British Labor in 1960

British Labor in 1960

There is a strong temptation to make the best of British Labor’s defeat. After all, the popular vote shows a Tory margin of only 1½ million votes out of 30 million and a careful breakdown indicates that, within many electoral districts, a shift of a few hundred or, at worse, a few thousand votes would have elected a Labor MP rather than his opponent. Why then should socialists lose heart?

There is, I say, a strong desire among many of us to think along such lines. It is even more understandable if we reflect for a moment on what the British Labor Party has meant for democratic socialists since, let us say, its 1945 triumph. As disillusion with revolutionary Marxism (Leninism, Trotskyism) mounted in the 30s and 40s, the stock of British Labor rose correspondingly. Those—and I am no exception —who once sneered at Fabian doctrine, English empiricism and moderation in the name of the “vanguard” party were forced to reexamine their views. And who cannot remember the sense of elation we felt at the stunning defeat our party administered to Winston Churchill?

What is more, this party proceeded to carry out a good part of its election program: India, the welfare state, socialized medicine, economic planning. In its moment of defeat we tend to forget this, along with the paradox that England’s present Conservative government owes everything it lays claim to (full employment, social services, the Commonwealth) to the accomplishments of the first Labor Government. In a sense, Labor created the circumstances for its own defeat.


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