Any amount of drivel has been spouted about what Sidney Webb’s formulation of clause four did or did not mean. Here, in an edited form, is what the man actually said.
The proposal to reorganise the Labour Party, formulated by its National Executive, and circulated to its constituent societies for their consideration, may well prove an event offar-reaching political importance. Instead of a sectional and somewhat narrow group, what is aimed at is now a national party, open to anyone ofthe 16,000,000 electors agreeing with the party programme
More important, however, than any of these changes in the constitution is the change of spirit that has inspired them. The Labour Party, which has never been formally restricted to manualworking wage-earners, is now to be publicly thrown open to all workers’ by hand or by brain’ .
Its declared object is to be, not merely the improvement of the conditions of the wage-earner, but ‘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 or service’.
The only persons to excluded (and that, of course, only by inference) are the unoccupied and unproductive recipients of rents and dividends the so-called’ idle rich’ – whom it is interesting to find The Times editorially declaring to be of no use to the community.
The Labour Party of the future, in short, is to be a party of the producers, whether manual workers or brain workers, associated against the private owners of land and capital as such.
Its policy of ‘common ownership’ brings it, as a similar evolution brought John Stuart Mill – to use his own words in the Autobiography – ‘decidedly under the- general designation of Socialist. ‘
But it is a Socialism which is no more specific than a definite repudiation ofthe individualism that characterised all the political parties of the past generation and that still dominates the House of Commons.
This declaration of the Labour Party leaves it open to choose from time to time whatever forms of common ownership from the cooperative store to the nationalised railway, and whatever forms of popular administration and control of industry, from national guilds to ministries of employment and municipal management, may, in particular cases, commend themselves.
What the Labour Party at present means by its Socialism is revealed in the remarkable pamphlet which it has published on its ‘After the War Programme’, setting forth in a dozen Sydney Wehh.
detailed resolutions passed at the Manchester Party Conference exactly what it wishes done with the railways, the canals, the coal mines, the banking system, the demobilisation of the army and munition workers, the necessary rehousing of the people, the measures to be taken for preventing the occurrence of unemployment, the improvement of agriculture, the taxation to be imposed to pay for the war, the reform of our educational system, and what not.
Opinions will naturally differ as to some of these sweeping proposals, but no one of any education can safely denounce them as unpractical or despise them as ill-informed.
It is, indeed, one of the claims of the Labour Party that science is on their side; that it is their proposals, not those of the Liberals or those of the Unionists, that nowadays receive the general support of the ‘orthodox’ economists; and that, as a matter of fact, it is essentially their proposals to which
every Minister of State, when he is brought up against a difficult problem – of administration, has actually to turn – and then to lose his nerve, emasculate what would have got over his difficulties, and produce an abortion which has the advantages neither of individualism or collectivism!
But the programme of the Labour Party is, and will probably remain, less important (except for educating the political leaders of other parties) than the spirit underlying the programme, that spirit which gives any party its soul.
The Labour Party stands essentially for revolt against the inequality of circumstance that degrades and brutalises and disgraces our civilisation.
It abhors and repudiates the unscientific and immoral doctrine that the competitive struggle for the means of life is, in human society, either inevitable or requisite for the survival of the fittest; it declares, indeed, in full accord with science, that competition produces degradation and death, whilst it is conscious and deliberate co-operation which is productive of life and progress.