Did Clement Attlee Betray His Socialist Principles

When Elected As Primeminister? Essay, Research Paper

Socialism has its roots in the nineteenth century writings of Karl Marx who demonstrated the evils of capitalism in works such as “Das Kapital”(1867). Karl Marx was seen as a revolutionary and socialists, not keen on revolution, attempted to popularise socialism in two ways. The first was to make socialist ideas respectable for the public and socialist societies, such as the Democratic Federation formed in 1881 and the Fabian Society formed in 1884, published tracts and held conferences to spread socialism. The second was to create a socialist party to gain power through the ballot box. Keir Hardie, a Scottish coal-miner, tried to gain entry to Parliament in 1892 under the banner of Labour because socialism was still suspected by the people at this time. `Socialism(1) is seen as a system of state control, either through economic management or legislative intervention, of the ownership of the basic means of production. In controlling industry and agriculture the aim is to produce what is needed by society without regard to profit thus creating an egalitarian culture in which poverty is eradicated. Human nature is fundamentally good and it is the capitalist society which distorts this nature. Socialism aims to have create equality and freedom that a capitalist society does not. Individuals also need to recognise their economic interdependence with the moral obligations to society. It follows that the means whereby wealth is created should be owned collectively and a socialist planned economy would create wealth more efficiently and distribute it more evenly. This is embodied in Clause iv (2) which still appears on Labour party membership cards today. “To secure for the workers, by hand or by brain, the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service” `The Labour Party grew in strength upon its socialist principles and in 1945 when the first Labour government was returned with a working majority Clement Attlee was able and mandated to implement socialist policies. It may be true that a party in opposition remains committed to its ideology but it is only in government that such ideology is tested. Attlee when in opposition and even as deputy had no constants when espousing socialist policies. The election victory of July 1945 was a surprise as Winston Churchill’s popularity was never below 80% in the polls (3) during the war. The Times blamed Churchill’s campaign as to close and narrow, others saw his campaign on a personal re-election level which showed disunity with and within his party. Churchill himself in his memoirs blamed Conservative party organisation for a weak and lacklustre campaign. Attlee took office and began, with his government, to implement its socialist policies. `It is true to say that no one man or woman has time and skill enough to run the whole of government and Attlee is no exception to this rule. We will therefore consider his government as a hole. The Labour party manifesto “Let us Face the Future” had expressed the need for much reform but Attlee was not its main architect. The main thrust had come from the Beveridge Report (1942) on National Insurance which had a direct effect on the introduction of the National Insurance Act (1946). This act was to create a wider scope for universal benefits which would help co-ordinate in the fight to alleviate poverty. It was during the coalition years of the war that support for many social reforms had there foundations laid. Attlee’s Labour party had pressed Churchill and tabled an amendment, the only one during the war, calling on Churchill to reconsider the cool reception he had given the Beveridge Report. The coalition government had recognised the need for such reform but it was to be James Griffiths, the Labour Minister for National Insurance, who was given the task of steering through the bill in the first Labour Parliament. `Other measures were also born in the coalition years. The Conservative Minister of Health, Willink, had published a white paper in 1944 outlining a national health service. This had in some ways been a revamp of the Labour parties document “A National Service for Health” in 1943. Beveridge had also had in his report a system of health care for the nation. It was left to Bevan to create the N.H.S. in an act in 1946. It was up and running as a national health service by 1948 but its problems had just begun. Expenditure had doubled that which was expected and the Treasury in 1951 pressed for cuts in expenditure. This was against the socialist principles of Bevan, now Minister of Labour, and Harold Wilson the President of the Board of Trade as cabinet papers showed(Cab 128/21 PRO)CM 51 (4). Both ministers felt they could not be bound by collective responsibility and resigned. This was a small set back to the Attlee government which had driven hard for an egalitarian society. `Its plans to seek full employment meant the introduction of Keynesean economics which were to replace the classical economic theories of balanced budgets that had seemed so disastrous in the slump of the 1930s. Keynes theory was that government intervention in the economy would iron out the boom and bust cycle of capitalist created ideology. When times were good the government would “save” through taxation and in a slump they would spend their way out of the recession. It is true that unemployment had fallen from over two million in January 1939 to an average of 350,000 between 1945-51 apart from the 1947 fuel crisis when it shot up to nearly two million. It is questionable how much of this can be attributed to the war. It seems as though Dalton’s budgets of cheap money had stimulated full employment. The problem with this was that Britain was broke after many years at war. Over one quarter of the national wealth had gone by the end of the war. Keynes had forecast problems ahead and it was decided by Cabinet that we would seek loans from abroad, mainly America but also from Canada. This was done and in July 1948 it was agreed that Britain was to be bailed out by North Americans. `Attlee had succeeded to a large extent in the goals of social egalitarianism but not without minor hiccups. He now had to introduce measures to compliment this system and include the ideology of Clause iv. Common ownership came in the form of nationalisation. Although nationalisation was not new, Port of London 1908 and the Central Electricity Board 1926, its pace was rapid. The Bank of England was first into the hands of government ownership. It has been said that (2) ownership was a somewhat academic issue for the Labour government as they controlled most of its actions already. Once taken over much of the running of the bank was left as it had been but the important factor was that the government could have total control over any resistance to implement any policy that a private sector bank may wish to discourage. `Nationalisation of the Bank of England was broadly supported by Winston Churchill although the Conservative party voted against it on the second reading. Nationalisation of coal had the same backing of Churchill but again it was voted against by the Conservatives. Unlike nationalisation of the Bank of England, coal was seen as an aid to welfare and not state control identified in Clause iv. Many ex-miners were disabled through disease or dead, leaving families behind, uncared for by the owners who had worked them for the profit. The unions gave their support to Attlee’s government and although the committee on the Kings speech had placed it before nationalisation of the Bank of England it was discovered by a party worker that the calls for its introduction had not been formulated into any draft proposals. The Bank of England was one individual body whereas coal was divided into some eight hundred companies who had diversified into other areas apart from mining. The bill finally made it to the House in December 1945 after twelve drafts. `The first session of parliament saw two other areas nationalised. Civil aviation, which had been under much wartime control, in 1946 and cable and wireless in the same year, which had been under similar wartime control. These were to be followed by the rest of electricity in 1947, railways and canals in 1948, gas in the same year and iron and steel in 1949. All these nationalised industries had been seen as the realisation of socialism and the gems in the crown of a socialist state. These were not the only reforms that were introduced in the Attlee governments years of office. Controls on furnished tenancies and rent control, free school milk, cod liver oil and orange juice for children to improve health, increased expenditure on universities and the arts and maybe the first environmental policy by Dalton, increase in expenditure on the state funding of forests. Attlee’s government had set out their objectives and reached them. This was one of the reasons cited that Labour had completed their programme of reform and had nothing left to offer the electorate in 1951. `The Attlee government had, by the end of its office, instigated nearly all of its manifesto “Let us face the future”. Its also clear that much was done to enhance the welfare state and create an interventionist approach to government but many policies had there foot in both Labour and Conservative camps. To credit Labour with such sweeping reforms would not be fair on the Conservatives. It may have been that the Conservatives would not have gone as fast or as far but there was certainly broad areas of agreement between both parties. The introduction of a greater welfare system would almost certainly been introduced whichever party came to power as public opinion had grown in strength since the introduction of the Beveridge Report. The N.H.S. had been proposed by a Conservative Minister in a similar form back in 1943. `The question is, has poverty been eradicated and equality entrenched in society. The rich still remained rich and there was no redistribution of their wealth. The poor had a new system of benefits but many still fell through and benefits did not eradicate poverty but simply kept it at controlled levels. Poverty was now regarded as the level of state benefit. Making it relative to new targets set by society. One of the biggest shake-ups was nationalisation but this still but it was still entrenched with the use of a mixed economy. This was supposed to bring to the workers the means and ownership of production. The one thing it did achieve was to pass from one individual company to the state control but often still run by the same people. Those who worked in the nationalised industries still did not own the means of production. Its mitigating factor was the creation of jobs for life, in lame duck industries subsidised by society. The government also needed the control to keep wages low in the battle with inflation. The move to a Keynesian economic policy was unfortunate enough to have to start at the bottom of a cycle. It would seem that Attlee did achieve much and although he clung to the ideology of socialism to his death (5) It would appear on reflection that he failed to implement Socialism but achieved Labourism `BIBLIOGRAPHY `(1) Dictionary of Modern Politics D.Robertson `Europa Publications London (1986) `(2) Labour Party Constitution Clause iv `Labour Party (1918) `(3) The Labour Government 1945-51 Henry Pelling `MacMillan Press (1984) `(4) The Labour Party 1881-1951 Keith Laybourn `Alan Sutton Publications (1988) `(5) Attlee Keith Harris `Butler and Tanner (1983) `(6) The Labour Government 1945-51 Roger Eatwell `Batsford Academic (1979)


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