This collection excavates ‘Other Worlds of Labour’ seeking to elucidate a pluralist liberal tradition that offered an alternative to state-socialism. The editors claim that this tradition has deep roots in popular associational movements and has demonstrated both change and continuity through the ‘short twentieth century’ of British state collectivism, 1918–79. The text is a sequel to Eugenio Biagini and Alastair Reid's collection Currents of Radicalism; Popular radicalism, organised labour and party politics in Britain 1850-1914 which analysed this tradition for an earlier period. Alternatives to State-Socialism in Britain seeks to demonstrate that pluralist liberalism did not die with the emergence of Labour as a mass and increasingly statist party. Rather it continued as a significant, if sometimes barely acknowledged current even in the statist high noon of the Attlee Government; its values and practices are deemed to have contemporary relevance. The earlier volume was self-consciously revisionist not only in its substantive argument but also in its critique of the dominant historiography of the labour movement whose various schools were characterized as constrained by the assumption that the advent of Labour state socialism was natural/inevitable/desirable. The sequel presents a similar assessment and suggests that the recovery of a pluralist liberal tradition within the labour movement offers an emancipatory agenda both politically and in terms of scholarship. The case studies come in three clusters; each one a strand in the ‘Other Worlds of Labour’. Within ‘Forms of Association’ Richard Whiting examines the shifting fortunes of trade unions as key voluntary groups within civil society. He suggests that such shifts demonstrate the inevitably unresolvable balance between individual and collective rights in a liberal society. Rachel Varbeg-Rugh and Angela Whitecross assess the complex and fractious relationship between the Co-operative Party and the Labour Party. They see the Co-operative presence, however marginal, as a continuing alternative to Labour Party pre-occupations with the state as the essential instrument for social change. Ruth Davidson considers the contribution of working-class women with their distinctive experiences to the development of local welfare services that offered the prospect of democratic management and accountability. An analysis of the influence of Nonconformist Protestantism in the making of the labour movement by Andy Vail focuses on these churches’ role in meeting the shortcomings of both national and local government in educational and social provision. In contrast to these studies of local creativity, the second strand examines leaders. John Kimberley presents a study of Edwardian liberalism, religion, and the labour movement. He recovers the neglected career of the Birmingham Quaker industrialist Edward Cadbury and in particular his concern with the experiences of women in the workplace. James Moher chronicles Walter Citrine’s rapid rise to and lengthy tenure of the Trades Union Congress General Secretaryship. Citrine is often seen as the personification of rule-governed bureaucracy; his most cited publication was appropriately the ABC of Chairmanship. Frank Chapple like Citrine was an electrician; he became leader of the Electrical Trades Union. His persona as the enfant terrible of the trade union Right, along with his trade, is encapsulated in the title of his autobiography, Sparks Fly. Calum Aikman explores the distinctiveness and significance of Chapple’s responses to incomes policy, trade union reform, and the early years of Margaret Thatcher. The final cluster concerns intellectuals. David Goodway examines the complexities of G. D. H. Cole’s political thought from Guild Socialism through a difficult and ambivalent relationship with an increasingly statist Labour Party. He emphasizes Cole’s enduring commitment to a decentralized pluralism. An equally complex intellectual odyssey provides Stephen’s Meredith’s subject. Michael Young moved from the Labour Party’s Research Department in the late 1940s to the diversities of Social Democratic Revisionism and the politics of consumption. Having championed the emergence of a new progressive party in 1960, he subsequently joined the Social Democrats before returning to Kinnock’s Labour Party. He drew consistently and effectively on the diversity of a marginalized and de-centralized pluralist tradition. Stephen White’s starting point is the decay of state-centred Social Democracy in the 1970s. He analyses some socialist responses that were sceptical of the state’s effectiveness as an instrument of reform and in particular of welfare provision. The contributions are concerned not just with the recovery of a rich pattern of associational life but also with the commendation of substantive commitments-liberalism, conciliation in industrial relations, and the values of at least some versions of Protestant Nonconformity. This coupling is problematic. This rich associational life has been associated with diverse politics. The syndicalist pamphlet, The Miners’ Next Step, emerged in the context of industrial polarization in the South Wales Coalfield and just a few years after the religious revival of 1904–5. The young miner authors typified a communal enthusiasm for political and religious disputation. Their pamphlet was suspicious of both trade union leaders and the efficacy of the state. Commitment to local initiatives came with a polarized perception of class relations; its prescriptions for industrial strategy rejected conciliation. The historical record and the consequential historiography are not as syndromic as the authors suggest. One crucial issue concerns the increasing dominance of state-socialism during the short twentieth century. Individual life histories offer one route into this issue. Concemore Thomas (‘Charlie’) Cramp was a Sheffield railway guard and in the 1900s an enthusiastic member of Edward Carpenter’s circle. He was an active member of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants and from 1913 of the National Union of Railwaymen. Activism carried a constant risk of victimization by a viscerally anti-union employer. He became President (a lay office) of the NUR, and in 1919 was elected Industrial General Secretary in partnership with Jimmy Thomas. The duo dominated the centralized union. They were effective practitioners of conciliation with railway companies and thorough backers of an increasingly statist Labour Party. When Carpenter died in 1929, Cramp sent a wreath from the NUR and subsequently contributed an appreciation of Carpenter to a memorial volume. How far these actions were anything more than a genuflection to an ethical past from a bureaucratic present is unclear. Cramp’s political journey was a common one shaped in his case by experience of the wartime state, the advent of rule-governed industrial relations and the expectation and subsequently reality of a Labour Government. This challenging volume is hampered by a tendency to dichotomize both in its understanding of the past and in its portrayal of much historical writing. The series editors, Stefan Berger and Holger Nehring, query whether instead of ‘alternatives’—state-socialist and pluralist, the record, and therefore the moral for a time of political uncertainty, should be viewed as one of ‘linkages, overlaps and ambiguities’. Such a nuanced assessment offers a valuable characterization of a significant book. © The Author . Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: email@example.com
Twentieth Century British History – Oxford University Press
Published: Oct 5, 2017
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