mr. Crosland described had already begun to be etched across the face of official policy. Mr. Crosland may not himself have recommended or approved the sharebuying scheme: but this—and other proposals of this kind—followed on naturally from his analysis. The recent notes for Political Education Officers in the Constituency Parties affirms that capitalism has been so reformed that it deserves to be called, not capitalism, but Statism—a direct quote from Chapter and Verse in The Future Of Socialism. What is most important is that it was the force of this ideology which sustained Mr. Gaitskell’s hands at the Blackpool Conference. Only the final stages of the campaign remain: to isolate the Left as a fundamentalist rump (what The Economist refers to as the Victorian Marxists in the Constituency parties), to popularise the more difficult Crosland concepts and to fight them through into the Party, drawing the Trade Unions into place behind them (a difficult one, this, for ‘nationalisation’ is the last of the TU shibboleths) and remaking the Party from within. The ‘image’ will follow, and after that— hopefully—victory. In this difficult task, Mr. Gaitskell commands the active and continuous (if surprising) support not only of Party moderates, but also of the centre heavy-weights of the press: The Guardian, The Observer, The Spectator and The Economist.
What are the essential elements of this new ideology? For a summary of Mr. Crosland’s theses, applied to the moving arena of politics, one cannot do better than look over Mr. Gaitskell’s Blackpool speech. The analysis began with the social backdrop to Labour’s defeat— the changing character of the Labour force. Next he gathered up in one sweep the current myths about capitalism, lending them the force of his moderate personality: how it had been tamed from without (the Labour Government reforms) and changed from within (the managers replacing the ravening capitalists of earlier eras). Then finally, he gestured towards prosperity—the Welfare State, the “comforts, pleasures and conveniences of the home”.
“In short”, he summed up, “the changing character of labour, full employment, new housing, the new way of living based on the telly, the frig., and the car, and the glossy magazines—all these have had their effect on our political strength.”
In the ‘American’ age just in front of us, when reformed capitalism will flush out the remnants of earlier squalor (a point not dwelt on), Mr. Gaitskell could see little for Labour to do, if it desired to rule once more, but follow in the path of the upturns in our economic life. (Someday, he could be heard singing in an exclusive interview with The Observer the following week, “the swing will come”). The future of the Party, then, he cast in this soft mould: defence of the underdog (not a comforting prospect, this, since he had already implied that capitalism would take care of him too, in the next round of prosperity): “social justice” “an equitable distribution of wealth and income”; a “classless society” (surely a misfit, this one). Finally, (a concession to the young Liberals, who picketed the Conference with a fresh-faced delight?)—“equality of the races”, a belief in “spiritual” values (a heightening sentiment in the age of the glossy magazine) and the freedom of the individual.