The Conservative Enemy
by C.A.R. Crosland
Schocken Books, $4.95
The title of this book appears to be deliberately ambiguous. Ostensibly Mr. Crosland, as an ardent Labour Member of Parliament, means “the Conservative enemy,” upper case—i.e., the Tory Party. But in time one begins to feel that his criticism of the Tories, while not quite perfunctory, is primarily designed to validate his credentials as a socialist and thus to liberate him to deal with his main target—”the conservative enemy,” lower case. By this he means conservatism in social thought in general and in British left-wing socialism in particular. His essential plea in the end is to his own party, and his essential argument is that, if socialism is to survive in the modern world, it must undergo a process of modernization.
In Mr. Crosland’s hands, this process is quite devastating. The Conservative Enemy, a collection of magazine pieces, is less systematic than his earlier essay in reconstruction, The Future of Socialism; but it takes up effectively where the first book left off. One can understand the indignation of traditional socialists who wonder what is left of socialism when Mr. Crosland has finished. Thus classical socialism regarded public ownership of the means of production and distribution as the central issue. For Mr. Crosland, little could be less important. He condemns the “defeatist ‘Left-wing’ belief that nothing can be changed without a vast increase in public ownership.” What matters, in his view, is not owning the economy but controlling it; and control, he contends, can be achieved in a variety of ways without saddling government with the hopeless burden of detailed economic decision.
Nor does he regard economic power as the vital problem in a developed society. For years British socialists have urged nationalization in order to capture the “commanding heights” of the economy. But Mr. Crosland regards the “commanding heights of private privilege and social separatism” as “far more commanding than the steel or chemical industry.” The key to equality in England, as he sees it, lies, not in the nationalization of industry, but in the reform of education. “This privileged stratum of education, the exclusive preserve of the wealthier classes, socially and physically segregated from the state educational system, is the greatest single cause of stratification and class-consciousness in Britain.” The first task for British socialism therefore is “to secure a more equitable distribution of educational resources between different classes of the nation.”
Nor does he believe that the future of the Labour Party lies with the working class. The working class, he shows, is shrinking in Britain as in the United States. During the fifties, the number of wage earners declined by half a million while the number of middle-class workers increased by a million; and there is every reason to suppose that this tendency will accelerate. At the same time, the increase in the standard of living has eroded the old working-class psychology. As a consequence, “one can state dogmatically that if Labour continues to be thought of as an essentially proletarian and one-class …