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Thursday, October 28, 2004


Challenging path of insurrectionist to nation builder

It is said that China's Mao Zedong was a great admirer of Michael Collins, the Irish independence leader whose 114th birthday is celebrated this month. Mao and many other insurrectionists of the 20th Century applied the urban guerrilla tactics which Collins successfully used against the British in Ireland. He had smuggled arms, been elected to the British House of Commons, lead an underground army and, as a fundraiser, was so successful that Lenin went cap in hand to him after the Russian revolution.

Collins was a young man when he joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood's ill-fated Easter Uprising in 1916 but became a vigorous military leader soon after. Once elected to the executive committee of the Sinn Fein independence organisation, he organised a prolonged assassination campaign against British security officials in Ireland, primarily the Royal Irish Constabulary and the army. The murder of its officers brought a tit-for-tat policy from the British.

As violence and intimidation escalated and civilian casualties increased, the British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, was given blunt advice by his military: "Go all out or get out". After eight hours meeting alone with George, the Irish republican president, Eamonn de Valera, ordered Collins to join Arthur Griffin in leading an Irish delegation to London to “negotiate and conclude” a peace treaty with the British Government.

After three difficult months of talks, it was agreed that Ireland would have its autonomy returned as a self-governing dominion within the British Empire but the six Scots-Irish Protestant-dominated northern counties would be allowed to remain part of the United Kingdom.

The treaty was highly unpopular on both sides and Collins, who saw it as but part of a process that would lead to full Irish independence, knew the risks he would face when he returned home. At the treaty signing on 6 December 1921, Britain’s Lord Birkenhead said to him, “Well Collins, I signed my political death warrant”. Collins replied, “That’s nothing. I’ve just signed my actual death warrant”.

The Irish parliament (Dáil) accepted the treaty by seven votes but de Valera, in turn, rejected the parliamentary majority and the terms of the treaty. He was immediately replaced as president and Collins was appointed chairman of the provisional government which would take over Ireland once the British had left.

Collins pleaded with de Valera not to withdraw from the parliament. "By all means oppose us in this house, castigate us, push us further so that we can go again, as we have the right under this Treaty to discuss it in the immediate years ahead, but, do it within the Dáil", he said, but to no avail.

In Neil Jordan's film on Michael Collins, Collins' is shown asking de Valera to support peace: "It's not worth fighting for. Anymore. We've got to learn to build with what we have." This message is reinforced in the closing titles, which tells of the need still to "finally remove the gun from Irish politics".

After Mass, on 17 March 1922, de Valera addressed a crowd of 20,000 and he said to them: "To prevent this Treaty working, we will wade, if necessary, through brother’s blood”. Those who did not support the treaty fell back on violence and a civil war took place in Ireland from April 1922 to May 1923.

On 22 August 1922, Collins journeyed to County Cork. He was due to meet troops of the new Irish Army. His car was ambushed at a place called Beal na mBlath and Collins was shot dead. His body lay in state in Dublin for three days and thousands paid their respects. Thousands also lined the streets for his funeral procession.

He was just 31 years of age when he was killed but the Free State he founded evolved into the Republic of Ireland; a profoundly democratic country and now a prosperous member of the European Union.

There are some who see a similarity between Michael Collins' "land for peace" deal with Britain that enraged both Irish nationalist and British unionist no-compromise-fanatics and the 1993 Oslo Accords signed by Israel's prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin and the Palestine Liberation Organisation's president, Yasser Arafat.

Again, two species of fanatics were enraged and a leader was assassinated. Many were surprised that it was Rabin who died for the peace treaty, murdered by an Israeli Jew, rather than Arafat by an Islamic militant from Hamas or one of the other Palestinian rejectionist groups sponsored by Iraq, Iran, Syria and Libya.

Palestinian campaigner Edward Said, compared Arafat and Collins and the compromise over partition that led to the latter's assassination and accused Arafat of coming "away from the negotiating table with a lot less than Collins". But Arafat survived anyhow.

As Palestinian campaigner Robert Fisk put it, "Arafat is not the stuff of which martyrs are made. He knows what happened to Irish revolutionary Michael Collins after a one-sided 'peace'.''

To be sure. For in none of the territories surrendered to Arafat's Palestinian Authority by the Israelis were the Arab rejectionists controlled and disarmed by the new autonomous government and civil society and democracy introduced. Less than is worthy of a father of a nation, he denied his people their freedom from fear and for opportunity for the sake of hiding from an assassin's bullet.

Michael Collins put the required deeds of leadership into perspective in a blunt statement on his breach with de Velara at the commencement of the civil war. Words that should have been heard from the lips of Yasser Arafat.

Two duties faced [the Provisional] Government: To take over the Executive from the English, and to maintain public order during the transition from foreign to native government; and to give shape in a constitution to the freedom secured.

If the Government had been allowed to carry out these duties no difficulty would have arisen with England, who carried out her part by evacuating her army and her administration.

No trouble would have arisen among our own people. And the general trend of development, and the undoubted advantages of unity, would have brought the North-East quietly into union with the rest of the country, as soon as a stable national government had been established into which they could have come with confidence.

Mr de Valera, and those who supported him in the Dáil, were asked to take part in the interim government, without prejudice to their principles, and their right to oppose the ratification of the Treaty at the elections ... They did not find it possible to accept this offer of patriotic service ...

It must be remembered that the country was emerging from a revolutionary struggle. And, as was to be expected, some of our people were in a state of excitement, and it was obviously the duty of all leaders to direct the thoughts of the people away from violence and into the steady channels of peace and obedience to authority. No one could have been blind to the course things were bound to take if this duty were neglected. It was neglected, and events took their course.

The foreign Power was withdrawn. The civil administration passed into the hands of the elected representatives of the people. The fight with the English enemy was ended. The function of our armed forces was changed. Their duty now was to preserve the freedom won---to enable the people to use it, to realise that for which they had fought---a free, prosperous, self-governing Gaelic Ireland ...

Under the democratic system which was being established by the representatives of the people---the freest and most democratic system yet devised---the rights of every minority were secured, and the fullest opportunity was open for every section of opinion to express and advocate its views by appeal to reason and patriotic sentiment.

To allow such a situation to develop successfully required only common sense and patriotism in the political leaders. No one denied that the new Government had the support of the people.

Of all forms of government a democracy allows the greatest freedom---the greatest possibilities for the good of all. But such a government, like all governments, must be recognised and obeyed.

The first duty of the new Government was to maintain public order, security of life, personal liberty, and property ... The peace and order necessary for that progress was rudely broken. The united forward movement was held up by an outbreak of anarchic violence ...

The nation which had kept the old heroic temper, but had learnt to govern it so that violence should be directed against the national enemy, and its differences should be matters of friendly rivalry, found itself faced with a small minority determined to break up the national unity and to destroy the government in which the nation had just shown its confidence.

They claimed to be fighting for the nation. That might be possible if there were any enemies of the nation opposing them. There are not. Resolved to fight, they are fighting, not against an enemy, but against their own nation. Blind to facts, and false to ideals, they are making war on the Irish people.

Michael Collins was just 31 years of age when he was killed but the Free State he founded evolved into the Republic of Ireland; a profoundly democratic country and prosperous member of the European Union.

Update: Thanks to the British socialist website, Harry’s Place, this article caught the attention of many in England and Ireland who know of Michael Collins. From comments I corrected the following: Collins joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood’s ill-fated Easter Uprising in 1916; and Collins was deputy to Arthur Griffin in the Irish delegation sent to London in 1921.

On the Irish radical website, Peoples Republic of Cork, “Ho Chi Feen” asked if it was fact or “horseshit” that “Lenin asked him for a few bob”.

Indeed he did. As the Irish independence organization’s “finance minister”, Collins successfully issued a bond in the form of a 'national loan'. Russian Bolshevik leader, V I Lenin, sent a representative to Dublin to borrow money to help fund his own regime, at that time the only country to extend diplomatic recognition to the Irish Republic, using Russian Crown Jewels as collateral.

For the most part, unfortunately, the comrades of "Peoples Republic of Cork" are in agreement with Arafat’s abrogation of the Oslo Accords, arguing that the PLO needs to win more on the battlefield, as if, before building for peace.

But that may be to be expected. After all it was in the little valley of Beal na mBlath, in County Cork, where Collins was cruelly gunned down.
I am ho chi feen of the Peoples Republic Of Cork. We are not, as you stated earlier, users of a 'Radical Irish Website', merely posters on the forum of a humorous resource. The politics of our community's members range from borderline fascism to libertarian socialism. You either didn't get it, or you're grossly misrepresenting us!

Heh heh heh... Langer!
I am ho chi feen of the Peoples Republic Of Cork. We are not, as you stated earlier, users of a 'Radical Irish Website', merely posters on the forum of a humorous resource. The politics of our community's members range from borderline fascism to libertarian socialism. You either didn't get it, or you're grossly misrepresenting us!

Heh heh heh... Langer!
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