The Achievement of Socialism
Date:1983
Organisation:Labour
Author:Brendan Halligan
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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

29th October 2012

Many thanks to Michael Taft for scanning and forwarding this document to the Archive.

This document was a pamphlet written by then Labour M.E.P. Brendan Halligan in 1983. It was written as an outline of a possible way forward for the Labour Party in a context where it had been in coalition with Fine Gael previously. It is based on a presentation Halligan made to a Dublin Regional Council symposium in June of that year on the future of the party. Although 23 printed pages it is quite short and can easily be read at one sitting.

The Preface outlines the reasons for his writing the pamphlet. He starts:

The Labour Party is under threat of electoral extinction.

And continues:

Over the last thirteen years the party’s share of the vote has been halved, its socialism diluted, its ability to develop policies destroyed and its membership decimated.

He argues:

The main cause of Labour’s decline has been its permanent commitment to coalition with Fine Gael. Arguably it is the only reason. Like manny others I did not always think so. But I do now. The socialism of the Labour Party and its commitment to coalition are inextricably bound up with each other. In present circumstances they are mutually exclusive and the argument that coalition is purely an electoral tactic and essentially has nothing to do with socialism has been proven disastrously wrong by the experience eof the past decade and a half.

Some of what he writes has a particular resonance in the years subsequent to its first publication. For example he references Brendan Corish’s assertion at the 1967 Labour Party Conference that ‘the Seventies will be Socialist’, and notes that…

…today no [Labour] Party leader could proclaim the future to be socialist, no matter how distant the time horizon. The disappearance of a vision in which Labour plays the key role in re-arranging irish political forces is a psychological reality which we all instinctively recognise. It is the true measure of our decline, more accurate than any statistical analysis of our electoral fortunes since then.

Interestingly he also argues that ‘things can only get worse’, in particularly due to ‘the state of Exchequer finances’. And he argues ‘it is quite immaterial that this was caused by the 1977 Fianna Fáil Election Manifesto and the budgetary policy pursued by that Government up to 1981. What is material is that the present coalition has committed itself to eliminating the current budget deficit of one billion pounds in 1982 prices. This can only be achieved by raising income taxes to that amount (the equivalent of increasing income tax by another 60%), or by cutbacks in current expenditure (the equivalent of the entire health service) or by some horrendous combination of both’.

And he continues:

It is obvious the LP cannot avoid the political odium which will attach to these policies. In essence, Labour will preside over the dismantling of the social services it did so much to create…the semi-state is being prepared for dismemberment… by the time they have completed their cutbacks in the social services and the state sector they will have earned life membership of the Thatcher/Reagan Club.

Halligan considers the problems implicit in coalition with Fine Gael and notes the problems of being unable to forge a separate identity. He also noters how this impacts on the ability of the LP to fend off others on the left because of a gap which opens there due to their participation in government. He specifically references the threat of the Workers Party in this respect. Later in the pamphlet he puts forward a number of actions that he believes are necessary for the Labour Party to undertake in order to rework its identity, these being in the short, medium and long term.

It provides an interesting counterpoint with the Labour Left document posted in the Archive some while back. For those curious as to Halligan’s career subsequent to this, wiki provides some background .

More from Labour

Labour in the archive


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  • By: The Political Idealist Mon, 29 Oct 2012 09:14:19

    Reblogged this on ThePoliticalIdealist.com.

    Reply on the CLR

  • By: EWI Mon, 29 Oct 2012 10:05:24

    As chairman of the IIEA, what excatly is Halligan’s socialist view on the current triumph of the right-wing ‘austerity’ strategy to undo the social democracy system in Europe?

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Mon, 29 Oct 2012 10:19:29

    A most interesting question.

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  • By: D_D Mon, 29 Oct 2012 12:14:47

    Brendan Halligan has long ago traveled direction right

    WBS quotes from the pamphlet (a great find!!):

    “it is quite immaterial that this was caused by the 1977 Fianna Fáil Election Manifesto and the budgetary policy pursued by that Government up to 1981. What is material is that the present coalition has committed itself to eliminating the current budget deficit of one billion pounds in 1982 prices. This can only be achieved by raising income taxes to that amount (the equivalent of increasing income tax by another 60%), or by cutbacks in current expenditure (the equivalent of the entire health service) or by some horrendous combination of both”.

    WBS is too nuanced to point out to his sophisticated readership the obvious application of this argument to the Labour leadership today 🙂 . So let me be clunky by pointing out how directly it demolishes two current justifications for Labour presence in government. One, the general apology from the Labour Party, that ‘we are where we are’ and that Fianna Fáil created the catastrophe which they are stuck with managing. Two, the particular apologia forwarded by SIPTU President, Jack O’Connor (http://www.siptu.ie/media/media_16578_en.pdf ), that Labour in government is restraining Fine Gael. Brendan Halligan addresses a direct parallel in 1983 and in effect unmasks both contemporary arguments: “it is quite immaterial that this was caused by the 1977 Fianna Fáil Election Manifesto and the budgetary policy pursued by that Government up to 1981. WHAT IS MATERIAL (my emphasis – D_D) is that the present coalition has committed itself to eliminating the current budget deficit of one billion pounds in 1982 prices”.

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  • By: gabbagabbahey Mon, 29 Oct 2012 13:33:55

    “Fine Gael second preferences would melt away like snow in the sun, just as they did in 1969” – an oddly poetic line, perhaps worthy of our poet-president if he chooses to inspire the Labour party’s future direction?

    The short- and medium-term analyses seem to reflect the issues of the time, but the long-term view (even if it was only meant to cover two Dáil terms) seems to match the current economic situation quite closely – but on the political side there is no independent, socialist Labour party as the document calls for. So what to do?

    Also, I note that in such a situation the Workers Party is expected to “wither away”. Is that another Marxist-Leninist in-joke?

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  • By: gfmurphy101 Mon, 29 Oct 2012 16:15:34

    Reblogged this on gfmurphy101.

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  • By: doctorfive Mon, 29 Oct 2012 16:46:18

    He’s been in the Oireachtas twice this year at European affairs committee & a pre-fiscal compact presentation. Il dig up the transcripts

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  • By: doctorfive Mon, 29 Oct 2012 17:19:53

    Looking to the Future, the EU in 20 Years’
    http://debates.oireachtas.ie/EUJ/2012/05/10/00003.asp

    “Twenty years from now, I believe it will be an accepted feature of political life that public finances will be run in accordance with the golden rule of balanced budgets and that debt levels will have been reduced to and kept below 60% of GDP. This is in response to what one can only call the debt crisis that is currently afflicting western capitalism. […]

    Germany and France will remain central to the pace and direction of European interdependence. That alliance, created over 20 years ago, will have endured and strengthened. Between them, a new economic policy paradigm will have emerged, marrying prudent public financing with social equity and economic innovation.”

    Reaction of Irish Society to the Treaty
    http://debates.oireachtas.ie/EU1/2012/04/05/00004.asp

    “The second set of considerations applies to the long-term conduct of the public finances. We know that we will have to include the rules of the treaty in national legislation within one year and comply with them. The Government of the day will have to comply with the rules as elaborated on.”

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Mon, 29 Oct 2012 19:59:50

    “WBS is too nuanced to point out to his sophisticated readership the obvious application of this argument to the Labour leadership today”

    is true! is true!

    TBH, I don’t want to editorialise too much in Left Archive posts. After all, with a bit of luck they’ll still be up in ten, twenty or forty years so I want stuff to speak for itself. F’rinstance, I didn’t want to make anything of a certain person’s ‘representing the tobacco industry’ because when the doc was written they weren’t. But that too is part of the broader story.

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  • By: ejh Mon, 29 Oct 2012 20:00:19

    You surprise me

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  • By: CMK Mon, 29 Oct 2012 20:06:35

    Well, you have to admire his perseverance and consistency. I hope he doesn’t re-comment this comment. If he does I’ll be obliged to re-re-comment his re-commenting of my comment.

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  • By: The Weekly Archive Worker: Bulletin d’Information de la Fraction de Gauche italienne « Entdinglichung Thu, 01 Nov 2012 08:55:44

    […] Brendan Halligan: The Achievement of Socialism […]

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