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International Socialism, Autumn 1963


Ian Taylor

Old Guard


From International Socialism, No.14, Autumn 1963, p.37.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Labour Story, being a history of the Labour Party
Emmanuel Shinwell
Macdonald. 30s.

This is a brief, interesting and partial history. This can be said without malice or originality – the author would undoubtedly agree with the assessment. Shinwell, once a prominent member of the ILP in its initial progressive era, now on the fringe of the old guard of the Labour Party, in no way tries to keep either himself or his ideas out of the story. The result is a pot-pourri of invective against the extremism of Bevan and Foot and a retrospective regard for people like Hyndman and Maxton. Any discussion of the outstanding events of the history of the Party turns out to be inconsistent. Hyndman was opposed to almost everything the ILP stood for; even so, Shinwell treats Hyndman with great sympathy and open-mindedness. It is clear that the extremism of Hyndman in the past is alright by Shinwell, but that of the left in the Labour Party today is not.

This idea can be carried further. Shinwell was evidently much impressed in his youth by the fervour of the Social Democratic Federation: ‘If the SDF had all the attributes which would today make it a proscribed organisation it was in the eighties the only movement which gave men the opportunity to organise, argue and plan’ – this, admission in spite of the parallel between the strife of the SDF and the New Unionism and the controversy still alive today between trade unions, local parties and the intellectual left, in which Shinwell puts himself squarely behind the unions and the organisation of the Party. An extremist within the trade union movement like Tom Mann, on the other hand, seems to win Shinwell’s approval and in such a context the author speaks unashamedly of the forces of reaction which stultified initiative in the unions and the Party. When the author deals with the left these forces seem no longer to exist: there is a refusal on Shinwell’s part to contemplate the reactionary element on a wide front. Shinwell is a perceptive observer of the roots of the labour movement. He knows that only a leader sprung from the ranks of working men can speak for them.

Shinwell’s book is not a work of great importance for socialists because it attempts no interpretation or overall impression of what has happened in the period covered, in and out of the Party. It recounts events, gives personal impressions and reveals involvement.

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