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Raymond Challinor

From Labourism to Socialism

(April 1973)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.57, April 1973, p.25.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

From Labourism to Socialism
Michael Barratt Brown
Spokesman Books, £3.25

The seriousness of any political tendency can be gauged from its ability to learn from the past, to acknowledge errors and thereby discover new truths. By this yardstick, Barratt Brown and the coterie to which he belongs have displayed their political bankruptcy. In their writings, including the book under review, they make no attempt to explain – or even consider – their previous blunders.

Presumably, Barratt Brown hopes, for example, that we will forget that he and his friends fervently advocated the incomes policy of the Wilson administration, providing a left-wing gloss for a reactionary policy. Nor does he analyse the role of the Tribunite MPs, their ineffectiveness in Parliament both during the Labour government and that of Edward Heath.

Yet, if Barratt Brown is to be believed, it is these Labour lefts, operating through constitutional channels, who will bring in socialism. Outside Westminister, our gallant parliamentary Jacobins will not need a strong, powerful revolutionary organisation for support. They will be able to rely on a ground-swell of discontent with the ruling class:

‘Broad alliances of many diverse groups crystallising around the gathering crisis of capitalism will be the appropriate method of a move towards socialism’ (p.240.)

The policies of IS are futile in Barratt Brown’s eyes. To build up rank-and-file organisations in unions like the T&G to fight the bosses and the union bureaucracy is not necessary, as Jack Jones has ‘put himself at the forefront of the movement for workers’ control and trade-union democracy’ (p.235)

Equally wrong is the attempt to provide the working class with new political organisation: ‘Those who would destroy the Labour Party and end the adherence to it of left-moving trade unions would have to construct a new Labour Party with almost the same constitution as the present party’. It is an indication of the extreme thickness of the reformist bone of Barratt Brown’s cranium that his mental horizon does not extend beyond the limits of social democracy.

This book, I am afraid to say, can only be read as a symptom of political degeneration. To paraphrase the old song, ‘The old new left, it ain’t what it used to be.’

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