1940s >> 1947 >> no-518-october-1947

A Letter To An Irish Worker

Not far away lies the country where you were born, Ireland—Ireland, geographically, but not politically. Politically, there are two lands—as you know—Eire and Northern Ireland. Ireland as a geographical unit does exist—Ireland as a nation, no.

Unpalatable as this fact may appear to you and the majority of Irishmen and women in this country it remains none the less a fact and to ignore it in any review of the situation in Ireland would be sheer folly, if not deceit. More important still: since it is the position of the working class with which I am concerned it is from that class point of view that I examine Ireland. To express any other point of view but the working class one would not only be detrimental to the real interests of Irish workers both here and in Ireland, but would also be tantamount to a surrendering of my Socialist principles.

At present you are being asked to give your support to a campaign to ”end partition in Ireland.” You are asked, as an Irishman, to “help end the unnatural division of Ireland, to make Ireland, once more, as she was in the past, a free and united nation.” Those organisations that are very much interested in getting your support for their nationalist policies are constantly reminding you of “your glorious heritage,” of ”your proud past, your great Irish nation and your nationality.” However, I would urge you to stop and think, and ask yourself what it’s all about—remember, the hand that heartily slaps you on the back may yet conceal a knife.

Ireland, today, represents a glaring example of the utter futility of supporting nationalist parties, from the workers’ view point. From long before the French Revolution to the Civil War of 1920 Irish men, women and children, have died a hundred-and-one deaths through war, famine and pestilence caused either directly or indirectly by the pursuing of this “pure ideal” of national independence. Of course, one can look back upon it all as ‘‘just history” and murmur about the “inevitability of social development.” However, such an attitude is not enough—to stop there is to close your eyes to what is happening now and what may happen in the future. History follows no preordained, inexorable path—it is men who make history, and men who change the world. And because Irish working men and women still give their allegiance and support to this nationalist ideal of a “free and united Ireland” so are they also prepared to follow in the footsteps of those who went before them and lay down their very lives, in one way or another, for something they believe to be in their interests.

And what has been the result of it all in Ireland? What has been achieved through the misery and the suffering and the death of the countless thousands of unnamed Irish peasants and workers? What concrete and tangible gains have been made by those who always bear the brunt of wars, whether national or international? Shall we assess our gains? Surely it is high time we did.

Now, then, note these data: Eire (26 of the 32 Irish counties) is a Republic, an independent state. It has a population of about 3,000,000, of which number 66 persons are considered wealthy to the extent that they receive an average £27 10s. each per day; the great remainder of the population—the working class—being so poor that their income is below the 1939 cost-of-living figure by over 30 per cent. in the cities and 15 per cent. in the country areas; of the 70-odd-thousand registered unemployed members of this population the unmarried man “exists” on the munificent sum of 22s. 6d. per week. Emigrant ships (you’ve experienced the luxurious comfort of these sea-greyhounds!) have carried on an average a daily cargo of 78 Irish men and women to this and other countries since 1922. Slums, hovels and dilapidated houses that constitute “habitable accommodation” for a great many; all the poverty-diseases, of which tuberculosis causes one-half of all the deaths between the ages of 15 and 25 each year. One hundred and forty politicians who prate about “equality of sacrifice” and, at the same time, increase their salaries from £40 to £52 per month while 140,000 old-age pensioners “exist” on £2 10s. per month. Charitable organisations are as much a part of the Irish scene as are the Mountains of Mourne or the Blarney Stone. (One of these organisations issued its 157th annual report in June. That report stated that in Dublin City—capital of this proud “Irish nation,” Eire—about 8.500 families are trying to live on incomes of between five shillings and £1 per week. It continued, in like vein, to enumerate the many afflictions from which the working people of city, town and village suffer; and for the hundredth-and-fifty-seventh time this unctuous, back-slapping Christian organisation, shedding crocodile-tears, bemoaned the fact that to find large families accommodated in one ramshackle room, damp and miserable, without anything like sufficient food, clothing and bedding is a common experience.)

Well, that’s Eire today after a quarter of a century’s self-government. I think you’ll agree that all the “heroic” national struggles that have been waged in Ireland have—so far as the Irish worker and his family is concerned—achieved absolutely nothing. Today, behind the brave talk of the politicians, behind the backs of the cultured gentlemen of the Gaelic League and the language revivalists, beneath the cloak of nationality and religion, lies the stark reality of the slum, of rampant disease, of poor wages, of high prices, of dole and emigration queues—poverty is the daily companion and bed-fellow of the majority of men and women in Ireland.

Yes—of course—there have been changes, the strategically-important seaports are no longer the legal property of the British Government, the British Governor-General is gone, the tricolour now flutters triumphantly in the breeze over Government House in Merrion Square . . . Changes? Well, of a sort; changes which certainly haven’t changed your wage-slave position in the least—and, surely, that’s the one thing worth changing?

No, nationalism has nothing to offer you—except a change of masters. Whether the Eire Government of De Valera or the Northern Ireland Government of Basil Brooke rules the whole, or only part, of Ireland, whether the flag be the tricolour or the Union Jack, whether partition ends or continues, you, as a worker, will in no wise be any better off. Your problems will still continue, will still confront you—worrying you and causing you many a headache—while the present system of society lasts. To solve those problems—which never leave yon, be you in Ireland, Britain, America or any other part of the world—you’ll most certainly have to struggle.

But let your struggle be one against the real origin of your problems, against the system of capitalism, and against those who support it. Struggle against the system which condemns all workers, regardless of the place of their birth being Ireland, Britain, America or anywhere else, to a life-time of toil and poverty, from cradle to grave ; struggle against the wealthy few who, because they own the factories, mines, railways and all of the means and instruments for producing wealth, compel you—because you own nothing—to labour for their benefit.

Your struggle, in common with the struggle of workers everywhere, to be successful must be a revolutionary one. Your aim? To take from the capitalist class its ownership of the means of production and make them the common property of all mankind, without distinction of race or sex. When you’ve achieved that—when you’ve won that revolution — living will really be worthwhile then, it will be a joy and an adventure.

Then things will be produced because people need them and not in order to sell for the purpose of making profit; then poverty will disappear, insecurity vanish, and wars will be nothing but memories . . . That will be Socialism—so, speed the day!

Comradely Yours,

Chris Walsh.