Bevin and NATO

Ernest Bevin Founder of NATO

By Brendan Clifford

At Prime Minister’s Questions 9th March 2022 John Healey, Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, said:

“It was Labour’s post-war Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, who was the principal architect of NATO and in particular of its article 5 commitment to collective defence. Today is the anniversary of Bevin’s birth in 1881, so today let President Putin be in no doubt that our commitment to article 5 is absolute. Let him not mistake NATO’s restraint for any lack of resolve.” 

Britain used to have a War Ministry.  It now has a Defence Ministry.  It is a change of name of the same thing.  War is dissembled as defence, even if it is conducted half a world away.  As defence it is defence of conquests or of spheres of influence.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was founded as a military alliance against Russia in 1949.  It was a defensive organisation against Russian power.  Russia wasn’t attacking anybody in the North Atlantic.  It was not attacking anybody anywhere.  It was in occupation of many states in Eastern Europe.  It did not occupy them as a result of conquering them.  It defended itself against a European invasion and, as a result, found itself in occupation of the regions which had taken part in the attack on it.

The European states which attacked it were Fascist.  They were no less European for that.  Nobody had made them Fascist but themselves.  And they showed few signs of a will to discard the Fascism which they had adopted.  It was broken by the power of the State they had invaded.

A great many of them experienced the destruction of the Fascist order as conquest and subjugation, rather than as liberation.  Fascism would have continued in them, as it did in Spain and Portugal, if it had not been destroyed by the external power which it had attacked.

The problem against which NATO was organised in 1949 was the survival of Russia against the European assault on it.  In order to survive, Russian power had to fight its way into the heart of Europe.  And, having barely survived the European assault in 1941-2, it arrived in Berlin in 1945 and scotched the Nazi system, it did not then withdraw to 1939 borders and leave the countries that had attacked it to their own devices.  That is not the way things are done in the modern world.

Europe west of Berlin to the Pyrenees was occupied by the American and British Armies.  But these armies arrived late on the battlefield, and they knew that they had arrived at all only because the main forces of Germany and its Allies had been stopped by the Russians and were being driven back.

Russia, by surviving the European assault, had made itself the strongest military power in the world.  If it had failed to do so, Europe would have remained Fascist.  That was the crude fact of the situation, and it was experienced as disturbing.

Churchill wanted to launch war against Russia in July 1945, but his military advisers persuaded him that it would be suicidal madness, as well as ideologically bewildering in view of the fact that Russia had just defeated the German Power which had been depicted as the enemy of all civilisation.

Churchill lost the 1945 Election.  Ernest Bevin the great Trade Union boss, who had built up working class power and had been the Minister for Labour in Churchill’s National Government during the War, was shunted into the Foreign Office—where he could be nothing but an Imperialist.

Bevin took part in the forming of NATO as a military alliance against the accomplished fact of Russian military power achieved by victory in the War and not by any act of military aggression after the War.

Six years later Russia organised the states within its sphere of influence into a defensive alliance against NATO:  the Warsaw Pact.

The group which publishes this magazine was formed in the mid-1960s.  By then the divisions of the world, caused by the fact that it was Russia that had defeated Nazi Germany, had fallen into a routine stand-off between NATO and the Warsaw Pact.  It seemed reasonable to treat the two bodies as defensive alliances against each other.

What we were interested in was the form of working class power developed by Bevin between the Wars and while he was Minister for Labour under Churchill.  It was a kind of power that was rejected by the Communist Party as class-collaborationist and Imperialist—which it was.  If it was to be functional, it could be nothing else under British conditions.  Capitalism in Britain was not something distinct and identifiable which could be overthrown by a coup d’état, as was done in Russia in 1917.  It was the general medium in which life was lived, and the tribute of Empire was essential to it.

Bevin built up areas of working class power and negotiated terms with capitalist management, knowing the business condition of the enterprise as well as the management did.  That was his way of being socialist in an economy that was comprehensively capitalist.  The alternative way of being socialist was to be rhetorical about it, as the Parliamentarian critics of Bevin were:  Foot, Bevan, etc.

Bevin also hoped to establish property rights for workers related to occupation, but he was marginalised to the Foreign Office when he might have tackled the problem of giving structure to that idea.

It hung around for a while under Harold Wilson but was categorically abolished by Tony Blair.  He told workers that they should no longer expect a job for life.  They were to look to the future as flotsam in free markets.

Anybody might have done the dirty work of Foreign Affairs as well as Bevin did.  Nobody else could take his place in home affairs.

The only distinct thing he did in the Foreign Office was try to prevent the imposition of a Jewish colonial regime on the Palestinian people.  He had the naïve idea that the war against Hitler had been fought to prevent such things being done in the world.  If he was still around today, Sir Keir would be obliged to withdraw the Whip from him as an anti-Semite.

Bevin tried to fight a war in British-occupied Palestine that would have been an actual war of defence against Zionist insurrection.  He was willing to contest the issue militarily with the Jewish terrorist forces—who tried to assassinate him.

He was opposed in this attempt by his second in command, Richard Crossman, who was of the opinion that Britain, by Imperial action, should have cleared Palestine of Arabs so that the Jews would not have had to do that dirty work themselves.

Crossman also held that all Gentiles were anti-Semitic by nature, and all they could do about it was make a confession of guilt.  He would have been at ease with Sir Keir.

For as long as NATO and the Warsaw Pact confronted each other in a routine manner, we saw no point in making protests about it.  That was the order of things after the War launched against Germany by Britain and France in 1939, which got completely out of hand until Germany and its allies invaded Russia and were destroyed by it.

The character of NATO changed completely around 1990 when the Warsaw Pact broke up and NATO continued and expanded.  As a military alliance without an enemy, it then became a mere instrument of the United States bid for world dominance.


The photo above shows Ernest Bevin signing the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington on 4 April 1949.

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