The Future is Socialism
Organisation: The Workers' Party
View: View Document
Discuss:Comments on this document

Please note:  The Irish Left Archive is provided as a non-commercial historical resource, open to all, and has reproduced this document as an accessible digital reference. Copyright remains with its original authors. If used on other sites, we would appreciate a link back and reference to The Irish Left Archive, in addition to the original creators. For re-publication, commercial, or other uses, please contact the original owners. If documents provided to The Irish Left Archive have been created for or added to other online archives, please inform us so sources can be credited.

Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

22nd October 2007

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).

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.

More from The Workers' Party

The Workers' Party in the archive


No Comments yet.

Add a Comment

Formatting Help

Comments can be formatted in Markdown format . Use the toolbar to apply the correct syntax to your comment. The basic formats are:

**Bold text**
Bold text

_Italic text_
Italic text

[A link](
A link

You can join this discussion on The Cedar Lounge Revolution

  • By: ejh Tue, 23 Oct 2007 06:38:13

    Orwell was very influenced by Burnham.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Idris of Dungiven Tue, 23 Oct 2007 08:40:11

    I’d say he drew different conclusions from Burnham’s work though. With Burnham it’s always ultimately about bending the knee to power. Not something George was into.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: ejh Tue, 23 Oct 2007 08:41:09

    No, but it’s something he thought a fair few other people were into!

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Ed Hayes Tue, 23 Oct 2007 08:41:17

    Re: WP distance from the USSR, maybe internally. It didn’t seem that way in the mid 1980s when you could buy Stalin posters in Gardiner Place bookshop and a whole plethora of books defending actually existing communism. Plus there wasn’t any glasnost in North Korea that I’m aware of and they were still flavour of the month in the WP. I was out of Ireland by the late 1980s but I wonder what the WP line on Tiannanman Square was?
    I suppose my ire should be more properly directed. Eoghan Harris wants a medal for finding out the Eastern model didn’t work…in 1989. De Rossa also wants an award foir his 1989 speech (referred to here some time ago). Well, knock me down, something wasn’t quite right in the Soviet Union. How does the Moscow Trials grab you and the destruction of a whole generation of original Bolsheviks? The Hitler-Stalin pact? Thousands of communists literally broken hearted while the Soviets objectively ally themselves with the Nazis for two years and carve up Poland between them. Stalin refuses to listen to German communist advice about a possible German attack and shoots half the Red Army’s staff. Gets out of that by wholesale sacrifice of Russian lives and having to revive Russian nationalism big time. Warsaw uprising anyone? Carving up Greece with Churchill? Post 1945 liberate eastern Europe but refuse to go home; rig elections that the Communists might have done well in, but wouldn’t have won. 1953 put down building workers strikes in Berlin with tanks. 1956 put down a popular revolt in Hungary with tanks. Now folks, lots of communists were getting off the Russian bus at all these points but some soldiered on until 1989 and then, huzzah! my god, discover theres something not quite right just as the wall (a good sign in a socialist society that, a wall that keeps people in) comes down.
    Although I disagree profoundly with the WP’s position it is at least more honest to continue to be a tankie after 1989 then to abandon everything you beleived in because its unpopular.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: John O'Neill Tue, 23 Oct 2007 09:22:03

    As I recall Sean Garland did a critique of the Provo’s in the CPSU publication, International Affairs (I might have it in the attic) it is rather long and is mostly a chronology of Provo misdeeds. I think the WP had more influence with the CPSU when Gorby took the helm as there was a willingness to think outside the influence of the ‘fraternal party’. This was interesting as many at leadership level in the WP would have been concerned about perestroika etc. Maybe Garabaldy wouldn’t agree but I think there was a lot more engagement with the Party then.

    As for the Criuser, I can recall a few outside of those who went to DL who had a sneaking regard for that so and so. Particularly from WP’ers close to the economic affairs department. The enemy of my enemy …..and all that.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Garibaldy Tue, 23 Oct 2007 09:29:33


    On the Soviet history you outlined. In fairness, I think you’re offering only one side of the story, ignoring many of the USSR’s positive achievements, and more importantly, the threats it faced, both interannly and externally. The Soviets made decisions within concrete historical circumstances, such as in the late 1940s a nuclear imbalance, or the ongoing civil war in places like the Ukraine after WWII, or the encirclement of NATO, CENTO and SEATO. The weight of Russian history, the political culture inherited etc must all be taken into account as well. We must remember these factors when analysing the decisions made.

    My view is that huge mistakes were made and that there were severe problems, but that on balance, the USSR was a positive force for the most oppressed people on our planet, and that the collapse of the USSR has been a disaster. Not only for the people whose life expectancy and living standards have fallen drastically to feed the greed of a new oligarchy at home and international capitalism abroad, but also for all those struggling against injustice in other parts of the world, particularly in developing countries.

    On Korea. My personal position on it is this. The DPRK is at the frontline of resistance against imperialism, and under a huge deal of pressure, in ways much harsher than Cuba. 10% of the US nuclear arsenal is aimed at it, the centre of the country has been turned into one large landmine by its opponents, it is surrounded by massive military forces, and there were attempts to exploit the food shortages by putting pressure on possible donors to delay to enforce political change – which I see as a form of political genocide. Perhaps people ought to consider factors like these more when analysing the situation on the Korean peninsula. I don’t see any reason to drop support for an independent and reunified Korea.

    I agree with you on Harris and De Rossa, and the abandonment of principle in a desperate search for popularity. It seems to me that the more right wing communist or post-communist parties get, the less support they garner. France is a perfect example.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Garibaldy Tue, 23 Oct 2007 09:38:00


    I’d say that you’re right that The WP’s influence with the USSR was growing just as the thing collapsed, but you’d be in a better position to judge than me. One aspect of this was the response of the Soviets to terrorism in NI, which was from what I understand rejected much more firmly, especially as events like Enniskillen corroborated WP arguments.

    On the Cruiser, not sure I wouldn’t see it more as when people are being killed by terrorists then the most important issue is to end the violence – people who are working towards that end can be worked with from varying backgrounds. But I would never have thought that he would have been above criticism, which is what I thought WBS had been suggesting.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: ejh Tue, 23 Oct 2007 09:41:06

    Hard to disagree with Ed Hayes at #11. Some of the latecomers, who are of course the very loudest voices in discussing how the whole of the left should be consigned to the dustheap of hsitory, remind me a little of Marlboro Man, discovering that the cigarettes he advertised were bad for you only when the cancer had reached terminal proportions.

    Note: I don’t think that we can discuss reactions to the USSR only in terms of “I saw it earlier than you”, otherwise we end up deciding that the wisest people were those who backed the Whites in 1918. (There’s a few people who’d go along with that, I think.) But at the same time, some of the loudmouths are getting paid quite a lot of money for their intellectual farsightednessdespite having been rather slow on the uptake….

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Justin Tue, 23 Oct 2007 10:45:55

    It sees to me that there remains a fundamental split in left thinking with regard to what the USSR was, and, by implication, towards what future socialist states might be like. (This split should not in my view necessarily preclude Left Unity on the ground.)

    From my perspective, on one side of this split there are those for whom any actually existing socialist society is or was a monstrosity, an abominable failure, something socialist only in name. These are the people whom Michael Parenti in Blackshirts and Reds [1997] calls “pure socialists” Thus, for example, Socialist Worker in December 1991 rejoiced: “‘Communism has collapsed’ declared the newspapers and the TV. It is a fact that should have every socialist rejoicing.”

    On the other side of this split were and are those who recognise[d] that actually existing socialism existed and exists under siege conditions which inevitably make socialist societies far from perfect. Nonetheles, these societies were and are considerably more egalitarian and actively antimperialist than capitalist states. Peoplewho would otherwise lead absolutely wretched lives are enabled to live lives of some dignity. Not perfect lives, but better lives than they might live under another system.

    In Blackshirts and Reds, Parenti argues that, “the pure socialists support every revolution except the ones that succeed.” I’d like to quote from Parenti’s book:

    …real socialism, it is argued, would be controlled by the workers themselves through direct participation instead of being run by Leninists, Stalinists, Castroites, or other ill-willed, power-hungry, bureaucratic cabals of evil men who betray revolutions.

    Unfortunately this “pure socialism” view is ahistorical and nonfalsifiable; it cannot be tested against the actualities of h history.

    It compares an ideal argument against an imperfect reality, and the reality comes off a poor second. It imagines what socialism would be like in a world far better than this one, where no strong state structure or security force is required, where none of the value produced by workers needs to be expropriated to rebuild society and defend it from invasion and internal sabotage.

    The pure socialist’s ideological anticipations remain untainted by existing practice. They do not explain how the manifold functions of a revolutionary society would be organized, how internal attack and internal sabotage would be thwarted, how bureaucracy would be avoided, resources allocated, policy differences settled, priorities set, and production and distribution conducted.

    Instead, they offer vague statements about how the workers themselves will directly own and control the means of production and will arrive at their own solutions through creative struggle. No surprise then that the pure socialists support every revolution except the ones that succeed.

    …The overthrow of Eastern European and Soviet communist governments was cheered by many left intellectuals. Now democracy would have its day. The people would be free from the yoke of communism and the US Left would d be free from the yoke of existing communism.

    In fact, the capitalist restoration in Easter Europe seriously weakened the numerous third-world liberation struggles that had received aid from the Soviet Union, and brought a whole new crop of right-wing governments into existence, ones that now worked hand-in-glove with US global counterrevolutionaries around the globe.

    In addition, the overthrow of communism gave the green light to the unbridled exploitative impulses of Western corporate interests. No longer needing to convince workers that they live better than their counterparts in Russia, and no longer restrained by a competing system, the corporate class is rolling back the many gains that working people in the West have won over the years. Now that the free market, in its meanest form, is emerging triumphant in the East, so will it prevail in the West. “Capitalism with a human face” is being replaced by “capitalism in your face.” As Richard Levins puts it, “So in the new exuberant aggressiveness of world capitalism we see what communists and their allies had held at bay”.

    Having never understood the role that existing communist powers played in tempering the worst impulses of Western capitalism and imperialism, and having perceived communism as nothing but unmitigated evil, the left anticommunists did not anticipate the losses that were to come.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Ed Hayes Tue, 23 Oct 2007 11:11:51

    I think there is a fundemental problem. The biggest obstacle, in my view, to building a democratic socialist alternative to capitalism was the existence of bureaucratic states that clearly oppressed their own people yet called themselves socialist, used socialist rhetoric and were accepted as socialist by many left-wingers.
    I was active in the 1980s. I hated Reagan and Thatcher and joined the SWM protesting at the Reagan visit. Yet I could not pretend, having a modicum of knowledge of history and current affairs that would existed in eastern Europe, or China or North Korea, were socieites to which the Irish working class should aspire.
    But they had free health care…I’m sure the middle ranking and upper party officials had fantastic health care. And to be honest when you discussed this occasionally with CP members for example they would often say, I don’t care if there are problems in the USSR, you’ll never have socialism here because people are greedy, they want VCRs and Ford Escort XRIs, they want to drink in the Harp seven nights a week, you need discipline, you need a Stalin…admit it folks, you heard it too.
    I am sure on mature reflection that there are many aspects of the old eastern bloc that were positive. There are also many aspects of the United States that are positive. Skilled workers in the US during the 1950s had an unparrelled living standard, but did that mean US capitalism was benevolent? My point about the 1930s onwards was that at each stage, thousands of working class militants were cruelly disillousioned by what was going on and lost to socialist activity.
    Bureaucrats…no tanks.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Garibaldy Tue, 23 Oct 2007 11:46:05


    One of the mistakes the USSR made was in not producing enough vcrs, cars etc. This was largely due to the paranoia fostered by losing 10s of millions of citizens twice in the course of twentieth century, as well as the nuclear encirclement. No-one would disagree with you that any future Irish socialist society should be different.
    The question for us now it seems to me is whether the USSR was progressive on balance, acknowlegding fully its mistakes. I don’t see any doubt on that question. Besides which, the only way socialism can advance today is to make itself relevant to today’s issues in Ireland, not overly worry about the past.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Simone Burns Tue, 23 Oct 2007 11:53:16

    Yeah Ed, gives a ring when you set up your perfect socialist state in a bedsit near you and I’ll conseder moving in. Until then would it just be nice if people could accept that the SWP, and other such groups (and in this I do not include the socialist party), are a largely good hearted cult which lives of dreams of twists and turns which in a perfect world would have been taken in the 20;s and 30’s. I also note you outline the Soviets offences down the years, all as far as I could see under the reign of Stalin. Now when the CPSU renounced this man it doesn’t matter as of course any society made up of actully exisiting human beings will never live up to your day dreams. Hurry up and find your God guys

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Ed Hayes Tue, 23 Oct 2007 12:16:22

    Simone, Stalin was dead when the Russians invaded Hungary. He was well dead when they invaded Czechoslovakia.
    Garlbaldy, I was quoting what supporters of the USSR used to say to me about Irish workers. I never had had a Ford Escort XR3 (not XRI sorry) I did however have a VCR. I would put the ability to form free trade unions and not have your opinons reported to the secret police on a higher level than being able to watch Raging Bull on VHS but I was still glad I was able too. What was the WP view on Bejing 1989?
    Simone; when I get the old Workers State up and running I’ll you a ring.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Garibaldy Tue, 23 Oct 2007 12:43:28


    As far as I know, they were criticised at the time.
    The ability to form free trade unions is certainly an important, and vital one. However, so was the ability to defeat imperialism in former colonies like Cuba and Vietnam, which would have been impossible without the USSR. Hence my comments about the balance sheet. My point about the VCR was that the economy should have been turned towards the production of consumer goods, thus meeting the needs and demands of the citizens. A more responsive economic policy was certainly one of the positive things Gorbachev was trying, but in many sense by then it was too late.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Ed Hayes Tue, 23 Oct 2007 13:20:06

    I suppose it also does come back to a conception of socialism as well though. Is the emancipation of the working class ‘the act of the working class’ or can it be imposed/brought about by foreign armies, guerillia fighters, benevolent dictators? Is it all state control of society? There were no revolutions in Poland, East Germany, Hungary etc, ‘socialism’ was imposed there on the foot of Russian occupation and no matter how thankful many millions were to get the Nazis out, for a variety of reasons lots weren’t too happy to see the Russians staying. The probelm with a balance sheet is that we are two people in western society, with access to PCs on our lunch breaks, balancing off trade rights for workers in Russia with military and financial support for the Viet Cong. Oleg B. Steelworkski in Vladivostok would more than likely see things a bit differently. Your back in ‘can’t make omelletes’ territory again…

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: ejh Tue, 23 Oct 2007 13:38:46

    I wonder whether you could suck the egg out of the shell using a syringe.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Garibaldy Tue, 23 Oct 2007 13:53:18


    I understand the point you’re making. Socialism should be something that comes from the working class of a country rather than being imposed from the outside. But the circumstances in which the Soviets found themselves after WWII in central and eastern Europe were hardly normal ones. And let’s not forget that in places like Czechoslovakia there a communist majority among the proletariat already by 1947. We also should remember just how anti-semetic and right-wing many of the political groups and large segments of the population in these places were. Especially Poland, the Baltic States, and Hungary. The USSR was faced with an extremely difficult strategic problem worsened by the nuclear monopoly. Withdraw, and risk nationalistic or fascistic governments hostile to the USSR emerging, and end up facing the risk of another invasion from US troops on your doorstep, or attempt to build alternative regimes with sympathetic local elements. I doubt we’ll ever see such circumstances again, so in many respects the whole thing is a moot point now.

    This goes to the omlettes question. Nobody in the 1920s or 1930s in Russia would have been tolerant of their political opponents, and had the Bolsheviks lost the civil war, or had the kulaks been able to push a new government on the place in the 1920s or 1930s, then what would have taken place would probably have been much bloodier than what did occur. We must bear all this in mind. We today have a much lower level of acceptable violence than people nearly 100 years ago not long after WWI or 50 years ago not long after WWII.

    The balance sheet is messy I agree. But we live in a messy world. We must never forget that what drives how bloody a revolution is is the extent of resistance which it meets. If anbody is interested in this question, and ever gets the chance, they should read ‘The Furies’ by Arno Mayer. It’s a big work of comparative history on violence in the Russian and French Revolutions, arguing that the bloody turns they took were due to the amount of resistance they met. Ditto the attitude to the churches, which were so entwined with the old regimes they became the engines of counter-revolution.

    It seems to me that these types of questions are the ones being wrestled with in ‘The Future is Socialism’. Terrible mistakes have been made in pursuit of the socialist project, but the project is not invalidated. In addition, the need for a clear-eyed, objective and calculating look at what is needed to produce socialism is greater now than it was in 1993, but the methodology of analysis in the pamphlet seems to me to be of potentially great use.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Justin Tue, 23 Oct 2007 13:57:54

    I know my presence on this site has largely involved transmitting other people’s ideas but other people have put things much better and more expertly than I could.

    So, I’d like to add another point of reference to this debate. International Publishers in New York seems to be connected with the CPUSA. In 2004 they published Socialism Betrayed by Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny about the collapse of the USSR. In some interesting ways it overlaps with the WP document, Patterns Of Betrayal [], which has been discussed on here before. Although, of course, the tragedy of the USSR was writ larger, some of the same thinking that lay behind the demise of the USSR was articulated by New Agenda-ers and Eoghan Harris.
    Interestingly, the book received a critical review in the CPUSA’s monthly magazine Political Affairs []. I don’t know much about the CPUSA but I imagine that it has a mixture of Eurocommunist and “Tankie” thinkers in its ranks.

    Anyway, the main point of Socialism Betrayed is that the USSR didn’t collapse so much as it was pushed. Keerran and Kenny argue that since its beginnings the USSR command was dominiated by two main trends of thought. One , exemplified in the first instance by Bukharin (and later by Kruschev and eventually by Gorbachev), was essentially social democratic and largely heedless of the importance of the nationalities question within the USSR. The other more left wing trend, exemplified by Lenin and Stalin (and later by Adropov and Gorbachev for a short period) took the nationalities question more seriously but ultimately failed because of a bureaucratic counter-revoultion which, whatever its initial reformist motivation, moved quickly towards dismantling the socialist constitution.

    They also argue that a massive black economy developed alongside the state economy and produced a strong middle class whose interests, they believed, coincided with the collapse of the system. Ordinary wokers meanwhile were filled with dreams consumer abundance while the system under which they lived had manifestly failed to address the people’s desire for quality goods -hence the black economy.

    So, according to these authors the USSR collpased because “of a triumph of a certain tendency within the revolution itself. It was a tendency rooted at first in the peasant nature of the country and later in a second economy, a sector that flourished because of consumer demands unsatisfied by the first economy and because of the failure of authorities to appreciate the danger it represented and to enforce the law against it.”

    According to Political Affairs, Keenan and Kearney, “end where one must actually begin. Why couldn’t the first economy satisfy the need for consumer goods, why did the bureaucracy foment counter-revolution?” It’s a good question and one not really addressed by this book. But the kind of analysis presented in Socialism Betrayed, as opposed to a list of sins and transgressions, helps me to undestand the past trajectory of the socialist project in Russia.
    ocialism Betrayed: Behind the Collapse of the Soviet Union.
    By Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny
    New York, International Publishers, 2004.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: The Left Archive: “The Future is Socialism” from the Workers’ Party post-split 1993 Mon, 29 Oct 2007 11:39:54

    […] guestposter Blogged about a good topic today on cedarlounge.wordpress.comRead this excerpt: […]

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: Budapestkick Thu, 24 Jun 2010 16:43:27

    In reply to Garibaldy.

    ‘ not even Trotsky thought the USSR was beyond repair in the 1930s’

    Wouldn’t agree entirely with that. He was calling for a political revolution which is a demand that went a fair bit beyond repair. After the rise of Hitler he certainly had concluded that the Comintern was irredeemable

    Reply on the CLR