Karl Kautsky


5. Outlook for the Future

a) The Effect on Ireland of the Solution of the Irish Question

Socialists in all countries have always followed Ireland’s struggle against its oppressors with the greatest of sympathy. Besides the national unification of Germany and Italy, Marx and Engels demanded national independence for Poland, Hungary and Ireland. On 15th February 1882 Engels wrote me a letter in which the following sentence occurs:

“I am of the opinion that two nations in Europe have not only the right, but the duty, to be national before they are international; the Irish and Poles”.

Hungary is no longer in question. It achieved its independence in 1867, and at the same time lost its significance for the European revolution, Hungary’s reactionary cloven hoof was already clearly visible in 1882. But it could not be then divined that a Horthy would be produced as a successor to Kossuth.

If Marx and Engels could see the present-day, independent Poland they would view it also with very mixed feelings.

The significance of both countries for revolutionary democracy in Europe lay in the fact that they were the only effective force against absolutism, Hapsburgist in one case, Tsarist in the other. But this power of resistance, which occasionally benefited rising democracy, rested on classes which were economically reactionary – the aristocracy, and above all the vast petty aristocracy, the Junkers. As soon as these classes were rid of the external oppressor, they deployed all of their inherent brutality against the newly striving classes, above all against the proletariat, but also sometimes against the capitalists, which appeared in those countries predominantly in Jewish form and which were plundered when they did not comply with their wishes.

Like Poland and Hungary, Ireland is also a backward agricultural country. It is true that there is no national aristocracy to come to power through independence. But there is another agrarian class, the farmers, which is as uncomprehending and hostile as the junkers to the modern classes predominating in the urban population.

The intellectuals do not form a particular class with their own class politics anywhere. They always pursue the politics of other classes. In the Irish Free State they will represent the agrarian interest above all. Even up to the present they have sought their ideals not in the future but in the ancient past, which their imagination paints in the most glowing colours.

The influx of American money will cease, for the Irish emigrants in America no longer have an interest in an Ireland living peacefully with England. A new source of income is now opened to the intellectuals of Ireland: the government apparatus, which now falls into Irish hands. This new bureaucracy, in conformity with the character of the country, its Parliament and its government, will also be reactionary.

Those intellectuals who in these circumstances, follow modern ideas will come up against the strongest resistance of the farmers, their clergy, and their bureaucracy. Their position will be difficult for a long time to come.

And the same applies to the proletariat. Up to the present it has developed a socialism, of a wary, backward nature. In the Berlin Socialist of 24th December,1921 we find, reprinted, from the American Nation) an article by Frank T. Walsh describing the Irish, working class. He assures us:

“Ireland today has the most intelligent, important and united workers’ movement in the world.”

However if we further investigate this, modest self-assessment, we find that the most important motive force of this so very outstanding movement is land-hunger. The wage worker wants to become, a propertied farmer.

Walsh illustrates the high point of the Irish working class movement with the example of an Irish worker in Dublin who fought in the Irish Republican Army during the civil war. No doubt the energy, devotion and courage of this man made him a outstanding fighter. But his socialism is curiously elucidated when we hear:

“He risks his life by day and night with the constant vision of a Wicklow farm before him ...”

For he came from County Wicklow originally. To get a farm there was his ideal. This vision does not seem precisely that of modern socialism.

The land-hunger distinguishing the Irish workers has no prospect of being satisfied in the Free State. The calculation that the Irish soil can feed 20 million people makes no difference.

Political independence will not alter the economic fact that pastoral farming, and the production of meat arid milk for the English market is the most profitable for Irish agriculture. Thus the prospects for substantially increasing peasant plots are meagre. The worker however who seeks to improve his living conditions in the city by political and economic struggle will come up against, not the English government which has to take notice of a strong working class, but a purely agrarian government in the Free State, which can and will offer greater resistance to the minority of urban workers.

The deciding battles for Ireland’s independence in recent years were won mainly because of the energy and devotion of her proletariat. And in spite of this, this proletariat is threatened by the independent state which it won, not with an improvement, bit with a further decline of its position.

Yet it was necessary for the proletariat to join the fight for national independence. And international socialism can as little begrudge its sympathies for an independent Ireland as for an independent Hungary or Poland.

In an oppressed country the class contradictions are only too easily hidden and obscured by national contradictions. The Irish worker will only rightly, recognise his class position and become responsive to international socialism when the government confronting him as the guardian of the property of the ruling class is no longer that of the English but that of his own country-people. Then also his distrust of the English worker will disappear and the feeling of solidarity with him will take deeper root.

The Free State, which will follow its own customs and trading policy will encourage, the development of Irish industry more than the foreign government did. But of course one cannot expect too much in this respect, for the Irish farmer will prefer to import cheap industrial products from England than to pay dearly for “patriotic” products. The farmer is no friend of taxes for industry, that is, not the exporting farmer.

But all the same, several industries will arise in independent Ireland, – and they will make it easier for the Irish worker to replace his agrarian ideals with industrial socialism.


Last updated on 20.1.2004