The Left Archive: “The Future is Socialism” from the Workers’ Party post-split 1993 October 22, 2007Posted by guestposter in Irish Left Online Document Archive, The Left.
Long time contributor to our comments Garibaldy has written an introduction to a Workers’ Party document from 1993. This was after the split which resulted in the formation of New Agenda, and later Democratic Left and provides a genuine insight into the thinking of the party during a profoundly difficult period. To me it is interesting how critical it is of unexpected figures. Conor Cruise O’Brien get’s a lash and overall the tone is quite confident, albeit realistic (incidentally, on another tack, the other day I asked did anyone have an SWP or SP/Militant material, or indeed SF material. The point was made that much of this is already on the web, which is true, but the purpose of the Archive is not merely to collate it in a single easily accessible source but also to get some sense of those who are or were in the Irish left organisations to which it relates in order to build up some sense of the ‘social’ history. We have no party line, we don’t censor and we welcome all contributions).
Ooops… left out page 1 in the document. Here it is in full…
This document was produced by Des O’Hagan, one of the leading theoreticians of The Workers’ Party, for a Special Delegate Conference in November 1993. If Patterns of Betrayal was designed to explain how the 1992 split had come about, The Future is Socialism reasserted The Workers’ Party’s core beliefs in the wake of the changed international and national situation. The very title is a riposte to the end of history. Rereading it in 2007, what is most striking is how accurate its predictions about those retreating from socialism globally were to be, and how different the challenges facing Irish society, north and south, and the Irish left are now.
It is worth briefly remembering the circumstances of November 1993: in the north, despite much recent discussion of peace and even some temporary ceasefires, the Shankill Bombings and the Trick or Treat Massacre at the Rising Sun bar in October suggested that an explosion of sectarian violence unmatched the 1970s was imminent, and the political process seemed deadlocked. Mass unemployment remained a major problem in both states, as did emigration. Ireland was a much more Catholic country – divorce remained illegal, and the moral authority of the church, though damaged, remained extremely powerful. That Ireland has to a large extent disappeared, but reading the pamphlet is a reminder of how suddenly and unexpectedly many of the changes occurred.
Just to mention briefly some of the things that stood out for me. From the very start, The Future is Socialism makes clear the centrality of international forces to its analysis, and to the politics of The Workers’ Party. The 1992 split, and the arguments offered by the DL faction, are presented as local variations of wider developments. Ditto the developments in the leadership of the British Labour Party from which New Labour would emerge. It rejects the rise of managerialism, and insists on the centrality of the question of ownership. The central role of the State in economic development is affirmed. The pamphlet is grounded in a materialist analysis, but (in a somewhat Gramscian way) it insists on the importance of optimism and of ideological struggle. The belief in the need for a disciplined and coherent campaigning party is made clear in the condemnation of those sought to “reduce The Workers’ Party to just another political party”. The revolutionary impact of democratic reforms is an underlying assumption worth thinking about.
The Future is Socialism reminds us of how much has changed but also how much has stayed the same. The economic and social conditions analysed have in some respects changed a great deal. Immigration and house prices, not emigration and unemployment, now dominate public debate. The social assumptions of the Catholic church no longer hold much sway. Depressingly, sectarian politics retain their power and a strong and effective Bill of Rights remains absent. Education remains denominational, north and south. Ireland lacks a democratic culture. Managerialism is the dominant position in European and American politics. The continued privatisation of key state assets and the failure of the anti-capitalist movement of a decade ago to effect much of anything demonstrate the extent to which ownership and organisation addressed in the pamphlet remain key questions for socialists of every variety.