Labour: a party fit for imperialism by Robert Clough: reviewed

The thesis of this text is that the UK Labour Party has always been imperialist. Moreover, it argues that it has always represented a coalition of the middle class and the more affluent section of the working class. Furthermore, it castigates as opportunists those on the left who have ultimately seen it as the lesser of two evils.

Empirically, this polemic is impressive. It highlights numerous instances of the Labour Party failing to live up to minimal ethical standards. It shows ample evidence of unpleasant attitudes within the wider British labour movement. In addition, it demonstrates how British capitalism has benefited from the exploitation and oppression of ordinary people around the globe.

However, theoretically the book raises many questions. It does not quote from a wide range of sources in ideological terms. It leans heavily on Lenin’s analysis of imperialism and the way war divided the working class. It does not pay sufficient attention to the evolution of the rest of the British party system. Nor does it highlight how centre-left parties in other countries have stumbled in ways similar to the Labour Party. These problems could have been resolved in part by the greater use of state theory, by a rigorous examination of the functions of the capitalist state. The Labour Party may have become a shabby compromise, but without it things might well have been even worse for workers. The disastrous foreign policy of Tony Blair cannot be allowed to discredit every positive thing which the party and the unions have achieved.

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