V. I.   Lenin

Constitutional Crisis in Britain

Published: Put Pravdy No. 57, April 10, 1914. Published according to the text in Put Pravdy.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 20, pages 226-229.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs and The Late Joe Fineberg
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.README

Dealing in Put Pravdy No. 34 with the interesting events in Ireland, we spoke of the policy of the British Liberals, who allowed themselves to be scared by the Conservatives.[1]

Since those lines were written, new events have occurred which have transformed that particular conflict (between the Liberals and Conservatives) over the question of Home Rule for Ireland into a general constitutional crisis in Britain.

As the Conservatives threatened a Protestant “rebellion” in Ulster against Home Rule for Ireland, the Liberal Government set part of its troops into motion in order to compel respect for the will of Parliament.

But what happened?

Generals and other British Army officers mutinied!

They declared that they would not fight against Protestant Ulster as that would run counter to their “patriotism”, and that they would resign.

The Liberal Government were absolutely stunned by this revolt of the landowners standing at the head of the army. The Liberals have been accustomed to console themselves with constitutional illusions and phrases about the rule of law, and clo se their eyes to the real relation of forces, to the class struggle. And this real relation of forces has been such that, owing to the cowardice of the bourgeoisie, a number of pre-bourgeois, medieval institutions and privileges of the landed gentry have been preserved in Britain.

To suppress the revolt of the aristocratic officers, the Liberal Government should have appealed to the people, to the masses, to the proletariat, but that was something the   “enlightened” Liberal bourgeois gentlemen feared more than anything else. The government actually made concessions to the mutinous officers, persuaded them to withdraw their resignations, and gave them written assurances that troops would not be used against Ulster.

Efforts were made to conceal from the people the disgraceful fact that such written assurances had been given (March 21, new style), and the Liberal leaders, Asquith, Morley and others, lied in the most incredible and shameless manner in their official statements. However, the truth came out. The fact that written promises had been given to the officers was not denied. Apparently, “pressure” was brought to bear by the King. The resignation of Secretary for War Seely, the assumption of his portfolio by Asquith “himself”, the re-election of Asquith, the circular to the troops about respect for law—all this was nothing but sheer official hypocrisy. The fact remains that the Liberals yielded to the landowners, who had flouted the constitution.

Stormy scenes ensued in Parliament. The Conservatives heaped well-deserved ridicule and scorn upon the Liberal Government, while the Labour M. P., Ramsay MacDonald, one of the most moderate of the liberal-labour politicians, protested in the strongest terms against the reactionaries’ conduct. He said that these people were always ready to fulminate against strikers, but when it came to Ulster they refused to do their duty because the Irish Home Rule Bill affected their class prejudices and interests. (The landowners in Ireland are English, and Home Rule for Ireland, which would mean Home Rule for the Irish bourgeoisie and peasants, threatens to somewhat curtail the voracious appetites of the noble lords.) These people, Ramsay MacDonald continued, thought only of fighting the workers, but when it came to compelling the rich and the property-owners to respect the law, they refused to do their duty.

This revolt of the landowners against the British Parliament, the “all-powerful” Parliament (as the Liberal dullards, especially the Liberal pundits, have thought and said millions of times), is of tremendous significance. March 21 (March 8, old style), 1914, will be an epoch-making turning-point, the day when the noble landowners of Britain   tore the British constitution and British law to shreds and gave an excellent lesson of the class struggle.

This lesson stemmed from the impossibility of blunting the sharp antagonisms between the proletariat and bourgeoisie of Britain by means of the half-hearted, hypocritical, sham-reformist policy of the Liberals. This lesson will not be lost upon the British labour movement; the working class will now quickly proceed to shake off its philistine faith in the scrap of paper called the British law and constitution, which the British aristocrats have torn up before the eyes of the whole people.

These aristocrats behaved like revolutionaries of the right and thereby shattered all conventions, tore aside the veil that prevented the people from seeing the unpleasant but undoubtedly real class struggle. All saw what the bourgeoisie and the Liberals have been hypocritically concealing (they are hypocrites everywhere, but nowhere, perhaps, such consummate hypocrites as in Britain). All saw that the conspiracy to break the will of Parliament had been prepared long ago. Real class rule lay and still lies outside of Parliament. The above-mentioned medieval institutions, which for long had been inoperative (or rather seemed to be inoperative), quickly came into operation and proved to be stronger than Parliament. And Britain’s petty-bourgeois Liberals, with their speeches about reforms and the might of Parliament designed to lull the workers, proved in fact to be straw men, dummies, put up to bamboozle the people. They were quickly “shut up” by the aristocracy, the men in power.

How many books have been written, especially by German and Russian liberals, in praise of law and social peace in Britain! Everybody knows that the historical mission of the German and Russian liberals is to show servile admiration for what the class struggle has produced in Britain and in France, and to proclaim the results of that struggle as the “truths of science”, a science that stands “above classes”. In reality, however, “law and social peace” in Britain were merely a brief result of the torpor the British proletariat was in approximately between the 1850’s and 1900’s.

Britain’s monopoly has come to an end. World competition has sharpened. The cost of living has gone up. Associations   of big capitalists have crushed the small and medium businessmen and come down with their full weight upon the workers. Once more the British proletariat has awakened after the close of the eighteenth century, after the Chartist movement of the 1830’s and 1840’s.

The constitutional crisis of 1914 will mark another important stage in the history of this awakening.


[1] See pp. 148–51 of this volume.—Ed.

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