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“Does Russia have a human rights future in the Council of Europe and OSCE?” in Doutje Lettinga & Lars van Troost (eds) Shifting Power and Human Rights Diplomacy: Russia (2017) Amnesty International Netherlands, pp. 53-63.

Doutje Lettinga & Lars van Troost (eds) Shifting Power and Human Rights Diplomacy: Russia (2017) Amnesty International Netherlands

England’s terror of the French Revolution: the historical roots of resistance to the Rights of Man and the case against the Human Rights Act

England’s terror of the French Revolution: the historical roots of resistance to the Rights of Man and the case against the Human Rights Act

Bill Bowring

In Frederick Cowell (ed) Critically Examining the Case Against the 1998 Human Rights Act (forthcoming)

Introduction

In this chapter I argue that the roots of English (nowadays British) unease and in some cases downright hostility towards the Human Rights Act (HRA), and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which it partially incorporates into UK legislation, is to be found in the sharp, even intemperate, responses to the Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen of 1789 by the fathers, respectively, of English conservatism and English liberalism, Edmund Burke and Jeremy Bentham. I also seek to show that their tone and their arguments found their way into the influential writing of Albert Venn Dicey in the late 19th century, into the mind-set of the proponents of ‘political constitutionalism’ in contemporary Britain, and underlie contemporary opposition to the HRA.

I start in the recent past with some remarks on the drafting process for the ECHR in 1949-50, and the reasons why the ECHR is, as the UK desired, a much more limited document than the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948. The ECHR contains ‘first generation’, ‘justiceable’, human rights, in a concise form which is remarkably similar to that of the Déclaration, even if this is not expressly noted by contemporary scholars.

Second, I turn to A V Dicey’s remarks on the Déclaration and indeed all written constitutions especially those containing declarations or definitions of rights: his targets were the French and Belgian Constitutions of his time. I note that he commences with a quotation from Edmund Burke, from 1791, and that in passing he praises Bentham for having refuted the supremacy of natural rights. Third, I examine Burke both in his writings of 1790 and in the posthumous construction of his thought into a foundation of English conservatism. Fourth, I explore Jeremy Bentham’s posthumously published frontal attack on the Déclaration and the reasons why he may have reacted in this way. Fifth, I trace the echoes of Burke, Bentham and Dicey in the work of Richard Bellamy, a leading contemporary exponent of “political constitutionalism”.

It is my case that this colourful history is at the root of the opposition to or at least unease with the HRA which is the subject matter of this collection. In conclusion, I find support for my argument in the cover of a collection, focusing on one of the most outspoken opponents of the ECHR and HRA, Lord Sumption, published in 2016. The cover shows a print from 1794; and the Note on the print brings my argument full circle.

The drafting of the ECHR

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)[1] was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948 at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris.[2] Even a cursory glance at this document reveals that its 30 articles, with 26 substantive rights, contain many more rights than those listed in the ECHR. These include the right to social security (Article 22), the right to work, to equal pay for equal work and just and favourable remuneration and the right to form and join trade unions (Article 23), the right to rest and leisure including paid holidays (Article 24), the right to an adequate standard of living including food, clothing, housing, medical care, social services and social protection (Article 25), the right to education (Article 26), and the right to participation in the cultural life of the community (Article 27). That is, the social, economic and cultural rights which are noticeably absent from the ECHR. I have argued elsewhere that the UK and the other common-law countries share a profound scepticism concerning or even an allergy towards social and economic rights, not least because they are thought not to be susceptible to adjudication.[3]

Morsink not only highlights the “question of whether or not there are two kinds of rights in the Declaration, “real” civil and political rights and “utopian” social, economic and cultural ones”, and observes that “Some delegations thought that no cuts should be made in the area of social and economic rights, for they were the new and recently accepted rights.[4] These newer rights, it was thought should be spelled out in greater detail that the older eighteenth-century civil and political ones.”[5]  He also notes that “… a cursory reading of the Declaration might suggest that the drafters did not think of these “new”, nineteenth-century rights as having the same status as the older and more established civil and political rights that hail from the eighteenth century.”[6]

Brian Simpson relates that the negotiations in the Council of Europe which produced the ECHR took place from August 1949 to September 1950, and that the UK’s Foreign Office emphasised that the approach of the Council of Europe “should be on the right lines”.[7] The initial plan was for “a statement in concise form” of fundamental personal rights based mainly on the UDHR.[8] The issue was which rights were capable of legal enforcement[9], and the proposal was for a “minimum list of rights susceptible of legal enforcement”.[10] That is, the cutting of the “utopian” and non-justiciable social and economic rights in the UDHR. Simpson does not note the rather striking fact that that the final text of the ECHR , with its twelve substantive rights, was remarkably similar to the eighteenth-century civil and political rights to which Morsink referred. That is, the rights set out in the Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen adopted by the National Assembly of France on 26 August 1789.[11] Furthermore, these are precisely the substantive rights to be found in the HRA, and although the authors of much contemporary criticism of the HRA may not be in any way conscious of it, their hostility echoes the outspoken condemnation of the English critics of the 18th and 19th centuries. I do note, with approbation of their historical sense, if not approval for their arguments, commentators such as Professor Guglielmo Verdirame, who recalls Edmund Burke as follows:[12]

“The British genius, as Burke understood, was to entrench liberty in the beliefs, traditions and habits of the British people, realising that this matters even more than abstract pronouncements. The association of liberty with tradition instils a sense of individual and collective ownership of those rights. It connects the individual with past and future generations. It minimises the atomising effect of purely individualistic entitlements.”

Furthermore, a Conservative politician has also cited Burke with approval when calling for repeal of the HRA.  In a Westminster Hall Debate, concerning a “British Bill of Rights”, Bill Cash MP described Burke as having identified “a proper kind of freedom” which he contrasted unfavourably with the “entirely abstract and in the event utterly destructive approach” represented by natural rights.[13] I show in this Chapter that opposition to the Rights of Man, to the French Déclaration of 1789, and latterly to the HRA, has a long and distinguished pedigree in English conservatism.

Dicey and the 1789 Déclaration

In the Appendix to his 1885 Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (The Law of the Constitution), Albert Venn Dicey (4 February 1835 – 7 April 1922) commented on the “rigidity” of the French Constitutions, starting with the Constitution of 1791 which contained the Déclaration, and the twelve French constitutions up to the 1875.[14] He commented that “An English critic smiles at the labour wasted in France on the attempt to make immutable Constitutions which, on an average, have lasted about the years apiece.”[15] Each one contained the Déclaration. The very first line of the preamble to the 1958 French Constitution (of the Fifth Republic) is as follows:

“The French people solemnly proclaim their attachment to the Rights of Man and the principles of national sovereignty as defined by the Declaration of 1789, confirmed and complemented by the Preamble to the Constitution of 1946.”[16]

Dicey is frequently referred to today by English constitutional lawyers, an example being Alison Young in her 2008 Parliamentary Sovereignty and the Human Rights Act, who discusses Dicey at length.[17] The issue in her text is the compatibility of the HRA with Dicey’s doctrines of parliamentary sovereignty and the rule of law. But it is symptomatic of such contemporary engagements with Dicey, and hers in particular, that there is no reference to the 18th century antecedents to Dicey’s 19th century theorisation of the English Constitution, no mention of Burke or Bentham, and no mention of his constant engagement with the 1789 Déclaration in its contemporary (to him) manifestations on the continent.  In fact, throughout the Law of the Constitution, Dicey referred, adversely, to both the French and Belgian constitutions. The whole book should in my view be read as a polemical refutation of the call for protection of rights by way of written declarations or lists of rights. I do not apologise, therefore, for quoting Dicey at some length.

Belgium adopted its first constitution in 1831, drawing on French, Dutch and English models.[18] As Lefebvre pointed out, the Belgian Constitution differed from the French and American Constitutions in that it did not have a separate Droits de l’homme et du citoyen or Bill of Rights, but incorporated most of them into the main body of the Constitution so as to make them legally binding.[19] Dicey commented that

“… it is a mistake to think that the whole law of the English constitution might not be reduced to writing and be enacted in the form of a constitutional code. The Belgian constitution indeed comes very near to a written reproduction of the English constitution, and the constitution of England might easily be turned into an Act of Parliament without suffering any material transformation of character, provided only that the English parliament retained – what the Belgian Parliament, by the way, does not possess – the unrestricted power of repealing or amending the constitutional code.”[20]

That is, parliamentary sovereignty or supremacy. This passage immediately preceded the statement by Dicey of the

“… three traits of Parliamentary sovereignty as it exists in England: first, the power of the legislature to alter any law, fundamental or otherwise, as freely and in the same manner as other laws; secondly, the absence of any legal distinction between constitutional and other laws; thirdly, the non-existence of any judicial or other authority having the right to nullify an Act of Parliament, or to treat it as void or unconstitutional.”[21]

This formulation brought Dicey straight to his point of comparison. In Chapter IV, “The Rule of Law: its Nature and General Applications”, Dicey commented:

“…the English constitution… was not created at one stroke, and far from being the result of legislation, in the ordinary sense of that term… [is] the fruit of contests carried on in the Courts on behalf of the rights of individuals. Our constitution, in short, is a judge-made constitution, and it bears on its face all the features, good and bad, of judge-made law… Hence flow noteworthy distinctions between the constitution of England and the constitutions of most foreign countries. There is in the English constitution an absence of those declarations or definitions of rights so dear to foreign constitutionalists.”[22]

Later in the book, Dicey was even more explicit as to what he was opposing. In Chapter VI “The Right to Freedom of Discussion”, Dicey wrote:

“The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the French Constitution of 1791 proclaim freedom of discussion and the liberty of the press in terms which are still cited in text-books as embodying maxims of French jurisprudence…”[23]

And later in the same chapter

“The Revolution (it may be fancied) put an end to restraints upon the press. The Declaration of the Rights of Man proclaimed the right of every citizen to publish and print his opinions… the Constitution of 1791 guaranteed to every man the natural right of speaking, printing and publishing his thoughts without having his writing submitted to any censorship or inspection prior to publication. But the Declaration of Rights and this guarantee were practically worthless.”[24]

Even more significant for the purposes of this chapter is the quotation with which Dicey started his book, on page 1, under the heading “The true nature of constitutional law”. Dicey’s quotation was as follows:

“Great critics,” writes Burke in 1791, “have taught us one essential rule… It is this, that if ever we should find ourselves disposed not to admire those writers or artists, Livy or Virgil for instance, Raphael or Michael Angelo, whom all the learned had admired, not to follow our own fancies, but to study them until we know how and what we ought to admire; and if we cannot arrive at this combination of admiration with knowledge, rather to believe that we are dull, than that the rest of the world has been imposed on. It is as good a rule, at least, with regard to this admired constitution (of England). We ought to understand it according to our measure; and to venerate where we are not able presently to comprehend.”[25]

The reference given by Dicey in his footnote is simply “Burke, Works, iii (1872 ed.), p.114. This was in fact a quotation from Burke’s From An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs, in Consequence of some late Discussions in Parliament, Relative to the Reflections on the French Revolution, of 1791.[26] Dicey did not refer to Burke much in his text, but added in the same Chapter:

“The present generation must of necessity look on the constitution in a spirit different from the sentiment either of 1791 or of 1818[27]. We cannot share the religious enthusiasm of Burke, raised, as it was, to the temper of fanatical adoration by just hatred of those “doctors of the modern school”, who, when he write, were renewing the rule of barbarism in the form of the reign of terror…”[28]

What I have shown is that throughout the Law of the Constitution Dicey was arguing with the continental tradition of constitutionalism with its roots in the French Revolution and the Déclaration of 1789. And Dicey was most certainly following in Burke’s footsteps, as I will show, and as the quotation at the start of his book made absolutely clear.

Edmund Burke on the French Revolution

Edmund Burke (1729-1797) is often referred to as the “founder of modern conservatism”. The work which Dicey cited was written towards the end of his life, when he was 63 years old, and one year after his Reflections on the Revolution in France which Burke wrote from February to the summer of 1790.[29] It was, as Jeremy Waldron points out, an immediate success, selling more than 17,000 copies by the end of the year.[30] Burke was publicly congratulated by the king and other political leaders. But in 1794 his case for the impeachment of Warren Hastings (the then Governor of Bengal) for maladministration in India failed, his son died that year, and the French revolution had apparently achieved victory, and he died a bitter and troubled man in 1797. Burke’s starting point in his Reflections was to characterise English constitutionalism in terms of property and inheritance, terms which would be at once recognisable to his aristocratic and landed readers:

“You will observe, that from Magna Carta to the Declaration of Right, it has been the uniform policy of our constitution to claim and assert our liberties, as an entailed inheritance derived to us from our forefathers, and to be transmitted to our posterity…”[31]

 

This was to be contrasted to the “rights of man” philosophy of the French revolutionaries:

 

“I shall only say here, in justice to that old-fashioned constitution, under which we have long prospered, that our representation has been found perfectly adequate to all purposes for which a representation of the people can be desired or derived… To detail the particulars in which it is found so well to promote its ends, would demand a treatise on our practical constitution, I state here the doctrine of the Revolutionists, only that you and others may see, what an opinion these gentlemen entertain of the constitution of their country…”[32]

In passing, he noted that the revolutionaries considered the English House of Commons as only a ‘semblance’, ‘a form’, ‘a theory’, ‘a shadow’, ‘a mockery’, perhaps ‘a nuisance’ – though he did not disclose the source of these epithets. Like Jeremy Bentham, to whom I turn next, he regarded the ideas of the French revolutionaries as intellectual terrorism, or more precisely an underground mine to blow up everything of value in a grand explosion.

 

“It is no wonder therefore, that with these ideas of everything in their constitution and government at home, either in church or state, as illegitimate and usurped, or, at best as a vain mockery, they look abroad with an eager and passionate enthusiasm. Whilst they are possessed by these notions, it is vain to talk to them of the practice of their ancestors, the fundamental laws of their country, the fixed form of a constitution, whose merits are confirmed by the solid test of long experience… They despise wisdom as the wisdom of unlettered men; and as for the rest, they have wrought under-ground a mine that will blow up at one grand explosion all examples of antiquity, all precedents, charters and acts of parliament. They have ‘the rights of men’. Against these there can be no prescription; against these no agreement is binding; these admit no temperament, and no compromise: anything withheld from their full demand is so much fraud and injustice. Against these their rights of men let no government look for security in the length of its continuance, or in the justice and lenity of its administration.”[33]

 

Thomas Schofield, Professor of the History of Legal and Political Thought and Director of the Bentham Project at University College London, where Bentham’s ‘auto-icon’ is preserved, analysed the effect of Burke’s polemic on contemporary English conservative thought.[34] He pointed out that the rights-of-man doctrine of the French revolutionaries posed as much of a danger to social order as the more tangible military threat posed by revolutionary France.[35] Indeed in his Letter to a member of the National Assembly and Thoughts on French affairs, Burke argued that the Britain and other European powers “should aid counter-revolution and expurgate rights-of-man philosophy”.[36] After the events of 1792 Burke’s polemic convinced conservatives that the proponents of rights-of-man philosophy, with its central principle of the sovereignty of the people, believed it should be universally applied, to every European state.

“There was now widespread agreement with Burke’s view that these doctrines tended ‘to the utter subversion, not only of all government, in all modes, and to all stable securities to rational freedom, but to all the rules and principles of morality.’”[37]

Democratic principles and the threat of sedition were now inseparable. In 1792 William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806)[38], the British Prime Minister who was a ferocious opponent of the French Revolution, and led Britain in the wars against France (which declared war against Britain in 1793) and Napoleon, explained to the House of Commons:

“This whole system of insurrection … would appear… to be laid in the Rights of Man, that monstrous doctrine, under colour of which the weak and ignorant, who are most susceptible of impression from such barren abstract speculations, were expected and attempted to be seduced to overturn Government, law, property, security, religion, order, and everything valuable in this country, as they had already overturned and destroyed everything in France, and endangered every nation in Europe.”[39]

 

In my view Pitt’s denunciation of the Rights of Man as a “monstrous doctrine” continues to resonate in the debates concerning the Human Rights Act. Benedict Douglas has noted that the intellectual legacy of both Bentham and Burke and their scepticism towards  rights has contributed to   the perception that there is a lack of popular ‘ownership’ over the  contents of the HRA.[40] It is noteworthy, however, that the antagonists in the debate over the future of the HRA  rarely refer to this history and speak as if  they are ignorant of it.

Schofield sums up the convictions of conservatives as follows[41]:

“Conservatives proceeded to argue that the inequalities of property and rank, as they existed in Britain, were perfectly just, in conformity with nature, and promoted both the individual and general welfare. This form of government, founded on property, guaranteed stability, equal civil rights and proper reward to industry and skill. The revolutionary government of France however had an unnatural basis, the sovereignty of the people. The revolution had destroyed security of property and instituted tyranny. By attacking property, it had assaulted the true principles of government, and because it was universal in its doctrines, it was universal in its application. The revolution was more than the destruction of the ancient monarchy of France; it constituted a world-wide onslaught upon civilization.” [42]

The historian Emily Jones has recently shown that by 1914 Burke had been firmly established as a ‘conservative’ political thinker whose work was directly associated with British Conservatism.[43] She observes that ‘Burkean conservatism’ centres round key concepts, drawn primarily from his Reflections on the revolution in France (1790), such as ‘the authority of tradition’, the organic, historic conception of society, and the necessity of order, religion, and property. Thus, she observes, Burke, who never produced a theory of government, is now generally referred to as the ‘founder of modern conservatism’.”[44]

Indeed, Burke never set out to be a political theorist, let alone a theorist of conservatism. As the title of his 1791 text shows, he saw himself as a Whig. He was an example of a polemicist and politician whose status as a “political philosopher of conservatism” was constructed by a “burgeoning literature in higher education”, systematising his letters and speeches, at the same time as a substantial number of political Conservatives appropriated his “conservatism”. Thus, Burke’s thought was moulded into “a much baggier but more polemically useful ‘theory’ of conservatism which eventually became seen as the basis of political Conservatism.” [45] Jones points out that Dicey defended the existing constitution against revolutionary ‘Jacobins’ in a series of books and articles. In these texts, Burke’s “Reflections”, a defence of the liberty of aristocrats and clergymen against atheists and the multitude as well as a eulogy of the British constitution, became a key source. The Fortnightly Review claimed: ‘It is the fashion in these days to quote Burke.’ In this perspective, says Jones, Home Rulers became French Jacobins, intent on destruction and not reform.”[46]

I agree with Jones’s estimation that ‘Burkean conservatism’ came to symbolise relatively vague concepts, such as hostility to constitutional change (including the critique of abstract ahistorical thought in politics, and the need for balance in the constitution), and support for private property, religion, historicism, and the organic nature of society. [47] Jones, however, does not focus on Burke’s specific attack on the “rights of man”, nor does she refer to Schofield’s publication in the same journal. However, the influence of Edmund Burke on Dicey and on the British attitude – and hostility towards – Rights of Man cannot be denied, in the context of his role as the “father of English conservatism”.

Jeremy Bentham and ‘Anarchical Fallacies’

Dicey did not refer in his Law of the Constitution to Edmund Burke’s younger contemporary Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), except in the introduction, where he stated that the “dogma of natural rights” was in England condemned and confuted (refuted) by Bentham and his disciples. In Dicey’s view the declining influence of utilitarianism appeared to have given new strength to this doctrine.[48] Dicey did not tell his readers how Bentham had performed this service. Bentham’s attack on ‘rights-of-man philosophy’ was written in much stronger terms even than Burke’s. Bentham began working on his response to the 1789 Déclaration in 1795 and finished them in 1796. The document was originally entitled Pestulance Unmasked, but remained unpublished, though offered to an anti-Jacobin magazine under the splendid title No French Nonsense: or a Cross Buttock for the first Declaration of Rights: together with a kick of the A— for the Second… by a practitioner of the Old English Art of Self Defence.[49]

But it was not published under this title or any other until after Bentham’s death in 1832, and although there was a publication in French, it did not appear in English until my ancestor John Bowring edited The Works of Jeremy Bentham in 11 volumes in 1843.[50] There it appeared under the title Anarchical Fallacies; being an examination of the Declaration of Rights issued during the French Revolution.[51] Jeremy Waldron sets it out in full in his collection already mentioned.[52] Bentham’s vigorous condemnation of the Déclaration is well known

“Natural rights is simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible rights, rhetorical nonsense, – nonsense upon stilts.. But this rhetorical nonsense ends in the old strain of mischievous nonsense; for immediately a list of these pretended natural rights is given, and those are so expressed as to present to view legal rights. And of these rights, whatever they are, there is not, it seems, any one of which any government can, upon any occasion whatever, abrogate the smallest particle.”

 

So much for terrorist language.[53] In another text which Waldron includes in his collection, Bentham’s Supply without Burden[54], first published in 1795, Bentham wrote:

“When I hear of natural rights… I always see in the background a cluster of daggers or of pikes introduced in the National Assembly with the applause of the President Condorcet for the avowed purpose of exterminating the King’s friends.”[55]

Hugo Bedau also refers to Bentham’s opinion, citing his colourful phrases, that the Déclaration

“… consists of “execrable trash,” that its purpose is “resistance to all laws” and “insurrection,” that its advocates “sow the seeds of anarchy broad-cast,” and, most memorably, that any doctrine of natural rights is “simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible rights, rhetorical nonsense,-nonsense upon stilts.”[56]

In his later essay Philip Schofield noted that while Bentham was, until 1789, actively engaged in putting forward proposals for the reform of the French electoral and constitutional systems, Bentham was increasingly shocked by the violence of the Terror in France, and became ever more convinced of the superiority of the British preference for slow evolution, representative democracy through a sovereign parliament, and rights defined and determined by the courts.[57]

These events were the insurrection of 10 August 1792 when the Tuileries was attacked and the Royal family forced to flee, the September Massacres, the success of the French armies in Europe following the Battle of Valmy on 20 September 1792, and the abolition of the monarchy two days later. Bentham noted that the ‘characteristic properties’ of democratic government were ignorance, violence, extravagance, discontent, frequent wars, and danger of violent revolution.[58] Indeed, the feature which Bentham criticized most severely was the lack of intelligence in the people to conduct the business of government.

Schofield concludes that Bentham was edging towards the development of a radical utilitarian politics until the excesses of the French Revolution persuaded him to abandon this course, and instead to defend the existing institutions of the British polity. The historian J. H. Burns also noted[59] the divergence between the hopes of reformers and the reality of revolution in France. Even at his most sympathetic to the cause of radical reform Bentham was, according to Burns, already aware of the ideological gulf between his doctrines and those of the National Assembly. “The phrase natural right” he remarked in one of the unfinished letters to Mirabeau, “when opposed to utility is altogether an unmeaning one.” At that time Bentham had not yet turned his attention to the Déclaration, but his opinion of it was not be doubted.[60]

The American philosopher Hugo Adam Bedau (1926-2012) asked why Bentham described the Déclaration as containing “anarchical fallacies”.[61] He turned directly to why Bentham thought that the French “Declaration sow[s] the seeds of anarchy broad-cast,” and that it is a doctrine of “the rights of anarchy – the order of chaos.”  According to Bentham, the French Déclaration did this because of its tacit message “People, behold your rights! If a single article of them be violated, insurrection is not your right only, but the most sacred of your duties.”[62] As Bedau pointed out that this was a startling remark, since no such radically anarchic language actually appeared in the Preamble or in any of the seventeen articles of the French Déclaration. The only language coming at all close to this was to be found in the second article, where all persons are told they have “…natural and imprescriptible rights … [including the right of] resistance to oppression[]” (la résistance à l’oppression)[63].  Bedau pointed out that this was not to be found either in the American “Bill of Rights” of 1791 or in the 1948 UDHR. However, this assertion led Bentham to heap scorn on the very idea of an “imprescriptible” right – a right that no political or legal authority may or can suspend, modify, or nullify…[64]. Furthermore, Bedau pointed out that Bentham never explained why an insistence on “natural rights” as they were affirmed in the French Déclaration, were the sole or the dominant cause of political unrest in France.[65]

The footprints of Burke, Bentham and Dicey in contemporary “Political constitutionalism”

In this section of my chapter I trace some of the lasting effects, the continuing resonance, of English and British hostility to Rights of Man, in present day scholarship. Richard Bellamy is a leading contemporary exponent of “political constitutionalism” – as opposed to the “legal constitutionalism” of those who believe that it is high time that the UK followed the example of the rest of the world and adopted a written constitution.[66]  He points out that the UK presents a rather intractable puzzle to scholars of constitutionalism, a real paradox. Despite the absence to this date of a written constitution or even entrenched constitutional provisions – or even the equivalent of Israel’s Basic Laws[67] – the UK (or more accurately England) can claim to be the inspirer and originator of two key elements of modern “legal constitutionalism”: the separation of powers (the inspiration for Montesquieu’s 1748 De l’esprit des lois) and a bill of rights (as found in the 1689 Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown). Bellamy notes that “from more or less the same period” Parliamentary sovereignty emerged as the distinctive constitutional feature of the UK.[68]

I would say (which Bellamy does not) that this was fixed in constitutional practice in England in the seventeenth rather than the eighteenth century, and I would contend that parliamentary sovereignty is the direct consequence of Parliament’s victory in the English Revolution (or Civil War). This was noted in 1993 by Lord Templeman in the House of Lords in M v Home Office[69], when he characterised the submissions of the Home Office as “a proposition which would reverse the result of the Civil War”. This war culminated in the execution of King Charles I in 1649 and led to the first and last attempt at a written constitution for England, the Instrument of Government, drafted by Major-General John Lambert in 1653.[70]  Bellamy goes on to argue that parliamentary sovereignty has been a characteristic of the English constitutional order that “commentators from the late eighteenth century onward have believed negated, or at least trumped, both of these attributes of a legal constitution” – the separation of powers and a bill of rights. At this point Bellamy turns to Dicey:

“As Dicey, who became this doctrine’s chief ideologist, famously and approvingly noted, there is ‘in the English constitution an absence of those declarations or definitions of rights so dear to foreign constitutionalists.’”[71]

And mentions in passing Burke:

“However, from Edmund Burke onward, a host of defenders of the Westminster system have regarded it as offering a distinct and superior model of political constitutionalism, which protects British liberties far more effectively than could the paper parchment of a “legal” Constitution.”[72]

Bellamy is clear that his aim is “less to assess if current judicial practice suggests the HRA is compatible with a distinctly political conception of the constitution and more to explore if it could be so.”[73] At this point he returns to his opening paradox –

“In this way, skepticism about the possibility of a political constitution turns into skepticism about constitutionalism itself. And so we come back to the opening apparent paradox, the resolution of which arises by virtue of the British constitution’s remaining true to its history in successfully combining both the separation of powers and a bill of rights not in despite of but because of Parliamentary sovereignty.”[74]

Bellamy has returned to this theme in his contribution to a collection devoted to Lord Sumption’s 2013 lecture “The Limits of Law”.[75] In expressing his trenchant views concerning the Human Rights Act 1998 and the dangers of “judicial lawmaking”, Lord Sumption did not mention Burke, Bentham or Dicey, though their ghosts, I suggest, are always present at his shoulder. Bellamy’s contribution is entitled The Limits of Lord Sumption: Limited Legal Constitutionalism and the Political Form of the ECHR.[76] According to the book’s index, Burke, Bentham or Dicey are nowhere referred to in the collection. Bellamy is highly critical of Lord Sumption’s “conservative” approach:

“However, whereas his arguments are institutionally and to some degree politically conservative, this is less so with regard to political constitutionalism. By and large, political constitutionalism has been proposed by those on the left of the political spectrum as much concerned by the judiciary’ s failure to uphold rights as by their propensity to discover new rights. From the political constitutionalist perspective, Lord Sumption’s limited legal constitutionalism is as contentious and as open to abuse as the more extensive versions he criticises, such as those he associates with Ronald Dworkin, John Rawls and the ‘ living instrument ’ doctrine of the ECtHR.”[77]

Conclusion

However, even if the Index is notable for the absences I refer to above, the cover illustration and the anonymous “A Note on the Cover” of The Limits of Lord Sumption , serve to help me to make my point. The illustration is the 1793 print by James Gillray, “Fashion before ease; or, a good constitution sacrificed for a fantastic form”. The Note reads:

“The print shows an unhappy Britannia being laced into a corset by Thomas Paine. Paine was the author of, amongst other books, The Rights of Man – and the title of this volume can be seen on the measuring tape, which dangles from his pocket next to his tailor’s shears. The Rights of Man, published a couple of years before Gillray’s print, called for the introduction of a written constitution for the United Kingdom (sic), the recognition that natural rights constrain the state… Paine’s intellectual rival, Edmund Burke, would have sympathised with the manner in which Gillray has chosen to depict the scene. For Burke, the British state was an organic entity, one that had developed over time, intertwined with the community of which it was a part. The rationalist attempt to draw up a set of rights that limited the states was bound to create discomfort: the protection of liberties is a function of a well-formed state, and not something that can be imposed on it from outside.”[78]

Gillray’s print and the Note support, I think, my argument that the case against the HRA has a great deal to do with the historical development of English constitutionalism. The intellectual origins of both Conservatism and Liberalism in their English manifestations, and with the horror felt by Burke and Bentham not only towards the French Revolution itself, were characterised against the idea of natural rights, in particular the intellectual ‘terrorism’ of the Déclaration. This led to a cultural scepticism of the concept of natural rights which were often cast as the direct anti-thesis of British constitutional traditions. In a similar way the contemporary debate about the HRA repeal frames supposedly British traditions, such as parliamentary sovereignty, against European notions, such as the protection of rights by the ECHR.

 

 

 

[1] Universal Declaration of Human Rights UNGA Res 217A(III) 10 Dec 1948.

[2] Johannes Morsink The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Origins, Drafting and Intent (University of Pennsylvania Press 1990).

[3] Bill Bowring “Forbidden Relations? The UK’s Discourse of Human Rights and the Struggle for Social Justice” (2002) n.1 Law, Social Justice, and Global Development, at

http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/global/issue/2002-1/bowring.htm accessed 14 October 2016.

[4] Morsink (n.3) 84.

[5] Ibid.164. The delegations in favour of cutting were those from the USA, UK and India.

[6] Ibid. 222

[7] Brian Simpson Human Rights and End of Empire: Britain and the Genesis of the European Convention (OUP 2001) 649.

[8] Ibid 650.

[9] Ibid. 658.

[10] Ibid.661.

[11] Jeremy Waldron Nonsense upon Stilts: Bentham, Burke and Marx on the Rights of Man (Methuen 1987) 24.

[12] Guglielmo Verdirame “Why Britain should scrap the Human Rights Act” The Spectator 3 October 2014, at http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2014/10/why-britain-should-scrap-the-human-rights-act/ accessed 24 November 2016.

[13] WH Deb 17 March 2011 Volume 525 col 116.

[14] A. V. Dicey Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution ( first ed 8th ed 1885Macmillan 1931) 469.

[15] Ibid 474.

[16] English translation approved by the French authorities, at

http://www.thisnation.com/library/france.html (accessed on 14 October 2016)

[17] Alison Young Parliamentary Sovereignty and the Human Rights Act (Hart 2009). In her Conclusion, Young (p.161) makes it clear that her book argues for possible ways in which rights can be entrenched while preserving parliamentary sovereignty. She contends (p.162) that Dicey’s theory has been regarded as the “prevailing conception of sovereignty”.

[18] Edwige Lefebvre “The Belgian Constitution of 1831: The Citizen Burgher” (ZERP Diskussionspapier, Bremen 4/97) available at https://www.jura.uni-bremen.de/lib/download.php?file=13752639d7.pdf accessed on 14 October 2016.

[19] Lefebvre (n.18) p. 27

[20] A. V. Dicey Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (Macmillan, 8th ed, 1931); first ed 1885 86.

[21] Ibid 87.

[22] Ibid 192.

[23] Ibid. 234.

[24] Ibid. 252.

[25] Ibid. 1.

[26] Edmund Burke From An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs, in Consequence of some late Discussions in Parliament, Relative to the Reflections on the French Revolution (London 1791), facsimile available at https://archive.org/details/appealfromnewtoo00burkiala (accessed on 14 October 2010), p.140-141

[27] This is a reference to the work of the historian Henry Hallam (1777 to 1859) View of the State of Europe during the Middle Ages, (12th ed), Volume 2, p267: “No unbiased observer who derives pleasure from the welfare of his species, can fail to consider the long and uninterruptedly increasing prosperity of England  as the most beautiful phaenomenon in the history of mankind…”.

[28] Dicey (n.20) 3.

[29] Its full title was Reflections on the Revolution in France and on the proceedings in certain societies in London relative to that event. In a letter intended to have been sent to a gentleman in Paris by the right honourable Edmund Burke, facsimile of the 2nd edition at

https://archive.org/details/reflectionsonre04burkgoog accessed on 17 October 2016.

[30] Jeremy Waldron (ed) Nonsense upon Stilts. Bentham, Burke and Marx on the Rights of Man (London, Methuen, 1987), Chapter 4 “Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France” (1790) 82.

[31] Ibid. 100.

[32] Ibid. 102.

[33] Ibid 103-4.

[34] Thomas Philip Schofield ‘Conservative Political Thought in Britain in Response to the French Revolution’ (1986) 29 The Historical Journal 601.

[35] Ibid. 601

[36] Ibid. 603

[37] Ibid 603, and Edmund Burke, The works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke. a new edition (12 vols., London, 1808-13),VI, I48.

[38] He became the youngest Prime Minister in 1783 at the age of 24. He left office in 1801, but was Prime Minister again from 1804 until his death in 1806. He was also the Chancellor of the Exchequer throughout his premiership. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/pitt_the_younger.shtml accessed on 22 November 2016.

[39] Schofield (n34) p.604; and The Parliamentary Register (2nd series, 45 vols., London, I781-96), XXXVIII, 247.

[40] Benedict Douglas, ‘Why Human Rights Have Not Been Accepted in the UK’ U.K. Constitutional Law Blog 4th May 2015 available at http://ukconstitutionallaw.org accessed 20 November 2016.

[41] Schofield (n.34) 621.

[42] Ibid 621.

[43] Emily Jones ‘Conservatism, Edmund Burke, and the Invention of a Political Tradition, c. 1885-1914’ (2015) 58 The Historical Journal 1115.

[44] Ibid 1116.

[45] Ibid. 1118.

[46] Ibid 1121.

[47] Jones (n.43) 1123.

[48] Dicey (n.20) lxii.

[49] Waldron (n.30) 32.

[50] Hugo Bedau mistakenly gives the date of publication in English as 1834 – see Hugo Adam Bedau “Anarchical Fallacies”: Bentham’s Attack on Human Rights” v.22 (2000) Human Rights Quarterly 261.

[51] Jeremy Bentham Anarchical Fallacies in The Works of Jeremy Bentham edited by John Bowring (Edinburgh, William Tait, 1843), vol II, p.489-535, facsimile edition at

http://oll.libertyfund.org/sources/2124-facsimile-pdf-bentham-the-works-of-jeremy-bentham-vol-2/download (accessed on 17 October 2016)

[52] Waldron (n.30) 46-76.

[53] Ibid 55.

[54] Jeremy Bentham Supply without Burden in The Works of Jeremy Bentham edited by John Bowring (Edinburgh, William Tait, 1843), vol II, p.585-598, facsimile edition at

http://oll.libertyfund.org/sources/2124-facsimile-pdf-bentham-the-works-of-jeremy-bentham-vol-2/download accessed on 17 October 2016.

[55] Waldron (n.30) 74.

[56] Bedau (n.50) 263.

[57] Philip Schofield ‘Jeremy Bentham, the French Revolution and political Radicalism’ (2004) 30 History of European Ideas 381, 396.

[58] See University College London Library, Bentham Papers, xliv. 5.

[59] J. H. Burns ‘Bentham and the French Revolution’ (1966) 16 Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 95.

[60] Ibid. 103.

[61] Hugo Adam Bedau ‘”Anarchical Fallacies”: Bentham’s Attack on Human Rights’ (2000) 22 Human Rights Quarterly 26.

[62] Ibid 266.

[63] Article 2: “Le but de toute association politique est la conservation des droits naturels et imprescriptibles de l’Homme. Ces droits sont la liberté, la propriété, la sûreté, et la résistance à l’oppression.”

In French on the web-site of the French Conseil Constitutionnel, at

http://www.conseil-constitutionnel.fr/conseil-constitutionnel/francais/la-constitution/la-constitution-du-4-octobre-1958/declaration-des-droits-de-l-homme-et-du-citoyen-de-1789.5076.html accessed on 18 October 2016. In English: “The goal of any political association is the conservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, safety and resistance against oppression.”

[64] Bedau (n.61) 267.

[65] Ibid 268.

[66] See Richard Bellamy ‘Political constitutionalism and the Human Rights Act’(2011) 9 International Journal of Constitutional Law 86.

[67] See Basic Laws at  https://www.knesset.gov.il/description/eng/eng_mimshal_yesod.htm accessed on 18 October 2016.

[68] Bellamy (n.66) 87.

[69] M v Home Office [1993] UKHL 5.

[70] See Peter Gaunt ‘Drafting the Instrument of Government, 1653–54: a reappraisal’ (1989) 8 Parliamentary History 28.

[71] Bellamy (n.66) 86-7.

[72] Ibid 87.

[73] Ibid 88.

[74] Ibid.111.

[75] Lord Sumption: the 27th Sultan Azlan Shah Lecture, Kuala Lumpur, 20 November 2013 available at https://www.supremecourt.uk/docs/speech-131120.pdf accessed on 18 October 2016.

[76] Richard Bellamy “The Limits of Lord Sumption: Limited Legal Constitutionalism and the Political Form of the ECHR” in Nicholas Barber, Richard Ekins, Paul Yowell (eds), Lord Sumption and the Limits of the Law,  (Hart Publishing 2016).

[77] Ibid. 195.

[78] Ibid.

Russian Prisons: From GULAG to FSIN

Russian Prisons: From GULAG to FSIN

Society for Cooperation in Russian and Soviet Studies

SCRSS Digest. No 1, Spring 2017, pages 12-14

Bill Bowring, President of SCRSS

On 8 December 2016 President Putin met his Council for Development of Civil Society and Human Rights (Human Rights Council), which includes several leading Russian human rights activists and prison reformers. Some of them have been active in the independent prison Public Monitoring Commission (ONK), created in 2008 during Mr Medvedev’s presidency. The ONK, inspired by the British system of Prison Visitors, has rights to visit all places of detention, interview prisoners and report on conditions. The transcript of the meeting is published on the President of Russia website (http://en.kremlin.ru/).

One of the members of the Council, the veteran human rights defender Ludmila Alekseeva (founder of the Moscow Helsinki Group), raised the issue of controversial recent elections to the new fourth composition of the ONK by the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation. President Putin replied that he agreed with her on every point. She was followed by the journalist and former ONK member Elena Masyuk who made a forceful presentation about the fate of the ONK, and the attempted legal proceedings by her and others to overturn the Civic Chamber’s decision. She had written that the Civic Chamber was replacing all experts on the penitentiary system and human rights activists with unknowns from the penitentiary system itself, as well as former criminals. President Putin also agreed with her. She was followed by Andrei Babushkin who, together with the former Duma Deputy Valery Borshchov, had helped to create the system of ONKs, and by Igor Kalyapin, founder of the highly successful Committee Against Torture.

On 3 January 2017 President Putin published a list of orders (poruchenii) arising from the meeting of 8 December. One of these ordered the General Prosecutor of the Russian Federation Yuri Chaika to check the compliance of the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) with public control of guarantees for human rights in prisons. His report must be submitted by 1 September. He also ordered the Civic Chamber, together with the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights and the Federal Ombudsman for Human Rights, to analyse the effectiveness of the mechanism for appointing members of the ONK by the end of March.

What is the background to this? In part, it is the legacy of the GULAG (Chief Directorate of Camps), the USSR’s system of correctional labour camps whose population reached 100,000 in the 1920s, and in which it is estimated that 14 million people spent time between 1929 and 1953. The Russian Federation still has a prison population of more than 633,000, the third highest in the world after the USA with 2,217,947 and China with 1,649,804. In terms of its incarceration rate (the number of prisoners per 100,000 of population), Russia is now eighth in the world, having previously held the highest ranking: its rate is 439, compared with the USA’s 693, and 145 in England and Wales (the highest in Western Europe).

Indeed, Russia has experienced a dramatic fall in prison numbers – from more than 1,000,000 in 2000 (a rate of 729). Russia’s membership of the Council of Europe since 1996 has been one of the main drivers of reform. A condition of membership was transfer of the penitentiary system from the Ministry of the Interior (police and internal armed forces) to the Ministry of Justice, and Russia complied. In 2002 a new Criminal Procedural Code came into force (I was one of the Council of Europe experts working with senior Russian officials on the drafts), requiring judges rather than prosecutors to rule on bail or custody pre-trial. And there is a post-Soviet Criminal Code that has been amended many times. However, most prison officers are former servicemen and the service is highly militarised.

Convicted persons serve their sentences in 717 Correctional Colonies (IK), with compulsory paid work (much less well paid, relatively, than in the USSR). In many cases these are former GULAG camp establishments, in remote parts of Russia. Nearly eight per cent of prisoners are women, and 0.2 per cent are juveniles (under 18 years). The age of criminal responsibility in Russia is 14 years. According to a report published in January 2017, ten per cent of prisoners have HIV and four per cent drug-resistant tuberculosis. Narcotic abuse is rife in Russian prisons. Russia is presently suffering from what is described by officials as an HIV and AIDs epidemic. A major contributor to this crisis is the number of addicts and infected persons released from prison.

Russia’s greatest problem is the system of 217 pre-trial detention prisons called Investigative Isolators (SIZOs), which account for 17 per cent of prisoners. The most famous and notorious are SIZO No 1 (Matrosskaya Tishina), dating from the 1940s and where Mikhail Khodorkovsky was held during his trials, and SIZO No 2 (Butyrka), dating from the eighteenth century. I have visited both. SIZOs, which are obliged to accept every person sent to them by the courts, suffer from chronic and extreme overcrowding.

Since the case of Kalashnikov v Russia in 2002, the European Court of Human Rights had by 2012 ruled against Russia more than eighty times for violations of the right, under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, not to be subjected by reason of overcrowding to inhuman and degrading treatment. Cells with fifteen beds were at times holding forty-five prisoners, who were obliged to sleep in shifts, with an open toilet in the corner (horrifying conditions described in 1994 by Professor Nigel Rodley, then UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, as comparable only to Dante’s circles of hell or Hieronymus Bosch’s depiction of the sufferings of the damned). In 2012 the Strasbourg Court issued a ‘pilot judgment’ in Ananyev v Russia, ordering Russia to submit an Action Plan for reform of the SIZOs within six months. Russia submitted a Plan in time, but implementation is hampered by shortage of funds and corruption. The head of FSIN from 2009 to 2012, Colonel-General Aleksandr Reimer, was arrested in March 2015 and charged with embezzlement from FSIN on a grand scale. He is still in custody awaiting trial. He was appointed by Mr Medvedev, following the scandal of the death of the anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in custody in November 2009. FSIN is now led by a former intelligence officer.

The latest scandal concerning Russian prisons was the case of 34-year-old activist Ildar Dadin. In December 2015, he became the first person to be convicted of a new offence of ‘repeated demonstrating’ and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, reduced on appeal to two and a half years. Amnesty International recognised him as a ‘Prisoner of Conscience’. He complained of serious torture while in an IK in Karelia and was transferred elsewhere – for a long period his lawyers and ONK members were unable to find out where he was being held. He was transferred to an IK in Altai. This case was widely reported. He has since been released.

However, on 8 January 2017, an article in the daily newspaper Vedomosti compared the responses to a survey on the Russian penitentiary system from 2000 and 2016. In 2000, 82 per cent of respondents said that they knew about problems in the penitentiary system, while 18 per cent did not know. By the end of 2016, 68 per cent said they knew nothing, while 32 per cent knew. This is due not only to the dramatic fall in the number of prisoners, but also to the fact that – with very few exceptions – the mass media in Russia are state-controlled, with news of prison conditions ‘filtered’.

That is why the future of the ONK is so controversial and at the top of the list of President Putin’s recent orders.

 

Article in Morning Star, 21 December 2016, with Mike Phipps

lizdaviesblog

Jeremy Corbyn is right to call on the governemnt to provide humanitarian aid rather than wage more wars, writes LIZ DAVIES and MIKE PHIPPS


WHAT is happening in Aleppo is a human rights calamity.

It’s impossible to watch the footage without wanting to do something, immediately. That leads some on the left to surprising positions.

Disrupting Jeremy Corbyn’s speech on December 10 did nothing to help civilians in Aleppo; it diverted attention from the important pledges he made on women and human rights. Equally, this newspaper was wrong to characterise President Bashar al-Assad/Vladimir Putin’s military assault as a “liberation.” Faced with brutal horrors, the West — both the left and the right — reaches too quickly for military solutions.

Jeremy Corbyn is right to continue to reject military intervention, and to call for “humanitarian assistance to Aleppo and other besieged areas and serious pressure to negotiate ceasefires across the conflict…

View original post 794 more words

Derided by the state today, heroes tomorrow: Morning Star 27 October 2016

lizdaviesblog

Despite the PM’s objections, holding British military personnel to human rights laws reflects our common humanity, writes LIZ DAVIES


IN HER leader’s speech to the Tory Party conference, Theresa May said: “We will never again — in any future conflict — let those activist, left-wing human rights lawyers harangue and harass the bravest of the brave: the men and women of Britain’s armed forces.”

Cards on the table: I’m a political activist, I’m left-wing, and — like all lawyers who represent people rather than corporations — I deal with human rights in my day job.

While my work is about housing rights, my comrades in the Haldane Society, in my chambers and in similar chambers and firms do the sort of legal work condemned by the Prime Minister.

She’s riding high when she says that two of the solicitors’ firms which represented Iraqis claiming abuses of human rights by British…

View original post 829 more words

Where does Labour go next? Morning Star 25 September 2016

lizdaviesblog

After a deeply unpleasant election campaign, a careful analysis is needed for the party to move forward, argues LIZ DAVIES


AS the dust settles over this bruising, unnecessary leadership contest, we can get on with what the Labour Party should have been doing over the last few months: opposing the Tories.
Grammar schools, the decimation of social housing, the future of the NHS, punitive welfare provisions and the appalling rise in racism and racist attacks are all issues where Labour has a political and moral obligation to speak up for ordinary people.
When Labour has united against austerity, we have inflicted defeats, most famously over tax credits.
As we unite behind Jeremy Corbyn as our leader, we need to think through three issues: politics, how to manage debate and party democracy.
Politics: after 172 MPs voted for no confidence in Corbyn, Owen Smith during his campaign claimed that — at…

View original post 1,194 more words

Cromwell, Robespierre, Stalin (and Lenin?): Must Revolution Always Mean Catastrophe?

Cromwell, Robespierre, Stalin (and Lenin?): must revolution always mean catastrophe?,

by Bill Bowring

Crisis and Critique: Stalin: what does the name stand for?
Volume 3, issue 1, 29-03-2016
Edited by Frank Ruda & Agon Hamza
PDF Link freely downloadable at http://crisiscritique.org/

Abstract:

Leon Trotsky, reflecting on British history, wrote: ‘The ‘dictatorship of Lenin’ expresses the mighty pressure of the new historical class and its superhuman struggle against all the forces of the old society. If Lenin can be juxtaposed to anyone then it is not to Napoleon nor even less to Mussolini but to Cromwell and Robespierre. It can be with some justice said that Lenin is the proletarian twentieth-century Cromwell. Such a definition would at the same time be the highest compliment to the petty-bourgeois seventeenth-century Cromwell.’ In this response to the call for papers, I take Oliver Cromwell, Maximilien Robespierre, and Vladimir Lenin in turn. I ask whether Stalin has indeed become a “screen memory” whose dreadful image and legacy serves to besmirch the honour of the great European revolutions, in England, France and Russia, to which Trotsky referred. It is no accident, of course, that Cromwell and Robespierre have remained, since their respective deaths, controversial and even monstrous historical figures in their own countries. Would their rehabilitation, which has also recurred throughout the centuries since their own time, mean that Stalin too should be rehabilitated and recovered as a revolutionary? My answer is an unequivocal “no”.

Keywords:

Revolution, Cromwell, Robespierre, Lenin, Stalin

Introduction

On 24-25 February 1956, at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev delivered his report, the “secret speech”, in which he denounced Stalin’s crimes and the ‘cult of personality’ surrounding Stalin.[1] This was a catastrophe for much of the left worldwide, even for Trotskyists who had spent their political lives denouncing the crimes of Stalin. For the loyal members of Communist Parties all over the world who had taken the greatest political and personal risks to defend the Soviet Union and Stalin himself against all criticisms, publication of the report was truly a cataclysm. The brutal Soviet suppression of the Hungarian Uprising, which lasted from 23 October until 10 November 1956, and in which 2,500 Hungarians and 700 Soviet troops died[2], put an end to any remaining illusions.

Many intellectuals abandoned the communist project. Some have sought to grapple with the significance of Stalin, who, in the name of “socialism in one country”, consolidated his authoritarian rule over a reconstituted and enlarged Russian empire. Alain Badiou, perhaps the most significant living intellectual seeking to reinvigorate the idea of communism, has argued[3] that Stalinism substituted “great referential collectives” – Working Class, Party, Socialist Camp – for “those real political processes of which Lenin was the pre-eminent thinker.” But he recognises that for many “… the only category capable of reckoning with the century’s unity is that of crime: the crimes of Stalinist communism and the crimes of Nazism.”[4] I will have more to say about Lenin later in this paper.

Slavoj Žižek, who has often been accused of crypto-Stalinism, wrote[5]:

It’s appropriate, then, to recognise the tragedy of the October Revolution: both its unique emancipatory potential and the historical necessity of its Stalinist outcome. We should have the honesty to acknowledge that the Stalinist purges were in a way more ‘irrational’ than the Fascist violence: its excess is an unmistakable sign that, in contrast to Fascism, Stalinism was a case of an authentic revolution perverted.

In this passage Žižek echoes Trotsky, for whom Stalin was the “personification of the bureaucracy”, the betrayer of the revolution, although Trotsky would never have subscribed to the idea of the historical necessity of the Russian Thermidor.

Trotsky was clear as to Lenin’s antecedents, in a way which has in part inspired the writing of this article, and also expressed an admiration for Cromwell, which would not have occurred to Marx or Engels, for whom Cromwell was, as I will explore later in this article, the petit-bourgeois leader who suppressed the radical Levellers movements and butchered the Irish. Trotsky, reflecting on British history, wrote:

The ‘dictatorship of Lenin’ expresses the mighty pressure of the new historical class and its superhuman struggle against all the forces of the old society. If Lenin can be juxtaposed to anyone then it is not to Napoleon nor even less to Mussolini but to Cromwell and Robespierre. It can be with some justice said that Lenin is the proletarian twentieth-century Cromwell. Such a definition would at the same time be the highest compliment to the petty-bourgeois seventeenth-century Cromwell.[6]

This article therefore asks whether Stalin has indeed become a “screen memory” whose dreadful image and legacy serves to besmirch the honour of the great European revolutions, in England, France and Russia, to which Trotsky referred. It is no accident, of course, that Cromwell and Robespierre have remained, since their respective deaths, controversial and even monstrous historical figures in their own countries. Would their rehabilitation, which has also recurred throughout the centuries since their own time, mean that Stalin too should be rehabilitated and recovered as a revolutionary? My answer is an unequivocal “no”.

Of course, as Slavoj Žižek reminds us, Stalin is indeed being rehabilitated in contemporary Russia, but not at all as a revolutionary, but as an authentic Tsar, precisely what Lenin at the end of his life warned against[7].

Stalin was returning to pre-Revolutionary tsarist policy: Russia’s colonisation of Siberia in the 17th century and Muslim Asia in the 19th was no longer condemned as imperialist expansion, but celebrated for setting these traditional societies on the path of progressive modernisation. Putin’s foreign policy is a clear continuation of the tsarist-Stalinist line.

No wonder Stalin’s portraits are on show again at military parades and public celebrations, while Lenin has been obliterated. In an opinion poll carried out in 2008 by the Rossiya TV station, Stalin was voted the third greatest Russian of all time, with half a million votes. Lenin came in a distant sixth. Stalin is celebrated not as a Communist but as a restorer of Russian greatness after Lenin’s anti-patriotic ‘deviation’.[8]

And indeed, on 21 January 2016, President Putin told the Russian Council on Science and Education that Lenin was an ‘atomic bomb’ placed under the foundations of the Russian state.[9] Such denunciations of Lenin are now becoming a significant ideological marker for the Kremlin and its supporters. On 3 February 2016 General (retired) Leonid Reshetnikov of the SVR, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, and now Director of the Russian Institute for Strategic Research (RISI), a think-tank for the SVR[10], applauded Putin’s words, and blamed Lenin also for the creation of Ukraine and its zombified anti-Russian population now controlled by the USA.[11] Perhaps we can now expect the pulling down of the many statues of Lenin in Russia. Lenin, who would have detested such political idolatry, would be delighted at such an action, just as he would have preferred to be buried next to his mother rather than embalmed as a sacred icon in Red Square.

As to Stalin, in a press conference on 19 December 2013, Putin said, when asked whether statues of Stalin and Dzerzhinsky should be restored in front of the FSB’s Lubianka headquarters:

What in particular distinguishes Cromwell from Stalin? Can you tell me? Nothing whatsoever. From the point of view of our liberal representatives, the liberal spectrum of our political establishment, he is also a bloody dictator. And this very bloody man, one must say, played a role in the history of Great Britain which is subject to differing interpretations. His monument still stands, and no-one has cut him down.[12]

In the following section of this article I will turn to the figure of Cromwell, and to his “screen memory” as it functions in England.

A leading representative of contemporary Russian liberal thought, Andrei Medushevskii, has stated, taking me one step ahead to the next section of this article, which turns to Robespierre[13]:

The most characteristic attributes of totalitarian states of recent times are everywhere the presence of a single mass party, usually headed by a charismatic leader; an official ideology; state control over the economy, the mass media, and the means of armed struggle; and a system of terrorist police control. Classic examples of totalitarian states possessing all of these attributes are Hitler’s Germany, the USSR in the Stalin period, and Maoist China.

And he was clear that the roots of this phenomenon were to be found in Rousseau:

When Robespierre created the cult of the supreme being, he was consequently only acting as the true pupil and follower of Rousseau and at the same time as a predecessor of those many ideological and political cults with which the twentieth century has proved to be so replete.[14]

Of course, Medushevsky necessarily referred to the ardent follower of Rousseau, Maximilen Robespierre.

In this response to the call for papers, I will take Oliver Cromwell, Maximilien Robespierre, and Vladimir Lenin in turn, before returning to the questions posed in this Introduction. The approach I adopt is not that of a professional historian or even of a historian of ideas. I want to bring out some of the ways in which reflection on the destinies of the “screen memories” of each of these historical figures can help us to come to terms with the significance of “Stalin” for contemporary politics.

Cromwell

Christopher Hill has done more than any other historian to explore the minute detail and to defend the actuality and honour of the English Revolution – and a revolution it certainly was, bourgeois or not. England was utterly changed. The English constitutional model to this day, parliamentary supremacy, is the direct consequence of Cromwell’s execution of Charles I in 1649. What is certain also is that as a result of the victories of Cromwell’s New Model Army, his Ironsides, England could not follow France in the direction of an Absolute Monarchy.

Hill wrote:

Historians have given us many Cromwells, created if not after their own image at least as a vehicle for their own prejudices… But there is a validity in the image of Cromwell blowing up the strongholds of the king, the aristocracy and the church: that, after all, is what the Revolution had achieved.[15]

That is precisely why Cromwell has remained an enduring point of sharp division in England, with educated people to this day identifying as Roundheads or Cavaliers, Parliamentarians or Royalists. The ‘Sealed Knot’ is the oldest re-enactment society in the UK, and the single biggest re-enactment society in Europe. To join and to refight the battles of the English revolution, you must identify as a Cavalier or a Roundhead, and there is no shortage of Roundheads.[16]

I must declare a family interest in this matter. Hill describes the fact that in the early 18th century Whigs had portraits of Cromwell, and “so did John Bowring, a radical fuller of Exeter, grandfather of the biographer of Jeremy Bentham”.[17] This biographer and Bentham’s literary executor and editor of the first edition of his works, also named John Bowring, my ancestor, wrote

My grandfather was a man of strong political feeling, being deemed no better in those days than a Jacobin by politicians and a heretic by churchmen. The truth is that the old Puritan blood, inherited from a long line of ancestors, flowed strongly in his veins, and a traditional reverence for the Commonwealth was evidenced by a fine mezzotint print of Oliver Cromwell, which hung in his parlour. He took a strong part with the Americans in their war of independence, was hustled by the illiberal Tories of the day, and was, I have heard, burnt in effigy in the cathedral yard at the time of the Birmingham riots, when Dr Priestley was compelled to flee his native land. Many prisoners from America were, at the time of our hostilities, confined at Exeter, and my grandfather was much persecuted for the attentions he showed them, and for his attempts to alleviate their sufferings. When John Adams was in England, he, with his wife (who, by the way, was a connection of our family), visited my grandfather at Exeter as a mark of his respect and regard.

To keep up the family tradition, I have a portrait of Cromwell, warts and all, in my study. The sentiments of those who hang portraits of Stalin in their homes are quite different, as I have shown.

As Vladimir Putin correctly noted, in the quotation above, Oliver Cromwell’s statue still stands, sword in hand, a lion at his feet, outside the House of Commons in Westminster[18]. This is a relatively recent, and very controversial monument. It was erected in 1899, but only following a narrow victory for the government on 14 June 1895, saved by Unionist votes. All the 45 Irish Nationalists present voted against, as did most Conservatives including Balfour.[19] On 17 June 1895 the Nationalist, Home Rule, MP Willie Redmond declared that every newspaper in Ireland, of all shades of opinion, had condemned the proposal, and that erection of the statue would give great offence to a large portion of the community.[20] The proposal was withdrawn the next month, and the statue was finally erected in 1899, following a personal donation by Lord Rosebery, the Liberal statesman and Prime Minister in 1894-5.

The statute has not ceased to be an object of intense debate. In May 2004 a group of MPs including Tony Banks proposed removing the statue to the “Butcher of Drogheda”.[21]

Indeed, many on the left in Britain remember Cromwell as the conservative leader who, shortly after the execution of Charles I on 30 January 1649, arrested in a lightning night attack and executed, in the town of Burford on 17 May 1649, three leaders of the radical republican Levellers: Private Church, Corporal Perkins and Cornett Thompson.[22] Every year since 1975 Levellers Day has been held in Burford, and in 1979 Tony Benn unveiled a plaque at the church there to commemorate them.[23] He said of the Levellers:

Their cry was Power to the People; they demanded free schools and hospitals for all – 350 years ago. They were the Levellers, and, despite attempts to airbrush them from history, they are an inspiration, especially in the current election.”

In Ireland Cromwell is remembered with horror and disgust as the “Butcher of Drogheda”, responsible for the massacres at Drogheda and Wexford in September and October 1649. After his troops had killed more than 3,500 at the siege of Drogheda, Cromwell declared, in his characteristic mangled English, in his report to Parliament on 17 September 1649:

I am persuaded that this is a righteous judgment of God upon these barbarous wretches, who have imbrued their hands in so much innocent blood and that it will tend to prevent the effusion of blood for the future, which are satisfactory grounds for such actions, which otherwise cannot but work remorse and regret.”[24]

The Irish have by no means forgiven Cromwell not only for his shedding of so much blood, but also for his characterisation of them as ‘barbarous wretches’.

Cromwell remained in the historical shadows, England’s brief republican history before the Restoration and the ‘Glorious Revolution’, a disgraceful episode better to be forgotten. As Christopher Hill noted[25], it was Thomas Carlyle’s Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell[26] which “finally allowed Cromwell to speak for himself”. Carlyle’s argument was with the Scottish Enlightenment 18th century sceptic David Hume and others for whom Cromwell was an insincere hypocrite, ambitious for himself.

For the romantic reactionary Carlyle, Cromwell was precisely the Hero needed to save 19th century England from Chartism, the franchise and extended democracy, and other socialist evils. Cromwell was selected as an example of “The Hero as King” in Carlyle’s On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History.[27]

Carlyle was at any rate clear as to the significance of the English Revolution, and wrote, remembering England’s characteristic history of internal strife in a way which is forgotten by those who seek to highlight England’s essential decency and peaceableness, ‘British values’:

We have had many civil-wars in England; wars of Red and White Roses, wars of Simon de Montfort; wars enough, which are not very memorable. But that war of the Puritans has a significance which belongs to no one of the others… One Puritan, I think, and almost he alone, our poor Cromwell, seems to hang yet on the gibbet, and find no hearty apologist anywhere.[28]

It is not hard to understand why Cromwell so appealed to Trotsky, the organiser of the Red army in Russia’s Civil War, even if Cromwell was hardly mentioned except with distaste by Marx and Engels. Carlyle recognised the revolutionary nature of the New Model Army.

Cromwell’s Ironsides were the embodiment of this insight of his; men fearing God; and without any other fear. No more conclusively genuine set of fighters ever trod the soil of England, or of any other land.[29]

Without the religion, this is no doubt what Trotsky thought of the Red Army he created in the Russian Civil War.

And in the Introduction to the Letters and Speeches Carlyle stated, in a language which prefigures Badiou’s emphasis on truth:

And then farther, altogether contrary to the popular fancy, it becomes apparent that this Oliver was not man of falsehoods, but man of truths whose words do carry meaning with them, and above all others of that time, are worth considering.[30]

And finally, Carlyle understood, as only perhaps a romantic reactionary could, the nature of the continuing revolution in Europe:

Precisely a century and a year after this of Puritanism had got itself hushed up into decent composure, and its results made smooth, in 1688, there broke out a far deeper explosion, much more difficult to hush up, known to all mortals, and like to be long known, by the name of French Revolution.[31]

Scott Dransfield cites Carlyle in even more rhapsodic vein, replete with arcane phraseology and many Germanic capital letters:

Very frightful it is when a Nation, rending asunder its Constitutions and Regulations which were grown dead cerements for it, becomes transcendental; and must now seek its wild way through the New, Chaotic – where Force is not yet distinguished into Bidden and Forbidden, but Crime and Virtue welter unseparated, – in that domain of what is called the Passions.[32]

Crime and virtue are indissolubly linked to the name of Maximilien Robespierre, to whom I turn next.

 

Robespierre

Hegel devoted a section of his 1807 (written soon after the Terror) Phenomenology of Spirit to a reflection on the French Revolution, entitled ‘Absolute freedom and terror”[33]. This contains two very disturbing passages (Hegel’s italics):

Universal freedom, therefore, can produce neither a positive work nor a deed; there is left for it only negative action; it is merely the fury of destruction.[34]

And

The sole work and deed of universal freedom is therefore death, a death too which has no inner significance or filling, for what is negated is the empty point of the absolutely free self. It is thus the coldest and meanest of all deaths, with no more significance than cutting off a head of cabbage or swallowing a mouthful of water.[35]

Hegel, the absolute idealist, frequently used very concrete examples!

However, some decades later, in his lectures on the philosophy of history, Hegel recovered the revolutionary enthusiasm he had shared while at the Tübinger Stift from 1788-1793 with his fellow students, the poet Friedrich Hölderlin, and the philosopher-to-be Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, and declared:

It has been said that the French revolution resulted from philosophy, and it is not without reason that philosophy has been called Weltweisheit [world wisdom]; for it is not only truth in and for itself, as the pure essence of things, but also truth in its living form as exhibited in the affairs of the world. We should not, therefore, contradict the assertion that the revolution received its first impulse from philosophy… This was accordingly a glorious mental dawn. All thinking being shared in the jubilation of this epoch. Emotions of a lofty character stirred men’s minds at that time; a spiritual enthusiasm thrilled through the world, as if the reconciliation between the divine and the secular was now first accomplished.[36]

But Hegel’s enthusiasm was not characteristic of the majority of conservative (if Hegel was indeed a conservative) and mainstream thought.

In a pithy and accurate remark, Slavoj Žižek wrote

The identifying mark of all kinds of conservatives is its flat rejection: the French revolution was a catastrophe from its very beginning, the product of a godless modern mind; it is to be interpreted as God’s punishment of the humanity’s wicked ways, so its traces should be undone as thoroughly as possible… In short, what the liberals want is a decaffeinated revolution, a revolution that doesn’t smell of revolution.[37]

Indeed, for perhaps the majority of commentators, Robespierre epitomises all that is catastrophic in the revolution, and acts as a potent “screen memory” almost to the extent that Stalin is taken to show that any attempt to change the course of history in the name of socialism or emancipation must end in disaster.

A leading exponent of this school of thought was François Furet[38], who died in 1997. He led the rejection of the “classic” or “Marxist” interpretation of the French Revolution, and his polemics overshadowed the grandiose celebrations in France of the bicentenary of the Revolution in 1989. He joined the intellectual mainstream by proceedings from the perspective of 20th century totalitarianism, as exemplified by Hitler and Stalin.

This path had been blazed at the onset of the Cold War, by Hannah Arendt’s in her On Totalitarianism of 1950[39]. However, in a footnote, Arendt wrote

Isaac Deutscher, Stalin: A Political Biography. (New York and London, 1949), is indispensable for its rich documentary and great insight into the internal struggles of the Bolshevik party; it suffers from an interpretation which likens Stalin to—Cromwell, Napoleon, and Robespierre.

It is a great shame that it is not now possible to ask her exactly what she meant.

Furet’s Penser la Révolution Française (1978; translated as Interpreting the French Revolution)[40] led many intellectuals in France and, after translation, in the English-speaking world, to re-evaluate Communism and the Revolution as inherently totalitarian and anti-democratic.

In a reflection on Furet, Donald Reid has asked whether the historical figure of Robespierre had actually become harmless:

If the French Revolution were to recur eternally, French historians would be less proud of Robespierre. But because they deal with something that will not return, the bloody years of the Revolution have turned into mere words, theories and discussions, have become lighter than feathers, frightening no one. There is an infinite difference between a Robespierre who occurs only once in history and a Robespierre who eternally returns, chopping off French heads.[41]

As explained by Reid, Furet was not at all of that view.  For him Robespierre remained a continuing dreadful threat not only to France but to the whole world, a threat of the eternal return of totalitarianism:

Furet, like Tocqueville, saw the American and French revolutions as quite distinct. The American Revolution was predicated on the demand for the restoration of rights and the continuation of an earlier democratic experience; the decision to emigrate from Europe to the United States had been Americans’ revolutionary rejection of a repressive past. The French Revolution sought to establish a radical break with an aristocratic past and to create a novel social regime. The American Revolution was a narrative that ended with independence and the ratification of the Constitution; the French revolutionary narrative remained open to the future and fearful of a return of the past.[42]

A number of French historians led by Sophie Wahnich[43] of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) are leading a counter-attack against Furet. In her introduction to her 2003 La Liberté ou la mort: Essai sur la Terreur et le terrorisme[44], provocatively if inaccurately translated as In Defence of the Terror: Liberty or Death in the French Revolution[45], Wahnich wrote, referring to Furet and to Marc Fumaroli’s 2001 Cahiers de Cinéma article ‘Terreur et cinéma’:

We see here the conscious construction of a new reception of the French Revolution which, out of disgust at the political crimes of the twentieth century, imposes an equal disgust towards the revolutionary event. The French Revolution is unspeakable because it constituted ‘the matrix of totalitarianism’ and invented its rhetoric.

A splendid chapter in Wahnich’s recent collection[46] is written by Joléne Bureau, who is researching the ‘black legend’ of Robespierre, constructed by the Thermidoreans immediately after Robespierre’s execution, and its destiny since his death. She writes elsewhere in English:

Maximilien Robespierre has reached legendary status due to his ability to embody either the many forms of revolutionary and State violence, or a set of seemingly unaccomplished revolutionary ideals. Long before François Furet demanded the French Revolution become a “cold object”, Marc Bloch had made the following plea: “robespierristes, anti-robespierristes, nous vous crions grâce : par pitié, dites-nous, simplement, quel fut Robespierre”[47]. However, this demand was not met.[48]

And in her chapter[49] in Sophie Wahnich’s collection[50], she poses precisely the question of the “screen memory” of Robespierre:

Cette légende noire agit comme un filter qui bloque notre accès au Robespierre historique.[51]

Robespierre therefore shares Christopher Hill’s characterisation of Cromwell referred to above. Minchul Kim has recently added:

… from 1794 up to the present day, there has been no one Robespierre, no one positive or one negative view of Robespierre, no one Robespierre the demonic dictator or one Robespierre the revolutionary hero. There have always been so many ‘Robespierres’ even within the positive and within the negative…[52]

The most controversial aspect of Robespierre’s career is of course the so-called ‘Reign of Terror’ from 5 September 1793, to 27 July 1794, culminating in the execution of Robespierre himself on 28 July 1794.

Robespierre explained what he meant by terror, and its relationship to virtue, in his speech of 5 February 1794:

If the mainspring of popular government in peacetime is virtue, the mainspring of popular government in revolution is both virtue and terror: virtue, without which terror is disastrous; terror, without which virtue is powerless. Terror is nothing but prompt, severe, inflexible justice; it is therefore an emanation of virtue; it is not so much a specific principle as a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to our homeland’s most pressing needs.[53]

The novelist Hilary Mantel, who entered into the period imaginatively in her famous novel A Place of Greater Safety (1992), has provided a convincing account of the real meaning of ‘virtue’ for Robespierre:

There is a problem with the English word ‘virtue’. It sounds pallid and Catholic. But vertu is not smugness or piety. It is strength, integrity and purity of intent. It assumes the benevolence of human nature towards itself. It is an active force that puts the public good before private interest.[54]

In any event, there are many myths as to the nature of the Terror and the number of casualties. Marisa Linton, the author of Choosing Terror: Virtue, Friendship and Authenticity in the French Revolution[55] and of many other works on the period, recently published a popular blog[56] to set the record straight. On the Terror she wrote:

The revolutionaries of 1789 did not foresee the recourse to violence to defend the Revolution and some, like Robespierre in 1791, wanted the death penalty abolished altogether. Execution by guillotine began with the execution of the king in January 1793. A total of 2,639 people were guillotined in Paris, most of them over nine months between autumn 1793 and summer 1794. Many more people (up to 50,000) were shot, or died of sickness in the prisons. An estimated 250,000 died in the civil war that broke out in Vendée in March 1793, which originated in popular opposition to conscription into the armies to fight against the foreign powers. Most of the casualties there were peasants or republican soldiers.[57]

It is evident that Robespierre cannot be compared with Stalin.

And as to Robespierre himself, in particular the allegation that, like Stalin, he was a bloody dictator, Linton commented:

Robespierre’s time in power lasted just one year, from July 1793 to his death in July 1794 in the coup of Thermidor and even in that time he was never a dictator. He shared that power as one of twelve members of the Committee of Public Safety, its members elected by the Convention, which led the revolutionary government. He defended the recourse to terror, but he certainly didn’t invent it.[58]

And Eric Hazan, in his recently published in English A People’s History of the French Revolution, is even more a partisan of Robespierre:

Under the Constituent Assembly… Robespierre took up positions that were remarkably coherent and courageous – positions in which he was always in a minority and sometimes completely alone: against the property restriction on suffrage, for the civil rights of actors and Jews, against martial law, against slavery in the colonies, against the death penalty, for the right of petition and the freedom of the press.[59]

And as to Robespierre as dictator, Hazan added:

… Robespierre was never a dictator. All the major decisions of the Committee of Public Safety were taken collectively… One could say that within the Committee Robespierre exercised a moral leadership, but can he be reproached for what was simply his elevated perspective? The proof that Robespierre was not a dictator is his end… Isolated and at bay, he let himself be brought down… A dictator, a Bonaparte, would have behaved rather differently.

Stalin died in his bed, having executed all his political competitors and enemies, and having directly caused the deaths of untold millions of Russians and Ukrainians through his policy of forced collectivisation, and having consigned many more to the horrors of the Gulag.

Perhaps we should give Slavoj Žižek the last word as to Robespierre’s ideology:  

Can one imagine something more foreign to our universe of the freedom of opinions, or market competition, of nomadic pluralist interaction, etc, than Robespierre’s politics of Truth (with a capital T, of course), whose proclaimed goal is ‘to return the destiny of liberty into the hands of truth’?[60]

Lenin

It is my contention that Stalin was in no way Lenin’s successor. If Vladimir Putin now regards Lenin as anathema, as the ideologist who through his insistence on the right of nations to self-determination laid an atomic bomb under the foundations of the Russian state, Stalin is honoured as a great heir to the Russian tsars. The Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 mirrors Catherine II’s annexation in 1783. Lenin would have been horrified. Equally, Lenin was very well aware of the history of the French Revolution.

Alistair Wright speculates as follows in his highly relevant article, ‘Guns and Guillotines: State Terror in the Russian and French Revolutions’ – I hope I will be forgiven for quoting from it at some length:

The impression that the French Revolution and in particular the Jacobin Terror left on the Bolshevik party during its seizure and consolidation of power is a broad and contentious subject. However, there can be little doubt that the party’s leading figures, namely Lenin and Trotsky, were acutely aware of these precedents from French history. Indeed, this may well have been significant in shaping their policies during and after 1917. Admittedly there is more controversy surrounding the depth of Lenin’s knowledge of the French Revolution but the same cannot be said for Leon Trotsky. It is fairly evident that the latter was steeped in the history of the French Revolution. He regularly looked at the Bolshevik Revolution through the prism of the French and was even keen to stage an extravagant trial for Nicholas II in the manner of that arranged for Louis XVI between November 1792 and January 1793.[61]

Stalin, although a voracious reader, did not have the multilingual and cosmopolitan intellectual formation of Lenin or Trotsky, and in particular did not suffer their prolonged periods of exile in Western Europe, and there is no reason to believe that he shared their anxious consideration of historical precedents. Wright continues:

Some consideration of the fact that Robespierre became strongly associated at the time and subsequently with the Great Terror during the French Revolution, regardless of whether or not he should really be held personally accountable for it, may well have influenced Lenin’s course of action.

In fact, the Bolsheviks succeeded in the longer term because they consciously learnt from the mistakes made by their French counterparts. Consequently, during the Russian Civil War a different path was taken to that followed by the Jacobins when it came to tackling the Bolsheviks’ political opponents, the established church and peasant disturbances.[62]

As Wright shows, it was not only in his approach to the national question that Lenin’s political strategy and methods differed sharply from Stalin’s, but in his relations with comrades with whom he often had acute disagreements, denouncing them in his fierce and often very rude polemics.

… it is noteworthy that the Bolsheviks’ approach to the threat posed by their political opponents was somewhat more tolerant than that of the Committee of Public Safety during 1793–94. The latter, albeit after a number of heated disputes and resistance, sent their main political opponents, the Girondins, to the guillotine, where they were shortly to be followed by the Hébertistes and the Indulgents. In comparison, relative tolerance on the part of the Bolsheviks was evident both in their sharing of power with the Left Socialists-Revolutionaries (Left SRs) up until March 1918 and in their limited co-operation with their other socialist rivals, the Mensheviks and the Socialists-Revolutionaries proper, by allowing them, intermittently, to take part in the soviets and to print their own newspapers.

Admittedly, the number of political opponents actually killed during the period of the CPS was by no means comprehensive but the fact remains that no prominent opposition leader would die as a result of the Red Terror. Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that any political executions were planned. Even at the 1922 trial of the SR leaders, although several defendants were sentenced to death they were quickly granted amnesty and no one was actually executed. In part this was because of the pressure applied by Western socialists but nevertheless the Bolsheviks could quite easily neutralize their political rivals during the civil war by other means.[63]

In my view, Lenin’s restraint in relation to political opponents had nothing to do with pressure by Western socialists, but on the contrary flowed from his political outlook, his theoretical understanding, and his commitment to the application of a dialectical method, fortified by his deep study not only of Marx and Engels but also of Hegel. Stalin, on the contrary, once he had accumulated full power in his hands, began systematically to eliminate the Bolshevik leadership as it had been constituted at the time of the Revolution.

Vladimir Dobrenko adds as to the Moscow Trials, orchestrated by Stalin:

… why should the Moscow Show Trials warrant a separate investigation from other show trials throughout history? The answer to this lies in the fact that while the Moscow Show Trials share common links with other political trials, chiefly that of the ruling regime willingness to use their adversaries in a judicial context to legitimise their own rule, they are distinguished in several crucial respects. The Trial of Louis XVI is a case in point. All the leading Bolsheviks were conscious of the historical parallel between their revolution and that of the French Revolution, most notably Trotsky, whose critiques of Stalin in the 1930’s drew historical parallels between Stalin and Robespierre. Yet in retrospect, Trotsky only scratched the surface. True, the Moscow Show Trials, like the trial of Louis of XVI, were less a judicial process rather than foregone political decisions to kill and that the trials resembled ritual murders.[64]

Wright adds, reinforcing his earlier comments:

Executing factions within the Bolshevik Party was, of course, an eminent feature of Stalin’s Great Terror during the late 1930s. But, it is worth stressing that Lenin and his followers did not resort to terror against any Bolshevik dissidents during the civil war, despite the existence of such groupings as the Democratic Centralists and the Workers’ Opposition. Of course, the Bolsheviks did move towards disabling their political rivals but certainly not through the same process of open executions as their French counterparts had done.[65]

Wright’s highly apposite conclusion is as follows, comparing Robespierre’s role to that of Lenin:

Although Robespierre came to be regarded as the leading spokesman for the Committee, he was in an entirely different position to that held by Lenin as the leader of the Bolshevik government. By no means did he possess the same popular following within the CPS or the Convention, nor did he have anything like the same influence as Lenin did within the Bolshevik Party. In this respect, the political climate in France during the revolution and the Terror was quite different to that pervading Russia during the civil war.

The Bolsheviks also showed relative clemency when it came to dealing with the leading figures of the political opposition. Often, this was perhaps due to the personal role of Lenin. For example, Victor Serge (V.L. Kibalchich), the Belgian-born anarchist and socialist who worked with the Bolsheviks during the civil war, believed that Lenin protected Iurii Martov from the Cheka (that is, from execution) because of his former friendship with the man with whom he had part founded and developed Russian Social Democracy. Moreover, Lenin would also intervene to save the lives of the Mensheviks Fedor Dan and Raphael Abramovich when the Petrograd Cheka was preparing to shoot them for allegedly being involved in the Kronstadt revolt in March 1921. Serge noted that ‘once Lenin was alerted they were absolutely safe’. Although a great advocate of the use of mass terror, Lenin was apparently willing to show mercy when it came to the case of individuals with whom he was acquainted or simply individuals in general.[66]

Trotsky himself wrote, with hindsight, as to the bloody revenge of the Thermidors of France and of Russia:

The Jacobins were not destroyed as Jacobins but as Terrorists, as Robespierrists, and the like: similarly, the Bolsheviks were destroyed as Trotskyists, Zinovienists, Bukharinists.[67]

The Thermidoreans systematically exterminated the Jacobins; Stalin annihilated the leaders of the Bolshevik Party, and, while cynically taking their name and elevating Lenin to sacred status, ensure that none of the Old Bolsheviks apart from his cronies survived.

Conclusion

It is my contention, as explained at greater length in my 2008 book[68], that the English, French and Russian Revolutions were most certainly Events in the sense given to that word by Alain Badiou. That is, Events which have, in each case, dramatically changed the course of human events in the world. As Badiou would put it, these are Events to which fidelity should be and was owed by millions. Indeed, these were Events which now call upon the human participants in the politics of the present day to honour their decisive and explosive shattering of the hitherto prevailing situation, while at the same time exploring and taking full account of their human tragedy. Just as in the case of St Paul and the universalisation of Christianity, so lucidly explained by Alain Badiou[69], great human figures stand out in each case, the subjects of this study: Cromwell, Robespierre and Lenin. There is no need to subscribe to Carlyle’s acclamation for Heroes in order to explain why in each case precisely these particular individuals rose to the occasion, through long individual experience of internal turmoil, as in the case of Cromwell, lack of charisma as in the case of Robespierre, and on occasion complete isolation, as in the case of Lenin in April 1917, when he stood alone against his Party.[70] In each case the individual has indeed become a “screen memory” for conservatives and reactionaries, dreadful examples used to prove that all revolutions are necessarily disasters.

What is perfectly clear is that neither Cromwell, nor Robespierre, nor Lenin, could become an icon or avatar for the reactionary and historically outmoded regimes they helped to overthrow. Stalin had none of the personal characteristics of the three leaders examined in this article. He was a revolutionary, and a leader of the Bolshevik Party. But his trajectory was to destroy utterly that which he had helped to create. That is why the present Russian regime seeks to elevate him to the status of the murderous Tsars of Russian history.

 

 

References

Arendt, Hannah, 1973, The Origins of Totalitarianism, London: John Harcourt

Badiou, Alain, 2003, Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism, Stanford: Stanford University Press

— – — 2006, Polemics,London, Verso

— – — 2007, The Century, London: Polity Press

Bowring, Bill, 2008, The Degradation of the International Legal Order? The Rehabilitation of Law and the Possibility of Politics, Abingdon: Routledge

Bowring, John, 1877, Autobiographical Recollections of Sir John Bowring (London, Henry S. King), downloadable at https://archive.org/details/autobiographical00bowruoft (accessed on 9 February 2016)

Bureau, Jolène, 2013, ‘Aux origins de la légende noire de Robespierre: les premiers récits sur l’événement-Thermidor’ in Sophie, Wahnich (ed), 2013, Histoire D’Un Trésor Perdu: Transmettre La Révolution Française (Paris, Les Prairies Ordinaires), pp.91-128

Carlyle, Thomas, 1841, On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History, London, James Fraser, Lecture VI, 22 May 1840, ‘The Hero as King’, p.316

— – — 1850, Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell in three volumes, London: Chapman and Hall

Dobrenko, Vladimir, 2010, ‘Constructing the Enemy: Stalin’s Political Imagination and the Great Terror’, Russian Journal of Communication, v.3 n.1-2, pp.72-96,

Dransfield, Scott, 1999, ‘History, hysteria, and the revolutionary subject in Thomas Carlyle’s French revolution’, v.22 n.3  Prose Studies,  pp.57-78,

Furet, François, 1981, Interpreting the French Revolution, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

— – — 1996, The French Revolution 1770-1814, London: John Wiley and Son

— – — 2000, The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea Of Communism In The Twentieth Century, Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Hazan, Eric, 2014, A Peoples History of the French Revolution, London: Verso

Hegel, G. W. F., 1977, Phenomenology of Spirit, translated by A. V. Miller, Oxford: Oxfort University Press

— – –1980, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Hill, Christopher ,1970, God’s Englishman: Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution, Harmondsworth: Pelican

Kim, Minchul, 2015, ‘The many Robespierres from 1794 to the present’, History of European Ideas, v.41, n.7, pp. 992-996

Linton, Marisa, 2013, Choosing Terror: Virtue, Friendship and Authenticity in the French Revolution (Oxford, OUP)

— – — 2015, ‘The Choices of Maximilien Robespierre’ v.7, n.14 # 3 H-France Salon, pp.1-10

— – — 2015 a, ‘Ten myths about the French Revolution’ OUPblog 26 July 2015 at http://blog.oup.com/2015/07/ten-myths-french-revolution/ (accessed on 9 February 2016)

Mantel, Hilary, 2000, ‘What a man this is, with his crowd of women around him!’ review of Robespierre by Colin Haydon and William Doyle (eds) Cambridge University Press, 1999, v.22 n.7 London Review of Books  pp.3-8 at http://www.lrb.co.uk/v22/n07/hilary-mantel/what-a-man-this-is-with-his-crowd-of-women-around-him

Medushevskii, A. N., 1994, ‘Democracy and Tyranny in Modern and Recent Times’, Russian Studies in Philosophy, v.33, n3, pp. 62-96

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Reid, Donald, 2005, ‘François Furet and the future of a disillusionment’, The European Legacy, v.10, n.2, pp. 193-216

Robespierre, Maximilien (2007) “On the principles of political morality that should guide the National Convention in the domestic administration of the Republic”, 5 February 1794, in Žižek, Slavoj, 2007, Slavoj Žižek presents Robespierre: Virtue and Terror, London: Verso, pp. 108-125

Stambler, Ilia, 2006, ‘Heroic Power in Thomas Carlyle and Leo Tolstoy’, The European Legacy, v.11, n.7, pp. 737-751

Trotsky, Leon, 1969, Stalin, Volume 2, The Revolutionary in Power, London: Panther

— – — 1974, Writings on Britain Vol 2, London: New Park

Wahnich, Sophie, 2012, In Defence of the Terror: Liberty or Death in the French Revolution, London: Verso

— – — (ed), 2013, Histoire D’Un Trésor Perdu: Transmettre La Révolution Française, Paris: Les Prairies Ordinaires

Wright, Alistair, 2007, ‘Guns and Guillotines: State Terror in the Russian and French Revolutions’ Revolutionary Russia, v.20, n.2, pp. 173-195

Žižek, Slavoj, 2005, ‘The Two Totalitarianisms’ v.27 n.6 London Review of Books p. 8, at http://www.lrb.co.uk/v27/n06/slavoj-zizek/the-two-totalitarianisms

— – — 2007, Slavoj Žižek presents Robespierre: Virtue and Terror, London: Verso

— – — 2007, Slavoj Žižek presents Trotsky: Terrorism and Communism, London: Verso

— – — 2011, Revolution at the Gates: Selected Writings of Lenin from 1917 (2nd ed), London: Verso

Žižek, Slavoj, 2014, ‘Barbarism with a Human Face’ v.36 n.9 London Review of Books pp.36.37, at http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n09/slavoj-zizek/barbarism-with-a-human-face

 

[1] https://www.marxists.org/archive/khrushchev/1956/02/24.htm (accessed on 8 February 2016)

[2]  UN General Assembly Special Committee on the Problem of Hungary (1957), at http://mek.oszk.hu/01200/01274/01274.pdf  (accessed on 8 February 2016)

[3] Badiou 2007, pp. 102-3

[4] Badiou 2007, p.2

[5] Žižek, 2005

[6] Trotsky 1974, pp.86-7

[7] See https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1922/dec/testamnt/autonomy.htm (accessed on 12 February 2016)

[8] Žižek 2014

[9] “Захоронение дела Ленина: Апофеозом встречи с учеными стала идея Владимира Путина о том, что Владимир Ленин — это разорвавшаяся атомная бомба” Kommersant at http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/2897527 (accessed on 8 February 2016), and “Vladimir Putin accuses Lenin of placing a ‘time bomb’ under Russia: Russian president blames revolutionary’s federalism for break up of Soviet Union and creating ethnic tension in region”, The Guardian 25 January 2016, at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/25/vladmir-putin-accuses-lenin-of-placing-a-time-bomb-under-russia (accessed on 8 February 2016)

[10] See also Paul Goble  ‘Russian Think Tank That Pushed for Invasion of Ukraine Wants Moscow to Overthrow Lukashenka’ at  http://www.jamestown.org/regions/russia/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=43458&tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=48&cHash=271db31b04e7a79825d85178132b9a8a#.Vr2vxfIrLIU (accessed on 12 January 2016)

[11] http://www.aif.ru/politics/world/leonid_reshetnikov_ssha_visyat_na_voloske (accessed on 12 February 2016)

[12] Stenogram in the official Rossiiskaya Gazeta at http://www.rg.ru/2013/12/19/putin-site.html; and Ian Johnston “Stalin was no worse than Oliver Cromwell. The Russian President made the comments at a press conference after he was asked about a monument to Stalin being put up in Moscow” The Independent 20 December 2013 at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/vladimir-putin-soviet-leader-joseph-stalin-was-no-worse-than-oliver-cromwell-9016836.html (both accessed on 8 February 2016)

[13] Medushevskii 1994, p.72

[14] Medushevskii 1994, p.78

[15] Hill 1970, pp. 257 and 262

[16] http://www.thesealedknot.org.uk/about-us (accessed on 12 February 2016)

[17] Hill 1970, p. 263

[18] The statue was designed by Hamo Thornycroft and erected in 1899

[19] “Political Notes”. The Times (34604). 15 June 1895. p. 9.

[20] “House of Commons”. The Times (34606). 18 June 1895. p. 6

[21] http://www.parliament.uk/edm/print/2003-04/1172 (accessed on 9 February 2016)

[22] Hill 1970, p.105

[23] Tony Benn ‘Set my People Free’ The Guardian 13 May 2001, at http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2001/may/13/election2001.uk10 (accessed on 9 February 2001)

[24] Letter 160  ‘For the Honourable William Lenthall, Esquire, Speaker of the Parliament of

England: These.’ Dublin, 17th September, 1649. in Vol 2, Carlyle 1850, p.128

[25] Hill 1970, p.258

[26] Carlyle 1850

[27] Carlyle 1841

[28] Carlyle 1841, pp. 335, 337

[29] Carlyle 1841, p.347

[30] Carlyle 1850, p.20

[31] Carlyle 1841, p. 382

[32] Dransfield 1999, p.62, citing from Carlyle, Works 4:2

[33] Hegel 1977, pp.355-363

[34] Hegel 1997, p.359

[35] Hegel 1997, p.360

[36] Hegel 1980, p.263

[37] Zizek 2007, p.vii

[38] Furet 1981, 1996, 2000

[39] See Arendt 1973

[40] Furet 1981

[41] Reid 2005, 196

[42] Reid 2005, p.205

[43] Agrégée et docteure en histoire, habilitée à diriger des recherches, elle est directrice de recherche au CNRS rattachée à l’Institut Interdisciplinaire du Contemporain (IIAC) et directrice de l’équipe Tram, « Transformations radicales des mondes contemporains »

[44] La Fabrique éditions 2003

[45] Wahnich 2012

[46] Wahnich 2013

[47] “Robespierrists, anti-Robespierrists, we ask for mercy: for pity’s sake, tell us, simply, what Robespierre did.”

[48] https://www.academia.edu/12387445/Robespierre_meurt_longtemps_the_Construction_and_Evolution_of_a_Black_Legend_Through_Time (accessed on 9 February 2016)

[49] Bureau 2013

[50] Wahnich 2013

[51] Bureau 2013, p.91 ‘This black legend acts as a filter which blocks our access to the historical Robespierre’

[52] Kim 2015, p.996

[53] Robespierre 2007, p.115

[54] Mantel 2000

[55] Linton 2013

[56] Linton 2015

[57] Lindon 2015

[58] Linton 2015

[59] Hazan 2014, p. 376

[60] Slavoj Zizek ‘Robespierre or the “Divine Violence” of Terror’, at  http://www.lacan.com/zizrobes.htm (accessed on 10 February 2016)

[61] Wright 2007, p.177

[62] Wright 2007, p.178

[63] Wright 2007, p.179

[64] Dobrenko 2010, p.77

[65] Wright 2007, p.180

[66] Wright 2007, p.182

[67] Trotsky 1969, p.226

[68] Bowring 2008

[69] Badiou 2003

[70] See the incisive Introduction, ‘Between Two Revolutions” to Slavoj Žižek’s important collection of Lenin’s writings from this period, Žižek 2011.

The Budget of homelessness: Morning Star 22 March 2016

lizdaviesblog

Despite Osborne’s spin, the stats show that our housing crisis has grown ever worse since he became Chancellor, writes LIZ DAVIES


“OSBORNE set to ‘eradicate homelessness’,” the Sun screamed on March 7, anticipating the Budget and regurgitating the Chancellor’s spin doctors.

The actual detail in the Budget? £115 million for more hostel beds for people who have slept rough. Obviously funding more hostel beds is a good thing, particularly if you are one of those who would otherwise be on the streets. But this is a drop in the ocean in the context of the housing crisis. We are a long way off from eradicating, or even tackling, homelessness.

The structural causes of homelessness need truly radical solutions; solutions which tackle the economic policies behind spiralling house prices, unaffordable private rents, and social housing having been starved of resources.

Homelessness in England (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have different and…

View original post 688 more words

See the #fireworks I created by blogging on #WordPressDotCom. My 2015 annual report.

See the fireworks the real movement which abolishes the present state of things created by blogging on WordPress.com. Check out their 2015 annual report.

Source: See the #fireworks I created by blogging on #WordPressDotCom. My 2015 annual report.

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