Ken Loach’s “The Spirit of ’45″

The achievements of the 1945 postwar Labour government, explored and depicted in Ken Loach’s documentary, The Spirit of ’45, should be part of the school curriculum in every generation as a model of what a government committed to meeting the needs of the majority of its citizens can be. These achievements are all the more impressive considering the state of the British economy in 1945, after six years of war had decimated Europe, laid waste to most of its major towns and cities, destroyed its industrial capacity, and smashed its infrastructure.

The exigencies of the war had left Britain with a national debt of 225% of GDP, an unsustainable empire, and had exhausted its gold and dollar reserves. These facts alone serve to put the hysteria proffered by today’s austerity hawks over a national debt of 75% of GDP in 2010 into its proper perspective.

Historical parallels and difference between then and now are impossible to ignore while watching the film. One of the most striking is the pale imitation of today’s Labour Party to the one led and driven by political giants and visionaries such as Clement Attlee, Stafford Cripps, Hugh Dalton, Ernest Bevin and Nye Bevan. These men, responding to the hopes and needs of a British working class that had shed its blood to defeat fascism, were determined that Britain would never return to the crippling inequality, poverty, and social and economic injustice of the 1930s. The extent of this poverty is movingly depicted with the use of rare archive footage and the moving testimony of those who experienced it.

The Spirit of 45With the end of the war a wave of euphoria at the defeat of fascism combined in Britain with the resolute determination that the victory would extend to the postwar settlement. Given the inspirational role played by Churchill leading the country during the war, he and the Tories were unsurprisingly sanguine when it came to the general election that immediately followed. The Tory election slogan was ‘Vote National – Help Him Finish The Job’, referring to Churchill with the objective of associating his role in leading the country during the war with the need for continuity when it came to the postwar reconstruction. There was also a strong element of entitlement, again due to Churchill’s role in leading the country during the dark days of the Blitz, after France fell and before Hitler invaded the Soviet Union and the United States had yet to enter the war, when Britain stood alone against the might of the Third Reich.

But leading figures within the Labour Party had also played a key, if less high profile, role in the war effort. If not for Labour the disastrous policy of appeasement followed by Neville Chamberlain’s government, which led to its tepid and incompetence handling of the early stages of the war when it became unavoidable, would not have been ended as swiftly and conclusively as it was in 1940, when Chamberlain was replaced by Churchill and a wartime coalition government was formed.

I explored Labour’s role in ending appeasement in a previous article, ‘How Labour Turned the Tide’.

By war’s end thousands of soldiers, seamen, air force personnel, and workers at home were aware of the role of planning and organization in securing a victorious outcome, and the crucial role played by Labour ministers within that. Among the archive footage which runs throughout the film, one of the most uplifting is the scene of Churchill addressing and open air election rally in 1945 and being roundly booed by the crowd, which breaks into a chant of ‘We want Labour! We want Labour!’

It is hard to escape the conclusion that today’s Labour Party could only dream of being so popular and eagerly supported by the electorate.

The 1945 general election resulted in a Labour majority of 146 seats. It was a resounding endorsement of a manifesto based on the ‘Five Giant Evils’ in society of squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease that had been identified in the Beveridge Report of 1942, commissioned by Labour in 1941. Even so, after the victory came the monumental challenge of turning the manifesto into reality given the parlous state of the nation’s economy and finances.

It would not have been possible without a  huge loan from the United States.

copyright People's History MuseumThe irony here should not be lost. Essentially the United States government funded the implementation of socialist reforms which transformed British society out of all recognition to the one it had been before the war. For the first time in its social history the nation’s wealth, resources, and surplus was focused on prioritising the needs of the people over those of the rich and privileged. But the US had selfish and strategic reasons for granting the Attlee government a substantial loan to fund the nation’s postwar reconstruction. The spectre of the Soviet Union loomed large over postwar Europe, with communism enjoying an upsurge in popularity due to the role of the Red Army in smashing fascism. Communist partisans and resistance movements throughout occupied Europe had also played a significant part in the war, and the last thing the Truman administration could countenance was the possibility of an upsurge in pro-Soviet sentiment leading to a communist Europe. Consequently, massive economic aid with the aim of rebuilding Western Europe was a key plank of Washington’s strategy to win the peace. It was also designed to rebuild European markets to receive US exports.

However, the most crucial point with regard to the US loan responsible for funding Britain’s postwar reconstruction should not be missed in light of current events. Borrowing to invest in order to create demand is the way to drag any economy out of recession and return it to growth.

The terms attached to the loan by the US were not overly-kind. An amount of $3.75 billion, to be paid over fifty years at an annual interest rate of 2 percent, increased to $4.4 billion after factoring in the setting aside of $650 million owed to the US from the Lend-Lease Agreement which had allowed Britain to fight the war. In return Washington received Britain’s participation and support for the Bretton Woods Agreement, which in 1944 redrew the global economic map in favour of the US economy with the implementation of free trade and the end of currency exchange controls.

Over the next few years, Labour completed the wholesale nationalisation of industry and public utilities, a national programme of house building, which saw a million new homes built between 1945 and 1951, and the creation of the welfare state. Archive footage of then Housing Minister, Nye Bevan, stating the case for homes for the working class emphasises the socialist principles which ran through his veins.

Bevan was also the Minister for Health in Attlee’s government, and despite determined opposition from the British Medical Association, pushed through the imposition of the National Health Service in 1948. It was the crowning achievement of Labour’s historical role as a party of the working class. Millions of men and women who’d known only lives blighted shortened by disease, illness, and medical conditions that went untreated or only partially treated, were now fully and comprehensively covered. Dental care, eye care, maternity care – every aspect of the nation’s health was covered by right and treated free at the point of need. National Insurance, set up to fund the NHS, was a shining example of socialism in action.

All of this is excellently portrayed in the film utilising a combination of archive footage and personal testimony.

I have a couple of criticisms of the film. The main one is the imbalance between the moral and economic case it makes in favour of the postwar reforms. More of the latter I feel would have helped to refute the logic of austerity which currently holds sway among the political class.

The participation of various left wing commentators and figures as talking heads throughout by and large works well.  Counterfire’s John Rees is one who features prominently. In general he is good, though his assertion towards the end that a crucial weakness of the postwar Labour government’s radical reforms was that it merely replaced a ‘corporate bureaucracy with a state bureaucracy’ is not one I can agree with. Given the centrality of electoral politics to British society, both then and now, the question is not the principle of bureaucracy; the question is whose bureaucracy? In whose interests is it operating? He also suggests that workers’ committees would have made the nationalised industries and utilities stronger and more secure. This struck me as veering towards ultra leftism and out of sync with British society and working class consciousness during the period depicted. There was no upsurge in revolutionary consciousness in Britain after the Second World War. There was instead a consensus around the need and desire and possibility for radical reform, expressed through the ballot box with the election of a reforming Labour government.

Another talking head is Raphie De Santos. De Santos has a background in banking and is a financial analyst, endowing him with expertise when it comes to  the global banking sector and financial markets. He comes across well in the film and makes some useful points. Also participating and making good contributions are Tony Mulhearn, Alan Thornett, and Alex Gordon of the RMT.

Overall, Ken Loach’s The Spirit of ’45 provides a timely reminder of a period in history when the needs and hopes of the British working class were the guiding light of the government’s policy, resulting in the radical transformation of society and an economic recovery the like of which is desperately needed today.

68 comments on “Ken Loach’s “The Spirit of ’45″

  1. Blake on said:

    Thanks for the review John. I think the film suffered from the requirement to edit down the more technical interviews to fit everything in and make it watchable to wider public. The timeline on the film’s website has these interviews more expanded and worth visiting. Suppose the idea is that the film wets the appetite for viewers to find out more.

    http://www.thespiritof45.com/Timeline/Industry

  2. Blake, that’s a really good website – I linked to it at the top of John’s piece, but it’s worth people following Blake’s links above.

  3. real labour on said:

    ken loach has changed his line again on labour.
    in his days of hope trilogy the labour party and ernest bevin were portrayed as sell outs.
    maybe he should stick to glorifying the ira or just return to his roots in public school and oxford,

  4. Ken attended a Grammar school then served in the airforce before attending Oxford university.
    The time period of ‘Days of Hope’ dealt with crucial issues which socialists of that time had to address.
    It is an excellent drama and an accurate record of this period of struggle, and at the time of its broadcast it won great support from working class people who had lived through those struggles.

    If we could see it again , it would educate us all.
    Thankfully people like Ken have not abandoned the struggle to build a socialist society.

  5. All very well but business as usual for British imperialism. Also don’t forget your warmongering “hero” Nye Bevan gave you guys the nuclear bomb as he didn’t want to go “naked into the conference chamber”

    “GREECE: 40,000 British troops were deployed to crush the revolutionary resistance movement before the Labour government persuaded US imperialism to take over its bloody task.

    MALAYSIA: the depths of barbarism were plumbed in the use of ‘protected villages’, the SAS and even headhunters to defeat the Malayan liberation movement.

    INDIA: using military force, the Labour government imposed partition and established pro-imperialist regimes – in the ensuing conflict hundreds of thousands died and millions became refugees.

    VIETNAM: the Labour government used British troops under the direction of Major-General Gracey to restore French colonial rule, rearmed Japanese troops and condemned the Vietnamese people to 30 years of bloody anti-imperialist struggle.

    PALESTINE: the Labour government created Zionist Israel and paved the way for genocide against the Palestinian people.

    KENYA: the Labour government, in 1950, declared illegal a boycott of a Royal visit organised by the East African Trades Union Congress (EATUC) and jailed its organisers. It then deployed tanks, planes and armed police across Nairobi to crush an 18 day general strike. Hundreds of workers were arrested, the EATUC outlawed and strikes in 13 ‘essential services’ forbidden.

    JAMAICA: in 1946, the Labour government banned all public meetings and introduced internment.

    SOUTHERN AFRICA: the Labour government supported South African annexation of Namibia.

    IRELAND: the Labour government strengthened and guaranteed the loyalist Six County police state by passing the Government of Ireland Act 1949.

    KOREA: in 1950, the Labour government joined with US imperialism in the Korean War to attack North Korea and prop up the reactionary South Korean regime.

    GERMANY: the 1945 Labour government obstructed the prosecution of Nazi war criminals and supported the reinstatement of German industrialists, eg Krupp, who had a record of long support and collaboration with the Hitler regime.

    USSR: in 1948 the Labour government created a secret Foreign Office department to supply and distribute anti-Soviet propaganda. During the ‘Berlin crisis’ it gave permission for US atomic bombers to be stationed in Britain for possible use against the Soviet Union. In 1949 it joined the anti-Soviet NATO war machine.”

  6. Geoff Collier on said:

    red snapper:
    All very well but business as usual for British imperialism. Also don’t forget your warmongering “hero” Nye Bevan gave you guys the nuclear bomb as he didn’t want to go “naked into the conference chamber”

    I think you’re confusing Nye Bevan with Ernest Bevin. Bevin was largely responsible for the 1945 government foreign policy, including the creation of NATO. Nye Bevan was more responsible for the creation of the NHS at that time. The “naked in the conference chamber” conversion was in 1957, I think, which led directly to the formation of CND in 1958

  7. Vanya1 on said:

    Given the venom generated by events in Scotland a few years ago, ad the fact that it appears that such venom is still poisoning relations on the left I am pleased to note that John chooses to quote approvingly someone who very clearly on the other we side in those events.

  8. EasternHemisphere on said:

    Geoff Collier: The “naked in the conference chamber” conversion was in 1957, I think, which led directly to the formation of CND in 1958

    You are right about it being Bevin, but just to clear up the ambiguity in your post, the quote was definitely from Nye Bevan in 1957, and he disappointed many of his supporters by his stance at the time.

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Aneurin_Bevan
    “I knew this morning that I was going to make a speech that would offend, and even hurt, many of my friends. I know that you are deeply convinced that the action you suggest is the most effective way of influencing international affairs. I am deeply convinced that you are wrong. It is therefore not a question of who is in favour of the hydrogen bomb, but a question of what is the most effective way of getting the damn thing destroyed. It is the most difficult of all problems facing mankind. But if you carry this resolution and follow out all its implications — and do not run away from it — you will send a British Foreign Secretary, whoever he may be, naked into the conference chamber. … And you call that statesmanship? I call it an emotional spasm.”
    Speech at the Labour Party Conference, 4 October, 1957, on unilateral nuclear disarmament.

    Despite that he was still a giant compared to the Labour leaders of today.

  9. Darren Cahil on said:

    Andy Newman:
    Since you think Bye Bevan and Ernie Bevin are the same person,all of your opinions deserve automatic ridicule.

    So rather than engage in ‘red snappers’ piece, you use an SWP-CC style put down based on a mistake on the author’s part. Given your criticisms of the SWP-CC’s unscrupulous condescending, diversionary tactics against it’s critics, I’m not impressed by this condescension of an red snapper who got the names of two ministers the wrong way round.

  10. Alan Ji on said:

    So Ken Loach, who was the greatest leader of the left in the 20th Century, Clement Attlee or Vladimir Lenin?

  11. red snapper: All very well but business as usual for British imperialism.

    Yes, Britain was/is an imperialist state, which at the time controlled a fading empire. The crimes committed by the British establishment over the past 4-500 years are legion. As James Connolly rightly put it, ‘Their crimes would shame all the devils in hell’.

    You will get no argument from me on that. But what about the creation of the NHS, the welfare state, council housing, nationalisation of industry, full employment – you don’t agree that these were considerable achievements at a time when the economy was on its knees and in a far worse state than it is now? You don’t think that people on the left, looking back at the period now, should give credit to the government responsible for those reforms?

    And what about the millions of people in Britain who benefited at the time, whose lives and futures were transformed? What about the succeeding generations of working class people in Britain who also benefited from council and social housing, who still benefit from the NHS and the welfare state?

    You don’t think any of this matters or is important or should be recognised as what can be achieved by a British government if it has the political will?

  12. Darren Cahil on said:

    Alan Ji:
    So Ken Loach, who was the greatest leader of the left in the 20th Century, Clement Attlee or Vladimir Lenin?

    You should ask him yourself, not here on SU. I’m going to see the film by the way. It should be interesting even for people, (myself included) do not always agree with Loach.

  13. Churchill was bitterly opposed to India independence and indeed to independence for anyone. Labour started the break-up of the British Empire. Nehru an imperialist? Red snapper is a buffoon on so many levels and proves it again here.

  14. Manzil on said:

    Matty:
    Churchill was bitterly opposed to India independence and indeed to independence for anyone. Labour started the break-up of the British Empire.Nehru an imperialist? Red snapper is a buffoon on so many levels and proves it again here.

    Labour actually tried its hardest to defend the empire – openly characterising the transfer of power as the only way to ensure leaving India wasn’t “the first step in the dissolution of the empire”.

    Attlee hated the “brown oligarchy” of the national movement. Dalton and Cripps both wanted to split Congress, and even played with supporting the ex-communist M.N. Roy’s ‘Radical Democrats’ (until 90% of non-Muslims voted I.N.C. in 1946)! Morrison simply couldn’t understand why Indian politics wasn’t characterised by “trouble [...] between the masses & the Indian capitalists” rather anti-colonialism.

    It was the colonial bureaucracy which presented Churchill and then Attlee with the fait accompli: Wavell believed “the repressive force necessary to hold India after the war would exceed Britain’s means”; his security advisor doubted “whether a Congress rebellion could be suppressed”. Thus a parliamentary delegation told Attlee, “We must quit India quickly. If we don’t, we shall be kicked out”.

    The Indian people essentially won their independence in the Quit India mass movement and the R.I.N. mutiny aka the “almost revolution”; they didn’t receive it out of British beneficence.

    On the other hand, Red Snapper’s comment about the Brits having “imposed partition and established pro-imperialist regimes” is absolute bollocks, you’re quite right. There’s a reason it’s called “shameful flight” or “divide and quit”: the colonial state was in a condition of complete collapse. Britain couldn’t have imposed the terms of its own exit if it had wanted to – which it bloody well didn’t.

    Nor do I see what the record of British imperialism has to do with the democratic gains of the working class in 1945. What’s your point, Red Snapper? Do British crimes in the Malayan emergency or the Mau Mau uprising make the welfare state not worth celebrating?

  15. George Hallam on said:

    John: But what about the creation of the NHS, the welfare state, council housing, nationalisation of industry, full employment – you don’t agree that these were considerable achievements at a time when the economy was on its knees and in a far worse state than it is now? You don’t think that people on the left, looking back at the period now, should give credit to the government responsible for those reforms?

    What muddled thinking.

    the Welfare State
    the foundations were laid before the First World War, following the example of Bismarck. The rest followed the all-party Beveridge Report. Governments across Western Europe legislated functionally equivalent measures in the post-war years. This happened notwithstanding the wide differences in the political composition of these governments. I would suggest that something more fundamental than ideology was operating to bring this convergence about.

    Council housing
    dates from the late 19th Century. This was the responsibility of local government. Many Conservative controlled councils had a good record on council-house building both before and after the Second World War

    Nationalisation of industry
    In those times few Conservatives (or Liberals) were opposed to nationalisation on principle. For example from 1919 the electricity supply industry was regulated by ‘The Electricity Commissioners ‘ a department of the Ministry of Transport. The first step in the creation of the national grid was the 1926 Electricity (Supply) Act.

    During the Second World War many industries were placed under state control. By the end of the war, lack of investment meant that most of these industries needed to be reconstructed for them to continue operating. Nationalisation was an obvious means of doing this. There was a large measure of cross-party agreement on this, in private if not in public. This is shown by the token nature of the Conservative’s opposition in Parliament to the many nationalisation acts. The exception that proved the rule was the steel industry. (The steel industry was generally profitable.)

    At the same time as carrying through a limited programme of nationalisation the Labour administration dismantled the comprehensive system of controls over private industry.
    This, together with legislation on competition, was more important to the development of the British economy.

    “..the period of 1944 to 1948 was key in the development of British competition policy. The postwar Labour Government consolidated a model of state–industry relations which, though markedly more interventionist than previous peace-time governments’ had more in common with Lionel Robbins’ strategy for state involvement in the economy than anything deriving from socialist thought.”

    Mercer, Helen (1995) ‘Constructing a competitive order The Hidden History of British Antitrust Policies’ CUP

    Full employment
    The Labour government did not create, full employment in the UK economy. In fact unemployment rose under the Labour, all be it modestly.

    Full employment was created by the mobilisation of resources for the war effort. Failure to maintain something approaching full employment was likely to have serious political consequence. This makes it unlikely that any government would have allowed a reversion to pre-war levels of unemployment if they could prevent this.

    Fortunately for post-war governments, it was possible to maintain levels of employment that, by today’s standards, were extremely high.
    This was possible not despite the fact the economy was on its knees. It was possible precisely because the economy was on its knees. The depression and the war had created the condition for a prolonged period of economic growth. This was nothing to do with the Labour government.

  16. stuart on said:

    Manzil:

    Nor do I see what the record of British imperialism has to do with the democratic gains of the working class in 1945.

    They are not unrelated. If the US is a major financier then foreign policy will be influenced accordingly. Hence the Korea intervention and the attacks on welfare gains for example.

  17. Darren Cahil on said:

    Matty:
    Churchill was bitterly opposed to India independence and indeed to independence for anyone. Labour started the break-up of the British Empire.Nehru an imperialist? Red snapper is a buffoon on so many levels and proves it again here.

    Ad homien =/= a valid argument.

  18. George Hallam: the foundations were laid before the First World War, following the example of Bismarck.

    George, thanks for correcting my ‘muddled thinking’. Clearly, I’m misinformed. I was unaware that it was Otto von Bismarck who commissioned the Beveridge Report in 1941-42 and then went on to bring into law the National Insurance Act (1946), the National Insurance (Injuries) Act (1946), and the National Assistance Act (1948).

    I was also unaware that Britain was awash with council houses and the there was no housing crisis in Britain and that millions of working class people were not suffering from poor, unhygienic and overcrowded housing conditions prior to Labour’s election, which set in train the building of one million new homes between 1945-51. As far as I am aware this was not part of the Tory manifesto.

    I was also unaware that prior to the Electricity Act (1947), which brought into being the British Electricity Authority in 1948, 600 different and privately owned power companies were involved in supplying the nation’s electricity needs. I did not know this.

    Re full employment, for the postwar Labour government this was a political and economic principle and not driven merely by favourable economic conditions.

    Full employment would not have been possible without the agency of a government committed to implementing it and which had nationalised near every aspect of the economy. I think you will find that the Tories were opposed to full nationalisation.

    A darkened room provides favourable conditions for light, but there won’t be light unless someone puts the bulbs in and flips the switch.

  19. Manzil,

    Certainty its relationship with imperialism has been a problematic aspect of labourism from the outset. But it has not been an undisputed one, and I think you present “Labour” as a monolith, so you give insufficient emphasis to either different attitudes within labour to Empire, or to the constraints imposed on the Labour govt by the autonomous interests of the state.

    There was certainly a huge difference between Cripps and Attlee, on the one hand, and the more pro empire views of Bevan.

  20. George Hallam on said:

    John: I was unaware that it was Otto von Bismarck who commissioned the Beveridge Report in 1941-42

    George Hallam: the Welfare State
    the foundations were laid before the First World War, following the example of Bismarck.

  21. George Hallam on said:

    John: I was also unaware that Britain was awash with council houses and the there was no housing crisis in Britain and that millions of working class people were not suffering from poor, unhygienic and overcrowded housing conditions prior to Labour’s election,

    During the interwar period public housing grew from less than 1% to roughly 10% of the national total.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2008/aug/13/communities.housing

    Of course the Guardian is a Left paper so this may be wrong.

    What can be checked are three acts of Parliament which show that there was council housing before 1945.

    1890 the Housing of the Working Classes Act – local authorities encouraged to improve the housing

    1919 the Housing Act – subsidies provided to build houses in areas where there was high demand.

    1933 Housing Act: subsidies restricted to replacement due to slum clearance

  22. Manzil on said:

    stuart: They are not unrelated. If the US is a major financier then foreign policy will be influenced accordingly. Hence the Korea intervention and the attacks on welfare gains for example.

    And from this you conclude… what? That the welfare state shouldn’t be celebrated, because of the Korean war? Loach’s film has little to do with glorifying the imperial aspirations of the ruling class.

    The post-war settlement wasn’t just a sop to the masses, it was one event (and a reflection of popular strength) in an ongoing, contingent process of political struggle, an attempt to ‘own’ the peace. We often view the welfare state as a reflection of post-war capitalist democracy, but in many respects it was a victory of democracy over capitalism. It shouldn’t be dismissed.

    Andy Newman:
    Certainty its relationship with imperialism has been a problematic aspect of labourism from the outset.But it has not been an undisputed one, and I think you present “Labour” as a monolith,so you give insufficient emphasis to either different attitudes within labour to Empire, or to the constraints imposed on the Labour govt by the autonomous interests of the state.

    There was certainly a huge difference between Cripps and Attlee,on the one hand, and the more pro empire views of Bevan.

    Aye, it’s wrong to suggest ‘Labour’ itself was monolithic in its attitude to empire. But the 1945 government was, I think, differentiated only by the varying degrees to which its members attempted to preserve an imperial role. Of course, this was often expressed in quasi-progressive language about a civilising mission or the potential for a post-imperial socialist commonwealth.

    I don’t think they were all committed imperialists, but they fundamentally misunderstood the nature (and prospects!) of British imperialism. Even relatively liberal figures like Attlee spoke of nationalism in Churchillian terms: it was an “anti-British vested interest”, over whose head they could reach to the masses. They honestly felt confused by and indignant at the anti-colonial wave they faced.

    Undoubtedly there were arch-imperialists in the British civil service egging on Labour to continue the wartime policy (in which they had been active participants e.g. the Cripps Mission). However, whether out of personal prejudice, the weakness of their political understanding, or the pressures which they inherited, the Labour leaders willingly tried to stem the anti-colonial tide, and only reluctantly came to the conclusion it was impossible, especially without American approval and material support.

    If anything, the ‘boots on the ground’, in the officer corps and the I.C.S., were starkly aware of the impossibility of “reviving” the empire once peacetime conditions returned, and were among those most resistant to the almost revanchist views emanating from the home government (given the wastage in the senior layers of the colonial administration and the collapse of control over much of the Indian countryside, ‘continuation’ of British rule would have assumed the form of a re-conquest).

    The wartime integration of Indian and British capital (and the overlapping of economic interests – capital goods constituting around half of exports to India by 1946, giving Britain a clear interest in the industrial development promised by the I.N.C.) allowed the more subtle sections of the British ruling class to reach “over the head” of the substance if not the agents of Indian nationalism.

    In actuality, the more forward-thinking sections of the upper classes came rather quickly to a more nuanced understanding than the adherents of ‘east of Suez’ thinking around Bevin. The Economist for instance recognised that the terms of Indian independence could be negotiated so as to maintain for Britain its “essential strategic and economic ties … even if they are under different political forms”.

    Nicholas Owen’s The British Left and India: Metropolitan Anti-Imperialism, 1885-1947 goes into great detail about the ambiguous relationship between the labour movement and the empire – I didn’t mean to suggest they were all just a bunch of bastards! Well worth a look if anyone’s interested, anyway.

  23. I do know the difference between Bevan and Bevin and it was Bevan who sold out on nuclear weapons and his quote was correct, I got the time and context wrong which was my mistake, apologies for that. It was late and was working all night. :-) I am right in saying that it was Labour, and particularly the arch imperialist and warmonger Ernest Bevin who initiated Britain’s nuclear weapons programme:

    “We’ve got to have this thing. I don’t mind it for myself, but I don’t want any other Foreign Secretary of this country to be talked at or to by the Secretary of State of the US as I have just been… We’ve got to have this thing over here, whatever it costs … We’ve got to have the bloody Union Jack on top of it.” Ernest Bevin speaking in a cabinet sub-committee meting. October 1946.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gen_75_Committee

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_weapons_and_the_United_Kingdom

  24. I response to comrades comments, of course I agree the 1945 mildly reformist pretty mainstream bourgeois capitalist social democratic type Labour gov’t made significant and worthy reforms, particularly the NHS that really made a difference to the quality of peoples lives. But it could hardly be described as a socialist gov’t. It existed well within capitalism and made no significant attempts to fundamentally change the entrenched unequal power and class relations and structures. The rich stayed rich, the monarchy and undemocratic House of Lords were untouched, same with the military and other oppressive arms of the state, bloody imperialism carried on as usual and a few crumbs were thrown to stop the working class from wanting more and they were generally satisfied with this and apart from a few exceptions effectively not caring much for those at the receiving end of the British bayonet and jackboot abroad. A rather parochial and Anglo centric attitude to the world that unfortunately seems to be shared by some of you here. :-(

  25. Manzil: he terms of Indian independence could be negotiated so as to maintain for Britain its “essential strategic and economic ties … even if they are under different political forms”.

    This is correct. The choice came down to trying to hold onto India as a colonial possession in the old way and risk losing everything, or adapting to the new reality on the ground and retaining economic advantage.

  26. Labour in 1945 could have made the decisive break with Britain’s imperial past and as a result become Western Europe’s leading progressive anti imperialist nation. This would have also gained it enormous respect among progressive governments and people around the world. The post war unconditional and uncritical alliance with US imperialism was akin to signing a pact with the devil and the resulting consequences are felt to this day. An opportunity wasted. It could have been so different.

  27. George Hallam: 1890 the Housing of the Working Classes Act – local authorities encouraged to improve the housing

    1919 the Housing Act – subsidies provided to build houses in areas where there was high demand.

    1933 Housing Act: subsidies restricted to replacement due to slum clearance

    But these and other precursors to the post-1945 welfare state were not unconnected to the rise of the working class movement, of which in Britain the formation of the Labour Party became a very important component.

    That was of course not the only factor. Among the other aspects was the practical need for survival and comfort of members of the ruling class, who could not be totally separate from their fellow humans. Eg, the ‘Great Stink’ of 1858, resulting from untreated sewage in London, made the capital inhospitable even for the elite; thus contributing to the pressure to invest in a publicly funded sewage system.

    The factors after WW2 included the hugely increased influence / threat of communism, associated with the Soviet / allied military victory; the Labour Party’s 1945 success, and what that government was able to do, was closely connected with that.

    Obviously this was not purely a UK phenomenon. The impetus given to the ‘human face’ of capitalism in that period (from which the system has since unfortunately been recovering) was a response, to a great extent, to the working class struggle including communism as well as less ambitious objectives.

  28. red snapper: Labour in 1945 could have made the decisive break with Britain’s imperial past and as a result become Western Europe’s leading progressive anti imperialist nation.

    Was that in the same movie where the 11 year old boy got a letter from an Owl that said he was a wizard, and he got to go to a magical public school, and fly on a broomstick?

    I suggest that an approach to history where you just weave in your own fantasies may not be very useful.

  29. red snapper: It existed well within capitalism and made no significant attempts to fundamentally change the entrenched unequal power and class relations and structures.

    Unbelievable. What I find remarkable, is that your don’t let you utter ignorance of the facts impede in any way your confidence to spout your inane opinions.

  30. red snapper,

    But here is the paradox. Bevin was also the man who built the TGWU, introduced Keynesian economics into the Labour Party. And as minister of labour promoted the penetration of trade unionism throughout industry, reversing the fortunes of the union movement, and laying the foundations for the growth of shop floor power in the 1950s.

    Bevin was not an “arch imperialist”, he was a trade unioinist who exemplified the subaltern relationship of British labourism to the British state, and therefore to the state’s imperial role.

    The strength of labourism and its ties with Empire were not due to betrayal by Labour Party leaders, this was due yo the depth of support for the imperial project throughout the working class, notwithstanding a significant anti imperialist minority.

    The historical scope for that labour government was constrained by this context.

  31. Manzil,

    John,

    There was a third option, which Labour faced down, which was popular in the Anglo-Indian elite, what they called “scuttle “. This was the argument for a precipitate early withdrawal , with no handover of power, and for Britain to as far as possible seize and take to Britain the assets of the Indian state.

    This model was largely followed by France, and has resulted in the modern French state still having a hands on role in many of its former colonies.

    India has a complicated past history with Britain, and after all it was Macauley who invented India as a political and national project. Despite the horror of partition, the Attlee government initiated a model of de-colonialisation that preserved the rule of law.

  32. Andy Newman: Bevin was also the man who built the TGWU, introduced Keynesian economics into the Labour Party. And as minister of labour promoted the penetration of trade unionism throughout industry, reversing the fortunes of the union movement, and laying the foundations for the growth of shop floor power in the 1950s.

    This is spot on. Bevin is one of the greatest trade union leaders of the 20th century, organising carters in Bristol and dockers in South Wales at a time when to be a trade union official in Britain was a highly dangerous occupation.

    He spoke out against the First World War but tended to the view that the role of the unions during the war should be to ensure they come out of it stronger. The role he played in winning trade union recognition throughout Britain was immense.

    He was not a revolutionary. But it was not revolutionaries who in Britain created the NHS, built a million council houses, nationalised industry, created full employment and a welfare state which millions of working class people and generations have benefited from.

  33. John Grimshaw on said:

    #30 Presumably Noah, people say the things they do for a reason. Hence some seek to minimise the achievements of the ’45 generation in order to justify their revolutionary socialist positions, and anti-Labour views. Equally others over-empathise the achievements of the Attlee government to justify their own pro-Labour positions. It strikes me that George Hallam is right but nor does it mean that post-war Britain was awash with social housing.

  34. George Hallam on said:

    Noah: But these and other precursors to the post-1945 welfare state were not unconnected to the rise of the working class movement, of which in Britain the formation of the Labour Party became a very important component.
    That was of course not the only factor.

    And of course that was my point.

    I was trying to lead people away from the simplistic picture of the whole of modern British history as a struggle between two political parties: the ‘evil Tories’ and the ‘noble Labour Party’.

    Superficially, this view appears to be merely childish. On closer examination it has the function of silencing all criticism of the Labour Party (Well you don’t want to let the evil Tories in do you?)

    As you know I do not consider myself part of the Left and I have little time for the Guardian newspaper. However, there is an interesting article in today’s edition.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/mar/17/osborne-budget-will-not-solve-britains-problems

    Martin Rowson cartoon – “No more Punch and Judy politics” is also very apposite.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cartoon/2013/mar/17/martin-rowson-leveson-political-fallout

  35. George Hallam: I was trying to lead people away from the simplistic picture of the whole of modern British history as a struggle between two political parties: the ‘evil Tories’ and the ‘noble Labour Party’.

    As I write in the article:

    ‘These men, responding to the hopes and needs of a British working class that had shed its blood to defeat fascism, were determined that Britain would never return to the crippling inequality, poverty, and social and economic injustice of the 1930s.’

    What you have forgotten, or omitted from your comments, is the extent to which the Labour Party at that time was a genuinely working class party, the vast majority of its members, MPs, and leading officers from the working class. Bevin, for example, was the product of extreme poverty in rural England, and Nye Bevan wasn’t exactly born with a silver spoon in his mouth either.

    It seems to me you are making the mistake of equating the Labour Party of today with the Labour Party of the postwar period. For me they are two completely different animals, which again is something I make clear in the original article.

    Having said that, the nature of the working class has also changed out of all recognition. No longer is it industrialised or as homogenised, and the success of Thatcher’s right wing revolution remains a factor today both in terms of the state of the economy and at the level of ideas. This has posed a massive problem for all sections of the left, including the revolutionary left, but Labour in particular.

  36. George Hallam on said:

    Andy Newman: Bevin was not an “arch imperialist”,

    See
    Louis, W. R. (1977) ‘Imperialism at Bay’ Oxford University Press, Oxford.

    “Bevin’s Imperialism and the Idea of Euro-Africa, 1945-49,” in British Foreign Policy,. 1945-56, ed. Michael Dockerill and John W. Young

  37. George Hallam: the ‘evil Tories’ and the ‘noble Labour Party’.

    This represents a facile understanding of political parties and what they represent. Neither Labour nor the Tories exist in splendid isolation from the rest of society. They and their policies both reflect and respond to the level of class consciousness which exists in any given period.

    Voter apathy and low turnout provides evidence of Labour’s rightward shift under Blairism, but in a time of economic boom enough people were doing well to ensure he was returned to power in three general elections, while at the same time various left of Labour electoral coalitions, parties, and coalitions have come and gone.

  38. Manzil on said:

    Andy Newman,

    True – but it wasn’t entirely a clear-cut division between reactionary scuttle and progressive transfer of power.Britain’s eventual position was motivated as much by long-term thinking of the British elite, as the prospects for scuttle were by the knee-jerk reactions of that same elite.

    Thus the Mountbatten Plan’s acceleration of the handover was specifically designed to allow the British to “keep the initiative” and put the Congress and League on the back foot. Cain and Hopkins’ work British Imperialism (which initiated the concept of City-led ‘gentlemanly capitalism’) shows how the colonial apparatus that survived 1942-46 weren’t “preparing themselves for immolation”, they were trying their best to subordinate the terms of independence to British interests, right to the end.

    Likewise, the transfer of British (particularly military) assets to the Indian and Pakistani states, was based on ongoing, hard-nosed assumptions about locking the post-colonial successor states into a pro-British international system (although the collapse of Partition into a ‘communal war of succession’, the first Kashmir war, and Cold War politics largely put an end to this).

    IMO post-war foreign policy can essentially be seen as the triumph of a more enlightened imperial perspective – the 1945 government was a far better vehicle for the British state’s long-term interests than the Churchills, who didn’t realise that to survive imperialism had to transcend formal empire.

  39. stuart on said:

    Manzil: And from this you conclude… what? That the welfare state shouldn’t be celebrated, because of the Korean war? Loach’s film has little to do with glorifying the imperial aspirations of the ruling class.The post-war settlement wasn’t just a sop to the masses, it was one event (and a reflection of popular strength) in an ongoing, contingent process of political struggle, an attempt to ‘own’ the peace. We often view the welfare state as a reflection of post-war capitalist democracy, but in many respects it was a victory of democracy over capitalism. It shouldn’t be dismissed.

    I’ve not seen Loach’s film yet (I will eventually get round to it as I try to see them all).

    But in trying to make serious analysis of the 45-51 achievements I think we need an honest assessment. True there was a radical influence, pertinently summed up in Quentin Hogg’s reference to ‘give them reform or they will give us revolution’ or something like that. But let’s not kid ourselves. This was not a challenge to capitalism, it was not anti-capitalist. The reforms were dependent on an efficient capitalism. The needs of capital came first. Even left critics of Labour within the party seemed to go along with this.

    In terms of the Britain’s economic and industrial structure, the period did represent a continuation of an existing trend. In the 1930s ‘Britain..turned from one of the least into one of the most trustified or controlled economies’. (Hobsbawm ‘Industry and Empire’).

    Whilst Hobsbawm agrees that welfare planning was ‘far more ambitious than anything which had preceded it.’ He notes, ‘The actual level of expenditure..was not outstandingly high….In 1964 it lay very much below all Common Market countries as a percentage of national income’ (Ibid).

  40. stuart on said:

    John: This is spot on. Bevin is one of the greatest trade union leaders of the 20th century,.

    If you really believe that I recommend the four part drama ‘Days of Hope’ directed by Ken Loach.

  41. George Hallam on said:

    John: the ‘evil Tories’ and the ‘noble Labour Party’.
    This represents a facile understanding of political parties and what they represent.

    I agree.

    However, this is the line taken by Labour Party members. They reduce struggles to a conflict between ‘The Tories’ and themselves. From this it follows that the only role for everybody else is to keep quiet and vote Labour at the next available opportunity. Anything that might reflect badly on the Labour Party’s electoral performance is condemned as being pro-Tory.

    For example, in the Lewisham Hospital campaign, PFI agreements are the immediate cause of the bankruptcy of the neighbouring South London Health Trust. These were implemented under the Labour government.

    However, bringing the issue of PFI into the discussion is condemned as “Labour bashing”.

    Similarly, the measures of dealing with bankrupt trusts being used against us, the ‘special commissioner’, the truncated consultation period, etc., were also things implemented by the Labour government. But woe betide you if mention this.

  42. stuart: This was not a challenge to capitalism, it was not anti-capitalist. The reforms were dependent on an efficient capitalism. The needs of capital came first. Even left critics of Labour within the party seemed to go along with this.

    Which left critics within the party?

    It is nonsense to suggest that “the needs of capital came first”.

    For one thing, a major strand of thinking in the party, from Durban, to Wootton to Morrison identified the creation of nationalised corporations as opposed to private capitalist corportations as definitionally what a socialised economy was. This was not done in “the interests of capital”, which those people would have identified with the private ownership of capital; but in the interests of an efficient national economy

    But looked at from another angle, left fugures like Shinwell who wanted to go further with nationalisation did not counterpose a different model, they just wanted more of it. But the political basis of support simply wasn’t there for further nationalisation.

    The important thing was to get the economy working again.

    Furthermore, the division between left and right was not meaningfully in that era over nationalisation, but over the question of peace and the USSR.

  43. Vanya1 on said:

    Stuart – there were of course a minority of socialists both within the L.P. and outside who opposed the Korean War.

    Some of these were clear in their support for the liberation struggle against US imperialism and its local allies and the connected struggle to defend the Chinese revolution.

    Others took a different position as we know.

  44. Vanya on said:

    Btw just realised that I’ve been posting as Vanya1from my android device. Sorry for the confusion :)

  45. stuart on said:

    Andy Newman: the division between left and right was not meaningfully in that era over nationalisation, but over the question of peace and the USSR.

    But you cannot really separate the two. The Keep Left pamphlet was advocating ‘socialist’ measures such as planning being used to increase economic efficiency, undercut competitors, boost the ‘export drive’, reduce reliance on the US. And the calls to curb arms spending were similarly motivated by the need to make ‘our’ economy more efficient, hence the support for ‘peace’, a ‘third force’, an Anglo-French alliance.

    But the unity behind this was challenged by the reality of the Marshall Aid offer. Tribune went along with it as it offered greater economic and welfare benefits but it quite predictably saw the group aligning more closely with US imperialism.

  46. stuart: The Keep Left pamphlet was advocating ‘socialist’ measures such as planning being used to increase economic efficiency, undercut competitors, boost the ‘export drive’, reduce reliance on the US. And the calls to curb arms spending were similarly motivated by the need to make ‘our’ economy more efficient, hence the support for ‘peace’, a ‘third force’, an Anglo-French alliance.

    You absolutely can seperate the two if you are interested in serious history, and understanding the dynamics of labourism in that period.

    There was really very little left/right disagreement over the economy during the Attlee government, in so far as there was division, the question of economic policy and aproach to nationalisation was not an issue. Evan Durbin and Douglas Jay did begin a more right wing approach to economics, for example Durbin’s book on Economic planning in 1949, but this was not a public point of division. And some advocating more nationalisation, were not on the left over foreign policy.

    The lines of division were mainly foreign policy, around the right wing journal “Socialist Challenge”; and the first tender shoots of revisionism about prioritising equality and social reform more than nationalised state ownership, where arguably the right were more correct than the left

  47. stuart: This was not a challenge to capitalism, it was not anti-capitalist.

    It depends what you mean. In the sense of seeking to overthrow capitalism, no, but in the sense of erecting a firewall between it and those most vulnerable to its periodic downturns, short termism, and lack of planning, most certainly.

    The intervention of government mediation in the process of production, distribution and exchange with the objective of producing a favourable outcome for the majority over the greed and profits of the minority, was an historic step-change, both in the role and possibilities of government, and in the management of capitalism.

    It was radical and progressive.

  48. Andy Newman: Since you think Bye Bevan and Ernie Bevin are the same person, all of your opinions deserve automatic ridicule.

    Reminds me of former SWP CC member SJ who, on being told she had to teach a class at her school about D-Day, taught them about Dunkirk. Just ’cause they both started with D. You know, D … for Delta.

    Poor kids. I bet they knew their arse from their elbow.

  49. stuart on said:

    Andy Newman: You absolutely can seperate the two if you are interested in serious history,

    Not serious Marxist history you can’t.

    Andy Newman: where arguably the right were more correct than the left

    This is becoming an increasingly common theme with you.

  50. stuart on said:

    John: It depends what you mean. In the sense of seeking to overthrow capitalism, no, but in the sense of erecting a firewall between it and those most vulnerable to its periodic downturns, short termism, and lack of planning, most certainly.

    This sounds a bit Anthony Crosland 1956 though not the same Anthony Crosland who had to face up to the capitalist realities of the 1970s. His 1950s prescription was wrong.

  51. stuart: Not serious Marxist history you can’t.

    Is that your verion of history where you ignore what actually happened, and instead focus on what myths perpetuate your own preconceptions?

  52. stuart on said:

    Andy Newman: Is that your verion of history where you ignore what actually happened, and instead focus on what myths perpetuate your own preconceptions?

    No it’s the version of history offered by Ed Miliband’s dad.

  53. Shucks, I forgot “imperialist” from my list of morally unacceptable pejoratives to describe the NHS.

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  56. PhilW on said:

    Most of the people commenting here seem to be under the misapprehension that the purpose of the film is to provide a “balance sheet” of the 1945-51 Labour administrations and that therefore it is some kind of endorsement of social democracy, or its left version, as personified in Nye Bevin.

    As can be seen from the numerous interviews Ken has given and as he reiterated in the discussion after the showing of the film last Sunday, this is not an endorsement of the record of that government at all. It is an attempt to contrast aspects of working class consciousness from that period with those promoted by Thatcher and the Chicago school. As Ken Loach said, the clue is in the film’s title. The “spirit” of “collectivism” is contrasted with that of “individualism” from the 1980′s.

    Ken has used the film showings as an opportunity to call for a new, left party. It was the first thing he said after the Sunday showing and he tried to focus on that throughout the discussion. That he has done so should not have been ignored in the review.

  57. SteveS on said:

    I can’t help but think that we have been here before with the call for a new left party (Respect, Left Lost, SA, SLP and the worst of the bunch,TUSC) What is going to be different this time?

    Can’t wait to see the film though.

  58. Neil Williams on said:

    Steve S just because past left unity projects have failed does not mean automatically that all future ones will – this is the polictics of despair and often an excuse for many to not be active or be passive/burnt out members of the Labour Party.
    If the tarde union leaders who founded the Labour Party had looked back in history and took notice of the many past failed projects of working people then the Labour Party itself would never have been founded.
    The point is to learn from past mistakes and try try and try again – we owe it to future generations or we will be here in 50 years time discussing the same old same betrayals by the Labour Party.

  59. SteveS on said:

    I agree Neil, just because left projects have failed in the past doesn’t mean that they will now. I don’t think that it is an excuse that people use to do nothing though. Those that are active have either a different perspective or have been burned by the behaviour and experience of previous projects. I don’t see it as ‘the politics of despair’, however it is a perfectly legitimate and reasonable question to ask in what will be different this time?

    The Labour Party was founded as a historical necessity. True, it took a long time to develop, but it is here now and the mass of people still vote for it and claim it as theirs, despite its obvious imperfections. I am hopeful that something can develop, but fear that it will be just wishful thinking.

    There remains the problem of the left sects who will almost certainly try and get involved at some point, and to be frank it was their behaviour that has destroyed every attempt to build something in the recent past.

  60. Neil Williams on said:

    SteveS good reply. I dont agree that “and the mass of people still vote for it and claim it as theirs” (Labour). Some may vote for it as a better alternative to the Tories (and many more abstain) but they now distrust and even hate most politicians (but this cynicism itself is dangerous to domocracy)- and who can blame them? Even this weekend at Labour’s mini conference when Milliband was asked if the wage freeze would continue under Labour he was only able to say that they would have to look at the economy at the time – double speak for yes Labout would have a wage freeze as they did under the last Labour government whatever the level of inflation (i.e. its a wage cut in reality).
    But i do agree with you that the democratic centalist (or their own perverted version of it anyway)sects are dangerous to any new left project if they have a majority or anything close to a majority involvement in it. In a new Party of say 30,000 (Ok i know that would take a long time) it might be possible to contain certain Parties but it is more likely they would stay well clear if they could not dominate it in my opinion.

  61. Neil Williams: Labout would have a wage freeze as they did under the last Labour government whatever the level of inflation (i.e. its a wage cut in reality).

    Most of those now calling for a new left wing party gave (albeit critical) support to Labour at the time of In Place of Strife and the Social Contract, so even if Milliband does contemplate a wage freeze policy I don’t see that as proving much one way or the other.

    The reality is that most people accept the ‘need’ for austerity, so I suspect it’s a mistake to believe that the policy of a wage freeze is massively unpopular. I would suggest that winning the argument against austerity is more the issue than harnessing some mythical mass oppostion to it.

  62. Neil Williams on said:

    Vanya “I would suggest that winning the argument against austerity is more the issue”.
    I have no problem with that at all.

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