The industrial meaning of "gradualism": the Labour party and industry, 1918-1931
University of Exeter
Journal of British Studies
University of Chicago Press
In the period from 1918 until 1931, the British Labour party adhered to the precepts of "gradualism": incrementally and by degrees, the party would gain support and pass legislation in an inexorable progress toward the socialist millennium. For a while, it seemed that this strategy would carry all before it. Emerging from the First World War with a "socialist" commitment, it became the largest opposition party at the 1918 general election. In 1922 it became the clear opposition to the Conservatives, and Ramsay MacDonald was reelected leader after an eight-year break. A short-lived minority Labour government in 1924 was followed by heavy electoral defeat, but the party was able to form its second minority government in 1929. However, its credibility was destroyed by soaring unemployment, and the ministry collapsed in the summer of 1931 after failing to agree on public expenditure cuts. MacDonald and the chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Snowden, led a small Labour cohort into a "National" government, which went on to crush Labour at the polls that October. Detailed work on this complex period of Labour's history is hard to find, however. Little work has been done on policy: in particular, it is surprising that, given the party's symbiotic link with trade unionism and the central role of industry in Labour leaders' conception of the transformation to socialism, so little attention has been paid to the party's industrial policy in this period.
35 (1), pp. 84-113