Question about Ireland

Philip Ferguson plf13 at
Thu Nov 2 21:07:11 MST 2000

Louis writes:

>I ask you, how can you write about England's success in this period without
>writing about Ireland's failure? Aw, don't tell me. I think I know. It is
>called racism.

Liz Curtis' book is fine, but it's also useful to look at Marx and Engels'
book on Ireland ('Marx and Engels on Ireland and the Irish Question'),
which gathers together most of their writing on the subject.  Engels
actually began to write a book on Ireland, learning Gaelic and making
several trips to Ireland to gather primary material.  He argued that
England had not only stunted the development of Ireland, but thrown it back
several centuries.

Lenin later made the point that a great deal of England's success was
bought at the expense of Ireland.

Ireland was methodically plundered for centuries even before the 1600s,
when James I's armies forced the 'Flight of the Earls' from Ulster and
crushed the strongest area of Irish resistance.  The job was finished off a
generation later by Cromwell with mass slaughter.

Ireland was left defeated, plundered and demoralised.

Moreover, all kinds of laws were placed in the way of Irish economic
development.  For instance, the Irish were refused the right to export
fattened livestock, cloth and linen and so on to Britain, denied the right
to trade with Europe and the Americas and so on.  Industry after industry
in Ireland was ruined deliberately in the 1600s and 1700s.

Eventually, in the 1800s the island was depopulated by the Famine of the
1840s and the Encumbered Estates Act (1849), which Marx argued was even
more effective than the Famine in driving people off the land.  Huge tracts
of tillage were converted to pasture to provide cheap protein for the
burgeoning industrial working class in Britain, thus cheapening the cost of
labour-power and boosting profits in Britain.

The English ruling class turned the Famine to great advantage, and there
are very interesting statements on the famine by people like Malthus,
Nassau Senior and other political economists, who saw it as a great
blessing and opportunity for British capitalism.

T.A. Jackson's 'Ireland Her Own' is probably still the classic work to
consult on the history of Ireland during these centuries.

The school of British Marxist historians associated with the CPBG -
Hobsbawm, E.P. Thompson, Christopher Hill etc - certainly wrote some great
stuff, but they always had a massive blind spot when it came to colonialism
and imperialism, especially British rule in Ireland.  The NLR also
reflected this.  When you consider that a revolutionary struggle was
ongoing in Ireland from about 1968-1994, the number of articles in NLR on
Ireland during that whole period could be counted on the fingers of one
hand, and probably still leave a few digits free.

This is an extraordinary blindspot.  I mean, can anyone imagine American
Marxist intellectuals simply ignoring the Vietnam War when it was raging
and producing journals that said nothing about the war?

Philip Ferguson

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