Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Bevan, Aneurin (1897–1960)

Radical British Labour Party politician, minister of health and housing (1945–1951), and minister of labor (1951). Born on 15 November 1897 in Tredegar, Monmouthshire, to a Welsh miner family, Aneurin Bevan left school at age thirteen and was largely self-educated, although from 1919 he spent two years that he subsequently characterized as wasted time at the Central Labour College in London. Long periods of unemployment in the 1920s made Bevan a radical, a union activist, and an organizer for the Labour Party, and in 1929 he became a member of Parliament for Ebbw Vale, a seat he would retain until his death. Hard work, eloquence, and charm quickly won him a position of influence within the Labour Party, which he never lost; his radical, dissenting temperament tended to make him happier in opposition than in power.

Bevan opposed British participation in World War I, but in the latter 1930s his decided antifascist convictions led him to support intervention in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), and he became a strong critic of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's policies. In early 1939 Bevan was expelled from the Labour Party for supporting Sir Stafford Cripps's Popular Front campaign but was readmitted in December. During World War II Bevan was highly critical of some aspects of Prime Minister Winston Churchill's policies. Bevan distrusted the big-power diplomacy of the wartime conferences for what he perceived to be its neglect of the interests of the smaller countries, and he feared that Britain devoted insufficient attention to the postwar development of a united Europe strong enough to stand up to both the United States and the Soviet Union.

In 1945 Bevan became minister of health and housing in the government headed by Clement Attlee and was responsible for establishing the National Health Service and providing subsidized government housing for millions of Britons. Although Bevan supported the Marshall Plan and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), he opposed the American loan of 1946 to Britain, had reservations as to various features of American capitalism, and feared British subservience to the United States. When the Korean War began, Bevan, like most of the Labour Party, supported the principle of collective security, but he soon expressed misgivings as to the social costs of the war, particularly the impact that British rearmament would have upon the nation's welfare programs.

In January 1951 Bevan became minister of labor. That March his longtime political rival, Chancellor of the Exchequer Hugh Gaitskell, introduced a budget designed to demonstrate to Washington Britain's commitment to heavy expenditure on rearmament by cutting the country's domestic welfare spending, in particular by introducing charges for false teeth and spectacles, that the newly created National Health Service had previously provided gratis. Bevan, who had earlier argued that rearmament should not be achieved at the expense of social spending, accused Gaitskell of being obsessively pro-American and of usurping ailing Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin's prerogatives. Bevan's resignation over the issue on 22 April 1951 split the Labour Party, contributed to its defeat in the October 1951 general election, and heralded almost four decades of intraparty dissension over foreign policy.

For the remainder of his life Bevan, perennially opposed to his leaders' endorsement of a pro-American foreign policy and excluded by them from the party's upper echelons, remained an inspiring and much-loved figure of Labour's radical wing, acknowledged as a parliamentary orator second only to Churchill. Bevan died in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, on 6 July 1960.

Priscilla Roberts


Further Reading
Foot, Michael. Aneurin Bevan: A Biography. 2 vols. New York: Atheneum, 1963, 1974.; Jenkins, Mark. Bevanism, Labour High Tide: The Cold War and the Democratic Mass Movement. Nottingham: Spokesman, 1979.; Laugharne, Peter, ed. Aneurin Bevan: A Parliamentary Odyssey. Liverpool: Manutius, 1996.; Morgan, Kenneth O. Labour in Power, 1945–1951. Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1985.
 

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