Robert Blatchford (1893)

The Fourth Clause

Source: The Clarion, Saturday 11 February 1893
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, as founder member of the Manchester party and editor of the Clarion, invited a debate on the topic. His own was the second contribution, after Keir Hardie. Other contributions came from:
Keir Hardie
W.S. de Mattos
Edward Aveling
Transcription: by Graham Seaman for MIA, January 2021

Mr. KEIR HARDIE'S article against the Fourth Clause contains eight arguments. I will answer them seriatim

1. I do not believe there is any risk of the Fourth Clause leading to disruption of the party; though I do think that the absence of such a clause endangers our independence.

2. I have already expressed the opinion that the various branches of the National Labour Party should accept and loyally support the policy decided upon by the majority. But this argument is out of court. The question is not whether one branch shall stand aloof from the others, but whether the whole party should adopt the Fourth Clause. Not whether they will adopt it, but whether it would be wise to adopt it.

3. Mr. Hardie says that the Fourth Clause, if carried to its logical conclusion, would preclude a Labour Member in Parliament from voting for any measure introduced by Liberals or Tories. This argument seems far-fetched. I see a great difference between voting for a bad candidate and voting for a good bill.

4. Should one party be guilty of an act of unusual treachery towards the workers the Fourth Clause would prevent us from punishing that party by voting for their opponents. This argument seems rather specious. Both the parties are our enemies, and our object is to defeat both. I cannot see how the Liberals or Tories can be guilty of " treachery " to us unless we trust them. Now the Fourth Clause makes it quite impossible for us to trust them or to deal with them. Mr. Hardie says that if we cannot punish one party by voting for the other we are like men fighting with one hand tied behind them. The comparison is not a true one, and its use suggests that we have not yet made up our minds as to what we want or how we are to get it: But of this more presently.

5. I quote this argument in full :

Again, there are 672 constituencies represented in the British House of Commons. If the Independent Labour Party contests 272 of these at next election it will do remarkably well. That leaves 400 constituencies in which we are to tell the workers that they are not to vote at all. Frankly, Mr. Editor, I am opposed to any such wholesale disfranchisement, nor do I believe an order to this effect would be obeyed.

What does Mr. Hardie mean by disfranchisement ? In a constituency where no Labour candidate is standing the worker has the choice a Liberal and a Tory. Both are his enemies. Now, is a man enfranchised when he has Hobson's choice between two enemies? He is certainly disfranchised if he does not vote; but he is worse than disfranchised if he does—he is misrepresented. I prefer to be disfranchised, and I must remind Mr. Hardie that I am not disfranchised by the Fourth Clause, but by the Liberal and Tory organisations who force upon the electorate candidates out of sympathy with the workers. But again we will defer consideration of these points.

6. I quote in full:

The British worker is too astute to thus throw away an instrument which his fathers fought so hard to secure for him. The effect of the vote going solid would appeal to the imagination of the people, and have a demoralising effect on our opponents of both shades of political colour.

I deny that the British worker is “astute.'” If he were, there would now be hundreds of Labour Representatives in the House. There are not half-a-dozen. And what is the instrument for which the forefathers of our British workers fought? They fought to win working-class representation. But they did not win it. They won instead the right to vote for men selected by a caucus of a few capitalists and party leaders. It seems to me that unless I can vote for the candidate of my own choice I had better not vote at all. The “astuteness” of the worker, and the “instrument for which our fathers fought” are mere bits of rhetoric and mean nothing. The Fourth Clause does not say we shall not vote for a good candidate, but only that we shall not vote for a Liberal or a Tory.

But now comes the sixth argument, the moral effect of voting solidly for one of our enemies. It seems to me that the moral effect of withdrawing ourselves from the whole dirty business of intrigue would be tremendous, but I do not see any “moral” effect to be gained by selling our vote to the highest bidder, or by making an ally of an enemy. Now observe the inconsistency of the next paragraph:-

7. If it be said that the worker who had been a Liberal would not vote Tory, and rice versa, then I reply that he is not a true Labour man. I have seen a dozen true blue Orangemen march to the poll and vote Liberal for the sake of an eight hour bill for miners. Much more would they do so to-day for the programme of the Bradford conference.

Here we are told that a man may be depended upon to vote against his former party, whereas in No. 6 we were told that ho could not be depended upon to abstain from voting. Personally I am of opinion that men cannot be depended upon at present to do what Mr. Hardie suggests. %or do I see any reason why they should be asked to do it.

8. Besides, it is a higher standpoint to be able to give or withhold the vote, just as circumstances may dictate, than it is to say that a man cannot be trusted so to do, lest the claims of party prove too strong for him. The fourth clause is not founded upon a distrust of the men's faithfulness, but upon a conviction that the truest and wisest policy is to renounce all dealings with both the parties of privilege. This is the end of Mr. Hardie's statement, and I may now proceed to deal more generally with his position, and to make my own position clear.

First of all. as to the objects and the methods of the Independent Labour Party. Our object is well known. It is to secure industrial and social reform. Now, in this matter there is no choice between the Liberals and Tories. They will neither of them listen to any interference with the legalised brigandage which they call free contract. They will give us greater scope to vote for Mr. Gladstone's followers, or greater facilities for cutting each other's throats in the way of business, but they will give us nothing we want.

Therefore both parties are our enemies; and if we do get anything we want we shall have to take it. How are we to take it?

It seems to me that the method favoured by Mr. Hardie and the other opponents of the Fourth Clause is the Parliamentary method. That is to say they hope to succeed by getting Labour members into Parliament, and they propose to proceed upon the lines followed by Mr. Parnell.

Now, in the first place, I do not attach as much importance to the presence of Labour members in the House as some of our friends do ; and in the second place I do not like the idea of adopting the tactics of the Home Rule Party.

Mr. Parnell's tactics suited him, and served his party well. But Mr. Parnell is dead, and his party is not our party. Given a leader as clever as Mr. Parnell. and a willingness to be led, our party might find his methods effective. But I don't see any Parnell in the Labour movement. and I would neither follow him nor advise my comrades to follow him could one be found. The Independent Labour Party is a democratic body, and should work on democratic lines. We want no leaders, and should be ill-advised to tolerate any.

Our party, again, must be largely made up of recruits from the working class Liberals and Tories. The Home Rule Party was composed of Irishmen. These men had no party prejudices to outgrow. Their one dominant sentiment was patriotism. They were as solid and as faithful as our party would be were they all sound Socialists. Which they are not, and will not be for some time.

Very well, Mr. Parnell set out to compel Mr. Gladstone to surrender by casting the Irish vote for the Tories. This is what Mr. Hardie's policy amounts to. For we must be frank in this matter, and acknowledge that there is very little chance of overcoming the Tories in the same way. No. It is the Liberals who are to be attacked, and they are to be attacked by casting the Labour vote for the Tories.

But I maintain that the same end can be accomplished under the Fourth Clause. That is to say that by selecting about one hundred constituencies where the Liberal majority is narrow, setting up Labour candidates in those places, and holding up the vote in the other constituencies, we should certainly inflict upon the Liberals a crushing defeat.

Examples of this are afforded by the defeat of the Liberal candidates at South Salford and Huddersfield. Beyond the power to defeat the Liberals I fail to see what we should get by Mr. Hardie's policy, and we can defeat the Liberals under the Fourth Clause.

Granted that we have the power to keep the Liberals out of office, we are in a position to demand from them a certain number of safe seats for Labour candidates. and so may get our men into Parliament just as effectually with the Fourth Clause as without it.

But getting men into Parliament is not the chief end of our Party. in my opinion. It is easy to over-estimate the value of Parliamentary representation. Parliament is not a guiding power, but an executing power. Parliament follows public opinion, it does not lead it.

Look at the question from the Socialist point of view. The great bulk of public opinion is against Socialism. Now while that is so, even if we could secure a hundred seats for Socialists those members could do but little—except in the direction of education—for the country would pull them up sharply if they got in advance of the general feeling. But get the general feeling in advance of Parliament and it will drag Parliament up to its own level.

I have a wholesome dread of concessions and alliances. The great danger of all popular agitations is the danger of being “nobbled.” The Fourth Clause is death on “nobblers.”

And now let me offer a few remarks upon the two great (?) Parties. The Tory party is, in the main, unitedly. obstinately, and stupidly opposed to us. With them we shall not have to deal at present. We have first of all to defeat the Liberals.

Both parties are misnamed. The one should be called the Salisbury Party, the other the Gladstonian Party. The Salisbury Party consists chiefly of Tories and Whigs but includes a few free lances more or less inclined to support advanced measures—as soon as they seem likely to pay.

The Gladstonian Party is a heterogeneous crowd of over-drilled and badly-officered troops, chiefly notable for its blind devotion to the general. It includes a good many Tories—Mr. Gladstone amongst them—a larger number of Whigs—such as Mr. Morley and Mr. Burt—and a main body of Liberals and Radicals of various degrees of advancement.

The Radical portion of this Party might be made into Labour men if they were not so ignorant, the rest are hopeless.

So with the large numbers of so-called Conservative working men, these are excellent material if only we can educate them.

The object of the Labour Party, I think, should be to drive all the Whigs and Tories into one camp, and win all the others over to our side; and the best means to that end is education.

At present, the best men in the Liberal ranks are in a false position. They have all their lives been cheated into the belief that the Liberal Party is the Party of Progress. Now they find themselves with their hereditary sham enemies in front and with a new force behind. This new force laughs their progress to scorn, calls them all Tories, demands a new army and a battle on a new field.

The Radicals are amazed and indignant. Can you wonder at it ? They do not understand us, and they will never join us until they are made to understand us.

The war is no longer a party war. It is a class war. It is no longer a fight for a sham franchise. It is a fight for substantial justice, a struggle between Capital and Labour. We must get the Labour men out of the Capitalist camp.

And we can only get them out of that camp by education.

It is chiefly for educational purposes that I desire to see a score or so of Labour men in the House.

And now I come to my chief reason for adopting the Fourth Clause.

The chief need of an Independent Labour Party is—an Independent Labour Party.

At present we have not a Party, but only the beginnings of one. If this Party is to grow, and to retain its independence, and its moral influence, it must adopt the Fourth Clause.

It is absolutely certain that we shall suffer seriously by any attempt to intrigue with the other parties. Liberal and Tory workers will join much more readily if they know they are not to be asked to vote for those they have been taught to regard as the sole enemies of the nation. At present, owing partly to the unscrupulous tactics of the Liberal Press, and partly to the ignorance and bewilderment of the honest Radical voters before alluded to—the latter being unable to grasp the idea of a political Movement directed against both the old Parties—we are universally suspected of being mere Tory tools. The policy advocated by Mr. Hardie. of voting for the Tories—for that is what it means—will lend colour to this suspicion, and do us incalculable harm.

Here, then, are many things to gain by the Fourth Clause. One is to give our new Party and its undrilled recruits confidence in themselves. Another is to give possible recruits from the two parties confidence in the perfect honesty of the movement. Yet another is to compel the Liberal leaders to comprehend our object and methods. At present they cling to the hope that we may be bought, or disunited. or nobbled. It is only the formation of an uncompromising, resolute, and fearless Party under the Fourth Clause that will compel them to relinquish that hope.

And directly they do understand us they will face about to fight us. and then we shall once more have only two parties in the State. That is to say. we shall have the Party of privilege composed of Liberal-Tories and old-styled Tories on the one hand, and on the other hand the solid ranks of Labour.

I take it, then, that our first work is to form a Labour Party, and that the means to that end is education. Let me remind you once more of the power of a moral influence outside Parliament. There is the Trade Union Congress. Already that Congress, imperfect as it is. has become a power, and Parliament takes from it many a cue. There is no doubt at all that had the Trade Union Congress been unanimous as to the need for an Eight Hours Act, that Act would have been adopted by Mr. Gladstone.

Now. I want to see a new Parliament formed outside the walls of the old, and I believe that such a Parliament will gain for us what we want more rapidly than a number of Labour members acting as shuttlecock between the Tory and Liberal battledores of St. Stephens.

Imagine a great Fourth Clause Labour Party in this country, with an annual or half-yearly Congress, debating and deciding upon questions of import to Labour. Do you not think that such a Congress would be a great moral force? But add to that the fact that the bulk of the workers treated the old Parliament with contempt, and turned their backs upon the candidates of the old Parties, and you will see at once that the result must be decisive.

To begin with, the Liberal Party would be hopelessly shut out of power. Therefore, as their bids for the Labour vote would, under the Fourth Clause, be despised, they would simply fall to pieces. The capitalist portion would go over to the Tories, the rest would join the Labour army, and the battle would be virtually won. For then the Labour men could swoop down upon the old Parliament and use it for the only purpose for which it is fitted—the embodiment in statutes of the Will of the People.

Mr. Hardie talks about appealing to the imagination of the people. I can think of no possible manipulation of the “instrument for which our fathers fought” so well calculated to awaken the imagination and fire the enthusiasm of the people as this idea of leaving their enemies to fall to pieces from inanition and of superseding the effete and rotten sham Parliament of lawyers, usurers, landlords, capitalists. soldiers, and fops, by a new and true Parliament of the People. founded, not upon parchment and formulas, but upon the will of an educated Democracy.

But this grand work cannot be accomplished while the workers are kept chasing the will-o'-the-wisp of Parliamentary representation, or playing at thimble-rig and the three-card trick with the sharpers of the old parties.

And nothing can save them from that folly, or put them into the way of wisdom, but a party founded on the Fourth Clause.

These are my ideas upon this subject. I do not offer them as the view of any other man or men. I do not claim to be inspired. As I said before, Mr. Hardie is a shrewd and clever man, and he may be right, and I may be wrong; but it will need a great deal more than he has yet said to convince me that the backbone of the Labour Party is not The Fourth Clause.