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The Passing of a Labour Leader

It is not our purpose here to attempt an analysis of the career of Aneurin Bevan, but only to put one or two aspects of his progress from being a working class rebel against the tyranny and sordidness of capitalism to his occupancy of high office in the post-war Labour Government.

In particular we take an observation made by Bevan in an article of appreciation of Winston Churchill, published, after Bevan's death, in the Dairy Mirror (7/7/60). Bevan described Churchill as essentially a romantic, who "in his assessment of realities ... is without the discipline that comes from personal knowledge of industry and of economic affairs." He maintained that Churchill, because of the rank to which he was born, had been sheltered "from intimate insight into the concessions ideas have to make when they come to be transformed into the facts of a highly industrialised society."

Bevan's view of Churchill's limitations is probably well founded, but the thought invariably comes to mind that Bevan was here not only measuring Churchill, but also explaining and defending much that happened in his own activities: throughout the years after he had begun to make a name in the Labour Party he was torn between the desire to be a rebel espousing certain ideals and the necessity of working out concessions to meet the needs of practical politics. Nobody can suppose that Bevan was happy about finding himself supporting war, supporting re-armament and making his belated decision to press for the retention of the H-bomb as a bargaining counter in the Labour Party's plan to work for all-round disarmament.

But was he ever clear about what was happening and why it happened? Did he ever realise that his dilemma is one that necessarily faces all who take on the task of governing a capitalist country in a capitalist world? With or without seeing it clearly he, like the other leaders of the Labour Government, had come down on the side of the belief that as a present practical policy a Labour Government must face the workers as an administration trying to keep the British economy functioning and must face the world as guardian of British interests which necessarily meant in both spheres of action accepting and working within the framework of the capitalist social system. That he did so with some reluctance and occasional rebellious withdrawals show his resentment of the dilemma, but he never succeeded in resolving the problem. He would have argued, no doubt, that there was no alternative, and here we as Socialists insist that there was, and is, the alternative of leaving the running of capitalism to those who believe in it and of devoting efforts to building up an international Socialist working class with the consciously-held aim of putting Socialism in the place of capitalist society.