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Raymond Challinor

Sects Life

(Autumn 1965)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.22, Autumn 1965, pp.28-29.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Origins of the Labour Party
Henry Pelling
Oxford, 35s

The re-publication of Henry Pelling’s work is a welcome event. Since its first appearance in 1954, a veritable industry has grown up around the study of Labour history. Nevertheless, his book remains an important contribution, well worth reading for anyone wishing to gain an insight into how the Labour Party came into being.

It is possible, of course, to question Pelling’s analysis. In my opinion, he places too much emphasis on the role of the small socialist sects, giving insufficient consideration to the dynamic factors that led the working class as a whole to take the plunge and form its own party, independent of the Tories and Liberals. For, right from its inception, the Labour Party has primarily been the political wing of the trade-union movement; within its ranks, socialists have remained a permanent minority, only exercising a fleeting influence on policy decisions. It was Britain’s diminishing importance in the world, the size and economic position of the working class that helped to wrench the proletariat away from the Liberals’ apron-strings.

Even so, let me recommend Pelling’s book: eminently readable, a work of considerable scholarship, it is one that all serious socialists should read.

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Last updated: 12.5.2008