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Alastair Hatchett

Guide to Reading on
Parliamentary Road to Socialism

(June 1977)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.99, June 1977, p.25.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

THE best book on the parliamentary road has not yet been written. It would probably take the form of a present day Pilgrims Progress in which our hero or heroine would stumble into Quagmires of Illusions, Graveyards of Lost Souls, the Desert of Ward Committees, be tempted by the Ogre of Corruption, be Axed by the Cuts, only to end up dying of hypothermia in a miserable block of flats named after Harold Wilson.

In the meantime, what can be read? Miliband’s Parliamentary Socialism (Merlin Press) tells the sad story of the Labour Party from its earliest years to the late 1960’s. David Coates tells a similar tale in The Labour Party and the Struggle For Socialism (Cambridge Univ. Press). Both titles have their limitations, but they are the best histories of labourism available with Miliband’s much the more readable. Both provide an arsenal of facts and arguments against reformism, gradualism, and the parliamentary road.

A more recent book deserving a wider audience is Leo Panitch’s Social Democracy and Industrial Militancy with the subtitle, The Labour Party, the Trade Unions and Incomes Policy 1945-1974 (Cambridge £8.50, so get it from your library). This is a detailed study of Labour’s commitment to capitalism, the Trade Union Leaders commitment to Labour’s commitment, and the struggles of the rank and file.

For those who like the facts from the horse’s mouth then visit your library to look through Crosland’s The Future of Socialism, Harold’s Labour Government 1964-1970, or the more intimate Confessions of a Cabinet Minister by Crossman. These are the works of the men who made it. For those who didn’t make it, generally to be found on the left of the PLP, you might sample a very sad book by Eric Heffer, The Class Struggle in Parliament.

Two more serious views that we must consider are Stuart Holland’s The Socialist Challenge (Quartet £2.95) reviewed by Colin Sparks in IS 97, and Ralph Miliband’s article in Socialist Register 1976 (Merlin £2.50). Holland belongs to the more sophisticated state capitalist wing of the Labour Party, whereas Miliband is one of the few survivors of a generation that mainly slithered without trace into the Slough of Despond. Our argument with their views have been taken up in this and recent issues of International Socialism. The debate on the new draft of The British Road to Socialism of the CPGB has highlighted some of the important differences between reformist and revolutionary paths. With the CPGB we meet the High Priests of Reformism for it is they together with the Labour left who sow the illusions that have paralysed so many good militants. Our task is to confront those illusions head on, with the lessons of Chile and Portugal fresh in our minds.

Further Reading

Prieto, Chile (Pluto 75p)

Widgery, The Left in Britain 1956-68 (Penguin £4.00)

P. Foot, Why you should be a Socialist (SWP 35p)

P. Foot, The Politics of Harold Wilson (Penguin o/p)

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Last updated: 23.3.2008