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Tony Blair has spoken of a regrettable division that occurred in the "radical" movement early in the twentieth century, and of the need to overcome it. He does not specify the division, but it can only mean the establishment of Labour as a comprehensively separate party from the Liberals. But that split had not really happened when the Liberal Party decided on World War in 1914. The Independent Labour Party was a very minor party, sharing the outlook of the Liberals on fundamentals, and with little apparent prospect of displacing the liberals. And when a Labour Party (with the ILP as a constituent element) rose to the position of second party in the state it did not do so in conflict with the Liberal Party that it was displacing.

What happened was that the Liberal Party self-destructed under the pressures of the Great War that it launched. As the Liberal Imperialist war dragged on year after year it was the Tory/Unionist Party that flourished. Elected government was suspended in 1915 for the duration of the War, and by 1918 the Opposition party of 1914 was effectively in power under the Premiership of Lloyd George - social radical and half-genuine anti-imperialist who in 1914 saw the opportunity for overtaking the Liberal Imperialist elite and took it. The decline of the Liberal Party began when Asquith, the pseudo-patrician, had to take Tories and Unionists into his Government in 1915. It collapsed when Asquith was ousted in 1916 by Lloyd George and the Tory/ Unionists.

The Liberal Party was a casualty of its own war. It was not overcome by the party which replaced it. And with the Liberal Party in ruins, many of the Liberal Imperialists moved into the Labour Party as the natural successor party. (One of these was R. B. Haldane, who as War Minister had made the secret arrangements with France before 1914 for the war on Germany. He became Lord Chancellor in the 1924 Labour Government).

Parliamentary Labour was prepared for office by being brought into the War Coalition in 1915 - and Arthur Henderson participated in the execution of fellow-socialist, James Connolly, a wounded prisoner-of-war, in 1916.

Labour as a social power was faced down by Lloyd George on Black Friday, 1921. Parliamentary Labour was put in office as a minority government by the Liberal rump in 1924 and functioned as the Liberal offshoot that it was. A second period in office in 1929 led to the general collapse of 1931 in the face of severe economic crisis, a collapse of party politics in the face of a social crisis so severe that the party elites felt it was too dangerous to be allowed to feed into all-out party conflict. National Government - a thing so abhorrent to British constitutional ideology that it might be considered a preliminary, or substitute, form of Fascism - operated all through the 1930s and the first half of the 1940s, under MacDonald, Baldwin, Chamberlain and Churchill.


Labour as a social power came to power in 1940 in the person of Ernest Bevin, founder and leader of the most powerful trade union, who had used the union as a political instrument, and who sat in the Cabinet before he had ever sat in the Commons.

Labour as a social power exercised political power domestically in the Churchill government of 1940-45, and prepared the ground for the fundamental reforms of 1945-50. Tony Blair in his wildest dreams did not envisage a reform as drastic as the post-1945 reform - and that reform had been prepared without grandiloquent radical rhetoric, almost as a conservative measure.

The main opposition to domestic government by Labour as a social power in Churchill's coalition was Parliamentary Labour. Bevin, the trade union boss, was sniped at all through the war by Bevan, the parliamentary warrior. Bevin implicated the Tories to the greatest possible extent in the wartime reforms, thereby disabling their opposition to the consolidation of those reforms after the war. Bevan denounced him for selling out the socialist cause because he did not attack the Tories when bringing in these measures - and he even suggested that these measures were essentially Fascist and that Bevin was doing Hitler's work for him.

Bevin had made his own analysis of the world in the early 1930s, rarely succeeding in taking the Labour Party with him. Then, as Churchill's Minister for Labour, he was in effect the domestic Government for the duration of the War, and with his union as a base in the country, he acted in Parliament very much on his own understanding. He had a very wide freedom of action because of alienation between Churchill and the Tory Party, of which he was nominal leader. This alienation arose from the fact that six years before the war. Churchill had begun attacking the Tory Party from an ultra-imperialist position.

We have found that the Bevin/Bevan dispute is unknown even to comparatively well-informed activists of the Labour Party today - and that sometimes even the very names Bevin and Bevan are unknown. This means that Labour today is a party without a history - that it has no understanding of why it was able to enact a basic reform in the structure of things between 1940 and 1950, why it was comparatively ineffectual in every other period in office, and why it is now (2000) in the hands of lapsed Marxists led by a Smart Alec.