From the April 1952 issue of the Socialist Standard
Who shall lead the Labour Party, Attlee or Bevan? Who shall become Prime Minister after the next election, Attlee, or Bevan, Butler or Churchill, Churchill or Eden? A, or B, or C, or D, or E? Who shall administer British capitalism in the critical days ahead, who shall persuade the working class to give capitalism another chance, and another and another? It makes such very little difference to its victims, the working class.
Everybody says that Mr. Bevan is out to get the leadership of the Labour Party—everybody, that is, except Mr. Bevan, who challenges “any journal, magazine or newspaper, or any responsible person to find a single statement on writing of my own to justify that" (Report of speech in Daily Herald, 10/3/1952.)
And why shouldn’t Mr. Bevan want to become leader? He believes that Mr. Attlee's policy is wrong and that his own is right. He claims that his policy truly represents the views of the Labour Party rank and file. He believes in the doctrine of leadership and belongs to a Party which has the officially recognised position of “leader” of the Parliamentary Labour Party, now occupied by Mr. Attlee. Surely Mr. Bevan protests too much, especially in the light of his speech at Cumnock in June of last year, when he protested against the Labour Government’s “ strong tendency . . . . to take its leaders from the “top drawer of society.'" (Manchester Guardian, 18/6/1951.) He said that what his party needed was leaders who “not only understood Socialism with their heads but knew it with their hearts," men with “guts” and "character." Can it not be that Mr. Bevan had a certain person in mind?
That is an issue between Mr. Bevan and his Party; but what of his idea that the kind of leader the Labour Party has makes an important difference in its policy and actions? The Labour Party has had all sorts of leaders. Perhaps Attlee and some of his colleagues may be described in Mr. Bevan’s phrase as being “from the top drawer," but before Attlee there were many others. There was Keir Hardie, ex-miner; Henderson, ex-ironmoulder; Wardle and Thomas, ex-railwaymen; Adamson, another ex-miner: Clynes. ex-cotton worker; and MacDonald, who had worked on the land, then as pupil-teacher, then warehouse clerk and journalist. There was also the late Ernest Bevin, who had worked on the land, in a restaurant, as a tram conductor and lorry driver, and who perfectly fitted Mr. Bevan’s model of the men of heart, with character and guts. The leaders of the Labour Party base included every type, but the variations have made no difference to the Party. Under all its leaders it has clamoured for reforms of capitalism when out of office and then when in office got bogged down in capitalist crises because that is the fate of all parties that try to run capitalism.
If and when Mr. Bevan becomes Prime Minister it will be just the same story over again, by which time there will be other men of "guts” and “character” proposing to clean up the mess made by Mr. Bevan.
What indeed separates Mr. Bevan from Mr. Attlee (or from Mr. Churchill)?
Mr. Attlee and Mr. Churchill agree that British capitalism must re-arm, and so does Mr. Bevan. “I believe it is necessary to re-arm prudently, in such a fashion that it will not be too much a disturbance to the standard of living . . . ” (Speech at Rugby. Observer, 10/6/1951.)
Or, as his supporter, Mr. Driberg, M.P., wrote in Reynolds News (9/3/1952): “All of us (except the pacifists, whose position is understood and respected) agreed that some re-armament was necessary. We differed on the extent of this re-armament.”
One ironical feature was that Mr. Churchill has admitted that Bevan was right in saying that the Labour Government was pressing on with re-armament faster than was practicable.
Is Mr. Bevan against using the arms in war or against extending the Korean war in certain circumstances? He was, of course, a Minister in the Labour Government that sent troops to Korea, and when asked what he would do if troops in Korea were bombed from airfields in China, he replied:—
"I would have replied, ‘Tell the Chinese that if they do send aeroplanes from airfields inside China we shall bomb them, but that we are abandoning Chiang Kai-shek’s forces in Formosa.' In other words, pursue peace as well as war." (Speech at Rhymney. Manchester Guardian, 10/3/1952.)
Is Mr. Bevan against conscription, or against the use of troops in industrial disputes? He was a member of the Government for six years while these policies were pursued.
Is Mr. Bevan against capitalism’s instrument for speeding up production, piece-rate systems? By no means, for he was Minister of Labour when his Ministry issued the booklet, “Wage Incentive Schemes” (January, 1951), which urged the extension of such schemes to help exports and re-armament. In the Foreword it was stated by Mr. Bevan’s Ministry:—
“The need for reduced costs of production and increased output has become even more urgent in face of the unavoidable diversion of a substantial portion of the labour force to the carrying out of the Government’s defence programme.”
Over-riding every other consideration, is Mr. Bevan against Capitalism and for Socialism? Again the answer is no. He calls himself a socialist but has the same muddled conception of what the term means as have all his Labour Party rivals whom he seeks to displace, the conception that Socialism consists of nationalisation and reforms like the Health Service scheme. Thus he could say at the Labour Party Conference in 1950:-
“Great Britain is not a socialist country. Because we have a socialist government is no evidence that we are a socialist country. We are on the way there, but . . . 80 per cent. of the national economy is still in private hands. . . . " (Report, page 132.)
Mr. Bevan and all his supporters have proclaimed their hope that their disagreement with Attlee can be healed. All that they demand, in Mr. Bevan’s words, is that the struggle with Toryism shall be vigorously pursued. They disclaim any disagreement with the Labour Party’s principles. In so doing they show themselves to be as unworthy of working-class support as the rest of the Labour Party.
What the working class needs here and in all countries is the abolition of capitalism and inauguration of Socialism. A change of social systems, not a mere change of government from Tory to Labour to try to run capitalism in a slightly different way.
The working class do not need different leaders, but to shed their dependence on leadership.
Supporting Bevan against Attlee or supporting Attlee against Churchill means nothing whatever from the standpoint of Socialism and the interest of the working class.
Mr. Hannen Swaffer, writing in the People (9/3/1952), thinks that Mr. Attlee has shown “six year of brilliant leadership,” but “no longer controls his own side ”; while a Labour M.P., Mr. John Taylor (Forward, 8/3/1952), holds that Bevan “is the greatest orator in Parliament In my view he is more gifted in this respect than Churchill. I never heard Lloyd George, so cannot compare him with his distinguished compatriot.”
Here is indeed a fitting measure of the value of leadership to the working class. Attlee led his followers “brilliantly” for six years, but so lamentable is the condition of the workers at the end of it that they are out of control. According to Mr. Taylor, among the Labour Party rank and file in the country Bevan’s “popularity grows with phenomenal rapidity” —on nothing more substantial than his opposition to the brilliant Attlee!
About Churchill, his brilliance, and the results thereof, we need say nothing. Nor should it be necessary to recall how Lloyd George, the fiery rebel who climbed to power by promising benefits of all kinds to the poverty-stricken workers, left them at the end after the first world war in a state as miserable as when he began.
Now Bevan, perhaps the greatest spouter of them all, gets ready to turn the disillusionment of his Party into a means of raising him to the leadership and Premiership. Workers who ponder over the futility of Labourism as demonstrated under all its leaders will see the folly of it all and refuse to be deluded into giving a new lease of life to capitalism under Aneurin Bevan.