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Must Labour Lose? Revisionism and the ‘Affluent Worker’

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Socialists’ understanding of affluence was not predetermined. Its extent, meaning and implications for socialism were hotly contested. Most viewed it from an ethical perspective and were hostile on the grounds that affluence was morally and culturally corrupt. Enmity also centred on the perception that affluence was undermining the left’s sociological base in working-class communities and consciousness. Believing affluence to have been bought on credit and transitory, based on a short-term boom, the CPGB and Labour left’ saw little reality or economic achievement to it. Labour revisionists and the New Left used an ethical framework to propose ways of building upon affluence rather than opposing it. Revisionism believed it a condition with unrealized socialist potential. As Fabians and social democrats had long done, they believed socialism would evolve from capitalism. And affluence — since it stood as evidence of economic dynamism and it was hoped the relief of material need might attune people to ethical and cultural goals — affirmed this perspective. Revisionism, then, and the figure of the ‘affluent worker’, can be recognized as a quite traditional socialist mode of thought. What was novel about Crosland, as Inglis suggests, was that he saw, as few in the labour movement could, the candid delight with which people, the people, enjoyed their new leisure, their new comforts and domestic toys.’1


  • Political Culture
  • Full Employment
  • Labour Movement
  • Public Ownership
  • Labour Party

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  1. New Statesman, 2 Jan. 1960. Bevan, Labour Party Annual Conference Report (1959) (LPACR), pp. 151–5. M. Jones, ‘The Man From the Labour’, New Left Review 1 (1960), p. 17.

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  2. Tribune, 16 Oct. 1959. E. P. Thompson, ‘A Psessay in Ephology’, New Reasoner 10 (1959), p. 1.

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  3. M. Abrams and R. Rose, Must Labour Lose? (1960), p. 119. C. A. R. Crosland, Can Labour Win? (1960, Fabian Tract 324) and S. Lipset, Must Tories Always Triumph?’, Socialist Commentary (Nov. 1960). P. Anderson, ‘The Left in the Fifties’, New Left Review 29 (1965), p. 4.

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  4. Crosland, The Conservative Enemy, p. 119. Anderson, Left in the Fifties’, p. 6. Crosland’s initial verdict on Gaitskell, S. Crosland, Tony Crosland (1982), p. 113. T. Nairn, ‘Hugh Gaitskell’, New Left Review 25 (1964), pp. 63–8.

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© 2003 Lawrence Black

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Black, L. (2003). Must Labour Lose? Revisionism and the ‘Affluent Worker’. In: The Political Culture of the Left in Affluent Britain, 1951–64. Contemporary History in Context Series. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

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