The Labour Party and the Struggle for Socialism by David Coates
The Labour Party isn’t what it used to be, and in fact, it never was. There have been no wins on the British left for quite some time, but historically even the biggest wins have lead to disappointment and alienation of the working class which is a major Clause 4 concern. This book investigates why the Labour Party fails to meet the socialist promise built into its founding values and why the leadership repeatedly undermine the interests of their membership and the wider electorate. A scathing critique of poor leadership, weak organisation and deficient tactics, this book would be helpful for any Labour politician looking to win power. However, it is more likely to be used as a weapon to highlight the incompetence and spinelessness of the party. Labour Party don’t need help in losing so instead of dwelling on that I will discuss the wider contents of this thorough and honest text as it illustrates the limits of state power, the instability of capitalist society and the fractured consciousness of the working class.
The working class is subjected to many more contradictory pressures than other groups which leave it more divided and less likely to vote as a block. This is the result of conflict and compromise with liberalism as well as a lack of material difference in what parliamentary parties offer them. The book impressed me with its in-depth analysis of the causes of this problem and I found that a lot of the issues of the last century seem to be cyclical and return the same failings and debates endlessly. As frustrating as this is I felt more at peace after gaining an understanding of the causes and the challenges faced by a socialist party, let alone a socialist government. These challenges led to electoral defeat in the 1951 General Election and with that working class support drifted away too. The Conservatives could tolerate maintaining, and slowly eroding, the NHS and the welfare system as it did not stop them from serving capital. The social transformation brought about by the necessity of rebuilding the nation after WW2 was a significant but inevitable one. The writer makes the case that Labour was never as radical as they claimed to be and even when it brought 20% of the economy into public ownership this only included basic services and failing industries. The benefit to the working class was negligible and it bailed out the capitalists who then avoided having to deal with the consequences of derelict industries.
The main takeaway from this book for me was that parliament will never be enough on its own and in many cases, the parliamentary party will deliberately go against the will of the people. Over the years there has been a retreat from social transformation and a failure to implement effective reforms. The cleverest feature of this book was that it fell apart as I read it which was an impeccable representation of the perpetually crumbling sandcastle of an organisation that is the Labour Party! Doing what has been attempted previously would be a waste of time but there are valuable lessons to be learnt from Coates’ meticulous study which should be useful for future generations. Although the Labour left will always fail, the revolutionary left need not!