Editorial: Labour’s Strange ‘Revolution’
Labour’s electoral victory, 70 years ago this month, was a strange sort of revolution.
Since 1940, the Labour Party had been in power as part of the wartime coalition. 1945 saw them merely increase their share of the political cake. Clement Attlee, for instance, previously Deputy Prime Minister under Churchill, moved up a step. Similarly, Herbert Morrison, who had run the home front during the war, continued to run the home front during the peace. Morrison, Home Security during the war, stepped into Attlee’s shoes as Deputy Prime Minister.
Amongst rank and file Labour MPs elected in 1945, there were dozens of majors and lieutenants – the officer class – and not a single private. The very ordinary elite remained quite firmly in control of the political establishment.
Labour’s crowning glory of ’45 is seen as the creation of the so-called welfare state, in particular the National Health Service.
Although associated with the Labour Party, in fact all capitalist parties supported the drive for reorganisation of ‘social security’ – the provision of housing, health and education, and of unemployment and old age payments. Beveridge, whose report formed the basis for the social security reforms after 1945, was a Liberal. The Education Act of 1944, which established free compulsory secondary education for all, was the work of the Tory ‘Rab’ Butler.
To the capitalist class, it was evident that the existing system needed reform. A patchwork quilt of measures enacted over a century was unsystematic and hence inefficient – particularly in cost terms. Loopholes existed through which workers could gain more than they ‘needed’.
And the welfare state also brought them benefits. The war had revealed serious flaws in the health of the ‘nation’. The British Tommy, with his rotten teeth and pigeon chest, became an object of derision. This was a bad for fighting – and for working when peace returned. Something had to be done. In 1943, arch-capitalist Sir Samuel Courtauld freely admitted that social security ‘will ultimately lead to higher efficiency among them and a lowering of production costs’. Healthy workers make healthy profits.
The welfare state, the promise of a ‘better world’ tomorrow was also a carrot, an incentive to increase production – and killing – during the war. The Beveridge Report honestly declared ‘each individual citizen is more likely to concentrate upon his war effort if he feels that his Government will be ready in time with plans for that better world’. It was a promise that had to be fulfilled to avoid social unrest and conflict.
However, like all reforms, the measures that constituted the welfare state were always viewed by the capitalist class as subject to requirements. As early as 1951, the Labour government introduced the first charges on its own supposedly free National Health Service.
The welfare state and the NHS may have benefited the workers, but that was not the intention. The intention was to maximise profits, to increase the welfare of the capitalist class. So far as revolution was involved, the reforms were an attempt to avoid it.