May Day Manifesto (1968)

Our History 87

The original draft of the manifesto was published in 1967, being revised for publication as a book by Penguin the following year. The original manifesto was produced by a working group of socialists associated with the New Left Review, who described themselves as “intellectual socialists working in universities, technical colleges, schools and research institutions”, with three editors: Edward Thompson, Stuart Hall and Raymond Williams. The revised version, building on extended discussion within a set of specialist working groups, was edited by Raymond Williams. The manifesto sought first to analyse social realities within the context of the “new international capitalism and a new kind of imperialism which are at the roots not only of the British economic crisis, but of the world political crisis and the realities and dangers of war”. The extracts below are taken from the section on ‘Two Meanings of Social Democracy’ and from the final section on ‘The Politics of the Manifesto’.

“It has always been argued that the critical choice, for a socialist, is between a programme of violent change – the capture of state power – and a programme of electoral change – the winning of a majority in parliament. Tactics, values, organisation seem to hang on that choice; the shape of a future society is prefigured by the road we choose… Socialists can no longer go on restricting their view of socialist advance to the achievement of more powerful Labour majorities in parliament. With no other political strategy but the winning of a parliamentary majority, it is as a movement, with its habitual forms of activity geared solely to the electoral process, acquiescing in the precise mechanisms which are intended to contain it… If the party becomes real, as a campaigning democratic institution, it is at once a focus of genuinely alternative power… It is not in the obsolete perspective of the choice between ‘revolution’ and ‘evolution’ but in the actual perspective of the choice between a political movement and an electoral machine, that we have to look, in Britain, at the situation and condition of the Labour Party.

“We believe that the Left should develop its own Socialist National Plan, moving from an increased solidity of defence to detailed developments and proposals… We reject consensus politics, but that necessary hardening must go along with a new flexibility, where the real opposition is already formed and forming. We look forward to making certain specific connections, in campaigns and in publications. We want to ask members of the major single-issue campaigns and of the existing organisations of the Labour movement to discuss with us and others the bearings of their own urgent work on the whole analysis we have offered… We want to connect with what is still strong in Britain: a democratic practice, a determined humanity, an active critical intelligence… What we are seeking to define is an active socialism of the immediately coming generation; an emerging political process rather than the formalities of a process that is already, as democratic practice, beginning to break up and disappear. We are looking to the political structure of the rest of the century, rather than to the form which now embody the past and confuse recognition of the present. This manifesto is a challenge, and it asks for a response.”

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