1990s >> 1994 >> no-1083-november-1994

The Rise and Fall of Clause Four

In 1918 the Labour Party transformed! itself into a national organisation. At the same time it adopted a list of Party Objects, the fourth of which read: ‘To secure for the producers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry, and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible, upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry and service.”

This was the nearest the Labour Party ever came to committing itself on paper to Socialism, since this could be interpreted as a somewhat wordy definition of real Socialism not all that different from the Object we in the Socialist Party adopted when we were founded in 1904: ‘The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.”

However, since it was drawn up by the Fabians Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and since the Fabians stood for a state capitalism run by an educated elite, it was meant to be understood as a reference to state ownership, or nationalisation, i.e. state capitalism.

This was confirmed when in 1929, as a result of left-wing pressure to commit the Labour Party to the nationalisation of the banks, the words “distribution and exchange” were added after “the common ownership of the means of production”. This made it absolutely clear that what was envisaged was not real socialism but state capitalism.

To talk of the common ownership of the means of exchange is a contradiction in terms. Where there is common ownership there can be no exchange since exchange can only take place between separate owners, i.e. where private ownership not common ownership exists. In a socialist society based on common ownership goods are simply distributed not exchanged, so there is no need for money, banks and the rest of the financial system.

After Labour lost the 1959 election the then leader Gaitskill tried to get rid of Clause 4 on the grounds that it was an electoral liability, but had to back down in face of the opposition. Now Tony Blair is going to try again, with more chance of success it appears.

In a sense he his right: Labour does not stand for state capitalism –it stands for working within the present profit-driven market system dominated privately-owned companies. It stands for capitalism pure and simple. The dropping of Clause 4 will merely make this absolutely clear.

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