John Saville


Out of the ghetto

(February 1994)

From Socialist Review, No.172, February 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

It is always to be expected that a Marxist interpretation of history will meet with hostility in most bourgeois journals. A socialist periodical, however, could be expected to produce at least a reasoned summary of its arguments, whatever criticisms there may be.

Nick Howard’s review of my Politics of Continuity (a title he forgot to include at the heading of his review, so the readers were only given its subtitle: British Foreign Policy and the Labour Government 1945-6) was not unfriendly, but unhappily failed to provide a synopsis of what the book was about.

Thus he might have mentioned that my first 80 pages – The Mind of the Foreign Office – is the first detailed account by a socialist historian of the political attitudes and policies of the top levels in Whitehall and the diplomatic service; or that Attlee had serious political differences with Bevin, his senior officials and the Chiefs of Staff over the Middle East; or that I try to connect economic factors and problems with international relations.

I leave aside a number of the mistaken summaries of my argument, although I am surprised how many there were, and just add that I found his review dispiriting because it could have been written 30 years ago out of the broad generalisations that have continued since to serve some sections of the left.

Not all are wrong, but what he does not seem to appreciate is not only that we have to continue to educate ourselves, but our crucial problems are to break through the intellectual and political ghetto into which we are all being constantly pushed as well as to recognise the formidable task of convincing the great majority of the labour movement of the illusions of Labour – socialism. And we cannot do this without accepting Gramsci’s insistence that it is the major intellectual and political strong points we have to confront, and this means serious research and constant argument.

What Nick Howard did not recognise in his review is that the majority of Labour supporters still regard 1945-51 as a golden period of achievement and that there is no understanding of the connection between the reactionary foreign policy of 1945 and succeeding years, and the economic decline of British capitalism in the second half of the 20th century.

It was my purpose to provide a large mass of new material on these matters, and I regret that I have failed to convince my reviewer of what I was about.


John Saville

Editorial Note

The title of John Saville’s book in January’s SR was omitted due to a subbing error. We offer our apologies to John Saville and Nick Howard.

Last updated on 4 July 2010