Is the Labour Party a socialist organization?
In order to effectively answer the title question, this paper will delve into the roots of; firstly socialism then the Labour Party. After the core ideals have been discussed, this paper will highlight the comparisons which are evident between the concept of Socialism and the reality of the Labour Party. There are many forms of socialism, each differ in their ideals ranging from communism on the extreme left of the political spectrum to democratic socialists who can be found just left of centre (Budge et al, 2007). It would be wrong then, to tar all socialists with the same brush as not all are the stereotypical Marxist revolutionaries, indeed some schools of socialist thought have had a heavy influence from Liberals, Chartists, trade unions, feminists and Christianity to name a few (Wickes, 1995). With this in mind, this paper will not attempt to define all forms of socialism, it will offer a traditional view in order to argue that although the Labour Party started their life as a socialist organisation, they can no longer be seen to fully embrace this doctrine, and therefore up until the appointment of the new labour leader cannot be described as such.
Socialism is an ideology, a concept that has been developed with the view (for some) to overthrow capitalism which itself has been growing over the past three centuries (Sell, 2002). During this period, the definition of socialism has changed along with the changing face of society (Clore, 2008). In order to avoid confusion whilst answering this paper’s title question, a traditional definition is offered thus, socialism is: “the ownership and control of the means of production by the workers themselves, whether as individuals, cooperatives, collectives, communal groups, or through the state, and an economic and political system that favours this“ (Clore, 2008:1).
As previously stated, definitions of socialism vary, often greatly, however there are to be found within many, some common ground, a shared consensus (Wickes, 1995) in the equality of wealth and opportunity (Budge et al, 2007)
According to Kirkup (1909) the founder of infant schools and revolutionary philanthropist Robert Owen (1771-1858) was the founder of early British socialism (Kirkup, 1909). Although it is acknowledged that by that time socialism in France had already become a popular if somewhat eventful movement (Kirkup, 1909). Owen may have been the founder of British socialism, however, “The greatest and most influential name in the history of socialism is unquestionably Karl Marx” (Kirkup, 1909:130). Marx had a view that capitalism enabled the ‘Bourgeoisie’ (capitalists) to exploit the ‘proletariat’ (working class), in that it forced them to sell their labour, their only real resource (Budge et al, 2007). Marx’s teachings’ had an influence on the Labour Party, in so far as to enlighten them to the significance of the class struggle, that is to say that it instilled class consciousness within the party members (Budge et al, 2007). Between 1880 and 1914 many influential commentators including Sidney and Beatrice Webb, were critical of the Liberal system of governance, claiming that it allowed a small group of individuals to be represented by mass political parties (Roberts, 1989). It could be said that there was a growing unrest amongst the working class, socialists and philanthropists, whom were increasingly demanding better political representation and equality for Britain’s predominantly working class population.
The Labour Party came into being during this politically unstable period (Hill, 1970). The party started their life as a political organisation whose foundations were laid by socialists from The Independent Labour Party, The Fabian Society and The Social Democratic Federation. In addition, trade unions were a highly influential component of the newly founded...
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