William Morris. Commonweal 1886

Independent Ireland

Source: “Independent Ireland” Commonweal, Vol 2, No. 16, April 1886, p.36;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Mr Gladstone’s measure has at last seen light, and it must at least be said of it that under the circumstances it has been accepted joyfully by the people whom it was chiefly meant to serve: the Irish at least are pleased. This is an improvement on the character of most measures of reform, which usually rather err in defect than in excess of that ancient vice and modern virtue, cowardice; and which consequently discourage friends while they fail in conciliating enemies. To find the irreducible minimum has been Mr Gladstone’s aim, and according to the verdict of both friends and foes he has succeeded. A simple-minded man might have expected the Radicals, at any rate, to be pleased at this, but he will by this time be disillusioned. Some of them do indeed eat the leek thus presented to them by the Celtic champion with a tolerably good grace, but a great many insist on being thrashed before eating, which grace before meat they are, I think, not likely to lack.

The fact is these worthies were quite prepared to give Ireland Home Rule so long as Humbug accompanied it, so long as the grant of it did not enable the Irish to manage their own affairs; and they seem to have hoped (not perhaps without some reason) that Mr Gladstone would contrive this trap for their benefit. It would indeed have been a triumph for modern bourgeois legislation to have been able to say, ‘We have done what you wanted, we offer you Home Rule, and now you won’t take it’. And that would have been quite in its manner too. But they have been disappointed and are forced to face a measure which the Irish believe will make them practically independent, and whether the bill passes or not there is no doubt that they will not now accept anything less than it. This is grievous enough for our Federation-of-the-Empire friends, but if they are Radicals to boot, what are they to do? Mr Chamberlain sees that he cannot, as yet, join the Tory-Whig coalition, and consequently, in spite of the almost unanimous agreement of the London Liberal press, including the once anti-Jingo Echo, which now sees the error of its ways, he will probably have to content himself with looking on at a Gladstone triumph and a Whig protest, without sharing in either. The bill will pass the Commons either now or after a coalition muddle, or else the Irish will in some way or other rebel.

Under these circumstances it is not worth while to look into the details of Mr Gladstone’s bill, even if such matters could concern Socialists at all. It means the Independence of Ireland and not the sham Federation which the greater part of the Liberal Party intended it to mean. This is clearly shown by the fact that while Radicals cry out on injustice to the Irish in excluding them from the Westminster Parliament, these themselves will by no means accept the honour if they can help it, as they perceive it to tend towards Federation. One remedy at least they might have, of the kind known to the unthirsty horse when brought to water; they need not drink of the stream of honour and consideration flowing from Westminster; in other words they may stay at home and mind their own business, which they will sorely need to do. For the rest, the bill is a specimen of the usual Constitution-building, and is full of safeguards against dangers which, when they come near will send the said safeguards flying into space. We need not heed all that; the Irish people accept it, the Whigs reject it: that is enough.

But what is this new parliament to us Revolutionary Socialists who see no panacea in parliaments of any kind? Well, first the Irish (as I have some reason to know) will not listen to anything except the hope of independence as long as they are governed by England; no, not even to the most elementary propositions about the land, which concern them most and nearest — they can see nothing else than an Ireland freed from that government. They are, as it were, demoralized by a long war, and will likely enough confirm the prophecies of their enemies by floundering woefully amidst their difficulties, when they have their own affairs to manage. But it is only by finding out what a parliament is like that they can know what a worthless instrument it is towards helping the community to a decent life; and they will have to meet those difficulties themselves and be responsible for their manner of dealing with them, instead of letting their responsibilities lapse into the willing hands of England. They will then surely begin to find out that English rule was so disastrous to them, not because of the difference of race between the governors and the governed, but because a crude form of arbitrary authority was practised on the ‘inferior race'; because England represented landlord and capitalist oppression, which, to say the truth, would not have lacked a representative even if she had not been paramount in Ireland.

Home Rule for Ireland is not of itself necessarily a revolutionary measure, but it will clear the ground for sowing the seed of Revolution; and that all the more as the problem in Ireland is simpler than elsewhere, owing to its being chiefly an agricultural country. The patience and good humour of the people may help its new rulers to stave off the great change which shall make Ireland free by freeing all its inhabitants; and their terrible apprenticeship in misery may help in restraining them from claiming that decent and happy life which it will be easier for them to get for the claiming than it is to most peoples; but the claim will certainly be made, and can only be crushed by a bourgeois England triumphant over its enemy — The People.