International Workingmen’s Association 1867

Notes for an Undelivered Speech on Ireland [97]

Source: Marx & Engels on Ireland, Progress Publishers 1971, pp. 120-25.
Printed: according to the text of the book The General Council of the First International. 1866-1868. Minutes, Moscow.

I. Exordium. The Execution

Since our last meeting the object of our discussion, Fenianism, has entered a new phase. It has been baptised in blood by the English Government. The Political Executions at Manchester remind us of the fate of John Brown at Harpers Ferry.[a] They open a new period in the struggle between Ireland and England. The whole Parliament and liberal press responsible. Gladstone.

Reason: to keep up the hypocrisy that this was no political; but a common criminal affair. The effect produced upon Europe quite the contrary. They seem anxious to keep up the Act of the Long Parliament. [98] English [have] a divine right to fight the Irish on their native soil, but every Irish fighting against the British Government in England to be treated as an outlaw. Suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. [99] State of siege. Facts from the Chronicle. Governmental organisation of “Assassination and Violence” [100] Case of Bonaparte. [101]

II. The Question

What is Fenianism?

III. The Land Question

Decrease of Population
} in 25 Jahren[b]
1801: 5,319,867
} in 11 years   1,082,694

Population not only decreased, but the number of the leaf-mutes, the blind, the decrepit, the lunatic, and idiotic increased relatively to the numbers of the population.

Increase of Live-Stock from 1855 to 1866

In the same period from 1855 to 1866 [the] number of the live-stock increased as follows: cattle by 178,532, sheep by 667,675, pigs by 315,918. If we take into account the simultaneous decrease of horses by 20,656, and equalise 8 sheep to 1 horse total increase of live-stock: 996,877, about one million.

Thus 1,032,694 Irishmen have been displaced by about one million cattle, pigs, and sheep. What has become of them? The emigration list answers.


From 1st May 1851 to 31 December 1866: 1,780,189. Character of that emigration.

The process has been brought about and is still functioning upon an always enlarging scale by the throwing together or consolidation of farms (eviction) and by the simultaneous conversion of tillage into pasture.

From 1851-1861 [the] total number of farms decreased by 120,000, while simultaneously the number of farms of 15-30 acres increased by 61,000, that of 30 acres by 109,000 (together 170,000). The decrease was almost exclusively owed to the extinction of farms from less than one to less than 15 acres. Lord Dufferin.[c] The increase means only that amongst the decreased number of farms there is a larger portion of farms of large dimension.

How the Process Works

a) The People.

The situation of the mass of the people has deteriorated, and their state is verging to a crisis similar to that of 1846. The relative surplus population now as great as before the famine.

Wages have not risen more than 20%, since the potato famine. The price of potatoes has risen nearly 200%; the necessary means of life on an average by 100%. Professor Cliffe Leslie, in the London Economist dated February 9, 1867, says:

“After a loss of 2/5 of the population in 21 years, throughout most of the island, the rate of wages is now only is. a day; a shilling does not go further than 6d. did 21 years ago. Owing to this rise in his ordinary food the labourer is worse off than he was 10 years ago.”

b) The Land.

1) Decrease of land under crops.

Decrease in cereal crops: Decrease in green crops:
1861-66: 470,917 acres 1861-66: 128,061 acres

2) Decrease per statute acre of every crop. There has been decrease of yield in wheat, but greater 1847 to 1865 per cent; the exact decrease: oats 16.3, flax 47.9, turnips 36.1, potatoes 50%. Some years would show a greater decrease, but on the whole it has been gradual since 1847:

Since the exodus, the land has been underfed and overworked, partly from the injudicious consolidation of farms, and, partly, because, under the corn-acre system [102], the farmer in a great measure trusted to his labourers to manure the land for him. Rents and profits may increase, although the profit of the soil decreases. The total produce may diminish, but that part of it, which is converted into surplus produce, faIling to landlord and greater farmers, instead of to the labourer. Arid the price of the surplus produce has risen.

So result: gradual expulsion of the natives, gradual deterioration and exhaustion of the source of national life, the soil.

Process of Consolidation

This process has only begun; it is going on in rapid strides. The consolidation has first attacked the farms of under one to under 15 acres. It will be far from having reached the English point of consolidation, if all farms under 100 acres have disappeared. Now the state was this in 1864:

The total area of Ireland, including bogs rind waste lands: 20,319,924 acres. Of those 3/5,= 12,092,117 acres, form, still farms from under 1 to under 100 acres, and are in the hands of 569,844 farmers; 2/5 = 8,227,807, form farms from 100 till over 500 acres, and are in the hand’s of 31,927 persons. Thus to be cleared off 2,847,220, if we number only the farmers and their families.

This system [is a] natural offspring of the famine of 1846, accelerated by the abolition of corn-laws [103] and the rise in the price of meat and wool, now systematic.

Clearing of the estate of Ireland, transforming it in an English agricultural district, minus its resident lords and their retainers, separated from. England by a broad water ditch.

Change of Character of the English Rule in Ireland

State only tool of the landlords. Eviction, also employed as means of political punishment. (Lord Abercorn.[d] England. Gaels: in the Highlands, of. Scotland. [104]) Former English policy: displacing the Dish by English (Elizabeth), roundheads [105] (Cromwell). Since Anne, 18th-century politico-economical character only again in the protectionist measures of England against her own Irish colony; within that colony making religion a proprietary title. After the Union [106] [the] system of rack-renting and middlemen, but left the Irish, however ground to the dust, holder of their native soil. Present system, quiet business-like extinction, and government only instrument of landlords (and usurers).

From this altered state:

1) Distinguishing character of Fenianism: Socialist, lower-class movement.

2) Not Catholic movement.
Priests leaders as long as Catholic Emancipation and their leader, Daniel O’Connell, remained leader of the Irish movement. Ridiculous Popishism of the English. High Catholic priests against Fenianism.

3) No representative leader in the British Parliament.
Character of O’Connell’s physical force movement. [107] Extinction of Irish party in Parliament.

4) Nationality. Influence of European movement, and English phraseology.

5) America, Ireland, England — three fields of action, leadership of America.

6) Republican, because America republic. I have now given the characteristics of Fenianism.

IV. The English People

A cause of humanity and right, but above all a specific English question.

a) Aristocracy and Church and Army. (France, Algiers.)

b) Irish in England. Influence on wages, etc. Lowering the character of the English and Irish. The Irish Character. Chastity of Irishmen. Attempts at education in Ireland. Diminution of crimes.

 Convicted in Ireland 
 Committed for trial: Convicted:

The decrease in the numbers of persons committed for trial in England and Wales, since 1855, is partly due to the Criminal Justice Act of 1855, authorising Justices to pass sentences for short periods with the consent of the prisoners, instead of committing for trial to the sessions.

Birmingham. Progress of the English people. Infamy of the English press.

c) Foreign Policy. Poland, etc. Castlereagh. Palmerston. [108]

V. The Remedy

Foolishness of the minor parliamentary propositions.

Error of the Reform League. [109]

Repeal as one of the articles of the English Democratic Party.


97. These notes were written by Marx as a conspectus for his speech to be made at the meeting of the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association on November 26, 1867, when the discussion on the Irish question begun on November 19 was to continue. In view of the immense excitement caused by the execution of the three condemned Fenians (Larkin, Allen and O’Brien) on November 23, Marx considered this speech as no longer suitable. Feeling that at such a moment it would be more appropriate for one of the English members of the General Council to express sympathy with the Irish revolutionaries, he gave the floor to Peter Fox, who was known for his support of the Irish national liberation movement. Marx described the meeting in great detail in his letter to Engels of November 30, 1867. Later, preparing for a report on the Irish question in the German Workers’ Educational Association in London (see Outline of a report ...), Marx used this draft and the materials he had compiled for it.

98. A reference to the Act of Settlement adopted by the Long Parliament on August 12, 1652, during the English bourgeois revolution, following the suppression of the 1641-52 national liberation uprising in Ireland. The Act legalised the reign of terror and violence established by the English colonialists in Ireland and sanctioned the wholesale plunder of Irish lands in favour of the English bourgeoisie and the “new” bourgeoisified nobility. This Act declared the majority of Ireland’s indigenous population “guilty of revolt.” Even those Irishmen who had not been directly involved in the uprising but had failed to show the proper “loyalty” to the English Crown were considered “guilty.” Those declared “guilty” were classified into categories, depending on the extent of their involvement in the uprising, and subjected to brutal reprisals: execution, deportation, confiscation of property. On September 26, 1653, the Act of Settlement was supplemented by the Act of Satisfaction which prescribed the forcible resettlement of Irish people whose property had been confiscated to the barren province of Connaught and to Clare County and defined the procedure for allotting the confiscated land to the creditors of Parliament, the officers and men of the English army., Both Acts consolidated and extended the economic foundations of English landlordism in Ireland.

99. Habeas Corpus Act was adopted by the English Parliament in 1679; it was a guarantee against police arbitrariness, for it required that the authorities should state reasons for taking persons into custody and release them if they were not brought before a court within a limited period. However, Parliament was entitled to suspend the Act, and the English ruling classes constantly abused it in Ireland.

100. Marx uses an appraisal of the Fenian movement from Queen Victoria’s address to Parliament of November 19, 1867, to describe the brutal policy of the English Government towards the Irish Fenians.

101. During an abortive coup in Boulogne in 1840, Prince Louis Bonaparte wounded an officer of the government troops. This crime did not stop the English Government from obsequiously recognising the Bonapartist regime after the usurpation of power by Louis Bonaparte in 1851. In 1867, however, three Irish Fenians were sent to the gallows only on the suspicion of having made an attempt on the life of a policeman while attacking a prison van in Manchester.

102. The corn-acre system — the subletting to the poorest peasants of small plots (of an area of up to half an acre) by middlemen on fettering terms, which was extensively practised in Ireland. The term came into use in the 18th century, after the adoption of a law decreeing that corn be sown on these small holdings.

103. Following the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, which led to a drop in grain prices due to the fall in the demand for Irish grain in England, and the rise in the demand for wool and other stock-breeding products from Ireland, landlords and rich farmers switched to extensive pasture farming which led to the mass eviction of small Irish tenants from the land (“clearing of estates”) in the mid-l9th century.

104. A reference to the. forcible eviction from the land of the population of the Scottish Highlands (the Gaels) by the Anglo-Scottish nobility in the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries, a process similar to the “clearing of estates” in Ireland. Marx describes this process in Chapter XXVII of the first volume of Capital.

105. The roundheads - the name given to the supporters of Parliament during the English bourgeois revolution in the 17th century because of their puritan custom of cutting their hair close, while the cavaliers — supporters of the King — wore their hair long.

106. The Anglo-Irish 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.

107. In the first decades of the 19th century the Irish national movement developed under the slogan of the abolition of political restrictions for the Catholic population and the granting to Catholics (who formed the majority of the population) of the right to stand for election to Parliament resulting eventually in the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829). After the thirties the struggle was waged under the banner of Repeal of the Anglo-Irish Union of 1801 (see Note 106). O’Connell and his supporters championed moderate, peaceful means of struggle (“moral force”). In the mid-forties, however, the supporters of the liberation of Ireland by revolutionary methods, up to and including armed uprising against English rule (“Young Ireland” group, John Mitchel and his friends), gained ground in the Repeal Association headed by O’Connell. The differences between O’Connell and those advocating the use of “physical force” led to a split in the Repeal Association and the formation of the more radical Irish Confederation.

The upsurge of the national liberation struggle in Ireland widened the already existing differences between the moderate and revolutionary wings of the Repeal Association. The liberal landowners, making up its Right wing, wanted the movement to confine itself to “legal means.” The revolutionary wing, whose most consistent champions were John Mitchel and Thomas Lalor, were for armed struggle against English colonial rule and the setting up of an Irish Republic, for giving the land to the Irish peasants, for an alliance with the Chartists and the implementation of democratic reforms. In January 1847, the Repeal Association split up and its revolutionary-democratic wing formed an organisation of its own — the Irish Confederation — which began to prepare an uprising.

After the uprising was suppressed in 1848, the Irish Confederation fell to pieces and the majority of its active members were either banished or gaoled; the survivors emigrated, mainly to the U.S.A., where they later joined the Fenian movement.

108. A reference to the reactionary foreign policy pursued by Castlereagh, the British Foreign Secretary (1812-22). He supported the efforts of the Holy Alliance aimed at strengthening the reactionary feudal monarchies in Europe, notably the measures against the revolutionary movements in Italy and Spain. The counter-revolutionary Tory policy of Castlereagh was continued by Palmerston, the Whig leader, who relied on the support of the Right wing of that party. He, however, masked the real nature of this policy in liberal phrases and hypocritical expressions of sympathy with the oppressed peoples. In his Lord Palmerston (an excerpt from which is published in this collection, see pp. 70-71), Marx showed that in his capacity of Foreign Secretary Palmerston played an ignoble role with regard to the Polish struggle for independence during the general uprising of 1880-31 and the uprising in the free city of Cracow in 1846. While inciting the Poles to action by his false promises of assistance, Palmerston sanctioned the suppression of the Polish movement by tsarist Russia, Austria and Prussia.

109. The Reform League — an organisation set up in London in the spring of 1865 on the initiative and with the participation of the General Council of the International. It was to be a political centre for the guidance of the mass movement of workers for a second electoral reform (the first, carried out in 1832, fully preserved the political privileges of the ruling classes and denied rights to the workers). By advancing the slogan of universal suffrage, the League won considerable influence among the proletarian masses and set up branches in many English towns. However, due to the vacillations of the bourgeois radicals in the League’s leadership, who were frightened by the mass movement, and because of the policy of compromise pursued by the trade union leaders on the Council and Executive Committee, the Reform League acted inconsistently and half-heartedly. This enabled the English ruling classes to make the 1867 electoral reform a moderate one and to extend franchise only to the petty bourgeoisie and the upper crust of the working class.

The leadership of the Reform League committed a grave error in the Irish question by refusing to give any real support to the Irish national liberation movement, although many of its rank-and-file members expressed sympathy with it. The meeting of the League’s Council on November 1, 1867, adopted a resolution condemning Fenianism, tabled by bourgeois radicals. When the Irish question came up for discussion in the General Council of the International in November 1867, the speeches were spearheaded against this chauvinistic and anti-revolutionary position of the Reform League and its supporters among the liberal trade unionists.

a Here the following text is crossed out in the manuscript: “But the slaveholders have at least treated John Brown as a rebel, not as common felon.” — Ed.

b Years — Ed.

c See pp. 113-14. — Ed.

d See pp. 148-44. — Ed.