Marx and Engels on Inequality and Resistance in Nineteenth-Century Ireland


  • Brian Kelly Socialist Workers Network


Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the founders of modern revolutionary socialism, showed a keen interest in developments in Ireland throughout the tumultuous period between the onset of famine in the late 1840s and the rise of the Land League thirty years later. From their vantage point in industrialising England, then (in their own words) the ‘metropolis of capital, the power which [rules] the world market’,1 the catastrophic suffering of the famine years and the acute social distress that followed in its wake represented for them an essential corollary to England’s unmatched industrial expansion. British economic and political supremacy went hand in hand with Irish underdevelopment, they argued: ‘While Britain “flourished” Ireland moved toward extinction…a semi-barbarous, purely agrarian…land of poverty-stricken tenant farmers’. And with an evergrowing Irish emigrant presence in every significant industrial centre in Britain, the ‘Irish Question’ became for them a critical issue for the growing international working-class movement.