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Anthony Crosland, a member of Harold Wilson's cabinet and the author of The Future of Socialism, was immensely influential in seeking to modernise the ideology of the Labour Party, to put opportunity and empowerment, the fairness of life chances and the sharing of social experiences at its centre in place of nationalisation. The party's belated redefinition guarantees a prominent role in its intellectual history to the revisionists' champion. Though Crosland wrote when economic growth could be taken for granted as the basis for social reform, his emphasis on fairness and community, on education and opportunity, continues to illuminate political debate in harder times.



1. Introduction

It all began so well, when in 1949 the young Oxford economist told the South Gloucestershire selection-meeting that socialism to him was about opportunity and outcome most of all: the ‘ultimate ideal of Soc[ialism] seems to me essentially a moral, & not a. material one. It is nothing to do with nationalisation of means of production, nothing to do with any one particular economic policy. It is something to do with a just and moral and equal society, in wh[ich] it’s no longer true that half the people live in cramped ugly houses and the other half in spacious beautiful ones, in wh[ich] half the people leave school at 15 to go into factories & the other half have all the advantages of Eton & Oxford.’1 Crosland’s socialism was equality and upgrading. Crosland’s future was empowerment and integration.

David Reisman

2. Crosland and Marx

The conflict between labour and capital is central to Marx’s economics. Property-owners greedy for surplus value confront a surplus proletariat with nothing but its labour-power to sell. The affluence of the few presupposes the deprivation of the many; the workers become the impoverished victims of ‘misery, oppression, slavery, degredation, exploitation’;1 and the end of systemic antagonisms can only come with the abolition of private capital itself. To Marx, in other words, capitalism means capital and socialism is impossible unless and until ‘the knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.’2 Capitalism to Marx means the private ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. Socialism to Marx means the transcendence of the particular and the socialisation of the claims. Socialism to Crosland does not.

David Reisman

3. Equality of Opportunity

The definition of socialism, Crosland warned, is a kaleidoscope of heterogeneities. Divided by their theories and separated by their solutions, different socialists have championed different ends and recommended different means. Different times, different places, different personalities, different ideologies - plurality means diversity to an extent that any single definition must necessarily fail to reflect: ‘There is therefore no point in searching the encyclopaedias for a definitive meaning; it has none, and never could.’1 Socialism is what socialists teach. Different socialists teach different things.

David Reisman

4. Equality of Outcome

Crosland wanted to see a ‘classless society’ in place of the ‘deep-seated class stratification’ that was, in his view, so powerful a cause of ‘social resentment’, so great an obstacle to ‘uninhibited mingling’.1 Expressing his regret that Britain despite the Attlee Government remained ‘the most class-ridden country in the world’,2 he set out in the contented ‘50s to design a socialist future in which the national unity of the spirit of Dunkirk could flourish even without the equalising randomness of the bombing and the evacuation. Crosland made much of the extent to which wartime conflict had fostered the sensation of sharing and belonging in place of the ‘feelings of envy and inferiority’3 that a less egalitarian environment is capable so easily of exciting. Taking the view that ‘the basic philosophy is the right one in peace as well as in war’,4 he put forward proposals for reform such as would make British society less divided by past privilege, more integrated by a nationhood that transcended class.

David Reisman

5. Growth into Socialism

Anthony Crosland, economist and revisionist, took the view ‘that growth is vital, and that its benefits will far outweigh its costs’.1 Not the least of those benefits was the socialist future. As a result of economic growth, the society becomes more open and the culture more homogeneous: ‘The lines of class division … are more blurred than they were a century ago’.2 As a result of economic growth, equalising reform becomes possible without the divisive antagonism of the zero-sum confrontation: ‘Rapid growth is an essential condition of any significant re-allocation of resources.’3 Growth is possible without socialism: examples are not difficult to find of privatising polities expanding without welfarist redistribution. Socialism, however, is not possible without growth: T do assert dogmatically that in a democracy low or zero growth wholly excludes the possibility.

David Reisman

6. Conclusion

It all began so well, when in 1949 the young Oxford economist told the South Gloucestershire selection-meeting that socialism to him was about opportunity and outcome most of all: ‘Socialism, as I see it, is a society in wh[ich] everyone starts equal with an equal chance, & there are no upper & lower classes. I’m quite clear in my own mind about what Soc[ialism] sh[ould] ultimately mean. It sh[ould] mean a state of affairs in which every single citizen has the chance to live the same sort of graceful, cultured & comfortable life that only the lucky few can live to-day: a life with beauty in it, with leisure in it, with art in it, the sort of life that William Morris wrote about & longed for: in which people can forget about all those miserable economic problems & concentrate on the things that really matter. That at any rate is my ultimate goal, & I believe we sh[ould] judge every issue on whether or not it gets us nearer to it.’1 The genuinely open road and the visibly classless culture were Crosland’s ultimate goal; equalisation through State intervention and upgrading through economic growth were Crosland’s proximate means - and the name of the package was to be socialism.

David Reisman


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