Title: The Colonisation of Irish Soil: Metabolic Rift and Other Colonial Causes of the Great Famine.
Name: Richard Healy
Student No.: 63142546
Nature and Society Eamonn Slater
God sent the Blight, the English sent the Famine.
Popular saying among Irish Peasants.
“..all progress in capitalistic agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the labourer, but of robbing the soil.” Karl Marx, Capital Vol. One
While Karl Marx is primarily known as a theorist of industrial capitalism, he was also interested in the effects of the capitalist mode of production on agriculture and the soil. Marx’s work on this topic is scattered across some comments in Capital, his letters to Engels, his notes on the work of his contemporary, the agricultural chemist Justus von Liebig and among many of the speeches he gave. In a speech “On the Irish Question”, which Marx gave in 1867, he declared the Irish industry as suppressed in order to force the Irish to sell their raw materials including agricultural produce to England at low cost. Ireland’s efforts to industrialise were thwarted deliberately, suggesting that the construing of Ireland as an “international farm” to support a rapidly industrialising and capitalising Britain is not an overstatement. (Flaherty (2013, p.61) claims that the regarding of Ireland as “a granary for the remainder of the United Kingdom” was not an exaggeration.) With the help of the Protestant Penal Laws, Catholics could not be landowners, were not allowed to make wills, and were not to claim an inheritance. These consolidated as a means of “robbing” the Irish of their land (ibid). Thus far, it appears this speech has little to do with ecology or soil exhaustion. A familiarity of the dialectical thinking of Marx is required to understand how he used a complex interweaving of processes; Capitalism, colonialism and ecology, to form a totality. For Marx and indeed Hegel, from whose work Marx developed a reconstructed interpretation of this mode of thought, the world could not be explained by reducing everything to simple externally related determinants. On the contrary, it had to be understood in terms of developing totalities. This ‘ecological Marx’ has been reconstructed most notably by John Bellamy Foster and his collaborators, centring on the notion of the metabolic rift. Foster (2000), writes of Marx' introduction of the term “metabolism” to demonstrate the processes between man and nature in which man “mediates, controls and regulates” this process, (p.141). The dialect between nature and society enables Marx to formulate a socio-ecological framework to better understand the complex relationship between man and nature. The Famine, I postulate was a result of this “metabolism”, manifesting in colonisation, including the deliberate pauperising of peasants. Prior to the Famine, the confluence of these factors created abominable living conditions for colonialized Ireland. It is this period that this paper aims to explore with both the biological and socio-economic aspects of British colonialism in Ireland being examined. When writing on colonialism, Marx usually utilized India as an example of exploitation on an international scale, however according to Slater (working paper, p.2), considering Ireland, “Marx demonstrates that colonialism penetrated all aspects of this organic totality including its ecological base.” This work aims to briefly explore these two distinctly different processes of colonialism that had the congruent result of soil exhaustion. Pre-Famine, it is generally assumed, by scholars including Slater (ibid, p.3) that Ireland had at least the “potential” to replace the nutrients that constituted cultivatable soil, however the fact remains that even with the efforts of the Cottiers, the Irish soil was under considerable strain. Post Famine, the deliberate clearing of Ireland as...
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Foster, J. Bellamy. 1999, Marx’s Theory of Metabolic Rift: Classical Foundations for Environmental Sociology, American Journal of Sociology
Foster, J. Bellamy. 2000, Marx’s Ecology, Materialism and Nature, New York: Monthly Review Press.
Marx, Karl.& F. Engels. 1960. Ireland and the Irish Question, Collected Works, 2nd Russian Edition, 21(317).
Slater, Eamonn. & McDonough, T. 2008. Marx on 19th century colonialism of Ireland: Beyond Dependency theory, NIRSA working papers, no.35.
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Slater, Eamonn. 2014, Marx on Irish soil: colonized, depleted and finally exhausted, (working paper) Maynooth University Moodle.
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