Lenin on Ireland

Introduction

It is impossible to know where to begin when evaluating Lenin’s invaluable contributions on almost all of the subjects he took to hand over the course of his revolutionary life. His collected contributions on Ireland were republished by the Communist Party in a short pamphlet and distributed by New Books, 14 Parliament Street in Dublin 2.  This was 1970. Lenin made these contributions half a century earlier and as we recollect the last 100 years of Irish history, we see that what he outlined remains correct. 

Ireland, for Marx, Engels and Lenin, was a country that encapsulated their understanding of colonialism, plantations and the usage of sectarianism in imposing finance capital on another country. And so, Ireland has taught the rest of the world through the many articles the aforementioned authors wrote on Ireland.  In highlighting the root of exploitation as imperialism, the authors correctly then led their readers towards the most inevitable of conclusions. If those most impacted by imperialism, i.e the small farmers and urban proletariat linked together they would be able to overcome the dominion of the British State. Our own Fintan Lalor also had a similar view on the subject, commenting that he wanted to:

Ally town and country. Repeal is the question of the town population, the land tenure question is that of the country peasantry, both combined, teach each in its full extent and efficacy, form the question of Ireland…The land question contains, and the legislative question does not contain, the materials from which victory is manufactured.

Only a little later on did Connolly and Lenin ask the most important questions about the Irish condition. In whose interests were the wealth producing faculties of Ireland run in? Both of them concluded that an alliance of big industrialists and financiers, Irish and English, exploited the shirt off every man, woman and child’s back in the name of profit. 

LENIN ON IRELAND is a must-read collection of articles that gives you a living history of how things were in Ireland and them brings into sharp contrast with how they are today. 

WHO RULES IRELAND?  Remains the ever burning question we have to put to ourselves, because the answer is, it isn’t the working class.

WHAT WILL WE DO? Is the immediate question that we must repeatedly ask ourselves as we examine the heinous conditions our class is subject to.   

Think of these questions as you read the articles contained within. This is the first in a series of articles by Lenin that will be published once a week, beginning with Class War in Dublin.

Alexander Homits

General Secretary 

28.07.2020

CLASS WAR IN DUBLIN

By Vladimir Lenin

In Dublin, the capital of Ireland — a city of not a highly industrial type, with a population of half a million — the class struggle, which permeates the whole life of capitalist society everywhere, has become accentuated to the point of class war. The police have positively gone wild; drunken policemen assault peaceful workers, break into houses, torment the aged, women and children Hundreds of workers (over 400) have been injured and two killed — such are the casualties of this war. All prominent leaders of the workers have been arrested. People are thrown into prison for making the most peaceful speeches. The city is like an armed camp.

What is the matter? How could such a war flare up in the peaceful, cultured, civilised free state?

Ireland is something of a British Poland, only rather more of the Galician type than of the Warsaw-Lodz-Dombrowski variety. National oppression and Catholic reaction have turned the proletarians of this unhappy country into paupers, the peasants into toilworn, ignorant and dull slaves of the priesthood, and the bourgeoisie into a phalanx, masked by nastinalist phrases, of capitalists, of despots over the workers; finally they have turned the authorities into a gang of accustomed to every kind of violence.

At the present moment the Irish nationalists ~(i.e the Irish bourgeoisie) are the victors. They are buying up the land from the British landlords; they are getting national Home Rule (the famous Home Rule for which such a long and stubborn struggle between Ireland and Britain has gone on); they will freely govern “their” land in conjunction with “their” Irish priests.

Well, this Irish nationalist bourgeoisie is celebrating its “national” victory, its maturity in “affairs of the state” by declaring a war to the death against the Irish labour movement.

In Dublin lives the British Lord-Lieutenant. But in actual fact his power yields to that of the Dublin capitalist a leader, a certain Murphy, publisher of the Independent (seriously — independent!), the principal shareholder in a whole number of capitalist establishments in Dublin. Murphy has declared, on behalf of all the Irish capitalists, of course, that he is ready to spend three-quarters of a million pounds to destroy the Irish Trade Unions. 

And these unions have begun to develop splendidly. On the heels of the Irish bourgeois scoundrels engaged in celebrating their “national” victory followed the Irish proletariat, awakening to class consciousness. It has found a talented leader in the person of Comrade Larkin, secretary of the Irish Transport Workers’ Union.  Possessing remarkable oratorical talent, a man of seething Irish energy. Larkin has performed miracles among the unskilled workers — that mass of the British proletariat which in Britain is so often cut off from the advanced workers by that cursed petty-bourgeois, Liberal, aristocratic spirit of the British skilled worker.

A new spirit has been aroused in the Irish workers’ unions. The unskilled workers have introduced unparalleled animation into the trade unions. Even the women have begun to organize — a thing hitherto unknown in Catholic Ireland. Dublin showed promise of becoming one of the foremost towns in the whole of Great Britain so far as organization of the workers is concerned. The country that used to be typified by the fat, well-fed Catholic priest and the poor, starving, ragged worker, in tatters even on Sunday because he is without the wherewithal to purchase Sunday clothes — this country, bearing a double and triple, national yoke, was beginning to turn into a land with an organized army of the proletariat.

Murphy proclaimed a crusade of the bourgeoisie against Larkin and “Larkinism”. To begin with, 200 tramway men were dismissed in order to provoke a strike during the exhibition and to embitter the whole struggle. The Transport Workers Union went on strike and demanded the reinstatement of the discharged men. Murphy engineered lock-outs. The workers retaliated by downing tools. War raged all along the line. Passions flared up. Larkin – incidentally, he is a grandson of the famous Larkin executed in 1867 for participating in the Irish liberation movement — delivered fiery speeches at meetings. In these speeches, he pointed out that the party of the British bourgeois enemies of Irish Home Rule is openly calling for resistance to the government, is threatening revolution, is organising armed resistance to Home Rule and with absolute impunity is flooding the country with revolutionary appeals.

But what the reactionaries, the British jingoes Carson, Londonderry and Bonar Law may do (the British Purishkeniviches, the nationalists who are in full cry against Ireland), the proletariatian Socialist may not. Larkin was arrested. A meeting called by the workers was banned. 

Ireland however, is not Russia. The attempt to suppress the right of assembly evoked a storm of indignation. Larkin had to be tried. At the trial Larkin became the accuser and actually put Murphy in the dock. By cross-questioning witnesses Larkin proved that Murphy had had long conversations with the Lord-Lieutenant on the eve of his, Larkin’s, arrest. Larkin declared the police to be in Murphy’s pay, and no one dared gainsay him.

Larkin was released on bail (political liberty cannot be abolished at one stroke). Larkin declared that would be at the meeting no matter what happened. And indeed, he came to the meeting disguised, and began to speak to the crowd. The police recognised him, seized him and beat him. For two days the dictatorship of the police truncheon raged, crowds were clubbed, women and children tormented. The police broke into workers’ homes. A worker named Nolan, a member of the Transport Workers’ Union, was beaten to death. Another died from injuries.  

On Thursday, September 4 (August 22, old style), Nolan’s funeral took place. The proletariat of Dublin followed in a procession 50,000 strong behind the body of their comrade. The police brutes lay low, not daring to irritate the crowd, and exemplary order prevailed. “This is a more magnificent demonstration than when they buried Parnell!” (the celebrated Irish nationalist leader), said an old Irishman to a German correspondent. 

The Dublin events mark a turning point in the history of the labour movement and of socialism in Ireland. Murphy threatened to destroy the Irish trade unions. He only succeeded in destroying the last remnants of the influence of the nationalist Irish bourgeoisie over the proletariat in Ireland. He has helped to steel the working-class movement in Ireland, to make it independent, free of nationalist prejudices, and revolutionary.

This was seen immediately at the British Trades Union Congress which opened on September 1 in Manchester. The Dublin events inflamed the delegates — despite the resistance of the opportunist trade union leaders with their petty bourgeois spirit and their admiration for the bosses. A Dublin workers’ delegation was given an ovation. Delegate Partridge, chairman of the Dublin branch of the Engineers Union, spoke about the abominable outrages committed by the police in Dublin.

A young working girl had just gone to bed when the police raided her house. The girl hid in the closet, but was dragged out by the hair. The police were drunk. These “men” (if one may call them such) beat up ten year olds lads and five year old children! 

Partridge was twice arrested for making speeches which the judge himself admitted were peaceful. I am sure, said Partridge, that I will now be arrested if I publicly recite the Lord’s Prayer. 

The Manchester Congress sent a delegation to Dublin. The bourgeoisie there again took up the weapon of nationalism (just like the bourgeois nationalists in Poland or in the Ukraine or among the Jews!) declaring that “Englishmen have no business on Irish soil!”!. But fortunately, the Nationalists have already lost their influence over the workers. 

At the Manchester Congress speeches were delivered of a kind that had not been heard for a long time. A resolution was moved to transfer the whole Congress to Dublin, and to organize a general strike throughout Britain. Simile, the chairman of the Miners’ Union, stated that the Dublin methods would compel all British workers to resort to revolution and that they would be able to learn the use of arms.

The masses of the British workers are slowly but surely taking a new path — they are abandoning the defence of the petty privileges of the labour aristocracy for their own reat heroic struggle for a new system of society.  And along this path the British proletariat, bearing in mind their energy and organization, will bring socialism about more quickly and securely than anywhere else.

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