Revolutionaries could benefit from studying the founding of the modern state of Israel.
Gregory Hood writes: Michael Collins is a must see for any revolutionary, especially those who feel all hope is lost. The film begins with defeat for the revolutionaries, and the survivors hiding like rats in underground tunnels. By the end, they are dictating policy in councils of state. For a White Nationalist, the rise of the eponymous hero is consistently inspiring.
But there is also the fall. Michael Collins shows the petty rivalries, greed, and political miscalculations that can destroy any movement from within.
This is not a paean to militancy for militancy’s sake. It is a warning of the costs of violence and the inevitability of betrayal. Perhaps more importantly, it shows how the end of a friendship can lead to the collapse of a state. It’s a graduate course in nationalist revolution.
It should be noted that we’ll look at this film mostly on its own terms, ignoring some of the historical errors. Chief among them is the horrifically unfair treatment of Éamon de Valera, easily the dominant Irish political figure of the 20th century. While these errors detract from the film, they do not destroy the film’s importance nor the lessons it has to teach us.
Lesson 1 – The Blood Sacrifice Establishes the State
Michael Collins begins with the Easter Rising of 1916. A sweeping panoramic of a scene of battle eventually ends on the General Post Office in Dublin, where Michael Collins (Liam Neeson) and the other Irish Volunteers are utterly outmatched by British soldiers using artillery. They surrender and are marched out, in uniform, by business-like British officers who contemptuously refer to the uprising as a “farce.”
Of course, in real life it was a farce, and far from popular among the Irish people. Many Irish had relatives fighting in the British Army during World War I, and the feeling of many in the Empire was that the Rising was a unforgivable stab in the back while Great Britain was fighting for its life on the battlefields of Europe. In some areas, Irish civilians physically fought with the Volunteers, and some were even killed. In actuality, it was a rather pathetic spectacle, with a tinpot army marching about in uniforms while their own nominal leader (Eoin MacNeill) tried to stop it.
None of this matters. The British, quite justifiably from their point of view, made the decision to execute the leaders of the rebellion. We see Éamon de Valera (Alan Rickman) writing a letter to Michael Collins while the now legendary figures of Connelly, Pearse, and Clarke are executed one by one in the background. De Valera is spared because he is an American citizen and writes to Collins, “The Irish Republic is a dream no longer. It is daily sealed by the lifeblood of those who proclaimed it. And every one of us they shoot brings more people to our side.”
Michael O’Meara writes in “Cú Chulainn in the GPO” in Toward the White Republic that the violent birth of the Irish Republic was no accident. It the living out of a myth, a “noble Ireland won by violent, resolute, virile action” inspired by “millenarian Catholicism (with its martyrs), ancient pagan myth (with its heroes), and a spirit of redemptive violence (couched in every recess of Irish culture)” (p. 55).
The “slaughtered sheep” would brighten “the sacramental flame of their spirit.” O’Meara concludes that the sacrifice was not just for Ireland, but for a spiritual rebirth that would justify the Irish nation’s renewed existence, “for the sake of redeeming, in themselves, something of the old Aryo-Gaelic ways” (p. 59).
Once the sacred blood of revolutionaries was spilled, the Irish Republic became real, though it possessed no currency, territory, or international recognition. The policies enacted by the Irish Republic headed by de Valera became the political expression of the Irish nation, rather than a mummer’s farce of self-important and deluded men. The blood of fallen patriots made it real, the reaction of the British Empire granted it recognition, and the support of the Irish people followed in the wake of martyrdom. By losing, the Irish Volunteers won, for as Pearse said, “To refuse to fight would have been to lose. We have kept faith with the past, and handed down a tradition to the future” (p. 59).
Or, as de Valera put it in the film, “And from the day of our release, Michael, we must act as if the Republic is a fact. We defeat the British Empire by ignoring it.”
In the American experience, there are already proto-nationalist “governments” and states in exile. Harold Covington’s “Northwest American Republic,” the “Southern National Congress,” and the League of the South, and innumerable other would-be Founding Fathers make claims to be the political expression of various peoples. However, without the blood sacrifice, and the “recognition” granted by the military repression and extreme political reaction, such movements remain in the realm of myth.
Of course, that is where all nationalist movements have to begin.
Lesson 2 – The Transfer of Legitimacy Is Mental Before It is Political
In the American context, there’s a tiresome emphasis on individual “freedom,” which has become an all but meaningless phrase. In response, one should remember the admonition of Italian nationalist leader Giuseppe Garibaldi, that “Without Country you have neither name, token, voice, nor rights, no admission as brothers into the fellowship of the Peoples. You are the bastards of Humanity. Soldiers without a banner, Israelites among the nations, you will find neither faith nor protection; none will be sureties for you. Do not beguile yourselves with the hope of emancipation from unjust social conditions if you do not first conquer a Country for yourselves.”
Michael Collins believes something similar. As an organizer addressing a restive crowd soon after his release from prison, his theme is not that the British are “unfair” or that the Irish need “equality.” He tells the people that the Irish nation already exists, though it’s legitimate leaders are rotting in English jails. “I was in one myself till a week ago,” he jokes.
He continues, “They can jail us, they can shoot us, they can even conscript us. They can use us as cannon fodder in the Somme. But, but! We have a weapon, more powerful than any in the arsenal of their British Empire. And that our weapon is our refusal. Our refusal to bow to any order but our own, any institution but our own.”
Here, Collins skillfully draws the distinction between the institutions of “their” Empire and contrasts it with the legitimate institutions that “we” can build – and bow to. More importantly, pointing aggressively at the “our friends at the Royal Irish Constabulary,” he identifies the people who want to “shut me up” and challenges the Irish people to raise their voices if he is cut down.
This speech pays dividends when Ned Broy (Stephen Rea), a detective working for The Castle (the center of British power in Ireland), warns Collins that the entire cabinet of the Irish Republic is to be arrested. Broy (a composite of the real Ned Broy and other characters) justifies his decision on the grounds that Collins can be “persuasive . . . what was it you said, our only weapon is our refusal.” The Irish Broy (whose name is repeatedly mispronounced by his English superiors) has transferred his loyalty from the state that pays his salary, to the new state that serves as the political expression of his people. This is the “revolution in the hearts and minds of the people” (to use John Adams’s phrase) necessary for any nationalist movement to succeed. It is also the outgrowth of de Valera’s entire strategy of building a parallel system of state.
Lesson 3 – Power Trumps Legalism
Unfortunately, when we see the legitimate political expression of the Irish people in action, it is not impressive. The Cabinet of the Irish Republic is meeting in a tunnel. Dressed in suits and ties and carrying briefcases, they seem unlikely revolutionaries, squabbling over the extent of each minister’s “brief” and constantly pulling rank on one another….
Several years ago, I recall that a white advocacy group fliers with pictures of Michael Collins in his Irish Free State uniform. Our sophisticated media and the well-trained population immediately interpreted this as a picture of a “Nazi” in uniform, and there was the usual hysteria. This depressing anecdote shows that despite our information saturation, we live in a remarkably uninformed age. Even the millions of Americans of Irish descent have only the most distant knowledge of the Emerald Isle’s long struggle for independence.
White revolutionaries do not have the luxury of ignorance. If the battle for a white ethnostate is to follow the lines of an anti-colonial struggle, the Irish independence movement is the closest thing that we have to a modern model. The period of the Irish Free State and the Civil War shows not only how a successful movement can triumph, but how it can also destroy itself.
Michael Collins is a good beginning for any white revolutionary seeking to define the struggle. The quest for an ethnostate is not a struggle for “freedom” or some silly abstraction, but an order of our own and institutions of our own that will allow us to achieve what we desire as a people. To achieve this requires the power of Myth, the tactics of soldiers, and the skill of politicians. This Easter, commemorate the Rising by watching Michael Collins and absorbing its lessons. Then with more research into this movement and others, prepare for the Rising to come.