[Marxism] RE: Marx , Engels and racism

Einde O'Callaghan einde at gmx.de
Mon Jul 3 16:23:14 MDT 2006

Louis Proyect schrieb:
> Ali misunderstood my question and dealt with the obviously off-the-cuff 
> crudities in the personal correspondence, one of which
> was picked up by Neue Einheit. There are many. Ali explained that in the 
> absence of a telephone, 19th century (or earlier) figures could
> only communicate through letters. These letters were not meant for 
> posterity; they were the equivalent of a phone call or private email.
> Marx and Engels were only human. Nobody could expect them to maintain a 
> lofty tone in private correspondence, only that their public
> utterances remain true to the overall spirit of socialism. On this 
> basis, they exceed admirably with the occasional exception like
> Engels' awful comments on the Irish in "Conditions of the Working Class 
> in England".
I actually don't think that Engels' remarks about the Irish in 
Manchester In "Conditions ..." can or should be understood as racist. 
I've looked into the question a little and have come to the conclusion 
that the conditions and attitudes he describes were the result of the 
absolute degradation and impoverishment of the Irish peasantry under the 
land tenure system, known as rack-renting, in existence in Ireland at 
the time. The peasants tended to live in absolute squalor because the 
slightest im provement of their land or living conditions would lead to 
a rent increase even if they paid for the improvement out of their own 
pockets (which given the level of poverty was unlikely anyway). One 
study I read many years ago indicated that ether drinking - a practice 
that leads to almost instantaneous stupor - was rampant among the 
peasantry in many parts of Ireland because even alcohol in the form of 
"poteen", Irish moonshine, was not effective enough in shutting out the 
horrible reality of life under the existing conditions.

We should also not forget that Engels formed a lasting attachment to the 
Irish cause during this period, at least partly through his relationship 
with Mary and Lizzie Burns, so I would discount any accusations of 
anti-Irish racism on Engels' part.

Einde O'Callaghan

More information about the Marxism mailing list