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Bevanism was the ideological argument for the Bevanites, a movement on the left wing of the Labour Party in the late 1950s and led by Aneurin Bevan.[1] They were opposed by the Gaitskellites,[1] who are variously described as centre-left, social democrats, or "moderates" within the party.


Bevanism was influenced by Marxism, with biographer and later Leader of the Labour Party Michael Foot saying that Bevan's "belief in the class struggle stayed unshaken", while acknowledging that Bevan was not a traditional Marxist.[2] Despite declaring inspiration from Marx, Bevan did not visibly support insurrectionist concepts of proletarian revolution, arguing that revolution depended on the circumstances,[3] or the Leninist organisational model of democratic centralism typical of many Communist parties.[original research?]

According to some, such as former Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Ed Balls, Bevan and his supporters instead preferred a strident but pluralist conception of democratic socialism, tempered by pragmatic sensibilities and practical application.[4]

The Bevanite Group of MPs, of which there were about 3 dozen, came into being following Bevan's resignation from the Cabinet in 1951 over charges in the health service and their relationship with the funding of Britain's involvement in the Korean War.[5] Bevanites Harold Wilson and John Freeman resigned with Bevan himself. The group in Parliament drew heavily from the previous "Keep Left" group, which had previously dissented from the pro-American foreign policy of the 1945–1951 Labour government favoured by Clement Attlee, his Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin and Hugh Gaitskell.[6] According to Crossman in December 1951 the group was not organised, and Aneurin could not be persuaded to have any consistent or coherent strategy, but they did have a group who met regularly and liked each other and came to represent "real Socialism" to a large number of Party members.[citation needed] Picture Post called them the "Bevanly Host" in April 1952.[7]

Bevanites organised in Constituency Labour Parties across Britain, and set up local discussion groups known as "Brains Trusts", also a legacy of the "Keep Left" group.

Brains Trusts would organise in support of the then newspaper favoured by Bevanites, Tribune magazine, allocating left-wing MPs and campaigners to form speaking panels around the country. Tribune itself provided an important print voice for Bevanite politicians and was in wide circulation.

The main Bevanite objectives were:

  • State control of the "commanding heights" of the economy (as opposed to a wholesale policy of nationalisation). Many nationalisations had made up the bedrock of Labour's previous manifestos, such as "Let us face the future". Bevanites' views towards nationalisation mirrored those of Vladimir Lenin, in that state control was only seen as necessary in the context of exchange or distribution, as opposed to the total and immediate appropriation of as much private property as possible.
  • A comprehensive and completely free 'cradle to grave' system of welfare, health provision and education.
  • Housing for all.
  • Full employment.

In the early 1950s Bevanites advocated:

  • The nationalisation of the steel industry, contrary to the views of many colleagues.[8]
  • Social liberalism.
  • Contempt for dogma as a modus operandi; an open-minded approach to democratic socialism.
  • Respect for the arts.
  • General unwillingness to yield upon the perceived gains made since 1945, for example, opposition to means testing for social security benefits, and opposition to prescription charges as military spending increased.
  • A complementary ability to drop unpopular policies.
  • Freedom of debate, opinion and criticism within the Labour Party.
  • Scepticism towards most American foreign policy.
  • Anti-fascism, anti-apartheid sentiment, and support for decolonisation internationally.

At the 1952 Labour Party Conference Bevanites were elected to six of the seven places on the National Executive Committee by constituency representatives.[9]

Later in his political career Bevan began advocating the maintenance of Britain's nuclear deterrent, against those who became associated with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), saying that without them a future British foreign secretary would be going "naked into the conference chamber".[10] This split the Bevanites with many, such as leading Bevanite[11] Michael Foot, continuing to oppose Britain's nuclear weapons, with Labour's 1983 manifesto under Foot's leadership of the party calling for unilateral nuclear disarmament.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "'Bevanism' vs 'Gaitskellites' Labour Party Divisions flashcards". Quizlet. 1956-07-26. Retrieved 2016-03-29. 
  2. ^ Michael Foot (6 October 2011). Aneurin Bevan: A Biography: Volume 2: 1945-1960. Faber & Faber. p. 15. ISBN 978-0-571-28085-8. 
  3. ^ Nicklaus Thomas-Symonds (18 December 2014). Nye: The Political Life of Aneurin Bevan. I.B.Tauris. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-85773-499-0. 
  4. ^ Balls, Ed (25 November 2015). "A visionary pragmatist: why Bevan is a Labour hero". 2011 Aneurin Bevan Memorial Lecture. Retrieved 29 March 2016 – via Ed Balls' personal blog. 
  5. ^ Kynaston, David (2009). Family Britain 1951-7. London: Bloomsbury. p. 79. ISBN 9780747583851. 
  6. ^ "Hugh Gaitskell – 50 Years On | Labour History Group". 2013-06-24. Retrieved 2016-03-29. 
  7. ^ Kynaston, David (2009). Family Britain 1951-7. London: Bloomsbury. p. 80. ISBN 9780747583851. 
  8. ^ "TUC Caution on Further Nationalisation". The Glasgow Herald. 9 January 1953. p. 5. 
  9. ^ Kynaston, David (2009). Family Britain 1951-7. London: Bloomsbury. p. 250. ISBN 9780747583851. 
  10. ^ "Your favourite Conference Clips". BBC Daily Politics. 3 October 2007. Retrieved 29 March 2016. 
  11. ^ John Beavan, Lord Ardwick (4 March 2010). "Michael Foot: Writer and politician who rose to become leader of the Labour Party". The Independent. Retrieved 29 March 2016. 
  12. ^ Vaidyanathan, Rajini (4 March 2010). "Michael Foot: What did the 'longest suicide note' say?". BBC News Magazine. Retrieved 29 March 2016.