‘The Irish Rebellion in 1916’ by V.I. Lenin from The Communist. Vol. 11 No. 1. January, 1931.

An early translation, this one by Alexander Trachtenberg, of the last section of Lenin’s ‘The Discussion On Self-Determination Summed Up’ on the Irish revolt of Easter 1916. Written in July, 1916 and published in October 1916 in Sbornik Sotsial-Demokrata, this version was printed The Communist as an example in the Communist Party’s discussion on Black self-determination in the U.S.

‘The Irish Rebellion in 1916’ by V.I. Lenin from The Communist. Vol. 11 No. 1. January, 1931.

Our theses were written prior to this rebellion which should serve as material for checking up the correctness of our theoretical views.

The views of the opponents of self-determination lead to the conclusion that the life energies of small nations, oppressed by imperialism, are already exhausted, that they are not capable of playing any role of active opposition to imperialism, that support of their purely nationalistic aims would lead to nowhere, etc. ‘The experience of the imperialist war 1914-1916 supplies a factual repudiation of such and similar conclusions.

The war proved to be the epoch of crisis for western European nations, for imperialism as a whole. Every crisis discards what is merely conditional, tears off the outside wrappings, throws off everything that has outlived its usefulness, reveals the deepest inner moving springs and forces. And what did it reveal from the point of view of the movement of oppressed nations? In the colonies—a whole series of attempts at rebellions, which, of course, the oppressing nations were trying by all means to hide with the aid of military censorship. But, notwithstanding this, it is well known that the English have revenged themselves in a beastly manner on their rebellious Indian troops in Singapore; that there were attempts at rebellion in the French Annam (see Nashe Slovo) and in the German Cameroon (see the pamphlet of Junius); that in Europe, on the one hand, Ireland rebelled and was pacified by means of executions by the “freedom-loving” Englishmen, who did not dare to draft the Irish into general military service; and, on the other hand, the Austrian government sentenced to death deputies of the Czech Seim for “treason” and entire Czech military divisions were shot for the same crime.

It stands to reason the above list is by no means complete. But at the same time it proves that the flickering fires of national uprisings, in connection with the crisis of imperialism, did flare up both in Europe and in the colonies. Sympathies and antipathies did reveal themselves despite all threats and measures of repression.

And this at a time when the crisis of imperialism was as yet very far from having reached the highest point of its development. The might of the imperialist bourgeoisie was as yet intact, not undermined (war to the point of exhaustion might lead to this, but as yet had not done so); the proletarian movements within the imperialist nations were as yet decidedly weak. But what will happen at a time when the war will have led to complete exhaustion, or when under the blows of proletarian struggle, the power of the bourgeoisie even of only one nation will begin to shake as the power of czarism did in 1905?

In the newspaper Berner Tagwacht, the organ of the Zimmerwaldists, including some of the left wingers, there appeared May 9, 1916, an article with the initials K. R., dealing with the Irish rebellion, under the title The Swan Song. The Irish rebellion was declared to be a mere putsch, because “the Irish question was an agrarian question,” the peasants were pacified with reforms, the nationalist movement had become “purely” city, petty bourgeois movement which, despite the big noise it was making, had little special significance.

No wonder that this evaluation so monstrous in its doctrinairism and pedantry, coincided with an evaluation given by the Russian national-liberal, the cadet, Mr. A. Kulisher (Retch, 1916, No. 102, April 15), who also called the rebellion the “Dublin Putsch.”

It is to be hoped that, according to the saying, “there is no evil without some good in it,” that many comrades who do not realize into what a swamp they are slipping in denying “self-determination” and taking up a contemptuous attitude towards the national movements of small nations, will have their eyes opened by this “accidental” similarity of evaluation by a representative of the imperialist bourgeoisie and a social-democrat!

About a putsch in the scientific sense of the word one may speak only in case an attempt at rebellion did not reveal anything else in back of it but a small group of plotters and absurd maniacs, did not call forth any sympathy from the masses. The Irish national movement with centuries of history behind it, having passed through various stages and combinations of class interests, found its expression among other things in the mass Irish National Congress in America (Vorwarts, March 20, 1916) that had declared itself for the independence of Ireland, in street battles engaged in by a part of the city petty bourgeoisie together with a part of the workers after a long drawn out mass agitation, demonstrations, suppressions of newspapers, etc. Whoever calls such an uprising a putsch is either a bitter reactionary or a doctrinaire, hopelessly incapable of imagining a social revolution as a living phenomena.

For to think that a social revolution is possible without rebellions of small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without revolutionary explosions of a part of the small bourgeoisie with all its prejudices, without a movement of the non-class conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against feudal, ecclesiastical, monarchial, national, etc. oppression—to think that way is to give up the social revolution. Presumably we must only set up in one place a military force that will declare, “we are for socialism,” and at another place another force that will say, “we are for imperialism,” and we will have the social revolution! Only one with such a ridiculous pedantic viewpoint would find it possible to label the Irish rebellion as a putsch.

Whoever is looking for a “pure” social revolution, will never live to see it. He is a revolutionist in words only, but does not understand the real revolution.

The Russian revolution of 1905 was a bourgeois-democratic revolution. It was made up of a series of battles of all dissatisfied classes, groups and elements of the population. Among them there were masses with the wildest kind of prejudices, with the most confused and fantastic objects of struggle, there were some small groups financed by the Japanese, there were speculators, adventurers, etc. Objectively the movement of the masses was breaking up czarism and was clearing the way for democracy and therefore the class conscious workers were directing it.

The Socialist revolution in Europe cannot be anything else but an application of a mass struggle of every element of oppressed and dissatisfied. A part of the petty bourgeoisie and of the backward workers will inevitably take part in it—without such participation no mass struggle and no revolution of any kind is possible— and just as inevitably will they carry into the movement their prejudices, their reactionary fantasies, their weaknesses and errors. But objectively they will be attacking capital and the conscious vanguard of the revolution, the advanced proletariat, expressing this objective truth of the superficially incoherent mass struggle of various elements, voices and colors, will find a way to unify and direct it, to conquer power, take hold of the banks, expropriate the trusts, so hateful to all (though for different reasons) and carry out other measures of dictatorship, that in their total effect will result in the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and in the victory of Socialism which however, will not succeed at once in cleansing away all petty bourgeois dross.

The social democracy we read in the Polish thesis (1.4) “should utilize the struggle of the young colonial bourgeoisie, directed against European imperialism, in order to sharpen the revolutionary crisis in Europe.” (Emphasis by the authors.)

Is it not clear that it is wholly impermissible in this connection to contrast Europe with the colonies? The struggle of oppressed nations in Europe, developing into uprisings and street battles, reaching violation of the iron discipline of the army, and declaration of state of siege, that struggle will produce a vastly sharper revolutionary crisis in Europe than the much further developed, much more advanced rebellion in a distant colony. A blow of equal strength when struck against the power of the English imperialist bourgeoisie by a rebellion in Ireland will have a hundred times greater political effect than if it occurred in Asia or Africa.

Not long ago the French chauvinist press informed us that the eightieth number of the illegal journal Free Belgium made its appearance. Of course the French chauvinist press very often lies, but this information resembles the truth. At a time when the chauvinist and Kautskian German social-democracy failed to establish for itself during the course of years of war a independent press and slavishly submitting to the yoke of military censorship (only the left radical elements, to their credit, were issuing pamphlets and proclamations without the censor), at that time an oppressed cultured nation replied to the unheard of cruelties of military oppression by the creation of an organ of revolutionary protest! Such are the dialectics of history, that small nations, helpless as an independent factor in a struggle with imperialism, are nevertheless able to play a role as one of the ferments as a kind of bacilla that help to bring upon the scene the real power against imperialism— the socialist proletariat.

All the general army headquarters are making strenuous efforts during the present war to utilize each and every kind of national and revolutionary movement in the camp of their enemies, the Germans—the Irish rebellion, the French—the Czech movement, etc. And they act correctly from their own point of view. You cannot take seriously the very serious problem of war, without utilizing even the least weakness of your adversary without grasping every chance, especially, because it is impossible to know beforehand, at what particular movement and with what particular force, here or there, one or another powder magazine will explode. We would be a sorry lot of revolutionists indeed, if we did not know how to utilize, during the great liberation struggle of the proletariat for Socialism, each and every movement of the people against isolated grievances brought about by imperialism, to utilize them in the interest of a further sharpening and spreading of the crisis. If we were, on the one hand, to proclaim and to repeat in thousands of ways that we are against any kind of national oppression, and, on the other hand, to stigmatize as a putsch the heroic rising of the most mobile and intellectual section of some classes of the oppressed nations against its oppression, then, indeed, we would have reduced ourselves to the same dull level of the Kautskyists.

The misfortune of the Irish consisted in the fact that their rebellion did not happen to be timed well—the European rebellion of the proletariat had not yet ripened. Capitalism is not constructed in such a harmonious fashion, that all the different mainsprings of rebellion shall spontaneously and without failures and defeats, flow at once into one common torrent. On the contrary, the very discord in point of time, kind and place of those rebellions is the guarantee of the breadth and depth of the general movement; only through the experience of revolutionary movements are untimely, fractional, disunited, and therefore unsuccessful, will the masses gain experience, will they learn, gather strength, will they recognize their true leaders, the socialist proletariat, and will thereby prepare the general onslaught, just as isolated strikes, demonstrations, city and national, flare-ups within the army, explosions among the peasantry, etc., prepared the general onslaught in the year 1905.

There were a number of journals with this name in the history of the movement. This ‘The Communist’ was the main theoretical journal of the Communist Party from 1927 until 1944. Its origins lie with the folding of The Liberator, Soviet Russia Pictorial, and Labor Herald together into Workers Monthly as the new unified Communist Party’s official cultural and discussion magazine in November, 1924. Workers Monthly became The Communist in March ,1927 and was also published monthly. The Communist contains the most thorough archive of the Communist Party’s positions and thinking during its run. The New Masses became the main cultural vehicle for the CP and the Communist, though it began with with more vibrancy and discussion, became increasingly an organ of Comintern and CP program. Over its run the tagline went from “A Theoretical Magazine for the Discussion of Revolutionary Problems” to “A Magazine of the Theory and Practice of Marxism-Leninism” to “A Marxist Magazine Devoted to Advancement of Democratic Thought and Action.” The aesthetic of the journal also changed dramatically over its years. Editors included Earl Browder, Alex Bittelman, Max Bedacht, and Bertram D. Wolfe.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/communist/v11n01-jan-1932-communist.pdf

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s