Labour History Review

‘Psychological Socialist’; ‘Militant Moderate’: Evan Durbin and the Politics of Synthesis

Labour History Review (2003), 68, (2), 235–252.

Abstract

Given the quality of Evan Durbin's magnum opus, The Politics of Democratic Socialism (1940), the historiographical attention to him has been slight, and focused primarily on his economic writings. This article explores his broader intellectual and political approach, focusing on three themes. First, it traces his intellectual relationships, exploring his exchanges of ideas over the importance of responsible political behaviour with his MacDonaldite friend, Reg Bassett, suggesting that he had a more optimistic view of the reforming potential of being ‘reasonable’ than his LSE colleague Harold Laski, whilst sharing some of his tough-minded realism as to a need to deal in the politics of power, and comparing him with another, later nonconformist revisionist, Tony Crosland. Secondly, the article examines Durbin's desire to ‘emotionally educate’ the citizenry, to improve minds as well as material well-being, an objective rarely explored by Labour Party historians. Thirdly, it suggests that much of Durbin's distinctiveness lies in his synthesizing qualities, his juggling of goods which have not always appeared natural bedfellows: radicalism and moderation; the intellectual and politics; the freer raising of children and a willingness to use force in international affairs. Whilst political history is often narrated in terms of ‘depth’ of ideological commitment, whether to equality or the free market, an examination of Durbin emphasizes the importance of ‘breadth’.

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In The New Statesman and Nation, 24 February 1940, Durbin Papers, 7/6. Google Scholar

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E. F. M. Durbin, ‘The Problems of the Socialised Sector’, in Durbin, Problems, p. 71. Google Scholar

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‘Democracy and Socialism in Great Britain’, in Durbin, Problems, p. 34. Google Scholar

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‘Beyond Socialism’, c. Nov. 1946, Durbin Papers, 4/7. Google Scholar

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The accident is described in Williams (ed.), Diary of Gaitskell, pp. 82-3 — entry for 20 September 1948. Google Scholar

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Elizabeth Durbin, New Jerusalems. The Labour Party and the Economics of Democratic Socialism, London, Routledge, 1985. New Jerusalems. The Labour Party and the Economics of Democratic Socialism Google Scholar

S. Brooke, ‘Problems of "Socialist Planning": Evan Durbin and the Labour Government of 1945’, Historical Journal, 34, 1991, pp. 687-702; S. Brooke, ‘Evan Durbin: reassessing a Labour "revisionist"’, Twentieth Century British History, 7, 1996, pp. 27-52; For a discussion of The Politics of Democratic Socialism, see also S. Brooke, Labour's War, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1992, pp. 296-302. ‘Problems of "Socialist Planning": Evan Durbin and the Labour Government of 1945’ Historical Journal 34 687 702 Google Scholar

S. MacIntyre, ‘British Labour, Marxism and working class apathy in the nineteen twenties’, Historical Journal, 20, 1977, pp. 484 and 479. ‘British Labour, Marxism and working class apathy in the nineteen twenties’ Historical Journal 20 484 Google Scholar

See, for example: S. Fielding, ‘"To make men and women better than they are": Labour and the building of socialism’, in J. Fyrth (ed.), Labour's Promised Land? Culture and Society in Labour Britain 1945-51, London, Lawrence & Wishart, 1995; S. Fielding, P. Thompson and N. Tiratsoo, ‘England Arise!’: the Labour Party and Popular Politics in 1940s Britain, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1995; L. Black, The Political Culture of the Left in Affluent Britain, 1951-64. Old Labour, New Britain?, Basingstoke, Macmillan, 2003; and L. Black, ‘"What Kind of People Are You?" Labour, the People and the "New Political History"’, in J. Callaghan, S. Fielding and S. Ludlam (eds), Interpreting the Labour Party: Approaches to Labour Politics and History, Manchester, Manchester University Press, forthcoming, pp. 40-68. Labour's Promised Land? Culture and Society in Labour Britain 1945-51 Google Scholar

See J. Nuttall, ‘The Labour Party and the improvement of minds: the case of Tony Crosland’, Historical Journal, 46, 2003, pp. 133-53 for a consideration of the importance of such themes. ‘The Labour Party and the improvement of minds: the case of Tony Crosland’ Historical Journal 46 133 53 Google Scholar

Cited in D. Weinbren, Generating Socialism. Recollections of Life in the Labour Party, Stroud, Sutton, 1997. Generating Socialism. Recollections of Life in the Labour Party Google Scholar

A. Marwick, ‘Middle opinion in the thirties: planning, progress and political "agreement"’, English Historical Review, LXXIX, 1964, p. 298. ‘Middle opinion in the thirties: planning, progress and political "agreement"’ English Historical Review LXXIX 298 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

M. Francis, ‘The Labour Party: modernisation and the politics of restraint’, in B. Conekin, F. Mort and C. Waters (eds), Moments of Modernity. Reconstructing Britain 1945-1964, London, Rivers Oram Press, 1999, pp. 153-4 and 161-2. Moments of Modernity. Reconstructing Britain 1945-1964 153 4 Google Scholar

K. O. Morgan, Callaghan. A Life, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 763. Callaghan. A Life 763 Google Scholar

The Taunton School website, at www.tauntonschool.co.uk Google Scholar

Elizabeth Durbin, New Jerusalems, p. 3. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

There are conflicting accounts on whether Durbin retained his faith. Elizabeth Durbin writes that Durbin, as a young man, had ‘renounced his belief in the Lord Jesus’ (Elizabeth Durbin, New Jerusalems, p. 3), and Henry Phelps Brown in ‘Evan Durbin, 1906-1948’ (p. 92), reprint from Feb. 1951 original in Economica, Gaitskell Papers, University College London, A125 — notes that ‘he ceased to believe the creed’. But a letter to Durbin from Christopher [Mayhew?] on 13 September 1942 noted: ‘the great majority of us — not including you and me — nowadays derive what courage we have from sheer strength of character, practically unaided by faith.’ (Durbin Papers, 7/7). And Hugh Dalton wrote, in a diary entry on Durbin's Memorial Service, that ‘he was a Christian’; B. Pimlott (ed.), The Political Diary of Hugh Dalton 1918-40, 1945-60, London, Cape, 1986, p. 441, entry for 16 September 1948. Google Scholar

Elizabeth Durbin, New Jerusalems, p. 114. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Proof copy of Gaitskell's Foreword (Dec. 1953) for reprint of Durbin's The Politics of Democratic Socialism (1954), p. 10, Gaitskell Papers, A124. Google Scholar

P. M. Williams (ed.), The Diary of Hugh Gaitskell 1945-1956, London, Cape, 1983, p. 82 — entry for 20 September 1948. The Diary of Hugh Gaitskell 1945-1956 82 Google Scholar

In The Times, 8 September 1948. Google Scholar

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Elizabeth Durbin, New Jerusalems, p. 187. Google Scholar

Pimlott (ed.), Diary of Dalton 1918-40, 1945-60, p. 442 — entry for 16 September 1948. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Durbin's 1935 review of Bassett's book, reprinted in ‘Democracy and Socialism in Great Britain’, first published in the Political Quarterly (1935), re-published in E. F. M. Durbin, Problems of Economic Planning. Papers on Planning and Economics, London, Routledge, 1949. This comment was on pp. 30-1. Google Scholar

R. Bassett, The Essentials of Parliamentary Democracy, London, Macmillan, 1935, pp. 99-103. The Essentials of Parliamentary Democracy 99 103 Google Scholar

‘Democracy and Socialism in Great Britain’, in Durbin, Problems, p. 31. Google Scholar

Bassett, Essentials, p. 258. Google Scholar

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Bassett, Essentials, pp. 253-4. Google Scholar

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Durbin's unpublished ‘Essay In a New Form of Biography’, n/d, c. 1929, Durbin Papers, 13/6, 54-61. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

J. R. MacDonald, Socialism and Society, London, Independent Labour Party, 1905, p. 3. Socialism and Society 3 Google Scholar

H. J. Laski, A Grammar of Politics, London, Allen & Unwin, 1925, p. 41. A Grammar of Politics 41 Google Scholar

C. A. R. Crosland, The Conservative Enemy, London, Cape, 1962, p. 129. The Conservative Enemy 129 Google Scholar

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Elizabeth Durbin, New Jerusalems, pp. 4 and 96. Google Scholar

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C. A. R. Crosland, The Future of Socialism, London, Cape, 1956, p. 116. The Future of Socialism 116 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Reviewers seem to have commented upon the inconsistent quality of the papers, and thus the publishers decided to reprint only Durbin's and Bowlby's contributions the following year, resulting in Personal Aggressiveness and War (1939). Google Scholar

E. F. M. Durbin and others, War and Democracy. Essays on the Causes and Prevention of War, London, Kegan Paul, 1938, p. 49. War and Democracy. Essays on the Causes and Prevention of War 49 Google Scholar

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Durbin, War, p. 47. Google Scholar

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D. Jay, Change and Fortune. A Political Record, London, Hutchinson, 1980, pp. 72-3. Change and Fortune. A Political Record 72 3 Google Scholar

E. F. M. Durbin, The Politics of Democratic Socialism: An Essay on Social Policy, London, Routledge, 1940, pp. 30 and 71. The Politics of Democratic Socialism: An Essay on Social Policy 30 Google Scholar

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Ibid., pp. 68-9. See also Durbin, War, pp. 41-2. Google Scholar

Durbin, Politics, pp. 69-70. Google Scholar

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Durbin, Politics, p. 111. Google Scholar

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Durbin noted that the view of Laski and Strachey was that, in Durbin's words, ‘economic causes, though not solitary, are in some sense basic or ultimate or fundamental’. Ibid., pp. 174-5 and 183. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

R. H. Tawney, Equality, 4th edn., London, Allen & Unwin, 1952, p. 127. Equality 127 Google Scholar

Durbin, Politics, pp. 292, 298 and 300. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

In East End News, 23 February 1940, Durbin Papers, 7/6. Google Scholar

In The New Statesman and Nation, 24 February 1940, Durbin Papers, 7/6. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Laski, Grammar, p. 16. Google Scholar

K. O. Morgan, Labour People. Leaders and Lieutenants, Hardie to Kinnock, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1987, pp. 112 and 114. See Francis, ‘The Labour Party’, in Conekin et al. (eds), Moments of Modernity, pp. 159-61 for a discussion of the connections drawn between self-restraint and national identity. Labour People. Leaders and Lieutenants, Hardie to Kinnock 112 Google Scholar

P. M. Williams, Hugh Gaitskell, abridged edn, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1982, p. 42. Hugh Gaitskell 42 Google Scholar

Durbin's own quotations from What Have We to Defend?, London, Routledge, 1942, in his introduction to ‘The Case for Socialism’, the rest of which consisted of a reprint of Chapters III and VI of What Have We to Defend?, in Durbin, Problems, p. 3. Google Scholar

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Durbin's own quotations from What Have We to Defend?, in his introduction to ‘The Case for Socialism’, in Durbin, Problems, p. 3. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

‘The Case for Socialism’, in Durbin, Problems, pp. 3-4. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

In D. Munro (ed.), Socialism. The British Way, London, Essential Books, 1948, pp. 22-3. Socialism. The British Way 22 3 Google Scholar

Durbin's introduction to ‘Professor Hayek on Economic Planning’, which consisted of a reprint of Durbin's article in the Economic Journal (1945), in Durbin, Problems; and his notes for ‘The Economics of Democratic Socialism’, written between 1945 and 1948, Durbin Papers, 6/1, Item 7. Google Scholar

See D. Paul, ‘Eugenics and the Left’, Journal of the History of Ideas, XLV, 1984, pp. 567-8. ‘Eugenics and the Left’ Journal of the History of Ideas XLV 567 8 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

H. Dalton, High Tide and After. Memoirs 1945-1960, London, Müller, 1962, p. 308. High Tide and After. Memoirs 1945-1960 308 Google Scholar

B. Pimlott (ed.), The Second World War Diary of Hugh Dalton 1940-45, London, Cape, 1986, p. 586 — entry for 23 April 1943. The Second World War Diary of Hugh Dalton 1940-45 586 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Williams (ed.), Diary of Gaitskell, p. 10; and Durbin Papers, 4/7. Google Scholar

Notes on ‘[The] Future of the English Labour Party’, Durbin Papers, 1/3, 17 and 19; and ‘Professor Hayek on Economic Planning’, in Durbin, Problems, p. 106. Google Scholar

Williams (ed.), Diary of Gaitskell, p. 16. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

E. F. M. Durbin, ‘The Problems of the Socialised Sector’, in Durbin, Problems, p. 71. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

‘Democracy and Socialism in Great Britain’, in Durbin, Problems, p. 34. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

‘Beyond Socialism’, c. Nov. 1946, Durbin Papers, 4/7. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

‘Beyond Socialism’, c. Nov 1946, Durbin Papers, 4/7. Google Scholar

See Crosland, Future of Socialism, pp. 523-4. Google Scholar

The accident is described in Williams (ed.), Diary of Gaitskell, pp. 82-3 — entry for 20 September 1948. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

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Nuttall, Jeremy