The spirit of Clause Four
In your August edition of the Socialist Standard, H in his book review of Incomes Policy. Legislation and Shop Stewards refers to Clause Four as the clause “which commits them (the Labour Party) to mass nationalisation or state capitalism”. On reading Clause Four I find no mention of nationalisation or state capitalism but only “common ownership” and “popular administration”. I do not deny for one moment that Clause Four has come to mean state capitalism, but that was. and is, not the spirit behind it.
What is the "spirit” behind Clause Four? It talks about common ownership, in the same way as Labour Ministers assert that the wage freeze is a step towards Socialism, but it also mentions the means of exchange. There is a contradiction here, for how can wealth which is commonly owned need a means of exchanging it?
Clause Four is typical of the confusion and the hypocrisy of the Labour Party. To the mass of Labour supporters, common ownership means nationalisation. If this is a change in “spirit” then that is what was to be expected from an organisation which sought support from non-Socialists and which cadged for votes on a programme of capitalist reforms.
In any case, why have a constitution which is open to interpretation and whose “spirit” can be changed? An organisation which stands for Socialism can say so, clearly and consistently. Have a look at our sixty-three year old Object and Declaration of Principles.
I have read the Socialist Standard for over a year now, in which time 99 per cent of your space has been devoted to the negative criticism of capitalism in all its aspects.
However, you never seem to ask yourselves “Where do we go from here?” Granted that capitalism is rotten and that Socialism would be far better; you seem unable to advance any positive ideas for the establishment of Socialism. You do not put forward any plans for the running of world Socialism if and when it is here.
You only appear capable of waiting on the sidelines for the “inevitable collapse of capitalism”; perhaps you do not know that the only thing which comes to he who waits is whiskers.
Look at your party’s object — “The establishment of a system of society . . .” Very well, then, do something constructive to help this.
Possibly you have been so long criticising, looking for the bad (and finding it) that you are unable to think in a positive way.
Surely instead of continually thinking and writing of the faults of capitalism today you would be better occupied thinking and writing of ways and means to implement Socialism tomorrow?
The collapse of capitalism is not inevitable; if we thought it were, we would not be working so hard to bring capitalism to an end; it would happen whatever we did.
Socialists are not content to wait for Socialism; we are impatient for it and we know it to be urgent now. But Socialism cannot be established by a minority; it must be the political act of a majority of workers who are consciously Socialist.
We live today under capitalism because the majority of the working class are content to do so. The job of a Socialist is to encourage the spread of discontent with capitalism and to show that there is an alternative to it. How are we to do this?
First we must diagnose society’s illnesses. We must point out that capitalism causes problems like hunger and poverty and war. We must expose organisations like the Labour Party, and the fraud in Russia; we must analyse the influence which “great men” are supposed to have in society and so on. What this amounts to is a criticism of capitalism. And because the workers’ support for capitalism is so widespread, and so deep-rooted, we have to spend a great deal of time in criticising.
The first positive idea about the establishment of Socialism —an idea held only by the Socialist Party — is that it can only be brought about by a Socialist working class. We do not know when this will happen; we do not know, for example, what methods of production and communication will be at man’s disposal when it does happen. Because of this, we cannot lay down plans of what Socialism will be like. We can only set out its basis —the common ownership and democratic control of the means of wealth production and distribution. We are as impatient at this as anyone. The remedy is with the working class. We are working as hard as we know to bring Socialism about. D.M. has been reading the Socialist Standard for a year now; if he agrees with our case his place is inside the Socialist Party, helping us.