Showcasing Nye Bevan’s analyses of politics, society, and the world, This is My Truth gives readers the opportunity to know him through his own words instead of via third-hand misquotes and memes. Surveying Bevan’s writings for Tribune from its inception in 1937 through the world war and into the 1950s, one realises how poor political discourse and debate and, indeed, the calibre of politicians have become by the 21st century.
Bevan was clearly a joined-up thinker, not a man for an empty soundbite. Though if it’s well-observed bon mots you want – concise, to the point, and sometimes scathing – read this book by the University of Wales Press, edited by Dr Nye Davies of Cardiff University, and fill yer boots. There was a man who saw that there is actually such a thing as society, in spite of what some politicians want us to think. And that society could be fair for everybody if we all engaged with it and guarded against those who would carve it up amongst themselves.
The skewing of ‘socialism’
As you may or may not know, socialism is just a system in which the public good will always supersede private interests; in which healthcare, housing, and education for all is a right, and not regarded as a wrong. I think it’s fair to say that there are few if any politicians on the left today who speak with such clarity and authority about socialism as Bevan did.
Reading the thoughts of “the father of the NHS” on such a system makes starkly apparent how the meaning of ‘socialism’ has been skewed and maligned by a media owned by right-wing billionaires to suit their agenda of greed. They would have us believe that socialism is an evil, a precursor to totalitarianism. Ironically, or by way of projection, that’s the very totalitarianism that feral capitalism is now collapsing into all over the world. If anybody can find out how many lives have been saved or improved by the NHS since 1947, please do let us know. I lost count at the hundreds of thousands.
One thing I found striking in this book is how we are still fighting the same battles against the same people. The following may sound eerily familiar to anyone who remembers the 1980s.
“To the miners they would concede nothing. Under their proposals they admitted that men would be thrown out of work, with no prospect of other employment; but they refused either compensation or alternative sources of employment. They admitted that whole villages would be rendered derelict and social services ruined, but they refused all succour. To the coal owners the Government were as sensitive as an exposed nerve; to the miners they were blind, deaf, and dumb.”‘People Versus Property’, 11 February 1938
That was written almost 50 years before the Thatcher-imposed conflicts, when miners and their communities were under attack for wanting better pay and conditions. Does history really repeat if we don’t intervene? Read on.
“Landlords took advantage of the shortage of houses, which was consequent upon the cessation of house building, to raise rents to heights which soon became such a scandal that public disorder was likely to result.”‘Class War in Commons Committee A’, 25 March 1938
Bevan’s ire wasn’t just reserved for Tories although, and depressingly, here you can still hear the big bells of truth ringing loudly:
“Certainly I cannot understand what the Labour Party leaders are thinking about. For all the awareness they show of the mood of the workers of this country they might as well be on another planet.”‘Blind Men are Leading Us!’, 11 October 1940
The same battles are being fought today, though not being fought particularly well or hard by politicians who see their jobs as an access tunnel to lucrative jobs in TV. Certainly no one seems to be rocking too many boats.
There is much in This is My Truth that is of great use today. Bevan’s comments on how the NHS works socially are refreshing and beautifully put, providing a clear explanation of what the service actually is. He then describes the antithetical view in stark terms.
“It is on the financial side a vast redistribution of national income. On the active and administrative side, it brings to the individual citizen all the battery of modern medicine, irrespective of the individual’s means. Furthermore, it is not only distributivist, but it is perfectly democratic, because it democratises the social consumption of the recent advances in medicine, and it destroys the money barrier which inevitably existed in orthodox capitalist society between the doctor and his patient. … The Tories are laying increasing emphasis upon what they call ‘property-owning democracy’. They want the consumption of the individual citizen always to be governed by the amount of property he possesses.”‘July 5th and the Socialist Advance’, 2 July 1948
There’s never been a better time to read this book and understand what Aneurin Bevan wanted to achieve. His vision of an inclusive, fairer society in which everybody matters regardless of which school they went to or who their great-great-great-great-great grandfather exploited.
Bevan and a fair vision
Read it and you will realise that every generation from Bevan’s day until today is having to fight the same battles, listen to the same lies (wage demands drive inflation up), be conned (£350mn a week for the NHS), be manipulated (home ownership, exorbitant rents), and be divided (immigration). And it is all to distract the majority of people from getting together and making the changes we need for the betterment of all.
I leave you with what Aneurin Bevan suggested should be “the five main organs of state”.
“The proposal I make is provisional, and I make it in order to focus discussion on what I consider to be the central problem of our time. In the space available I can only sketch its outlines. I realise I shall be open to misunderstanding, but I must risk that. I suggest five main organs of the state, as follows:‘Next Steps to a New Society’, 25 October 1940
1) Parliament, supreme over all, elected on the basis of proportional representation. The past eight years have shown us the dangers of an obese majority. The lifetime of Parliament should be for a fixed period, and it should consist of one Chamber. That is to say, the House of Lords should be abolished. Parliament would reserve to itself all legislation and control over education, the police, the penal institutions, the radio, the press, and the armed forces, etc. Parliament would also lay down the main provisions of the plan for the nationalised industries which would be entrusted to a:
2) Supreme Economic Council, consisting of a small number of highly trained executives. All the appropriate existing departments of state would be handed over to that body, with the removal of the present immunities from dismissal which enervates them. The Economic Council would promote the greatest measure of industrial democracy consistent with the retention of ultimate authority by the Council.
3) A permanent Planning Commission appointed by the Government and charged with the task of preparing the next plan.
4) A National Costing or auditing department charged with the task of checking and reporting upon the administration of the industries responsible to the Supreme Economic Council.
5) A Judiciary with all the immunities and protection appropriate to such a body.”
What do you think of Proportional Representation? What do you say to having “highly trained executives” instead of people whose only experience is running the tuck shop at Eton and who can’t be sacked?
I’m grateful that Dr Nye Davies cared enough to research and edit this work into existence, and hope you’ll read it. It really shows how the discourse around socialism has changed and what that costs us, individually and societally. It illuminates how the class struggle in Britain hasn’t changed in all those decades. If anything, it’s more insidious now. If we listened now, really listened, to the prescient words of Aneurin Bevan, it might help put that right.
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