Clemency! (May 1916)
Source: Trotsky’s Writings on Britain New Park Publications Ltd, London 1974.
The Irish rising has been crushed. Those whom it was thought necessary to shoot first have been shot. The rest wait for their personal fate to be decided after that of the rising itself. The triumph of British rule is so complete that Prime Minister Asquith considered it possible to declare from his parliamentary platform the government’s intention to show ‘reasonable clemency’ towards the imprisoned Irish revolutionaries. In so doing Asquith referred to the good fruits of the clemency shown by General Botha to those who took part in the South African rising. Asquith refrained from mentioning General Botha himself. Twelve years before the present war he stood at the head of the Boers who shed their blood in a struggle against British imperialism; but at the beginning of the war he put down a rising of his own fellow-countrymen. Thus Asquith remains wholly within the traditions of British imperialism when he crowns the work of ‘law and order’ specialists in Dublin and other places with the proclamation of the principles of ‘expedient’ humanity – humanity, that is, within the limits of what is ... expedient. So far, then, everything is clear, and there can be no doubt in the minds of our readers about Asquith’s statement, which goes beyond what it is permissible to express in the French Republic in 1916.
But the matter does not end there. We have an uprising crushed – buildings razed, human corpses, men and women in chains. We have triumphant authority making a gesture of ‘philanthropy’. But in this picture which history has set in the frame of the world war, on this ‘stage within a stage’, one other figure is missing: the French social-patriot, the standard bearer of ‘liberating’ war and the principles of national ‘freedom’, commenting on the official ‘humanity’ of the Dublin government.
To fill this gap, and add the finishing touch to our picture of the official governmental, patriotic aspect of our epoch, M. Renaudel published an article on Clemency in the pages of his paper Humanité, which until now has not carried a single word about the Irish rising.
Now of course he, Renaudel, knows that there were facts in the past which clouded relations between Ireland and Britain. He allows that these facts could not but leave bitterness to this day in the most irreconcilable Irish hearts. But the Irish chose a most fatal hour for their action. He, Renaudel, had not doubted for a moment that the British government would do everything necessary to remain master of the situation, and he was not mistaken. But therefore, ‘Britain, who is fighting with her allies for the rights of nations, can and must show magnanimity.’ And that is why being simultaneously a friend of Britain and of Ireland, of Britain which crushed down and of Ireland which was crushed, he, Renaudel, could only welcome Asquith’s magnanimous gesture.
One might think this was quite enough. One might think it physically impossible for social-patriotic cynicism to go any further than masquerading like this as the advocate of clemency to a set of frenzied butchers. But no, Renaudel has also to introduce a national French factor in order to explain and rationalise his sage statesman-like pleading on behalf of the vanquished and justify it to official France. ‘Of course,’ he writes, ‘in a land which weeps over Corneille’s verses and the noble farewell to Cinna by Auguste – in such a land it causes no surprise if we counsel that clemency be shown.’
Thus the spiritual heirs and political descendants of Thiers and General Gallifet are reassured. For didn’t they, who wept on reading Racine, show clemency to the fighters of the Paris Commune? Here is the real crowning of the spiritual reconciliations between Gallifet’s descendants and the offspring of the movement in whose history the Commune is indelibly inscribed.