Karl Kautsky


4. Ireland in the 20th Century

d) Reconciliation

Lloyd George, who is very sensitive to the moods of the important political elements in his country, finally felt himself forced to take the initiative for reconciliation. And, being an audacious and gifted tactician, he approached the other side in a way which shortly before no one believed possible. He offered concessions which went far beyond Home Rule, which had become law in August 1914. According to the new settlement to which he acceded, Ireland became a completely independent free state in the British Commonwealth, with its own commercial policy and own army. Only naval defence would remain for the moment a matter for the empire. Ulster is given a choice of whether or not to join the new Free State.

Far-reaching though this approach was, Lloyd George did not find it easy to bring the other side to condescend to negotiate.

As always happens in long and bitter wars, the most reckless tendency had become leader of the movement in Ireland, even though it had angered the movement while it was still a small minority by a line of action which was condemned by the great majority. This extreme tendency of irreconcilable Republicans led by De Valera, president of the Irish Republic, was completely under the influence of the American emigrants, who were equally far removed from both Ireland’s woes and joys, and who were more concerned with England’s harm than Ireland’s good. These Irish politicians of force, who in their way are just as brutally narrow-minded as their English counter-parts, wanted to hear nothing of reconciliation, but demanded the continuation of the war till England’s unconditional capitulation!

One example of the absurdity and the recklessness of the American Sinn Feiners is provided by their organ appearing in New York, The Irish World. It sent De Valera a telegram declaring that the proposed agreement was the worst defeat suffered by Ireland since Strongbow’s landing: It would be her first moral defeat, because she would now lower herself to voluntary servitude to England.

This Strongbow, an English feudal lord, Richard De Clare, with the nickname Strongbow, was the first of the English conquerors to gain a foothold in Ireland. (1170).

In the nine centuries since then the Irish people suffered an abundance of the most painful defeats, and had lost their land and freedom. Now, with one blow the Irish are to be transferred into the ranks of the freest nations in the world, on a par with Canada and Australia, – and these American Sinn Feiners dare to represent, this change as the worst defeat Ireland has suffered in nine centuries – merely because eternal hostility is to be replaced by hearty friendship towards England, or voluntary servitude, as it seems to the Irish World.

The absurdity and unscrupulousness of American Sinn Fein demagogy cannot be demonstrated more clearly.

But they were up against an adversary who surpassed them in intelligence and tenacity. And Ireland’s true interests had to reassert themselves in the consciousness of the mass of her people and force back the Sinn Feiners and other extremists as soon as the intoxication of the bloody war had been interrupted by a ceasefire, which cleared the way for sober reflection.

With endless patience and outstanding skill, Lloyd George was able to bring De Valera to the negotiating table in spite of himself and in spite of his unfriendly and at times directly insulting behaviour, and was able to spin the thread, once joined, ever further, however often it seemed likely to tear.

It could be wished that the German proletariat would also find a Lloyd George to unify it, who would bring the De Valeras of the proletarian class struggle to the negotiating-table, and overcome the obstacles preventing them from unifying.

Right up to the end, Mr. De Valera put every obstacle that the irreconcilability of a nationalist brain could think of, in the way of peace and understanding between peoples. We also have patriots of this calibre amongst the German nationalists, amongst which there are not a few who unthinkingly want to drive Germany into new wars, in which however it would be destroyed, but which would also be an embarrassment to France.

Yet these German patriots are condemned to impotence. The mass of the German people want nothing to do with them and that would become even more evident if the French were as clever about Germany as Lloyd George was about Ireland. He put the Sinn Feiners on weak ground by his fair dealing and won the mass of the Irish people for the bond of friendship with England. It is a true bond, people to people, for Lloyd George did not act here as an autocrat, but as the representative of the vast majority of his people, as is shown by the overwhelming majority which his Irish proposal received from all parties – with the exception of a section of the ruling party.


Last updated on 20.1.2004