The eternalization of the present is a recurrent characteristic of conservative thought: the insistence that what is exhausts what can be. It is striking that this notion should characterize C. A. R. Crosland’s The Future of Socialism, a systematic attempt to reconsider the politics of the British Labor Party. But while striking, it is not altogether surprising; the party’s very success has brought about an attachment to the current British social system among many Laborites. Crosland makes much of this attachment in his discussion of Labor politics, but his point is not simply a tactical one. He honestly thinks that, on balance, there is more to conserve than to change in contemporary Britain—despite his revulsion from the present British status system. His book, which reflects the political mood of the dominant element in the Labor Party, is a considerable exercise in apologetics, to which an answer in leftist terms is as necessary as it is difficult. But before considering the text, perhaps we can look at the situation which has produced it.
The success of the Labor Party, it is said, has both reduced its own militancy and lessened the electorate’s readiness to accept critical changes in social and economic structure. This assertion, however, may give the Labor Party too much credit, since its immobility is partly a response to a successful Tory propaganda counter-attack. And the present political atmosphere in Britain (as in America and West Germany) is to some extent dominated by a boom psychology. Not many Britons are willing to look beyond their noses at things other than new houses, television sets, automobiles, and vacations.
The removal of widespread poverty has diminished the socialist commitments of middle-class politicians once afflicted with a bad conscience. And since many trade union leaders are lower middle class in disposition, as are many British workers, prosperity has had similar effects on them. Middle-class socialist conviction, then, has relaxed into the benign and indefinite feeling that justice must be done—accompanied by the comfortable belief that, practically, it has almost all been done already.