Duncan Hallas

Labour left v. right – again

(August 1979)

From Socialist Worker, 4 August 1989.
Reprinted in In the Heat of the Struggle: 25 Years of Socialist Worker, Socialist Worker/Bookmarks, London 1993, pp.182-3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

STORM IN a teacup, or struggle for socialist policies? With the Labour Party back in opposition, the old left versus right conflict is in the headlines again.

This time the fight has started around the issue of inner party democracy. There is a certain logic in this from the standpoint of the left wing.

The platform put forward by the party for the first 1974 elections was seriously described (by The Times) as “the most left wing manifesto ever put before the electorate.”

Once in office, Wilson, Callaghan, Healey and Co simply funked it: It has to be said, though, that one of the attractions of the ‘democracy’ issue for some lefts is that it draws attention away from more embarrassing questions.

The right wing has, literally, nothing new to offer. It is politically naked. Its policies in office paved the way for Thatcher. All it can say now is that it was ‘more humane’ than the Tories. The substance of the Tory and right wing Labour policies is the same.

This would be the focus of the attack of any really vigorous left wing. Root and branch opposition to Callaghan and Healey and all their works. Does it matter? From one angle – the winning of the Labour Party to socialism – it does not. You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. The Labour Party led by Benn, if it ever is, will not be fundamentally different. Remember MacDonald, Attlee and Wilson were all elected with the support of the left.

From another angle, the arguments – if they shift to policy questions – are of some importance. Any discussion about socialist policies in the labour movement gives opportunities to the real left, the revolutionary left.


Last updated on 8.11.2003