Marx-Engels Correspondence 1867
Published: Marx/Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1955;
Transcribed and HTML Markup by: Tim Delaney, 1999;
...If you have read the journals you will have seen that 1) the Memorial of the International Council for the Fenians was sent to Hardy and that 2) the debate on Fenianism was public (last Tuesday week) and reported in the Times. Reporters of the Dublin Irishman and Nation were also present. I came very late (I ran a temperature for about a fortnight and the fever passed only two days ago) and really did not intend to speak, firstly because of my troublesome physical condition, and secondly because of the ticklish situation. Nevertheless Weston, who was in the chair, tried to force me to, so I moved that the meeting be adjourned. This obliged me to speak last Tuesday. As a matter of fact I had prepared for Tuesday last not a speech but the points of a speech. But the Irish reporters failed to come.... After the opening of the meeting I therefore stated I would yield the floor to Fox on account of the belated hour. Actually, owing to the executions that had taken place in the meantime in Manchester, our subject, Fenianism. was liable to inflame the passions to such heat that I (but not the abstract Fox) would have been forced to hurl revolutionary thunderbolts instead of soberly analysing the state of affairs and the movement as I had intended. The Irish reporters therefore, by staying away and delaying the opening of the meeting, did signal service for me. I don't like to get involved with people like Roberts, Stephens, and the rest.
Fox's speech was good, for one thing because it was delivered by an Englishman and for another because it concerned only the political and international aspects. For that very reason however he merely skimmed along the surface of things. The resolution he handed up was absurd and inane. I objected to it and had it referred to the Standing Committee. What the English do not yet know is that since 1846 the economic content and therefore also the political aim of English domination in Ireland have entered into an entirely new phase, and that, precisely because of this, the characteristic features of Fenianism are socialistic tendencies (in a negative sense, directed against the appropriation of the soil) and the fact that it is a movement of the lower orders. What can be more ridiculous than to confuse the barbarities of Elizabeth or Cromwell, who wanted to supplant the Irish by English colonists (in the Roman sense), with the present system, which wants to supplant them by sheep, pigs and oxen! The system of 1801-46 (when evictions were exceptional and occurred mainly in Leinster where the land is especially good for cattle raising) with its rackrents and middlemen, collapsed in 1846. The repeal of the Corn Laws, partly the result of or at any rate hastened by the Irish famine, deprived Ireland of its monopoly of supplying corn to England in normal times. Wool and meat became the slogan, hence conversion of tillage into pasture. Hence from then onwards systematic consolidation of farms. The Encumbered Estates Act, which turned a mass of farmer middlemen who had become rich into landlords, hastened th e process. Clearing of the Estates of Ireland is now the only purpose of English rule in Ireland. The stupid English Government in London knows nothing of course of this immense change since 1846. But the Irish know it. From Meagher's Proclamation (1848) down to the election manifesto of Hennessy (Tory and Urquhartite) (1866), the Irish have expressed their awareness of this in the clearest and most forcible manner.
The question now is, what advice shall we give to the English workers? In my opinion they must make the repeal of the Union (in short, the affair of 1783, but in a more democratic form and adapted to the conditions of the present time) an article of their pronunziamento . This is the only legal and therefore only possible form of Irish emancipation which can be embodied in the programme of an English party. Experience must show later whether the merely personal union can continue to subsist between the two countries. I half think it can if it takes place in time.
What the Irish need is:
1) Self-government and independence from England.
2) An agrarian revolution. With the best intentions in the world the English cannot accomplish this for them, but they can give them the legal means of accomplishing it for themselves.
3) Protective tariffs against England. Between 1783 and 1801 all branches of Irish industry flourished. The Union, by abolishing the protective tariffs established by the Irish Parliament, destroyed all industrial life in Ireland. The bit of linen industry Is no compensation whatever. The Union of 1801 had just the same effect on Irish industry as the measures for the suppression of the Irish woollen industry, etc., taken by the English Parliament under Anne, George II, and others. Once the Irish are independent, necessity will turn them into protectionists, as it did Canada, Australia, etc. Before I present my views in the Central Council (next Tuesday, this time fortunately without reporters), I should be glad if you gave me your opinion in a few lines.