Paul Foot


We owe him a huge debt

(28 September 2002)

From Socialist Worker, No.1819, 28 September 2002.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Worker Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

MUSING MISERABLY on the death of Duncan Hallas, three pictures come into my mind. I first heard him speak in public at a conference of the International Socialists way back in the late 1960s. An argument was raging, inspired by something called the “micro-faction”, whose line was that the coming of socialism could be left to the spontaneous movement of the working class.

At the time, dominated by continuous trade union victories and enormous demonstrations against the Vietnam War, the argument seemed persuasive. Duncan swept down to the front. “Lots and lots of workers vote Tory,” he started, and I groaned. But in a few powerful sentences he utterly demolished the “spontaneists”.

Political development in the working class, he insisted, was uneven. The most conscious and socialist elements had to come together as a potential leadership. As he swept on, my groan developed into a cheer. I got to know Duncan more intimately some years later when I was working on Socialist Worker and Duncan would appear on Monday mornings to write the leaders.

He would grab himself a disgusting coffee, light up an infernal cigarette, bark out testy comments about the state of the world, and then, grabbing a biro, would scribble out in longhand an impeccable editorial. He was the most coherent socialist I ever knew, whether he was writing or speaking.

My third memory of him comes from a park in Leicester where we had gathered to confront the fascists. As always, Duncan started by addressing the strength in the opposing argument. Was it really permissible for democrats and socialists to deny free speech to the fascists? In powerful language Duncan recalled the violent intimidatory marches of Mosley’s fascists in the 1930s.

By the time he’d finished he’d proved beyond doubt that free speech for fascists leads to the crushing of freedom of those they harassed. Duncan Hallas was a great man, and our debt to him is immeasurable.

Last updated on 10 May 2010