New Times (politics)

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New Times was a short-lived intellectual movement among leftists in Great Britain. It was centred on the Eurocommunist faction of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), and most of the intellectual groundwork for the movement was laid out in the latter party's official theoretical journal, Marxism Today.

History[edit]

Background[edit]

After the Soviet invasions of Hungary in 1956 and - especially - Czechoslovakia in 1968, many western Communists began to question their allegiance to the Soviet Union. There were many results of this - disillusioned communists sometimes swung to the left and joined Trotskyist parties. Others, led by Enrico Berlinguer's Italian Communist Party (PCI), stayed within the communist parties and developed their own critique. This would essentially lead to an expanded version of the "popular front" policies of the 1930s, with a number of CPs attempting to ingratiate themselves to the existing political establishment. The movement came to be known as Eurocommunism.

Eurocommunism in Britain[edit]

Whereas Eurocommunist factions in the French and Italian communist parties fairly successfully managed to impose their agenda on the party platforms, things were not so simple in other countries. In Britain, particularly, there were bitter struggles from the 1970s. The party became divided into 'Euros' and 'tankies' (so called for their support of Soviet interventions in Eastern Bloc countries).

A major coup for the Euros was obtaining control over Marxism Today. Martin Jacques obtained the editorship in 1977, and it began to run articles largely by prominent Euros. Today, he cites Eric Hobsbawm's 1978 article "Forward March Of Labour Halted?" as a turning point.[1] In the early 80s, the New Times idea began to coalesce. Alongside Jacques, Stuart Hall was highly influential. Articles were published in MT questioning the Left's opposition to consumerism, focus on material production and the industrial working class and approach to Margaret Thatcher — the term Thatcherism is largely attributed to Hall's work in MT, where he argued that she was not 'just another' Tory.

In 1988, New Times was belatedly named in MT's October issue. A special edition proclaimed that "Mass production, the mass consumer, the big city, big-brother state, the sprawling housing estate, and the nation-state are in decline: flexibility, diversity, differentiation, mobility, communication, decentralisation and internationalisation are in the ascendant. In the process our own identities, our sense of self, our own subjectivities are being transformed. We are in transition to a new era." The movement had now reached its peak, with a huge influence on Neil Kinnock and later Tony Blair's reorientation of the Labour Party.

Theory[edit]

The principal basis of New Times is, as the name suggests, the idea that the 1980s and 90s represent a significant break with previous history. The transition from Fordism to Post-fordism is a key factor - workers in western nations are no longer concentrated in large workplaces, but employed widely in the service and public sectors. Blue collar jobs are being replaced by white collar ones, and consumption is becoming democratised to a far greater extent than previously.

Other things are seen as radically new - Thatcherism, for example, is seen not as a simple development of previous Tory policy but a radical agenda. Jacques, in the introduction to the MT special, writes that "at the heart of Thatcherism, has been its sense of New Times, of living in a new era... the Right has glimpsed the future and run with it." The new times require new politics, and Thatcher is the first one to realise it.

In terms of concrete political positions, the NT milieu did not significantly differ from the wider Eurocommunist scene. MT did not see their role as informing Communist cadre so much as influencing the wider left, in particular the Labourites and Liberals. They advocated broad coalitions of subordinated elements, and ushered in an era of 'identity politics'. (Indeed, much of Hall's subsequent work was concerned with questions of identity.) Implicitly and explicitly dropped is any serious desire to get beyond capitalism - 'voluntarism' is shunned as the reason for the Bolsheviks' failure, and the Left must adapt itself to the world, rather than seeking to shake it.

Legacy[edit]

Many New Times intellectuals were instrumental in reorganising the Labour Party. Hobsbawm was a close advisor to Neil Kinnock; Martin Kettle later was to Tony Blair. Many of Blair's inner circle were former Communists of the Euro/NT school. While those intellectuals who still identify with the New Times school are often very critical of Blair's alleged over-identification with Thatcherite policy,[2][3] there is an obvious genetic[citation needed] and historical link between the NT rightward shift and 'New Labour'.

The Democratic Left movement set up by MT alumni in the 1990s published a magazine also called New Times. This ceased publication in 2000.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Marxism Today: introduction by Martin Jacques (May 2006)
  2. ^ Martin Jacques, “Good to Be Back,” Marxism Today, Special Issue (Nov./Dec. 1998).
  3. ^ Tristram Hunt, Man of the extreme century: Interview with Eric Hobsbawm, The Observer (22 September 2002).