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Title: The relation of socialist principles to British Labour foreign policy, 1945-51
Author: Rose, Richard
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 1960
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The purpose of this thesis is to analyse the relation between the traditional Socialist principles of foreign policy developed by the Labour Party before 1945 and the principles actually employed by the Labour Government from 1945-51, and to consider how members of the Party challenged the Government's foreign policy in the nane of traditional values and how the Government successfully resisted these challenges. (Chapter I) The most significant events influencing the development of Labour foreign policy were: the outbreak of World War I; the Russian revolution; the reaction against war and balance of power politics; the creation of the League of Nations and the achievements of the two minority Labour governments there; the rise of Fascism; the Spanish Civil War; and the co-operation of the Big Three during World War II. From the Party's responses to these and other situations one can abstract the following as its basic principles: international co-operation, class-consciousness in foreign affairs, supra-nationalism end anti-militarism. In the following four chapters these principles are related to specific problems faced by the 1945-51 Labour Government. (Chapter II) The idea that since the peoples of all nations have essentially the same interests their governments could co-operate was tested by the Government and proved a failure. In the case of German reparations, the Government from the first held that its differences with Russia were irreconcilable. Russia wanted reparations payments immediately; this would create deficits in Germany that the British would have to pay. In Anglo-Russian relations from 1945 until 1948, Bevin pursued a dual policy. He worked simultaneously to secure co-operation with Russia and to safeguard British interests without regard to Russia, by agreement with America and other nations. Finally, Russian intransigence and threats of aggression drove the Government to abandon all efforts at co-operation. In Palestine, the Government sought to co-operate with the United States in arranging a settlement, because of their similar economic and military interests. The United States, in spite of its close alliance with Britain in Europe, would not co-operate. Britain solved this problem by unilateral action. (Chapter III) The principle of class-consciousness meant that a Labour Government would work especially well with other governments representative of the common people, and oppose reactionary governments. The Labour Government consistently refused to admit ideological affinity as a ground for closer diplomatic relations with Russia; after the Communist purge of Eastern European Socialists, it made Russian Communism its major ideological enemy. A minority in the Party pressed for a continued close association with Russia, but without success. A larger group of MPs attacked the Government for its close association with capitalist America. The Government did notlet this criticism prevent it from strengthening the Anglo-American alliance. The critics, by rapid shifts in their assessment of America, showed it was not American capitalism that they disliked, but certain aspects of American foreign policy. The Government was recurrently pressed by some of its supporters to organise a "third force", so that Socialism would provide an alternative allegiance for nations wishing to disengage from the cold war between Russia and America. In Spain the Labour Government consistently opposed strong diplomatic action against Franco and worked to eaxpand trade. In its treatment of Communist China, the Government wae careful not to take sides in the battle between the forces of social revolution and reaction. Government leaders carefully refrained from associating themselves with the International Socialist Conference. This job was done by people who were only Party officials. (Chapter IV) The internationalism of the Labour Party was not maintained once the government of Britain came into its hands. At the United Nations it did make an effort to establish a supra-national organisation for atomic energy, but the failure was more significant than the proposal. The inability of the International Court of Justice and of the Security Council to defend British interests made the Government conclude that using the machinery of international government was not the way to secure the peaceful settlement of disputes between major nations. The varied negotiations and proposals for European unity tested the Government's attitude towards ceding sovereignty in a limited area. The Government consistently opposed all such proposals, although the Party gave lip-service to the idea of a United Socialist Europe. Its reaction to the Schuman plan for a supra-national coal and steel authority showed how the nationalisation of British industry stimulated the nationalisation of Labour's foreign policy. (Chapter V) Traditionally the Labour Party opposed the use of military force and balance of power politics as immoral and unsuccessful; it relied primarily upon moral, economic and diplomatic influence. Economic difficulties following the end of World War II made the Government a recipient, rather than a distributor, of large-scale economic assistance. The Government's desire to protect vital interests by military force led it to continue conscription in peace-time. The opposition to this bill produced the one partially successful back-bench revolt on foreign affairs in this period. The signing of NATO marked the Government's full acceptance of the balance of power system, which Socialists had traditionally abjured. In the Korean War, the Labour Government supported plans for the re-unification of Korea by military force -- until Communist China intervened. At the same time as the Government was denying the advisability of settling the Korean dispute by military force, it was making its final and greatest commitment to rearmament in Europe. In spite of criticism on socialist, on pragmatic and on economic grounds, the Government continued its large-scale rearmament programme. The traditional anti-militarism within the party greatly strengthened Aneurin Bevan politically when he resigned in April 1951, because it provided a principle to justify his attack upon the Government and to attract support to his group. In its final diplomatic problem, the Anglo-Iranian oil dispute, the Government did act upon the belief that military force would not enable it to get its own way, and when negotiations failed, it left Abadan, in spite of severe criticism from the Conservatives. (Chapter VI) Many Socialists had criticised British diplomats because they were recruited from a relatively small and privileged social group and not from the classes which formed the great bulk of the Labour movement. Bevin rejected the idea that diplomats should be judged by their social origins; instead, he applied standards of business efficiency. The charge that Bevin's mind was made up for him by the Foreign Office was used by some critics to explain why the Labour Government abandoned its traditional Socialist principles. The charge was developed without regard to the power that Ernest Bevin's personality, his understanding or foreign affairs and his position as head of a department gave him. (Chapter VII) Policy-making in the Labour Party was radically altered by the sudden creation of a Labour Government, with sources of strength and responsibility that extended far beyond the active membership of the Labour Party. Within the Cabinet Bevin was the strongest political figure. Because representatives of all sections of the Labour movement were in the Cabinet, and were thus bound by the rule of collective responsibility to uphold its decisions, the Cabinet became the place where Party foreign policy was effectively determined. The Party machinery was used to support the Government, rather than to apply pressure to it.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: History ; Socialism ; Foreign relations ; 20th century ; Great Britain