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Gordon Haskell

The Politics of Bevanism

Bevan’s Program for Britain and View of Stalinism

(March 1952)

From The New International, Vol. XVIII No. 2, March–April 1952, pp. 55–68.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“The first function of a political leader is advocacy. It is he who must articulate the wants, the frustrations, and the aspirations, of the masses.” – Aneurin Bevan.

Aneurin Bevan is a tribune of the people. That is the role which he is playing so ably today, and with such a powerful and salutary effect on the development of the British Labor Party and hence on that of the whole international socialist movement. In an attempt to understand the full content of his political thought, and to come to a clearer conception of what its long-range development and consequences may be, it is not without significance to note that in describing the functions of political leadership he lists only that of advocacy, and that to him the most important quality of a representative of the people is that he remain close to their thoughts and feelings at all times.

This is a truism which can well stand repetition in these days when so many of the leaders of labor in Britain, and certainly in the United States, live in circumstances much closer to those of business executives than of workingmen, and all too often seem to be more concerned with the “public opinion” of government and employer circles than with the feelings of their own hard-pressed constituents. Yet an ability to reflect the sentiments of the masses and to articulate them is not a sufficient qualification for real socialist political leadership. What is needed in addition is a grasp of the fundamental political realities of our times and the will and ability to lead the masses in a social struggle along lines which are capable of dealing with these realities. The demagogue may share sensitivity to the current feelings of the masses with the socialist leader. The thing which distinguishes them from each other is not only their subjective motives, but also their socio-political analysis and their program.

The most recent, full statement of Bevan’s general political views is contained in his book In Place of Fear [1] published in the United States toward the end of April of this year. The book is somewhat discursive, and we will not attempt to follow Bevan along all the side-paths into which he wanders. He makes incidental comments on dozens of topics which, though they may have little bearing on his central themes, give the reader a pretty good insight into the way in which his mind works. It does not seem to be constrained by an excessive amount of systematization. But it is always lively, incisive and passionate. His social and political interests cover a wide range of subjects; his hatred for capitalism, its representatives, and all their works is virile and healthy; and his devotion to the cause of the little people of his country breathes naturally and not self-consciously from every page of his book.

We will try to present, and discuss Bevan’s thinking under three main headings: the road to socialism in Britain; the nature and role of Stalinism; a socialist foreign policy. Not that In Place of Fear itself follows any such division. But it discusses all of them at some length, and in any event, these are the crucial issues to which a British socialist must address himself in our times.


“Whenever the Labour party has made a mistake, it has not been in consequence of pursuing its principles too roughly or too far, but by making too many concessions to conventional opinion.” (In Place of Fear, p. 103)

To Aneurin Bevan the basic evil in capitalist society lies in the private ownership of the means of production. This is the root cause for the wasteful planlessness of capitalism, for its extremes of unnecessary poverty on the one hand and anti-social wealth on the other, for its instability. But capitalism has also succeeded, in its own bloody, oppressive and planless way in increasing the means of production and along with this, of the skilled, urbanized and educated working class which is its nemesis. And in Britain, at least, this working class has achieved a degree of democratic political power which is a weapon adequate to the job of changing the basic premises of the system.

Bevan believes that private property, poverty and democracy are the chief moving forces in capitalist society. The first is the basic cause of the second. But poverty, when it appears to the masses to be senseless, sets up a drive against its own cause. And democracy is the means by which this drive can and does become politically effective.

“The social reforms of the twentieth century are a consequence of the democratic power of the masses and not of increased enlightenment,” he writes. This power is embedded primarily in the universal franchise which was not fully won in Britain till 1929. The masses have only had it for an extremely brief historical period. And it is wielded primarily by the representation of the masses in the British parliament.

To be sure, Bevan recognizes that the democratic power of the masses can rest in institutions other than the franchise and the parliament ... institutions such as the trade unions. In the pages of his book there are vivid descriptions of the application of extra-parliamentary democratic powers by the unemployed miners in Wales after the First World War, and of the crisis to which the British government was brought by the threatened strike of the Triple Alliance (miners, transport workers, and railway men) in 1919. But it is quite clear that Bevan regards these democratic powers as at best auxiliary to the franchise, and as dangerous if employed too fully.

His description of an episode in the struggle of the Triple Alliance speaks eloquently for Bevan’s attitude on this matter. He reports that one of the leaders of the Triple Alliance told him about a conference he and his colleagues had with Prime Minister Lloyd George just before their planned strike. “Gentlemen,” Lloyd George is reported to have said to them, “you have fashioned in the Triple Alliance of the unions represented by you, a most powerful instrument. I feel bound to tell you that in our opinion we are at your mercy. The Army is dissaffected and cannot be relied upon ... We have just emerged from a great war and the people are eager for the reward of their sacrifices, and we are in no position to satisfy them. In these circumstances, if you carry out your threat and strike, then you will defeat us.

“But if you do so,” went on Mr. Lloyd George, “have you weighed the consequences? The strike will be in defiance of the government of the country and by its very success will precipitate a constitutional crisis of the first importance. For, if a force arises in the State which is stronger than the State itself, then it must be ready to take on the functions of the State, or withdraw and accept the authority of the State. Gentlemen,” asked the prime minister quietly, “have you considered, and if you have, are you ready?”

Bevan reports that the union leader told him that “from that moment on we were beaten and we knew we were.” To him this was not an admission of cowardice or irresolution on the part of the leader of the workers, nor did the results really constitute a historic defeat for the British working class to which the depression of the thirties, and even the Second World War can be traced in the negative sense that the failure of the British workers to come to power permitted capitalism to drag the peoples of the world through these two great catastrophes.

Actually, the matter is not brought up for the purpose of assessing its historic impact. It is introduced in an aside on “Marxism.” Bevan is intent, at this point, on demonstrating that what gives the capitalist state power is not so much its coercion of the workers, as their subjective allegiance to parliamentary institutions. “The opportunity for power is not enough,” he writes, “if the will to seize it is absent,” and a little later: “the trade union leaders were theoretically unprepared for the implications involved. They had forged a revolutionary weapon without having a revolutionary intention.”

Bevan believes that these statements illustrate some error of what he calls the “undeveloped Marxist school,” and he also believes that “classic Marxism consistently understated the role of political democracy with a fully developed franchise.” The important point is that he has no criticism to offer of these leaders, and that he fully shares their parliamentary inclinations.

Bevan says that socialists “assert the wisdom of collective action through parliament as the core of their creed.” In their hands, parliament cannot remain a passive factor which seeks to intervene in economic life as little as possible. It is a weapon in the social struggle. It should not stand by and only try to redress the imbalances of the capitalist system ... the limit to its functions assigned it even by the “interventionalist” Keynesians. Its power “must be used progressively until the main streams of economic activity are brought under public direction.”

Since parliament is an instrument which is adequate to the task of transforming the economic structure of a society, socialists assume an extremely grave responsibility when they gain a parliamentary majority. In such circumstances they must act vigorously, and use the parliamentary instrument to its utmost capacity. For their failure will not only discredit them, it will place the whole of democracy in jeopardy. Bevan is fully aware that “people have no use for a freedom which cheats them of redress,” and that “if confidence in political democracy is to be sustained, political freedom must arm itself with power.” But if, once thus armed, it fails, the people are quite likely to turn to some form of dictatorship which promises vigorous and effective action.

Bevan is here making a plea for a continuation of the drive for nationalization and, for the democratic planning which is made possible by it. Although he is of the opinion that the socialist state need not nationalize all sectors of the economy, and in that sense is an advocate of a “mixed economy,” he is also convinced that in this matter the Labor Government had not gone far enough. Too much of the economy was left in private hands, and this rendered effective planning difficult if not impossible in far too many fields. “At the moment,” he writes, “we are between two worlds. We have lost the propulsion of one and we have not yet gained the forward thrust of the other. This is no place in which to halt.” And later: “It is a requisite of social stability that one type of property ownership should dominate. In the society of the future it should be public property.”

Throughout the book he argues against those in the Labor Party who regard taxation as the chief means for bringing greater equality and stability into British society. Although some further adjustment of unjustified inequality can be brought about through tax policies, the vital thing is to get public control over the allocation of the social surplus of the British economy, and this can only be done effectively by establishing public control at the source.

Bevan does not have the attitude attributed to “doctrinaire socialists” by their conservative (and in this country by their liberal and even labor) traducers that nationalization gives the full answer to the problems of British society. As a man who has had practical administrative experience in the Labor Government without losing his touch with the workers, he knows that this is far from true, and that the road from nationalization to socialism is neither clear nor easy. But nationalization is the first step which must be taken (a) to shift the power in society so that the conflict between public and private claims can be resolved, and (b) to make direct planning of the economy possible.

But the question still remains: who shall plan, and who shall control the planners? It is significant that here again Bevan sees the problem primarily, though not solely, in parliamentary terms. He attacks the principle of the independent boards which run the nationalized industries ... on the ground that they are not subject to parliamentary supervision. Actually, what has happened is that the ministers cannot be questioned in parliament on the actions of the boards, and the chairmen of the latter have peerages conferred on them so that they sit in the House of Lords. Thus the only public supervision and control is vested in the unrepresentative section of the British governmental machine. Bevan warns against any “reform” of the House of Lords which would actually give it more power in the economic field. But he ends the discussion on this topic by the following ominous sentence: “We have still to ensure that they [the industry boards] are taking us toward democratic socialism not toward the managerial society.”

But how about the whole complex of problems and issues summed up in the shorthand phrase “workers control”? Bevan is not unaware of their existence, or of the fact that they cannot be resolved solely by placing the nationalized industries under a greater degree of parliamentary supervision. “The advance from state ownership to full socialism,” he writes, “is in direct proportion to the extent the workers in the nationalized sector are made aware of a changed relationship between themselves and the management.”

Yet despite his stated aversion to the “managerial” approach, Bevan’s suggestions as to what should be done to bring about this awareness of the changed relationship are directed solely to management – public management, that is. What he has to say on this is not so very different from the advice given to corporation executives by the most progressive school of personnel management experts. The worker must be given an understanding of the part he plays in the whole picture. “A new class of manager must be trained and he must be taught that we are not building a new species of pyramid.” The question is: who is to teach him?

True, he ends this discussion by a winged and perfectly correct general phrase: “Liberty and responsibility march together. They must be joined together in the workshop as in the legislative assembly. Only when this is accomplished shall we have the foundations of a buoyant and stable civilization.” But in another connection he has already pointed out that social reforms come not as a consequence of enlightenment, but rather of the democratic power of the masses. The point is that until the workers have greater democratic power in nationalized industry, their relationship to management is not changed sufficiently for them to be made aware of it. It is they who will have to “educate” the new managers in the new relationship, just as they have “educated” private management on the limitations of its powers through their trade unions, and the Tories on the limitations of theirs through the ballot box. But it is not likely that they will be given this opportunity from above ... not even from their own parliament. At least, they have not been given it yet. And Bevan does not suggest that the road to greater democracy in industry lies through the application of democratic pressures by the workers to win it.

The road to socialism in Britain, for Bevan, is primarily the application of parliamentary democracy in a thorough, bold and militant program of nationalization. Political democracy is its guarantee, parliament its instrument, nationalization its primary method. “Audacity is the mood that should prevail among Socialists.” There is little doubt that in these views he gives expression to the sentiments of the most advanced sections of the British working class.

Whether or not the guarantee, the instrument and the method are adequate to their historic tasks will only be demonstrated in practice. It would be the height of pedantry to substitute speculations as to their adequacy for the real job of British socialists, which is to push them to their limits. Whatever theoretical reservations Marxist theoreticians may have about the matter, the British workers appear determined to follow this road. They will recognize its limits only when they have exhausted the possibilities in practice. And Bevan is today breaking ground for them through the marshland of vacillation, doubt and accommodation to “conventional opinion” of the right wing leadership of the party.


In their struggle for the achievement of democratic socialism in Britain, the workers of that country are faced with a whole realm of problems, the locus of which lies outside the area of their own direct political control. In fact, whether or not they will be permitted to test their chosen path to its limits may depend much more on the development of the world struggle than on their own domestic politics.

And in this field, in which the problems and issues are often beyond the scope of the immediate experience of the British masses (or those of any other single nation), the qualifications for leadership are more difficult and complex than those described by Bevan at the beginning of his book. Here it is not so much a matter of the leader articulating the wants and needs of his own people, but rather of getting a grasp of the situation which he can use to educate and guide his followers.

Of all the problems which beset socialists today, perhaps the most difficult is that of the nature of Stalinism. One socialist movement after another has been absorbed, wrecked, or debilitated by a failure to grasp the nature of this new social system and the movements which represent it all over the world. And it is little consolation indeed to meditate that if socialists have misunderstood it, the leading politicians of the capitalist world have been even less able to understand this social phenomenon.

Aneurin Bevan has been slandered in Britain, and even more in the United States as some kind of a pro-Stalinist. The motives of the British Tories have been clear enough: any argument which might win a vote. The motives of the Americans, though less direct, are equally clear: anyone who criticizes the way we fight Stalinism must be some kind of a Stalinist.

In Place of Fear should re-emphasize, for those who are really interested in Bevan’s views, that he is no Stalinist. He is perfectly forthright in his description of the totalitarian, ruthless nature of Russian Stalinism. His views on foreign policy are in no way motivated by a desire to increase the power of Stalinism, and do not constitute an apologia for its actions in international politics. He recognizes the Stalinist “peace campaign” as an attempt to make political capital completely unrelated to any real desire for peace. He does not regard the present Russian regime as the natural outgrowth of the aspirations and achievements of the Russian Revolution, but rather as the consequence of its isolation in a backward country which has led to the perversion and defeat of those aspirations.

And yet ... his understanding of Stalinism is vitiated by a supra-historical approach to its origin, nature and development. Though the error may be found in the method, the result has a very real and practical political consequence. It makes possible the evasion of the development of a policy to meet the problem.

Viewed from the height of historical abstraction, Russian Stalinism is an attempt of a backward agricultural society to industrialize itself rapidly. Either because it has started this effort at a time when world capitalism is in decline, or as a result of an historical accident, this society is undergoing a process of primitive accumulation similar to that through which every industrial country has gone in its time, but without the private ownership of the means of production. When British capitalism was going through the same process, “the rate of capital accumulation was an expression of the denial of consumption goods to the masses of the people.” In the case of Russia: “the economic function of the police state is to hold down the consumption of the people, especially of the peasant population, while their surplus production is drained off for the purpose of fixed capital investment ... Herein lies the whole tragedy of the Soviet Union ... In the furtherance of this policy she has developed an extreme centralist policy. More local responsibility would reduce the rate of accumulation because the nearer responsibility is to the people the more it is amenable to the people’s sufferings. From this centralist policy to the creation of a vast bureaucracy to serve the needs of the central direction, is a short and logical step. Everything is sacrificed to the requirements of the ‘Plan.’”

In Britain, and throughout the capitalist world, Bevan sees clearly that what is going on is a struggle between antagonistic social classes over who shall be master in the house. But as soon as we get to Russia ... we have the grand, impersonal and classless deployment of historical forces. Here there is no class which holds its power and derives an exalted economic status through its control of industry via its control of the totalitarian state. He even denies that there is a “caste” formation in Russia. Repressions exists on a vast and inhuman scale, “but I should say that only an insignificant minority of the Russian people are aware of them.”

In fact Bevan believes that the mass of people are not held in subjection by the police terror of the state. They feel that they are better off than their fathers, that they have much wider opportunities. True, they are indoctrinated by a propaganda which tells them that they are much better off than their brothers in the West, and they are prevented by police measures from finding out the truth by establishing any external contacts. But the workers’ support of the Russian regime “rests on his own knowledge that all around him the framework of a modern industrial community is being built, that he is helping to build it, and that in the meantime his life is substantially, if slowly, improving.”

And finally, says Bevan, we must realize that not all people move at equal speed to achieve their political emancipation. Political liberty is, in any event, not a product of the human spirit, but of historical development. And just as capitalism has produced its own gravedigger in the industrial working class, so the Russian system of totalitarianism is doomed, in the long run, by the industrialization of the country. Workers and technicians must be educated to operate effectively in a society of complex industries. Sooner or later those who have the economic function of running industry will demand the political liberty which goes with economic power. Just when and how this will happen, no one can tell. Modern totalitarianism has great power to atomize society and hold it in subjection. Every dissident or questioning person is purged. So it is going to be difficult to get political democracy.

But “so far man has invented only three methods of transmitting political power from one generation to another; dynastic, caste and property.” And Bevan doubts that a caste can be formed in an industrial society. Anyhow, “power is ultimately shared with those whose economic co-operation must be ensured. These eventually comprise all the workers, for creation, maintenance and expansion of modern industrial techniques depend upon a literate and trained population.”

The Russian government has not yet faced the problem of transferring its power to another generation. Purges take the place of elections.

“The principle of authority has replaced the authority of principle which inspired the revolution in the first instance. Government by authority dominated the history of man until the universal franchise and representative institutions established themselves in the Western world in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”

In brief, if this analysis is accepted, it is clear that all the peoples of the Stalinist empire must be left to stew in their own historical juice until such time as the historical process brings their economy to a level at which they will reach out for democracy. The fact that they had reached this level thirty-five years ago is alluded to, but no conclusions follow from it. For them, as for the other peoples in industrially undeveloped countries who are groaning under repressive regimes, Bevan has one answer: the industrialized West must help in their economic development. Democracy will follow, as the night the day.

Certainly there is no direct way in which the peoples of the West can liberate the peoples of Russia or of her vassal nations. For one thing, they have yet to get control over their own countries before they can think of conferring political power and the freedom which goes with it on the masses of Stalinland. In fact, until they have done the trick in their own countries the most they can hope to do is to restrain the capitalist governments which rule them from strengthening Stalinism through their policies of desperation.

Can socialists devise a program which is capable of undermining Stalinism in Russia to the point at which its masses will rise in revolt against the ruling class which today expropriates the surplus of their labor? It is quite true that internal Russian developments can only be hastened or retarded by what the workers in other countries do or leave undone. The problem, to be sure, can only be approached indirectly.

But that does not mean that the problem cannot be approached, or that an approach to it is aided by making a supra-historical, classless analysis of Russian society. The further industrialization of Russia, and the expansion of Stalinist state rule to other countries no doubt increases the strains on the monolithic bureaucratic rule of the empire. But this is neither an argument for augmenting the economic and industrial resources at the disposal of the bureaucracy, nor for the expansion of its control over peoples who are still free from its grasp.

Quite the contrary. Whatever the historic consequences may be, every increase in the power and area of Stalinist control strengthens the bureaucracy, it does not weaken it. The independent victory of Stalinism in countries like China and Yugoslavia may decrease the specific weight of Russian Stalinism, it does not weaken Stalinism as a world force. Bevan understands very well that democratic socialism and Russian Stalinism have nothing in common, but when he approaches Yugoslavia he does not seem to be aware of the fact that he is dealing with a society of the same order as that which prevails in the Soviet Union.

The task of socialists, then, is not simply to regard Stalinism as something which will “work itself out,” but to recognize that the duration of this historical monstrosity will be directly related to the speed with which they can offer an alternative in significant sections of the world which has an appeal for the peoples in Stalinland. That capitalism, even rich American capitalism, does not appear to these people as such an alternative, goes without saying. There are powerful Stalinist movements in countries where the workers are still free to make a political choice precisely to the degree that no vital, militant socialist alternative is offered them. The creation of such an alternative force can only proceed in terms of a vital response to the challenge of decaying capitalist institutions. Where its creation is thought of chiefly in terms of “anti-Stalinism” it is bound to fail. And yet it must be clearly understood that the development of such forces is not only the most effective counter to the growth of the Stalinist movement internationally, but constitutes the greatest possible external threat to the stability of the existing Stalinist regimes.


This brings us to the general problem of a socialist foreign policy for the British Labor Party. And here it must be said bluntly that although Aneurin Bevan has a good deal to say about foreign policy, and much of it is to the point, it does not add up to anything which is nearly as penetrating or instructive as the ideas which have been summed up under the general heading of the road to socialism in Britain.

From the economic point of view, Bevan has not, it seems to us, quite grasped the vital relationship of a positive foreign policy to the prospects of socialism for his own country. He exhibits a quite justified impatience with those who would council the British workers against taking power in their own country and pushing their nationalization and social programs to their sensible limits on the grounds that nothing can (and therefore nothing should) be done in Britain because her economy cannot be self-contained and it is therefore impossible to start building socialism until there is a socialist world of which Britain is a part. He is quite right in denying that Britain “is exposed to world trade movements to an extent that limits the application of socialist policies to her own economy.”

Socialist policies can and should be applied wherever the workers get the political power to apply them. But this does not mean that in every country where the workers achieve such power they can actually succeed in establishing socialism. Bevan understands clearly enough, though abstractly, the historic-economic reasons which prevented the Russian workers from marching forward to the socialist goal. There are equally strong reasons, though of a different nature, which doom British socialism ... if it remains confined to the economic area of the British Isles.

There has been ample, documented discussion of the economic problems which confront a Britain shorn of its former foreign investments and of much of its former empire. Bevan’s answer to these problems ... is to attack British businessmen for not competing vigorously enough in the American market, and to denounce the United States for economic policies which bear down heavily on the British economy. With the adoption of Bevan’s domestic policies, the British workers would be able to take care of the obstacles their businessmen have placed in their way. But the American government is run by capitalists who are not likely to adapt their policies to the interests of British socialism. Unfortunately, the American labor movement is led by men who are not much more pro-socialist than is the government, and in any event, they have little political power ... as they have no political party through which to wield power.

In brief, the disruptive effect which the uncontrolled American economy had on the economic planning of the British Labor Government can be counted on to continue for some time to come. As a matter of fact, if the effect of the American armament program has been disruptive, a full-scale American depression could have a really destructive impact on the economic structure of Britain. In such circumstances British exports to the United States and to all areas where America dominates the market could be all but eliminated.

To be sure, a high-pressure American dumping campaign on a world scale to relieve her economy of surplus products would force the rest of the capitalist world to protect itself. It might even drive Britain and other countries to close ranks economically in the hope of immunizing themselves to the threat of American competition. At the very least they would be compelled to trade via the type of barter arrangements brought to such a high level of development by the Nazi economists during the late ’30s.

The British government can cushion the shocks of the -fluctuations of world trade on the economy of the country, as Bevan says. But to change the secular trends is much more difficult, and it is these which threaten the economic existence of the country. From the point of view of long-range socialist economic policy, there is no escaping the conclusion that Britain must widen her economic base in order to survive and develop to socialism.

This is primarily a political problem. It cannot be solved by adopting Schuman plans and the like, as the Labor Party has correctly pointed out. For a planned economy on an international scale, parties must be in power on both sides of the border which have a basically similar approach to economic questions and which represent the same class in the society of their respective countries.

Under the threat of Russian expansion on the one hand, and the whiplash of American economic pressure on the other, the bourgeoisie of Western Europe has been preoccupied to the highest degree with developing some form of economic and even political integration. To be sure, none of the plans has actually gone into execution yet, and perhaps never will. But the tendency is certainly there. The question is: do the socialists have the capacity to make an equally strong drive for the unity of Western Europe ... one which would have a truly progressive historical content?

The British Labor Party has an almost unique opportunity to lead such a movement. Yet they showed no awareness of this when in power, and Bevan shows no awareness of it now. In fact, in his discussions of international affairs the socialist movements of Western Europe and of Asia hardly come in for mention as possible foci toward which a policy could be directed. In Britain it is the masses, the workers who with their democratic power are the force for social progress. When world problems are considered, the chief concern is not at all what the BLP can do to encourage, stimulate, unite and assist the socialist movements to struggle for democracy in their own countries, or where possible to struggle for power so that they can unite the economies of their countries in free, planned association with the economy of Britain and thus form a powerful world counter-weight to the systems of capitalism and Stalinism. In international affairs Bevan sees the existing governments as the only real forces which control policies, and therefore toward which policy should be directed.

In this respect it must be said that he has not even risen to the level of theoretical understanding which has been displayed by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas in this country. Bevan sees the political prospects of political democracy in Russia as a simple function of the industrial development of the country. He has the same view of the backward areas of Asia and the Middle East. To him a vast Point Four program is the answer to the threat of the spread of Stalinism or some other form of totalitarianism in those countries. Douglas, on the other hand, has clearly recognized that the export of industrial and agricultural equipment to these lands will be of little avail unless a social revolution precedes or at least accompanies it. Alas, to hope that the American government will stimulate and encourage such revolutions is to whistle for a wind. But the British Labor Party is not congenitally incapable of effectively aiding such movements, and this will be doubly true when it is returned to power.

As long as Bevan deals with the role of the United States in world affairs, In Place of Fear is penetrating in its understanding and devastating in its effect. It has already stung liberal and “socialist” standard bearers for the State Department in this country to bitter and anguished cries of rage. His attack on the speed of rearmament to which America has driven Britain and Western Europe is well known. He charges American foreign policy with unpredictability and with a tendency to believe that an effective social policy can be dispensed with in favor of an overwhelming military one. He points out that once America has built up its military power to the point at which it is thought that “negotiation from strength” is possible, the tendency will be to demand a rapid and simple solution to all international troubles ... or else!

He is equally clear on another aspect of the American armament program. The vast industrial expansion to which it has given birth tends to increase the economic imbalance in the capitalist world. Any prospect of a serious slackening of the pace of rearmament brings the American economy face to face with the danger of surplus production and hence surplus men. This becomes a reason in itself for keeping the arms race going.

But when he comes to the role of Russia in the world struggle his argumentation becomes once again either highly abstract, or at times even trivial. The main burden of his theme is to discount the expansionist drive of Russian Stalinism.

Russia, he insists, lacks the steel to fight a global war. In any event, she is incapable of a Blitzkrieg, because it would not be “consistent with the nature of her economy, which is sluggish and resistive, not mobile and offensive.” Here we have, once again, Bevan the simple economic determinist.

He believes, further, that the Russian government is deterred from starting World War III by another consideration: “such an action on her part [an attack on Western Europe] would lose her the support of those millions in Western Europe who still cherish the delusion that Russia yearns only for peace. No matter how the onslaught might be dressed up, and presented as defense, the presence of Russian soldiers would bring about sharp disillusionment, and consolidate the populations of the invaded countries against her.”

And it is this theoretical approach which also completely dominates his thought on the implications of the rise of Stalinism to power in China. He actually sees this as a blow to Stalin’s aspirations. Why? First, because Stalinist Russia has hoped to achieve her greatest successes not among the peasant populations of the Orient, but among the urban workers of the advanced industrial countries. And second, because the economies of Russia and China do not complement each other. “If you amalgamate a Russian peasant with a Chinese peasant you don’t make a steelworks.” China, you see, needs industrial equipment, and therefore must look to the Western world where it is available. If America would just understand this ...

Bevan has not grasped the fact that once a Stalinist party is in power, political considerations can and are made to prevail over the formal economic needs. China is not just a backward country which needs industrialization. She is also a backward country which is now ruled by an all-powerful bureaucratic class. It is not at all to be excluded that the national interests of this class will lead it one day to break with Stalinist Russia, as happened in the case of Tito. Such a break would be welcomed by every thinking socialist in the world. But this would not change the basic nature of the regime and its relationship to its own peasants and workers.

Bevan urges on the United States a policy toward Stalinist China which would make easier a break from her ties with Russia. Such a policy is not outside the realm of possibilities, though nothing in the present American political scene makes it appear likely. But its effectiveness would not be a simple function of America’s theoretical capacity to industrialize China. Under the circumstances which one can conceive of as bringing about such a break, it is quite to be expected that America would be much more inclined to arm China than to industrialize her. Bevan correctly points out that this has been the tendency of Russian policy also.

After commenting at length about the failures, inadequacies and outright stupidities of American foreign policy in the Cold War, Bevan admits that he cannot put forth any “novel proposal” to solve the problems presented by the struggle for world hegemony between Stalinism and American capitalism. Basically, in his view, it is a matter of a big and world-wide Point Four program, and whatever is decided upon “must command the resources of idealism.” This is rhetoric. But after saying it, he nevertheless does come up with a “novel proposal” which is about as close as he comes to a statement of policy for socialists in the struggle for the world. He suggests that “we fix a date – toward which we should at once begin to work – when a definite percentage of what we are now spending on arms shall be set aside for the peaceful development of backward parts of the world. There are three essentials for success. The date should be far enough away for preparations to be made. It should be near enough to excite hope and encourage restraint. And the percentage of the arms program proposed to be diverted to peaceful purposes should be definite, substantial, and capable of being expressed in terms of men and machinery.” Russia, of course, should be invited to participate in this program.

Aneurin Bevan is a militant British socialist. But this book does not demonstrate him to be an international socialist. He understands very well that in Britain the masses win that for which they struggle, and that the only hope for the future of British society rests in the success of this struggle. He feels at home in the democratic institutional framework of British society, and recognizes that the value of this framework for the masses is a function of their willingness and ability to use it for the purpose of transforming the social structure.

But the moment he steps outside of these familiar political and social surroundings (and the relatively similar ones which prevail in the United States) he loses his touch. In the vast areas of the world where the masses have no democratic rights, and where they are therefore constrained to struggle for them by methods less orderly and more violent than those employed by the British workers on election day, he tends to lift his eyes from the battle and fix them on the far reaches of historical development.

In practice, this means that he does not see the masses in Asia, and even in Western Europe, as the real source of social progress in our time, and more concretely, as the only force capable of preventing World War III. “Revolution,” he writes, “is almost always reform postponed too long. A civilized society is one that can assimilate radical reforms while retaining its essential stability.” And although this is just one of his many asides made in a quite different connection, it is clear that it expresses his real attitude toward the struggles of the peoples against both Stalinism and the repressive neo-feudalism of the East. His arguments for Point Four are frequently set forth in terms which imply that its purpose should be to secure orderly and stable change and to prevent mass upheavals.

A socialist foreign policy for Britain cannot be constructed on the basis of such a conception. The fullest exploitation of parliamentary democracy may be an adequate political strategy for the workers of Britain today, but it will prove itself as such only to the extent that by it they gain the power to reorganize their own society. To secure this power, they will have to broaden its base. The most immediately available political forces for this lie in the socialist movements of Western Europe. But they need to be helped and encouraged, not to be ignored. The fate of socialism in Britain, and even of the world itself, may well depend on the speed and thoroughness with which the British labor movement becomes aware of this fact.

And beyond Europe lie the vast reaches of the Middle East, Africa and Asia. The political and social struggles in those areas will not await the long-range working out of economic forces. Quite the contrary, it is these struggles that will in large measure determine how these economic forces will work out. A socialist foreign policy cannot get started until this is understood. And its object must be to assist and encourage in every way possible the actual, present struggle for democracy of the turbulent and aroused masses.

Audacity is indeed the mood which should prevail among socialists. It is needed at least as much in their approach to foreign policy as to their struggle for democratic power at home.

* * *


1. In Place of Fear, by Aneurin Bevan, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1952, 213 pp. $3.00.

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Last updated: 13 December 2018