Class War in Dublin
|Written||29 August 1913|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 19, pages 332-336.
In Dublin, the capital of Ireland—a city of a not 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 workers’ leaders have been arrested. People are thrown into prison for making the most peaceful speeches. The city is like an armed camp.
What has happened? How could such a war have flared up in a peaceable, cultured, civilised free state?
Ireland is something of a British Poland, only rather more like Galicia than the Poland represented by Warsaw, Lodz and Dombrowski. 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 nationalist phrases, of capitalists, of despots over the workers; finally, the administration has been turned into a gang 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 lands of the English landlords; they are getting national self-government (the famous Home Rule for which such a long and stubborn struggle has been going on between Ire land and England); they will freely govern “their own” country jointly with “their own” Irish priests.
Well, this Irish nationalist bourgeoisie is celebrating its “national” victory, its maturity in “affairs of state” by declaring a war to the death on the Irish labour movement.
An English Lord-Lieutenant lives in Dublin, but in fact he has less power than the Dublin capitalist leader, a certain Murphy, publisher of the Independent (“Independent”—my eye!), principal shareholder and director of the Dublin tramways, and a shareholder in many capitalist enterprises 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 (nearly seven million rubles) to destroy the Irish trade unions.
And these unions have begun to develop magnificently. The Irish proletariat, awakening to class-consciousness, is pressing the Irish bourgeois scoundrels engaged in celebrating their “national” victory. It has found a talented leader in the person of Comrade Larkin, Secretary of the Irish Transport Workers’ Union. Larkin is a remarkable speaker, a man of seething Irish energy, who 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 the cursed petty-bourgeois, liberal, aristocratic spirit of the British skilled worker.
A new spirit bas been aroused in the Irish workers’ unions. The unskilled workers have brought unparralleled animation into the trade unions. Even the women have begun to organise—a thing hitherto unknown in Catholic Ireland. So far as organisation of the workers is concerned Dublin looks like becoming one of the foremost towns in the whole of Great Britain. The country that used to be typified by the fat, well-fed Catholic priest and the poor, starving, ragged worker who wore his rags even on Sunday because he could riot afford Sunday clothes, that country, though it bears a double and triple national yoke, has begun to turn into a country with an organised army of the proletariat.
Well, Murphy proclaimed a crusade of the bourgeoisie against Larkin and “Larkinism”. To begin with, 200 tramwaymen were dismissed in order to provoke a strike during the exhibition and embitter the whole struggle. The Transport Workers’ Union declared a 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 the 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 English bourgeois enemies of Irish Home Rule was openly calling for resistance to the government, was threatening revolution, was organising armed resistance to Home Rule and with absolute impunity was flooding the country with revolutionary appeals.
But what the reactionaries, the English chauvinists Car son, Londonderry and Bonar Law (the English Purishkeviches, the nationalists who are persecuting Ireland), may do the proletarian 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, in effect, 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 he would appear at a meeting no matter what happened. And indeed, he came to one disguised, and began to speak to the crowd. The police recognised him, seized him and beat him up. For two days the dictatorship of the police truncheon raged, crowds were clubbed, women and children were brutally treated. The police broke into workers’ homes. A worker named Nolan, a member of the Transport Workers’ Union, was beaten to death. Another died of injuries.
On Thursday, September 4 (August 22, 0. S.), 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 annoy 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 has threatened to destroy the Irish trade unions. He has succeeded only in destroying the last remnants of the influence of the Irish nationalist bourgeoisie over, the Irish proletariat. He has helped to steel the independent revolutionary working-class movement in Ireland, which is free of nationalist prejudices.
This was seen immediately at the Trades Union Congress which opened on September 1 (August 19, 0. S.), 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. The Dublin workers’ delegation was given an ovation. Delegate Partridge, Chairman of the Dublin branch of the Engineers’ Union, spoke about the abominable out rages 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-old lads and even 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 would now be arrested if I were to recite the Lord’s Prayer in public.”
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.
Speeches delivered at the Manchester Congress were 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 organise a general strike throughout Britain. Smillie, 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 great heroic struggle for a new system of society. And once on this path the British proletariat, with their energy and organisation, will bring socialism about more quickly and securely than anywhere else.
- The Irish nationalists are already expressing the fear that Larkin will organise an independent Irish workers’ party, which will have to be reckoned with in the first Irish national parliament. —Lenin