‘Not Reformed Capitalism, But… Democratic Socialism’: The Ideology of the Labour Leadership, 1945–1951

  • Martin Francis
Part of the Contemporary History in Context Series book series (CHIC)


The Labour Party’s leadership in the 1940s, in contrast to its successors in the 1980s and 1990s, never felt self-conscious or embarrassed about seeing the label ‘socialist’ applied to their policies. Indeed, the 1945 Labour manifesto, Let Us Face the Future, explicitly informed the electorate that the Party’s ultimate purpose was ‘the establishment of a Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain — free, democratic, efficient, progressive, public-spirited, its material resources organised in the service of the British people.’2 But did such statements reflect a wholehearted desire by the Labour government of 1945–51 to transform British society along fundamentally socialist lines? Or were they merely a rhetorical ornament, intended to hide the leadership’s essential opportunism from a much more radically inclined rank and file? Paul Smith once argued that Disraeli’s political ideas ‘were not the motive force of his performance, but rather the costume which he wore in deference to the susceptibilities of his audience’.3 Many authorities would conclude that a similar characterisation should be applied to the Attlee government which, they argue (especially after the crises of 1947) eagerly embraced a cross-party consensus constructed along lines dictated by Beveridge and Keynes.4


Labour Government Public Ownership Socialist Commentary Labour Party Labour Leadership 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 2.
    F.W.S. Craig, ed., British General Election Manifestos, 1918–1966, 1970, Chichester, Political Reference Publications, p. 101.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    P. Smith, Disraelian Conservatism and Social Reform, 1967, London, Routledge, p. 12.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    See, for example, P. Addison, The Road to 1945, 1975, London, Jonathan Cape. Even those who have argued for a distinct lack of consensus during the war, have also claimed that there was a retreat from collectivism after 1947:Google Scholar
  4. K. Jefferys, The Churchill Coalition and Wartime Politics, 1940–1945, 1991, Manchester, Manchester University Press, pp. 214–16;Google Scholar
  5. S.J. Brooke, Labour’s War: the Labour Party During the Second World War, 1992, Oxford, Oxford University Press, especially pp. 329–35;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. K.O. Morgan, Labour in Power, 1945–1951, 1984, Oxford, Oxford University Press, passim.Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    This phrase comes from P.F. Clarke, ‘The Progressive Movement in England’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th series, 24, 1974, p. 159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 7.
    For example, the contributions to N. Tiratsoo, ed., The Attlee Years, 1991, London, Frances Pinter.Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    For example, Labour Party, Cards on the Table, 1948, London, Labour Party.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    Labour Party, Labour Believes in Britain, 1949, London, Labour Party, pp. 3–4. For further elaboration of this definition, seeGoogle Scholar
  11. M. Francis, ‘Economics and Ethics: The Nature of Labour’s Socialism, 1945–1951’, Twentieth Century British History, 6, 2, 1995. See also, S. Fielding, ‘Labourism in the 1940s’, Twentieth Century British History, 3, 2, 1992, pp. 138–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 10.
    N. Rollings, ‘“The Reichstag Method of Governing”?: The Attlee Governments and Permanent Economic Controls’, in H. Mercer et al., eds., Labour Governments and Private Industry: The Experience of 1945–51, 1992, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, pp. 115–36.Google Scholar
  13. 12.
    I. Zweiniger-Bargielowska, ‘Rationing, Austerity and the Conservative Party Recovery after 1945’, Historical Journal, 37, 1, 1994, pp. 173–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 16.
    K.O. Morgan, ‘The Rise and Fall of Public Ownership in Britain’, in J. Bean, ed., The Political Culture of Modern Britain, 1985, London, Hamish Hamilton, pp. 288–91.Google Scholar
  15. 17.
    H. Gaitskell, Socialism and Nationalisation, Fabian Tract no. 300, July 1956, London, Fabian Society, pp. 9–10, 18–23. For Durbin’s views, E. Durbin, ‘The Importance of Planning’ (1935), in his Problems of Economic Planning, 1949, London, Routledge, pp. 53–4.Google Scholar
  16. 19.
    Labour Believes in Britain, pp. 9–10; Labour Party, Labour and the New Society, 1950, London, Labour Party, pp. 18–25.Google Scholar
  17. 23.
    Conservative Research Department, The Campaign Guide: General Election 1950, 1949, London, Conservative and Unionist Central Office, pp. 93–119.Google Scholar
  18. 24.
    J. Strachey, The Just Society, 1951, London, Labour Party, pp. 6–9.Google Scholar
  19. 31.
    H. Dalton, ‘Our Financial Plan’, in Fabian Society, ed., Forward from Victory!, 1946, London, Victor Gollancz, pp. 48–9.Google Scholar
  20. 33.
    I.D. Little, ‘Fiscal Policy’, in G.D.N. Worswick and P.H. Ady, eds., The British Economy, 1945–50, 1952, Oxford, Oxford University Press, p. 174.Google Scholar
  21. 34.
    A.A. Rogow and P. Shore, The Labour Government and British Industry, 1945–1951, 1955, Oxford, Oxford University Press, p. 119. The average annual income of an adult male in 1951 was around £440.Google Scholar
  22. 37.
    C.P. Mayhew, Socialist Economic Planning, Fabian Discussion Series no. 1, December 1946, London, Fabian Society, p. 18. For Jenkins, see Nuffield College, Oxford, G.D.H. Cole Papers, B/3/5/E, ‘Problems Ahead’ Conference, Buscot Park, July 1949, Session II, p. 2. For Callaghan, see his ‘Approach to Social Equality’, in D. Munro, ed., Socialism: The British Way, 1948, London, Essential Books, pp. 147–8.Google Scholar
  23. 40.
    H. Dalton, Practical Socialism for Britain, 1935, London, Routledge, pp. 336–7.Google Scholar
  24. 43.
    P.M. Williams, Hugh Gaitskell, 1982 edn, Oxford, Oxford University Press, p. 165.Google Scholar
  25. 45.
    S.P. Chambers, ‘The Capital Levy’, Lloyds Bank Review, vol. 19, no. 1, January 1951, p. 1;Google Scholar
  26. R. Jenkins, Fair Shares for the Rich, 1951, London, Tribune.Google Scholar
  27. 49.
    G. Foote, The Labour Party’s Political Thought: A History, 1985, London, Croom Helm, pp. 212–34.Google Scholar
  28. 50.
    C. Webster, ‘Labour and the Origins of the National Health Service’, in N.A. Rupke, ed., Science, Politics and the Public Good, 1988, Basingstoke, Macmillan, p. 199.Google Scholar
  29. 52.
    Hansard, 5th series, 30 April 1946, 422:49; C. Webster, Problems of Health Care: the National Health Service before 1957, 1988, London, HMSO, pp. 395–7.Google Scholar
  30. 61.
    F. Williams, The Triple Challenge, 1948, London, Heinemann, p. 131.Google Scholar
  31. 64.
    J. Burnett, A Social History of Housing, 1978, Newton Abbot, David and Charles, p. 284.Google Scholar
  32. 65.
    M. Foot, Aneurin Bevan, vol. 2, 1945–1960, 1973, London, Davis-Poynter, pp. 78–9.Google Scholar
  33. 67.
    D. Rubinstein, ‘Ellen Wilkinson Re-considered’, History Workshop Journal, 7, 1979, pp. 161–9;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. C. Benn, ‘Comprehensive School Reform and the 1945 Labour Government’, History Workshop Journal, 10, 1980, pp. 197–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 69.
    For example, the speech of George Thomas, Hansard, 5th series, 31 July 1947, 441:690–4.Google Scholar
  36. 70.
    C.A.R. Crosland, The Future of Socialism, 1956, London, Jonathan Cape, p. 237.Google Scholar
  37. 74.
    D. Butler and A. Sloman, eds., British Political Facts, 1900–1979, 1980, Basingstoke, Macmillan, p. 208.Google Scholar
  38. 76.
    C.R. Attlee, As It Happened, 1954, London, Heinemann, p. 163.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin Francis

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations