Irish Development and National Self-Determination
The driving force that determined the character of economic development in Ireland from the latter part of the 18th into the early 20th century has been British capitalism. British capitalism has grown at the expense of Irish economic development. The economic development of Ireland has been subordinated to and determined by Britainís mighty economic development.
Economic development is an interconnected process. The specific quality of the production of wealth in the form of commodity production has been its expansion of production through the increase in the social division of labour which produces greater dependence among the producers as well as, of course, increasing anarchy in production. And commodity production in its more developed capitalist form while producing increased indirect socialized production brings about socialized production itself. The latter form widens and deepens such that it proves itself a primary contributor in the creation of the world capitalist system of production.
To argue, as some do, that the locality of North-East Ulster grew separately from the rest of Ireland is to disregard the social character of the commodity form. It constitutes a denial of the mighty revolutionary role played by the capitalist system in turning world production into a world economic system. It mistakenly suggests that British capital exercised no central determining role over north-east industrialization and that the latter developed on a separate independent basis. Besides overlooking the peculiar character of imperialism this is to suggest that capitalist relations today are still progressive capable of promoting independent economic growth in oppressed countries. In this way the very fundamental conditions for the replacement of world capitalism with world socialism is entirely disregarded: that capitalist relations are not adequate if the productive forces are to be satisfactorily increased in the interests of humanity and that contained within bourgeois society are the material conditions for the establishment of socialism.
As already indicated the character of Irish economic growth was determined essentially by British capital accumulation. During the 18th century Irish economic production was subordinated to Britainís expansionary interests which was then a world commercial capitalist power. This oppressive bond explains why provisioning flourished on this island during the 18th century. It provided much of the basic requirements for feeding the crews of both the military and merchant and naval services as well as the commercial centres of the Colonies. "The provision trade killed, salted and packed the beef in barrel for export." (R.D. Crotty: Irish Agricultural Production; page 15). This trade produced "a whole complex of subsidiary trades, cooperage, tanning and tallow manufacturing among others." (ibid: page 15). But all these trades created a demand for labour power and for the means of subsistence of that demand for labour power. As a result of domestic demand for dairy produce, and even for corn, was increased , which in turn helped to make dairying and tillage in Ireland somewhat more profitable (ibid; p. 15). Besides this British commerce also determined both the growth and character of merchant capital. This ensured the increased centralisation of merchant capital at specific centres in Ireland, especially in the South. In turn this led to the even further social division of labour involving greater manufacturing expansion in or near these centres providing for many of the needs of their growing populations; glass-making and brewing are examples. This was a further stimulus to both population growth and agricultural expansion which, of course, expressed itself in increased social division of labour.
The growth of commodity circulation and consequently commerce, is determined through the increase in the social division of labour both at the national and international levels. Even Ireland was not to escape such economic developments. But instead of this increased division of labour creating a corresponding increased home market, enlargement was restricted; the British home market expanded at the expense of its Irish counterpart.
Whether in the money or any other commodity form, considerable wealth was being extracted from Ireland to Britainís benefit. This appropriation of Irish wealth was a product of the unequal exchange of labour through the trade that took place between the two islands. The retention of Irish wealth in Britain by both owners of Irish land and sections of the commercial bourgeoisie constituted an added drain on Irish material reproduction. Needless to say the banks had a hand in this process.
As a pre-capitalist form of appropriation of the labour of Irish producers, the rent-form hindered the expansion of national commodity circulation. By siphoning off a large portion of surplus product in the form of rent, the landed nobility left considerably less surplus product available for exchange in the commodity form: this restricted internal commodity circulation.
Through merchant capital, its chief economic mediator in Ireland, Britain exploited Ireland. It served as the transmission belt through which Irish wealth was delivered to the British bourgeoisie. Trading relations in Ireland were promoted in a restricted form by the trader; in his absence, both the export of provisions and other commodities would have been constrained. In the interests of its own expansionary needs Britainís commercial bourgeoisie determined the growth of both the provision trade and other forms of production. As a result of increased trade the merchants grew more powerful and thereby generated further manufacturing growth. But it had to be a growth constrained within the framework of Britainís economic interests. By hindering the development of an Irish national commodity market, Britain was depriving Ireland of one of the primary indispensable conditions for the development of an independent Irish capitalist class.
The Irish landed aristocracy played a secondary, although important, role as agent for British capital. By virtue of his private ownership of the land, the landowner appropriated the labour of the peasant producers in the form of ground rent. By means of such appropriation, they were enabled to have surplus product exchanged via the merchant with Britain for its "equivalent" in the general form of money or in the particular commodity form. Within certain limits, this meant that the landed nobility helped determine the character of trade between the two islands and consequently, in some degree, the character of Irish production. He influenced the character of production because of his impact on the material composition of trade. Furthermore, the landlordís retention in Britain of a substantial part of the surplus product, in whatever form, as already indicated, was a deduction from wealth in Ireland with all the negative effects that followed this. Instead of the peasant producers determining how the surplus product created by them was to be employed, the parasitic landlord class appropriated the large bulk of it, in both its own interests and those of the exploiting classes in Britain. By fostering the export of primary wealth from the country, they were promoting the unequal exchange of labour against Irelandís interests besides, of course, indirectly strengthening the economic power of the merchants handling the commodities. The harsh reality is that the landed nobility actively contributed to Britainís growth at Irelandís expense. The landlordís were a reactionary class who obstructed independent capitalist development on this island; they were a barrier to production. Without the merchant and the landlord, Britain could not have so successfully subordinated Ireland to its own economic interests
It was British exploitation of Irish producers that brought about restricted capitalist growth in Ireland. And this, only in the interests of British capital expansion together with the corresponding expansion of the British home market. Through British capitalís mode of appropriation of the labour of the Irish producers, it contributed towards its own economic growth as well as the very restricted expansion of Irish production. British capital expanded through the oppressive exploitation of the industrial working class and through the oppressive exploitation of other peoples. British history is testimony to this brutal reality. Irish production helped build the British market. It was the British market that produced Irish capitalism. The secret behind the character of Irish growth is British oppression. Many bourgeois historians prefer to remain at the superficial level of the market where justice and equality appear to reign. To cover up Britainís oppressive role and its obstruction of Irish independent capitalist growth together with its blockage of the evolution of a national commodity home market, they must ignore the secret of Britainís transformation into a bourgeois imperialist power.
We must also make it clear too, that the role of the Irish banks increased in importance in transferring wealth from the country to Britain. Much of the deposits lodged with them in Ireland were transferred to Britain. In relation to deposits made in Irish banks in he 19th century Raymond Crotty has this to say: "The banks in turn transferred these savings to the London money market where they earned 2.5% or more. Thus Irish savings were financing British industry..." (Banking on Irelandís Decline; Irish Times, March 16, 1981).
The transformed economic character of Britain formed the underlying force that led to the industrialisation of North-East Ulster. From the latter part of the 18th century Britain had been in transition from a world commercial power to a world industrial capitalist power which led to a corresponding change in its needs. No longer was the provision trade to continue to play the same relatively important role between the two islands; instead agricultural and cloth exports were to replace it in importance.. The repeal of the Cattle Acts is evidence of Britainís changing needs. Such dramatic change induced a new social division of labour in Ireland, increasingly subordinated, of course, to the expansionary interests of British industrial capital. This chiefly took the form of the South producing agricultural produce for the growing British market while in the North-East was concentrated linen production for that same market. And instead of these developments forming the basis for a correspondingly increased growth of the Irish commodity home market, they helped enhance forces of production on the British mainland while contributing to the expansion; and all at Irelandís expense. Instead of Irish agriculture and industry primarily contributing to the independent development of the productive forces of this island, they were, in effect harnessed towards fueling the expansionary requirements of British capitalist production. So the changed internal social division of labour of the Irish economy merely contributed indirectly towards Irish economic development. Consequently, town and country were separating in a very narrow and unbalanced manner, so much so that the town was most developed industrially, after the 18th century, only in the North-East of the country. And one of the results of this was that the surplus land population, unlike in Britain, was not significantly absorbed by the towns. In a sense the separation between town and country developed in such a way that the country was Ireland and the town, Britain. To sum up: The social division of labour in Ireland changed chiefly in the interests of British capitalist growth and, as a result of the successful exploitation by British capital of the Irish producers. Indeed the character and significance of this division was eventually destined to generate tremendous historical and political change in Ireland.
While it may, of course, be true that the modification of the land tenure system in the form of Ulster Custom served as an aid in the creation of the conditions for the industrialisation of North-East Ireland, it must be stressed that the expansionary requirements of the British bourgeoisie proved the decisive element. It must not be forgotten that Ulster Custom was but a mere modification of a land tenure system that, in general, embraced all of 18th century Ireland. In Ireland the land tenure system was a motley medieval system of landownership hindering the development of agriculture and even more importantly, independent capitalist development. Essentially, Irish landed relations served Britainís interests and obstructed Irish economic growth.
As has been suggested it is not true that Ulster Custom by contrast, with the equivalent situation in the South, necessarily led to a greater surplus product accruing to the agricultural producer which consequently contributed to the creation of the conditions for industrialisation. Agrarian relations then were not simple. Merely because Ulster Custom prevailed in a given region it does not automatically follow that the producers would have secured a bigger portion of surplus product than elsewhere.
As well as the surplus product connected with it many conditions influence agricultural production. And Ulster Custom is not by far the sole determinant of the quantity of surplus wealth produced in the agricultural sphere for investment. Among the factors that may make up for the absence of Ulster Custom are the following: The duration of existing leases; the rate of return of investments on the land; the degree to which investments are undetectable by the landlord so that he correspondingly fails to increase rents; depreciation; investment in labour power; the composition of production and price fluctuations; how crops are related to investment whether land tenure in the form of Ulster Custom is completely absent or present in some degree even though not called such. There are other considerations to be taken into account as well. However it is not the task of this piece to present an explanation and analysis of these factors to the reader
Without the material conditions that produced the circumstances for the industrialisation of the North-East, no amount of modification of the land tenure in the form of Ulster Custom would have had the same results. In so far as industrialisation did take place, it was accompanied by a restricted increase in the Irish home market. But we must again stress that both these developments were determined by British economic developments and were consequently a function of them. 19th century North-East industrialization was not an expression of national independent capitalist development. It was Irish industrial growth of an extremely limited and dependent nature.
By the latter part of 18th century feudal relations were but a medieval obstruction to the forces of production. Indeed, as already indicated the Irish feudal landed aristocracy were a agent in the oppression of the Irish producers; and this was true of the landlords in both parts of the country. To create the best conditions for wider and more rapid independent capitalist growth the abolition of private landownership would have been one of the chief and indispensable requirements. Such would involve the "transformation of the patriarchal peasant into a bourgeois farmer." But, on the other hand, bourgeois "development may proceed by having big landlord economies at the head, which will gradually become more and more bourgeois and gradually substitute bourgeois for feudal methods of exploitation." (Agrarian programme of Social Democracy: page 239 of Lenin Collected Works, vol. 13) And at the time there was no question of either course being underway.
The role played by the Irish landed nobility both North and South, was radically different to that played by the English landed aristocracy. The latter, however impurely, facilitated agricultural capitalist growth, while the former obstructed it. In correspondence with this role, the English landed aristocracy implemented a policy of land clearance resulting in larger farm sizes, while the Ulster landlords permitted increased sub-letting of their lands resulting in smaller landholdings; this obstructed the development of agriculture. Agriculture flourished in England and remained backward in Ulster.
And furthermore, through the instrument of the Irish Parliament and in close collaboration with the London controlled Irish Executive, that same Ulster landed class obstructed the creation of the conditions necessary for independent Irish capitalist growth. Through the medium of the political state they also obstructed the Catholic and Presbyterian producers in advancing their interests through political means; the Penal Laws were but one manifestation of this. Their reactionary character was clearly revealed in their counter-revolutionary opposition to the bourgeois rising of 1798 in which North-East Ireland Presbyterians actively participated.
Quite clearly by the latter part of the 18th century, the feudal relations of production were but a medieval obstruction to the expansion of the forces of production in Ireland. Marxism must identify the central and dominant social relations that determine both the character and growth of the productive forces. And in the period under inspection, this social relation was capital in the concrete form of both British and Irish capital with the latter playing the subordinate and dependent role; this character of the relationship existing between them explains the latterís oppressed nature.
The character of the development of the world social division of labour basically determined Irelandís peculiar economic growth. The former took place through a revolution in the relations of production; the replacement of feudal relations with capitalist relations and their subsequent rapid development and expansion. It was expressed in Ireland through the determining force of British capital. And this was further mediated through the merchant and the landlord. Put peasant differentiation was among the chief results, a basic prerequisite for the spread of commodity circulation: In "capitalist production the basis for the formation of the home market is the process of the disintegration of the small cultivators into agricultural entrepreneurs and workers."(Lenin: The Development of Capitalism in Russia; page 71.)
And the home market that formed was narrow and weak and not at all independent, having as the source of its existence the British capitalist system. It was not as some misleadingly believe the medieval landed property relations that formed the central historical force that erected the conditions for an alleged independent capitalist Ulster. For Marxists, on the other hand, feudal agrarian relations, have been under continuous subjection to undermining so that today, in the epoch of capitalist decay, they have no role to play except for the most reactionary way.
18th century southern manufacturing capital was a result of wealth accumulated through the exploitation of the producers of Ireland by the merchant and the landlord. None of these manufactories would have been set up without the extraction of wealth from the Irish producers. In this context, it is clear that linen manufacturing in the South was no superficial phenomenon but an integral part of the Irish economy. Because it formed part of the European linen production, however loosely, which was plunged into international recession then, manufacturing linen production in the South was triggered into decline which was to prove irrecoverable. And since the material conditions were insufficiently mature in the South, its decline had to be irreversible.
Furthermore, outside of this, industries in the South such as brewing and glass-making although having suffered in the economic recession were to experience some sustained recovery following the introduction of more advanced technology. In general any industrial decline that took place in the South over the latter part of the 18th century was a product of the changing character of both Britain and Europe. Britainís transformation into an industrial power changed the character of Irish economic activity leading to a new social division of labour in Ireland which generated a process of decline in the South. It was the British bourgeoisie that was chiefly responsible for industrialisation on this island. The manufactories were produced from the surplus labour extracted from the producers of this country through exploitation; Ireland was a sphere of exploitation for British capital.
Some commentators misrepresent 18th century southern industry as a development that is dismisssible, that bears no intrinsic connection with the economic character of the South and indeed the entire country. Such an aim is designed to conceal their inability to ascertain the real forces underlying that industrial growth. But more importantly, if the two nations theory is to appear to have any credible standing, they must seem to have verified that the real basis for industrialisation was confined to the North-East region. And since it is a concrete fact that an industrial structure existed in the South in the 18th century, they must offer a reason for its decline that corresponds with their two nations prejudice.
Integrally connected inner relations are a principal feature defining a nation. These relations take principally the form of the home market, however restrictedly, based on the social division of labour in conjunction with all other relations, both cultural and otherwise, that spring from this.
In Ireland its force has been both relentless and brutal. As we have already indicated, over the 18th century and earlier part of the 19th century, Irish economic development was determined by the force of world capitalism which was mediated chiefly through British capital. Through Britain the formerly combined and uneven economic character was combined so as to eventually evolve into a nationally combined development that was both politically and explosively expressed in 1798 through the bourgeois democratic rising that erupted then. The character of Irish national development was a manifestation, at the time, of the form of world economic development and British development in particular. Because of its unique mediating relationship to Ireland, Britainís oppression of the latter refracted the character of world economic development there. This happened because, if Britain was to compete successfully as a capitalist power with other nations, it must oppress and exploit Ireland as intensively as possible in order to equip itself as much as possible for that struggle; the more it exploited Ireland, the greater its strength and consequently the greater its chances of success. The international struggle for profit itself, and the degree of Britainís success in this struggle, in turn further reflects itself in this country since it determined in what way and to what extent the appropriation of the labour of the Irish producers was to proceed. And this of course inevitably affected the character of the reproduction of Irish material wealth. And Britainís success in the 18th century, in its struggle for world commercial supremacy was clearly a determining factor in her transformation into the worldís leading industrial capitalist power which, as we have already said, exercised a transforming affect on Irish economic development in the 19th century. Britain did not exploit Ireland for reasons of moral corruption. She was compelled to if she was to strengthen or even survive as an independent economic power. The underlying forces operating both within British society and at the world level demanded both within British society and at the world level demanded this from her. Despite appearances to the contrary, Ireland and the world were unmistakably growing in unity: through Britain world capitalism oppressed Ireland and consequently stimulated the creation of the oppressed modern Irish nation.
The eventual concentration of industry in the North-East and agriculture in the South, during the 19th century, is concrete proof of the depth and breadth with which the law of uneven and combined development asserts itself. British capitalismís exploitation of the Irish people was successfully achieved by means of definite social relations of production. Although the indigenous producers were directly exploited through diverse forms (including the rent-form), it could not have taken place so successfully had capitalist exchange relations been lacking. These relations created from diversity the appearance of equality and uniformity.
And because British capital appropriated the wealth of Ireland through these uniform social relations, reproduction of material wealth was welded together, evolving into one Irish national economy: a nationally oppressed economy. Since the combined exploitation of Ireland bore the same uniform character in relation to every part of Ireland (capitalist exchange relations of production), it eventually evolved into combined national exploitation which was ultimately, form the end of the 18th century onwards, expressed in the form of the oppressed Irish nation.
Put very simply and succinctly, the modern Irish nation was a result of the following historical process. Through commodity exchange relations, the universal and combined indirect exploitation of the Irish producers by British capitalism led to the creation of an oppressed Irish bourgeoisie. Through their increasing penetration and growing regularity, these relations together with production itself, created new classes. By this means the growth of an Irish merchant bourgeoisie was stimulated which involved, although restrictedly on account of British exploitation, increased concentration and centralisation of wealth. The consequences of this, of course, was the growth of industrial capital at the centres that had been produced by trade and hence the creation of an Irish industrial bourgeoisie; the small Irish industrial producer was increasingly becoming a common sight along the economic landscape. Growing peasant differentiation was another result of commodity production as was the increasing number of small bourgeois traders. And all these developments of course, were rooted in the social division of labour. Thus an oppressed Irish bourgeoisie together with a circumscribed home market were formed.
"the complete victory of commodity production, the bourgeoisie must capture the home market, and there must be politically united territories whose population speak a single language, with all obstacles to the development of that language and to its consolidation in literature eliminated. Therein is the economic foundations of national movements. Unity and unimpeded development of language are the most important conditions for genuinely free and extensive commerce on a scale commensurate with modern capitalism, for a free and broad grouping of the population in all its various classes and, lastly, for the establishment of a close connection between the market and each and every proprietor, big or little, and between seller and buyer.
Therefore, the tendency of every national movement is towards the formation of national states, under which these requirements of modern capitalism are best satisfied. The most profound economic factors drive towards this goal, and, therefore, for the whole of Western Europe, nay, for the entire civilised world, the national state is typical and normal for the capitalist world." (Lenin: The Right of Nations to Self-Determination).
However history was to prove that the Irish bourgeoisie was too weak and divided to succeed in achieving "the formation of an independent national state." (ibidem)
With the development of trade both internally and externally and consequently the emergence of an Irish bourgeoisie and home commodity market, the social division of labour progressively unites all commodity producers into a unified "productive organism" whose parts are mutually related and conditioned (Rubin; Essays on Marxís Theory of Value). And since the producers are inseparably inter-connected and mutually dependent through the commodity production relations the basis is formed for the advancement of a common language and culture. This historical movement gives rise to a mass national struggle for the establishment of an independent national state which is a central political weapon through which to establish the political conditions best suited to the promotion of capitalist production and a common language and culture. Clearly then, the creation of an oppressed Irish bourgeoisie, a circumscribed home market and the tendency towards a common language and culture are the chief ingredients that constituted the oppressed Irish nation.
World economic development brought into being a weak Irish capitalist class that was persistently denied an independent national state consisting of a centralised administration, the necessary political conditions for its development into strong independent capitalist class. This meant that the necessary political conditions best suited to the establishment of both a common language and culture were not achieved and that consequently the nation continued to exist in an oppressed condition. This is clearly manifested today in the extremely weak and divided nature of the Irish bourgeoisie as well as in the noticeably divided nature of Irish language and culture the Irish bourgeoisie is an imperialist dependent class, in decline, while objectively the Irish proletariat is much stronger and, in contrast, has been growing in material strength. It is now the only class capable of conquering political power through the establishment of an Irish workersí republic.
To sum up: Ireland suffered oppression at the hands of the British ruling class while its nature determined the character of Irelandís economic development. This oppression manifested itself in many diverse forms, one of its chief forms was the uneven and combined development of the northern and southern sectors of the national economy. Furthermore, British exploitation determined the peculiar character of Irelandís growth into a modern nation and consequently, the complex problems facing the Irish working class in the class struggle. British capitalism crested the Irish nation, but, equally, it created the conditions obstructing its development into an independent bourgeois nation state. Independent economic development is generally not possible in a nationally oppressed country in the epoch of the decay of capitalism.
The Communist Think-Tank