How Labour governed, 1945-1951

Clement Attlee - How Labour governed, 1945-1951

A pamphlet by the Syndicalist Workers' Federation on how the Labour Party governed between the years 1945 and 1951 examining their relationship with the working class and how "socialist" it really was.

“I look around my colleagues and I see landlords, capitalists and lawyers. We are a cross-section of the national life and this is something that has never happened before.”
Arthur Greenwood, Labour Lord Privy Seal, Hansard, August 17, 1945.

Atomic insanity
THE war in Europe ended on May 5, 1945. As a result of the General Election that followed, the Labour Government took office on July 26, 1945. Eleven days later, on August 6, the first atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The second atom bomb devastated Nagasaki on August 9. The total casualties from these two insane acts will never be known, but the death roll was certainly upwards of half-a-million and, eighteen years later, victims are still dying from radiation sickness. The dropping of these bombs was not solely an act of American policy. President Truman has stated that he obtained the agreement of the British Government before the mass-murder was committed and the Labour Government had observers, including Group-Captain Cheshire and nuclear scientist Sir William Penney, at the bomb-dropping.

“The first task of the Labour Government was to complete the winning of the war against Japan and the general anticipation had been that this might prove to be a long and difficult one ... but the use of the atom bomb at Hiroshima brought the war to a sudden end. It was, of course, an immense relief.”
Clement Attlee, As It Happened, p. 150.

Japan surrendered on August 15, but not all the Allied leaders agree with Attlee’s cold-blooded justification of the use of the atom bomb. Rear-Admiral Zacharias, Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence, USA, writing in the American publication Look, asserts: “Japan would have surrendered by August 15, 1945, without the use of extreme measures.”

Admiral Zacharias broadcast on July 21, 1945, offering Japan the chance to surrender unconditionally. Tokyo’s answer was, he says, “in effect an open invitation to begin surrender negotiations on the terms we had proposed.”

Later, because of the work of spies in Britain, the USA withheld atom bomb information and the Labour Government began work on its own atom and hydrogen bombs. Before this was completed, the Tories had displaced the Labour Party and it was Churchill’s task to announce the success of Britain’s own bomb, though he graciously admitted that his Government had only plucked the fruit from thee tree planted by another:

“All those concerned in the production of the first British atomic bomb are to be warmly congratulated on the successful outcome of an historic episode and I should no doubt pay my compliments to the Leader of the Opposition and the party opposite for initiating it.”
Churchill in the House of Commons, Hansard, Oct. 24, 1952.

And Attlee, from the Labour benches, bowed and smiled his thanks for the compliment.

Continued in PDF.

How Labour governed 1945-51, second edition 1960.pdf18.49 MB
How Labour Governed, 2015 edition.pdf7.35 MB

Posted By

Aug 4 2012 12:02


  • We believe many sincere but starry-eyed Labour supporters have already forgotten these events during those six years in which every Socialist principle was betrayed by the politicians. Before they were lost completely, we felt it essential to place these facts on record.

    Syndicalist Workers' Federation


Aug 4 2012 12:51

Thanks for posting this. I read a paper copy of it a few years ago and it's really good and eye opening, especially for anyone that had any faith in "old labour", when it was still supposedly socialist

Aug 26 2012 18:35

I thought some may find the following pages in Trevor Burridge's favourable biography of Clement Attlee Clement Attlee: A Political Biography (1986) interesting:

Also, Richard Cleminson has written a fine essay on the Spanish anti-fascist POWs who were banged up in Chorley:

"Spanish anti-fascist 'prisoners of war' in Lancashire, 1944-46", International Journal of Iberian Studies, 22(3), 2009, pp. 163-183

An extended version of which has been made into a pamphlet and you can buy it here.

Aug 27 2012 01:50

i was massively into 'old labour' for a period before i first picked up a book on anarchism. i'd be interested in reading this, and possibly typing it up into text. SWF were fantastic.

Aug 27 2012 11:26

If you did want to OCR/convert it to text that would be great. This is a really good pamphlet

Aug 27 2012 20:12

i was thinking i might type it out by hand as that way i'm forced to close read it

Sep 4 2012 23:19

an item has been put forth in SF internal bulletin to discuss these SWF pamphlets and whether there is internal interest in republishing. i will not be releasing the OCR of this text quite yet, but will wait until this discussion has come to fruition (or lack thereof).

i would appreciate it if others could wait until this point before OCR'ing any other SWF pamphlets, or consider PM'ing me.

Oct 16 2012 21:54

Well, you can't deny Clement Atlee did make things really good for Britisb workers - as a whole I mean.

We shouldn't completely crap all over him.

Oct 16 2012 23:44

Clement Atlee (and Bevan etc.) did what he did due to the social pressures of the time. Workers could successfully leverage and block the flow of capital on a national level over political issues at that time, plus Britain needed a healthy workforce to rebuild British capitalism. If you look at the strike waves ('Winter of discontent') that broke out over Callaghan's continuation of the wage freeze policy into a 5th year (later in the 70s), this policy was successfully defeated by the working population.

The Conservative Party would have more or less been forced to implement the approximately the same policies had they won the 1945 general election.

The difference is that Labour and Atlee (incidentally a comfortable member of the upper middle classes and very proud of his public* school education) ideologically believed in the policies - the Tory party only did so in order to win power.

A famous point is that the Conservative Party delivered more social housing in their first period of office after WW2 than Labour were able to.

Atlee was not furthering the goals of worker control, but implementing the necessary changes to ensure the continued survival of the British economy and nation. Hence i believe it is fair for libertarian communists to completely crap over his legacy.

*in england 'public school' refers to paid private schools, and not to state funded schools.

Feb 15 2013 17:36


...The government came down hard on the London squatting, refusing to provide services, and had the police lay siege to the blocks, in the full glare of media publicity. The Labour leaders were certainly shaken by this development. According to Michael Foot, ministers feared ´direct action spreading like a prairie fire´. Bevan met the London Trades Council and told them he had some sympathy - but for the homeless, and not for the squatters. His paper Tribune carried the front page headline ´Help yourself to a leg of lamb!´, venomously comparing the squatters to common thieves, and even to Mosley´s fascists. Others in the cabinet wanted the squatters placed at the bottom of the housing list, and the concern of one minister was ‘want to tell my caretakers what in law they can do about squatters, after High Court decision’. 3 The Communists brought the London squatting to an end after ten days. The squatters were offered new, decent alternative housing, but they were double-crossed, and were housed temporarily in the dormitories of the former Bromley-by-Bow workhouse. Their crime, it was spelled out, was against the all-important waiting list...

Paul Burnham - The squatters of 1946

Peter Pannier
Jun 5 2013 12:57

It seems some time since the posts here about SF republishing this. What was the outcome of these discussions? I think that, if not a direct reprint, a pamphlet heavily quoting from this and combining with a few other sources and a critique of other elements of Loach's Spirit of 45 look at this period would be really useful/valuable at the moment, and potentially for some time to come.

Jun 5 2013 13:36

There wasn't any interest in republishing them, one person who did get back to me thought it would be better to spend effort on producing more organising focused materials, which I agree with. I am no longer a member of SF, however i am still sitting on a semi-finished layout and the OCR'ed and proof read text, and come next week, I finally have a break from studying. By that point i will either complete a PDF reprint, or just post up the OCR'ed text on here.

Aug 8 2013 20:10
working class s...
Jan 31 2015 22:24

I am very interested in re-formatting this, new cover, intro etc etc... and having it printed back into pamphlet form... Perhaps with an extra section with other information from this period (done a lot of reading around the 45-51 gov, recently)... Does anyone know if there are any copyright issues, or whether any individuals or groups would have any objection to me doing this?

Aug 30 2015 02:33

Found a copy of "How labour governed 1945 - 1951" online at:
The format online is 'flipBook'. Check it out.
A PDF version can be downloaded. Other formats on request.

All these versions include:
* An introduction (Aug. 2015)
* The original 'short' version
* The original old booklet
* FaceBook discussions with links.

Jacques Roux
Dec 4 2015 14:15

Pinokio - thats great thanks, weird site and format, and great that someone has done it. It acknowledges they found the original text on Libcom so strange they didn't upload it here.

Anyway I will add it in now.

Working Class Self Organisation - Would be great if you could work from this new re-issue maybe format it nicely with a good font etc?