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Raymond Challinor

The Greatest Since Keir Hardie

(Winter 1964/5)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.19, Winter 1964/5, p.28.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Harold Wilson
Dudley Smith
Robert Hale, 21s.

Harold Wilson
Gerard Eyre Noel
Gollancz, 21s.

Purpose in Politics
Harold Wilson
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 30s.

The Relevance of British Socialism
Harold Wilson
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 16s.

Selected Speeches 1964
Harold Wilson
Penguin Books, 3s 6d.

Of these five books, the first two are biographies of Harold Wilson; the remainder are expositions of Labour policy by Harold Wilson himself. None of them are very profound. Yet, while not possessing any sparkling, original ideas, they may still be of value. It will be important to compare what Labour intended to do when gaining power with what it actually does. Moreover, Harold Wilson is a statesman who is likely to be with us for many years to come, and therefore we should know something about his activities so far. Mr Noel’s book contains much personal information about Wilson’s life – his family background, his university career, his marriage. Indeed, everything but a serious analysis of his political opinions. Dudley Smith, on the other hand, gives a balanced, readable and factual account of Wilson’s political development. Nevertheless it is a journalistic account, pitched at the general reader; no attempt is made to relate Wilson’s emergence to the present state of the Labour Party and condition of British capitalism. It is the present economic crisis which makes Wilson’s own books appear so dated. He seems to have unbounded – and unfounded – confidence in capitalism’s potentialities. Despite its past inability to sustain a 4 per cent rate of growth, he unquestioningly accepts that it will under his kindly guidance. He bases all Labour’s glorious plans for the New Britain on the achievement of this target. But, having slammed on the brakes, it looks unlikely that Labour will do so.

Wilson fails to example the fate of other Labour leaders, both in Britain and elsewhere, who have governed capitalism rather than abolished it. With the commanding heights in the hands of big business, his government remain in ‘power’ on sufferance. However dilatory it is about giving old-age pension increases, the Government will have to remain ever-vigilant to maintain the high level of profit necessary to maintain business confidence and induce private investment.

In these circumstances, the Labour Government’s reforms are likely to be few and its catastrophes many.

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Last updated: 10 April 2010