Socialist Union: Socialism: a New Statement of Principles (1952)


Socialist Union was established in 1951 by contributors to the Socialist Commentary journal, which had been edited by Rita Hinden and other ‘reformist’ Labour Party members since 1946. The group had previously operated under the name ‘Socialist Vanguard’, having been initiated by a group of socialist exiles from Germany in the early 1930s. Hinden was a Jewish South African and Zionist who, having completed a thesis on the colonisation of Palestine, moved to London to become secretary of the Fabian Colonial Bureau in 1940, working closely with Arthur Creech Jones, its chair, who was to become colonial minister in 1945. Hinden contributed to a large number of pamphlets and books on colonial policy, mainly focusing on the case for African decolonisation.

In 1950, Hinden left the Fabian Colonial Bureau to focus on the role of editor of Socialist Commentary. The chairman of both Socialist Union and Socialist Commentary was the industrial relations academic, Allan Flanders, who had been a member of the Socialist Vanguard group before the war. The journal and organisation were revisionist in the sense that they considered Marxist concepts of class struggle outdated, argued for a new social democratic response to the post-war world and increasing affluence, especially within the middle classes, and supported political pluralism and a mixed economy. The group was in effect proto-Gaitskellite (Hugh Gaitskell was treasurer of the friends of Socialist commentary) and picked up many of the concepts from the pre-war works of Evan Durbin, Douglas Jay and Hugh Dalton, many of which were to reappear in Crosland’s Future of Socialism to be published in 1956. The group also reflected the Christian ethical tradition of R H Tawney, and Hinden edited Tawney’s posthumous essays, published as The Radical Tradition in 1964. The Socialist Commentary editorial board included two MPs: Fred Mulley and Kenneth Younger. The Socialist Union group involved a number of MPs including Alf Robens (later chairman of the National Coal Board), Jim Griffiths (deputy Labour Party leader) and Philip Noel-Baker. The group published three pamphlets: The Statement of Principle in 1952, Socialism and Foreign Policy in 1953 and Twentieth Century Socialism, edited by Hinden and Flanders, in 1956. All publications were issued on behalf of the group and contributors were not named. The group does not seem to have survived beyond 1956.

“1. The socialist goal is a society so organised as to provide each one of its members with an equal opportunity for the development and expression of personality. This is the right of everyone, and institutions should be shaped accordingly. But the human personality will not find its full expression unless men are able to live in freedom and fellowship, that is in the exercise of responsibility and in the spirit of service. These are ideals which give value to human existence and the degree to which they are expressed will determine the quality of the society we hope to build.

2. This conception of society has from the start been the ethical inspiration of the socialist movement, the deeper reason for its opposition to the exploitation of man by man. It is, of course, a conception of an ideal society which will never be wholly attained. But providing we make it our conscious goal and are not content to regard its coming as inevitable, we can advance towards it. To achieve this advance is the essence of socialist action.

3. Socialism, in this sense, cannot be expressed in any single pattern of institutions; nor does its realisation depend on any one line of political strategy. It does, however, involve a continuous struggle in various ways to change the class structure of society and the power relationships on which the class structure rests. In this struggle the labour movement, composed mainly of the organisations of the under-privileged classes, is the natural vehicle.”

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