The ideology of Labourism and Britain's withdrawal from East of Suez

Williams, Geoffrey Lee (1978). The ideology of Labourism and Britain's withdrawal from East of Suez. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis seeks to examine the ideology of the Labour Party in relation to the Party's attitude towards Britain's role East of Suez since 1945. Both periods of office and opposition are examined in depth, although the major emphasis is on the period of office from October 1964 to June 1970. The ideology of Labourism is a synthesis of working-class politics and middle-class revisionism which became the basis of Labour's realpolitik in its foreign policy during and after the Second World War. Labour as a result of the influence of this ideology put nation before class. The leaders of the Labour movement aligned themselves - with a few notable exceptions - with all the national symbols of monarchy, judiciary and Parliament. They also identified themselves with the Commonwealth; an aspect central to this thesis because neither the utopian nor marxist left within the Labour Party found it expedient, or even moral, to fundamentally question the East of Suez role, until it was clear that it was inconsistent with Labour's ambitious social and economic programme. The imperial role was not at first rejected by the utopian and marxist left of the Party because it identified in the Commonwealth the basis of a possible neutralist foreign policy for Britain. When that proved a chimera the left repudiated the imperial role. The revisionist right and the Labourist centre regarded the East of Suez role as the basis of Britain's pretence to remain a great power. When that proved also a chimera the right repudiated the imperial role. This explains why the Labour leadership could embrace the imperial role with considerable enthusiasm and abandon it with alacrity when circumstances forced them to do so. Cultural Labourism and democratic socialist revisionism within the Labour Party became the dominant ideology of the Labour government but was not an ideology which encouraged a consistent attitude towards international politics. The myth that a Labour government meant a commitment to a socialist foreign policy- which can never be defined - even in principle, was however effectively destroyed. Labour in office indeed differed only from the Conservatives in the slight emphasis it occasionally gave to pursuing national policies which in the long-run - and perhaps therefore never - might assist in the re-structuring of the international system.

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