William Morris. Commonweal 1885

Ireland and Italy
A Warning

Source: “Ireland and Italy — A Warning” Commonweal, Vol I, No. 9, October 1885, pp. 86-87;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Mr Parnell has been celebrating his triumphs in the past Parliament, and it may be said also those that are to come in the future one; he and his supporters also fully believe in the complete organization of the party, which will be strong enough not only to return 85 members this autumn, but also to compel every accepted candidate to sign a solemn pledge to submit to party discipline. Doubtless Mr Parnell is strong, and he and his are quite justified in their cries of victory. The English Parties cannot conceal their terror: Tory is calling to Whig, Whig to Liberal, to stand firm at last, since now the enemy is really upon them; but all the time they are, like the troopers in ‘Old Mortality’, ‘looking over their shoulders as if they liked the road behind them better than the road before’. In all probability Mr Parnell will have his way, and, as he says, this coming Parliament will be the last in which the Irish representatives will sit at Westminster.

Well, this is revolutionary, and we revolutionists rejoice in it on those grounds, and in the blow which it will deal at the great Bourgeois Power — the British Empire: also it may well be that Ireland must become national before she can be international. Yet we must ask ourselves what is to come next; will Ireland ruling herself be progressive, revolutionary that is, or reactionary? Will Socialists find their work easier in the Parnellite Ireland than now? Will Michael Davitt be a dangerous rebel then as he is now? There is no doubt as to the answer to those questions if we are to go no further than Mr Parnell would have us; the fullest realization of his programme would bring Ireland to pretty much the state of things which Liberal reformers want to realize in England as a bar to the march of Socialism which they have at last heard of, and are beginning to fear. An improved landlordism founded on a wider basis and therefore consolidated; that would lead, it seems to me, to founding a nation fanatically attached to the rights of private property (so called), narrow-minded, retrogressive, contentious, and — unhappy.

I ask Irishmen to consider a somewhat parallel case, that of Italy. Italy as well as Ireland had an unconquerable yearning for national independence, which swallowed up all other aspirations; in the teeth of all difficulty she conquered her independence amidst the best wishes of generous-minded men of all parties. How our hearts burned within us as we heard of the exploits of her patriots; surely revolution for the world was drawing near, thought some of us who did not know what the new revolution was to be, as we followed the heroism of Garibaldi and the lofty morality of Mazzini.

Italy triumphed and became ‘free’ and united; those noble deeds accomplished that at least. What, then, has been the gain? I will not say nothing, but I will say something very small compared with all the energy, enthusiasm, and self-sacrifice that brought it about, very small compared with the high-wrought hopes that went before it. For whatever the gain was, it was confined to the bourgeoisie, and the proletariat did not share it, has not shared it.

In the midst of the richest gifts of nature and art, cradled by the history of the world, exists a population of which the following words can be said without contradiction: ‘According to some the average pay (of the labourers) runs from 3d. to 4d. a day, according to others to 7d., without making any allowance for loss of time either through bad weather or ill-health. For this pittance they have to work like galley-slaves, and out of it such of them as have families must provide food for their children and keep a roof of some sort over their heads. The utmost that a labourer can earn with the help of his family, says Signor Arcozzi Manio, a large landowner, is equal to little more than l0d. a day. Their food — but one need not go into that; it is obvious that their food must be the food of beasts in quality and less than theirs in quantity. ‘The population engaged in agriculture is estimated at eight and a quarter millions, of whom a million and a half at the most’ (one can guess what that qualification means) ‘are landed proprietors, the remainder being farmers, metayers, and labourers.’ It is added that the lot of the proprietors and farmers if not brilliant, is at least tolerable; the said proprietors being mostly small ones it must be understood, peasants for the most part.

Such then are the free workmen of Italy while as a nation under her Constitutional King and Liberal parliament, she ambitiously strives to snatch here and there some rag of stolen territory which may help her to get a share of the world-market from the older European firms, and keeps on foot a goodly army of warlike idlers to that end. Italy is free and united, and is almost a ‘great power’, while the mass of her population is living, to speak bluntly, in abject slavery.

Here then is a warning to Irishmen if they will take it; they can see what the barrenness of the programme of driving out the Teutons has led to in Italy; can they think that a similarly barren programme of driving out the Saxon will lead to anything better in Ireland?

If the sword of Garibaldi could have led the workers of Italy to a condition of things under which what they produced would have been their own to live upon, the Austrians and their kingly and grand-ducal deputies would have been suppressed as they are now, and no ‘foreigner’ could govern them against their will; but the places of the Austrian tyrants would not have been taken by the great collective tyrant Capital, who prevents poor people from eating, and murders them with ‘pellagra’ or famine-fever as it has been called in Ireland, a tyrant who has no heart to be softened no soul to be moralized, in spite of Mazzini and the Positivists.

If only the Irish could take this lesson to heart, and make up their minds that even if they have to wait for it, their revolution shall be part of the great international movement; they will then be rid of all the foreigners that they want to be rid of. For my part I do not believe in the race-hatred of the Irish against the English: they hate their English masters, and well they may; and their English masters are now trying hard to stimulate the race-hatred among their English brethren, the workers, by all this loud talk of the integrity of the Empire and so forth. But when once the Irish people have got rid of their masters, Irish and English both, there will, I repeat, be no foreigners to hate in Ireland, and she will look back at the present struggle for mere nationality as a nightmare of the charmed sleep in which Landlordism and Capitalism have held her so long, as they have other nations. To the Irish, therefore, as to all other nations, whatever their name and race, we Socialists say, Your revolutionary struggles will be abortive or lead to mere disappointment unless you accept as your watchword,