Leon Trotsky

On the Events in Dublin

(July 1916)

Written: Nashe Slovo, 4th July, 1916
Publisher: New Park Publications, London, 1975 from Trotsky’s Writings On Britain, Volume 3, 1975.
Translated: Allen Clinton.
Online Version: Marxists Internet Archive, 2000.
Transcribed: Ted Crawford.
HTML Markup: David Walters.
Profreading: Einde O’Callaghan, December 2006.

The former prominent colonial bureaucrat of Great Britain, Sir Roger Casement, by conviction a revolutionary Irish nationalist, the go-between for Germany and the Irish uprising, on being sentenced to death declared, ‘I prefer to sit on the bench of the accused than in the seat of the accuser,’ before the reading of the sentence, which ran according to the old formula that Casement should be ‘hung by the neck until dead’, at which God was invited to have mercy on his soul.

Should the sentence be carried out? This question must have given Asquith and Lloyd George many troubled hours. To execute Casement would make it even more difficult for the opportunist, nationalist and purely parliamentary Irish party, led by Redmond, to ratify a new compromise with the government of the UK on the blood of the insurrectionaries. To pardon Casement, after having carried out so many executions, would mean an open ‘display of indulgence to a high-ranking traitor’. This is the demagogic tune of the British social-imperialists of the Hyndman type – downright blood-thirsty hooligans. But however the personal fate of Casement is resolved the sentence on him will bring to a conclusion the dramatic episode of the Irish uprising.

In so far as the affair concerned the purely military operations of the insurrectionaries, the government, as we know, turned out comparatively easily to be master of the situation. The general national movement, however it was expressed in the heads of the nationalist dreamers, did not materialize at all. The Irish countryside did not rise up. The Irish bourgeoisie, as also the upper, more influential layer of the Irish intelligentsia, remained on the sidelines. The urban workers fought and died, together with revolutionary enthusiasts from the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia. The historical basis for the national revolution had disappeared even in backward Ireland. Inasmuch as the Irish movements in the last century had assumed a popular character, they had invariably fed on the social hostility of the deprived and exhausted pauper-farmer towards the omnipotent English landlord.

But if for the latter Ireland was only an object of agrarian plunder and exploitation, for British imperialism it was a necessary guarantee of their dominion over the seas. In a pamphlet written on the eve of the war, Casement, speculating about Germany, proves that the independence of Ireland means the ‘freedom of the seas’ and the death blow to the naval domination of Britain. This is true in so far as an ‘independent’ Ireland could exist only as an outpost of an imperialist state hostile to Britain and as its military naval base against British supremacy over the sea routes. It was Gladstone who first expounded with full clarity the military imperialist consideration of Great Britain over the interests of the Anglo-Irish landlords and laid the basis for the wide agrarian legislation by which the state transferred to the Irish farmers the landlords’ land, very generously compensating the latter, of course. Anyway, after the agrarian reforms of 1881-1903, the farmers turned into conservative small property owners, whose gaze the green banner of national independence is no longer able to tear away from their plots of land.

The redundant Irish intelligentsia flowed in their thousands into the towns of Great Britain as lawyers, journalists, commercial employees, etc. In this way, for the majority of them, the ‘national question’ got lost. On the other hand, the independent Irish commercial and industrial bourgeoisie, in so far as it has formed over the past decades, immediately adopted an antagonistic position towards the young Irish proletariat, giving up the national revolutionary struggle and entering the camp of imperialism. The young Irish working class, taking shape in an atmosphere saturated with the heroic recollections of national rebellions, and clashing with the egoistic, narrow-minded, imperial arrogance of British trade unionism, naturally swing between nationalism and syndicalism, ever ready to unite these two concepts in their revolutionary consciousness. It attracts the young intelligentsia and individual nationalist enthusiasts, who, in their turn, supply the movement with a preponderance of the green flag over the red. In this way, the ‘national revolution’, even in Ireland, in practice has become an uprising of workers, and the obviously isolated position of Casement in the movement only serves to emphasize this fact still deeper.

In a pathetic and shameful article, Plekhanov recently pointed to the ‘harmful’ character of the Irish uprising for the cause of freedom, rejoicing that the Irish nation ‘to their credit’ had realized this and not supported the revolutionary madmen. Only complete patriotic softening of all the joints could lead anyone to interpret the situation as if the Irish peasants had declined to participate in the revolution from the standpoint of the international situation, thus saving the ‘honour’ of Ireland. In actual fact they were led only by the obtuse egoism of the farmer and complete indifference to everything beyond the bounds of their plots of land. It was precisely because of this and only this that they supplied the London government with such a quick victory over the heroic defenders of the Dublin barricades. The undoubted personal courage, representing the hopes and methods of the past, is over. But the historical role of the Irish proletariat is only beginning. Already into this uprising – under an archaic banner – it has injected its class resentment against militarism and imperialism. That resentment from now on will not subside. On the contrary, it will find an echo throughout Great Britain. Scottish soldiers smashed the Dublin barricades. But in Scotland itself coal-miners are rallying round the red flag, raised by Maclean and his friends. Those very workers, who at the moment the Hendersons are trying to chain to the bloody chariot of imperialism, will revenge themselves against the hangman Lloyd George.

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Last updated on: 17.12.2006