Edward Aveling (1893)

The Fourth Clause

Source: The Clarion, Saturday 18 March 1893, p.2
Note: The Manchester Independent Labour Party, now part of the Independent Labour Party, wished to impose a ‘fourth clause’ on the ILP limiting electoral support to ILP candidates only. Robert Blatchford, founder member of the Manchester party and editor of the Clarion, invited a debate on the topic. This is the fourth contribution. Other contributions came from:
Keir Hardie
W.S. de Mattos
Robert Blatchford
Transcription: by Graham Seaman for MIA, January 2021

This Patroclus of a clause, over which Manchester and the rest of us are amiably fighting, is ordinal in name but cardinal in importance. For fear the readers of the Clarion may have forgotten its exact wording, let me begin by quoting it, and also quoting the Bradford Amendment ultimately carried against it.

Manchester: “That all members of the I.L.P. pledge themselves to abstain from voting for any candidate for election to any representative body who is in any way a nominee of the Liberal, Liberal-Unionist, or Conservative Party.”

Bradford: “That in cases of elections where no I.L.P. candidates shall be brought forward the members of the party in that constituency shall act as directed by the local branch.”

Everyone must admit that in England the question of the position to be taken by I.L.P. men when no candidate is forthcoming has especial difficulties. We have no second ballot yet. The second ballot, of course, would not help us specially in where we had no candidate. But it would be of very obvious use in cases where we could run one. Therefore let us note before we have got to the heart of the matter how the very first thing benched upon gives an argument against Manchester and for Bradford. Seeing the value, the necessity of the second ballot, surely it would be unwise in the event say of two candidates otherwise equally bad, but one of whom declared for the second ballot, not to support the latter. Of course with a perfectly clear statement of the cynical political grounds on which the support was given.

Thus far three members of the I.L.P. have written on this subject. Keir Hardie and De Mattos are both on the same side as myself. Only a word or two, therefore, is necessary in respect to either of them. Unlike Hardie I had not reserved my opinion on the Manchester Fourth clause until I came to Bradford. My mind was made up on the subject, which is by no manner of means the same thing as saying that one is cocksure. That making up of my mind, and of the minds of those that instructed me, was due largely to the fact that we had learnt lessons from the Communist Manifesto of 1848. May I, in passing, suggest to all members of our Party the careful study of that document. It does more to clarify and solidify socialistic ideas than any other I know. Now the last section of the Manifesto is headed “Position of the Communists in relation to the various opposition parties.” I cannot refrain from quoting bodily the five historical paragraphs in which Marx and Engels point out the necessity for the independent, advanced party taking part in political struggles even when they are unable themselves to run candidates. Before re-reading these paragraphs, for I am sure every one of the leading defenders of the Manchester Fourth clause has studied the Manifesto, bear in mind that the authors of the Manifesto, in a preface to a new edition of it in 1872, expressly state that, whilst in the different countries the actual political relations have changed since 1848, the general principle of taking part in political struggles, and throwing weight to this side or to that in the interests of the working class only, still holds.

The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests, of the working class; but in [the] movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement.

In France the Communists ally themselves with the Social Democrats(1) against the Conservative and Radical bourgeoisie; reserving, however, the right to take up a critical position in regard to phrases and illusions traditionally handed down from the great Revolution.

In Switzerland they support the Radicals, without losing sight of the fact that this party consists of antagonistic elements—partly of Democratic Socialists, in the French sense, partly of Radical bourgeois.

In Poland they support the party that insists on an agrarian revolution as the prime condition for national emancipation—that party which fomented the insurrection of Cracow in 1846.

In Germany they fight with the bourgeoisie whenever it acts in a revolutionary way against the absolute monarchy, the feudal squirearchy, and the petty bourgeoisie.

But they never cease for a single instant to instil into the working class the clearest possible recognition of the hostile antagonism between bourgeoisie and proletariat, in order that the German workers may straightway use, as so many weapons against the bourgeoisie, the social and political conditions that the bourgeoisie must necessarily introduce along with its supremacy; and in order that, after the fall of the reactionary classes in Germany, the light against the bourgeoisie itself may immediately begin.

Like Hardie, I am glad to congratulate the conference and the party generally on the open, fair, and friendly way in which the matter has been discussed; and, like him, I am perfectly certain that the Manchester men will loyally abide by the decision of the Congress until such times as It may be reversed.

De Mattos' main point is that the Manchester clause would hamper individual liberty. That is precisely what should be hampered in political movements. The I.L.P., I can see, has made up its mind that individual, irresponsible action, for which afterwards the Party must be responsible, must in all matters of importance be replaced by collective action. Our collectivism must, in short, find its way into our political work. The Bradford amendment recognises this. The individual member of the Party, about whom De Mattos is paternally anxious, is, in the words of that amendment, “to act in the case under supposition, as directed by the local branch.”

And now let me turn to the chief spokesman for the Fourth Clause—Blatchford. He regards any voting by us for candidates other than our very own people as a danger to the independence of the Party. It would be unjust to deny that there is that possibility of danger. But this danger can only occur when it is a question of individual action. It cannot occur when it is a question of Party action. An individual can be bought. An independent party, if it can be bought as a whole, is clearly unworthy of its name, is not worth buying, and had better perform for itself the happy despatch. As against this danger (as far as I can see the only real objection to the generally taking part in elections) there are many advantages, which will come out as I deal with Blatchford's remarks seriatim.

With one of those remarks we all of us agree. Our object is to defeat both the old political parties. We are to be uncompromisingly independent of and antagonistic to both of them. But that independence and antagonism by no means imply that we shall not play the one party off against the other.

If Blatchford can't get a candidate of his own choice he desires not to vote at all. This position is to me so astounding that I quote his exact words: “It seems to me that unless I can vote for the candidate of my own choice I had better not vote at all.” This seems to me individualism run rampant. Even if we paraphrase the sentence in terms of socialist party action, and read it, “Unless we can vote for candidates of the parties' choice we had better not vote at all.” Which would be right enough; yet in this country at present the choice of the party might have to be made between two men neither of whom was whole and sole independent labour. But if one of them was e.g. three-fourths, or even one-half, or even a smaller fraction, independent labour, surely the party would do wisely and well in advising its members of the two evils choose the less. Or, still on this point, let us suppose, that i a particular district, say West Ham or Battersea, the I.L.P. were strong enough to force one of their men upon either of the old parties, are the I.L.P. members in the district therefore to abstain from voting?

Blatchford draws a fine distinction between voting for a bad candidate nominated by one of the old parties and voting for a good bill introduced by one of them. But if the “bad candidate” were, before election, in favour of the good bill, or was even pledged himself to introduce it, and if the other man was not, and no I.L.P. candidate was on hand. where is the rhyme or reason of cutting of your nose to spite your face, and sulking in your tents because you can't get absolute victory out and out?

Blatchford holds that there is a worse evil than being disfranchised—being misrepresented. I would put it in another way. It is better to be partially represented than not represented at all. One must take concrete examples. Assume two candidates neither of whom will go for the I.L.P. programme, but one of whom will go, say, for the legal eight hours day and such a registration bill even as that just introduced. Surely it is our duty, always explaining our cynical grounds again, to vote for the less bad candidates.

Blatchford does well to be angry at the idea of I.L.P. men selling their votes, being nobbled, attempting to intrigue, or to ally themselves with either of the old parties. I have pointed out above, these individual sins, whilst they are never likely to be done entirely away with in this wicked world, are reduced to a minimum if the Bradford idea of branch and party action is carried out. And if a man is base enough to sell himself to either of the old parties, is it likely that any amount of Congress resolutions or party rules will check him in his vile career? There must be, of course, as far as the party is concerned no intriguing with either of the others—no real alliance. We must proclaim openly and in the light of day, and most clearly of all to the particular party with whom for the time being we may vote, our real reasons for doing thus. We can afford to wear our political hearts upon our sleeves.

Blatchford himself, it should be noted, a little later in his article, admits the possibility of our having to do with one or other of the old parties on occasion, by speaking of our being in a position “to demand from them a certain number of safe seats for labour candidates.” But surely a demand for safe seats comes nearer an alliance and an intrigue than a casting of votes on a particular side with the avowed intention of playing one party against the other, and with a repetition of the general declaration of war against both sides. Of course sooner or later when our movement becomes a general one, the only alliance that will be seen is that now already seen in Germany and France where again and again the old parties unite against the common foe–the new. The above quotation from Blatchford, I need hardly point out, gives away the whole of his position.

Blatchford speaks out plainly about one danger, in the way of misunderstanding, that threatens us now. But I think he rather misunderstands the danger. Quite rightly, he says that at the present moment our attack has to be on the Liberals. Equally rightly he points out that the average Radical, whom we want to rope in ultimately, will have it at present that we are always going to attack only the Liberals, and that, therefore, from his point of view, we are playing the game of the Tories. This makes it imperative that, in season and out of season, with a most damnable iteration, every speaker, writer, debater, arguer in private, of the I.L.P., should insist upon the fact that this party is equally antagonistic to Tory and Radical. A broad, general principle in advanced politics is, go for the party in power, unless they give clear evidence that they are, in another sense, going further for you than their opponents are. Supposing, e.g., Party A. is willing and Party B. is unwilling to give us a good Employers’ Liability Bill, a good Registration Bill, and Payment of Members, it would be worth while supporting Party A. whether in or out of office. If, on the other hand, at the next general election the prodigal leader returned of the Tory party should induce his stupid following to go neck and crop for a legal Eight Hours Bill, and the Liberals did not outbid them for the labour vote, then it would be worth while supporting the Tories in cases where we could not run our own men. When, however, as is generally the case, it is literally six of one party and half-a-dozen of the other, then it is, I think, good policy simply to attack the party that is in power so as to show both parties our power.

Upon another point I am also at issue with Blatchford. He does not attach so much importance to labour members in Parliament. He talks of forming a parliament without, whatever that may mean, and then swooping down upon the old one, whilst, almost in the same breath, he talks of awakening the imagination and firing the enthusiasm of the people by “the idea of leaving their enemies to fall to pieces from inanition.” The obvious criticism upon which is, first, that if we leave then alone they won't fall to pieces; and, if they did, what is there to swoop down upon! Let us learn once again the lesson from the Greeks in the Trojan war. Ten mortal years they sat outside the walls of Troy. But when they once, with the help of the wooden horse, i.e. “the non-astute British worker”—were within the walls, the gates of the city were opened and their warfare was accomplished.

Education, by all manner of means. Organisation also, with, for its special immediate end, the formation of an Independent Labour Party pledged, wherever it is possible, to run Independent Labour candidates, and where that is not possible to make the best of its voting power, even the use of abstention in the interests alone of the party. We can do all this without any compromise, without any fear, without any lack of resolution. But to throw over the principle and practice recommended by the Bradford amendment of leaving the local party to decide in any particular case where no I.L.P. candidate runs whether the labour vote should be cast on this particular man, or on that, or on none at all, would be, I think, wrong in principle, wrong in tactics, and impossible in execution.



1. The party then represented in Parliament by Ledru-Rollin, in literature by Louis Blanc, in the daily press by the Réforme. The name of Social Democracy signified with these, its inventors, a section of the Democratic or Republican party more or less tinged with Socialism.BACK