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We are either for Ireland or for British imperialism.

There is a movement for independence in Ireland. On whose side are we, comrades? We are either for Ireland or for British imperialism. And I ask: Are we on the side of the peoples which are resisting oppression, or on the side of the classes which are oppressing them? We say that inasmuch as the Social-Democrats are steering for a socialist revolution, they must support the revolutionary movement of the peoples, which is directed against imperialism.

Either we consider that we must create a rear for the vanguard of the socialist revolution in the shape of the peoples which are rising against national oppression — and in that case we shall build a bridge between West and East and shall indeed be steering for a world socialist revolution; or we do not do this—and in that case we shall find ourselves isolated and shall be abandoning the tactics of utilizing every revolutionary movement among the oppressed nationalities for the purpose of destroying imperialism.

We must support every movement directed against imperialism.

Is not the Irish movement against British imperialism a democratic movement which is striking a blow at imperialism? And ought we not to support that movement?

Stalin, Works: Volume 3, The Seventh (April) Conference of the R.S.D.L.P. (Bolsheviks)

April 24-29, 1917

* * *

"The existence of capitalism without national oppression is just as inconceivable as the existence of socialism without the liberation of the oppressed nations, without national freedom."

Stalin, Works: Volume 5, X Congress of the CPR (B)

February 10, 1921





The Irish Rebellion of 1916

"A blow to the English bourgeoisie"


Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 22, "The Discussion On Self-Determination Summed Up", 10. The Irish Rebellion of 1916

written in July 1916

Our theses were written before the outbreak of this rebellion, which must be the touchstone of our theoretical views.

The views of the opponents of self-determination lead to the conclusion that the vitality of small nations oppressed by imperialism has already been sapped, that they cannot play any role against imperialism, that support of their purely national aspirations will lead to nothing, etc. The imperialist war of 1914–16 has provided facts which refute such conclusions.

The war proved to be an epoch of crisis for the West-European nations, and for imperialism as a whole. Every crisis discards the conventionalities, tears away the outer wrappings, sweeps away the obsolete and reveals the underlying springs and forces. What has it revealed from the standpoint of the movement of oppressed nations! In the colonies there have been a number of attempts at rebellion, which the oppressor nations, naturally did all they could to hide by means of a military censorship. Nevertheless, it is known that in Singapore the British brutally suppressed a mutiny Among their Indian troops; that there were attempts at rebellion in French Annam (see Nashe Slovo) and in the German Cameroons (see the Junius pamphlet ); that in Europe, on the one hand, there was a rebellion in Ireland, which the “freedom-loving” English, who did not dare to extend conscription to Ireland, suppressed by executions, and, on the other, the Austrian Government passed the death sentence on the deputies of the Czech Diet “for treason”, and shot whole Czech regiments for the same “crime”.

This list is, of course, far from complete. Nevertheless, it proves that, owing to the crisis of imperialism, the flames of national revolt have flared up both in the colonies and in Europe, and that national sympathies and antipathies have manifested themselves in spite of the Draconian threats and measures of repression. All this before the crisis of imperialism hit its peak; the power of the imperialist bourgeoisie was yet to be undermined (this may he brought about by a war of “attrition” but has not yet happened) and the proletarian movements in the imperialist countries were still very feeble. What will happen when the war has caused complete exhaustion, or when, in one state at least, the power of the bourgeoisie has been shaken under the blows of proletarian struggle, as that of tsarism in 1905?

On May 9, 1916, there appeared in Berner Tagwacht the organ of the Zimmerwald group, including some of the Leftists, an article on the Irish rebellion entitled “Their Song Is Over” and signed with the initials K. R. It described the Irish rebellion as being nothing more nor less than a “putsch”, for, as the author argued, “the Irish question was an agrarian one”, the peasants had been pacified by reforms, and the nationalist movement remained only a “purely urban, petty-bourgeois movement, which, notwithstanding the sensation it caused, had not much social backing”.

It is not surprising that this monstrously doctrinaire and pedantic assessment coincided with that of a Russian national-liberal Cadet, Mr. A. Kulisher (Rech No. 102, April 15, 1916), who also labeled the rebellion “the Dublin putsch”.

It is to be hoped that, in accordance with the adage, “it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good”, many comrades, who were not aware of the morass they were sinking into by repudiating “self-determination” and by treating the national movements of small nations with disdain, will have their eyes opened by the “accidental” coincidence of opinion held by a Social-Democrat and a representative of the imperialist bourgeoisie!!

The term “putsch”, in its scientific sense, may be employed only when the attempt at insurrection has revealed nothing but a circle of conspirators or stupid maniacs, and has aroused no sympathy among the masses. The centuries-old Irish national movement, having passed through various stages and combinations of class interest, manifested itself, in particular, in a mass Irish National Congress in America Vorworts, March 20, 1916) which called for Irish independence; it also manifested itself in street fighting conducted by a section of the urban petty bourgeoisie and a section of the workers after a long period of mass agitation, demonstrations, suppression of newspapers, etc. Whoever calls such a rebellion a “putsch” is either a hardened reactionary, or a doctrinaire hopelessly incapable of envisaging a social revolution as a living phenomenon.

To imagine that social revolution is conceivable without revolts by small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without revolutionary outbursts by a section of the petty bourgeoisie with all its prejudices, without a movement of the politically non-conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against oppression by the landowners, the church, and the monarchy, against national oppression, etc.-to imagine all this is to repudiate social revolution. So one army lines up in one place and says, “We are for socialism”, and another, somewhere else and says, “We are for imperialism”, and that will he a social revolution! Only those who hold such a ridiculously pedantic view could vilify the Irish rebellion by calling it a “putsch”.

Whoever expects a “pure” social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip-service to revolution without understanding what revolution is.

The Russian Revolution of 1905 was a bourgeois-democratic revolution. It consisted of a series of battles in which all the discontented classes, groups and elements of the population participated. Among these there were masses imbued with the crudest prejudices, with the vaguest slid most fantastic aims of struggle; there were small groups which accepted Japanese money, there were speculators and adventurers, etc. But objectively, the mass movement was breaking the hack of tsarism and paving the way for democracy; for this reason the class-conscious workers led it.

The socialist revolution in Europe cannot be anything other than an outburst of mass struggle on the part of all and sundry oppressed and discontented elements. Inevitably, sections of tile petty bourgeoisie and of the backward workers will participate in it—without such participation, mass struggle is impossible, without it no revolution is possible—and just as inevitably will they bring into the movement their prejudices, their reactionary fantasies, their weaknesses slid errors. But objectively they will attack capital, and the class-conscious vanguard of the revolution, the advanced proletariat, expressing this objective truth of a variegated and discordant, motley and outwardly fragmented, mass struggle, will he able to unite and direct it, capture power, seize the banks, expropriate the trusts which all hate (though for difficult reasons!), and introduce other dictatorial measures which in their totality will amount to the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the victory of socialism, which, however, will by no means immediately “purge” itself of petty-bourgeois slag.

Social-Democracy, we road in the Polish theses (I, 4), “must utilise the struggle of the young colonial bourgeoisie against European imperialism in order to sharpen the revolutionary crisis in Europe”. (Authors’ italics.)

Is it not clear that it is least of all permissible to contrast Europe to the colonies in this respect? The struggle of the oppressed nations in Europe, a struggle capable of going all the way to insurrection and street fighting, capable of breaking down tile iron discipline of the army and martial law, will “sharpen the revolutionary crisis ill Europe” to an infinitely greater degree than a much more developed rebellion in a remote colony. A blow delivered against tile power of the English imperialist bourgeoisie by a rebellion in Ireland is a hundred times more significant politically than a blow of equal force delivered in Asia or in Africa.

The French chauvinist press recently reported the publication in Belgium of the eightieth issue of an illegal journal, Free Belgium. Of course, the chauvinist press of France very often lies, but this piece of news seems to he true. Whereas chauvinist and Kautskyite German Social-Democracy has failed to establish a free press for itself during the two years of war, and has meekly borne the yoke of military censorship (only the Left Radical elements, to their credit be it said, have published pamphlets and manifestos, in spite of the censorship)—an oppressed civilised nation has reacted to a military oppression unparalleled in ferocity by establishing an organ of revolutionary protest! The dialectics of history are such that small nations, powerless as an independent factor in the struggle against imperialism, play a part as one of the ferments, one of the bacilli, which help the real anti-imperialist force, the socialist proletariat, to make its appearance on the scene.

The general staffs in the current war are doing their utmost to utilise any national and revolutionary movement in the enemy camp: the Germans utilise the Irish rebellion, tire French—the Czech movement, etc. They are acting quite correctly from their own point of view. A serious war would not be treated seriously if advantage were not taken of the enemy’s slightest weakness and if every opportunity that presented itself were not seized upon, the more, so since it is impossible to know beforehand at what moment, whore, and with what force some powder magazine will “explode”. We would be very poor revolutionaries if, in the proletariat’s great war of Liberation for socialism, we did not know how to utilise every popular movement against every single disaster imperialism brings in order to intensify and extend the crisis. If we were, on the one hand, to repeat in a thousand keys the declaration that we are “opposed” to all national oppression and, on the other, to describe the heroic revolt of the most mobile and enlightened section of certain classes in an oppressed nation against its oppressors as a “putsch”, we should be sinking to the same level of stupidity as the Kautskyites.

It is the misfortune of the Irish that they rose prematurely, before the European revolt of the proletariat had had time to mature. Capitalism is not so harmoniously built that the various sources of rebellion can immediately merge of their own accord, without reverses and defeats. On the other hand, the very fact that revolts do break out at different times, in different places, and are of different kinds, guarantees wide scope and depth to the general movement; but it is only in premature, individual, sporadic and therefore unsuccessful, revolutionary movements that the masses gain experience, acquire knowledge, gather strength, and get to know their real leaders, the socialist proletarians, and in this way prepare for the general onslaught, just as certain strikes, demonstrations, local and national, mutinies in the army, outbreaks among the peasantry, etc., prepared the way for the general onslaught in 1905.



The British Liberals and Ireland

Put Pravdy No. 34, March 12, 1914. Published according to the text in Put Pravdy.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Volume 20, pages 148-151.

What is taking place today in the British Parliament in connection with the Bill on Irish Home Rule is of exceptional interest as far as class relationships and elucidation of the national and the agrarian problems are concerned.

For centuries England has enslaved Ireland, condemned the Irish peasants to unparalleled misery and gradual extinction from starvation, driven them off the land and compelled hundreds of thousands and even millions of them to leave their native country and emigrate to America. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Ireland had a population of five and a half millions; today the population is only four and one-third millions. Ireland has become depopulated. Over five million Irish emigrated to America in the course of the nineteenth century, so that there are now more Irish in the United States than there are in Ireland!

The appalling destitution and sufferings of the Irish peasantry are an instructive example of the lengths to which the landowners and the liberal bourgeoisie of a “dominant” nation will go. Britain owes her “brilliant” economic development and the “prosperity” of her industry and commerce largely to her treatment of the Irish peasantry, which recalls the misdeeds of the Russian serf-owner Saltychikha.[1]

While Britain “flourished”, Ireland moved towards extinction and remained an undeveloped, semi-barbarous, purely agrarian country, a land of poverty-stricken tenant farmers. But much as the “enlightened and liberal” British bourgeoisie desired to perpetuate Ireland’s enslavement and poverty, reform inevitably approached, the more so that the revolutionary eruptions of the Irish people’s fight for liberty and land became more and more ominous. The year 1861 saw   the formation of the Irish revolutionary organisation of Fenians. Irish settlers in America gave it every assistance.

With the formation, in 1868, of the government of Gladstone—that hero of the liberal bourgeoisie and obtuse philistines—the era of reform in Ireland set in, an era which has dragged on very nicely till the present day, i.e., just under half a century. Oh, the wise statesmen of the liberal bourgeoisie are very well able to “make haste slowly” in the matter of reform!

Karl Marx, who had been living in London for over fifteen years, followed the struggle of the Irish with great interest and sympathy. He wrote to Frederick Engels on November 2, 1867: “I have done my best to bring about this demonstration of the English workers in favour of Fenianism.... I used to think the separation of Ireland from England impossible. I now think it inevitable, although after the separation there may come federation....” Reverting to the same subject in a letter dated November 30th of the same year, Marx wrote: “The question now is, what shall we advise the English workers? In my opinion they must make the repeal of the Union [the abolition of the union with Ireland] (in short, the affair of 1783, only democratised and adapted to the conditions of the time) an article of their pronunziamento. This is the only legal and therefore only possible form of Irish emancipation which can be admitted in the programme of an English [workers’] party.”[2] And Marx went on to show that what the Irish needed was Home Rule and independence of Britain, an agrarian revolution and tariffs against Britain.

Such was the programme proposed to the British workers by Marx, in the interests of Irish freedom, of accelerating the social development and freedom of the British workers; because the British workers could not become free so long as they helped to keep another nation in slavery (or even allowed it).

Alas! Owing to a number of special historical causes, the British workers of the last third of the nineteenth century proved dependent upon the Liberals, impregnated with the spirit of liberal-labour policy. They proved to be, not at the head of nations and classes fighting for liberty, but in   the wake of the contemptible lackeys of the money-bags, the British Liberals.

And the Liberals have for half a century been dragging out Ireland’s liberation, which has not been completed to this day! It was not until the twentieth century that the Irish peasant began to turn from a tenant farmer into a free holder; but the Liberals have imposed upon him a system of land purchase at a “fair” price! He has paid, and will continue to pay for many years, millions upon millions to the British landlords as a reward for their having robbed him for centuries and reduced him to a state of chronic starvation. The British liberal bourgeois has made the Irish peasant thank the landlord for this in hard cash....

A Home Rule Bill for Ireland is now going through Parliament. But in Ireland there is the Northern province of Ulster, which is inhabited partly by English-born Protestants as distinct from the Catholic Irish. Well then, the British Conservatives, led by Carson, the British version of our Black-Hundred landlord Purishkevich, have raised a frightful outcry against Irish Home Rule. This, they say, means subjecting Ulstermen to an alien people of alien creed! Lord Carson has threatened rebellion, and has organised gangs of reactionary armed thugs for this purpose.

An empty threat, of course. There can be no question of a rebellion by a handful of hoodlums. Nor could there be any question of an Irish Parliament (whose powers are determined by British law) “oppressing” the Protestants.

It is simply a question of the reactionary landlords trying to scare the Liberals.

And the Liberals are losing their nerve, bowing to the reactionaries, making concessions to them, offering to conduct a referendum in Ulster and put off reform for Ulster for six years!

The haggling between the Liberals and the reactionaries continues. Reform can wait: the Irish have waited half a century; they can wait a little longer; you can’t very well “offend” the landlords!

Of course, if the Liberals appealed to the people of Britain, to the proletariat, Carson’s reactionary gangs would melt away immediately and disappear. The peaceful and full achievement of freedom by Ireland would be guaranteed.

But is it conceivable that the liberal bourgeois will turn to the proletariat for aid against the landlords? Why, the Liberals in Britain are also lackeys of the money-bags,capable only of cringing to the Carsons.



[1] Saltychikha (Saltykova, D. I.) (1730–1801)—a landowner, notorious for her brutal treatment of her serfs. She was responsible for the death of 139 peasants. The name Saltychikha became a synonym for bestial treatment of the peasants by the feudalist squirearchy.

[2] See Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1955, p. 236.



Marx and Engels, Lenin

on the Irish Revolution





The Voice of Ireland