I am always hearing, particularly from Americans, that socialism has never worked, that it always decays into tyranny. But they are wrong. In 1945, in the wake of the 2nd World War, Britain elected a Socialist government. Not only did we not descend into tyranny but, at a time of huge economic depression, the country devastated by bombing and the demobbing of millions of troops, they managed to be hugely successful and brought in systems that lifted millions out of poverty, squalor and misery, made work safer and more lucrative, families secure, and made the country a far better place. They laid the groundwork for much of the best of what is in Britain today.
Britain did not decay into tyranny or set up Gulags. It did not descend into economic lassitude. Far from it. It flourished and prospered. It became fairer, more compassionate and a far better place to live.
People forget how bad things were. At the turn of the 20th Century Britain was the greatest, wealthiest nation in the world yet its working people lived in squalor and misery. All that wealth had been siphoned off into the aristocrats and businessmen. Not much of it filtered down to ordinary people. The rich lived in their stately homes with servants while most people lived in slums and worked themselves into the ground in dangerous and foul conditions.
Only 1 child in every 270 went to secondary school.
There were 250 child deaths in every thousand.
Unemployment, death of the breadwinner and old age meant hunger, malnutrition, destitution and death was not uncommon.
The workhouse was a dire place reserved for those at their wits end with nowhere to fall back to.
Wages were poor. Men worked long hours often in terrible conditions.
Most people could not afford a doctor, glasses or dentistry. Those who could not afford it merely suffered and died.
Every family knew of death and were used to burying their children.
Clement Atlee’s socialist government turned all that around. They brought in a raft of great social changes that are still operating today and laid the groundwork for a fair society. They brought in the Welfare State. What a radical achievement. It was based on adequate income, adequate healthcare, adequate housing and adequate employment.
The Welfare State attacked the ills of society on many fronts.
The NHS was probably the jewel in the crown. It provided free healthcare, dentistry and glasses for every man woman and child – all for the payment of a small national Insurance payment.
When it came in millions queued to get glasses and have teeth out. It removed the fear of illness and children in postwar generations enjoyed vitamin supplements to make them healthier. What child from that generation can forget the spoon of cod liver oil and spoon of concentrated orange juice or the free bottle of milk at school each day? Rickets and scurvy were suddenly a thing of he past.
They did not stop there though. They brought in sickness benefit so that families did not starve. They brought in widow’s pensions and old age pensions that saved hundreds of thousands from the workhouse, starvation and death.
They introduced national parks for the health of the nation.
They started slum clearances and council housing.
They raised the school leaving age and set about educating the nation so that ordinary children could achieve and prosper.
They nationalised the railways, coal, electricity, gas and communications. No longer would these utilities be run for profit for the wealthy. No longer would conditions be unsafe with regular terrible accidents.
They brought in legal redress so that the poor could be represented in courts and gain a fair hearing.
They were instrumental in setting up NATO so that Europe would no longer be plunged into war.
They were instrumental in setting up the United Nations so that war and human rights could be addressed across the world and conflicts avoided.
They worked with the unions to gain fair wages and better working conditions.
They made Britain a much better place for ordinary working people.
So next time that anybody tells you that socialism has never worked just tell them about Clement Atlee and the great British Socialist government and tell them that if it wasn’t for the lies and propaganda of the establishment owned media we’d still have a socialist government and be a lot better off than we currently are.
I look forward to the next great socialist government under Jeremy Corbyn and another great set of achievements that will result in a fairer, more equitable country which works better for all of us.