Karl Marx in Neue Oder-Zeitung 1855

Ireland’s Revenge

Source: Marx and Engels on Ireland, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1971;
First Published: in German in Neue Oder-Zeitung, March 16, 1855;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.

This article was published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung — a bourgeois-democratic daily that appeared between 1849 and 1855 in Breslau. The most radical newspaper at the time it was often persecuted by the ruling circles. Max Friedlander, a German journalist, and a cousin of Lassalle, invited Marx to cooperate on it, and as from December 1854 Marx became the London correspondent of the paper, contributing two or three articles a week.

London, March 13.
Ireland has revenged herself upon England, socially — by bestowing an Irish quarter on every English industrial, maritime or commercial town of any size, and politically — by furnishing the English Parliament with an “Irish Brigade.” In 1833, Daniel O'Connell decried the Whigs as “base, bloody and brutal.” In 1835, he became the most efficient tool of the Whigs; although the English majority was opposed to the Melbourne Administration, it remained in office from April 1835 to August 1841 because of the support it received from O'Connell and his Irish Brigade. What intervened between O'Connell of 1833 and O'Connell of 1835? An agreement, known as the Lichfield-House Contract, according to which the Whig Cabinet granted O'Connell government “patronage” in Ireland, and O'Connell promised the Whig Cabinet the votes of the Irish Brigade in Parliament. “King Dan’s” Repeal agitation[50] began immediately the Whigs were overthrown, but as soon as the Tories were defeated “King Dan” sank again to the level of a common advocate. The influence of the Irish Brigade by no means came to an end with O'Connell’s death. On the contrary, it became evident that this influence did not depend on the talent of one person, but was a result of the general state of affairs. The Tories and Whigs, the big traditional parties in the English Parliament, were more or less equally balanced. It is thus not surprising that the new, numerically small factions, the Manchester School[51] and the Irish Brigade, which took their seats in the reformed parliament, should play a decisive role and be able to turn the scale. Hence the importance of the “Irish quarter” in the English Parliament. After O'Connell left the scene it was no longer possible to stir the Irish masses with the “Repeal” slogan. The “Catholic” problem, too, could be used only occasionally. Since the Catholic Emancipation[52] it could no longer serve as a permanent propaganda theme. Thus the Irish politicians were compelled to do what O'Connell had always avoided and refused to do, that is, to explore the real cause of the Irish malady and to make the relations of landed property and their reform the election slogan, in other words a slogan that would help them to get into the House of Commons. But having taken their seats in the House, they used the rights of the tenants, etc. — just as formerly the Repeal — as a means to conclude a new Lichfield-House Contract.

The Irish Brigade had overthrown the Derby ministry and had obtained a scat, even though a minor one, in the coalition government. How did it use its position? It helped the coalition to burke measures designed to reform landed ownership in Ireland. The Tories themselves, having taken the patriotism of the Irish Brigade for granted, had decided to propose these measures in order to gain the support of the Irish M.P.s Palmerston, who is an Irishman by birth and knows his “Irish quarter,” has renewed the Lichfield-House Contract of 1835 on an all-embracing basis. He has appointed Keogh, the chief of the Brigade, Attorney-General of Ireland, Fitzgerald, also a liberal Catholic M.P. for Ireland, has been made Solicitor-General, and a third member of the Brigade has become legal counsel to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, so that the juridical general staff of the Irish government is now composed entirely of Catholics and Irishmen. Monsell, the Clerk of Ordnance in the coalition government, has been reappointed by Palmerston after some hesitation, although — as Muntz, deputy for Birmingham and an arms manufacturer, rightly observed — Monsell cannot distinguish a musket from a needle-gun. Palmerston has advised the lieutenants of the counties always to give preference to the proteges of Irish priests close to the Irish Brigade when nominating colonels and other high-ranking officers in the Irish militia. That Palmerston’s policy is already exerting an influence is evident from the fact that Sergeant Shee has gone over to the government side, and also from the fact that the Catholic Bishop of Athlone has pushed through the re-election of Keogh and that moreover the Catholic clergy has promoted the re-election of Fitzgerald. Wherever the lower ranks of the Catholic clergy have taken their “Irish patriotism” seriously and have stood up to those members of the Irish Brigade who deserted to the government, they have been rebuked by their bishops who are well aware of the diplomatic secret.

A protestant Tory newspaper bemoans the “complete congruity existing between Lord Palmerston and the Irish clergy. When Palmerston hands over Ireland to the priests, the priests will elect M.P.s who will hand over England to Lord Palmerston.”

The Whigs use the Irish Brigade to dominate the English Parliament and they toss posts and salaries to the Brigade; the Catholic clergy permits the one to buy and the other to sell on condition that both acknowledge the power of the clergy and help to extend and strengthen it. It is, however, a very remarkable phenomenon that in the same measure as the Irish influence in the political sphere grows in England, the Celtic influence in the social sphere decreases in Ireland. Both the “Irish quarter” in Parliament and the Irish clergy seem to be equally unaware of the fact that behind their back the Irish society is being radically transformed by an Anglo-Saxon revolution. In the course of this revolution the Irish agricultural system is being replaced by the English system, the system of small tenures by big tenures, and the modern capitalist is taking the place of the old landowner.

The chief factors which prepared the ground for this transformation are: 1847, the year of famine,[53] which killed nearly one million Irishmen; emigration to America and Australia, which removed another million from the land and still carries off thousands; the unsuccessful insurrection of 1848,[54] which finally destroyed Ireland’s faith in herself; and lastly the Act of Parliament which exposed the estates of the debt-ridden old Irish aristocrats to the hammer of the auctioneer or bailiff,[55] thus driving them from the land just as starvation drove away their small tenants, subtenants and cottagers.


50. The Anglo-lrish Union was imposed on Ireland by the English Government after the suppression of the Irish rebellion of 1798. The Union, which became valid as of January 1, 1801, abrogated the autonomous Irish Parliament and made Ireland even more dependent on England. In the 1820s Repeal of the Union became the most popular slogan in Ireland. However, the Irish bourgeois liberals (O'Connell and others) who headed the national movement wanted to use the agitation for Repeal of the Union solely as means for exerting pressure on the English Government to make it grant small concessions to the Irish bourgeoisie and landowners. In 1835, O'Connell made an agreement with the Whigs and stopped this agitation altogether. In 1840, after the Tories assumed office, the Irish liberals were compelled, under pressure from the mass movement, to set up the Repeal Association (Repealers) but endeavoured to make it take the road of compromises with the English ruling classes.

51. Free traders — champions of unencumbered trade and non-intervention by the state in the economy. The centre of the free traders was in Manchester, where the so-called Manchester School emerged — a trend in economic thought reflecting the interests of the industrial bourgeoisie. The movement was headed by the textile manufacturers Cobden and Bright, who in 1838 organised the Anti-Corn Law League. In the forties and fifties the free traders were a separate political grouping of bourgeois radicals, who at the end of the fifties amalgamated with the emerging English Liberal Party.

52. Emancipation of Catholics — the abolition by the English Government in 1829 of restrictions placed on the political rights of Catholics. Catholics, most of whom were Irish, were granted the right to stand for election to Parliament — and to hold some government offices. Simultaneously, the property census was raised five-fold. The 1829 Act was introduced after several decades of struggle by the Irish Catholic bourgeoisie, landowners and Catholic clergy, into which they had drawn the peasantry. The Act was to some extent a concession by the English Government, which at the same time expected that this manoeuvre would split and weaken the national movement and bring the elite of the Irish bourgeoisie and the landowners over to its side.

53. In 1845-47 a grievous famine blighted Ireland due to the ruin of farms and the pauperisation of the peasants, who were cruelly exploited by the English landlords. Although there was a great dearth of potatoes, the principal diet of the Irish peasants, the English landlords continued to export food from the country, condemning the poorest sections of the population to starvation. About a million people starved to death and the new wave of emigration caused by the famine carried away another million. As a result large districts of Ireland were depopulated and the abandoned land was turned into pastures by the Irish and English landlords.

54. In 1848, a popular uprising was being prepared in Ireland. Its aim was the national liberation of the country and the establishment of a republic. The preparations for the uprising were directed by the Left wing of the Confederation (Mitchel, Lalor, Reilly and others), who set up armed clubs throughout the country, which trained units of the national guard and manufactured arms. Mitchel and his friends established contacts with the Left wing of the Chartists (Jones and others), who planned to rise simultaneously with the Irish. At the end of May 1848, the English authorities arrested Mitchel and other active leaders of the clubs. Mitchel was deported to the Bermudas. More troops were sent to Ireland and the inviolability of the person guaranteed by the Constitution was revoked. After long hesitation, late in June 1848, the surviving leaders of the Irish Confederation (Smith O'Brien and others) called upon the Irish to revolt. But they had missed the moment. The uprising took the form of uncoordinated actions in several counties which were easily put down by the troops. The English Government was supported by the Catholic clergy and the landowner elite.

55. In 1853, Parliament adopted a Bill on the encumbered estates in Ireland belonging to the Irish nobility. At that time there were many manorial estates in Ireland which had been mortgaged and mortgaged anew because their owners were unable to make ends meet. Moreover, according to English legislation, they were obliged to help the poor residing on their lands. According to the 1853 Act, these manorial estates (the remnants of the indigenous Irish landed estates) were to be quickly sold to the highest bidder and the proceeds used to pay off creditors. This was one of the measures that helped English landlords to take possession of Irish lands and to use them as pastures.