From the July 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard
A Capitalist Party
Clause Four of the Labour Party’s constitution, in speaking of securing for, “the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible . . ." is vague and open to a number of conflicting interpretations. "Common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange . . . " is completely meaningless when one realises that the means of exchange are inseparable from the rest of the framework of the capitalist system. For the means of exchange exist only to facilitate the exchange of commodities, and commodity production is production for the market and not for the satisfaction of human needs. It is in fact the basis of capitalist production. Through exchange the capitalists realise the fruits of their legalised robbery of the working class, their surplus value; hence the impossibility of the community commonly owning institutions and mechanisms which exist solely to serve the interests of a minority ruling class.
That the Labour Party can display such ignorance of the nature of capitalist society is understandable when one realises that they have embraced all the ‘new’, short-lived and inadequate theories of orthodox, respectable and academic economics. But even if their object had been beyond reproach in its phrasing, this would still not have made the Labour Party a socialist party, for a party is more than just a declaration of intention. Its organisation, its teachings and its behaviour are the essential things to consider when one categorises any party and judged by these things the Labour Party must be condemned as just one other of the parties that seek to run British capitalism, its working class origin notwithstanding.
The party of Socialism in this country is the Socialist Party of Great Britain which made Socialism its one and only Object in 1904, that is two years before the Labour Party as such was born. The Labour Party, by contrast, had no programme in its Constitution until 1918 because, “it did not wish to exclude Non-Socialists . . . ” (S. F. Markham M.P.) and in the famous policy statement of that year, Labour and the New Social Order which was supposed to have committed the party to Socialism, the word is not even mentioned. The Labour Party then, as now, was concerned with votes above all and was afraid to frighten the electorate. The Socialist Party, on the other hand, saw that only a class-conscious working class could build Socialism. It made its task therefore the advancement of an unadulterated, uncompromising Socialist programme. When the Labour Party did get round to using the term Socialism they simply made the task of imparting Socialist ideas twice as difficult; instead of educating they confused.
Every one of the measures introduced by the Labour Party during its governments has been completely compatible with the structure of capitalist society, and the opposition shown by Tories to measures of State ownership and control is not an opposition to the basic principle as such, but merely represents differing views on the advisability and timing of such measures. The past actions of Tory and Liberal governments, and of other frankly capitalist governments throughout the world, prove that State ownership is just one of the forms by which capitalist ownership can be safeguarded. This holds good for Russia too, for there the new ruling class exploits the workers directly through the State machine and their surplus value can be taken by them openly or disguised as salary form.
The Labour Party has also for years been guilty of encouraging the belief that the system in Russia was Socialist, and one of the claims made for a Labour government at the end of the last war was that it would be able to talk more successfully to a ‘Socialist Russia’ than a Tory Government! The only party that was able to present a Socialist analysis of the Russian Revolution, and that from its very beginning, was logically enough the Socialist Party which, using its Marxian understanding of economics and society, was able to show that the revolution could not produce Socialism but would industrialise and modernise Russia on a capitalist basis suited to needs of a giant 20th Century nation.
Opportunism was inevitable in a party where the bulk of members are only needed to pay their dues, to help at elections and to assist in fund raising. As a party the Labour Party is now a battle ground for the professional politician and for the seeker after power and prestige. Many of the founders of the Labour Party had a completely different view of the future of their party but they built on working-class backwardness not on a class-conscious, enlightened support. And so the distortion of their vision was inevitable.