The Labour Party was born out of the industrial revolution in the 18th century. The party itself was born in 1900 and was elected to power for the first time with Ramsay MacDonald as Prime Minister in 1924. They are a centre-left political party whose ideology is diverse in socialism, social democracy and democratic socialism. The last two might sound the same to one another but they are not. To clarify this social democracy refers to democratic socialism through reformist and gradualist methods and democratic socialism is where democracy works alongside a socialist economic system.
Initially the Labour party was formed for the trade union movement to establish itself in Westminster for political representation. It’s the party of socialism which many people know as a political movement where the state and the people have common ownership of the nation’s industries, trade and commerce. It favours government intervention on the economy and the redistribution of wealth. Taxation pays for the state’s services like health, housing, social security, welfare and public services. Socialism also believes in state ownership of industries so that they can prop them up when they falter and by attached to the welfare system that makes them directly capable of providing work for them so unemployment is virtually impossible. It sounds like a great idea for the lower classes and it makes socialism the highly favoured way of life for the common person. But like capitalism which the Tories favour it has it’s weaknesses.
The socialist philosophy was born during the early 19th century conjured up by theorists and activists who were at the forefront of the social revolution. At that time the working classes were destitute and oppressed with limited powers for their own way of life. It differed from country to country who each had their own ideas for socialism. In Britain the working classes exploded in size thanks to the mechanisation of the economy, the state and the industries. It was so big they were seen as a valuable tool for business and their expansion. This was seen as an exploitation of labour and the proletariat didn’t like it. However there were some rich people who cared for their workers and treated them in a humane way in an era that was full of social reformists that swept away the old standing in life for the working classes.
One of the most famous British socialists was a Welshman called Robert Owen. He believed that a man was not responsible for his own upbringing because he had no means to do so. Owen ran a cotton mill in New Lanark, Scotland which also had on site provisions for the workers and their children, which also included a school. He lobbied Parliament over child labour and helped create the co-operative movement. Over socialists followed his example and it was later emulated by other business people across the country. The trade union movement was established to offer a better deal of working conditions and wages.
Non-conformist religions also played a part in their development and in the 1830s and 40s mass movements of people created charters which saw the working classes succeed their standing in life to be on the same level with the middle classes. The most famous of these charters is the People’s Charter in 1842. Backed from some MPs they got the right to vote, the secret ballot, the right to a salary for MPs, equal representation for voters, removing property qualifications for MPs and annually elected parliaments. Over the years we saw new reforms and new acts of liberty and rights for the common man which shaped the society we know it as today.
One of the founding fathers of socialism was a German philosopher called Karl Marx. He believed in an extreme form of socialism called communism which is a socioeconomic system that has no democratic structure or framework for governance. It’s common ownership of production with no class system, money or any sign of a state. Examples of communism throughout history have proven that this can’t work. It leads to poverty, corruption, rule by fear from governors and indoctrination of children until eventually it becomes a left-wing dictatorship run by fanatics that control every aspect of the state. So in the end it does eventually become a state, but a state where the proletariat have no say in political and social affairs. This shows us that socialism’s biggest problem is in it’s operations: it does not work!
Just ask the citizens of communistic countries before they collapsed like the Soviet Union and East Germany and in the modern world North Korea. China might be a communistic country but it’s able to survive by adopting capitalist business practices. It used capitalism in it’s post Maoist economy to rebuild the country and it has helped to establish itself as world superpower. All thanks to it’s creator Deng Xiaoping who reasoned that economic development should not be hampered by the state while still retaining communism. He had a famous saying, ‘It doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white as long as it catches mice’. Which from the context meant ‘It doesn’t matter if China is capitalist or communist as long as it get’s richer and stronger’. So China’s economic miracle is down to a communist government running a capitalist economy, it’s a hybrid philosophy.
Returning to the Labour party of our own country they are also the political front of the trade unions who fund their wages and election campaigns. The party members work closely with the trade unions so that they are connected effectively to the demands of the people. The other parties have their own financial backers and supporters who they stay in touch with too. So there isn’t any bias or unfair advantage in that. Labour’s party constitution was written in 1918 and there is a socialist element to it called Clause IV which advocates a strong commitment to the common ownership or nationalisation of the country’s industries, trade and commerce. This is similar to communism but it works alongside a democratic framework so it makes it okay to work for Parliament. Thus the Labour party like the Conservative party has a collective of different types of socialist. So let’s get on with the modern party. Here’s what the modern Labour Party has done for Britain since 1945:
- Establishing the post war consensus and the welfare state under the government of Clement Attlee. This marked the beginning of the nationalisation of state industries where the government took sole control of virtually every business and service in the country akin to a communist state. Also the welfare state saw the introduction of the welfare system we have today: free healthcare, social security, dole money, childcare, pension schemes, education, housing, income support, etc. It was a vision of what they called New Jerusalem.
- In 1964 along came Harold Wilson who famously said that ‘Britain is going to be forged in the white heat of this revolution’. That speech was a reference to the scientific and social revolution that defined the swinging sixties. The government was investing in massive housing projects and new towns. The education sector was now seeing working class kids in universities and the Open University was born. There was also masses of individuals fighting for their rights. It was a great time to have your own individual identity.
- The Labour years of 1974 – 79 were one of the worst times for Labour when it looked like Socialism wasn’t working and the country was crumbling. Inflation and stagnation gripped the country as it became ‘The Sick Man of Europe’. The unions were causing chaos and social unrest across the country in the Winter of Discontent.
- New Labour came along with a whole new image for the party that endorsed the capitalist economy created by Thatcher and abandoned core socialist principles. Under the leadership of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown they championed for social justice and free market economics. Thus they became a right wing socialist democratic party.
This is the Labour Party as we know it today a socialist party with a very chequered history establishing a left wing branch of democracy that has been responsible for the greatest number of social engineering projects along with the Tories. Whilst I am a Tory voter I will admit that for a while I did like Labour for their media savvy image and youthful charm back in the day. But I grew to hate them when I realised they were not to my standards. But I am thankful for the socialists for creating a democratic framework where the working classes have a say in our country. Thanks to them they gave us the rights for the common person, the end of child labour, the national minimum wage, the equal pay act, the health and safety act, government subsidies in business and commerce, the welfare state, national insurance, free healthcare, state owned public services, the discrimination for people of all races, gender, religions and disabilities to be in mainstream society, etc. They are the architects of a free, liberal and fair society. Providing a safety net for those who are less fortunate and creating jobs and consumables to feed their people.
However socialism does have it’s weaknesses where it does not allow people to free themselves and be their own person. At the same time it also believes in conformity, entrapment and that no one should defy the will of their collectivism so there is no class system or progress into new innovation. But there is one social invention from the Labour government that I am thankful for and that was from the Wilson administration.