Ireland, Karl Marx and William
From Forward, 10th June 1911.
A few days ago, when conversing with an astute observer of things Socialistic in Ireland, I asked him, as he was neither of Belfast nor Dublin, what he thought of my appeal for Socialist Unity in Ireland. He replied, much to my astonishment, that I had mistaken the nature of the real objection certain dominating elements in Belfast felt towards such a course. “You will find,” he said, “that their real objection is not based upon Internationalism, but is based upon Parochialism.”
When reading Comrade Walker’s astounding article, I felt how true the above statement had been. Beginning with the absolutely false statement that I “had utilised the first two paragraphs of my article to attack Belfast and all within its borders” (for the refutation of which statement I refer the reader to the article itself). He next proceeded to overwhelm us with a mass of tawdry rhetoric, cheap and irrelevant schooiboy history, and badly digested political philosophy, all permeated with an artfully instilled appeal to religious prejudice and civic sectionalism carefully calculated to make Belfast wrap itself around in a garment of self-righteousness, and to look with scorn upon its supposed weaker Irish brethren. All this is, of course, in the approved Walker style. But it does not touch the fringe of the question at issue. That question, as readers of Forward will remember, I propounded as follows:
There are in Ireland two Socialist parties; there should only be one. The only real dividing issue, apart from personal elements, is the question of recognising Ireland as entitled to self-government. Any Irish Socialist who recognises Ireland’s right to self-government should logically embody his political activities in a form of organisation based upon the principle of Irish self-government. I proposed, therefore, that the two Socialist organisations in Ireland should each recognise that basis, and then sit down in convention to frame a programme and policy for such a party suited to the present and impending political situation of the country. Further, I pointed out that the trade unions movement in Ireland was considering the advisability of establishing a Labour Party, and that the same elements which keep the Belfast I.L.P. from recognising officially the right of Ireland to self-government had acted and voted last year in the Irish Trades Congress against a proposition to establish a Labour Party in Ireland, and were about to do the same this year. This, I contended, and still contend, was and is a crime against the International Labour movement – a crime committed in the name of Internationalism – prostituting the name in the act of invoking it.
Now, how does Comrade Walker meet this friendly appeal for Socialist Unity? First, he declares that I am obsessed with an “antipathy to Belfast and the Black North,” and proceeds to give a long defence of Protestants and glorification of Protestant rebels in Ireland. The first “sturdy Protestant Democrat” is Lord Charlemont, an aristocratic poltroon, who deserted, denounced, and betrayed the Irish Volunteers when they proposed to use their organisation to obtain a Democratic extension of the suffrage and religious toleration. That he should be cited by Comrade Walker as a Democrat proves that there is a kink somewhere, either in Walker’s conception of Democracy, or in his knowledge of Irish history.
But friend William blunders on from absurdity to absurdity. Remember that he is opposed to self-government to Ireland and then admire his colossal nerve in citing the glorious example of “sturdy Protestant Democrats,” who gave their whole lives in battling, suffering, and sacrifice for the cause of National Freedom, which Comrade Walker rejects. He cites Theobald Wolfe Tone. Wolfe Tone recognised that National Independence was an essential element of Democracy, and declared that “to break this connection with England, the abiding cause of all our woes,” was his object. He cited Fintan Lalor. Lalor declared that the Irish people should fight for “full and absolute independence for this island, and for every man in it.” Lalor was not a Protestant; but our Comrade also cites Lalor's contemporary, Mitchell, whom he wrongly declares a Presbyterian. He was instead a Unitarian. Mitchell summed up his political ideal in these words:
“We want Ireland, not for the peers nor for the nominees of peers in College Green, but Ireland for the Irish people – an Irish Republic, one and indivisible.”
Comrade Walker also cites Joseph Gillies Biggar, a sturdy and uncompromising Home Ruler. In fact, practically all the “sturdy Protestant Democrats” he cites are men who would have treated with contempt Walker’s pitiful straddle in Irish politics. They are all men to whom he would have been opposed were he living in their time. He minds us of this section by quoting, among the names of Irish ‘rebels,’ Grattan, Butt, and Shaw, a quotation that must have brought a grin to the face of anyone who read it, and had even a rudimentary knowledge of Irish history.
In passing, let me remark that the names cited by Comrade Walker but confirm my point. We do not care so much what a few men did, as what did the vast mass of their co-religionists do. The vast mass of the Protestants of Ulster, except during the period of 1798, were bitter enemies of the men he has named, and during the bitter struggle of the Land League, when the peasantry in the other provinces were engaged in a life and death struggle against landlordism, the sturdy Protestant Democracy of the North was electing landlords, and the nominees of landlords, to every Protestant constituency in Ulster. When Comrade Walker is doing propaganda work in Belfast he does not fail to remind his hearers of their remissness in such matters. Why, then, does he mount another horse in his letter to Forward?
All these men will live in history because they threw in their lot with the other provinces in a common struggle for political freedom. In the exact measure that we admire and applaud them must we condemn and deplore the sectional and parochial action of Comrade Walker.
But, he says in his peroration, “My place of birth was accidental, but my duty to my class is world-wide.” Fine, man! Grand!! On a platform, delivered in your best style, it would sound heroic; in cold print, it smells of clap-trap. If the place of your birth was accidental, was not the fact of your birth in the working class an accident also? You might have been born in Buckingham Palace a prince of the blood royal, or even a princess, for all you had to do with it. I do not care where you were born – (we have had Jews, Russians, Germans, Lithuanians, Scotsmen, and Englishmen in the S.P.I.) – but I do care where you are earning your living, and I hold that every class-conscious worker should work for the freedom of the country in which he lives, if he desires to hasten the political power of his class in that country.
Our Comrade says, in his genial style, that these are “reactionary doctrines alien to any brand of Socialism” he ever heard of. He must be singularly ignorant of classical Socialist literature. Karl Marx was not much of a reactionist, and he knew a thing or two about Socialism. Let me then quote, for Comrade Walker, the opinion of Karl Marx on Socialism and Ireland.
I quote from a letter sent to his friend, Kugelman, on 29th November, 1869, from Toulon, and re-printed in the Neue Zeit of 1902. Read:
“I have more and more arrived at the conviction – though this conviction has not entered the mind of the English working class – that we shall never be able to do in England anything decisive if we do not resolutely separate its policy in all that concerns Ireland from the policy of the dominant classes, so that not only will she be able to make common cause with the Irish, but will even be able to take the initiative in dissolving the Union founded in 1801, and replacing it by an independent Federative bond, and this aim should be followed not as a matter of sympathy with Ireland, but as a necessity based on the interest of the English proletariat ... Each of the movements in England remains paralysed by the struggle with the Irish who even in England form a considerable proportion of the working class ... And it is not only the social evolution established in England which is retarded by these relations with Ireland, but also its external policy, notably with Russia and the United States.”
Written in 1869, Comrade Walker, but reads like a statement of what is happening today.
At every International Socialist Congress a separate vote and recognition is given to such subject nations as Finland, Poland, and the various nationalities within the Russian Empire; at Stuttgart a reception and message of sympathy was given to a delegate from India, speaking not on behalf of the Indian workers, but primarily on behalf of Indian Nationalism; and at the Paris Congress of 1900, the delegates from the Irish Socialist Party were seated, and given the same votes as the delegates of independent nationalities, such as Germany or England. At Stuttgart, Comrade Bebel declared that one consequence of the growth of Socialism would be a renascence of national culture and sympathies in countries now politically suppressed, and he welcomed such a renascence on the ground that the civilisation of the future would be all the richer from the presence of so many distinctive forms of intellectual growth arising from different racial and national developments.
Such, in brief, is the real position of International Socialism towards subject nations. It is a concept based upon the belief that civilisation needs free nations just as the nations need free individual citizens, that the internationalism of the future will be based upon the free federation of free peoples, and cannot be realised through the sub jugation of the smaller by the larger political unit. But Comrade Walker says these are words, and mean that the S.P.I. desires the Irish to divorce themselves from all Trade Unions, Friendly Societies, and Co-operative Societies across the water. Not necessarily. If we look at the two nations across the Atlantic, we can see that every Trade Union and Friendly Society which does business in the United States also does business in Canada and vice versa, yet the two nations are independent politically of each other. Why can England and Ireland not be as industrially intermingled, and yet politically separate?
Our Comrade is sore over my attitude towards his election campaign in North Belfast. But he should have reminded the readers of Forward of his attitude in that campaign. He should have told them that he pledged himself to oppose Home Rule and religious equality. That he pledged himself to oppose any alteration in the Coronation Oath – that oath which the King of England recently objected to take because of its stupid reactionary intolerance. The oath was too much even for a royal stomach, but Comrade Walker pledged himself to maintain it. He should have reminded his readers that in the 17th and 18th centuries the ferocious bigotry of the governing class placed upon the Statute Book of Ireland laws against Roman Catholics so atrocious that they are regarded by modern sentiment as the very incarnation of sectarian malevolence, and that he promised to maintain them in his answer to the following question:
“Will you resist every attack upon the legislative enactments provided by our forefathers as necessary safeguards against the political encroachments of the papacy?”
Answer by W. Walker – “Yes.”
We progress as we get away from the bigotry of our forefathers, but Comrade Walker was willing to make their bigotry our standard of legislation.
In a country overwhelmingly of our religious faith, he pledged himself to oppose the entry of members of that faith into certain political and legal offices; he pledged himself to “make an effort to obtain a redistribution of Parliamentary seats for the purpose of diminishing the extravagant representation of Ireland by means of which the Roman Catholics and disloyal party has hindered the business of the House of Commons,” and he declared that “Protestantism means protesting against superstition; hence true Protestantism is synonymous with Labour,” thus leaving it to be inferred that if a Catholic embraced the cause of Labour, he also embraced the Protestant religion.
Well, Comrade Walker may feel scandalised at my statement that I am glad of his defeat, but I refuse to endorse the idea that because a man styles himself “Independent Labour” or even “Socialist,” he has a right to be a renegade to every other principle of progress. When he has purged himself of such reactionary ideas, as other men have done since the same election, I will gladly support him in his contest for a Parliamentary seat in an Irish House of Commons.
Finally, the fact remains, and we may yet have to appeal to the tribunal of the International Labour movement on the question, that Comrade William Walker, a member of the Executive of the Labour Party is vehemently opposing the formation of a Labour Party in Ireland. We may have to ask the aforesaid tribunal whether Comrade Walker, in such action, has the support of his Executive, or is speaking with their mandate in thus doing the work of the enemy joining with the bigoted Orangeman, and the equally bigoted follower of Mr. Redmond to stifle the aspirations of the more militant section of the Irish Working Class for a party of its own, to fight its battles against the common enemy.
I, for one, do not believe that any one of the men whose genius have made the Socialist movement what it is, would hail the uprise of a Labour Party in Ireland, and the consolidation of our Socialist forces, with anything save joy and satisfaction.
Last updated on 12.8.2003