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Critically Assess the Political Philosophy of Socialism and Its Evolution Within the British Labour Party During the Interwar Period, 1919-1939

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Critically assess the Political Philosophy of Socialism and it's evolution within the British labour party during the interwar period, 1919-1939

It was Karl Marx (1818-1883) who said:

Ð''Socialism moves us to take a definite position against a structure of society in which the unjust division of wealth contradicts basic decency' .

Marx, often founded as the father of modern day socialism, saw a huge injustice in the division of wealth between the proletariat (working class/ruled class) and Bourgeoisie (middle class/capitalist/ruling class). The communist manifesto of 1848, written by Marx and his colleague Frederick Engels (1820-1895) cited guidelines towards the emancipation of the proletariat through non-violent means, i.e. through the formation of a politicised party of socialists gathered by means of a workers union, uniting to form the creation of a workers party.

Socialist sceptics such as Edward F. Adams, have accused Marx of creating theories such as that of surplus value purely to reinforce his argument (and the general popular feeling of his time) that socialism is scientifically the better political philosophy:

Ð''Socialism is not based upon the Marxian theory of value, but the Marxian theory of value was evolved in an endeavour to fix a scientific basis for a popular movement already fully under way. Socialism is therefore not based on reason but emotion; not on reflection but desire; it is not scientific, but popular.'

Present day socialist ideology has split itself into two broad camps. The Communist approach to socialism, as adopted by Stalinist Russia, believed socialism could only be achieved through violent revolution and totalitarian dictatorship. Social Democracy sought to achieve socialism by non-violent means and turns it's back on dictatorship. The late 1970's saw the high point for communism. Almost two thirds of the worlds population lived in communist areas, these included the former Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, China; the south-east Asian nations of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam; the African nations of Angola and Mozambique; and the Latin American nations of Cuba and Nicaragua.

Today only China, North Korea and Cuba practice under a communist rule. It is therefore appropriate to say the communist approach to achieving socialism has proven somewhat unsuccessful. Communist countries tend to be characterised by stagnation and a lack of innovation, this can be attributed directly to the public ownership and state control over factors of production (land, labour and capital). Businesses have little competition and often act as a monopoly in a communist country. Industry only has the task of producing a quota and cannot go out of business as they are government funded; meaning no incentive to produce goods to a high standard or keep costs down. This gives berth to inefficiency. Employment is often secure in a communist country as policies towards international trade and foreign competition are minimal as governments seek self-sufficiency. If an employee is comfortable, he/she is usually lazy; this too leads to a counter-productive output. As communist countries pursue self-sufficiency, they do not benefit from new technology products innovated abroad meaning economic growth is stunted and lags behind that of a capitalist competitor. The collapse of soviet Russia in the mid 1990's was the most recent, major political economic reform. The USSR is now a collection of fifteen republics, most of which are structured as democracies.

Social Democracy is also in retreat, although not as extensively as communism. The most prominent social democratic countries over the past twenty years have been Great Britain, France, Germany, Norway, Spain and Sweden. Consistent with Marxist roots, social democratic parties (when they have been in power) have nationalised industries to be run for the "public good rather than private profit". In the UK for example, until the early 1990's state-owned companies had the monopoly in many industries such as telecommunications (British Telecom), Gas (British Gas) and Railway (British Rail). As this led to great inefficiency, the Conservative government decided to privatise these industries. Since 1997 Labour have been back in power and supported this move of privatisation on the grounds that business is more productive, output is greater, costs have dramatically fallen for the consumer and government spending has reduced, freeing up capital for more needy alternatives.

Socialism can also be opposed on the grounds that it caters for the preservation of the weak where in a capitalist society they would be killed off naturally by their inability to survive. Edward F. Adams states:

Ð''There is implied in all socialistic writing the doctrine that organised man can override and as implied to himself, repel the fundamental law of nature, that no species can endure except by the production of more individuals than can be supported, of whom the weakest must die with the corollary of misery before death. Competitive society tends to the death of the weakest, socialistic society would tend to the preservation of the weak.'

As morbid as this perspective is, it bares relevancy when considering the prospect that population growth + diminishing marginal returns = mass starvation. Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) cited:

Ð''The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man. Population when unchecked increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will show the immensity of the first power in comparison with the second.'

In theory socialism would have profound effects on world food output if it were to become the dominant political philosophy in the twenty first century.

Before the outbreak of war in 1914, socialism within the labour party was mainly based on affiliations through the trade unions, numbering nearly two million and socialist societies numbering some 30,000-40,000 members. In 1918 the trade unions were in a much stronger position than before the war. The Dilution of labour in 1916 (allowing unskilled men and women to take on jobs previously done by skilled men and women) did much to enhance the status of the unions, creating a sense of Ð''working together' for the war effort. An increase of union membership from 4,150,000 in 1914 to 6,530,000 in 1918 gave the unions a sense of confidence to press for increased wages and better conditions. In response to the increasing power of the working classes,

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