Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

New International, November–December 1953


Donald Slaiman

Bevanism During the War

II (Concluding) – Disintegration of National Unity


From New International, Vol. XIX No. 6, November–December 1953, pp. 352–362.
Marked up up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


ALTHOUGH SUPPORT OF THE WAR IN BRITAIN was almost unanimous, there was a great deal of discontent. This was only natural as the first days of the war found Britain in the role of the loser and the British people undergoing a great deal of suffering. Bevan was in a good position to capitalize on this discontent. He was in a uniquely fortunate spot to gain attention for his views in the House of Commons and therefore in the country. At the same time, his ideas did not receive much competition in the political world.

This program was projected into the political arena as a rallying ground for the disoriented and atomized left. As the war dragged on and the immediate danger of the first days had passed, discontent increased and the opposition of Bevan and the Tribune became more concrete. From criticism of the Government on specific issues or in a general but propagandistic manner, it passed on to criticism of the Government’s personnel.

At this time, Churchill’s popularity was too great to allow of the acceptance by the electorate of direct criticism of his person, but criticism of his subordinates could accomplish a number of things. First it was a form of pressure on Churchill and the Government, and second it gave Bevan’s opposition a greater semblance of reality. General criticism without the goal of some change in the Government is bound to become meaningless after awhile. Criticism must have an objective as well as logic and reason. The overturn of the Government in 1940 or 1941 was not even a possibility in the realm of political daydreaming. However, the ability to force changes in the cabinet was not beyond Bevan’s capability.

As early as the end of 1940, Bevan began to concretize his opposition role in the House by demands for changes in the War Cabinet. He said in the House at that time:

The Lord President [Anderson] has many great executive qualities, but I submit that, on the facts, he is the last person to be a member of the War Cabinet charged with the framing of general policies. Look at the position we have been in since the beginning of the war. The right hon. Gentleman has been saved from major disaster by the House of Commons on four separate occasions. [16]

He followed this tack of concentrating on Churchill’s subordinates when he said, “I know what I have said is unpleasant, but it needs to be said. In many respects the Prime Minister is not being well advised.” [17] As 1941 wore on his attacks on members of the cabinet sharpened as did his criticisms of the policies of the Government. The scope of his barbs extended to the military and thus to Churchill although still in an indirect manner. His general theme was that Churchill was so involved in problems of a higher order that he could not adequately deal with day- to-day affairs and had to rely on subordinates who advised him poorly. In a speech on the problems of coal production and the drafting of miners, he was particularly sharp. The following excerpts indicate his manner of attack on the Government:

Unfortunately, and I hope my words are going to be repeated to him—unfortunately we have a Prime Minister who listens to the generals more than he listens to the people inside the Government. In fact, the Government are the only enemy up to now that the generals have been able to defeat ... [18]

Are we going to tell the Prime Minister and the members of the War Cabinet, “Please come to the House of Commons and listen to us a little more,” and not to listen to those whose history in the war has been one of uninterrupted disaster. [19]

What is stopping them is a Prime Minister who thinks about these things romantically and not realistically and the “brass hats” who advise him stupidly. [20]

His most bitter attack, however, was reserved for Lord Halifax, who was then ambassador to the United States. Lord Halifax had made a public statement to the effect that there would be no invasion of Europe in the near future. Bevan had raised a question on this in the House of Commons. During the question and answer period, he had gotten into a rather sharp exchange with Churchill. At the end of the exchange he requested a chance to debate his charges against Lord Halifax. [21] Later on in the session he delivered the following attack:

I was angry when I was rebuked by the Prime Minister when I said this man was an irresponsible man with a bad record. I thought it was a masterpiece of Parliamentary understatement ...

The Prime Minister reserved his anger for me and not this man. The Prime Minister lost his temper not over a piece of gratuitous and vital information to the enemy but with the poor simple back bench Member of Parliament who called attention to the treachery.

The Prime Minister should realize that unless he gets rid of some of these people, they will drag him down. [22]

This attack on Lord Halifax was made in October 1941. It was not to be long before Churchill, himself, became the target of Bevan’s onslaughts. From the birth of the Coalition Cabinet in May 1940 until the summer of 1941, Bevan’s program and criticisms were limited to the lack of war aims on the international scene. The attack on Russia by Hitler soon found him to be attracted by the “Second Front’’ agitation.

By this early time, Bevan had already achieved a new position and a new stature. Churchill himself found him to be a worthy opponent. In November 1940, speaking on a motion made by Bevan, the Prime Minister said:

My hon. Friend who so ably represents the constituency of Ebbw Vale was speaking in his most dulcet tones today and expressed to the utmost the seductive arts in which he is efficient, and it is not without regret that I find myself compelled to disappoint his hopes and reject his proposal. [23]

Bevan spoke so often during this period that a Conservative M.P. remarked that, “the hon. Gentleman has been getting up like a jumping jack." [24] At this time Bevan not only spoke often but took on all comers. A humorous example of this is the way he handled the Communist M.P. Gallacher. Gallacher had been interrupting Bevan on some point of disagreement, when Bevan countered as follows:

Bevan: My hon. Friend has no experience in the matter. For years he has been engaged in political propaganda and his experience in industrial matters is negligible.

Gallacher: Rose.

Bevan: I will not give way again.

Gallacher: The hon. Member said that I have no experience in trade union problems. [25]

Chair: Order.

For Gallacher, the old Communist“proletarian,” to be told that he had no trade union experience was a crowning insult. It must have left him sputtering. On other occasions, Bevan spoke in a fashion that bordered on the arrogant. After some strong comment on the Labor Party by a Tory Minister, he adopted the following threatening manner, a manner which would be patently ridiculous unless he had a reputation and a capability to give it meaning:

When I decided to speak today, I was going to address myself in a most temperate fashion to the amendment, but I am bound to warn my right hon. Friend and his Friends that I have some capacity for invective, and that if they are going to use language of that sort, I shall begin to examine their speeches with a microscope.[26]

By the end of 1941, Bevan’s attack on Churchill’s subordinates reached a climax. They culminated in a demand for an extensive purge of the cabinet. He poured forth the following challenge in October 1941:

I believe it is time to throw out of office all those jaded tired Ministers who have been associated with disastrous policies. I am convinced this is the desire of the country ... I am convinced that the last few weeks have shown that there exists in this country inexhaustible reservoirs of talent and energy if the Government could only tap them, but the Government cannot do it. It is suffering from nostalgia, inertia, and self-pity. If you cannot do the job, get out. The country demands the change, and it is the duty of the House to see that the will of the country is made known to the Government. [27]

This attack on the Conservative members of the War Cabinet under Churchill was a prelude to attacks on the Prime Minister himself. Just as Bevan proceeded from general criticisms to attacks on the personnel of the cabinet, so he proceeded from the subordinates to the leader. The Tribune had by this time already begun to make the same type of criticisms of the Churchill regime as had been made of the Chamberlain Government earlier.

In a signed article in the Tribune, Bevan wrote:

“Mr. Churchill may say we have not the tanks, we have not the guns, we have not the equipment which would enable us to equip a great continental army. The British people will reply, ‘Why not? You have been in power a year and a half’.” [28]

An unsigned editorial in the previous issue had said:

“Many people are beginning to feel that the Government is as much out of touch with the real feeling in the country as was the administration of Mr. Chamberlain.” [29]

BY THE BEGINNING OF 1942, THE LINE of the Tribune had changed. A purge of the cabinet of the old “Munich” elements was no longer the answer. These “evil” subordinates were no longer the main source of trouble, they were only symptomatic of a more fundamental infection. The problem was the Tory Party itself and even its leader Churchill. The Coalition is almost called into question. An editorial in the Tribune of January 30, 1942, opens by saying:

“It would be an excellent thing for Mr. Churchill to make certain changes in his team, but it would be a profound mistake to suppose that from this alone any fundamental improvement would result.” [30]

The article then asks the question:

“Why does he refuse to throw out the members of his Government who were associated with the bad old policy of Munich days?” [31]

The answer supplied by the Tribune is that it would offend the Tory Party. It then goes on to say:

But when Mr. Churchill was made Leader of the Conservative Party, he entered into a pact to preserve the Conservative Party, and to rescue it from the morass to which it had been plunged by the policies of Mr. Chamberlain.

Here is the heart of the trouble. This is no national Government and Churchill is no national leader. He struts in that guise, but in fact he insists that the war should be conducted in accordance with the principles of the Tory Party. [32]

This is not all for, according to the Tribune, dire consequences follow: “The plain fact is that the Tory Party and Churchill its Leader would prefer to risk losing the war than relax the grip of private profits on the life of the nation.” [33] On the international arena, the Tribune finds the same situation in existence. Here, too, successful prosecution of the war is impeded by the fact that the country is under Conservative leadership.

The British Empire is finished. Nothing can save it ... If we based our central struggle on the recognition of this fact ... we could shorten the war ... but to do that we shall need a different spirit than the one which breathed through the speech of the last Imperial spokesman—Winston Churchill. [34]

The Tribune did not draw the seemingly obvious conclusion from this that “Churchill Must Go.” On the contrary, this extreme attack was only the background for a much more “reasonable” proposal.

It is not suggested that the reconstruction of the Government necessarily involves the resignation of Mr. Churchill although that well might become necessary if reconstruction is delayed too long. The Tribune has never expressed confidence in the ability of a Tory Prime Minister to lead us to the kind of a victory we believe in. But we are here concerned with the immediate future and the possibility of survival.

We, therefore, visualize a Government in which Mr. Churchill is still Prime Minister but not Minister of Defense at the same time. [35]

This was far from the end of the line, however. A few weeks later, the Tribune directed a full broadside against Churchill. In the March 6, 1942, issue, there appeared an article entitled Why Churchill with the following introductory explanation: “This is the first of a series of articles especially written for the Tribune by a brilliant and unusually informed writer.” [36] The writer was Aneurin Bevan under the pseudonym of Thomas Rainsboro. [37] Many years later, another editor of the Tribune revealed that these articles were only published after a carefully thought out discussion in the editorial board. [38] In other words, they were a planned part of a political campaign.

The first article of the series is one of the most savage attacks on a major political figure ever penned in a responsible political journal. It is surely one of the most cruel written on Winston Churchill. Bevan opens by saying that there was something to be said favorably for Churchill’s record, but that was more than amply repeated on the radio and in the press. He then proceeds to what was bad in Churchill’s record. The analysis begins not with the date of Churchill’s becoming Prime Minister but from the time that he joined the Chamberlain Cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty on August 3, 1939. [39] Bevan was particularly brutal concerning the period that Churchill was in the Chamberlain Government. He wrote:

I make these charges: (1) That it was Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, who by his wireless orders sent the British warships on a fool’s errand to the north while the German warships forced the South Norway fjords. (2) It was Churchill who held back the British Army from breaking into Trondheim while there was still time to get at the newly landed Germans. No wonder that Churchill, on the dramatic Norway debate which killed Chamberlain and made himself king, defended the British Government with all his fire and skill ... This chief constable does not want too many investigations for he is conscious of whose finger prints might be discovered ... Mr. Churchill, as well as the rest of us, learned a lesson from Gallipoli, no inquiries! [40]

He then proceeded to implicate Churchill in the military blunders in Flanders and continued, “Am I making plain why Churchill on succeeding Chamberlain said magnanimously ‘No recriminations’ against the guilty men and included so many in his cabinet?” [41] He points out, moreover, that the French generals and politicians who were implicated in those military blunders were court-martialed. One could infer that he was calling Churchill criminally negligent and a victim of blackmail by his colleagues.

Bevan finally gives Churchill some credit as he concludes but only in order to question his value further:

The man was great in our hour of defeat. If none of his present lackeys will write that on his tomb, I will take time off to do it.

I say now that we cannot fight a war for a world on grateful memories ... but I concede him his ancient glories. I am concerned here, with millions of my fellow citizens, with the man’s capacity to carry the war forward. [42]

That much of this article was not in good taste and invited criticism on that score goes without saying. If we contrast it with Bevan’s earlier criticisms of Churchill, we find a remarkable change from careful respect to brutal assault. Only six months before the article with which we have been dealing, he made his criticisms in the following fashion:

I yield to no one in my personal admiration of the Prime Minister’s qualities, and I came to the House today under a greater sense of anticipation than was satisfied by the speech that the Prime Minister made. He made a speech which was on his customary level of oratory and the end of the speech was undoubtedly an inspiration to flagging spirits everywhere, but if one examines the content, it was profoundly disappointing. [43]

The explanation for this shift in approach does not lie in the fact that one quotation was from a speech in the House of Commons and the others from the pages of a weekly newspaper with a left-wing subscription list. It lies rather in a shift in political opinion in the country during the passage of six months. The Churchill articles were written on the eve of the 1942 Labor Party Annual Conference. They were in a sense a weather balloon. According to the Tribune, they made up a very successful experiment. In discussing the series by Rainsboro five years later the Tribune editor wrote:

“The lonely voice of the Tribune found a supreme echo. The Labour Movement had been silenced by the truce. It looked as though Labour would need years to regain its position after the war. Here, suddenly, came a voice that spoke in the accent of millions who had no spokesman.” [44]

THE ANTI-CHURCHILL ARTICLES WERE A PLANNED and calculated risk which the editorial board of the Tribune embarked upon as a means of taking a leading place in a political movement but vaguely organized against the political status quo in Britain during the war. It is in this context only that the character of these articles can be understood. By the spring of 1942, feelings of national unity had worn so thin and the demands for an end to the truce had grown so strong within the Labor Party, that Bevan was able to lead a fight not against the Coalition or for a change in the Government, but one with a more limited objective, the end of the electoral truce. Bevan was able to take the leading role in the fight because he had become the outstanding back bench critic of the Government in the House of Commons and because he had a group of other vocal and active people in the Labor Party grouped around him in one of two places. He had a group around him in Parliament and he had a group around the Tribune who were all leaders of one rank or another in local or regional Labor Parties.

The movement did not need a political party or even a nationwide caucus to organize it. It was spontaneous in nature, but it did need leadership to express itself. Bevan and the Tribune supplied it. At the 1942 Party Conference in May of that year, Bevan led a long debate against the resolution of the Labor Party Executive asking for continuation of the electoral truce and was defeated by the very narrow margin of 1,275,000 to l,209,000. [45] This means that Bevan carried the support of the majority of the Labor Party delegates and at least a good section of trade union support as well. However, the size of the vote against the resolution of the Executive must not lead to the impression that the opposition was so strong that the end of the truce was on the immediate horizon. The emphasis in the dispute had been put on the support of Liberal and Tory candidates by the Labor Party and it was to this that so large an opposition could be mustered.

The large numbers of insurgents at the 1942 Labor Party Conference did demonstrate that there was great discontent within the Labor Party and that there was opportunity and would be further opportunity for Bevan and his followers to intervene in the role of leaders. Early in 1943 a new situation arose which created a ground swell of opposition to the policies of the Government and to those of the Labor Party’s leadership as well. The Tribune again intervened.

SIR WILLIAM BEVERIDGE HAD BROUGHT IN A REPORT on social services. The Conservative Party was against instituting any major section of the report, while the Labor Party was overwhelmingly for doing so. The leadership of the Labor Party feared that a fight to accomplish what their followers desired would endanger the coalition. Therefore they acquiesced and did not openly oppose the Government’s action in by-passing the report. In January of 1943, the Tribune appraised the situation as follows:

The Parliamentary Labor Party seems to have seen the danger and is ready to do battle. But there is a division in their ranks for many owe their offices to the goodwill of the Leader of the Tories. In this way to some extent the Tories have a fifth column in the very center of the Labor Party.

The main hope for saving the Beveridge Report is to rouse the country. Meetings and conferences should be convened at once. The men and women in the services should be allowed to take part in the agitation. [46]

From the above paragraph and others on this question one can deduce the attitude of the Tribune towards the coalition, the Labor Party leadership and the British political scene. It must be noted first that the Tribune opposes the idea that support to the war means a political truce is necessary. On the contrary, it feels that the differences between the Conservatives and Labor must be fought out not only in the House of Commons but in the country. The attitude that Labor’s views must be suppressed for the interests of maintaining the coalition is denounced as capitulation to the Tories. The Tribune goes further and imputes baser motives such as love of office and not just incorrect policies to the Party leadership. In fact, a month later, Jennie Lee compared Herbert Morrison to Ramsay MacDonald. [47] In the same article she attacked the electoral truce. It must not be thought that the supporters of the Tribune proposed, therefore, the end of the coalition. On the contrary, they cautioned others in the Labor Movement against demanding such a course:

The dilemma for Labor is a painful one, for it involves the question of whether Labor should leave the National Government and go into political opposition. This I believe would be a mistake ... Nor is it an answer to say that Labor could do more good to the nation in opposition than in the Government. That may well be true, but we must face the fact that if the Labor Party left the Government at. this juncture, it would have the appearance of disunity for the services with bad demoralizing effects. [48]

The lines were beginning to be drawn between the advocates of the coalition and the opponents. Bevan and the Tribune walked a tight rope between the two. They recognized with the opponents of the coalition that:

... if Labor is to collaborate in the National Government only on the condition that it drops its own program of social regeneration and helps to put across the plans of the vested interests, that not only spells death for the Labor Movement but reaction for the next decade. That is why I say that the crisis in the Labor Party continues, and it will persist as long as the fundamental question remains unresolved. [49]

At the same time, Bevan agreed basically with the Party leadership that the coalition must be maintained. He offered to the opponents of the coalition a form of opposition but he also offered to the majority of the rank and file, who had no advanced political ideas but vague discontent, loyalty to national unity. He wrote that it was possible to continue the fight for Labor’s needs and remain in the Government:

What has happened. We are told that the Labor Ministers fought inside the cabinet for the whole plan, but that the Tory Ministers insisted on the statement that was eventually made in the House of Commons. The Labor Ministers yielded. Suppose they had taken the other course.

Would the Tory Ministers have taken the responsibility for breaking the unity of the National Government over a plan which commands such universal support? [50]

The groundswell produced by the Government’s action on the Beveridge Report led to a rank and file revolt, in the Parliamentary Labor Party. The backbench members went solidly into the lobby against the Government and their own Ministers. [51] In this situation, Bevan had need of a policy to counterpose to that of the leadership short of ending the coalition. The Tribune supplied one. In this same article under the sub-title, What Can Be Done, the following course of action was offered:

In the first place, the Electoral Truce must be abandoned. Some way must be found to allow political opinion to register itself.

In the second place, the rank and file of the trade unions should make their voices heard in the ears of their leaders. Every branch meeting in the country should send in resolutions to their head officers demanding support to the Beveridge Plan.

Thirdly, the leaders of opinion in the Labor, Liberal and Communist Parties should begin to consider how best they can concert their forces so as to prevent the triumph of reactionary elements in the country.

If all these things are done, they will not win the victory now, but they will serve to hold the domestic enemy at bay until we have dealt with Hitler and we can then turn and give him our full and united attention. [52]

Thus the ideas of the “Popular Front” are again introduced, but in a different form and in a different context. The purpose here is not the formation of a “progressive Coalition Government,” but rather a holding operation by “progressive forces” until the war is won.

In spite of the Tribune’s attempts to limit the nature of the controversy within the confines of how to act in the coalition, the dispute was broadened. For the leadership, opposition to the electoral truce was identified with opposition to the coalition. For the Bevanites, the target became the continuation of the coalition after the war. Thus while Bevan agreed on the necessity of the coalition to defeat Hitler, he was concerned to a greater degree than the Party leadership with the opportunities for Labor to return to power at the earliest possible time. The arguments for the coalition were augmented with one that it was necessary not only to participate in winning the war but in laying the plans and the program of the peace. This argument seemed to the Tribune to reinforce its stand for opposition to the Electoral Truce. Just prior to the Party Conference of 1943, an article in the Tribune said:

One thing Labor people should be clear about. If the coalition is necessary for the preparation of these plans, it will be necessary equally for carrying them out. Therefore the Labor conference in supporting the Electoral Truce will be tying itself to a post-war coalition. [53]

This was followed by an open letter to the delegates to the 1943 Conference by Aneurin Bevan which laid down the gauntlet and committed the Bevanites to a continuous fight against the leadership which was to last until the end of the war. At this Conference, it had become clear to everyone that opposition to the Truce had far- reaching implications. The delegates were not ready for these implications and therefore voted to sustain the Truce, by a far greater vote than the previous year. The open letter shows an awareness of this on Bevan’s part. He says, “It is the deadly conviction that nothing I say will alter your conduct.” [54] Nevertheless, Bevan wrote his Open Letter, the main point of which was that Labor must prepare at once for an inevitable split with the Tories and a struggle to assume power after the war. He said that he was in basic agreement with the bureaucracy’s programmatic document, The Labor Party And the Future, but he maintained that the Party leadership offered no means of carrying out the program. This he attributed to the fact that the leadership was “mouthing Socialist phrases in which they no longer believe because it is necessary to do so in order to persuade you into continuing to give them confidence.” [55]

He criticized the delegates too for believing that they could wait until the end of the war to renew political opposition to the Tories. He proposed the following course of action as a means of solving Labor’s dilemma.

What should we do now? Leave the Government? Of course not. That would be open to the gravest misunderstanding in the country. What we should do is to make it clear that after the war, we are going to regain our independence. In the meantime, we should recover our liberty to fight by-elections.

Having made our position clear, we should take our stand on some principle of fundamental importance and if necessary leave the Government on it. Anything less vigorous will not give us back the initiative we have lost. [56]

The vote against the Electoral Truce in 1942 was over a million. In 1943 it was reduced to 347,000 [57], but the opposition to a post-war coalition was so strong that the speakers for the majority position were forced to disclaim the possibility of a coupon election at the end of the war. One of the speakers said, “There is not the slightest truth in the rumor that any leader has said that the Electoral Truce will continue after the war.” Thus while Bevan failed to extend his success in leading a movement against the Electoral Truce, he propelled himself into the leadership of a far more important project. This new project reflected the desires and fears of the rank and file more than had any group of insurgents in the history of the Party. It consisted of the pressure exerted to insure Labor’s independence from the Tories as soon as the war was over. It was the demand for preparation for a post-war election and a victorious Labor campaign.

The Tribune kept up the campaign against the Truce. Bevan himself signed an article outlining a plan to beat the Tories which included a plank to break the Truce, but the emphasis now was put more and more on post war plans. [58] Even after the Party leadership insisted that they were against a post-war coalition, the Tribune continued to attack them.

We make progress. The leaders of Labor have now decided that the Labor Party is to leave the coalition immediately the war is over in Europe. Only a short time ago, the more prominent of the Labor Ministers were openly declaring for a post-war Coalition Government. If they have abandoned their position, it is a greater tribute to their prudence now than to their sagacity then ...

They have been educated by those they reviled ...

We welcome this decision to have done with the coalition. We now want to know what they propose in its place. [59]

It must be understood that Bevan was always speaking of ending the coalition after the defeat of Hitler and not before. When the Government was beaten on an issue early in 1943 by one vote, he wrote that they would be irresponsible to go to the country. [60] What the Bevanites did call for was a more aggressive policy by the Labor leadership within the coalition.

Although the new insurgent movement did not hold impressive mass meetings all over the country in themanner of the earlier “Popular Front” campaign, the left-wing had by this time been reestablished, and in many respects it was much stronger than the earlier insurgency. Bevan had moved into Cripps’ place as the outstanding figure of the amorphous left. If he did not have Cripps’ national reputation and standing, he was at the head of a movement that was more representative of the desires and aspirations of the Labor rank and file and of large masses of people in Great Britain, It is because of this proximity to the political feelings of the masses that Bevan was able to withstand an attempt to expel him from the Labor Party. Bevan withstood this attempt whereas a similar move against not only him but Cripps as well had succeeded in 1939.

IN THE SPRING OF 1944, THERE OCCURRED the greatest manifestation of class struggle eruption in Great Britain during the war, a major coal strike. The reaction of the Government was to pass an anti-strike bill. The particular target of the legislation was a number of people identified with the small Trotskyist organization. The face of the Government, in this case, was not the Tories but the Laborites, particularly Ernest Bevin. The Tribune entered the fray and attacked Bevin and defended the strikers and the indicted “Trotskyites” in an article entitled Bogy-Man Politics. [61] This was followed by articles attacking the anti-strike legislation and the trade union bureaucracy. [62] Although Bevan had enraged the trade union leaders before with general political criticisms, this attack on a particular piece of legislation in seeming violation of the discipline of the Parliamentary

Party was the last straw. On the recommendation of the National Council of Labor, Bevan was brought up on charges for expulsion from the Labor Party. The Tribune presented the following motivation for the expulsion attempt:

Behind the attempt to expel Aneurin Bevan from the Labor Party lies a greater motive than personal Ministerial pique ... the real issue is more profound ... It is the issue of whether the Labor Movement is to ... reorganize itself as the chief army in the march toward Socialism or whether it is to see its role in the political field as the subordinate in the coalition and in the industrial field as a secondary partner to the employers. [63]

According to the Tribune, in addition to the above, the issues were the strike regulations and a “move to demoralize the thrust to a left coalition to replace the right coalition.” [64] The vote on the expulsion recommendation was taken in the Parliamentary Party. It was lost on a count of 71 to 60. [65] The setback to the bureaucracy was an indication of the strength of the new insurgency. Many MPs had voted against the leadership who had never been associated with the insurgents except on the issue of the Beveridge Report. It is true that the sentiment against the anti-strike regulations was very powerful [66], but there was another barometer to measure the rising strength of “Bevanism.” In May 1944, the Tribune already predicted the election of Bevan to the Executive of the Labor Party:

“Aneurin Bevan it was said was certain to be elected to the National Executive of the Labor Party. Others might also be carried in on the incoming tide of the left." [67]

Thus by the middle of 1944, Bevan and the Tribune had arrived. The left-wing had made its comeback, and it maintained the initiative within the Labor Party until the end of the war. Although the amorphous left was still not an organized force, it was no longer atomized. It was, moreover, no longer demoralized although it remained confused on a number of important questions. Among these were the nature of the Soviet Union, what vehicle was to be used to bring Labor to power, and foreign affairs.

This chapter has dealt with the development of a new insurgency in the Labor Party during the war and that of Aneurin Bevan in becoming its leading figure. This insurgency arose in part out of the ashes of an earlier defunct movement, but more fundamentally out of the disintegration of a national unity which could not stand the strains of the different interests of Labor and the Tories. A corollary to this was the aspirations of a large segment of the British people for a “new world” after the war.

Bevan and the Tribune group had stepped into a vacuum on the national political scene by performing the functions of an opposition in the House of Commons. This function was denied to the major parties because they were tied to the Government. Yet such a function was not only traditional but necessary for the kind of political system that exists in Great Britain. The Bevanites not only played the role of the opposition in the House of Commons but performed this task while remaining a loyal part of the Labor Party whose leadership was in the cabinet. In this way they became the rallying center for most elements in the Party who looked for a new role for the Party.

* * *


16. 365 H.C. Deb., 5s, p. 348.

17. Ibid., p. 350.

18. 373 H.C. Deb., 5s, p. 1842.

19. Ibid., p. 1844.

20. Ibid., p. 1843.

21. 374 H.C. Deb., 5s, p. 1240.

22. Ibid., p. 1980.

23. 367 H.C. Deb., p. 104.

24. 365 H.C. Deb., 5s, p. 345.

25. 364 H.C. Deb., 5s, pp. 655–6.

26. 368 H.C. Deb., 5s, p. 1599.

27. 374 H.C. Deb., 5s, p. 1981.

28. Aneurin Bevan, Russia and Ourselves, Tribune, August 19, 1941, p. 13.

29. Tribune, Complacency Will Not Win The War, August 5, 1941, p. 12.

30. Tribune, What Churchill Stands For, January 30, 1942, p. 1.

31. Ibid.

32. Ibid.

33. Ibid.

34. Ibid., p. 2.

35. Tribune, What Churchill Must Do, February 20, 1942. p. 1.

36. Thomas Rainsboro, Why Churchill, Tribune, March 6, 1942, p. 6.

37. Colonel Rainsboro, the Leveller leader during the Cromwellian Revolution was quoted by Bevan in one of his speeches in the House of Commons as a precursor of modern democratic ideas.

38. Tribune, And Now We Are Ten, January 31, 1947, p. 2.

39. Thomas Rainsboro, loc. cit., p. 6.

40. Ibid.

41. Ibid.

42. Ibid., p. 7.

43. 365 H.C. Deb., 5s, p. 345.

44. Tribune, And Now We Are Ten, January 31, 1947, p. 2.

45. Cole, Labour Party, p. 400.

46. Tribune, Tories Kill Beveridge Bill, January 29, 1943, p. 3.

47. Jennie Lee, Labour, Guerilla or Mass Army, Tribune, February 26.

48. Tribune, Labour Must Stay In The Government, March 3, 1943, p. 6.

49. Ibid., p. 7.

50. Ibid., p. 6.

51. Cole, Labor Party, p. 429.

52. Tribune, loc. cit., p. 7.

53. Tribune, The Way Out of Labour’s Dilemma, May 5, 1943, p. 1.

54. Aneurin Bevan, To Any Labour Delegate, Tribune, June 11, 1943, p. 6.

55. Ibid., p. 7.

56. Ibid., p. 6.

57. Cole, Labour Party, p. 402.

58. Tribune, A Labor Plan to Beat the Tories, February 11, 1944, p. 1.

59. Tribune, March 3, 1944, p. 1.

60. Tribune, Limits of Coalition, March 3, 1944.

61. Tribune, Bogy-Man Politics, April 7, 1914, p. 10.

62. Tribune, Five Years Jail, April 21, 1944, p. 1; Transport House in the Jungle, April 28, 1944, p. 9.

63. Tribune, May 5, 1944, p. 1.

64. Ibid.

65. Tribune, Tories Fail to Split Labor, May 12. 1944, p. 1.

66. The Tribune, March 12. 1944, p. 3, carried an excerpt from the Eighth Army newspaper in Italy which showed that even among the soldiers there was strong opposition to the anti-strike regulations. The army paper is reported as saying, “The right to strike is one of the freedoms we are fighting for,” and it further reports a rejection of a resolution in support of making strikes illegal.

67. Tribune, March 14, 1944, p. 3.

Top of page

Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 26 April 2019