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Tony Crosland: He argued that education policy should deliver both social cohesion and social mobility (©Central Press/Getty Images)


Little Jeremy and his Struggle against the Moderates
is the latest episode in a repetitive three-act drama which opened in the mid-1950s. Many will surely remember the Second Act, set in the ’70s and ’80s. It involved — age cannot wither — the same Corbyn, J. and many of his current comrades. Their youthful attempts to seize control of the Labour Party led both to Neil Kinnock’s belated clampdown on Militant and other extremist groups, and to the breakaway birth of the SDP. But you need to be my age (I’m knocking on 80, God help me) to have played even a walk-on part in Act One. That involved several years of intellectual and organisational battles which “revisionists” (as social democrats then called themselves), led by Hugh Gaitskell, Tony Crosland and Roy Jenkins fought against assorted Marxists, Bevanites and other traditionalists. Had capitalism really changed its spots, as we revisionists asserted? Do you achieve social equality by abolishing grammar schools? Did Britain need an upgraded independent nuclear deterrent? These were the issues round which battle was joined. Some things never change.

It was Crosland, a glamorous, apparently rather aristocratic, louche and vaguely bisexual Oxford economist-turned-politician, who produced the revisionists’ handbook, The Future of Socialism. Published 60 years ago, it is a hefty 540-page academic tome. Its powerful impact, though emphatically not its conclusions, can be compared with that of Thomas Piketty’s thumping great work Capital in the Twenty-First Century. When I was an earnest fifth-form grammar school boy, waiting to go up to Oxford to read PPE, Crosland’s tome was my bible. It provided me, and countless others, with the intellectual justification for our rejection of Marxism.

Surprisingly, there has been no serious attempt since then to write a revisionist New Testament. The Future of Socialism, which I had not opened since 1956, is all today’s Labour’s moderates have to guide them. So how well does Crosland’s manifesto stand up in 2016? Sadly — for Crosland became a friend as well as a mentor — although brave and still thought-provoking, it is often naive, excessively optimistic, or just plain wrong. Almost a third of the book is devoted to debunking Marxist economics. The message is that “traditional capitalism has been reformed and modified almost out of existence”. The collapse of capitalism isn’t going to happen, and a good thing too. As for nationalisation, it is not necessary to direct the new mixed economy. At the time, that needed saying very firmly indeed.

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