Karl Kautsky


4. Ireland in the 20th Century

c) Civil War

It was not until April 1916 that, under pressure from America and Germany, there was an armed insurrection and an Irish Republic proclaimed. The forces supporting it were so weak that despite the greatest heroism on the part of the insurgents, they were quickly defeated.

If England had at that time been ruled by far-sighted politicians, aware of modern national feeling and able to reckon with it, the failure of the Rising could well have taken the wind out of the sails of the violent faction of Irish politicians for a long time, perhaps forever.

The mass of the Irish people were against the Rising, and they would have bitterly turned against those guilty of insurrection if the victorious government had not proceeded against the defeated in the most cruel manner.

However the spirit of militarism had become dominant in the government because of the war, and that spirit had scarcely shown itself so stupid, pig-headed and sordid, so lacking in foresight and chivalry, as at the beginning of the 20th century.

The soldiery was let loose on Ireland, and not only did it attack with a bloodthirsty rage the surviving rebels and their friends, but it treated the peacable part of the population with the utmost cruelty. It made war against the whole of Ireland.

These blunderheads did not consider that opposed to them was a people who had in a century of uninterrupted war against cruel and coercive rule routed it and forced its capitulation. In Russia [7] they may successfully use the Cheka to suppress an unwilling people for years yet. In Western Europe these methods fail. Here they increase defiance, create intensified resistance.

Thus it was that the bloody suppression of the Rising of the Easter days in 1916 did not extinguish the Irish Rebellion, but rather enabled it to blaze up to its full height.

The militarists sought to master the growing resistance by increasingly terroristic methods, and thus arose the appalling civil war which outlasted the world war by several years, inflicted deep wounds on England and threatened to destroy Ireland.

Undoubtedly the 40 millions of highly industrialised England and Scotland, supported by the enormous resources of the British Empire, had to defeat the 3 million farmers, men of letters, transport workers, with no industry, which made up Ireland after the separation of Ulster.

But what had England to win by victory? The three million seemed to be determined to be destroyed rather than capitulate. By its victory England would only have conquered a desert; she would have paid for the victory dearly, with enormous sacrifices in life and property, and war would had crippled her internal and foreign policy for years to come.

As the war psychosis, which had also taken over in England, disappeared; as the militaristic way of thinking, which sees ultimate wisdom in violently defeating an opponent, receded, the voices demanding a negotiated peace became more and more numerous. The socialists had always interceded for Ireland’s rights; the unions’ call for a peace with Ireland also rang ever louder. The workers’ party intervened energetically for Ireland. [8] Finally it was realised more and more in the bourgeois camp that continuation of the war could well ruin Ireland, but must also weaken England, and that victory by the slaughter of an entire people brings not laurels, but shame.



7. This remark follows from Kautsky’s opposition to the October Revolution on the grounds that the backward social and economic conditions in Russia made the building of socialism impossible there.

8. The reference to the “workers’ party” here and later, is to the Labour Party.


Last updated on 20.1.2004