View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
23 September 2016

Is Labour socialist?

Does the Labour party represent the values of socialism?

By New Statesman

Is Labour socialist? Has it ever been? And does Jeremy Corbyn truly represent a change in its political direction?

These are all important questions to address as Corbyn allies and his detractors battle for their party’s soul.

“Socialism” was the most looked-up word in the online dictionary last year, so individuals like Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders who advocate socialist ideals are clearly playing on people’s minds. For the sake of ease, let’s take socialism essentially to mean collective or governmental ownership of the means of production and distribution of goods – although the definition has become slightly muddied in modern times. Read more about that here.

The Labour party has historically been known as a socialist party. Before its rose emblem (a common symbol of socialism and social democracy in political movements across Europe following World War II) was introduced in the Eighties, the party’s symbol was a red flag – a standard associated with communism and socialism since the French Revolution. The party and its leaders still sing The Red Flag at the end of its annual autumn party conference.

Plus, the party was born out of the trade union movement – heralded by the Manchester Guardian in 1918 as “the Birth of a Socialist Party” – the priorities of which often aligned with the tenets of socialism, regarding workers’ rights and redistribution of wealth. And many key trade union figures over the years have been supportive of the idea of an international workers’ movement.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

The Labour party has also in the past implemented broadly socialist policies: the welfare state, National Health Service, nationalising key industries, progressive income tax policy, minimum wage, equality legislation.

All those things suggest it has in the past been a party with socialist values. But it has never advocated or implemented an economy-wide move towards common ownership of the means of production. And it has always taken the parliamentary route to reform rather than a revolutionary route to socialism.

Also, its electoral manifestos had not contained the word “socialism” since 1992, before Corbyn and his supporters started using the term a bit more (though he and his allies in Parliament call themselves “democratic socialists”).

Before 1995, Clause IV of the Labour constitution entrenched its socialist values:

“To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”

But then Tony Blair mooted a replacement when he became leader, which was agreed upon at a special conference in Easter 1995 after a debate:

“The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.”

So now, the Labour party is less socialist. “Social democrats” are usually how more centrist left wing politicians in western democracies are described – and how most Labour MPs would identify. But Corbyn and his allies often use the description: “democratic socialist”.

Content from our partners
Future proofing the NHS
Where do we get the money to fix the world's biggest problems? – with ONE
Labour's health reforms can put patients first

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU