The high hopes many people held for the British Labor Party after 1945 have, to some extent, been replaced by disillusionment. But the present difficulties of the Party are not to be explained by electoral defeat or the sound and fury of the Bevanite quarrel. These are superficial manifestations of a larger concern—the facts of mid-twentieth century society and their meaning for socialism. The last twenty-five years have brought changes in British social and political life which throw considerable doubt on the traditional beliefs and assumptions of British socialists and socialists everywhere. It is discussion about these facts, and not whether Britain should build the hydrogen bomb or nationalize the Imperial Chemical Company, which has caused the party publicly to harrow itself with argument about “The Nature of Socialism” (one would have thought that had been discovered by now) and “The Next Step in Socialism,” etc., etc.
The despair with which G. D. H. Cole (in “Is This Socialism?”) and Stanley Plastrik (in “British Labor in Retrospect”) have presented their own brand of disillusionment in DISSENT is, therefore, more interesting as an indication of the tenderness of socialists for their past opinions than as a guide to the needs of the movement. It is easy to toss the Labor Party aside as a tired failure or an agency of right-wing trade union leaders. But the Labor Party is more than an object of pity or a subject of disappointment; its situation raises the issues which face Western socialism today— as distinct from the late 19th century....
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