New Labour and Planning: From New Right to New Left - Semantic Scholar
Moreover, according to James Weinstein, another analyst of corporate liberalism and an important editor of Studies on the Left , the unions were also in on the deal, as a kind of junior partner to the federal government, big business, and banking. But in fact, as Sklar later pointed out, labor was too weak in the early twentieth century to be much of a partner to capital and the state. Leftists like Kolko, Weinstein, and Sklar emerged at exactly the moment when a huge cohort of postwar college students was chafing at the quiescence of the Eisenhower compromise with the New Deal order.
The Triumph of Conservatism is a great example of a scholar, his subject, and his times harmonically converging. In the early and mids, the New Left, holding aloft the Port Huron Statement, its signature rejection of every major American institution, concluded that the liberal state had shamed America, and Kolko and Weinstein were there to explain that liberalism was never what it was cracked up to be. Liberalism is not a neutral system of political thought, but an ideology that sustains and strengthens the existing power structure.
During the late s, every major American institution seemed up for grabs, subject to the withering criticism of Black Power and anti-war student activists and their allies among junior faculty. New Left historians not only challenged the reigning methods and interpretations within American historical scholarship; they attempted a takeover of the profession itself. The two-pronged effort consisted of proposing a resolution condemning U. Lynd was an activist, an intellectual historian of colonial and early America, and a teacher who sought to bring his activism and his revisionist scholarship to the classroom.
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While there, Lynd accurately accused the U. Yale fired Lynd in , and he was unable to get a job anywhere else for political reasons. Later, he was to become a rank-and-file labor lawyer.
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But in , then a scholar without an institution, he remained one of the most compelling historians of the New Left generation. While Lynd attempted a procedural challenge to the AHA, his colleague Jesse Lemisch made a powerful intellectual assault on the historical establishment. Like Lynd, Lemisch had also been let go from an elite academic post, in his case at the University of Chicago.
The paper had already been rejected by the two major journals in the field—and rejected with genuine shock that its author could possibly have imagined it might be published.
Just as some of the young New Left historians like Lynd feared, professionalization—the fear of losing a job in academia or the desire to enjoy the perks that came with holding one—would make such an attack on the most powerful scholars in the field by an aspiring junior faculty member unthinkable today. The establishment did not sit still in the face of these attacks. Genovese had himself often been linked to the New Left historical cohort; he was a former editor of Studies on the Left after the journal moved to New York in Hofstadter invested his behind-the-scenes reputational capital, while Genovese provided the public firepower.
Palmer, the establishment choice and eminent historian of the era of the French Revolution. The anti-war resolution was defeated and Lynd received just 28 percent of the vote. The AHA, in a procedural hedge against future left-wing rebellion, weakened the power of the business meeting going forward. Far more flamboyantly, Genovese opposed the New Left faction with a characteristically subtle argument that he expressed in a characteristically unsubtle way. Unlike Hofstadter, Genovese did not want, precisely, for universities to be apolitical.
For similar reasons, Genovese, who had famously welcomed a Viet Cong victory just four years earlier, fought against an institutional resolution opposing the war. In this academic chapter in the history of intra-left disputes, Lynd and his rebellious colleagues played the role of the abolitionists demanding freedom now, and Genovese, in turn, displayed the rage against Lynd and his attempted takeover of the AHA that Lenin and Trotsky had for the rebellious Kronstadt sailors in the wake of the Russian Revolution.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the funeral of New Left historiography: Soon enough, leftist and feminist historians took over the field, particularly in American history. In , even William Appleman Williams, the great Wisconsin mentor to New Leftist historians whom conservative historians frequently disparaged, assumed the same office. The writing of history has its own history. Today, historians of the left are more interested in the study of the rise of modern American conservatism, especially its mobilization at the state and local level.
Libertarians just wish to leave private economic power to its own devices but without statist favoritism. Libertarians, by contrast, want to boost capitalism and merely destroy the political-statist link to it. Throughout his career, Kolko, unlike erstwhile comrades like Genovese, Sklar, and Radosh, remained a committed leftist and believed that libertarians misused his work for their own ideological purposes. There is a variation of the libertarian critique of state-capital collusion—which echoes the critiques made by Kolko and Weinstein—that is expressed among leftists critical of the Obama Administration.
Critics of the Affordable Care Act ACA , for example, made much of the fact that the Obama Administration had cut deals with the insurance and pharmaceutical industries that would provide those sectors with billions of dollars from newly insured patients. And it was true.
The new left economics: how a network of thinkers is transforming capitalism
Somehow lost in this outbreak of the obvious was the fact that while an integrated single payer or nonprofit health insurance as most advanced countries have was far preferable, this second-best choice benefited not only the companies, but also millions of poor and working-class Americans. They would now have health insurance that might spare them great medical and economic anxieties that they would otherwise never have—just as most of the critics, left and right, already had for themselves, and, if under 65, also obtained from private insurers.
So, in an oddly symbiotic way, politics derived from The Triumph of Conservatism continue to influence debates a century after the period it examined and a half-century after its publication. Yet the way a historian of the left might frame a scholarly inquiry today is often different from the way Kolko and his colleagues looked at the world during the s.
The reforms of the Progressive Era and the New Deal, which seemed so inadequate to Kolko and others when compared to a robust socialist challenge to capitalism, appear more impressive when compared instead to either the revanchist hysteria of the modern conservative movement or, for example, the actually existing authoritarian alternatives from both right and left during the New Deal.
Plutocrats who have compared contemporary America to Nazi Germany are not interested in cleverly co-opting barely breathing labor unions and the liberal left with modest reforms. They want to crush these forces. The incremental improvement of the ACA is, to them, a giant signpost on the highway to a collectivist state. Recall that Kolko had argued the opposite: that the federal government was undercutting progressive state governments. The most interesting recent scholarship about the Progressive Era—from, among others, Daniel Rodgers, Michael McGerr, and Elizabeth Sanders—depicts not the hermetically sealed elitist deal-making that Kolko describes, but an energized, diffuse reform movement, spanning large segments of the working class, farmers, journalists, academics, other professionals, and both major parties.
New Left historians, buoyed by the movements of their own time, judged American capitalism compared to a radical or socialist alternative that, in their telling, might have been realized. Yet when Upton Sinclair the very same guy who precipitated the reform of meatpacking nearly 30 years earlier ran in as the Democratic nominee for governor of California on a genuinely radical program of state seizure of unused factories and farmlands on behalf of the unemployed, he was badly defeated—yes, in part because every business interest in the state, from agriculture to Hollywood, joined forces to beat him while FDR sat on his hands.
But such fanatical conservative opposition was to be expected. The point is that the American left of the s—the left that was significantly farther left than FDR or even the CIO—was not nearly popular and powerful enough to overcome this.
A different emphasis—born in a different time, one of mostly quiescence on the left, trench warfare for limited reforms by liberals, and ethno-nationalist rage on the right—yields a more measured historical analysis. But it is more accurate to observe that FDR indeed battled the Southern segregationist bloc, and lost. Rauchway and Katznelson situate the New Deal in relationship to the actual totalitarian and authoritarian responses to the Depression and political unrest in Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union.
And remember the effort to outlaw child labor during the Progressive Era? The Fair Labor Standards Act of , the last great legislative achievement of the New Deal, finally accomplished that. Moreover, the New Left historians, so focused on nineteenth-century working-class history, failed to explain how the militant industrial worker upsurges of the s could have resulted from the defeat of the nineteenth-century movements.
It took latter-day labor historians like Lizabeth Cohen in Making a New Deal to describe the congealing of a multi-ethnic and racial albeit riven by racism industrial working class brought together in part by the promise of America contained in the nascent popular culture of radio and movies. Thus, in the same way that the New Left historians contested the interpretations of the consensus and Progressive historians before them, so have subsequent generations of American historians elaborated, synthesized, and revised the work of Kolko, Weinstein, Gutman, and others.
Australia’s Accord, the Labour Movement and the Neoliberal Project
This recent work is more sophisticated both from the top down and the bottom up. African-American public intellectuals and political writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Jamelle Bouie, and Melissa Harris-Perry herself a political scientist teaching at Wake Forest have drawn deeply upon the work of contemporary American historians and other academics. Coates has insisted that no informed political writer can afford not to rely on this work, and it has buttressed his own analysis of American history, the evolution of white supremacy, and the case for reparations to black Americans.
A long-time Member of Parliament, Tony Benn was for many years the most prominent politician of the Labour left , whose opposition to neoliberalism, globalization, and militarism brought him international recognition. Like Corbyn , Benn was regularly pilloried in the media as an extremist whose policies were unrealistic. Focused on popular rather than parliamentary sovereignty, Benn championed new models of nationalization that would set up non-bureaucratic enterprises accountable both to consumers and workers; proposed the taxation of financial interests in order to fund social services; and became the spokesperson for the movement for greater democracy within the Labour Party.
In , with Jeremy Corbyn leading the Labour Party, each of these issues is of pressing concern to the movement that has sustained him — a mark of the enduring legacy of Bennism. Benn was an unlikely spokesman for socialist ideas. Born Anthony Wedgwood Benn, he was to have become Viscount Stansgate after the death of his father, who had been made a Labour peer by Churchill. But after a long campaign against elevation to the House of Lords, which brought him up against both the ruling class and the Labour establishment, Benn was able to renounce his peerage and participated in the Labour government.
He did not start off his political career as a radical socialist. As a new MP in the s Benn was a Gaitskell supporter, with a Labourist faith in nationalized industries and centralized planning. He was, however, a persistent challenger of Tory foreign policy in support of the postwar colonial independence movement, expressing internationalist attitudes common among earlier generations of radical democrats. His fight to divest himself of his peerage was in line with the cultural and social changes of the s: the decline of deference, the rise of an individualism that undermined traditional loyalties.
The Labour Party had grown out of touch with an era of turbulent student protests of the period, the civil rights movements in the US and Northern Ireland, the May general strike in France, and the continuing Vietnam War. At the same time there was a growing strike movement that had surged out of the control of union officials.
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In an effort to overcome the gulf he perceived between the party and those who had voted for it, Tony Benn called for workers to be directly involved in decisions that affected their lives:. Much of the industrial unrest — especially in unofficial strikes — stems from worker resentment and their sense of exclusion from the decision-making process. We are moving rapidly towards a situation where the pressure for the redistribution of political power will have to be faced as a major political issue. His analysis of the failure of consensus politics and its connection to the changes technology was making in society enabled him to articulate the concerns of an embryonic new left within the party seeking to answer the problems of the decline of the British economy and the failures of the Labour government.
He was inspired by the resistance of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders workers to the threatened closure of the yards in , and in turn supported their campaign and occupation. The manifesto proposed to re-industrialize Britain through import controls, planning agreements between the state and leading companies to govern investment, and a national enterprise board NEB that would act as a state holding company and a means of public investment in profitable industries. Resolutions adopted by the party conference and what the parliamentary leadership would support diverged sharply.
The Left aimed for a mass campaign to mobilize public approval for the policy, while the leadership wanted to first water it down and then to ignore it.
Wilson immediately disavowed the proposal for the nationalization of twenty-five major companies, although even when this was dropped the manifesto was more radical than the Right could stomach. This encouragement from within the government led to groups of trade unionists coming forward with plans for reorganization of production, such as the famous Lucas Plan.
The membership needed to believe there was a chance of success, only then would they support radical proposals like the alternative Plan. This explains why in the first year and a half of the last Labour government — while Tony Benn and Eric Heffer were in the Department of Industry — numerous groups of workers came forward with proposals, usually in response to an immediate crisis. Benn sought to channel union militancy into a political struggle for greater power in industry and the state. However, Wilson and the cabinet immediately diluted the proposals, making planning agreements voluntary and, in the event, ineffective.
His concern to sustain the democratic nature of parliamentary rule motivated him to establish another constitutional precedent by pressing for a referendum on the Market. Now a dissenting minister in the government, he supported wholeheartedly the rank-and-file campaign for democracy within the Labour party, as a strategic goal important in the ultimate aim of democratizing the British state. He used his ministerial position as far as possible to campaign on this issue — the Freedom of Information Act is part of his legacy.