Karl Kautsky


1. The Early History of Ireland

After a continuous struggle of nearly one thousand years between the sister nations of England and Ireland a lasting peace seems finally to have been agreed and the injustice against the Irish people which is centuries old seems to have been ended.

The injustice started as far back as the early Middle Ages, in the 12th century. All feudal lords are hungry for estates and strive to acquire land. But the Norman aristocracy was distinguished by unusual greed. In 1066 a Norman army left Normandy and invaded England which it conquered in order to establish a Norman feudal aristocracy there. The invaders had scarcely consolidated themselves in England when they found that territory too small.

By the 12th century they had re-occupied the land they had come from – Normandy – and shortly after they sought to capture more French territory in long and bloody wars. They were not driven out till the middle of the 15th century.

At the same time, however, they found that Ireland was another convenient place for expansion. And this country (unlike France which was large and flourishing), completely cut off from Europe’s cultural development by its geographical position, was in no position to ward off the foreign invaders.

Ireland remained subject to the hard, feudal rule of the barons who remained foreigners in their country of occupation and who, being closely connected with British culture, looked down contemptuously at their barbarian copyholders.

In this way the contradiction between lords and bondsmen was intensified by the national contradiction. As if this was not enough, it was further heightened to an immeasurable extent during the Reformation Wars in the 16th and 17th centuries. At that time Catholicism was the main enemy of the English: not so much the Pope in Rome, but Catholic Spain and Catholic France, whose tool the Pope was.

But England’s enemies were Ireland’s friends. The wilder the blaze of anti-catholic fanaticism raged in England, the more tenaciously the Irish clung to the Catholic Church, despite the cruellest consequences. In the struggles at the time of the Reformation, the Catholic original inhabitants lost the remainder of their possessions in their own country.

“After the revolution of 1688 against James II the Catholics remained in possession of only one-eleventh of the land and even this meagre amount was not equally divided amongst the people but was in the hands of five or six Catholic families of English origin.” (K. Kautsky, Ireland, Leipzig, 1880, p.14)

From this time onwards the mass of the peasantry was only allowed to scrape a living as an outlawed peasantry, having their very blood sucked. They had much too little land and equipment. A class of hard-hearted owners of large estates was above them and these fled from the barbarism caused by their own system of exploitation to spend lavishly abroad the money-squeezed from the poor Irish.

It was at this time that the sea of blood and tears arose between England and Ireland – a gulf much deeper, rougher and wider than St. George’s Channel which separates the two islands.

There was no improvement in Ireland’s position in the 18th century when England’s industry started to expand. English industry, like all industry, was protectionist in its early stages and it demanded protection from the state-power to enable its development. Thus the British state sought to destroy the seeds of competition against English industry in those territories which were dependent on it: the North American colonies and Ireland. This was one of the most powerful reasons for the secession of the American colonies, which constituted themselves the United States of America. Ireland was too weak and too near England to free itself in this way. Its rebellions were all bloodily suppressed. The results of these defeats and of the ruined industry was increased misery. [1]



1. This account ignores the internal factors in Irish society which contributed strongly to the decline of Southern Irish industry around 1800. For an account of these see The Economics of Partition, see Athol Books. All footnotes by the publisher.


Last updated on 17.12.2003