Labour Party in Great Britain

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Labour Party in Great Britain

 

one of the two main political parties in the country and the most influential party in the Socialist International. Although in terms of its membership it is primarily a workers’ party, the Labour Party is led by right-wing reformists. Founded in 1900 as the Labour Representation Committee, it has been known as the Labour Party since 1906.

The founding of the Labour Party reflected the workers’ desire for class independence in politics. However, right-wing reformists supported by the labor aristocracy took control of the party. During World War I most of the country’s leaders adopted a chauvinist position, and several leaders of the Labour Party joined the wartime coalition government.

With the advent of an upswing in the British labor movement, the Labour Party in 1918 proclaimed as its ultimate goal the establishment of socialism. However, it gave an extremely reformist interpretation to that goal. Labour Party policy was built on reformist concepts of socialism espoused by the Fabian Society and the Independent Labour Party, which became affiliated with the Labour Party. The party’s theoreticians rejected the idea of the class struggle and upheld the doctrine of the gradual reform of capitalist society through the bourgeois state and with the cooperation of all classes. In 1921–22 the Labour Party became the strongest opposition party in Parliament, and in 1924 its leader, J. R. MacDonald, formed the first Labour government, which held power for ten months. MacDonald headed a second Labour government in 1929. These governments endeavored to pursue bourgeois policies, using slightly more flexible methods than the bourgeois parties. In domestic policy the second Labour government introduced some limited reforms before mid-1930 to combat unemployment and improve social insurance. However, in the latter half of 1930, as the world economic crisis grew more serious, the Labour government took the offensive against the rights of the working people. In August 1931 the government was forced to resign. A group of party leaders, including MacDonald, P. Snowden, and J. H. Thomas, joined the coalition government, voting with the Conservatives. These membersof the Labour Party were called National Labourites. In 1932 the Independent Labour Party, which at that time held a left-wing position, withdrew from the Labour Party. A new left-wing grouping—the Socialist League—was organized within the Labour Party.

Before World War II the Labour Party took no concrete measures against the Conservative Party’s policy of appeasement toward the fascist aggressors. Some of the Labour leaders went so far as to support appeasement. In May 1940 the top leaders of the Labour Party joined Churchill’s coalition government. The coalition fell apart in May 1945. The Labourites, whose platform called for broad social reform, won a major victory in the 1945 parliamentary elections. Headed by C. R. Attlee, the third Labour government carried out a series of bourgeois reform measures. For example, the Bank of England and several branches of industry were nationalized, but the former owners were fully compensated. In foreign policy the Attlee government in fact continued the policy of the Conservatives, pursuing a course toward more strained relations with the Soviet Union, as well as toward the rearming of West Germany. However, under the pressure of the national liberation movement, the Labour government granted independence to India in 1947 and to Burma and Ceylon in 1948. In the October 1951 elections the Labour Party was defeated.

In the latter half of the 1950’s the Labour Party leadership, headed by H. Gaitskell, moved toward an official rejection of socialist principles. The party’s programs, which expounded on the ideas of “democratic socialism,” “the universal welfare state,” the “mixed economy,” and an “incomes revolution,” were designed to extend state-monopoly capital policies. The party leaders’ foreign policy focused on loyalty to NATO. Several times, party leaders rejected the Communist Party of Great Britain’s proposals, which were aimed at achieving united action in the struggle against reactionary forces.

The Labour Party won the 1964 elections by a slight majority. At first the new Labour government headed by H. Wilson took steps to raise the wages of certain categories of industrial and white-collar workers and introduced pension reforms and a number of other reforms. In the 1966 elections the Labourites won a substantial majority of seats in Parliament. Beginning in 1966, the Wilson government aimed at introducing an “incomes policy” that would provide for a strict limitation on wage increases, and in late 1967 it began to implement a program of cutting expenditures for social needs. The Labour Party was defeated in the 1970 elections and became the opposition party. In subsequent years, taking into account the changes in the international balance of power, the Labour leadership passed a number of resolutions that recognized the need to develop relations and businesslike cooperation with all countries, including the socialist ones.

After winning only 301 seats in the February 1974 elections, the Labour Party formed a minority government. In the October 1974 elections the Labourites won 319 seats. The Labour government abolished conservative legislation directed against the trade unions and took certain measures to improve the conditions of separate categories of the working people. However, the Labourites were unable to reverse the trend toward greater difficulties arising from the crisis in the economy of the capitalist countries. In foreign policy the Labour government repeatedly declared its support of détente.

In 1972 the Labour Party had 6,310,000 members, including about 700,000 individuals. The rest of its members belonged to organizations affiliated with the party. The most important of these are the trade unions, which provide the party with considerable financial support and assist in the organization of election campaigns. In the early 1970’s the left-wing unions pushed through a number of progressive resolutions at Labour Party conferences. Although the highest party body is the annual national conference, in practice the parliamentary fraction is not bound by conference decisions. The conference elects the National Executive Committee, whose main concern is to direct election campaigns and guide the work of the local party organizations. To a significant degree, the political leadership of the party is exercised by the party leader, who is elected by the parliamentary fraction.

REFERENCES

Lenin, V. I. “Zasedanie Mezhdunarodnogo sotsialisticheskogo biuro.” Poln. sobr. sock, 5th ed., vol. 17.
Lenin, V. I. “S”ezd angliiskoi Rabochei partii.” Ibid., vol. 22.
Lenin, V. I. “V Anglii (Pechal’nye rezul’taty opportunizma).” Ibid., vol. 23.
Lenin, V. I. “Detskaia bolezn’ ‘levizny’ v kommunizme.” Ibid., vol. 41.
Lenin, V. I. “Rech’ o vkhozhdenii v britanskuiu Rabochuiu partiiu.” Ibid, vol. 41.
Lenin, V. I. “O politike angliiskoi Rabochei partii.” Ibid., vol. 44.
Kertman, L. E. Rabochee dvizhenie v Anglii i bor’ba dvukh tendentsii v leiboristskoi partii (1900–1914). [Perm’] 1957.
Mochul’skii, N. F. Krizis leiboristskoi partii v 1931. Moscow, 1956.
Undasynov, I. N. Rabochee dvizhenie i leiboristskaia partiia Velikobritanii v period mirovogo ekonomicheskogo krizisa. Moscow, 1961.
Vinogradov, V. N. U istokov leiboristskoi partii (1889–1900). Moscow, 1965.
Peschanskii, V. V. Sovremennoe rabochee dvizhenie v Anglii. Moscow, 1963.
Pritt, D. N. Ocherki vneshneii vnutrenneipolitiki leiboristov v 1945–1951 gg. Moscow, 1964. (Translated from English.)
Miliband, R. Parlamentskii sotsializm. Moscow, 1964. (Translated from English.)
Cole, G. D. H. A History of the Labour Party From 1914. London, 1948.
Harrison, M. Trade Unions and Labour Party Since 1945. London, 1960.
McKenzie, R. British Political Parties: The Distribution of Power Within the Conservative and Labour Parties, 2nd ed. London, 1964.

I. N. UNDASYNOV and N. M. STEPANOVA [14–796–2; updated]

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.