Keeping Left (1950)


The Keep Left group was formed in January 1947 by left-wing backbench Labour MPs grouped around the New Statesman journal. Their first pamphlet, Keep Left, was published in May 1947, and edited by Richard Crossman, Michael Foot and Ian Mikardo, but signed by 12 other MPs. In the preface, it stated that “we are convinced that the Movement is in the mood for plain speaking. Our ‘red paper’ tries to carry on from where the government White Papers left off”. The paper concluded with a 20-point programme covering economic policy, manpower management and industrial democracy and international policy with a focus on Europe, relations with the USSR, the Middle East and African decolonisation.

In 1950, a second pamphlet was published, Keeping Left, reflecting on five years of Labour government. This was signed by 12 MPs, including Crossman and Mikardo, Richard Acland and Barbara Castle. The action programme now had 30 points: 10 on foreign policy and defence; six on “towards the world fair deal”, and 14 on “what to do at home”, concluding with the case for a “more vital democracy” taken from the 1943 Common Wealth manifesto, no doubt reflecting Richard Acland’s membership of the Keep Left group.

The fullest study of Keep Left and other left pressure groups under the 1946-51 Governments is Jonathan Scheer’s 1988 study Labour’s Conscience, which covers the development of the Bevanite left into the 1950s and the role of Tribune. Victory for Socialism and the hard-left Socialist Fellowship is covered in Mark Jenkins’ 1979 Bevanism: Labour’s High Tide. A study of the Tribune Group by N H Twitchell was published in 1988.

“The lesson for the next five years is clear. Socialism cannot be achieved from the top by mere legislation. There will be many more Bills to pass, but, by and large, the Government already possesses on paper most of the powers it requires to create the framework for a socialist community. The next steps are: i) to make the paper powers effective powers for the planning of our mixed economy, and ii) to enlarge the freedom, and with it the responsibility, of the common man, so that he can participate more fully in the decisions which affect his life at work and at home. For socialism is a two-way process. It does not, like communism, mean transferring the economic power of the all-powerful capitalist to an all-powerful Party, and so creating full employment and fair shares by direction and decree. It means distributing economic power between three groups: i) the democratic representatives in Parliament and on the local authorities; ii) enlightened management; and iii) the workers themselves. That is why, as we shall see, Socialism demands great changes in the outlook not only of the managerial class, but of the Trades Unions and the Co-operative Movement. The dirty clothes of capitalism are unsuitable for a socialist community. Not only management, but the labour movement itself, must be transformed to fulfil their new roles.”

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