Independent Labour Party

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The Independent Labour Party (ILP) was a socialist political party of the United Kingdom, established in 1893. Along with the Trades Union Congress and other left-wing organisations, it founded the Labour Representation Committee in 1900 with the objective of getting representatives of the labour movement elected to Parliament; in 1906 the LRC changed its name to the Labour Party. Between 1906 and 1932 the ILP formed a 'party within a party' in the Labour Party, and provided many of Labour's national leaders. As the Labour Party did not have constituency organisations or admit individual members until 1918, the main ways for individuals to become involved in the party was by membership of a trade union or membership of the ILP. Many socialists saw the trades union leadership as reformist and 'syndicalist', seeking day-to-day improvements in workers' pay and conditions rather than socialist transformation; the ILP, by contrast, was seen as the 'socialist conscience' of the party, and developed a Marxist revolutionary wing. During the First World War, the ILP had also espoused pacifism, drawing in part on its nonconformist Christian roots and in part on socialist ideology.

Disaffilliation and drift

In 1932 the ILP 'disaffiliated' (broke away) from the Labour Party after arguments about party discipline and whether ILP MPs would accept the Labour Party whip. Party membership plummeted and continued to decline for decades, and by the late 1930s the ILP retained only 3 MPs, all for Glasgow constituencies. The remaining party members formed an uneasy coalition of pacifists and revolutionary socialists, hampered by further defections in the 1`930s, debates over whether to reaffilliate to the Labour Party, and an attempted take-over by Trotskyist elements. By 1939, the party had arranged a special conference to reapply for admission to the Labour Party, but this was overtaken by the outbreak of the Second World War.

The Second World War

Labour supported British involvement in the war; the ILP (like the Communist Party of Great Britain until 1941) saw the conflict as one between two imperialist power blocs, and that the main enemy of the British working class was the British ruling class, not Germany. Co-operation with labour was therefore impossible. The war did see a minor upswing in the ILP's fortunes, as it attracted the attention of some left-wing radicals who shared its view of the war; and, as it did not participate in the electoral truce of 1940-45 (in which the main political parties agreed not to stand against each other in by-elections, the party previously holding a seat to have a 'free run'), it was able to get exaggerated numbers of votes in by-elections. However, it again faced problems caused by Trotskyist infiltration, and in the spring of 1945 a number of Trotskyists, including T. Dan Smith, were purged from its ranks.

Decline and extinction

The overwhelming Labour victory at the 1945 General Election caused the ILP leadership to question the party's continuing relevance, particularly as the new Labour government appeared to be delivering on its promises of social and economic reform. For many, only personal loyalty to the ILP's veteran parliamentary leader, James Maxton, kept them in the party, and Maxton's death in 1946 saw a headlong rush of senior figures such as Fenner Brockway into Labour. The leadership had recommended that the ILP apply to rejoin the Labour Party; but this was turned down by a vote of the membership. This sealed the fate of the ILP: it declined gently, largely ignored by other groups of the left, into a tiny nostalgic sect, kept alive only by the property wealth it had acquired in more prosperous days. In 1975 the party bowed to the inevitable and rejoined the Labour Party, not as a party but as Independent Labour Publications, seeking to promote socialism within Labour through publication and propaganda rather than electoral organisation.

ILP members