Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Collins & Lenin: Comparing two revolutionary leaders:

There have been numerous revolutionaries that can be found in the annals of history. Two revolutionaries particularly stand out from the twentieth century: Michael Collins and Vladimir Lenin. These two revolutionaries inspired future revolutionaries such as Mao Zedong, and Yitzhak Shamir. Michael Collins was an Irish revolutionary leader who obtained freedom for twenty-six of Ireland’s thirty-two counties from British tyranny. Vladimir Lenin was a Russian revolutionary, who founded the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Although from different backgrounds, political ideologies, and goals, Michael Collins and Vladimir Lenin employed somewhat similar political tactics in how they handled rivals, revolutionary structures, and leadership qualities. They were also very lucky in the fate department; in other words, they were able to attain much against the incredible odds that were against them.

The first comparative aspect of both Collins and Lenin that will be discussed is how they handled political rivals. Both Collins and Lenin had to handle splits within their own revolutionary groups. Collin’s group split over the treaty while Lenin’s group split over who should lead the revolution. Both men displayed impatience with their groups over the split. An example of this for Lenin comes from historians George Katkov and Harold Shukman whom argued that “ after 1903 Lenin’s impatience with the opinions of others and the vehemence of his expression led him into a succession of quarrels, temporary agreements, and violent outbreaks with close collaborators.”[1] For Collins, his impatience with the anti-treaty members and their threat of a civil war can be clearly seen in this ultimatum, “it should be made quite clear that the Provisional Government are determined to stand by the Treaty”, in other words Collins was going to stand by the treaty, regardless of the threat of a civil war in Ireland. [2]

The second comparative aspect of Collins and Lenin is revolutionary structures. Both Collins and Lenin limited the membership in their respective revolutionary organizations. Michael Collins organized the IRB and the IRA on the basis of cells, where only cell leaders would know who the members were.[3] Lenin’s political movement was “to consist of a small, highly compact, disciplined band of professional revolutionaries acting the name of the Russian workers but maintaining maximum security against the inroads either of the police or of the initiative of the workers.”[4]

The final comparative aspect of Collins and Lenin is leadership qualities. Both of the men had brilliant minds for revolutionary activity. They both shared incredible problem-solving skills in working with complex problems.[5] Another quality they shared was kindness toward others, especially the sick and the elderly. During his short time in the Kremlin, Lenin would give away his extra shares of food to children and those who were in hospitals.[6] Collins often called on the families of his men to comfort the mothers and children of his men who had been injured in fighting the British during the war.[7]

Overall, these two men made important contributions to their countries and the world at large. Some of which, were both positive and negative. Although they came from different backgrounds and fought against different oppressors, they were able to free their countries from the tyrannical rule of the British and the Romanov Tsars. Their actions are still debated in their countries, and continue to engage the world in conversation and debate.

[1] Katkov & Shukman, Lenin’s Path to Power, 33.
[2] Michael Hopkinson, Green Against Green: The Irish Civil War, 99.
[3] Coogan, Ireland in the Twentieth Century, 63.
[4] Katkov & Shukman, 30.
[5] Ulick O’Connor, Michael Collins: The Troubles, 137 & Nikolai Valentinov, 36.
[6] Ulam, 416.
[7] Coogan, Micahel Collins, 139.