Why the Labour left ends up being incorporated

Raymond Williams on why the Labour left ends up being into Labour as an electoral machine and integrated into moderate politics. Written back in 1968 and unfortunately – despite the massive increase in the Labour left under Corbyn – this is the same picture today


“It is at this point that the crucial difference we have already established, between a political movement and an electoral machine, becomes relevant. For it is certain that what has so far been thought of as the Labour Left has been a kind of shadow reproduction of the whole official Labour party and its perspectives. Just as the Labour party has been a compromise between working-class objectives and the existing power structures, at the national level, so the traditional Labour Left has been a compromise between socialist objectives and the existing power structure at the party level. It has made important efforts to reform this party power structure, but with the odds continually against it. Alternatively it has had to choose between what are in effect electoral campaigns within the party and political campaigns which can stand in their own right. When it chooses the electoral campaigns it becomes of necessity involved in the same kind of machine politics, the same manipulation of committee votes in the names of thousands, the same confusion of the emptying institutions of the movement with the people in whose name they are conducted, as that of the leaders and managers whom it seeks to affect or displace. It is then not only that in the game of manipulation it is always likely to lose; it is also that it is directing energy into the very machines and methods which socialists should fight. What has happened in this evolution is a materialisation of the Labour Left around certain personalities, certain M.P.s and certain short-term issues. And this has prevented the outward-looking and independent long-term campaign which would carry forward the politics of the many thousands of people who are now classified in this way.

The May Day manifesto

Published by

Simon H

Tooting CLP and Lambeth UNISON

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