Keith Mc Loughlin
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The left and the defence economy in the early Cold War
in The British left and the defence economy
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Having demonstrated its aptitude in helping to manage the war economy, Labour won a landslide victory in the 1945 general election on the platform that, having won the war, Britain was ‘preparing to win the peace’. But the same government that founded the National Health Service was the same one that commenced a rearmament programme when relations between the capitalist West and communism deteriorated in the late 1940s. When a £4.7 billion rearmament package was announced by Labour’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Hugh Gaitskell, in 1951, three ministers resigned in protest, dividing the party for decades thereafter.

After a decade of bitter infighting, the election of Harold Wilson as Labour’s leader in 1963 granted the party a renewed sense of unity. But although the Wilson’s 1964-70 governments reduced defence spending not inconsiderably, his time in office was considered a failure. The promise of his ‘white heat of the technological revolution’ was not realised as Labour’s ambitious plans for economic expansion were undone by the objective of holding up value of the pound while the defence economy was sustained with costly military projects.

As global capitalism descended into crisis while a more peaceful détente characterised Cold War relations in the 1970s, the left felt that the state needed to overhaul industry by converting the defence economy to socially useful production. Within the 1970s’ ‘marketplace of ideas’ to reverse Britain’s economic decline, the left set its sights on the undoing of the military-industrial complex to achieve a socialist anti-militaristic economy.

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The British left and the defence economy

Rockets, guns and kidney machines, 1970–83


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