The Irish Land Question
Workers’ Republic, 24 September, 1898.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
For very many years we have seen the London Parliament sending forth Land Act after Land Act, each and every one of them heralded by a declaration that it embodied a complete cure for the land question in Ireland. To-day the land question is as far from being settled as ever it was; at least in appearance. The reason may escape the eye of the Home Rule or Unionist editor, who dare not notice any point of industrial development other than it suits the interests of his employers to bring before the public, but it is very palpable indeed to all who seek, with unbiassed minds, to ascertain the truth.
The successive Land Purchase Bills, Land Courts for adjustment of rents, etc., are perhaps powerful enough in softening the rigour of the relations between landlord and tenant; and were this island surrounded by a wall of brass shutting out the world from intercourse, might serve to settle for a long time the agrarian disputes in Ireland. But as long as the produce of Irish farmers must sell upon the market side by side with the produce of countries better situated, better equipped and better organised for agricultural operations, so long will the Irish produce be undersold: so long will Irish farming fail to pay. Were the landlords to disappear to-morrow, and their titles to land to become extinct, the peasant proprietors remaining would still be involved in a hopeless struggle for subsistence, whilst this island remains dominated by capitalistic conditions.
Every perfection of agricultural methods or machinery lowers prices; every fall in prices renders more unstable the position of the farmer, whether tenant or proprietor; and every year – nay every month – which passes sees this perfection and development of machinery going more and more rapidly on. We are left no choice but socialism or universal bankruptcy.
Meanwhile it is instructive to notice that the United Irish League agitators – from Mr. William O’Brien down – have no remedy to offer which does not smack of socialistic principles. The compulsory expropriation of the graziers; the break up of grazing lands; the state help for agriculture; in fact, every proposal advocated proceeds upon the assumption that ‘property’ has no rights as against the welfare of the community, and that the life and prosperity of the people is, or ought to be, the first care of statesmanship. So far our United Irish League agitators are borrowing the arguments of the socialists to suit their own purposes; but they, with characteristic class selfishness, stop short at the application thereof. They will not carry them beyond the rural districts; yet we challenge Mr. William O’Brien to tell us a single sufficient reason for refusing to apply to property in towns the same stern principles he would advocate in the country. Property of all kinds ought to be subject to the community, and if the welfare of the community requires that ‘legal’ rights of property shall be subordinated, or even totally set aside, it must be done.
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Last updated on 11.8.2003