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When Blair ditched socialism from the Labour Party
ANYONE WHO is getting interested in socialist ideas for the first time must find it incredible that the Labour Party ever had the aim of replacing capitalism with a publicly owned and democratically run economy, i.e. socialism, enshrined in its constitution.
Today's Labour Party, with its zeal for privatisation, funding from big business and advocacy of the virtues of "the market" is a long way from the one that had "Clause Four" printed on all its membership cards.
It is true that the party leadership never had any intention of implementing that clause, but many ordinary party members saw it as what they were aiming for. The fact that ten years ago, within a few months of getting elected as party leader, Tony Blair was able to get it ditched reflected how much the party had changed.
It was now clearly a party that had a pro-big business agenda and socialist ideas could get no real echo even from below. Today, Labour for example does not countenance nationalising Rover to save jobs. Yet this is not in itself a socialist measure, even the Tories nationalised Rolls Royce in the early 1970s to save a prestige name for British capitalism.
Even in the 1950s when the party had shifted massively to the right, Hugh Gaitskell, party leader of the time failed in his attempt to get rid of Clause Four because of opposition from union activists.
The clause had been put in the party's constitution in 1918 following huge support amongst Labour Party supporters for the Russian workers in the revolution of 1917. The wording of the clause, with its use of Marxist language, had been written by Sidney Webb from the party's Fabian right wing. This was to ensure that even more direct revolutionary language was not passed!
For example the 1908 conference passed a resolution saying: "... the Labour Party should have as a definite object, the socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange, to be controlled by a democratic state in the interest of the entire community, and the complete emancipation of labour from the domination of capitalism, and landlordism."
Right-wing Labour leaders were always embarrassed by the "socialist clause" in Labour's constitution. But it wasn't until 1995 that a Labour leader could get rid of it. This was because of the level of support for it in the past from party members, even if in some cases it was seen as something to be achieved in the dim and distant future.
HOWEVER, MANY responded to the ideas of the Socialist Party's forerunner - the Militant. We argued that its immediate implementation, in the form of the "nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy under democratic workers' control and management", was necessary to solve the problems caused by capitalism.
Resolutions proposed by Militant supporters along those lines were passed at party meetings and national conferences in the 1970s and 1980s as the Labour Party membership shifted to the left. We argued that capitalism needed replacing; it could not be "reformed" out of existence, these measures would need to be backed up by a mass movement of workers in the workplaces.
A shift to the right began with the expulsions of Militant supporters in the mid 1980s and accelerated in the 1990s after the so-called 'communist' countries of Russia and Eastern Europe, collapsed.
These regimes, named Stalinist by Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, were not socialist. They were based on planned economies and nationalisation but they were one-party totalitarian states, where a bureaucratic elite dominated both state and society.
However, the collapse of these regimes was an enormous propaganda victory for the capitalist class internationally. They used it to launch an ideological attack on 'socialism', claiming that there was no alternative to the capitalist free market.
In the ten years since, the Labour Party has qualitatively changed. Now, Labour's transformation into a bosses' party raises the need for a new mass party that represents working-class people's interests. Socialist Party members are campaigning for the establishment of such a broad party.
But we also still raise the ideas of "common ownership" of the economy and democratic control by the working class. These are necessary to provide a socialist alternative to the attacks on working-class people by New Labour and all the other parties of capitalism.
It's only by taking control of the economy out of the hands of big business and using the resources of society in a democratic plan that we can start to solve the problems of poverty, inequality and poor services and injustice.
Steve Score is the Socialist Party's general election candidate in Leicester West
In The Socialist 21 April 2005: