Editorial from the November 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard
So after six years of Labour Party rule the electors refuse to stand any more of it. Having put the Labour Party into office in 1945 “to give Labour a chance” they now turn it out again. With all the evidence the working class have had of Tory rule a large proportion of them have still been prepared to have the Tories back in office rather than prolong the ministerial careers of the Attlees and Morrisons.
This is not like the defeat of the Labour Party after the two earlier Labour Governments. They were minority governments and they excused themselves on the plausible ground that they could not carry out their programme. This time the Labour Government has done all that it promised to do in the shape of social reforms and Nationalisation but the dreary end is precisely the same as before. This Labour Government, like MacDonald's in 1931 could not escape the crises and war preparations thrust on it by capitalism, and in spite of all its efforts to make life less burdensome it could not make capitalism palatable to the electors. So end all attempts to operate capitalism “in a different way." It was predoomed to failure as we said when it took office.
Of course the members of that party will now hold an inquest to discover why the electors acted as they did. Innumerable so-called explanations will be trotted out, none of them the simple truth stated above for if any supporter of the Labour Party once admitted to himself the truth he would have to conclude that Labourism itself is futile, not the men or the particular measures, but the whole conception of trying to humanise the capitalist system of society.
There is an aspect of vastly greater importance for the working class than the internal bickerings of the Labour Party. This is the question of what it is that has failed. It is Labourism that has failed, not Socialism. The Labour Party never at any time in its history aimed at or tried to introduce Socialism. Labourism aimed to carry on Great Britain as a capitalist unit in a capitalist world; seeking only to modify its social evils at home and its predatory nature in the international sphere. Of course it had to fail. Socialism is an international conception which will involve the end of capitalist production and distribution for profit, the end of the wage-system and price system and of the international conflict over markets and raw materials. Socialism is not concerned with turning private capitalism into State capitalism. Socialism requires the conversion of the means of production and distribution from private ownership to common ownership and democratic control by the whole of society, with resulting abolition of property incomes and the carrying on of production solely for use.
Socialism has not failed because it has never been tried here or in any other country.
The Bevan Myth
Now that the election is over the split between Bevan and Attlee will emerge again. While the election was on all the Labour Party leaders pooh-poohed the idea that there was such a thing. There will be acrimonious debate as whether Bevan or Attlee did most to win or lose votes. But heat of argument should not give rise to the illusion that Bevan's policy differs except in degree and detail from the one the Labour Government, with his support, pursued for the past six years.
In Bevan's eyes it was not the policy itself that was at fault but only the manner of its application and the character of the men at the top. The Labour Government decided on a certain rate of re-armament; Bevan wanted it to be slowed down, but, as he said at Cumnock, Ayrshire, on the 18th June, 1951, "He did not believe in having no armies." (Manchester Guardian, 19/6/51). In the same speech he developed his theme about the kind of leaders the Labour Party ought to have. “There was a strong tendency for the Government to take its leaders from the “top drawer of society." The movement should be careful to select its leaders in the main from those who had spent their lives in the Labour and trade union movement . . . " Would it be uncharitable to read into this a slightly jaundiced preference by Bevan for himself as Party leader in place of Attlee?
He says that he wants men “with guts" to thrust the Labour Party on to Socialism and he was speaking the truth when he said at the Labour Party Conference, 1950, “Great Britain is not a socialist country ’’—but it was the truth by accident, for all he meant was that State capitalism or nationalisation covers only 20 per cent of British industry. And it is only a matter of 2½ years ago that he was telling a Labour Party audience at Newport that the Labour Government in which he was a minister is good for “business men." He said that the less bigoted Tories would hesitate to vote against the Labour candidates “because even private enterprise works better under the beneficient guidance of a Socialist government. That proves that Socialism is a good thing and it is beginning to dawn on some business men.” (Daily Herald, 28/3/49). So Mr. Bevan who tries desperately hard to give the impression that he is out for Socialism is not above soliciting the votes of Tories by assuring them that socialism, as he interprets it, is good for capitalists and capitalist industry.