Crosland's socialism: a history of the British Labour Party's revisionist tradition, 1951-81

Horn, Geoff (2006) Crosland's socialism: a history of the British Labour Party's revisionist tradition, 1951-81. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


On leaving office in 1951, the Labour Party entered an unstable period of transition, in which future political direction was contested. The elevation of Hugh Gaitskell to the party leadership enhanced the influence of a new generation of revisionist intellectuals, who set out to redefine Labour's socialist commitment and rethink its policies. The most influential thesis was provided by Anthony Crosland's The Future of Socialism (1956), which became the 'bible' for a generation of committed revisionists and helped equip the Party with a programme of radical reforms. By 1981 Labour's revisionist tradition had been marginalised, as the Party moved to the left and many of the inheritors of Crosland's ideas broke away to form the Social Democratic Party (SDP). This dissertation sets out to understand the causes of this political decline.

This is a work of contemporary British history that provides a comprehensive study of the British Labour Party's post-war revisionist tradition, tracing the political experience of its central advocates. The revisionists were an identifiable political group as a result of their associations and beliefs. Intellectually armed with Crosland's thesis, the social democratic Right were able to dominate the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) into the 1970s. But the difficulties of implementing and renewing the Croslandite revisionist strategy undermined this dominance. By examining the historical experience it is possible to shed light upon the practical difficulties involved in translating Crosland's ideas into action, and therefore gain a greater understanding of the central political and intellectual weaknesses that afflicted Labour revisionism.

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