Profreading: Einde O’Callaghan, December 2006.

The former prominent colonial bureaucrat of Great Britain, Sir Roger Casement, by conviction a revolutionary Irish nationalist, the go-between for Germany and the Irish uprising, on being sentenced to death declared, ‘I prefer to sit on the bench of the accused than in the seat of the accuser,’ before the reading of the sentence, which ran according to the old formula that Casement should be ‘hung by the neck until dead’, at which God was invited to have mercy on his soul.

Should the sentence be carried out? This question must have given Asquith and Lloyd George many troubled hours. To execute Casement would make it even more difficult for the opportunist, nationalist and purely parliamentary Irish party, led by Redmond, to ratify a new compromise with the government of the UK on the blood of the insurrectionaries. To pardon Casement, after having carried out so many executions, would mean an open ‘display of indulgence to a high-ranking traitor’. This is the demagogic tune of the British social-imperialists of the Hyndman type – downright blood-thirsty hooligans. But however the personal fate of Casement is resolved the sentence on him will bring to a conclusion the dramatic episode of the Irish uprising.

In so far as the affair concerned the purely military operations of the insurrectionaries, the government, as we know, turned out comparatively easily to be master of the situation. The general national movement, however it was expressed in the heads of the nationalist dreamers, did not materialize at all. The Irish countryside did not rise up. The Irish bourgeoisie, as also the upper, more influential layer of the Irish intelligentsia, remained on the sidelines. The urban workers fought and died, together with revolutionary enthusiasts from the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia. The historical basis for the national revolution had disappeared even in backward Ireland. Inasmuch as the Irish movements in the last century had assumed a popular character, they had invariably fed on the social hostility of the deprived and exhausted pauper-farmer towards the omnipotent English landlord.

But if for the latter Ireland was only an object of agrarian plunder and exploitation, for British imperialism it was a necessary guarantee of their dominion over the seas. In a pamphlet written on the eve of the war, Casement, speculating about Germany, proves that the independence of Ireland means the ‘freedom of the seas’ and the death blow to the naval domination of Britain. This is true in so far as an ‘independent’ Ireland could exist only as an outpost of an imperialist state hostile to Britain and as its military naval base against British supremacy over the sea routes. It was Gladstone who first expounded with full clarity the military imperialist consideration of Great Britain over the interests of the Anglo-Irish landlords and laid the basis for the wide agrarian legislation by which the state transferred to the Irish farmers the landlords’ land, very generously compensating the latter, of course. Anyway, after the agrarian reforms of 1881-1903, the farmers turned into conservative small property owners, whose gaze the green banner of national independence is no longer able to tear away from their plots of land.

The redundant Irish intelligentsia flowed in their thousands into the towns of Great Britain as lawyers, journalists, commercial employees, etc. In this way, for the majority of them, the ‘national question’ got lost. On the other hand, the independent Irish commercial and industrial bourgeoisie, in so far as it has formed over the past decades, immediately adopted an antagonistic position towards the young Irish proletariat, giving up the national revolutionary struggle and entering the camp of imperialism. The young Irish working class, taking shape in an atmosphere saturated with the heroic recollections of national rebellions, and clashing with the egoistic, narrow-minded, imperial arrogance of British trade unionism, naturally swing between nationalism and syndicalism, ever ready to unite these two concepts in their revolutionary consciousness. It attracts the young intelligentsia and individual nationalist enthusiasts, who, in their turn, supply the movement with a preponderance of the green flag over the red. In this way, the ‘national revolution’, even in Ireland, in practice has become an uprising of workers, and the obviously isolated position of Casement in the movement only serves to emphasize this fact still deeper.

In a pathetic and shameful article, Plekhanov recently pointed to the ‘harmful’ character of the Irish uprising for the cause of freedom, rejoicing that the Irish nation ‘to their credit’ had realized this and not supported the revolutionary madmen. Only complete patriotic softening of all the joints could lead anyone to interpret the situation as if the Irish peasants had declined to participate in the revolution from the standpoint of the international situation, thus saving the ‘honour’ of Ireland. In actual fact they were led only by the obtuse egoism of the farmer and complete indifference to everything beyond the bounds of their plots of land. It was precisely because of this and only this that they supplied the London government with such a quick victory over the heroic defenders of the Dublin barricades. The undoubted personal courage, representing the hopes and methods of the past, is over. But the historical role of the Irish proletariat is only beginning. Already into this uprising – under an archaic banner – it has injected its class resentment against militarism and imperialism. That resentment from now on will not subside. On the contrary, it will find an echo throughout Great Britain. Scottish soldiers smashed the Dublin barricades. But in Scotland itself coal-miners are rallying round the red flag, raised by Maclean and his friends. Those very workers, who at the moment the Hendersons are trying to chain to the bloody chariot of imperialism, will revenge themselves against the hangman Lloyd George.

(Nashe Slovo, 4 July 1916)


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.

(May 1916)

The Irish Rebellion of 1916

By V. I. Lenin

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 [Vietnam] and in the German Cameroons; 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 be 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?

A ‘putsch’ or national rebellion?

On May 9, 1916, there appeared, in Berner Tagwacht, the organ of the Zimmerwald group (1), 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….

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 (Vorwarts, 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 semiproletarian 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 be a social revolution! Only those who hold such a ridiculously pedantic view would 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 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 the 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 and 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 be able to unite and direct it, capture power, seize the banks, expropriate the trusts which all hate (though for different 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 read in the Polish theses, must utilize the struggle of the young colonial bourgeoisie against European imperialism in order to sharpen the revolutionary crisis in Europe.

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 the iron discipline of the army and martial law, will sharpen the revolutionary crisis in Europe to an infinitely greater degree than a much more developed rebellion in a remote colony.

A blow delivered against the 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.

1. Zimmerwald, Switzerland, was the location of a September 1915 international conference of Socialists who opposed voting for war credits for their governments. The Zimmerwald group refers to supporters of this international current. Lenin led a left wing at that conference, and his supporters were known as the Zimmerwald Left.

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