Van Ens: Anti-communist Winston Churchill supported socialism (column)
Jack Van Ens
Winston Churchill raged against communism during the Bolsheviks’ bloody 1917 Russian Revolution. He urged Britain to fight “against the foul baboonery of Bolshevism.”
Churchill did not show similar contempt, however, for other forms of socialism. He added his weight to scales tipped towards equality. He ferociously fought on the side of democratic socialism that distributed political power to the masses.
He read history, wrote volumes about it and learned from the past. Churchill harshly criticized those who spurned reading history and scorned lessons from past adventures and pitfalls. He corrected politicians who branded all varieties of socialism as evil.
Churchill did not regard the past as “past.” He constantly referred to previous events because they inform and shape the present.
After the Great War (1914-18), Churchill criticized armament racketeers who immensely profited from selling weapons. He rejected unregulated capitalism that trampled laborers’ rights. Churchill advanced domestic programs for reducing 16-hour work days to a humane 40-hour week. Conservatives argued such reductions made workers lazy. Besides, children benefited from factory work because kids matured by working on assembly lines.
“Socialist” Churchill pushed legislation to cap war profits. “He suggested to Prime Minister Lord George … a 100 percent tax be levied on war profits of over 10,000 pounds (approximately 910,000 pounds in today’s money) to help reduce the War Debt,” reports biographer Andrew Roberts. “Why should anyone make a great fortune out of the war?” he asked the prime minister. (Churchill: Walking with Destiny, Viking 2018, p. 266)
Today’s GOP conservatives, who believe our nation is selling its soul to socialism, gag on this remedy for curtailing capitalism’s profit spikes. Naïve to Churchill’s historical grasp, they are baffled as to why the western world’s liberator from fascism and communism believed in such economic drivel.
Early in his work in Parliament, Churchill’s political platform sounded like the “democratic socialism” that Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez espouse.
In a March 7, 1908 letter published in the Nation magazine, Churchill listed a socialist agenda of government-sponsored programs. “These included labour exchanges, licensing bills to ‘counter the excessive consumption of strong drink’, wages … in certain ‘notoriously sweated industries’, technical colleges, railway nationalization, public works to fight unemployment, (‘to urge forward the social march’), all to be paid for by a tax on dividends.” (Churchill: Walking with Destiny, pp.116-117)
Much to the ire of clergy who preach little difference between capitalism and Christianity, early Christians pooled their resources, capped land ownership and shared profits. The following biblical texts are some Christians avoid who tar all forms of socialism with a too-broad brush: “No one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they [Christians] held everything in common … There was not a needy person among these [Christians], for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the Apostles’ feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need” (Acts 4:32, 34-35)
Who is ignorant of the socialism that Churchill and Christians described in the book of Acts?
Is our country really overrun with socialists? In his recent State of the Union address, President Donald Trump promised under his watch “America will never be a socialist country.”
Wrapping his arms around Old Glory as if it were a teddy bear, the president told the Conservative Political Action Conference on March 2, “Socialism is not about the environment. It is not about justice. It is not about virtue. Socialism is about only one thing: It’s called power for the ruling class.” The president sees socialism through the magnifying glass of Bolshevik communism. He’s blinded to socialism’s many other models.
The president overlooks during the early 20th century that the American Socialist Party denounced child labor and long work hours, demanding 40-hour work weeks with children barred from labor mills.
Conservatives strenuously objected to shortened working hours. They objected to the Social Security Act in 1935, labeling it pure socialism. In a 1961 radio address, Ronald Reagan excoriated Medicare because “that will invade every area of freedom we have known in our country.” Once in office, President Reagan made a radical turn-about towards democratic socialism. As president, he raised taxes to fund the largest Medicare expansion in decades.
Like Churchill, Reagan read history and mastered its lessons.
Conservative bashers of democratic socialism do not.
The Reverend Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt CREATIVE GROWH Ministries, (http://www.thelivinghistory.com) which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations that make God’s history come alive.