1990s >> 1995 >> no-1087-march-1995

 Ownership — the Party hasn’t begun

Under the heading “The Party’s Over” the Spectator (14 January) published a leading article on the Labour Party and its Clause Four. The article contains a generous number of unwarranted statements and false assumptions, but is mainly of interest because of the rhetorical questions it puts:

  • “Without it [Clause Four], what, distinctively, does the Labour Party have to stand for?”
  • “What does that modest aspiration [running capitalism more efficiently and less stupidly] have to do with anything recognisable as a socialist party?”
  • “Mr Blair’s problem is that if Labour is not struggling to achieve the collectivist paradise of which its founders dreamt, what is there to unite the party, other than the mere desire for political power?”

The leader writer’s fundamental error (and we credit him with error rather than knowing distortion) is that common ownership means collectivisation or nationalisation. He asserts that experiments in common ownership have failed everywhere they have been tried, bringing destruction and impoverishment. The “experiments” he lists are Stalin’s collectivisation of agriculture, the nationalisation of the British car industry, and for good measure he throws in the names of Mao Tse-Tung, Pol Pot, Fidel Castro, Leonid Brezhnev and Tony Benn.

None of these “experiments” or “experimenters” has anything to do with common ownership. They were, or represent, ways in which capitalism — the system of wage-labour and capital, the working class and the owning or privileged class — can be reformed, allegedly in the interest of the majority. The “experiments” have failed to achieve that limited objective. But they have not failed to achieve common ownership because they have not had that aim.


The writer does show some signs of understanding what common ownership is: “everything is shared and individuals’ activities are organised by, and for the benefit of, the community”. This is not how we would prefer to put it, because it implies that the community is somehow apart from the individuals who make it up, but it’s clearly not collectivisation or nationalisation. And the writer also recognises the existence of the class struggle and how it might be ended: “The only way to overcome the fundamental conflict between the two classes was for the workers to take possession of the economy, and run it for themselves.”


It is not a question of the common ownership party being over – it hasn’t begun. It can begin, just as soon as there are enough socialist partygoers. To clarify the answers to the Spectator’s questions:


  • With or without Clause Four, the Labour Party stands only as the B team to run capitalism.
  • This has, of course, nothing to do with what the Socialist Party stands for, which is genuine common ownership.
  • Because Labour is not struggling to achieve common ownership (socialism), there is nothing to unite it other than the mere desire for political power.


Stan Parker