LEON TROTSKY: 1916 -- Lessons of the Events in Dublin

Leon Trotsky's

Lessons of the Events in Dublin

Transcribed for the Trotsky Internet Archive, now a sub-section of the Marxist writers' Internet Archive, by Patrick Beherec in October of 1997. Transcribed from New International, No 1, Brian Pearce translator. Originally appeared in Nashe Slovo for 4 July 1916.

Sir Roger Casement, formerly a prominent official in the British colonial service, but by conviction a revolutionary Irish nationalist who actedas intermediary between Germany and the rising in Ireland, has been sentenced to death. ... "I prefer to be standing in the dock to being in the prosecutor'splace," he cried before the sentence was passed on him, with its statement,in accordance with the time-honored pious formula, that Casement was tobe "hanged by the neck until dead," after which God was invited to have mercy on his soul. Will the sentence be carried out? This question must be giving Asquith and Lloyd George some anxious hours. To execute Casement would mean making more difficult the situation of the opportunist, purely parliamentary Irish Nationalist Party led by Redmond, which is ready tosign in the blood of the Dublin rebels a new compromise with the government of the United Kingdom. Reprieving Casement, however, after so many executions have already taken place, would mean openly "showing indulgence to a highly placed traitor." On this string, with real hooligan blood-lust, British social-imperialists of the Hyndman type are strumming their demagogic tunes. But however Casement's personal fate may be settled, the sentence passed on him marks the close of this dramatic episode of the rising in Ireland. 

So far as the purely military operations of the rebels were concerned, the government, as we know, proved to be easily the master of the situation. A nation wide movement such as the nationalist dreamers had hoped for completely failed to occur. The Irish countryside did not rise. The Irish bourgeoisie, together with the upper, more influential stratum of the Irish intelligentsia, held aloof. Those who fought and died were urban workers, along with some revolutionary enthusiasts from the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia. The historical basis for a national revolution has disappeared even in backward Ireland. Insofar as the Irish movements in the last century were popular in character, they always drew their strength from the social antagonism between the rightless and starving pauper-farmers and their all-powerful British landlords. But whereas for the latter Ireland was merely an object of exploitation by agrarian plundering, for British imperialism it was a necessary guarantee of domination on the seas. In a pamphlet written on the eve of the war, Casement, speculating on arousing Germany's interest, showed that an independent Ireland would mean "freedom of the seas" and a mortal blow to Britain's sea-power. This is true, inasmuch as an "independent" Ireland could exist only as an advance post of some imperialist state hostile to British command of the seaways. It was Gladstone who first set the military and imperial interests of Britain quite clearly higher than the interests of the Anglo-Irish landlords, and inaugurated a broad scheme of agrarian legislation whereby the landlords' estates were transformed, through the instrumentality of the state, to the farmers of Ireland -- with, of course, generous compensation to the landlords. Anyhow, after the land reforms of 1881-1903 the farmers were transformed into conservative petty proprietors, whose attention the green flag of nationalism could no longer distract from their small holdings. The surplus of Ireland's educated population flowed away in their masses to the cities of Britain, as lawyers, journalists, shop assistants, and so on, and in this they were, in the main, lost to the "national cause." The independent Irish bourgeoisie of trade and industry, to the extent that such a class was formed in the last few decades, at once took up a fighting stance toward the young Irish proletariat, and thereby removed itself from the national-revolutionary camp into that of imperial possibilism and Irish "conciliation." The young working class of Ireland, formed as it was in an atmosphere saturated with heroic memories of national rebellion, and coming into conflict with the egotistically narrow and imperially arrogant trade unionism of Britain, has naturally wavered between nationalism and syndicalism, and is always ready to link these two conceptions together in its revolutionary consciousness. It has attracted to itself some young intellectuals and certain nationalist enthusiasts, who, in their turn have brought about the ascendancy of the green flag over the red in the labor movement. Thus, the "national revolution," in Ireland too has amounted in practice to a workers' revolt and Casement's markedly isolated position in the movement merely gives sharper emphasis to this fact. 

In a wretched, shameful article Plekhanov wrote recently of the "harmfulness" of the Irish rising to the cause of freedom and rejoiced that the Irish people had "to their honor," understood this and had not supported the revolutionary madmen. Only given complete patriotic softening of all the joints can one imagine that the Irish peasants declined to take part in the revolution out of regard for the international situation and thereby saved the "honor" of Ireland. Actually, they were guided merely by the blind egoism typical of farmers and their utter indifference to everything that happens beyond the bounds of their bits of land. For this reason and this alone they made possible the swift victory of the London government over the heroic defenders of the Dublin barricades. 

The experiment of an Irish national rebellion, in which Casement represented, with undoubted personal courage, the outworn hopes and methods of the past, is over and done with. But the historical role of the Irish proletariat is only beginning. Already it has brought its class anger against militarism and imperialism into this rising, under an out-of-date flag. This anger will not now subside. On the contrary, it will find echoes all over Britain. Scottish soldiers smashed down the barricades of Dublin. But in Scotland itself the miners have rallied round the red flag raised by MacLean and his comrades. 

The hangman's work done by Lloyd George will be sternly avenged by those very workers whom the Hendersons are now trying to chain to the bloody war chariot of imperialism.