By Max Anderson
LONDON — The Defend Clause Four Campaign, organised by the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs and MEPs, was launched on Saturday, November 12, at a church hall near Euston station.
This campaign was begun in response to a speech at the Labour Party conference by new leader Tony Blair in which he pledged to amend the party's stated aim: "To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and for the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service".
This avowedly socialist intent sits ill with the centrist, social democratic approach that Labour has adopted, but there is no doubt that it remains the goal of much of the British labour movement.
One distinguished representative of that movement, miners leader arthur Scargill, told the 150 Labour Party activists present, "History is littered with Labour leaders who have tried to change the party ... At a time when we have 5 million people unemployed in this country, and 10 million in poverty, the 'Clinton clones' want a US-style Democratic Party ... I don't want us to merely win an election, I want to see political change, and common ownership, not just nationalisation."
The distinction between old bureaucratic forms of public ownership and democratic ownership was stressed by speakers. In fact, they argued that the debate which Blair has begun ought to be viewed as a positive opportunity rather than another rearguard defence.
Euro MP Stan Newens spoke thoughtfully about both the future and the past of Clause Four. He said that, when Hugh Gaitskell raised the issue in 1959, it was resolved by the publication of a 12-point statement of aims. In his view, the new Clause Four drawn up by the 'soft left' could achieve that objective.
Newens called the labour movement "the heir to the Levellers, the Chartists and the Suffragettes", defined by opposition to the Tories, who "opposed democracy and social justice for as long as they could", and said that "it would be wrong for us to consign our tradition to the dustbin of history".
A radical Labour seems particularly urgent in the light of the fact that the Thatcherite hegemony which has held sway for so long is literally collapsing in front of our eyes. In the queen's speech which opened the new parliamentary session, new policies of substance were conspicuous by their absence, and John Major has been reduced to threatening his right-wing backbenchers with an election if they prevent the passage of new contributions to the European Community.
The Tory domination of the '80s which forced Labour to seek shelter under the banner of European-style social democracy has been destroyed, and the time is now ripe for Labour to put the principles of democratic socialism before the electorate in the confident expectation of a great victory.