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Proletarian issue 79 (August 2017)
From the writings of Marx on Ireland
From the writings of Marx on Ireland

“The English bourgeoisie has not only exploited the Irish misery to keep down the working class in England by forced immigration of poor Irishmen, it has also divided the proletariat into two hostile camps. The revolutionary ardour of the Celtic worker does not go well with the solid but slow nature of the Anglo-Saxon worker. On the contrary, in all the big industrial centres in England, there is a profound antagonism between the Irish and English proletarians. The average English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who lowers wages and the standard of life. He feels national and religious antipathies for him.

“He regards him practically in the same way the poor whites in the southern states of North America regard the black slaves. This antagonism between the proletarians in England is artificially nourished and kept alive by the bourgeoisie. It knows that this split is the true secret of maintaining its power.

“This antagonism is reproduced also on the other side of the Atlantic. The Irish, driven from their native soil by the oxen and the sheep, reassemble in North America, where they constitute a conspicuous and ever-growing section of the population. Their only thought, their only passion, is hatred for England. The English and American governments (that is, the classes they represent) nourish these passions in order to perpetuate the covert struggle between the United States and England, and thereby prevent a sincere and serious alliance between the working classes on both sides of the Atlantic, and, consequently, their emancipation.

“Furthermore, Ireland is the only pretext the English government has for maintaining a large standing army, which in case of necessity, as has happened before, can be loosed against the English workers after getting its military training in Ireland.

“Finally, England today is seeing a repetition of what happened on a gigantic scale in ancient Rome. A nation that enslaves another forges its own chains.

“The position of the International on the Irish question is thus clear. Its first task is to hasten the social revolution in England. To this end, the decisive blow must be struck in Ireland.”

(Letter from Karl Marx to Dr Ludwig Kugelmann, 28 March 1870)

“After studying the Irish question for many years I have come to the conclusion that the decisive blow against the English ruling classes (and it will be decisive for the workers’ movement all over the world) cannot be delivered in England but only in Ireland ...

“Every industrial and commercial centre in England now possesses a working class divided into two hostile camps, English proletarians and Irish proletarians. The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who lowers his standard of life. In relation to the Irish worker he regards himself as a member of the ruling nation and consequently he becomes a tool of the English aristocrats and capitalists against Ireland, thus strengthening their domination over himself. He cherishes religious, social, and national prejudices against the Irish worker. His attitude towards him is much the same as that of the ‘poor whites’ to the negroes in the former slave states of the USA. The Irishman pays him back with interest in his own money. He sees in the English worker both the accomplice and the stupid tool of the English rulers in Ireland.

“This antagonism is artificially kept alive and intensified by the press, the pulpit, the comic papers, in short, by all the means at the disposal of the ruling classes. This antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organisation. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And the latter is quite aware of this.”

(Letter from Karl Marx to Sigfrid Meyer and August Vogt, 9 April 1870)
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