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  • Alternatives to State-Socialism in Britain: Other Worlds of Labour in the Twentieth Century ed. by Peter Ackers and Alastair J. Reid
  • Christopher Frank
Alternatives to State-Socialism in Britain: Other Worlds of Labour in the Twentieth Century
Peter Ackers and Alastair J. Reid, eds.
Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016
xvii + 354 pp., $119.99 (cloth); $44.99 (paper); $34.99 (e-book)

The contributors to Alternatives to State-Socialism in Britain, edited by Peter Ackers and Alastair J. Reid, offer a corrective to what they perceive as the Marxist-dominated narrative of labor history in Britain. The editors argue that in an effort to tell a story of progress from capitalism toward the goal of socialism, by which Marxist historians mean "state ownership and planning of all economic life," (2) many aspects of working-class life in Britain have been exaggerated while others have been diminished, omitted, or ignored. For much of the twentieth century the traditions of pluralism in working-class life have been distorted or stunted by the Labour Party, academia, and the Left because of the emphasis in these quarters on the goal of state socialism and control of production. The editors propose that the time is right for a reevaluation, because the "state-socialist dream is now dead and gone" (2). Together, the essays in this volume are directed at challenging the dominant state-socialist interpretation of labor history, exploring an expanded range of institutions and ideas involved in working-class organization, and raising historical questions of change and continuity across working-class lives. The collection's twelve essays, which roughly cover the period between 1918 and 1979, are organized into three sections: "Other Forms of Association," "Other Leaders," and "Other Intellectuals."

The essays in part 1 offer a sample of the rich variety of working-class associational life and approaches to social change in the twentieth century. Richard Whiting examines the role trade unions played between the 1960s and 1980s as voluntary organizations that mediated and protected individuals from the power of governments and employers. They were also places where tensions arose between the rights of the individual and the interests of the group, tensions that were exposed particularly by the closed shop, which the government of Margaret Thatcher opportunistically attacked upon taking office. Rachael Vorberg-Rugh and Angela Whitecross trace the development of the Co-operative Party and its relationship with the Labour Party up to 1951. Although these two parties entered into an electoral alliance in 1927, the Co-operative Party remained much less focused on the state as the means of achieving social change and more doubtful about the Labour Party's program of nationalizations. Ruth Davison describes the voluntary activities of working-class women who built a variety of democratic and accountable local welfare structures for their communities during the interwar years. Nineteenth-century labor historians have long been aware of the profound influence of Protestant nonconformist religion on the movement. Andy Vale shows that historians have greatly exaggerated the supposed decline of nonconformity in the twentieth century and that [End Page 103] church-sponsored institutions continued to be vital and influential in adult education, working-class leisure, and youth activities.

Part 2 explores the contributions of three men who fit imperfectly with the prevailing master narrative of labor history. John Kimberly illuminates the efforts of progressive employer Edward Cadbury, who co-authored Women's Work and Wages and Sweating and was instrumental in antisweatshop campaigns and the eventual creation of the Trades Board Act of 1909. James Moher contributes to the ongoing reassessment of the legacy of Trades Union Congress leader Walter Citrine, who was antifascist, anticommunist, and, where possible, favored a cooperative relationship with employers. Calum Aikman follows the journey of Frank Chapple, general secretary of the Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunications, and Plumbing Union, from communist to anticommunist union modernizer.

Part 3 explores the ideas of three intellectuals who searched for alternatives to state socialism. David Goodway examines G. D. H. Cole's explorations of guild socialism, whereby industry would be controlled by national guilds rather than the state. Stephen Meredith's contribution to the collection examines the political career of Michael Young, author of the Labour Party...


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