Labour Party history

Editorials - February 1995

Editorial comments on Blair's "modernisation" project in the Labour Party and the peace process in Northern Ireland. Click here to download article as pdf. Article continues on page 5.

Saklatvala and the Indian workers

Above: 25 of the accused in the Meerut conspiracy case. This is part five of a series. For the other articles, see here. “Mr Saklatvala… has great influence in India. Irrespective of his Communist views, the Indian people are proud of him… They, a subject race… are naturally proud of the courage with which Saklatvala, one of themselves, denounces the British domination of India in unmeasured terms in the very House of Commons itself. He is a rebel by proxy for them all… When he speaks to them, therefore, they listen, and he speaks to them frequently.” - “India’s lost faith in Labour”...

The "MP for India"

This is part four of a series. For the other articles, see here. "I pay homage to the British spirit of hypocritical statesmanship... We are debating here as if the [viciously repressive] Bengal ordinances were never promulgated, as if the shooting of Bombay operatives during the cotton strike had never taken place, as if a great strike of thousands of railway workers is not even now going on in the Punjab, with men starving … as if a great controversy is not raging, not only with the people of India but with people all over the world, whether British Imperialism, whatever its past history, is...

A tribune of the working class

This is part three of a series. For the other articles, see here. In rapidly shifting post-war conditions, as Labour displaced the Liberals as Britain’s second party, there were three general elections in 1922-24. Chosen as the standard-bearer of a strong and radical local labour movement, Indian revolutionary socialist Shapurji Saklatvala was elected Labour MP for Battersea North in 1922; narrowly lost it to his right-wing Liberal opponent in 1923; and won it back in 1924, as a Communist candidate with local Labour backing. Saklatvala was Labour’s first “BAME” MP, but not the first MP with...

"Battersea versus the British Empire"

This is part two of a series. For the other articles, see here. In 1921, aged 47, after 16 years in the UK, Shapurji Saklatvala was selected as Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for Battersea North. This came shortly after his very public decision to leave the Independent Labour Party and join the Communist Party of Great Britain. He would become both Labour's first "BAME" MP and one of Britain's first avowedly revolutionary socialist MPs. How did these things fit together? Communists and Labour Saklatvala had become active in the London Labour Party in 1918, through the ILP (which was...

Shapurji Saklatvala: Labour's first "BAME" MP

This is part one of a series. For the other articles, see here. In 1922, sixty-five years before before Diane Abbott and three other Labour MPs of colour entered Parliament, Indian-born Shapurji Saklatvala was elected MP for Battersea North in South West London. Like some other Labour candidates more recently, Saklatvala was a bourgeois figure standing in a working-class constituency which was not his home. There the similarity ends. The first “BAME” Labour MP was a revolutionary socialist who attacked Ramsay MacDonald for failing to oppose British colonialism and Gandhi for failing to...

Remembering 1945

75 years ago, on 26 July 1945, Britain’s first-ever majority Labour government took office. David Booth remembers. My father, Albert, was born in 1897 in Hoxton, east London. His father had never been to school. He worked at the Army and Navy stores making ladies’ shoes. There were six children, two of whom died in infancy – average for the time – the youngest taking their mother with her. So Grandad worked shorter daytime hours and, after the kids were in bed, sorted mail at Mount Pleasant sorting office all night. The working class was therefore our class and the Labour Party our party...

The birth of the Labour Party and the right to strike

In Solidarity 539 (18 March), I told the story of Labour’s rise and drew lessons for rebuilding independent working-class politics – as opposed to Lib-Lab-type “progressive” politics – today. One aspect I’d like to explore further: how in its first years Labour grew out of, built and led a successful fight to overturn legal anti-strike restrictions and assert workers’ right to strike. That also has lessons for today. Over the second half of the 19th century, trade unions carved out significant space for organising and industrial action. Legal restrictions on the right to strike were much...

"Lib-Lab" is a way backwards, not forwards

Some, even on Labour’s left, advocate electoral alliances or coalitions between Labour and non-labour movement “progressive” parties — mostly, in practical terms, meaning the SNP and the Lib Dems. From a class-struggle, socialist point of view, there are many arguments to be made against such “progressive alliances”. Here I try to draw some lessons from Labour’s history, focusing on alliances with the Liberals. Debating “progressive alliances” with Janine Booth from Workers’ Liberty at the 2019 Labour conference fringe event The World Transformed, left Labour MP Clive Lewis cited the 1906 Lib...

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