Ch 14 The Organisation of the Working Class

CH.14-ORGANISATION OF THE WORKING CLASS

Hits: 1849

CHAPTER XIV: ORGANISATION OF THE WORKING CLASS

SECTION 5: THE WAR FOR THE LAND, AND THE NATIONAL STRUGGLE IN IRELAND

 

THE ENGLISH RULING CLASS HAS ALWAYS TREATED IRELAND AS ITS COLONY TO PROVIDE A SOURCE OF CHEAP FOOD. THE ENGLISH ACT OF UNION 1801 THUS CAME AS A NATURAL RESPONSE TO THE REVOLT OF THE UNITED IRISHMEN.

CASTLEREAGH INSTIGATED A CAMPAIGN OF BRIBERY AND CORRUPTION. MILLIONS OF POUNDS WERE SPENT BUYING PROTESTANTS IN THE IRISH PARLIAMENT TO VOTE THEMSELVES OUT OF EXISTENCE.

A SERIES OF COERCION ACTS WERE INTENDED TO CRUSH THE PEASANTS’ REVOLT AGAINST THE BURDEN OF RENTS, TITHES AND TAXES.

THE ‘WHITEBOYS’ AND ‘RIBBONMEN’ CONDUCTED A TERROR CAMPAIGN OF KILLING AND FEAR.

BUT NO REPRESSION COULD DESTROY THE REVOLT AGAINST PROFOUND MISERY. WHAT THE BAYONETS FAILED TO DO, HOWEVER, THE NATIVE IRISH UPPER CLASSES DID, LED BY DANIEL O’CONNELL - “THE GREATEST ENEMY IRELAND EVER HAD.”

IN 1829, O’CONNELL SET ABOUT SECURING ‘CATHOLIC EMANCIPATION’, BUT THIS ONLY MEANT THE RIGHT OF CATHOLIC GENTRY TO SIT IN THE WESTMINSTER PARLIAMENT.

IN DOING SO, HE ALSO REDUCED THE IRISH ELECTORATE FROM 200,000 TO 26,000, WHICH ENTAILED DISENFRANCHISING THE SMALL HOLDERS AND THEM LOSING THE BARRIER TO BEING EVICTED.

AFTER THIS VICTORY, O’CONNELL AGITATED FOR THE REPEAL OF THE UNION, BUT WAS CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE THE MASSES.

IRELAND WAS THE SOURCE OF ENGLISH EXPLOITATION, BUT GREED FOLLOWED AND IT WAS TURNED INTO A CORN GROWING COUNTRY.

UNDER THE CORN LAWS, IRISH CORN WAS THE ONLY CORN THAT COULD BE IMPORTED INTO ENGLAND, BUT, AS PRICES FELL, LANDLORDS MAINTAINED THEIR PROFITS BY INCREASING RENTS.  PEASANTS THEREFORE HAD TO PRODUCE MORE CORN TO SURVIVE.

IN 1835, THE IRISH POOR LAW COMMISSION REVEALED THE VALUE OF IRISH PRODUCE WAS £36MILLION: £30 MILLION FROM WHEAT, RENTS AND TAXES, ETC, AND ONLY £6 MILLION FOR THE PRODUCERS, SMALL HOLDERS AND LABOURERS.

THE PEASANT GREW WHEAT TO PAY RENT AND POTATOES TO FEED HIS FAMILY.

THIS IS ESSENTIALLY THE BACKGROUND TO THE GREAT FAMINE OF 1845-50.

THERE WAS NO REAL FAMINE; ONLY THE FAILURE OF ONE CROP - POTATOES.

“PROVIDENCE SENT THE POTATO BLIGHT, BUT ENGLAND MADE THE FAMINE.”

IN 1847, HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS DIED OF STARVATION AND TYPHUS, WHILE FOOD TO THE VALUE OF £17 MILLION WAS EXPORTED UNDER THE PROTECTION OF ENGLISH TROOPS.

THE ‘YOUNG IRELAND MOVEMENT’ ADVOCATED FORCIBLE SEIZURE OF LAND AND REFUSAL TO PAY RENTS AND TITHES, BUT IT FAILED, AND THE LEADERS WERE ARRESTED. HOWEVER, THE STATE OF PHYSICAL WEAKNESS, WHICH THE FAMINE HAD REDUCED PEOPLE TO, WAS AS MUCH TO BLAME FOR THE FAILURE OF THE 1848 RISING.

WHOLESALE EVICTIONS AND LAND SEIZURES AND EMIGRATION TO THE USA AND CANADA FOLLOWED, BUT THE REPEAL OF THE CORN LAWS, WHICH KEPT WHEAT PRICES ARTIFICALLY HIGH, AND THE LOSS OF A MONOPOLY SAW CORN GIVE WAY TO CATTLE GRAZING ON THE LARGER ‘CLEARED’ SMALL HOLDINGS.

PRESSURE ON THE PEASANTS CONTINUED.

SPINNERS AND WEAVERS WERE DRIVEN OUT BY THE MACHINE MADE GOODS OF LANCASHIRE. THE NUMBER OF TEXTILE WORKERS FELL FROM 700,000 TO 130,000, AND IRISH INDUSTRY REMAINED BACKWARD, EXCEPT AROUND BELFAST WHERE SHIPBUILDING AND LINEN WEAVING CARRIED ON WITH ENGLISH CAPITAL.

IT IS FOR THIS REASON THAT THE ENGLISH RULING CLASS HAVE BEEN SO DETERMINED TO PREVENT HOME RULE TO THE NORTH.

AFTER THE AMERICAN WAR OF INDEPENDENCE, IN WHICH THOUSANDS OF IRISH EMIGRANTS SERVED WITH DISTINCTION, MANY OF THESE OLD SOLDIERS WERE READY TO PUT THEIR MILITARY SKILL TO SERVE IRELAND.

‘THE FENIAN BROTHERHOOD’ ROSE IN PARIS. IT GAINED IRISH STRENGTH ONLY FOR PLANS OF A RISING TO BE BETRAYED TO THE ENGLISH GOVERNMENT AND WAS CRUSHED.

THE ‘LAND LEAGUE’ OF 1879, SET UP TO DEFEND THE ECONOMIC INTEREST OF THE PEASANTS, SUCCEEDED AND TRANSFORMED INTO A NATIONWIDE RESISTANCE MOVEMENT AGAINST LANDLORDS AND GOVERNMENT.

GLADSTONE’S REACTION WAS TO INTRODUCE THE COERCION ACT OF 1881: ANYONE SUSPECTED OF SUPPORTING THE ‘LAND LEAGUE’ WOULD BE IMPRISONED WITHOUT TRIAL.

PARNELL WAS ARRESTED, BUT HE AGREED TO END THE VIOLENCE IF THE ENGLISH WOULD LEGISLATE AGAINST THE EVICTIONS.

AFTER HIS RELEASE IN 1882, THE NEW IRISH SECRETARY, LORD CAVENDISH, WAS ASSASSINATED IN PHOENIX PARK, AND PARNEL TURNED HIS EFFORTS TO A CAMPAIGN FOR HOME RULE - THAT IS SELF GOVERNMENT WITHIN THE EMPIRE.

THIS TACTIC WON MUCH ENGLISH SUPPORT AND ACHIEVED CONSESSIONS, BUT IT LED PARNELL AND THE IRISH NATIONALIST PARTY INTO EVER MORE DEPTHS OF OPPORTUNISM, UNTIL IN 1914 LEADER REDMOND TOLD THE HOUSE OF COMMONS OF IRISH SUPPORT IN THE EVENT OF WAR.

THAT PLEDGE WAS THE DEATH SENTENCE FOR PARNELL’S PARTY.

HOWEVER, THE CONSESSION WAS ‘THE KILMAINLAM TREATY’: FIXED RENTS FOR 15 YEARS AND NO EVICTIONS. ‘THE LAND PURCHASE ACT’ LET TENANTS BUY THEIR FARMS WITH ANNUAL PAYENTS INSTEAD OF PAYING RENTS.

ALL THIS WAS DONE TO SAVE THE LANDLORDS FROM RUIN, AND, IF THE LAND LEAGUE HAD CONTINUED ITS ACTIVITY, SO MUCH MORE COULD HAVE BEEN FOR IRELAND.

THE YOUNG REVOLUTIONARY TP O’CONNOR SAID THAT “GLADSTONE’S POLICY WAS TO FIX A RELATION BETWEEN THE LANDLORD AND TENANT, WHEREAS THE POLICY OF THE LEAGUE WAS TO ABOLISH THE RELATION AND TRAMPLE LANDLORDISM BENEATH ITS HEELS.”

IN 1886, GLADSTONE ATTEMPTED TO END NATIONALIST AGITATION BY A HOMERULE BILL, BUT IT FAILED, AS DID A SECOND BILL IN 1893 BY BALFOUR.

THE WHOLE HISTORY OF IRELAND HAS BEEN A STRUGGLE BY PEASANTS AND WORKERS TO FREE THEMSELVES FROM ENGLISH EXPLOITATION OF THEIR LAND AND FROM THE IRISH LANDLORDS LIVING IN ENGLAND.

INDEED, IRISH ARISTOCRACY HAS ALWAYS BEEN MORE HOSTILE TO ITS TENANTS THAN TO THE ENGLISH.

THE UNITED IRISHMEN DECLARED IN 1751:

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