1682: Oh Happy Day! Where the Stuarts Learn to Weave the Narrative

Not without cause, impenitent monarchists amongst my countrymen are dismayed at our Monarch Charles having adopted precisely that kingly name – bearing in mind that his sons by Diana Spencer descend directly from the Stuarts. Might this be some ploy to woo Scotland’s many Catholics, or perhaps the throngs of Anglicans veering towards Roman Catholicism, as the Church led by Charles drowns in Wokism?

Whatever the reason for Charles’ move, the Stuarts have brought little but mayhem whether to Scotland or to England herself.

Nonobstant historical fact, continental Europe remains bewitched by the “romance” of it all—Maria Stuart as a lay-Saint in Friedrich Schiller’s otherwise superb play; the Defeat at Culloden (1746) as the Highlanders’ moral victory rather than an act of self-serving Stuart incompetence; a pure-as-beaten-snow Catholic monarch thrust aside in 1688 by the vulgar Hannoverians… and so forth.

At the end of the day though, the Stuarts have ever been a litany of disaster. The first Charles, having danced round the rim of civil war, was executed in 1649 by a Puritan Parliament, whilst his son Charles II (1630-1685), a Protestant libertinewithout heir, was succeeded by a perfect prodigy of vanity, his brother James, Duke of York, who ruled as James II. Wedded to Maria of Modena, a paragon of beauty, James converted to Catholicism despite the glaring risk of yet another civil war.

Trademarks, Then and Now: Branding other Human Beings with One’s Own Personal Initials

Africa, however, is the continent which had the most to suffer – understatement – from the Stuart reign. In 1660, the very year of Restoration, Charles II founded the Royal African Company (RAC) or Company of Royal Adventurers Trading into Africa, setting up his brother James as Governor.

Owing to the RAC’s monopoly over all African trade, great revenue accrued thereby to both princes.

Established to take control of the African gold mines, in 1663 the RAC issued a fresh Charter which refers explicitly to monopoly and to the slave trade. That Charter denies third-party rights over trade in “redwood, elephants’ teeth, negroes, slaves, hides, wax, guinea grains, or other commodities of those countries.” In 1672 a further Charter allowed for proclaiming martial law in West Africa, so as raise any untoward obstacle to such trafficking

For avoidance of strife over “ownership” of the captured human beings, the RAC took to branding slaves with the Duke of York’s initials, i.e., DoY, not to be confused with Do it Youself, or alternatively with the Company’s letters RAC. In all, it is believed that something like 200,000 persons were transported from Africa to the North American colonies. Ill treatment, terrible food, lack of water—at least 40,000 Africans perished on board ship.

(Nomen est Omen: the present Duke of York is Prince Andrew, brother to King Charles and erstwhile frequent visitor to the late Jeffrey Epstein’s abodes, stocked with a selection of female slaves. But that is neither here nor there…)

Where we Return to Find the Gloucester Wrecked

Back to the Gloucester. For her misfortune, James Duke of York, having been made Lord Admiral of the Fleet (the inanity of his portrait as the God of War beggars belief), was persuaded that his navigational science necessarily matched an Admiral’s title.

In May 1682, recalled to London by his brother Charles, the Duke of York embarked on the newly-refitted frigate Gloucester and tacked towards Scotland; he was to bring Maria de Modena back to London. The Gloucester’s escort included four or five warships and four yachts, which were to supply many witnesses to the disaster about to befall.

Notoriously perilous due to shifting sandbanks, Norfolk’s ill-mapped Northern coastline scarcely qualified as a suitable route for the RMS Titanic-style headlong race on which the Duke-Admiral insisted. Intent on reaching London swiftly to quell “anti-Catholic” factions, James threatened the weather-beaten expert navigators who had proposed an alternate course and pulled rank, obliging the Gloucester’s captain to press in hard against the coastline at 6 knots an hour at dead of night—great speed and great risk for that period.

On May 6th 1682 at five-thirty in the morning and as all passengers slept, the Gloucester struck the parallel Leman and Ower sandbanks and sank in the space of an hour, with the loss of over half her crew and passengers, including several Scots noblemen – although there was no ship’s register, it is thought that no less than 250 souls perished.

Whereas protocol forbade his retinue from quitting the ship before the Duke, the latter, intent on recovering a trunk with private papers, would only quit the ship shortly before it went under, thus ensuring that most on board would drown. Thereupon the Duke gracefully stepped into a waiting lifeboat, where sat his page John Churchill (later Duke of Marlborough), waving a naked sword. Churchill’s assigned rôle was, at swordpoint, to thrust back into the sea passengers and crew attempting to clamber to safety.

A Study in Perfecting the Narrative

So ghastly an event, harshly commented upon by so many and prominent eyewitnesses, could scarcely remain hidden; the uproar swelled and looked to shake Stuart rule. Upon which, the Duke had recourse to the Usual Procedure: firstly, charge the seamen with his own fault. Mr. Ayres the Gloucester’s pilot, Mr. Gunman captain of the signal-yacht preceding the Gloucester along with his second officer, were court-martialled (though discreetly freed shortly afterwards…). Cf. this detailed study.

Secondly, in hope of perfecting a narrative for the world’s eye and ear, the Dutch painter Johan Danckerts was commissioned to weave over the events’ warp-and-woof.

Thus, though the Gloucester sank in seas five metres deep, Danckerts shews her quite literally beached rather than capsized, upright and prow forwards, leading one to believe that all souls on board would readily reach the strand and safety. As for the Duke’s lifeboat, depicted thronged with crew and passengers, it was in reality near-empty, courtesy of John Churchill’s sword.

In 1685, this glory of a Duke of York succeeded Charles II, only to be overthrown by the still-more-Glorious, as it were, Revolution of 1688.

A final remark: In 2005, after five years’ relentless search, two expert amateur divers, the brothers Julian and Lincoln Barnwell, seconded by their friend James Little formerly of the Royal Navy, discovered the wreck of the Gloucester. To discourage booty-hunters—the Gloucester was laden with all manner of items of most unusual historical interest – the find was made public only in 2022, nor have the wreck’s precise coordinates ever been disclosed. An exhibition at the Museum of Norwich celebrates the intrepid three, who have richly earned their place in history.

(As an aside, the business does point to which nation’s subjects might display the nerves of steel needed to to ensure “success” to the attack on Nord Stream, on the Crimean Bridge, and so forth…)

Mendelssohn Moses writes from France. (Revised and amended from the original French on Réseau International).

Featured: The Wreck of the ‘Gloucester’ off Yarmouth, 6 May 1682, by Johan Danckerts; painted ca. 1682.

Géza Ottlik’s A School at the Frontier: Out of Childhood and into History

Written in 1948, in a shattered Hungary, emerging from the war on the side of the defeated, School at the Frontier was not published until 1959, in a country whose satellization by the Soviets was now complete. Yet there are no references to the dramatic events of recent history in this melancholy work: Géza Ottlik, drawing largely on his own memories, describes the daily life of a group of students entering the first year of a military school in the 1920s. The institution, located near the newly established border separating Hungary and Austria, welcomed the country’s future elite.

In this enclosed, out-of-this-world universe, whose isolation evokes that of the young Hungarian nation in the middle of a continent with which it does not even share the origins of its language, children are preparing to become men. The rigor of instruction, the quasi-Kafkaesque discipline and the constant violence imposed on these still carefree spirits are designed to harden them. If the end of childhood means a break with the sweetness of family life, a break with the carefreeness of rural life and a confrontation with the brutal industrial world of war, it is because Hungary itself has embarked on a transformation that should enable it to catch up with its supposed lag. More than a metaphor for the advent of the twentieth century in a Central Europe brutally roused from its torpor, the fate of these children heralds the disaster to come.

In their own way, each of the young students embodies a figure of the Hungarian, a posture in the face of history and existence. Czako, whose indolence and phlegm in the face of vexations evoke the detachment of the artist or nomad; Medve, combative but naive, recalls the political activist who is revolted by the abuse of power, but whose illusions deprive him of clear-sightedness; Öttzvényi, attached to procedures, rejecting iniquity and concerned with respect for justice, appears as an allegory of the law. The tragic fate that awaits Öttzvényi, guilty of having reported an unjust punishment for the first time in the school’s history, is a reminder that when times get tough, the law can do no more. In this military institution, as in the upcoming dictatorial Hungary, force supersedes law, and authority takes the place of justice.

Told through the memories of a now-adult narrator, this harrowing school year allows us to appreciate, step by step, the slow march of free spirits called upon to see their moral judgment diluted by the strict observance of arbitrary principles. These rules, sometimes tyrannical, often absurd, need no legitimacy. They do not even need rationality. Their existence is their only justification, and is enough to compel compliance: “No one was trying to get us to admit that the aim of the stretching exercises was physical culture; it was simply to get us to start the day, every morning at dawn, with a half-hour bullying session.”

Beyond the Bildungsroman

The precision of the narrative and the meticulous style with which Géza Ottlik, without ever revealing the key to their real meaning, spins out the events that mark this long year, distinguish School at the Frontier from the classic Bildungsroman to which it has often been likened. Psychological developments are rare. Analysis is absent. Only the details of a dull, repetitive daily life allow us, through their subtle and slow alteration over time, to understand the depth of the changes taking place in these young boys. Less masterful than Musil’s The Confusions of Young Törless, more austere than the works of Herman Hesse, School at the Frontier nevertheless manages to depict the fate of this sacrificed European generation with the same cruelty.

Even more so than the fact that introspective reflection is replaced by bare facts, it is the work’s pessimism that sets it radically apart from the Bildungsroman established by the German-language authors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In Musil, Mann and Hesse, leaving childhood involves its share of drama and wounds, which are the price to pay for true freedom. The post-romantic critique of the triumphant rationality of the Enlightenment remains no less reasonable: if the darkness of ignorance cannot be totally dispelled, it remains necessary to confront it and recognize one’s own imperfection, with the aim of surpassing oneself.

In Ottlik’s work, the pain of coming of age is not compensated for. Illusions dispelled and naiveté lost are replaced only by bitterness and resignation. The world for which the military school prepares its pupils is neither more rational nor more beautiful than the school itself. The same absurdity and violence prevail: growing up means accepting one’s chains and one’s condition: “Among the countless things we held dear, some were reduced to nothing more or less quickly, disintegrated or altered,” observes the narrator. As for the “little moments of pleasure” that endure for better or for worse, from a stay in the infirmary where books can be obtained, to a game of soccer played between two exercises, their brevity and uselessness ultimately rob them of all flavor. They are the last childlike respites the condemned man allows himself to live.

A Tragic Sense of History

In fact, as adults, the narrator and his friend Medve look back on their first year with pain. The vexations they endured have left scars perhaps deeper than the war itself. The sense of waste is heightened by the idea that it was all for nothing, and that there was no justice. The most perfidious of their comrades went on to brilliant careers as officers, or became half-robots. The weakest continued to suffer the ravages of life, even after renouncing their military careers. Once again, history imposes itself as a tragedy. Life kept its disappointing promises. The war, for which they had been prepared, took place. Everything that happened was already there, in germ, in the mind of a child and in the destiny of a country.

As the school year progresses, and in the face of the implacability of History, a question as absurd as it is obvious gradually emerges: what is the point of time passing? Another Hungarian writer, László Krasznahorkai, seems to reply in the opening line of Melancholy of Resistance: “It passes without passing. Like adults whose choices are merely repetitions of childhood echoes, like peoples condemned to reproduce the same acts from generation to generation, schoolchildren “grope blindly in a duration that has… lost its true consistency, and sometimes it [seems to them] to be trampling on, sometimes the events of a recent past seem extremely distant.”

Reflecting the cyclical vision of history so dear to Central and Eastern European literature, this pessimism reminds us that the past haunts the present and determines the future, on the scale of human life as well as major events. For the Hungarian society of the 1960s, which soon ranked School at the Frontier among the great classics of its national literature, this was no doubt self-evident. In many ways, the fate of these schoolchildren repeated the dramas of the defunct Kingdom of Hungary, just as much as they foreshadowed the misfortunes of the Communist dictatorship—with which Gézla Ottlik maintained a distance that, in the context of the Kadar years, was enough to pass for disapproval.

Alexis Bétemps is a Parisian Germanophile and deputy editor-in-chief of PHILITT, through whose courtesy this article appears.

Featured: Mátyás Hunyadi Military School in Kőszeg, in 1926. Géza Ottlik is in the back row, second from the left.

Was Post-Civil-War Repression Ruthless for the Defeated in Spain?

Historian Miguel Platón has researched all the death sentences handed down by the military courts of the Franco regime up to 1975 and thus has an in-depth knowledge of the extent of the post-Spanish-Civil-War repression, as well as the crimes of which the defendants were accused. In this article he reveals the evolution of the prison population and the legislation in this regard, which confirm the non-existence of genocide. Another lie that he refutes is the claim of the existence of more than 100,000 bodies abandoned in graves.

The political objective of the draft Law of “Democratic Memory,” presented by the Socialist-Communist Government of Pedro Sánchez, is similar to that of the current Law of “Historical Memory” promoted in 2007 by the Socialist Government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero—to hide the responsibility of the socialist trade union and party (the UGT and the PSOE) in the failure of the Second Spanish Republic (1931-36), a period in which the leftists resorted to the use of violence, including an armed rebellion against the Government in October 1934, the manipulation of the outcome of the February 1936 parliamentary elections and the cover-up of the assassination of a right-wing opposition leader, Deputy José Calvo Sotelo (July 13, 1936), by a Socialist gunman. It also seeks to conceal the crimes carried out by the leaders and members of both organizations during the war: tens of thousands of murders, tortures, rapes and robberies; and, last but not least, the corruption of several of their most prominent leaders.

The legal initiative constitutes, above all, a betrayal of the combatants of that war. When the Spanish Civil War ended in April 1939, both armies had around one and a half million young Spaniards between eighteen and thirty-two years of age in their ranks, the great majority of whom had been forcibly mobilized, since volunteers represented only ten percent of the total number of combatants. Tacitly but firmly, these young people set themselves a fundamental political goal, which they maintained for the rest of their lives: never another civil war, so that their children would not endure the suffering they had endured. The goal would be achieved and, together with economic development, was the basis of the Spanish political miracle of the late 1970s: a broad social consensus that opened the doors to democracy, crowned by the 1978 Constitution. The breaking of that consensus by the PSOE leadership means promoting the return to a polarized society like the one existing in 1936, which led to the greatest tragedy in the history of Spain.

The Republic: A Regime of Permanent Violence

The political violence linked to the Spanish Civil War comprised three phases: before July 1936 (the beginning of the war), during the conflict (from July 1936 to April 1939) and the post-civil-war period. The three followed one another with varying intensity, but in practice without solution of continuity.

The recourse to violence was born at the same time as the republican project. The conspirators, who in August 1930 united to overthrow King Alfonso XIII, formed a Provisional Government which, in turn, appointed a Military Committee, with the express purpose of organizing an insurrection. Most of the conspirators’ economic resources were used to buy pistols, and in December a double plot was planned: a coup d’état by related military units and a general revolutionary strike. The latter failed due to lack of union collaboration, but military commanders rose up in Jaca (Huesca) and Madrid. The first proclamation, published in Jaca by a captain of the Army, read as follows: “Anyone who opposes by word or in writing, who conspires or arms against the nascent Republic, will be shot without trial.”

It was not an idle threat—a little earlier the rebels had killed the temporary chief of the Civil Guard and two carabineros. In the twenty-four hours that the uprising lasted, they caused the death of nine people, among them the military governor general of Huesca. Forces loyal to the Government defeated them, as well as the rebels in Madrid. Two captains who took up arms in Jaca were condemned to death and shot.

After the proclamation of the Republic in April 1931, violent episodes followed, carried out by various political and union forces, repressed by the forces of Public Order and, in certain cases, by the Army (the State of War was declared by successive governments on more than a dozen occasions). There are no definitive statistics on the casualties and damage caused, largely because of the press censorship that was in force during most of the Republican period—but the most complete estimates calculate between 2,629 and 3,628 deaths, from April 1931 to July 1936.

Historian Eduardo Gonzalez Calleja has added 196 fatalities between April and December 1931; 190 in 1932; 311 in 1933; 1,457 in 1934; 47 in 1935, and 428 in 1936, up to July 17. Exhaustive research carried out by Juan Blázquez Miguel estimates 288 for the same period of 1931; 276 in 1932; 536 in 1933; 1,879 in 1934; 142 in 1935, and 502 in 1936, up to mid-July. Blázquez Miguel also points out that during the Republican period, violence caused 12,520 injuries, 13,494 strikes were called, 735 religious buildings were set on fire, 780 assaults and profanations were carried out, as well as 3,866 attacks with explosives or of other nature.

Most of the violence originated in trade unions and left-wing parties: the General Union of Workers (socialist), the National Confederation of Workers (anarchist), the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, the Communist Party of Spain, Esquerra Republicana de Cataluña and the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (POUM). From 1934 onwards, the attacks were joined by Falange Española, a local version of Italian fascism, which was very active in 1936.

Deadly clashes took place even between elements of different leftist formations, with a total of sixty-one dead, mainly on the part of socialists and anarchists, while there was not a single fatality among right-wing forces, according to González Calleja’s data.

The parties of the center, the right and the Republican left, which together accounted for the vast majority of the popular vote, were oblivious to the violence, although at times they did not fight it with sufficient firmness. Above all, the left-wing Republicans (Izquierda Republicana and Acción Republicana) agreed in January 1936 on a Popular Front candidacy with the forces that had taken up arms against the center-right government in October 1934: UGT, PSOE, PCE and ERC. After their relative electoral victory in February, IR, UR and ERC came to power, although they were at the mercy of the Socialists and Communists for a parliamentary majority. The main socialist leader, Francisco Largo Caballero, repeatedly expressed his aim to merge with the Communist Party, a project that began to materialize in April 1936, with the youth of both formations. Largo was hailed by his own people, since 1933, as the “Spanish Lenin.”

Differences Between the Two Repressions

At the beginning of the war, the institutions and norms that made up the Rule of Law collapsed. The rebels imposed the State of War and the Popular Front Government handed over the weapons, and with them the effective power, to militiamen from trade unions and left-wing parties.

On both sides the authorities who were not sympathetic were dismissed, from town councilors to Supreme Court magistrates. On the rebel side, many civilian posts were filled by the military. On the governmental side, local authorities and company managements were replaced by revolutionary committees, made up of trade unions and left-wing parties. Civil servants were purged everywhere, for no other reason than their political affinity. For the same reason, numerous dismissals took place in the businesses themselves, both of managers and of ordinary employees.

In both areas there was a general persecution of those who were considered adversaries, even if they had not carried out any hostile action. This was the case from large cities to small towns. There were tens of thousands of murders, along with clandestine burials, arrests, prison sentences, forced labor, seizures, looting, extortion, fines, robberies and threats. In the Republican zone there were numerous cases of people being burned alive, tortured, women raped and corpses desecrated. Five years before the Nazi extermination camps began to operate, Catalan anarchists incinerated their victims in industrial ovens. Other corpses were thrown into raging rivers, chasms or deep mineshafts. With few exceptions, these crimes went unpunished, on either side, by the express will of the respective authorities.

The victims of the repression in the government/Republican zone were mostly murdered, by decision of the Revolutionary Committees. In the rebel zone, most of the victims were executed after being condemned in War Councils, without sufficient guarantees or legitimacy; the same happened in the other zone with the so-called People’s Courts and the Court of High Treason and Espionage.

As for the victims, in what ended up being the “national zone,” almost all those murdered or executed belonged to revolutionary organizations, which rejected democracy. This, of course, did not justify their death, but they were co-religionists of those who in the Republican zone carried out tens of thousands of murders. On the contrary, the great majority of those killed or executed in the zone controlled by the Popular Front did not belong to any violent organization. They were religious, lay Catholics and affiliates or sympathizers of center and right-wing parties.

The repression carried out after the Spanish Civil War by the victors was exercised by military jurisdiction. In general, those who were executed were material perpetrators or those directly responsible for acts of bloodshed. If they had not committed crimes of this nature, those sentenced to death were commuted, whether they were civilian authorities, Popular Army commanders, political commissars, members of revolutionary committees, volunteers of the International Brigades, spies, deserters or even guerrillas who had acted in the national zone, and even if they had had mortal encounters. War actions were not considered blood crimes.

Franco’s Pardons

The norm that regulated the cases in which a condemned person could benefit from a pardon was an Order of the Presidency of the Government—that is, of General Franco himself—dated January 25, 1940. The same regulation ordered the establishment of provincial Sentence Review Commissions, which reviewed ex officio all the sentences handed down by War Councils from July 1936 onwards, always in favor of the condemned. Generally speaking, and at various stages, sentences of six years were reduced to one year and those of thirty years to six. By 1944, 70,858 commutation files had been reviewed.

Also in 1940, in the month of April, parole was granted to inmates over sixty years of age who had served a quarter of their sentence. The Law of June 28, 1940, Supplementary to the Statute of State Pensioners, granted a pension to “the wives, children and widowed mothers of civilian and military employees who, in compliance with sentences imposed by the Courts, are suffering or will suffer the penalty of deprivation of liberty for a period of more than one year.” This norm protected the families of those who had been condemned by War Councils in the national zone, including those who had been shot. Family members were entitled to a pension from the moment of conviction, which in certain cases meant arrears of several years. The widow of General Manuel Romerales Quintero, who in July 1936 was Commander General of the Eastern Circumscription of the Protectorate of Morocco, and who at the end of August was condemned to death and shot, received the pension and arrears in 1941.

Beginning with the regular operation of the Ministry of the Army, in the second half of 1939, all death penalty sentences were examined by the auditors of the Legal Corps, in the Advisory and Justice section of the Ministry. The sentences were studied one-by-one, together with complementary information and petitions for pardon. The latter were not only submitted by the convicted person and his relatives. In many cases, authorities from various fields, especially mayors, local Falange chiefs and municipal judges, signed joint petitions for pardon, often supported by dozens or even hundreds of neighbors. This was also done by a large number of religious, from bishops to cloistered nuns, as well as by victims claiming Christian pardon, among them many widows. The women of the Primo de Rivera family, headed by Pilar, National Delegate of the Women’s Section of the Falange, certified in April 1940 before a notary public the impeccable conduct of Adolfo Crespo Orrios, who was in charge of the Alicante prison when on November 20, 1936, her brother José Antonio, founder of the Spanish Falange, was shot there. One of the signatories, Carmen Urquijo, was the widow of Fernando Primo de Rivera, brother of José Antonio, murdered in the Modelo prison in Madrid in August 1936. The women’s action was successful and the condemned to death was pardoned.

The procedure usually lasted months and the auditors recommended the commutation of more than one third of the capital sentences, by means of reasoned and signed reports. Thousands of sentences were disqualified due to insufficient evidence or new information.

The proposals of the auditors were accepted, in 99.8 percent of the convictions, by the Head of State. Franco only intervened in a handful of cases, mostly in favor of the condemned, and in particular of commanders of the Popular Army, both professional and militia. It was also his personal decision to pardon the Socialist deputy, Francisco de Toro Cuevas, elected in 1936 for the province of Granada, who during the civil war had been political commissar of the Parque de Intendencia in Madrid, where workers who were not sympathetic to the Popular Front were dismissed. The auditors even paralyzed execution orders if they had new information favorable to the condemned. In all these cases, Franco rectified the “decision” that he had previously given.

How many were executed after 1939? According to the internal statistics of the Legal Audit of the Ministry of the Army, up to June 30, 1960, there were 24,949 condemned to death, of which 12,851 were commuted, which means about 12,000 executions. From this figure it is necessary to subtract those condemned for common crimes and to add several thousand executions which took place in the spring and summer of 1939, before the regular functioning of the Army Ministry. An approximate figure of the executed is, according to the author’s estimate, around 14,000. This includes those belonging to the “maquis,” a rural guerrilla group made up of former combatants of the Popular Army, who in the second half of the 1940s carried out attacks in which a thousand people lost their lives.

In view of these numbers, it is untenable to claim that in the post-civil-war period the regime of the winning side in the civil war subjected the defeated to a punishment of a cruelty and viciousness similar, in Europe, only to those carried out by the German National Socialist and Communist regimes.

Those commuted from capital punishment were sentenced to the next lower penalty, i.e., life imprisonment, which was equivalent to thirty years. In practice, they remained in prison from three to seven years. The socialist Francisco de Toro, for example, had his death sentence commuted to thirty years’ imprisonment, then reduced to twenty years, and was released on parole in January 1944, less than five years after the end of the war. One of those who was imprisoned the longest was Cipriano Rivas Cherif, brother-in-law of President Manuel Azaña, sentenced to death in October 1940 and released in 1947.

The proportion of those commuted increased significantly over time. In 1939 only a quarter of the condemned benefited from pardon; but from 1941 onwards it was already the majority. In principle, those sentenced to death could not benefit from the review of sentences, but this criterion was changed in their favor in September 1942.

Pardons of Death Sentences and Reduction of Sentences

During the civil war, both sides had used prisoners, both political and war prisoners, for various duties: fortifications, agricultural work, mines, repairs of damage caused by bombing, etc. The concentration camps had been created in December 1936 by a decree of the Minister of Justice of the Republican Government, the anarchist Juan García Oliver. In the post-civil-war period, the camps of Republican origin continued to operate, such as the Albatera camp in Alicante, and many prisoners were placed in labor battalions, militarized penitentiary colonies, penal detachments, various workshops and reconstruction tasks, in what were called Devastated Regions.

In May 1937, a circular on “paid work for prisoners of war and prisoners for common crimes” was approved; but the most important regulation was the Decree on the Redemption of Sentences through Work of October 7, 1938, which allowed most of the prisoners to reduce the length of their sentences, as well as to obtain a salary for the benefit of their families. The 1939 Law for the creation of the Military Penitentiary Colonies guaranteed that they would have “decent clothing,” as well as medical and pharmaceutical assistance. The following year, an order of December 30, 1940, declared applicable to inmate workers the same benefits that the legislation provided for free workers, in terms of coverage for work accidents, family allowance and legal rest.

At the end of 1939, there were 270,719 prisoners, a figure eight times the 34,526 existing in February 1936 and more than thirteen times the average number of prisoners before the rebellion of October 1934, which was about 20,000.

Beginning in 1940, a policy was initiated, aimed at the gradual release of those convicted of war-related crimes. In practice, the only sentences served were the death sentences that had been ratified. In 1940, parole was granted to those who had been sentenced to less than six years and one day. Nevertheless, at the end of the year, there were still 233,373 prisoners in the prisons.

The attenuation of repression intensified in the following years, largely because the most serious proceedings had already been resolved. In 1941, those sentenced to sentences not exceeding twelve years benefited from parole; and by December 31, the number of prisoners had been reduced to 159,392. The latter figure was reduced to 124,423 at the end of 1942 and to 74,095 at the end of 1943. In this year parole was granted to those condemned to sentences of up to twenty years and one day by a decree of December 17, signed by Franco, which reduced the prison population by more than a third: in April there were still 114,958 prisoners, 22,481 for common crimes and 92,477 “prisoners as a consequence of the revolution,” according to the data of the General Directorate of Prisons.

On December 31, 1944, the number of prisoners was 54,072. And in 1945, a new decree of the Ministry of Justice, dated October 9, also signed by the Generalissimo, provided for the “total pardon” of all those condemned for military rebellion and other crimes up to April 1, 1939, as long as they had not committed “acts repulsive to any honest conscience,” thus reducing the number of prisoners to 43,812. In June of the same year, the number of prisoners was 51,300: 18,033 common and 33,267 political.

A report of the Army Ministry’s Legal Department, dated June 9, 1945, described the situation at that time: “All those sentenced to sentences of up to twenty years are at liberty… Of those sentenced to sentences of between twenty years and one day and thirty years of imprisonment, those included in the benefits of the decree of December 17, 1943 are also at liberty, that is, those who, because of their behavior in prison, advanced age, state of health or other circumstances, have earned it.”

The overall balance, therefore, is that those sentenced to imprisonment did not even serve half of the custodial sentence. On average, only a quarter, and as time went on, even less. This is shown by the study of individual cases.

One example is General Luis Castelló, who was Minister of War between July and August 1936, who fled to France and was handed over to Spain by the German occupiers. In 1943, a War Council condemned him to death, a sentence commuted to life imprisonment (thirty years); but the time he spent in military prisons was three years and nine months. Antonio Lafuente Estefanía, who would become famous as an author of Western novels under the name of Marcial, during the civil war had been councilman of Chamartín de la Rosa (Madrid) for the anarchist union CNT, a position in which he protected persecuted right-wingers. He was also a volunteer soldier in the Popular Army. Tried by a War Council in July 1941, the prosecutor requested the death penalty, but he was sentenced to twenty years and three months; later the sentence was reduced to twelve. In November, when he had served two and a half years in prison, he was granted mitigated imprisonment at his home.

After a new pardon decree of December 27, 1946, the number of prisoners was 36,370, similar to the number in February 1936.

Return of Exiles

By that time, the question had been raised as to what should be the rule applicable to those who had been exiled at the end of the civil war and wished to return to Spain. The Ministry of Justice introduced a decree, dated February 4, 1947, “by which rules are given to legalize the situation of Spanish exiles abroad and facilitate their return to Spain.” It established that “the interested party will be informed if the facts do not constitute a crime, are crimes included in the pardon or are not included.”

The Ministry of the Army, for its part, issued some “Instructions or rules to which the judicial authorities must adjust their actions in relation to those who had the status of professional military personnel and wished to return to Spain… Provided, it specified, that they had not had a very outstanding performance in the war of liberation.”

The application of these instructions was as follows: once back in Spain, the exiled republican soldier had to present himself before the military court that had corresponded with him, with his travel on national territory paid for by the Ministry. The Court would inform him of the possible responsibilities, “so that with knowledge of them, those who so wished, could return abroad.”

During the 1950s, very prominent commanders of the People’s Army of the Republic returned to Spain, including Vicente Rojo, who had been General Chief of the Central General Staff between 1937 and 1939, and who was court-martialed and immediately pardoned. Another prominent commander who returned, although only temporarily, was the former communist Manuel Tagüeña, chief of the XV Army Corps in the Battle of the Ebro, who was able to visit his sick mother.

The return to Spain of the exiles became widespread, in fact, during the 1950s. In the interview he gave to the French newspaper Le Figaro (June 13, 1958), Franco himself described the situation in these terms: “A small number of them have committed general civil law crimes during the civil war. Lastly, numerous are those who come to our consulates to request authorization to return to their homeland, either temporarily or definitively. In 99.9 percent of the cases, such authorization is granted. Spain is open to all its citizens, without distinction, except for criminals.”

During the thirty years following World War II, there was a general downward trend in repression, only altered in the second half of the 1940s by the actions of the “maquis” and from 1968 by the terrorist group ETA and other smaller groups. The last person to be shot for acts committed during the civil war was, the communist leader Julián Grimau, in April 1963, who had been chief of police in Barcelona. During the Franco regime, the historical minimum of prisoners, for all crimes, was 10,622 in 1965, thanks to the successive application of two general pardons, one in 1964 for the 25 years of Peace (counted from the end of the war) and another in 1965 for the Compostela Holy Year.

On April 1, 1969, in application of the Penal Code and thirty years after the end of the civil war, all crimes committed during the conflict were declared time-barred (subject to a statutes of limitation). For this reason, when Santiago Carrillo, secretary general of the Communist Party, returned to Spain in 1976 and was arrested, no proceedings could be brought against him for his responsibility in the massacre of Paracuellos de Jarama (Madrid), where several thousand people were murdered in November 1936.

The most extraordinary case linked to the post-civil war repression occurred when the grandson of a man condemned to death married a granddaughter of Franco. The condemned man had been the Engineer, Colonel Tomás Ardid Rey, who throughout the war served in the Popular Army, where he became General Commander of Engineers of the Army of the Center and later General Inspector of Engineers. Sentenced to death in January 1940 by a general court martial, Franco commuted the death sentence on February 12. The sentence was replaced by life imprisonment, equivalent to thirty years, but he was paroled in 1943, after his sentence was reduced on May 18 of that year to twenty years and one day. On March 7, 1946 he was pardoned.

Almost thirty years later, on March 14, 1974, when Colonel Ardid Rey had already died, his grandson, the architect Rafael Ardid, Villoslada married Francisco Franco’s second granddaughter, María de la O—Mariola—Martínez-Bordiú Franco, whom he had met at the University.

The ceremony was held in the chapel of the Palace of El Pardo, residence of the Head of State. Franco sponsored his granddaughter, while the groom was sponsored by his mother, Pilar Villoslada. Among those in attendance were the Princes of Spain, Juan Carlos and Sofia, Carmen Polo de Franco, the Duke and Duchess of Cadiz (Alfonso de Borbon had married Franco’s eldest granddaughter, Carmen, two years earlier) and the entire government. One of those who signed as a witness, on behalf of the groom, was the President of the Government, Carlos Arias Navarro.

Almost half a century later, Rafael Ardid and Mariola have created a family and are still together. Their life has been presided over by discretion and is the only marriage of Franco’s seven grandchildren that has endured. On October 24, 2019, two of their children, great-grandchildren of Tomás Ardid Rey and of the former Head of State, carried on their shoulders the coffin containing the remains of Francisco Franco, when these were exhumed from the Valley of the Fallen.

Much earlier, after the proclamation as king of Juan Carlos I, in November 1975, all death sentences handed down by the courts were commuted and capital punishment was abolished—except for military jurisdiction in time of war—by the 1978 Constitution, earlier than in the French Republic.

Miguel Platón is well-known Spanish writer and researcher, who has written several important books on contemporary history. This article appears through the kind courtesy of La Gaceta de la Iberosfera. This article appears through the kind courtesy of La gaceta de la Iberosfera.

The Enlightenment and the French Revolution

Patrice Gueniffey is a French historican whose field is Napoleonic studies and the French Revolution. He has published several important books, including, Bonaparte: 1769–1802. He sits down with Christophe et Élisabeth Geffroy of La Nef magazine to discuss the connection between the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, in that the latter carried out a “hold-up” on the Enlightenment. This interview comes through the kind courtesy of La Nef.

Christophe et Élisabeth Geffroy (C&E): What are the main ideas of the Enlightenment?

Patrice Gueniffey (PG): To enumerate them would be to draw up a sort of Prévert inventory, for the activities of the Enlightenment extended to all areas of moral, political and social life. From tolerance to freedom of expression, from the question of education to that of inequality, from the problem of property to political forms, from religious questions to the reform of the penal system and the abolition of slavery, nothing escaped them.

C&E: In what way is the Enlightenment not a homogeneous movement, and what ultimately unites it?

PG: The range of issues addressed is so broad that there is no doctrinal homogeneity that would allow us to consider the Enlightenment as a kind of intellectual party with a doctrine. Voltaire, Montesquieu, Diderot, Rousseau and, last but not least, Condorcet, are not different names for the same thinker. Their divergences, and often their oppositions, in every field, testify to the infinite diversity of what we have come to call the “Enlightenment.”

Patrice Gueniffey © Bruno Klein.

However, they do have one thing in common, which Kant defined very precisely in What is Enlightenment? (1784): “the public use of reason in all things.” This was a revolutionary formulation, since from then on, the most established authorities and venerable institutions would be open to free scrutiny, questioning their foundations and legitimacy. The Enlightenment separated truth and authority.

They invented nothing. They were a continuation of the scientific revolution which, from the end of the 15th century, developing in the 16th and triumphing in the 17th, overthrew medieval science, which found in Revelation the means to understand and explain natural phenomena. At least since Galileo, rational observation replaced the “lights” of Christian science. What astronomers, physicists, chemists and botanists had achieved since the early modern era in the study of the physical universe or the animal kingdom, philosophers were to extend to the realm of social and moral life. “Social science” was born, even if it was not until decades later that Abbé Sieyès gave it this name, thus marking its dependence on the natural sciences, adopting the latter’s methods, based on observation and then the reduction of reality to the laws that affect it, and adding to them the idea that, having discovered the laws that “affect” man in society, it would be possible to reorganize the world on fairer foundations.

Of course, not all the philosophers associated with the Enlightenment followed this path in its entirety. Montesquieu could not be considered an advocate of the “complete regeneration” of society, and while Rousseau thought about it, he stopped short of the consequences of such an undertaking. It would take Condorcet to envisage the complete regeneration of what existed, but Condorcet belonged to the French Revolution. The last representative of the Enlightenment was not the most representative of a movement that placed its hopes more often in enlightened despotism and English-style parliamentary monarchy than in democracy or republicanism.

C&E: What influence did the Enlightenment have on the Revolution? Is the Revolution the daughter of the Enlightenment?

PG: The philosophical legacy of the Enlightenment is certainly to be found in the Revolution—it inspired the establishment of representative government; it was directly behind the reform of judicial procedure; it led to the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of the Jews, and inspired all those concerned with widening access to education. This legacy is also to be found in the French Civil Code, the drafting of which began in 1793 and was completed in 1804.

Where the influence of the Enlightenment is most marked is in the policy of reforming society and the State, to which the Revolution gave a powerful impetus between two political upheavals, but which it did not inaugurate. For the monarchy, at least since the reign of Louis XV, is no stranger to the spirit of reform. There was no shortage of ministers imbued with Enlightenment ideas in the royal entourage, and if reforms did not always come to fruition, it was because the weakness of power prevented them, just as the repeated upheavals of the revolutionary period paralyzed many projects. On the eve of 1789, many reforms had been initiated or planned.

The Revolution carried out a sort of “hold-up” on the Enlightenment. It confiscated it even though its last surviving representatives were reluctant to see the continuation of a political enterprise whose violence had always been very alien to them: Abbé Raynal condemned the Revolution as early as 1791; Fontanes preferred to join the counter-revolutionary camp; and Condorcet, after Chamfort, committed suicide when he realized that the Revolution, whose advent he had hailed, had finally turned against the ideals of the Enlightenment.

In 1789, legitimacy remained on the side of the Ancien Régime. No doubt its religious justification had become a fragile title, but the established order remained strong in its roots in time—history and tradition were on its side. The revolutionaries could not oppose another history to the one to which the thousand-year-old monarchy was boundd. They opposed history with philosophy, and tradition with principles that were independent of all circumstances and superior to all traditions. Human rights—identified with the legacy of the Enlightenment—against the tradition to which the Ancien Regime claimed to belong. The battle was unequal, but not in the way the defenders of the established order thought. The cooking pot was not what it seemed, and the Ancien Régime collapsed.

At the same time, the face of the Enlightenment changed. It became a kind of preface to the Revolution, and was reduced to the most radical, and specifically French, currents that had existed within it. For there is a French singularity in this respect. Nowhere else was the Enlightenment—a European phenomenon before it was a national one—so violently anti-religious as in France. At least, nowhere else than in France were so many philosophers, in Voltaire’s wake, so hostile to the Church and even to Christianity as such. Neither in Germany, nor in Italy, nor, a fortiori, in England, did they believe that to put an end to injustice it was necessary to wipe the slate clean, destroy institutions, customs and usages, and even give birth to a new man—in short, to start history all over again from a blank page. This ambition belongs less to the Enlightenment than to French history. Should we blame Gallicanism, which, by making the Church subservient to the State, ended up compromising religion? Should we blame absolutism, which, by reserving a monopoly on public debate, allowed writers and philosophers to discuss everything without ever having to worry about the consequences of their theories, let alone their practicability? No doubt.

C&E: Did the Revolution betray the Enlightenment by following its course towards the Terror, or was this aspect of the Revolution itself inscribed in the “genes” of the Enlightenment?

PG: The Terror: Rousseau’s fault or the fault of circumstances? The debate is long-standing and never-ending. There is no doubt that the philosophical “artificialism” of the Enlightenment contributed to imagining society, and its population, as a field of experimentation

In the political discourse, or rather in the political speculations, of the eighteenth century, there was an absence of any sense of reality that would prove very dangerous once we moved from theory to practice.

That said, we cannot deny the role played by circumstances, by the sudden and brutal collapse of any authority capable of imposing compromise or even repression; nor the role, too often overlooked, of passions that had nothing to do with philosophy; nor, finally, that of the legacy of absolutism which, beyond the great break of 1789, was to be found in post-revolutionary France—the cult of unity, even unanimity, the assimilation of opposition and dissent, the centrality of the State and the religion of administration, the rejection of all local autonomy and all independence of society from those who govern it—in short, old French tropisms, which became more pronounced after the Wars of Religion. This is not a legacy of the Enlightenment. In many respects, the Enlightenment was the very antithesis of it.

Featured: Taking of the Tuileries, Court of the Carrousel, 10th August 1792, by Jean Duplessis-Bertaux; painted in 1793.

Some Insights from Carl Schmitt for the 21st Century

In order to interpret the present political situation, Carl Schmitt’s thought is still topical; regardless of the many insights that can be drawn from it, at the present time some theses advocated by the Plettenberg thinker in the late 1920s and early 1960s, well before the contemporary “epoch,” following the collapse of communism, the “rise” of globalization (and the death of the jurist), are particularly interesting.

First, it is appropriate to explain the extraordinary increase, a few years after the collapse of communism, of populo-sovereign-identitarian parties, by recalling what he wrote in his speech, “Das Zeitalter der Neutralisierung und Entpolitisierungen” (“The Era of Neutralizations and Depoliticizations“), (of 1929).

Schmitt argues in this text that European spiritual life has developed over the last four centuries (i.e., in modernity) by changing centers of reference (from the theological to the metaphysical, from this to the moral-humanitarian and finally to the economic): “If a domain of thought becomes central, then the problems of other domains are solved in terms of the central domain—they are considered secondary problems, whose solution follows as a matter of course only if the problems of the central domain are solved. In a theological age, everything runs smoothly if theological questions are in order; everything else is “provided” by definition. The same is true of other ages” (86).

This center of reference is decisive and prevalent” “Above all the state also derives its reality and power from the respective central domain, because the decisive disputes of friend-enemy groupings are also determined by it” (87).

He continues: “As long as religious-theological matters were the central focus, the maxim cujus regio ejus religio3 had a political meaning. When religious-theoretical matters ceased to dominate the central domain, this maxim also lost its practical import. In the meantime, however, it moved from the cultural stage of the nation and the principle of nationality (cujus regio ejus natio) to the economic domain, where it came to mean: one and the same state cannot accommodate two contradictory economic systems, i.e., capitalism and communism are mutually exclusive (87-88).

After the collapse of communism, the last exculpatory of the “political” (i.e., that between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat) disappeared. Fukuyama wrote that after the victory of liberal democracies, the end of history had come. This prediction is wrong because it presupposes the exhaustion of all reason for conflict; which is impossible because the element of conflict and struggle (Machiavelli and Duverger among many) is a presupposition of the political that is connatural to it (Freund). To think that man, zoon politikon, can exist without a political dimension presupposes changing his nature, which is what the young Marx thought he could do and has instead turned out to be impossible.

Rather, the bourgeois/proletarian justification has been replaced by a different one. The transition between one friend/foe justification and the next, Schmitt wrote, has a decisive political effect: “The succession of stages—from the theological, over the metaphysical and the moral to the economic—simultaneously signifies a series of progressive neutralizations of domains whose centers have shifted” (89). In this process, “The former central domain became neutralized in that it ceased to be the central domain,” but at the same time and progressively “in the dialectic of such a development one creates a new domain of struggle precisely through the shifting of the central domain. In the new domain, at first considered neutral, the antitheses of men and interests unfold with a new intensity and become increasingly sharper. Europeans always have wandered from a conflictual to a neutral domain, and always the newly won neutral domain has become immediately another arena of struggle, once again necessitating the search for a new neutral domain” (90; italics mine). Which appears to be precisely what has happened in the last 30 years. After a (brief) phase in which “post-communist” globalization was thought of as a stable and “peaceful” era, given the planetary hegemony of the U.S., the first cracks, evenly distributed in two categories, were glimpsed: humanitarian wars and, even more, the emergence of antagonists—enemies—of the globalized order. Both converged in supporting the thesis that history—and conflicts—were far from over. As for the “humanitarian” wars, mostly denominated as such in English and qualified as international police operations, definitions aside, they remained wars nonetheless; nor even very appreciable according to the intentions expressed, since already four centuries ago Francisco Suarez warned against such wars. As regards the enemy of the “new order,” at first Islamic fundamentalism, the whole thing proved that an order, however desirable, cannot disregard the fact that some group of men do not appreciate it, and to such an intense degree that they go so far (always) as to fight it politically, and in extreme cases, with arms.

It was so evident that the “new order” was dialectically generating new hostilities, new enemies and new conflicts.

It remained, and in part remains, unclear on what spiritual center of reference the opposition, internal to the Euro-Atlantic West, between populists and globalists is based. What is clear, however—and can serve to identify the center of reference—is that sovereign-populist-identitarians on the one hand and globalists on the other refer to opposing pairs of values/ideas that we list below (without claiming to be exhaustive), of which the first column refers to sovereign-populism, the second to globalization:


It is barely worth mentioning a few examples. For existing/normative, I would refer to what I wrote about the Hungarian Constitution. As for the community/society opposition, it is less obvious but begins to emerge from the constitutional declarations of “sovereigntist” countries (see the Polish and Hungarian Constitutions).

That the term a quo and ad quem of these is the nation and not humanity is quite obvious and needs no explanation.

When it comes to the national interest, it is also evident as a government objective, apart from the recent events of Diciotti and Interior Minister Salvini, which have brought it back to the center of the political debate. And it could be referred to as a “re-establishment” because it has always been the compass of the modern state (and ancient political syntheses).

To find a phrase that sums up the position of the sovereigntists in a few words, one can just go back to Sieyès’ statement: “The Nation is all that it can be by the mere fact of existing.” A statement that would surely shock a globalist.

And continuing the abbot’s quotations, among many: “The nations of the earth are to be regarded as individuals devoid of all social ties, that is, as they say, in the state of nature. The exercise of their will is free and independent of all civil forms…However a nation wills, it is sufficient that it wills; all forms are good, and its will is always supreme law…a nation can neither alienate nor interdict to itself the faculty of will; and whatever its will may be, it cannot lose the right to change it should its interest demand it.”

The second conception to be considered in assessing the contemporary political situation is the one that emerges, among Schmitt’s writings, from Land and Sea (Land und Meer). The foundation of this text is that human existence is determined by the space in which it lives, its perception of it and the opportunities space offers. Therefore, this determines or co-determines political, economic and social relations—in particular, law. Maurice Hauriou wrote that the law known, elaborated, and applied by jurists is that of sedentary societies, based on the relationship with the land (and thus, also with territory as an element of the political institution, particularly—but not only—of the modern state). While the French jurist contrasted sedentary societies with nomadic ones and explained much of the institutions of the former with the relationship with the land and with an existence oriented to regular production, Schmitt deepened the diversity between maritime existence and land existence, and in particular that “universal history is a history of the struggle of the power of the sea against the power of the land.”

What was new in modern history, Schmitt argued, was that Britain, in the 16th century, decided on a maritime existence, far more than maritime powers such as Athens or Venice and to some extent, even Carthage had done in other eras. Hence the English commercial (and industrial) expansion. Hegel also emphasizes certain different types of activities, and tying the development of industry and trade to the sea (Elements of the Philosophy of Right, §247).

This fact was considered by Schmitt to be decisive for both international law and the Westphalian European political order. The resulting balance, he derived from that of land and sea (continental powers and maritime power) and between European states. None of which were capable of hegemonizing the others, because they would not have the strength to impose themselves on a coalition of them, somewhat as Machiavelli noted for the Italian states (and the balance among them) of his era. In this sense, the sovereignty of the states, built around the legal equality of the states—disregarding the factual equality, made some sense, precisely because the factual equality among them—or at least among the major ones—was not so far off; and, on the other hand, the disparity could be compensated for by a shrewd policy of alliances (and conversely of neutrality).

This all came into crisis with the 20th century; Schmitt argued that “in international law, generic and universalistic ideas are the typical weapons of interventionism;” and that “A legal conception coordinated with an empire spread over the whole earth (i.e., the British empire) naturally tends toward universalistic arguments.” He continues: “Such a conception does not concern a determined and united space nor its internal order, but in the first instance the security of communications between the scattered portions of the empire” (Völkerrechtliche Formen des modernen Imperialismus).

In the paper, “Great Space against Universalism,” (“Großraum gegen Universalismus“) the Plettenberg jurist reiterated, with reference to the Monroe doctrine, the contradictory nature of the universalist interpretation to the original enunciation of that doctrine. Schmitt writes, “It is essential that the Monroe doctrine remain authentic and not falsified, as long as the idea of a concretely determined great space, in which powers foreign to space cannot meddle, is fixed. The opposite of such a fundamental principle, conceived from concrete space, is a universalistic world principle, embracing the whole earth and humanity. This naturally leads to intrusions of everyone into everything. While the idea of space contains a point of view of delimitation and division and for this reason enunciates an ordering juridical principle, the universalistic claim of world intromission destroys all rational delimitation and distinction” (italics mine).

Schmitt continues: “In effect, the original American Monroe doctrine has nothing to do with the fundamental principles and methods of modern liberal-capitalist imperialism. As a true doctrine of space it stands, on the contrary, in pronounced opposition to a transformation of the earth into an abstract world market of capital without regard to space… That such a falsification of the Monroe doctrine into an imperialistic principle of world trade was possible will remain for all time a striking example of the intoxicating influence of empty buzzwords.” As for the interpretation given it by Woodrow Wilson: “he did not mean roughly a conforming transference of the spatial, non-interventionist thinking contained in the true Monroe doctrine to other spaces, but on the contrary a spatial and unlimited extension of liberal democratic principles to the whole earth and to all mankind. In this way he sought a justification for his unprecedented interference in non-European space” (italics mine).

Scmitt continues that the two Roosevelts and Wilson made “a specifically American spatial thinking a world ideology above states and peoples; they attempted to use the Monroe Doctrine as an instrument of Anglo-Saxon capital’s domination of the world market.”

This has resulted in converting “a spatially conceived principle of non-interference into a general system of delocalized meddling” and thus has become an ideological tool of democracy and “the conceptions associated with it, particularly ‘free’ world trade and ‘free’ world markets, in place of the original and true Monroe principle.” Combining for the purpose status quo and pacta sunt servanda, “that is, a simple contractual positivism,” with the ideological principles of liberal-capitalism.

The overall result is that the Monroe Doctrine, as interpreted in the years between the two world wars, gives the measure “of the contrast between a clear spatial order resting on the fundamental principle of non-intervention by foreign powers in space against a universalist ideology, which turns the whole earth into the battleground of its interventions and stands in the way of any natural growth of living peoples” (italics mine).

The situation today is different: the evolution of the international order with the UN (and the UN Charter), the prohibition of the use of force (see Art. 2, 4 of the UN Charter), the powers of the Security Council, the doctrine of “responsibility to protect,” peacekeeping operations, and especially the “defense of human rights” (and more) have complicated the situation.

What can the lessons of Carl Schmitt and, in particular, the doctrine of “large spaces” be used for?

It seems to be possible to answer that two conceptions (explicit and implicit to the same) and yet intersecting can be usefully applied. The first of which is political realism in relation to the concept of sovereignty. As the German jurist writes, the problem of sovereignty, arguably the main one, is to reconcile the political aspect with the legal aspect. For if the distinctive feature of sovereignty is legal absoluteness (not being conditioned by law but being “above” it), it must be combined with factual limits (with the familiar problematic issue of how much absoluteness applies internally and how much absoluteness can apply externally, i.e., with respect to subjects of international law (states and “order in fieri” distinguished by Bodin early on). As Schmitt writes “In political reality there is no supreme power, that is, greater than all, irresistible and functioning with the security of the law of nature… The reconciliation of supreme power in fact and in law constitutes the basic problem of the concept of sovereignty. Hence all difficulties arise” (italics mine). For another is the sovereignty of the U.S.A. or China, another that of San Marino or Liechtenstein. Transposed to the contemporary situation, this means that while one censures—rightly—violations of “human rights” or genocide (e.g., of the Kurds in Iraq) and goes off to wage a “just war” on the Rwandans or Saddam, one is careful not to wage war on Putin over the Donbass or Crimea, nor on China over Hong-Kong. It should be noted that while Hong-Kong is under Chinese sovereignty—and at least the classical territorial character of this may apply—this is not the case for the aforementioned territories in Eastern Europe, both of which—prior to annexations and occupations—were part of Ukraine; which has thus suffered a violation of (its own) sovereignty—as opposed to China. At this point, given the “double standards, double measures,” one wonders whether the criterion of “big space” does not apply as a concrete criterion of behavior and decision: while Russia was (in fact) granted intervention in a republic formerly part of the USSR, i.e., its own “big space,” the same was not exercised to protect populations, human rights, and in the case of Ukraine, territorial integrity. Hence the realism intrinsic to the Schmittian conception (registers) and rules much more than the idealism of such. (Idealism, which in practice, is often the fusion of interests and patronage).

The second conception that appears to underlie the concept of “great space” is one that links Max Weber’s concept of power (and of authority) and “law” understood here as “order.” Weber writes in defining it, that “power designates any possibility of asserting within a social relation, even in the face of opposition, one’s will.” Shortly thereafter, he writes: “The State should be understood to mean an institutional enterprise of a political character in which, and to the extent that, the administrative apparatus successfully advances a claim to a monopoly of legitimate physical coercion, with a view to the implementation of orders” (Economy and Society).

In current usage, until a few decades ago, states were called powers, at least those capable of exercising command internally and thus protecting their independence, even without (or with minimal) external political hegemony. In factual terms, it is the ability to assert one’s will that determines being a power. Which by applying Spinoza’s formula, tantum juris quantum potentiae, determines the factual limits of powers and thus of the legal capacity to exercise them. As the Dutch philosopher wrote, “If therefore the power by which natural things exist and operate is the same power as God, it is easy to understand what natural law is…. By natural right I therefore mean the same laws or rules of nature, according to which everything happens, that is, the same power of nature; therefore, the natural law of the whole of nature, and consequently of each individual, extends as far as its power” (Theologico-Political Treatise; italics mine). And within the “great space” it is relatively easy for the hegemonic power to exercise it. Likewise, for the most part, it has an interest in doing so because of the connections and relationships that join it to its neighbors or satellites. Respecting them is the condition for a state of peace to be easily achieved. Far more than trying to impose a unity of the world, without that unity being achieved in peace by the only historically possible way: by maintaining the pluriverse, conforming to the arrangement of interests, powers and borders; that is, by limiting and determining it with objective criteria that can be easily perceived and applied. For as Schmitt wrote, the unity of the world is not the unity of the ecumene, but “of the unitary organization of human power, the purpose of which would be to plan, direct and dominate the earth and the whole of humanity. It is the great question whether humanity is already ripe to endure a single center of political power” (Concept of the Political).

That there is a religion, a theology supporting such a hypothetical center, which has the capacity to resist elementary objections and criticism, Schmitt does not believe so. Certainly not the ideology of progress, since technical and moral progress “do not walk together” (neither among the rulers nor the ruled). Nor can rationalism bring us comfort, if only, I would add, because De Maistre’s judgment that man “by the fact of being simultaneously moral and corrupt, just in intelligence and perverse in will, must necessarily be governed” (so that reason is not enough) still applies; moreover, technical progress has the drawback of increasing the power of government. As Goethe wrote, “it is dangerous to man that what makes him more powerful, without making him better.

Nor do we see it today in that (attempt/project) of world unity in which still find ourselves, even though it now seems to be drawing to a close. Behind the unity of a world, dominated by the victorious power in the bourgeois/proletarian opposition, it must be acknowledged that the Plettenberg thinker saw the political future well: a new friend-enemy opposition, a constant land/sea dichotomy, a peace through the balance of (and between) large spaces. That is, everything opposite of what mainstream propaganda spreads.

Teodoro Katte Klitsche de la Grange is an attorney in Rome and is the editor of the well-regarded and influential law journal Behemoth.

On the Extent of Political Repressions in the USSR: Through the Maze of Speculations, Distortions and Hoaxes

Viktor Nikolayevich Zemskov (1946—2015), the eminent Russia historian, carried out pivotal and decisive archival research, often in fonds that were previously closed to researchers, for over a decade (1980s to 1990s). He focused on the history of political repression in the USSR, the statistics of Gulag prisoners, the fate of those repatriated after the Second World War, the Soviet working class, and military history of Russia. In the process, he answered a grim but crucial question—how many people did Stalin really kill?

In the West, the Great Purge, or the Great Terror has acquired mythic dimensions (thanks to Solzhenitsyn), in which millions are said to have perished. But the meticulous, cool-headed work of Professor Zemskov uncovered a different—and surprising—reality: from 1930 to 1953, a total of 786,000 people were “purged.”

We are able to bring you Professor Zemskov’s foundational article on Soviet repression, which he published in 1995, in Sotsiologicheskiye issledovaniya (Sociological Research), No. 9. His work continues to be ignored in the West, perhaps because it denies the various Cold War myths about Russia. This article appears through the kind courtesy of Sotsiologicheskiye issledovaniya.

Human life is priceless. The murder of innocent people cannot be justified—whether it is one person or millions. But the researcher cannot limit himself to moral evaluation of historical events and phenomena. His duty is to resurrect the true image of our past. All the more so when certain aspects of it become the object of political speculation. All this fully applies to the problem of statistics (scale) of political repressions in the USSR. This article attempts to deal objectively with this acute and painful issue.

By the end of the 1980s, historical science was faced with an urgent need for access to the secret fonds of the security agencies (former and present), since the literature and radio and television constantly mentioned various estimated, virtual figures of repressions, which were not confirmed by anything, and which we, professional historians, could not introduce into the scientific discourse without appropriate documentary confirmation.

In the second half of the 1980s, a somewhat paradoxical situation emerged for a while, when the lifting of the ban on the publication of works and materials on this topic was combined with the traditional lack of a source base, since the relevant archival fonds were still closed to researchers. In terms of style and tone, the bulk of publications from Gorbachev’s “perestroika” period (and later, too) were, as a rule, sharply expositional in nature, being in line with the anti-Stalinist propaganda campaign launched at that time (we are referring primarily to the numerous journalistic articles and notes in newspapers, Ogonyok magazine, etc.). The scarcity of concrete-historical material in these publications was more than compensated for by repeatedly exaggerated “homemade statistics” of the victims of repression, which amazed the readership with their gigantism.

In early 1989, by decision of the Presidium of the USSR Academy of Sciences, a commission of the History Department of the USSR Academy of Sciences, headed by corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences Yuri A. Polyakov, was established to determine population losses. As a member of this commission, we were among the first historians to gain access to the statistical reports of the OGPUNKVDMVDMGB, the highest bodies of state power and state administration of the USSR, which had not been given to researchers before, and which were in special storage in the Central State Archive of the October Revolution (TsGaOR USSR), now renamed the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF).

The Commission of the History Department was active in the late 1980s and early 1990s; and even then we published a series of articles on the statistics of repressions, prisoners, special settlers, displaced persons, etc. We continued this work in the years that followed, right up to the present time.

The Commission of the History Department was active in the late 1980s and early 1990s; and even then we published a series of articles on the statistics of repressions, prisoners, special settlers, displaced persons, etc. We continued this work in the years that followed and up to the present time.

As early as the beginning of 1954, the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs drew up a certificate addressed to Nikita S. Khrushchev on the number of those convicted for counter-revolutionary crimes, i.e., under Article 58 of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR and under the corresponding articles of the Criminal Codes of other Union republics, for the period 1921-1953. (The document was signed by three persons—the USSR Prosecutor, General Roman A. Rudenko, the USSR Minister of Internal Affairs, Sergei N. Kruglov, and the USSR Minister of Justice, Konstantin P. Gorshenin).

The document stated that, according to the data available in the USSR Interior Ministry, for the period from 1921 to the present, that is, until the beginning of 1954, 3,777,380 people had been convicted of counter-revolutionary crimes by the OGPU Collegium, NKVD troikas, Special Consultation, Military Collegium, courts and military tribunals, including 642,980 to capital punishment (see, State Archive of the Russian Federation, Ф. 9401. Op. 2. Д. 450).

At the end of 1953, the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs prepared another report. Based on statistical reports of the 1st Special Department of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs. It gave the number of those convicted for counter-revolutionary and other particularly dangerous state crimes for the period from January 1, 1921 to July 1, 1953—4,060,306 people (on January 5, 1954, a letter signed by Sergei N. Kruglov, with the content of this information, was sent to Georgy M. Malenkov and Nikita S. Khrushchev).

This figure consisted of 3,777,380 convicted for counter-revolutionary crimes and 282,926 for other especially dangerous state crimes. The latter were convicted not under Article 58, but under other articles equivalent to it, primarily, under paragraphs 2 and 3 of Article 59 (especially dangerous banditry) and Article 193-24 (military espionage). For example, some Basmachi were convicted not under Article 58, but under Article 59. (See Table 1):

Table 1: Number of Persons Convicted of Counter-Revolutionary and other Particularly Dangerous State Crimes in 1921-1953

Note: Between June 1947 and January 1950, the death penalty was abolished in the USSR. This explains the absence of death sentences in 1948-1949. Other penalties included credit for time in custody, compulsory treatment and expulsion abroad.

It should be borne in mind that the terms “arrested” and “convicted” are not identical. The total number of convicted persons does not include those arrested who, during the preliminary investigation, i.e., before conviction, died, fled or were released.

This information was a state secret in the USSR until the late 1980s. For the first time the true statistics of those convicted for counter-revolutionary crimes (3,777,380 for 1921-1953) was published in September 1989, in an article by Vladimir F. Nekrasov in Komsomolskaya Pravda. Then this information was presented in more detail, in articles by Aleksandr N. Dugin (in the newspaper, Na boyevom postu, December 1989), Viktor N. Zemskov and D. N. Nokhotovich (Argumenty i Fakty, February 1990), in other publications by Viktor N. Zemskov and Aleksandr N. Dugin. The number of those convicted for counter-revolutionary and other particularly dangerous state crimes (4,060,306 for 1921-1953) was first publicized in 1990, in an article by Aleksandr N. Yakovlev, a member of the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee, in the newspaper Izvestya. In more detail, these statistics (1st Special Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs), with trends by years, was published in 1992 by V. P. Popov in the journal, Otechestvennyye arkhivy,

We specifically draw attention to these publications, because they contain the true statistics of political repressions. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, they were, figuratively speaking, a drop in the ocean, compared to numerous publications of another kind, which gave unreliable figures, usually exaggerated many times.

The public reaction to the publication of authentic statistics of political repressions was mixed. It was often suggested that it was fake. The journalist Anto V. Antonov-Ovseenko, emphasizing that these documents were signed by such vested individuals as Rudenko, Kruglov and Gorshenin, insinuated to the readers of the Literaturnaya gazeta in 1991: “The disinformation service was at its best at all times. Under Khrushchev, too… So, in 32 years—less than four million. It is clear who needs such criminal certificates” (A.V. Antonov-Ovseenko, “Protivostoyaniye,” Literaturnaya gazeta, April 3, 1991, p. 3). Despite Antonov-Ovseenko’s confidence that these statistics were disinformation, we will allow ourselves the courage to assert that he is wrong. These are genuine statistics, compiled by totaling, for the years 1921-1953, the relevant data available in the 1st Special Department. This special department, which at different times was part of the structure of the OGPU, NKVD, MGB (since 1953 and up to now, the Ministry of Internal Affairs), was engaged in collecting complete information on the number of those convicted on political grounds from all judicial and non-judicial bodies. The 1st Special Department was not a body for disinformation, but for comprehensive objective information collection.

After Antonov-Ovseenko, another journalist, Lev E. Razgon, sharply criticized us in 1992 (L.E. Razgon, “Lozh’ pod vidom statistiki: Ob odnoy publikatsii,” in the journal, Sotsiologicheskiye issledovaniya, (8)1992, pp., 13-14). The essence of Antonov-Ovseenko’s and Razgon’s accusations boiled down to the fact that Viktor N. Zemskov was engaged in falsification, operating with fabricated statistics, and that the documents he used were unreliable and even false. Moreover, Razgon insinuated that Zemskov was involved in the production of these false documents. At the same time, they failed to back up such accusations with any convincing evidence. My responses to Antonov-Ovseenko’s and Razgon’s criticism of us were published in 1991-1992 in the academic journals Istoriya SSSR and Sotsiologicheskiye issledovaniya (see, Istoriya SSSR, No. 5, 1991, pp. 151-152; Sotsiologicheskiye issledovaniya, No. 6, 1992, pp. 155-156).

Antonov-Ovseenko’s and Razgon’s sharp rejection of our publications based on archival documents was also triggered by their desire to “save” their “homemade statistics,” which were not supported by any documents and were nothing more than the fruit of their own fantasy. Thus, Antonov-Ovseenko published a book in English in the United States as early as 1980 called Portrait of a Tyrant, where he named the number of those arrested for political reasons only for the period 1935-1940—as 18.8 million people (see, Antonov-Ovseenko, The Time of Stalin: Portrait of a Tyranny, p. 212). Our publications, based on archival documents, directly exposed his “statistics” as pure charlatanism. Hence Antonov-Ovseenko’s and Razgon’s clumsy attempts to present the case in such a way that their “statistics” were correct, and Zemskov was allegedly a falsifier and published fabricated statistics.

Razgon attempted to contrast the archival documents with the testimonies of repressed NKVD officers with whom he interacted in detention. According to Razgon, “at the beginning of 1940, a former head of the financial department of the NKVD, who met me at one of the transit stations, when asked: ‘How many people were imprisoned?’—hesitated and answered: ‘I know that on January 1, 1939 in prisons and camps there were about 9 million living prisoners’” (“Lozh’ pod vidom statistiki: Ob odnoy publikatsii,” in the journal, Sotsiologicheskiye issledovaniya, No. 8, 1992, p. 14). We, professional historians, know very well how doubtful such information is and how dangerous it is to introduce it into scientific circulation without careful checking and double-checking. A detailed study of the current and summary statistical reports of the NKVD led, as one would expect, to the refutation of this “evidence”—in fact, in early 1939, there were about 2 million prisoners in camps, penal colonies and prisons, of whom 1,317,000 were in camps (see, GARF: Ф. 9413. Оп. 1. Д. 6. Л. 7—8; Ф. 9414. Оп. 1. Д. 1154. Л. 2—4; Д. 1155. Л. 2, 20—22).

It should be noted that the total number of prisoners in all places of deprivation of liberty (camps, penal colonies, prisons) on certain dates rarely exceeded 2.5 million. Usually, it fluctuated in different periods from 1.5 million to 2.5 million. The highest number of prisoners in Soviet history was recorded as of January 1, 1950—2,760,095 people, of whom 1,416,300 were in camps, 1,145,051 were in penal colonies and 198,744 were in prisons (see, GARF: Ф. 9414. Оп. 1. Д. 330. Л. 55; Д. 1155. Л. 1—3; Д. 1190. Л. 1—34; Д. 1390. Л. 1—21; Д. 1398. Л. 1; Д. 1426. Л. 39; Д. 1427. Л. 132–133, 140–141, 177—178).

Therefore, one cannot take seriously, for example, Antonov-Ovseenko’s assertions that after the war there were 16 million prisoners in the camps and penal colonies of the Gulag (see, Antonov-Ovseenko, “Protivostoyaniye,” Literaturnaya gazeta, April 3, 1991, p. 3). It should be understood that on the date Antonov-Ovseenko has in mind (1946), there were not 16 million but 1.6 million prisoners in the camps and penal colonies of the Gulag. One really should pay attention to the point in-between the two figures.

Antonov-Ovseenko and Razgon were powerless to prevent the mass introduction of archival documents into scientific circulation, including the statistics of repressions, which they hated. This direction of historical science became firmly grounded in the documentary archival database (and not only in our country, but also abroad). In this connection, in 1999, Antonov-Ovseenko, still in the deeply erroneous belief that the statistics published by Zemskov were false, and his (Antonov-Ovseenko’s) “own statistics” being supposedly correct (in reality—monstrously perverted), again sadly stated: “The disinformation service was at its best at all times. It is alive and well nowadays. Otherwise, how to explain the ‘sensational’ discoveries of V. N. Zemskov? Unfortunately, obviously falsified (for the archive) statistics flew around many printed publications and found supporters among scientists” (A.V. Antonov-Ovseyenko, “Chernyye advokaty,” Vozrozhdeniye nadezhdy, No. 8, 1999, p. 3). This “cry of the soul” was nothing more than a cry in the wilderness, useless and hopeless (for Antonov-Ovseenko). The idea of “obviously falsified (for the archive) statistics” has long been perceived in the scholarly world as ridiculous and absurd; such assessments do not provoke any reaction other than amazement and ridicule.

This was the natural result of the battle between professionalism and dilettantism—because professionalism must win in the end. Antonov-Ovseenko’s and Razgon’s “criticism” of us was thus in the general vein of the attack of militant dilettantism, with the aim of subjugating historical science, imposing its own rules and methods of scientific (or rather, pseudoscientific) research, which from a professional point of view are completely unacceptable.

Nikita Khrushchev also contributed to the falsification of the issue of the number of prisoners, when he wrote in his memoirs: “…When Stalin died, there were up to 10 million people in the camps” (“Memuary Nikity Sergeyevicha Khrushchova,” Voprosy istorii, No. 3, 1990, p. 82). Even if we understand the term “camps” broadly, including also colonies and prisons, then even taking this into account, in early 1953 there were about 2.6 million prisoners (see, Naseleniye Rossii v XX veke: Istoricheskiye ocherki, 2001, Vol. 2, p. 183). The State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF) keeps copies of the report of the USSR Interior Ministry leadership to Khrushchev indicating the exact number of prisoners, including at the time of Stalin’s death. Consequently, Khrushchev was well informed about the true number of prisoners and exaggerated it almost 4 times deliberately.

The publication of Roy A. Medvedev in Moskovskie Novosti (November 1988) about the statistics of the victims of Stalinism provoked a great reaction in society (see, Roy A. Medvedev, “Nash isk Stalinu,” Moskovskie Novosti, November 27, 1988). According to his calculations, during the period 1927-1953, about 40 million people were repressed, including the kulaks, deportees, those who died of starvation in 1933, and others. In 1989-1991, this figure was one of the most popular in the propaganda of Stalinist crimes and became quite firmly embedded in the mass consciousness.

In fact, such a number (40 million) is not possible even with the most expansive interpretation of the concept of “victims of repression.” In these 40 million, Medvedev included 10 million of those who were kulaks in 1929-1933 (in reality, there were about 4 million of them), almost 2 million Poles evicted in 1939-1940 (in reality—about 380,000), and in like manner for absolutely all the elements that made up this astronomical figure.

However, these 40 million soon ceased to satisfy the “growing needs” of certain political forces to denigrate the national history of the Soviet period. The “research” of American and other Western Sovietologists, according to which 50-60 million people died of terror and repression in the USSR, was used. Like Medvedev, all components of such calculations were extremely overstated; the difference of 10-20 million was explained by the fact that Medvedev started counting from 1927, while Western Sovietologists—started counting from 1917. While Medvedev stipulated in his article that repressions are not always death, that the majority of the kulaks survived, that a smaller part of those repressed in 1937-1938 were shot, etc., a number of his Western colleagues called the figure of 50-60 million people as physically exterminated and as having died as a result of terror, repressions, famine, collectivization, and so on, and the number of those who died as a result of repressions, famine, collectivization, etc., as a result of the repressions. In short, they worked hard to fulfill the demands of politicians and special interests of their countries in order to discredit in a scientific form their opponent in the “Cold War,” not hesitating to fabricate direct slander.

This, of course, does not mean that there were no researchers in foreign Sovietology who tried to study Soviet history objectively and in good faith. Major scientists, experts on Soviet history J. Arch Getty (USA), Stephen G. Wheatcroft (Australia), Robert W. Davies (England), Gabor Rittersporn (France) and some others openly criticized the research of most Sovietologists and proved that in reality the number of victims of repression, collectivization, famine, etc. in the USSR was much lower.

However, the works of these foreign scientists with their incomparably more objective assessment of the scale of repressions were silenced in our country. Only that which contained unreliable, many-times exaggerated statistics of repressions was actively introduced into the mass consciousness. And the mythical 50-60 million soon eclipsed Roy Medvedev’s 40 million in the mass consciousness.

Therefore, when the chairman of the KGB of the USSR Vladimir A. Kryuchkov, in his speeches on television, referred to the true statistics of political repressions (he repeatedly cited the data in the records of the KGB of the USSR for 1930-1953—3,778,234 convicted political prisoners, of whom 786,098 were sentenced to execution) (see, Pravda, February 14, 1990), many people literally could not believe their ears, thinking that they had misheard. In 1990, the journalist A. Milchakov shared his impression of V. A. Kryuchkov’s speech with the readers of Vechernyaya Moskva: “…And then he went on to say: thus, tens of millions are out of the question. I don’t know whether he did it consciously. But I am familiar with the latest widespread studies, which I believe, and I ask the readers of Vechernyaya Moskva once again to carefully read Alexandr I. Solzhenitsyn’s work, The Gulag Archipelago. I ask you to familiarize yourself with the studies published in Moskovsky Komsomolets by I. Vinogradov, our most famous literary scholar. He cites the figure of 50-60 million people. I would like to draw attention to the studies of American Sovietologists, which confirm this figure. And I am deeply convinced of it” (Vechernaya Moskva, April 14, 1990).

Comments, as they say, are superfluous. Distrust was shown only for documented information and immense trust for information of the opposite nature.

However, even this was not the limit of deceiving the public. In June 1991, Komsomolskaya Pravda published Solzhenitsyn’s interview with Spanish television in 1976. From it we learn the following: “Professor Kurganov indirectly calculated that from 1917 to 1959, just from the internal war of the Soviet regime against its people, i.e., from annihilation by hunger, collectivization, exile of peasants for extermination, prisons, camps, simple shootings—just from this alone we lost, together with our civil war, 66 million people… According to his calculations, we lost in the Second World War from its [the government’s] negligent, from its sloppy conduct, 44 million people! So, in total, we lost 110 million people from the socialist system!” (“Razmyshleniya po povodu dvukh grazhdanskikh voyn: Interv’yu A.I. Solzhenitsyna ispanskomu televideniyu v 1976 g,” Komsomolskaya Pravda, June 4, 1991).

With the wording “from its negligent, from its sloppy conduct” Solzhenitsyn actually equated all the human losses in the Great Patriotic War with those who died and perished as a result of collectivization and famine, which many historians and publicists include in the number of victims of political terror and repression. We are inclined to strongly distance ourselves from such an equation.

The estimate of these losses of 44 million people is, of course, extremely overstated. We are also skeptical of the recently accepted estimate of 27 million, which has been included in many textbooks, and also consider it overstated. Without taking into account the usual annual mortality of the population (as well as the decline in birth rate), we tried to establish the human losses (military and civilian), in one way or another related to the fighting. To the losses of the armed forces who died (11.5 million, including those who died in captivity), were added the losses of civilian volunteer formations (militias, partisans, etc.), Leningrad blockades, victims of the Nazi genocide in the occupied territory, killed and tortured Soviet citizens in fascist camps, etc. The final figure does not exceed 16 million people.

In the mass media from time to time, but quite regularly, statistics of political repressions based on the memoirs of Olga G. Shatunovskaya were quoted. She was a former member of the Committee for Party Control under the CPSU Central Committee, the commission to investigate the murder of Sergei M. Kirov and the political trials of the 1930s, during the time of Khrushchev. In 1990, Argumenty i Fakty published her memoirs, where she, referring to a certain document of the KGB of the USSR, later allegedly mysteriously disappeared, noted: “…From January 1, 1935 to June 22, 1941, 19,840,000 “enemies of the people” were arrested. Of these, 7 million were shot. Most of the rest died in the camps” (O.G. Shatunovskaya, “Fal’sifikatsiya,” Argumenty i Fakty, No. 22, 1990).

The motives of Shatunovskaya’s actions are not quite clear; whether she deliberately invented these figures for the purpose of revenge (she was repressed), or whether she herself became a victim of some misinformation. Shatunovskaya asserted that Khrushchev allegedly requested the certificate, which contained these sensational figures, in 1956. This is very doubtful. All the information on the statistics of political repressions was set forth in the two certificates prepared at the end of 1953 and the beginning of 1954, which we have mentioned above.

We are sure that such a document never existed. After all, the relevant question is: what prevents the political forces currently in power, no less interested, we must assume, in exposing the crimes of Stalinism, to officially confirm Shatunovskaya’s statistics with reference to a credible document? If, according to Shatunovskaya’s version, the security service prepared such a summary in 1956, what prevented it from doing the same in 1991-1993 and later? Even if the summary of 1956 was destroyed, the primary data were preserved.

Neither the Ministry of Security of the Russian Federation (MBRF, later the FSB of the Russian Federation), nor the Ministry of Internal Affairs, nor other bodies could do this for the simple reason that all the relevant information they have directly refutes Shatunovskaya’s statistics.

Shatunovskaya’s statement that “most of the rest died in the camps” (we must assume 7-10 million, if we count from her virtual almost 13 million “others”), of course, also does not correspond to the truth. Such statements can be perceived as reliable only in an environment dominated by misconceptions that tens of millions of people allegedly died and perished in the Gulag. A detailed study of statistical reports on prisoner mortality gives a different picture. In 1930-1953, about 1.8 million prisoners died in places of deprivation of liberty (camps, penal colonies and prisons), of which almost 1.2 million died in camps and over 0.6 million in colonies and prisons. These calculations are not estimates, but are based on documents. And here arises a difficult question: what is the share of those political among these 1.8 million dead prisoners (political and criminal). There is no answer to this question in the documents. It seems that political prisoners accounted for about one third, i.e., about 600,000. This conclusion is based on the fact that those convicted of criminal offenses usually accounted for about 2/3rd of the prisoners. Consequently, out of the number of those sentenced to serve their sentences in camps, penal colonies and prisons, indicated in Tables 1 and 2, approximately this number (about 600,000) did not live to be released (between 1930 and 1953).

The highest mortality rate occurred in 1942-1943—during these two years, 661,000 prisoners died in camps, penal colonies, and prisons, which was mainly a consequence of significant cuts in nutritional standards due to the extreme war situation. Later on, the mortality rate began to steadily decline and amounted in 1951-1952 to 45.3 thousand people, or 14.6 times less than in 1942-1943 (see, Naseleniye Rossii v XX veke: Istoricheskiye ocherki, 2001, Vol. 2, p. 195). At the same time, we would like to draw attention to one curious nuance: according to the data we have for 1954, among the free population of the Soviet Union, for every 1,000 people, there died an average of 8.9 people, while in the camps and colonies of the Gulag, for every 1,000 prisoners—only 6.5 people died (see, GARF: Ф. 9414. Оп. 1. Д. 2887. Л. 64).

Having documented evidence that Shatunovskaya’s statistics are unreliable, in 1991 we published the relevant refutation in the pages of the academic journal, Sotsiologicheskiye issledovaniya (see, V.N. Zemskov, “GULAG: istoriko-sotsiologicheskiy aspekt,” in Sotsiologicheskiye issledovaniya, No. 6, 1991, p. 13).

It seemed that with Shatunovskaya’s version the question was solved even then. But that was not the case. Both radio and television continued to propagandize her figures in a rather obsessive form. For example, on March 5, 1992, in the evening program, Novosti, the host, T. Komarova, broadcast to a multimillion audience about the 19,840,000 repressed, including 7 million shot in 1935-1940, as an allegedly unquestionable fact. And this was happening at a time when historical science had proved the unreliability of this information and had genuine statistics on hand.

On August 2, 1992, a briefing was held in the press center of the Ministry of Security of the Russian Federation (MBRF), at which Major General A. Krayushkin, head of the MBRF’s Department of Registration and Archival Fonds, told journalists and other invitees that during the entire period of communist rule (1918-1990) in the USSR, 3,853,900 people were convicted on charges of state crimes and some other articles of criminal legislation of similar nature, 827,995 of whom were sentenced to execution. In the terminology used at the briefing, this corresponds to the wording “for counter-revolutionary and other particularly dangerous crimes against the state.” The reaction of the mass media to this event was curious—most of the newspapers kept a sepulchral silence. To some, these figures seemed too large; to others—too small; and as a result the editorial boards of newspapers and magazines of various directions preferred not to publish this material, thus withholding from their readers socially significant information (silence, as we know, is a form of slander). We should pay tribute to the editorial board of Izvestya newspaper, which published a detailed report on the briefing with the statistics quoted there (see, V. Rudnev, “NKVD—rasstrelival, MBRF—reabilitiruyet,” in Izvestya, August 3, 1992).

It is noteworthy that the addition of information for 1918-1920 and 1954-1990, in the above-mentioned MBRF data, did not fundamentally change the statistics of political repressions for the period 1921-1953. The MBRF staff used some other source, the data of which slightly diverge from the statistics of the 1st Special Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Comparison of data from these two sources leads to a very unexpected result: according to IBRF information, in 1918-1990, 3,853,900 people were convicted on political grounds; while according to the statistics of the 1st Special Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in 1921-1953—4,060,306 people. In our opinion, this discrepancy should be explained not by the incompleteness of the MBRF source, but by the more strict approach of the compilers of this source to the concept of “victims of political repression.” When working in the GARF with operational materials of the OGPU-NKVD, we noticed that quite often cases were submitted for consideration by the Collegium of the OGPU, the Special Conference and other bodies, of ordinary criminals who robbed factory warehouses, collective farm storerooms, etc., as political or especially dangerous state criminals.

For this reason, they were included in the statistics of the 1st Special Department as “counter-revolutionaries” and, according to present-day concepts, are “victims of political repressions” (this can be said of recidivist thieves only in mockery); while in the IBRF source they are excluded.

The problem of eliminating criminals from the total number of those convicted of counter-revolutionary and other particularly dangerous state crimes is much more serious than it may seem at first glance. If the IBRF source did screen them out, it was far from complete. In one of the certificates prepared by the 1st Special Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the USSR, in December 1953, there is a note: “Total convicted for 1921-1938—2,944,849 people, of whom 30 percent (1,062,000)—criminals” (GARF: Ф. 9401. Оп. 1. Д. 4157. Л. 202). This means that in 1921-1938 there were 1,883,000 people convicted as purely political; for the period of 1921-1953 it turns out not 4,060,000, but less than 3 million. This is, provided that in 1939-1953 there were no criminals among the convicted “counter-revolutionaries,” which is very doubtful. However, in practice there were facts when even political persons were convicted under criminal articles.

In 1997, Viktor V. Luneev published annual statistics of political convicts, taken from the source of the USSR KGB (MBRF, FSB RF) (see, V. V. Luneev, Prestupnost’ XX veka, 1997, p. 180). This made it possible to compile a comparative table of statistics of those convicted in 1921-1952 on political grounds (with the number of those sentenced to execution) according to the data of two sources—the 1st Special Department of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs and the KGB of the USSR (see Table 2). For 15 years, out of 32, the corresponding figures of these two sources coincide exactly (including 1937-1938); for the remaining 17 years, there are discrepancies, the reasons for which are yet to be clarified.

Table 2: Comparative Statistics. Convicted in 1921-1952, on Political Grounds (based on data from the 1st Special Department of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs and the USSR KGB)

The comparative statistics for the years 1921-1952 are not without some strange phenomena. Thus, according to the KGB (FSB) records for this period, the number of convicted “counter-revolutionaries” is almost 300,000 less than according to the statistics of the 1st Special Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, while the number of those sentenced to death among them is 163,000 thousand more. Of course, the main reason for this situation lies in the data for 1941, when the state security agencies took into account 23,726 people sentenced to capital punishment for political reasons, and the 1st Special Department of the NKVD—only 8011.

Two years (1937 and 1938), known as the years of the “Great Terror,” when there was a sharp rise (or jump) in the scale of political repressions, occupy a special place in these statistics. During these two years, 1,345,000 people were convicted on charges of a political nature, or 35 percent of the total number for the period 1918-1990.

The picture is even more impressive in terms of the statistics of those sentenced to death from among them. In total, for the whole Soviet period, there were 828,000 of them, of which 682,000 (or over 82 percent) fall in these two years (1937-1938). The remaining 70 years of the Soviet period accounted for a total of 146,000 death sentences on political grounds, or less than 18 percent.

Since this article is devoted to the scale, i.e., statistics of political repressions, it is not intended to investigate their causes and motivation. But we still wanted to draw attention to one circumstance, namely, the role of Stalin in this case. Recently there have been voices claiming that Stalin did not personally initiate the mass repressions, including the “Great Terror” of 1937-1938, that it was allegedly imposed on him by local party elites, etc. We should realize that this is not true.

There is a large number of documents, including published ones, which clearly show Stalin’s proactive role in repressive policy. Take, for example, his speech at the February-March Plenum of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks (b) in 1937, after which the “Great Terror” began. In this speech, Stalin said that the country was in an extremely dangerous situation due to the intrigues of saboteurs, spies, subversives, as well as those who artificially generated difficulties, thus creating a large number of the dissatisfied and irritated. This reached into the leadership cadres, who, according to Stalin, were complacent and had lost the ability to recognize the true face of the enemy.

It is quite clear to us that these statements of Stalin at the February-March Plenum of 1937 are a call for the “Great Terror,” and he, Stalin, was its main initiator and inspirer.

It is natural to want to compare the scale of political repression in the USSR with the corresponding indicators in other countries, primarily with Hitler’s Germany and Francoist Spain.

At the same time, I would like to warn against the incorrect nature of comparisons with the scale of political repression in Nazi Germany. It is claimed that the scale of repressions against German citizens in Germany was much smaller. Yes, political repressions against ethnic Germans seem relatively low, although we are talking about tens of thousands of people. But in this case we cannot stay confined in the framework of individual states, and we should put the question in a different way: what did Hitler’s regime bring to humanity? And it turns out that it is the Holocaust with six million victims and a long series of humanitarian crimes with many victims numbering many millions against the Russian, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Polish, Serbian and other peoples.

Or another example—a comparison with the scale of political repression in Francoist Spain. Now, in the USSR there were over 800,000 death sentences for political reasons. In Spain under Franco—over 80,000, or 10 times less. Hence the conclusion is made that the scale of political terror in the USSR was immeasurably higher than in Spain. This conclusion is completely wrong, in fact; these scales were approximately the same. The lion’s share of death sentences on political grounds in Spain falls on the late 1930s—early 1940s, when the population of Spain was about 20 million people, and the population of the USSR at the beginning of the Great Patriotic War was approaching 200 million; that is, the difference in population was 10 times. Yes, in Francoist Spain there were 10 times less death sentences for political reasons than in the USSR, but the population of the country was also 10 times less; that is, in terms of per capita these indicators are the same, almost identical.

We are by no means attacking the well-known postulate that there were no politically motivated prosecutions in the United States. However, we have grounds to assert that American jurisprudence deliberately qualifies certain crimes that have a political background as purely criminal. Indeed, in the USSR, Nikolaev, the murderer of Kirov, was unambiguously a political criminal. In the United States, Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of President Kennedy, was no less unambiguously a criminal, although he committed a purely political murder. In the USSR, identified spies were convicted under the political Article 58, while in the U.S. such spies are criminals. With such an approach, Americans naturally have every reason to advertise themselves as a society in which there is a complete absence of persecution and conviction on political grounds.

A grandiose mystification is the well-known myth about the total (or almost total) repression in the USSR of Soviet servicemen who were Nazi prisoners of war. The mythology is built, as a rule, in the darkest and most sinister colors. This applies to various publications published in the West and to journalism in our country. In order to present the process of repatriation of Soviet prisoners of war to the USSR from Germany and other countries and its consequences in the most gruesome way possible, an extremely biased selection of facts is used, which in itself is a sophisticated method of slander. In particular, sometimes gruesome scenes of violent repatriation of personnel of collaborationist military units are relished, and the corresponding conclusions and generalizations are transferred to the bulk of prisoners of war, which is wrong in principle. Accordingly, their repatriation, which, despite all the costs, was based on the natural and moving epic of finding the homeland of many hundreds of thousands of people, forcibly deprived of it by foreign invaders, is interpreted as a direction almost to the “belly of the beast.” Moreover, the biased facts are presented in a distorted form with a given interpretation, literally imposing an absurd conclusion on the reader, as if the repatriation of Soviet prisoners of war was carried out allegedly only to repress them in the Soviet Union, and there were no other reasons for repatriation.

However, the data presented in Table 3 do not strongly support such pessimistic assessments. On the contrary, they shatter the myth about the alleged almost universal repression in the USSR of Soviet servicemen who had been in Nazi captivity. This statistic includes 1,539,475 prisoners of war who entered the USSR during the period from October 1944 to March 1, 1946, from Germany and other countries, of which 960,039 came from the zones of action of the Allies (West Germany, France, Italy, etc.) and 579,436 from the zones of action of the Red Army abroad (East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, etc.), (see, GARF: Ф. 9526. Оп. 4а. Д. 1. Л. 62, 223—226). In 1945, 13 age-categories of servicemen were demobilized from the army, and accordingly their peers among prisoners of war (over 280,000) were released home. A part of the POWs of non-demobilizable ages were enrolled in work battalions—these were not at all repressed, but were one of the forms of mobilized labor force (a common practice at that time), and their assignment to the place of residence was made dependent on the future demobilization of their peers who continued to serve in the Red (Soviet) Army. The majority of prisoners of war of non-demobilizable ages were reinstated into military service. Only the special contingent of the NKVD remained (the share of the total number of prisoners of war was as follows—less than 15 percent); but we must not forget that the bulk of this category of repatriated prisoners of war were persons who, after their capture, had entered the military or police service of the enemy.

Table 3: Distribution of Repatriated Soviet Prisoners of War by Category (as of March 1, 1946)

The notion that the highest political leadership of the USSR allegedly equated the concepts of “prisoners” and “traitors” belongs to the category of retrospectively invented falsehoods (artifacts). Such “making up” usually pursued the goal of more slander and to discredit Stalin. In particular, the expression attributed to Stalin—”we have no prisoners, we have traitors”—is a fable (artifact), composed in 1956 in the writer-publicist environment, during the wave of criticism of the personality cult of Stalin. Actually, there are quite a lot of invented artifacts. They include, for example, the tale of Stalin’s “refusal” to exchange prisoners—Field Marshal Paulus for his son Yakov Dzhugashvili (in reality, this did not happen; it is a later fiction). Specially for the purpose of discrediting Stalin in Khrushchev’s time was fabricated the fake “report” of Soviet intelligence officer Richard Sorge, allegedly dated June 15, 1941 and which reported the date of the German invasion—June 22, 1941 (in fact, Sorge did not send such a report, because he did not know the exact date of the German attack on the USSR).

Medvedev suggests that up to 1946 inclusive, NKVD agencies repressed from 2 to 3 million people living on the territory of the USSR, which was subjected to fascist occupation (see, R.A. Medvedev, “Nash isk Stalinu,” in Moskovskiye novosti, November 27, 1988). In reality, 321,651 people were convicted on political grounds throughout the Soviet Union in 1944-1946, of whom 101,77 were sentenced to capital punishment (according to the records of the 1st Special Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs). It seems that the majority of those convicted from the former occupied territory were punished justly—for specific treasonous activities.

The statement widely used in Western Sovietology that 6-7 million peasants (mostly kulaks) perished during the collectivization of 1929-1932 does not stand up to criticism. In 1930-1931, just over 1.8 million peasants were sent into “kulak exile,” and at the beginning of 1932, 1.3 million remained there. The loss of 0.5 million was due to deaths, escapes, and the release of the “wrongly exiled.” During 1932-1940, in the “kulak exile,” 230,258 people were born, 389,521 died, 629,042 escaped and 235,120 returned after escaping. And from 1935, the birth rate began to exceed the death rate: in 1932-1934, in the “kulak exile,” were born 49,168 and 271,367 died; in 1935-1940—respectively 181,090 and 108,154 people (see, GARF: Ф. 9479. Оп. 1. Д. 89. Л. 205, 216).

There is no agreement in the scientific and journalistic literature on the question of whether or not to include the dispossessed peasants among the victims of political repressions. The kulaks were divided into three categories, and their total number varied from 3.5 million to 4 million (it is still difficult to establish the exact number). Here it should be noted immediately that the kulaks of the 1st category (arrested and convicted) are included in the statistics of political repressions given in Tables 1 and 2. The question of the 2nd category, kulaks sent under escort to live in “cold lands” (special resettlement), is disputable, where they were under the supervision of the NKVD agencies, which looked very much like political exile. As for the kulaks of the 3rd category, who avoided both arrest and conviction, and were sent to special settlement, there is no reason, in our opinion, to include them in the number of victims of political repression. In passing, we note that among the landlords whose property was expropriated in 1918, only those who were subsequently arrested and convicted by the punitive bodies of the Soviet power can be considered victims of political repression. The concepts of “expropriated” and “repressed” should not be equated.

We have studied the entire set of statistical reports of the Special Settlements Department of the NKVD-MVD of the USSR. It shows that in 1930-1940 about 2.5 million people were in “kulak exile,” of whom about 2.3 million were kulak peasants and about 200 thousand were “admixture” in the form of urban declassified element, the “dubious element” from border zones and others. During this period (1930-1940), approximately 700,000 people died there, the vast majority of them in 1930-1933 (see, V. N. Zemskov, Spetsposelentsy v SSSR. 1930—1960: Abstract of the dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Historical Sciences, Moscow, 2005, pp. 34-35). In light of this well-known and often quoted statement of Winston Churchill that in one of the conversations with him, Stalin allegedly named 10 million expelled and dead kulaks (see, Winston Churchill, The Second World War, Vol. 4, The Hinge of Fate, pp. 447-448), should be perceived as a misunderstanding.

The victims of political terror often include those who died of hunger in 1933, which is hardly legitimate. After all, we are talking about the fiscal policy of the state in the conditions of a natural disaster (drought). At that time, in the regions affected by drought (Ukraine, the North Caucasus, part of the Volga region, the Urals, Siberia, Kazakhstan), the state did not find it necessary to reduce the volume of obligatory supplies and confiscated from the peasants the meager harvest to the last grain. The polemics on the issue of the number of those who died from the famine is far from being finalized—estimates vary mainly within the range from 2 million to 8 million (see, V.P. Danilov, “”Diskussiya v zapadnoy presse o golode 1932—1933 gg. i «demograficheskaya katastrofa» 30—40-kh godov v SSSR,” in Voprosy istorii, no. 3, 1988, pp. 116-121; R. Konkvest, “Zhatva skorbi,” in Voprosy istorii, No. 4, 1990, p. 86; Naseleniye Rossii v XX veke: Istoricheskiye ocherki, Vol. 1, pp. 270-271). According to our estimates, the victims of the Holodomor of 1932-1933 were about 3 million people, about half of them in Ukraine. Our conclusion, of course, is not original, since approximately the same estimates were given by historians V.P. Danilov (USSR), S. Wheatcroft (Australia) and others back in the 80s of the XX century (see, V.P. Danilov, “Kollektivizatsiya: kak eto bylo,” in Stranitsy istorii sovetskogo obshchestva: fakty, problemy, lyudi, Moscow, 1989, p. 250).

The main obstacle to the inclusion of those who died from the famine in 1933 among the victims of political terror with the formulation developed in human rights organizations of “artificially organized famine with the purpose of causing mass death of people” is the fact that the fiscal policy was a secondary factor, and the primary factor was a natural disaster (drought). Nor was it intended to cause mass deaths (the political leadership of the USSR did not foresee and did not expect such negative consequences of its fiscal policy in conditions of drought).

In recent years, the idea has been actively promoted in Ukraine (including in scientific circles) that the famine of 1932-1933 was the result of Moscow’s anti-Ukrainian policy, that it was a deliberate genocide against Ukrainians, etc. the population of the North Caucasus, the Volga region, Kazakhstan and other areas where there was a famine. There was no selective anti-Russian, anti-Ukrainian, anti-Kazakh or any other orientation here. In fact, the United Nations was guided by the same considerations, which in 2008 refused to recognize the fact of the genocide of the Ukrainian people by a majority vote (although the United States and England voted for such recognition, they were in the minority).

The losses of the peoples deported in 1941-1944—Germans, Kalmyks, Chechens, Ingush, Karachais, Balkars, Crimean Tatars, etc.—are also greatly exaggerated. In the press, for example, there were estimates that up to 40 percent of Crimean Tatars died during transportation to the places of expulsion. Whereas the documents show that out of 151,720 Crimean Tatars sent in May 1944 to the Uzbek SSR, 151,529 were accepted by the NKVD of Uzbekistan, and 191 people (0.13%) died on the way (see, GARF: Ф. 9479. Оп. 1. Д. 179. Л. 241—242).

It is another matter that in the first years of life in the special settlement, in the process of painful adaptation, the mortality rate significantly exceeded the birth rate From the moment of the initial settlement until October 1, 1948—25,792 were born and 45,275 died among the evicted Germans (excluding the labor army); among the North Caucasians (Chechens, Ingush, Karachays, Balkars, etc.)— respectively 28,120 and 146,892; among the Crimeans (Tatars, Armenians, Bulgarians, Greeks)—6,564 and 44,887; among those deported in 1944 from Georgia (Meskhetian Turks, etc.)—2,873 and 15,432; among Kalmyks—2,702 and 16,594 people. Since 1949, among all of them, the birth rate became higher than the death rate (see, GARF: Д. 436. Л. 14, 26, 65—67).

History dilettantes include all human losses during the Russian Civil War among the unconditional “victims of the Bolshevik regime.” From the fall of 1917 to the beginning of 1922, the population of the country decreased by 12,741,300 people (see, T.A. Polyakov, Sovetskaya strana posle okonchaniya Grazhdanskoy voyny: territoriya i naseleniye, Moscow, 1986, pp. 98, 118); this also includes White emigration, the number of which is not precisely known (approximately 1.5 to 2 million). Only one warring party (the Red) is declared the culprit of the Civil War, and all the victims, including its own, are attributed to it. How many “exposé” materials have been published in recent years about the “sealed train,” the “intrigues of the Bolsheviks,” etc.?! It is impossible to count. It has often been claimed that if it had not been for Lenin, Trotsky, and other Bolshevik leaders, there would have been no revolution, no Red Movement, and no Civil War (we should add, with the same “success” one can claim that if it had not been for Denikin, Kolchak, Yudenich, and Wrangel, there would have been no White Movement). The absurdity of such assertions is quite obvious. The most powerful social upheaval in world history, such as the events of 1917-1920 in Russia, was predetermined by the entire previous course of history and was caused by a complex set of intractable social, class, national, regional and other tensions. In light of this, science cannot broadly interpret the concept of “victims of political repression” and includes in it only persons arrested and convicted by the punitive bodies of the Soviet power for political reasons. This means that the victims of political repressions are not the millions who died of typhus, typhoid, typhoid fever and other diseases. Nor are the millions of people who died on the fronts of the Civil War on all opposing sides, who died of hunger, cold, etc., the victims of political repression.

And as a result, it turns out that the victims of political repressions (during the years of “Red Terror”) are not counted in millions at all. The most we can talk about is tens of thousands. It is not without reason that when at the briefing in the press center of the IBRF on August 2, 1992, the number of those convicted on political grounds since 1917 was named, it did not fundamentally affect the corresponding statistics, if we count from the year 1921.

According to the available records in the FSB RF, in 1918-1920, 62,231 people were sentenced for “counter-revolutionary crime,” including 25,709 for execution (see, V. V. Luneev, Prestupnost’ XX veka, 1997, p. 180; V.N. Kudryavtsev, A.I. Trusov, Politicheskaya yustitsiya v SSSR, Moscow, 2000, p. 314). This information is part of the statistics above, mentioned at the briefing, at the press center of the IBRF, on August 2, 1992. We believe that the above statistics for the period of the Civil War are incomplete. Many victims of lynchings of “counter-revolutionaries” are probably not taken into account. These lynchings were often not documented at all, and the FSB has clearly taken into account only the number that is confirmed by documents. It is also doubtful that in 1918-1920 Moscow received exhaustive information about the number of the repressed from localities. But even taking all this into consideration, we believe that the total number of repressed “counter-revolutionaries” (including victims of the “Red Terror”) in 1918-1920 hardly exceeded 100,000 people.

Our publications with the statistics of political repressions, Gulag prisoners, and “kulak exile,” based on archival documents, had a significant impact on Western Sovietology, forcing it to abandon its main thesis about the alleged 50-60 million victims of the Soviet regime. Western Sovietologists cannot simply dismiss published archival statistics as an annoying fly and are forced to take them into account. In the Black Book of Communism, written in the late 1990s by French specialists, this figure is reduced to 20 million (see, The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, 1999, p. 4).

But even this “reduced” figure (20 million) we cannot recognize as acceptable. It includes both a number of reliable data, confirmed by archival documents, and estimated figures (many millions) of demographic losses in the Civil War, those who died of hunger in different periods, etc. The authors of The Black Book of Communism even included in the number of victims of political terror those who died of starvation in 1921-1922 (famine in the Volga region, caused by a severe drought), which neither Medvedev nor many other experts in this field had never done before.

Nevertheless, the very fact that the estimated scale of victims of the Soviet regime has decreased (from 50-60 million to 20 million) indicates that during the 1990s, Western Sovietology underwent a significant evolution towards common sense, but, however, got stuck halfway through this positive process.

According to our calculations, strictly based on the documents, it turns out to be no more than 2.6 million, with a rather extended interpretation of the concept of “victims of political terror and repression.” This number includes more than 800,000 sentenced to capital punishment on political grounds, about 600,000 political prisoners who died in places of deprivation of liberty, and about 1.2 million who died in places of expulsion (including “kulak exile”), as well as during transportation there (deported peoples, etc.). The components of our calculations correspond readily to four criteria specified in The Black Book of Communism in defining the concept of “victims of political terror and repression,” namely: “shooting, hanging, drowning, beating to death;” “deportation—death during transportation;” “death in places of expulsion;” “death as a result of forced labor (exhausting labor, disease, malnutrition, cold)” (Black Book, p. 4).

As a result, we have four main variants of the scale of victims (executed and killed by other means) of political terror and repression in the USSR: 110 million (Solzhenitsyn); 50-60 million (Western Sovietology during the Cold War); 20 million (Western Sovietology in the post-Soviet period); 2.6 million (our document-based calculations).

The question may arise—where is Roy Medvedev’s 40 million? This figure is not comparable with the above figures; there we are talking only about those executed and killed by other means, while Medvedev’s statistics also includes millions of people who, although subjected to various repressions, remained alive. This, however, does not cancel out the fact that Medvedev’s statistics are still exaggerated many times over.

In the serious scientific literature of the modern period, authors avoid making frivolous statements about the allegedly many tens of millions of victims of Bolshevism and the Soviet regime. In light of this, the book by Yuri L. Dyakov, Ideologiya bol’shevizma i real’nyy sotsializm—The Ideology of Bolshevism and Real Socialism (2009), in which, in the list of crimes of the CPSU, there is also mentioned “the destruction of tens of millions of its people” (p. 146), is in sharp contrast. Moreover, Dyakov considers the so-called “calculations” of Professor Ivan A. Kurganov (which in his time were accepted by Solzhenitsyn) to be quite reliable, according to which, due to the fault of Bolshevism, the population losses in Russia (USSR) in 1918-1958 amounted to more than 110 million people (p. 234). The position of Dyakov in his book rests on the complete disregard of the whole complex of available historical sources. The use of documentarily refuted statistics by Dyakov, on the basis of which he draws far-reaching conclusions and generalizations on the topic under study, cannot be called other than a pathological deviation from the mainstream in this area of historical science.

And the last issue we would like to highlight is the statistics of rehabilitation and its stages. Let us return to our basic figure—3,854,000 (more precisely—3,853,900) convicted on political grounds for all 73 years of Soviet power. This figure was used to calculate the number and proportion of those rehabilitated.

Rehabilitations took place during Stalin’s lifetime, but their scale was quite insignificant. The period of mass rehabilitation began in 1953, immediately after the famous events associated with the death of Stalin, the arrest and execution of Beria, and especially after the 20th Congress of the CPSU in 1956, which condemned the cult of personality of Stalin.

The rehabilitation was led by the former Stalinist entourage headed by Khrushchev, directly involved in the former Stalinist repressions. In this case, they, especially Khrushchev, showed a well-known political foresight. In the first years after Stalin’s death, the situation was such that to continue the line of the late leader without significant adjustments—was a path of deliberate political suicide. The idea of mass rehabilitation for many reasons was politically advantageous and was literally necessary. The fact that this process was initiated and led by Stalin’s former entourage, which was directly involved in the repressions, we can formulate their internal motivations as follows: “It is better that we do it, rather than someone else does it instead of us.” The instinct of political self-preservation worked here.

The rehabilitation process had its ups and downs over time. Its first stage—the mass “Khrushchev’s” rehabilitation—covers the period 1953-1961. Then rehabilitation declined, but nevertheless continued (at a slower pace). Since 1987, the mass “Gorbachev’s” rehabilitation began, which significantly surpassed the “Khrushchev’s” rehabilitation. The number and proportion of the rehabilitated (and unrehabilitated) are presented in Table 4.

Table 4: The Rehabilitation Process, from 1953 to 1999

The term “innocently convicted” does not apply to all those rehabilitated. Indeed, hundreds of thousands were victims of entirely far-fetched and fabricated charges. But there were also many who had done concrete actions (including those of an armed nature) against the existing system. They were rehabilitated on the grounds that their struggle against Bolshevism and Soviet power was allegedly “just.” In particular, in the mid-1990s, under this politically biased and legally questionable thesis, practically all participants in the numerous kulak-peasant uprisings and rebellions of the period 1918-1933 were rehabilitated (and everyone was rehabilitated, including executioners who shot and hanged communists, Komsomol members and non-party Soviet activists).

It even came to the point that in 1996, SS Gruppenführer Helmuth von Pannwitz was rehabilitated by the decision of the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office. Cossack units under the command of Pannwitz—the 1st Cossack Cavalry Division, then deployed in the 15th Cossack Cavalry Corps—participated in punitive operations in Yugoslavia. In 1947, together with other war criminals, he was hanged by sentence of the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR. However, in 2001 the Military Prosecutor’s office of the Russian Federation made a different conclusion: von Pannwitz was justifiably convicted for his criminal acts and cannot be rehabilitated.

Table 4 shows that out of almost 3,854,000 convicted on political grounds (according to the personalized record available in the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation) by the beginning of 2000, 2,438,000 (63.3 percent) were rehabilitated and about 1,416,000 (36.7 percent) remained unrehabilitated.

Later on, the rehabilitation process stalled, because, in fact, there was no one to rehabilitate. The bulk of the unrehabilitated were accomplices of the fascist occupiers—all those Polizei, the Karateli [death squads], Sonderkommando bosses, Vlasovites, etc., etc., who, as a rule, were held under Article 58 as political criminals. There was a provision in Soviet legislation that prohibited the rehabilitation of accomplices of the Nazi occupiers. This provision has passed into the current Russian legislation, i.e., their rehabilitation is expressly prohibited by law. In addition to accomplices of the Nazi occupiers, a number of other persons remain unrehabilitated, whose actions were of such a nature that it is simply impossible to rehabilitate them.

Such are the complex pages of national history, if we do not fantasize, but rely on the facts reflected in the documents.

To answer the question about the impact of repressions in their real scale on Soviet society, we would suggest familiarizing ourselves with the conclusions of the American historian Robert Thurston, who in the mid-1990s published a scientific monograph Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941 (1996). The main conclusions, according to Thurston, are as follows:

  • The Stalinist terror system as described by previous generations of Western researchers never existed; the impact of terror on Soviet society in the Stalin years was not significant;
  • There was no mass fear of repression in the Soviet Union in the 1930s;
  • Repression was limited and did not affect the majority of the Soviet people;
  • Soviet society supported the Stalinist regime rather than feared it;
  • The Stalinist system provided the majority of people with the opportunity to live in the Soviet Union

These conclusions of Thurston, which are almost blasphemous from the perspective of the traditions and spirit of Western Sovietology and as perceived by the majority of Sovietologists, are based on documented facts and statistics. In addition, Thurston, not being a supporter of communism and Soviet power, nevertheless in his endeavor to get to the historical truth managed to be detached from the established anti-communist and anti-Soviet stereotypes and dogmas. This is, figuratively speaking, a ray of light in a dark realm.


Featured: Still Life, by Yuri Neprintsev; painted in 1979.

Stalin’s Gamble: The Search for Allies against Hitler, 1930–1936

Michael Jabara Carley has just published Stalin’s Gamble. The Search for Allies against Hitler, 1930–1936, which is the first volume of his tour de force trilogy on Soviet-Western relations during the 1930s. This work will be an indispensible text in Russian studies.

True to form, Stalin’s Gamble is meticulously researched, lucidly written and prodigious in its many insights. The book has that rare quality in that it appeals both to the scholar and the general reader. We are pleased to bring you an excerpt, courtesy of the University of Toronto Press.

This is a book well worth spending time with., Make sure to pick up your copy.

Prologue to Crisis

On 1 January 1930, few Europeans worried about the outbreak of a Second World War. Parisian fortune tellers might have ventured such a sensational prediction on their advertising coupons. The French, of course, worried instinctively about a new war with a revanchist Germany. In fifteen years, predicted the French politician Edouard Herriot. That was in 1922, and he was not a fortune teller. The Soviet commissar, or narkom for foreign affairs, Maksim Maksimovich Litvinov, sometimes speculated about such possibilities. Marxist ideologues thought of world war as the inevitable result of capitalist and imperialist rivalries. Litvinov opined that with the possible exceptions of the Italian fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, and Jozef Piłsudski, the Polish generalissimo, no government in Europe wanted war. Sure, there was a “war scare” in the Soviet Union in 1927, but Litvinov did not make much of it. Apparently, many rank-and-file communists did not take the war scare too seriously either, considering it “a tool of social agitation,” which undoubtedly it was. Besides the Italian Duce Mussolini, another fascist leader was emerging in Germany. This was Adolf Hitler, who headed a fringe party, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) or Nazi Party, who had ideas about a German renaissance of power relying on war as a means of achieving it. He even published a long book, Mein Kampf, in 1925, where he elaborated his plans for the future domination of Europe. It was hard to read Mein Kampf to the end, but you did not have to read every page to understand the message. The Nazi Party did not win a great many votes in the Reichstag elections during the 1920s, and thus did not appear to be a threat to European peace. In January 1930, it is unlikely that Litvinov or anyone else among the Soviet leadership worried much about Hitler.

As the new decade opened, it was more or less business as usual at the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs in Moscow, or the NKID. The principal objective was normalization of relations with the Western powers and the United States. A new world war was not an agenda item. In the autumn of 1929, the British government renewed diplomatic relations with the USSR, which it had broken off more than two years before on a wave of anti-communist hysteria. This was a victory for Soviet diplomacy. The NKID remained alert for Western attempts to organize an anti-Soviet bloc. Litvinov did not consider it a likely possibility, however, since capitalist political and economic rivalries would prevent the Western powers from ganging up on the USSR.

The Soviet Union and Weimar Germany had reasonably functional relations at the beginning of the 1930s. It certainly did not look in Moscow as if they would be at war a decade later. At the beginning of the 1920s Soviet Russia and Germany were pariahs, the one a proscribed revolutionary socialist state and the other condemned to take the blame for provoking the Great War, even though a democratic Weimar Republic had been established in November 1918. The Treaty of Versailles, concluded in June 1919, was supposed to settle the problem of German power, but did not do so. The German government passed the decade attempting to loosen the constraints of Versailles; and the Soviet government, to break out of its diplomatic isolation. What could have been more natural than these two pariah states joining together to escape isolation? In April 1922 they signed an agreement at Rapallo, Italy, to renounce prewar debts and obligations and to re-establish diplomatic and economic relations. The Entente Powers, France and Britain, were furious, realizing that the two outcasts had slipped out of their control. The pressure, both political and economic, would now be on the Entente Powers to come to terms with Weimar Germany and Soviet Russia.

The pattern of relations in Europe was thus set for the decade of the 1920s with attempts at rapprochement with Britain and France more successful on the German side than on the Soviet. If the Entente Powers succeeded in defeating Wilhelmine Germany during the Great War, they failed to overthrow Soviet power after the Bolshevik Revolution. They tried though as much as they dared. The West’s bete noire in Moscow was the Communist International, or Comintern, established in 1919 not only to pursue the cause of world revolution, but also to defend Soviet Russia against foreign intervention. During the 1920s there were ups and downs in Soviet-Western relations, a crisis now and again, but no danger of another world war.

Western Europe appeared more or less stable and prosperous. It was the Roaring Twenties: the European bourgeoisie had money for leisure and conspicuous consumption. In capital cities like Paris and Berlin, men in tuxedos and women in sleek evening dresses rocked to the beat of big band music and American jazz at nightclubs and cabarets. The menus offered expensive cuisine that went down well with wine and champagne, while dancers perspired on the dance floor. Nor were the slick and well-to-do absent from the terrasses of popular cafes where they rubbed shoulders with American expats, painters, writers, and socialists. “It’s class fraternization,” a Marxist ideologue might have joked.

Politically, France and Britain were often at odds; in fact, their wartime alliance appeared to dissolve on 11 November 1918, the day the Great War ended. This allowed room for both Germany and the Soviet Union to manoeuvre. Germany had the better of the diplomacy. The Red Scare of the 1920s and lingering Soviet revolutionary ambitions hampered efforts to normalize relations in the West. After the premature death in January 1924 of Soviet leader Vladimir Il’ich Lenin, a struggle for power erupted between Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin and Lev Davidovich Trotskii. Hatred is the first word that comes to mind in describing relations between these two Soviet leaders. This conflict had its effects on both Soviet domestic and foreign policy. At the end of the decade, the struggle for power was settled. Stalin established himself as the new, indisputable Soviet leader. Trotskii was sent into exile. Stalin calmed the Bolshevik itch to pursue world revolution and launched a five-year plan for industrialization and collectivization of agricultural lands. The troubles created by these domestic policies were an additional incentive to maintain correct relations with the Western powers.

The architects of Soviet foreign policy in the 1920s were Georgii Vasilievich Chicherin, the narkom for foreign affairs, and his principal deputy, zamnarkom Litvinov.

These two were an odd couple, one descended from the Russian aristocracy, and the other from a rather peculiar middle-class Jewish family. They often differed among themselves, both because of personal rivalries and jealousies and because of differences in temperament. Historians have said they pursued conflicting policies, Chicherin being pro-German, and Litvinov, pro-British. This is untrue, they were not pro this or that Western government, they were pro-Soviet. They sought to protect what they defined as the national interests of the Soviet state. In the northwest that meant the Baltic frontiers; in the south, it meant the borders in Central Asia. On the big issues like Rapallo or better relations with other Western powers, or difficulties with the Comintern, they saw eye to eye. It was on tactics rather than on strategy that their personal rivalries played themselves out. If Chicherin argued white, Litvinov would argue black, and vice versa. This rivalry continued until 1928 when an ailing Chicherin went on leave, never to resume his duties. Litvinov became the acting and then formal narkom of the NKID.

Soviet foreign policy was a complicated business. The NKID had to cope not only with hostile Western governments but also with politics in Moscow where foreign policy was often a stake in the struggle for power between Stalin and Trotskii and then other rivals. There were many arenas where the struggle to succeed Lenin unfolded, but none more important than in the Politburo, which was in effect the cabinet of the Soviet government. In most cabinets, the minister of foreign affairs is a high-ranking member. In the Politburo, Chicherin was not a member. He and Litvinov were invited consultants when foreign policy was discussed. On the other hand, during the 1920s, the Comintern, the nemesis of the NKID as well as of the West, was represented in succession by two of Stalin’s provisional allies, Grigorii Evseievich Zinoviev and Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin. These two Bolshevik politicians not only represented the Comintern, but used it as a platform for influence and power in the Politburo where Stalin sometimes gave them leeway as he manoeuvred for power. Politburo members tended to think they knew more about foreign policy than the NKID, which exasperated Chicherin and Litvinov. Zinoviev and Bukharin, they complained, talked too much, did not think enough, and irritated Western governments for nothing. The NKID often played the unwanted roll of concierge cleaning up their messes. Litvinov let it slip from time to time with foreign diplomats that he was fed up with the Comintern. Of course Stalin could not say that.

A persistent idea survives that the Comintern conducted Soviet foreign policy during the interwar years, or that the priorities of world revolution dominated it. “National interest” was not a concept much in use in Moscow.3 Such assertions do not stand up well in a close examination of Soviet archives. After Stalin consolidated his power, the Comintern faded into the background. It still functioned, still sought to direct the business of foreign communist parties, and still annoyed the Western powers, though less than before. If there was local resistance to French or British colonialism, the Quai d’Orsay or Foreign Office blamed it on the Comintern. When Litvinov heard such complaints, his stock reply was that indigenous resistance to Western colonialism flourished without any help from the Comintern. What was the USSR supposed to do? Should it become an advocate of colonial empires? This question came up, as readers will see, when Italy invaded Abyssinia in October 1935. Even capitalists were getting used to the Comintern. It was, like a stone in your rubber boot, which you could not take off until you stepped out of the bog. Among the Western powers, the said and unsaid idea was that the Soviet Union should abandon socialism and embrace capitalism, thus behaving like every other state. Why should Stalin and his colleagues do that? Would capitalists ever abandon capitalism?

In the 1930s the Comintern, at times, played a role in support of Soviet national interests, in Spain, for example, during the civil war, although that was a point debated inside the NKID. There were sometimes residual tensions left over from the 1920s, but it was the NKID that formulated foreign policy most of the time and the Politburo (but in reality, Stalin) that approved or modified it.

Stalin sometimes told the Comintern leadership, Georgi Dimitrov, for example, to develop policy without him. I was too busy, he would say: “Decide by yourselves.” He never said that to Litvinov or his deputies in the NKID. Stalin’s involvement in foreign policymaking began after Lenin took ill in 1922–3. The narkom proposed and most of the time the vozhd’, who was Stalin, approved. Occasionally there were clashes. A pervasive Western view holds that there were two Soviet foreign policies, Litvinov’s, pro-Western, and Stalin’s, pro-German, even after Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. The German orientation was Stalin’s preference, but he let Litvinov “talk him into something” in abandoning Rapallo. One often hears the argument, yes, collective security was Litvinov’s policy, but what about Stalin’s real preferences? This view is widespread among Western historians, seeking to explain away Litvinov and the policy of collective security. The fact is there were no personal policies, no duality of policies, only one policy that was Soviet and, perforce, Stalin’s.

It is widely believed in the West that Stalin was a confidence man just waiting for an opportunity to trick the Western powers and to return to the “old” Rapallo policy with Nazi Germany. In the meantime, he would string them along. Collective security and mutual assistance against Nazi Germany were a sham. Stalin was a would-be conqueror, a kind of red Genghis Khan, just waiting for opportunities to strike. The Soviet archival evidence upon which this narrative is based demonstrates that the Soviet leadership was serious about collective security and that Britain and France were not. In the case of France, one can make a partial exception for the period 1933–4. This revelation may come as a surprise to some readers, or others may simply not believe it, sticking to preconceived ideas. There is little evidence to substantiate Stalin’s clandestine pro-German policy, risible in any case because composition with Hitler during 1930s was not a sin, or if it was, everyone was being sinful. Britain and France, not to mention Poland, led the way. Some historians in the West might argue that the Western states had their “liberal scruples” about dealing with “archenemies.” The trouble was that for many European conservatives, Stalin was the arch-enemy, not Hitler.

Two could play at who loves me, who loves me not. Even the narkom Litvinov argued that a minimum of relations with Hitler, mostly economic, should be maintained in order to avoid a diplomatic rupture. Litvinov feared Soviet isolation, which could facilitate Anglo-French security arrangements with Hitler.

The view of Stalin as trickster, “Germanophile,” and “ally” of Hitler has been around for a long time and originates in the anti-communism and Sovietphobia of the interwar years and the second stage of the Cold War after 1945. A.J.P. Taylor, the great British historian of the mid-twentieth century, commented in 1981 that detached study of Soviet foreign policy was unlikely in his lifetime. “Most of my historical colleagues,” he said, “are so corrupted and blinded by their obsession with the Cold War that it is quite impossible for them to see clearly or to speak honestly about Soviet policies.” The same was true of their Soviet counterparts. Taylor was trying to be “balanced.” The Cold War ended in 1991 – at least many people hoped it had – after the dismemberment and disappearance of the Soviet Union. The immense Soviet archives began to open. It was the most extraordinary experience for historians to go to Moscow for the first time and hold in their hands freshly declassified dela, or files, that no one, apart from archivists and a few Soviet historians, had ever before read, let alone explored. Maybe we should talk about “History BC,” before the opening of the Soviet archives, and “History AD,” after the opening. I would respectfully contend that historians cannot study the origins of the Second World War without reference to the Soviet archival sources. Now that we have those files, or a great many of them, it should be possible to get to the bottom of the big questions that divided Taylor’s generation.

Yet here we are, and so far, it has not been possible. A new generation of English-language writers, seemingly disdainful of their predecessors, has resumed old habits. One evokes “memory” to justify not going to the archival records. Another goes to the files, cherry-picking evidence. He uses that part of the archival record which suits his strong ideological objectives and ignores that part which does not. It is dust in the eyes. Such modi operandi, writes one reviewer, “undermine confidence” in the author. Yet even when reviewers catch an author red-handed, it does not appear to bother either author or publisher. In the early 1980s, an untenured “Marxist historian” at Princeton University was drummed out of the profession for mistakes of documentation. Senior historians accused him “of systematically distorting evidence”; he was “called a ‘liar’ and a ‘faker.’” Now, forty years later, those very words, but not the punishment, might apply to certain academics or politicians of a new generation. As politicians go, the prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, comes to mind, or delegates at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

In the flurry of such Western ideas, it goes against the grain to propose that Soviet foreign policy functioned more or less as it did in other states, I mean based on perceptions of national interest. In fact, in the Politburo there existed considerable animosity towards Germany and towards the Rapallo policy, though it continued with ups and downs throughout the 1920s and into the beginning of the 1930s. Germany was the only Western power with which the Soviet Union had tolerable relations. It was the only foothold in Europe and had to be protected lest the USSR risk dangerous isolation. All the better, Litvinov argued, if relations with other powers could be improved, but not at the risk of damaging Rapallo. Litvinov was under no illusions about the permanency of Rapallo. Eventually, Germany and the USSR would part company. Other options, therefore, had to be cultivated, but for the time being such options were “music of the future.”

Western-Soviet tensions came and went like bad weather. Trade turnover rose and fell according to Soviet economic and political needs. Moscow used trade as bait to obtain better political relations, though this strategy never really worked except in Weimar Germany, and even there, bilateral relations were often strained. It was not trade per se but political calculations of national interest on both sides, which kept Rapallo going.

By the end of the 1920s, the Soviet government managed to achieve prewar production levels. It was slow going, too slow for the Bolsheviks, for they were all industrializers and modernizers whatever the disagreements between them on how fast to proceed. The USSR was burdened with millions of peasant smallholdings, which produced only enough grain and other foodstuffs to sustain the peasant producers. Sometimes it did not, and the poorest peasants had to hire themselves out as labourers to the more prosperous so-called kulaks, to make ends meet. There was not enough agricultural surplus to feed the cities, at reasonable prices, in order to support industrialization or to sell in the West to obtain vital foreign exchange. Something had to be done. Having won the conflict to succeed Lenin, Stalin clenched his fists and smashed all the obstacles to industrialization by launching the First Five-Year Plan in 1928 and by forcing at the same time the collectivization of small peasant holdings, grouping them into large collective farms. Forced collectivization provoked a peasant “Luddite” rebellion (a turn of phrase coined by the late Isaac Deutscher), which along with drought and insect infestations, led in 1932–3 to a disastrous concatenation of circumstances, a famine in the Soviet wheat belt. These developments did not affect Soviet foreign policy or the Soviet need to trade. If anything, industrialization increased the need to buy capital goods and to sell agricultural products, lumber, oil, and manganese in the West.

In the 1930s the stakes in Soviet relations with the West changed rapidly. In October 1929, the stock market crashed in New York, setting off what became the Great Depression, which spread from the United States to Europe. The deceptive political and economic stability of the 1920s was shattered. Credit dried up, banks and businesses went broke, industrial production fell, international trade declined, commodity prices plummeted, and unemployment rose to calamitous levels.

The Roaring Twenties became a memory. One imagines that many prized tuxedos and evening gowns collected dust in the closet or ended up in secondhand shops. American expats still flocked to Paris, and jazz men still played the cabarets, but in reality, everything had changed. The music sounded the same, but people were not. The legions of unemployed worried about making ends meet. People were desperate and angry. The far-right leagues (or ligues) in France and the Nazi Brownshirts in Germany went out into the streets looking for trouble, fighting with communists and unionists. There were casualties. It was war, not all-out, but war all the same.

The Depression thus brought renewed political instability, especially in Germany, where the Nazi Party under Hitler made impressive gains in federal elections in September 1930, rising from 12 seats in the Reichstag to 107. Hitler was no longer a fringe politician. Nazi power increased rapidly until Hitler became chancellor in January 1933. This should have set off alarm bells in European capitals and in Washington, and it should have led to changes in policy. Sometimes it did and sometimes not. It certainly did in Moscow. The threat of war, which had largely been a theoretical discussion, became a real, tangible danger. As a result, major changes in foreign policy and in relations with the Western powers took place in the Soviet Union as it turned to face the menace to European peace and security posed by Hitlerite Germany. Sooner or later, Litvinov had said in 1927, Germany and the USSR were bound to go their separate ways. That time had come.

Featured: Joseph Stalin, by Viktor Mikhailovich Oreshnikov; painted in 1948.

What is Dictatorship?

In politics, whether we know it or not, we are always fighting against an enemy, whether stationed on our borders or camouflaged within the city. But there is also another form of enmity, much more subtle than the one that bubbles at ground level, incarnated by men who have an ideology or a culture, perhaps a religion or a barbaric anthropology, incompatible with our own. It is the enmity derived from political concepts, polemically handled and exploited against the “moral element,” the criterion by which the true capacity of resistance to the hostility and offenses of the enemy is measured.

What I want to say, now by way of example, is that certain assumed definitions, transformed into taboos, enervate the will, having previously worked the intelligence by “brainwashing,” an expression that, suspiciously, has ceased to be used at a time when political pedagogy is dedicated only to that. Some pontificate on the benefits of ethnic, religious and cultural pluralism—the pluralism of values, in short—and others suffer its consequences: loss of cultural identity, social conflict, babelization. Nor is it strange that the same people who praise “miscegenation”—vaguely in the legal system, but with more determination in public universities and in the Press and Propaganda Section of the mass media—then maintain that races (or cultures) do not exist. It has also become normal for the zealots of “defensive” pan-Melanism—Black Lives Matter is not new, it was previously invented in the 1920s—to promote as just and necessary an anti-white racism and to demand that we finance our own re-education.

War, even in its current “pacifist” variants, takes place in space, that is to say, on the earth, because to control it and to reasonably order life on it is the primary object of politics. The much more decisive and brutal quarrels over concepts are settled in time. The struggle for the meaning of words, for the “story” that obsesses all modern princely counselors—today called “political analysts” or “advisors,” young people with no experience of life, generally coming, as Jules Monnerot used to say, from an educational system dedicated to “the mass production of artificial cretins”: as opposed to those who are so by a natural disposition; those who flourish massively today are “cultivated cretins, like a certain type of pearl.” Once the political logos and dictionary have been colonized, that is, the national “political imaginary,” any capacity for resistance is radically diminished. Then, and only then, the defeat of the external or internal enemy can be presented as a victory or a political and cultural “homologation” with the executioners. Indeed, a few days ago we in Spain spoke, with a sense of opportunity, of the “afrancesados,” Spanish archetype of a colonized political imaginary.

It is therefore necessary, in a certain sense, to “decolonize the imaginary” and give back to political concepts their precise meaning, which is neither invented nor developed in a Think Tank, but is part, however modest its aliquot, of the truth of politics. It is necessary, in order to know where we stand. I do not know if “political realism” has a specific mission; perhaps, some would say, the elaboration of a “decalogue” or program that can be implemented by a political party, a faction or a movement, but I do know that its raison d’être lies in the demystification of political thought. One of the concepts that needs this mental cleansing is “dictatorship,” a frightening notion about which the greatest confusion reigns—a self-interested Confusionism, exploited by those aspiring to power, presenting their rivals as vulgar supporters of authoritarian regimes and themselves as “democrats”—as if that term had a precise meaning beyond the mental tropisms that adorn the demo-liberal right.

Everything conspires against the reputation of political demystifiers. However, writing about the war-phenomenon does not presuppose a bellicose personality; probably only a meek man can write a theory or a sociology of war. A theory of decision… an indecisive one. And a theory of dictatorship is perhaps only within the reach of someone incapable of exercising it.

It is not easy to look “dictatorship” in the face, a highly inflammable political concept that gravitates over particularly intense political situations and which is entangled with legislation of exception, states of necessity and coups d’état. People believe that a dictatorship is what the “anti-Franco vulgate” teaches, but they do not lose sleep over a government that can illegally shut down Parliament and deprive the whole nation of freedom of movement. Anti-parliamentarism has many forms and those of today are nothing like those of a century ago. It would be very interesting to write a palingenesis of dictatorship, for it is periodically reborn and its singularity should be recognized. To turn one’s back on its reality is to culpably ignore the momentary concentration of power, a reality that happens outside our moral or ideological prejudices, independently of our will. Not knowing what it consists of compromises our position vis-à-vis the enemy who does know what it is and how to use it.

Dictatorship is a fundamental institution of Roman public law. It consists of a lifting or suspension of the juridical barriers in order that the dictator, generally pro tempore, faces the exceptional political situation (sedition, civil war, foreign invasion) and restores the public tranquility to the city. Once restored the order or expired the foreseen period, the extraordinary powers of the dictator are cancelled, whose prototype is Cincinnatus. But there are also in Roman history examples of dictators of undefined undertaking (Sila) and those lifelong (Caesar), even omnímodo or, as we would say today, constituent (lex de imperio vespasiani).

Roman pragmatism had grasped the political essence of dictatorship: it is a concentration or intensification of power that opposes the pernicious effect of the impotence of the established power, besieged by the enemy, generally internal. From a conceptual point of view, it is not strictly speaking a “political regime,” but a “political situation,” transitory by definition. Any manifestation of power always generates criticism from rival parties or factions, but in a particularly intense way criticism is aroused by dictatorship, secularly associated with the personal usufruct of command.

Every dictatorship constitutes a political fact, imperfectly subjected to a legal status. Jean Bodin’s notion of sovereignty is, in this sense, the attempt to make normative a particularly intense moment of command. Such is the glory of Bodin and of the French legists of the 16th century.

During the 19th century, dictatorship gradually lost all its former respectability, as a consequence of the generalization of a new juridical ideology: constitutionalism. Liberal historiography, in its fight against the “enemy,” the absolute monarchies, reworked the classical political tradition and generalized the denigration of the dictatorial institution, arbitrarily associated with tyranny and despotism.

However, the constitutional movement has always recognized, implicitly, that political necessity knows no law when it modulates states of exception, siege and war, denominations which push dictatorship into the background. Dictatorship became a political taboo after the coup of Louis Napoléon (December 2, 1851), the most important coup of the 19th century. But the technical meaning of dictatorship remained and developed in the constitutional states of exception. For the first time, the raison d’être of the classic dictatorship was legally enunciated, but without mentioning it by name: the suspension of law to allow its subsistence. Otherwise, liberalism, which at the time was never, to a certain extent, a “neutral and agnostic” doctrinarism—a legend spread by conservative illiberalism—would never have built the prepotent European nation-states.

Dictatorship formally denies the rule it wants to ensure materially, a doctrine established by Carl Schmitt in his research on the evolution of the institution: Dictatorship (1921), a book of conceptual history, diaphanous and without equivocation, whose non-readers (a very interesting intellectual fauna) figure, against all odds, that it is an apology for Nazism. According to the German jurist, “the essence of dictatorship from the point of view of the philosophy of law consists in the general possibility of separating the norms of law and the norms of the realization of law.” At the same time, dictatorship also implies an effective suppression of the division or separation of powers. Schmitt, being in need of the necessary conceptual demarcation as a jurist, contrasts commissariat dictatorship with constituent dictatorship, categories currently received in the healthiest part of the theory of the State and constitutional theory. Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s doctrine of the general will plays a crucial role in the transition from one to the other.

Hermann Heller, a brilliant jurist, like Carl Schmitt, politicized by his leftist militancy and also committed to national socialism—but the opposite side of the other national socialism—was equally concerned about legal taxonomies. Less perspicacious than his colleague, rival and friend when political or juridical realism (concepts) come into conflict with ideology (positions), for Heller, dictatorship, condemned en bloc, is nothing more than a personalistic and corrupt government (“individuality without law”) opposed to the rule of law (“law without individuality”); in short, “a political regime manifestation of anarchy.” Simplifying a lot, this is the idea of dictatorship generalized among constitutionalists since 1945, the heyday of the “Potsdam democracies.” Carlos Ollero Gómez explained very effectively the constitutional “archaism” that weighed down these regimes.

The commissariat type of dictatorship, an updated formula, at the beginning of the 20th century, of the Roman dictatorship, presupposes a prior mandate or commission, spontaneous (royal call or invitation of a parliament or national assembly to assume extraordinary powers), or forced (pronunciamiento, coup d’état). The commissioned dictator’s mission is to restore the violated constitutional order without going outside the constitution or questioning its essential decisions (form of government). A good example of this is the Spanish dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera, the “iron surgeon” expected by all. Have political and legal historians ever stopped to think why dictatorship got such a good press after World War I? They should read more Boris Mirkine-Guetzévitch, for example, a left-liberal constitutionalist, and think less about the ANECA, cancer of the Spanish university.

Sovereign dictatorship, on the other hand, pursues the establishment of a new political order, using for this purpose a power without legal limitations and operating as a constituent power. Charles de Gaulle in 1958 (dictator ad tempus). This type of dictatorship is associated in the 20th century with totalitarian regimes (total states and popular democracies), while the commissariat dictatorship falls more into the field of authoritarian regimes (Boulangism, authoritarian states and, however bizarre the term may sound, “Catholic dictatorships”). The possible effects of revolution having been limited by the experience of the Paris Commune, the lessons of which led to a turning point in insurrectionary techniques, the alternative to violent subversion is from then on the surgical coup d’état or legal revolution.

In its modern (Baroque) meaning, coups d’état are “audacious and extraordinary actions that princes are forced to undertake, against common law, in difficult and desperate affairs, relativizing the established order and legal formulas and subordinating the interest of individuals to the public good.” Thus speaks, in a secret book, Gabriel Naudé, so mistreated by political ignorance. Naudé, a librarian by profession and a harmless spirit, considers coups legitimate and defensive. Their usefulness depends on the prudence of the prince and, above all, on his ability to anticipate, for “the execution always precedes the sentence”: thus “the coup is received by the one who weighs to give it.” The reputation of a coup d’état depends on those who exploit it: it will be beneficial if it is carried out by friends or allies (salus populi suprema lex esto) and disturbing if it is plotted by enemies (violation of the constitution, counter-coup). Judgment thus depends on the relative position of the observer and his commitments and objectives.

The contemporary sequel to Naudé’s Considerations politiques sur les coups d’Estat (Political Considerations on Coups d’Etat), (1639), is Curzio Malaparte’s Tecnica Del Golpe De Estado (Technique of the Coup d’Etat), (1931). Malaparte, on whom the opprobrium of the right and the left falls indiscriminately, discusses the nature of coups in order to teach how to defeat them with a paralyzing “counter-coup” (coup d’arrêt) and defend the State.

Triumphs like Mussolini’s March on Rome (1922), wrapped in an aura of political romanticism, may never happen again… in the same way. After World War II the general impression was that the coup d’état is an infertile technique. All the more reason why, because of its congenital romanticism, the pronunciamiento can no longer have any effect. From all this we can only expect, as the theoretician of the State Jesús F. Fueyo used to say, an “acceleration of disorder.”

The violence of the coup is logically unacceptable to public opinion in pluralist constitutional regimes. However, that same “public opinion,” by inadvertence or by seduction, can willingly accept what Malaparte calls a “parliamentary coup,” in the style of the one executed by Napoleon Bonaparte on the 18th Brumaire (1799). Carl Schmitt calls it “legal revolution” in a famous article of 1977, written against the non-violent and electoral strategy of the Western communist parties (the Eurocommunism of Santiago Carrillo, a senile disease of Marxism-Leninism, a political religion then beginning to decline, although they, the Western communists, do not yet know it). In reality, the same result can be reached without going through the “legal revolution.” For this, it is necessary to count on the artful political strategy of occupying the constitutional courts—much more than a “negative legislator”—to turn them into the architects of an unnamed constitutional mutation, the greatest danger for the constitutions they are supposed to defend.

But it was not these communists, neither the Soviets nor those of the West, but Adolf Hitler, who, almost half a century before the publication of Eurocommunism and the State, set up the leverage to build a constituent dictatorship with totalitarian roots. Unlike dictatorships of the other species, the authoritarian, the totalitarian dictatorship pretends to have a mission not only political, but also moral, even religious: to give birth to the new man—Bolshevik, Aryan or Khmer Rouge—by disenfranchising the old.

The futility of the Munich coup of 1923 instructed Hitler on the tactical convenience of the electoral struggle and the possibility of legally attaining power in order to activate from the government the de facto abrogation of the constitution. It is a matter of exploiting the “legality premium” to revoke legitimacy. It is precisely against this process of constitutional subversion that Carl Schmitt warned, once again the Cassandra, in the summer of 1932.

The history of the Weimar system is well known and its last gasps have a name: the Authorization Law or Ermächtigungsgesetz (1933), a bridging constitution that suspended and emptied the Weimar constitution of content, opening the door to a constituent (totalitarian) dictatorship that ended up becoming a political oxymoron: a permanent regime of exception.

One of these bridge-constitutions, the Law for Political Reform of 1977, also served as a fuse for the “controlled explosion”—as it was called during the Transition—of the regime of the Fundamental Laws. The truth is that in Spain no one was fooled at that time; or, to be more exact, only those who allowed themselves to be fooled were fooled: “From the law to the law, passing through the law.” It portrays a generation of constitutionalists that no one has dealt with that bridging constitution. In reality, these jurists have powerful reasons to avoid it, since in very few European constitutional processes its character of supreme political decision is so evident, beyond the Kelsenian supercheries and fictions about the Grundnorm or fundamental normal on which everything hypothetically depends. Another fantastic exception to constitutional normativism is found in De Gaulle, playing, for the love of France, the Solon of the Fifth Republic.

The same school as the German National Socialist law of 1933 has held the Hispanic American populism since the end of the 1990s. The case of Hugo Chavez is a paradigm that transcends Venezuelan politics: from the failure of his 1992 “coup d’état” to the success of the “legal revolution” that began with his victory in the 1998 presidential elections and his famous oath of investiture on “the dying constitution” by virtue of which he had been elected.

The politically neutralized constitutionalist has no answer to this political challenge exported to almost all Latin American republics. He is paralyzed by the paradox. It is the ankylosis of Karlsruhe.

Jerónimo Molina Cano is a jurist, historian of political and legal ideas, translator and author. He is a corresponding member of the Real Academia de Ciencias Morales y Políticas in Madrid. This article appears through the kind courtesy of La gaceta de la Iberosfera.

Featured: Cincinato abandona el arado para dictar leyes a Roma (Cincinnatus Leaves the Plough to Dictate Laws to Rome), by Juan Antonio Ribera; painted ca. 1806.

Simenon on the Noble Refugee

With his most recent film, Maigret (2022), French iconic actor, Gérard Depardieu, was hailed as having found a role cut for him. In fact, he missed out on a far better one. If he, and filmmaker Patrice Leconte, had been more astute, and better read, they would have realized the opportunity presented by the Ukrainian refugee crisis in France. They would have realized Simenon, not the Simenon of the Maigret stories, had written a novel about refugees: Le clan des Ostendais (The Ostenders). The central character, Omer, is a perfect fit for Depardieu: a larger-than-life, sea-faring boss, the brooding hulk of a fisherman thrown into the maelstrom of the collapse of Belgium and France, in May and June 1940.

Simenon, as is well known, led a quiet life during the Occupation of France, where he had settled in Vendée. He witnessed first-hand the “exodus” (l’Exode with a capital E, in French), the desperate rush of French civilians (as well as escapees from the Low Countries), fleeing by the millions the invading German armies, going as far south as they could. The Exode remains today the largest mass refugee movement in Europe in the 20th and 21st centuries. Eight million “evacuees,” to use the French bureaucratic euphemism, were displaced, and among them the fictional Omer, and his clan of Flemish-speaking Belgians.

To Flee and to Exist

This refugee novel, for lack of adhering to the hallowed (French) dramatic rule of the three unities ( in one place, in one day, a single plot shall unfold; not very easy with a novel) is nonetheless a virtuoso exercise in narrative conciseness: the action is focused; the setting is the coastal region of La Rochelle; time is framed by two events: the first, in May 1940, is the theatrical arrival of five trawlers in the harbor of La Rochelle, a high-spirited scene worthy of Fellini’s E la nave va—a different ship, for the beginning of a different war. The second event, just after the armistice of June 1940, is the almost mystical departure of the boats, at night, during a funereal wake.

Who is Omer, the baes, the boss? Words matter: until some plaques were updated to please politics, the French countryside was strewn with such memorials: “Here the Germans massacred….” Not “Nazis”—that was added later.

In Old Germanic, Omer is noble: “Odomar,” or “master of resources.” Omer is the skipper of a fleet of trawlers, who, having learned of the German invasion of Belgium off the coast of Iceland, heads out for Ostend to save what he can. On his five fishing boats, Omer loads the entire households of his crews, with all their belongings, from children’s rompers to silver cutlery, from heavy Flemish wardrobes to ancestral trousseau sheets. Nothing is left behind. Omer, Master of Resources, reigns taciturn over the fugitives whom he steers to safety. They put in at La Rochelle, intent to do what sailors do: sailing further south, away from the war, and what fishermen do—to fish for “resources,” under his command.

But, in La Rochelle, they get bogged down in French bureaucracy, caught up in the rout, debacle and defeat, and then the arrival of the victors. French and German officials let the Ostenders fish—and they offer their catch, by the caseload, to the thousands of refugees who have filled up the region. Parked in sheds and under trees, these refugees are starving and throw themselves on the manna, free-riding, pilfering, deploying the resourcefulness of French “Système D” (go get what you can). These haggard, scavenging fugitives follow the army’s defeat, like rats follow the plague. At that moment Camus began to conceive his novel of the same name—which may not be about what the post-war existentialist bien-pensant legend says it is. Unlike the main character of The Plague, Omer is not powerless, quite the contrary. And he believes in God, to boot. Whom he serves. To have his clan exist.

Existentialism, one should never forget it, was born out of these dark years’ struggle to survive, as a nation, as a State, as a way of life, as a culture, and as free and honorable human beings—out of a will to exist. A moral philosophy does not spring from abstract vagaries, but from living and dying. Sartre wrote Being and Nothingness under German oppression: how to be when nothing is. Hence how to be more than to endure. That is, to exist.

The Organic Morality of Refugees

So, the Ostenders are accommodated in an economically depressed coastal hamlet, a far cry from the gay daily life of La Rochelle. The locals pity them heartily, because everyone knows, and is told, we should pity these “poor people,” insulting them on account of their king’s surrender, “a stab in the back,” letting the Germans in. Come June 1940, the Rochelais and the villagers start to feel ashamed for having blamed the Ostenders for what the French army, routed in one fell swoop, inflicted in its turn on millions of refugees. The Ostenders do not say a word about it.

The hamlet is half in ruins, and its filth appalls the Ostenders. They are blond, hygienic and organized; they wash every day. They are Nordic and do not speak French, but rather a language that sounds like “Boche,” which intimidates the locals but enables them to get by with the occupiers once the region is under military rule. Omer rents an uninhabited, once bourgeois, dwelling for his family. He settles his lesser relatives to a house “across the yard,” immediately cleaned and whitewashed, while his deckhands’ families settle “at the back” in hovels turned into cottages made spic and span. Simenon—and this is his great art—plants a Vermeer painting in a scene from Les Misérables. An organic community is resurrected, and with it, its values.

The Ostenders create a natural yet civic microcosm, made of distinctions between the master of the trawlers, the skippers, the sailors, and their families. They observe etiquette. It is not a feudal order, but a vertical, kin and clan arrangement, based on a single, natural certainty—a fisherman fishes, the fishing boat provides work that determines duties and rights, and a hierarchy of labor. No one goes hungry, no one goes in rags, no one is unruly. Children attend classes. Every adult can speak their mind. Going astray results in quiet and firm ostracism. This is a natural, organic community.

The Ostenders’ relationship with the locals follows the same ethos. They never complain. They never raise their voice. But their fortitude comes across as arrogance, and it pains the villagers so cruelly that, going hungry themselves, they leave large crates of flounder to rot on the doorstep of the town hall: how can one accept to be fed by refugees? The locals reject this miraculous, yet in their eyes, immoral fishing. None see the Christ-like allegory.

It is so, because Omer and his injured clan will not ask for help, even in grief. What they need, they purchase. They never demean themselves to seek some special treatment. Actually, their only French word is “non,” thrown politely at bureaucrats when they try to pull a fast one on them. They are respectful of the law. They expect the locals to do the same. They are not idle, drinking white wine in port cafes, smoking cigarettes, or chatting in front of the fateful wireless claiming, “Paris, open city!“

The Ostenders offend popular common sense and the moralizing propaganda that proclaims, “Welcome them! We have to help them, no matter how, because it is the gesture that matters.” They will not allow authorities to put a checkmark on a to-do list: “Les Belges, c’est réglé.” They are, strictly speaking, demoralizing.

However, in the mine-infested waters Omer, loses a cherished boat, with her crew and his eldest son, and then more trawlers are hit and sunk, with his youngest son at the helm. The stopover in La Rochelle has come at a high price. Omer’s brood is decimated. A daughter-in-law goes mad with grief.

Refugees’ Fear

Of the sea they have no fear. The sea gives, the sea takes.

Nor do they live in the same fear as the thousands of refugees, corralled in cantonments, and quickly sliding back to a state of nature where homo homini lupus soon rules. The Ostenders live in a fear of their own—that of no longer being what they are. They fear to be denatured. They fear losing their organic civility.

This is the profound reason why they work, day and night; the women are cooking, mending, washing, mothering; and the men and boys, at every tide, when the weather is right and the anti-aircraft guns are not firing, go fishing as far away as the coasts of Morocco and the Balearics, passing destroyers and submarines, friends and foes, to whose captains Omer, strong in his rights, shows his “papers” of a fisherman from Ostend. Captain to captain, they understand each other. They salute him.

And then it happens. In the hazy coolness of a summer’s dawn, having transported aboard their bare essentials, the Ostenders weigh anchor and silently prepare to sail away. The two surviving trawlers depart, in defiance of the Germans and the French. That night was also the night of the wake for their dead, sons and sailors. The small flotilla is crossing their chosen Acheron. But it is also the night they wake up, as free and honorable.

The Noble Refugee

So, what is the lesson of The Ostenders?

Published in 1947 (in the same year as The Plague) by a Simenon whose conduct during the Second European General War was prudent, The Ostenders redeemed his cowardice. Indeed Simenon had taken refuge in a fantasy world of good detective work, while, at the same time, the French odious secret police, the Carlingue, was busy torturing Resistants, aided by the French Police nationale and the Gendarmerie that, somehow, escaped opprobrium, and worse, when accounts were settled in 1945.

Quite possibly Simenon tried to expiate his bystander’s behaviour, when he carried on with his dystopian Maigret novels, as well as not disowning movies adapted from his works with the Germans’ stamp of approval and material help.

But what is not ambiguous is the meaning of this allegory about refugees. Who are they? Are they fugitives, the destitute, the weak, the “expelled” like millions of Germans driven later from their ancestral lands now in Polish hands? The Ostenders are nothing of the sort. They came back to Ostend from Iceland instead of anchoring safely in North America. And from Ostend they left again, some twenty families, under heavy artillery fire. They anchored at La Rochelle, to get supplies, and with the intent to push on, probably crossing over to the Argentines. And it is not their fault if the local bureaucrats and their chorus of villagers wanted to entangle them in the mantra of “welcome to our refugees,” and in the last instance to turn them into detainees at the mercy of the enemy.

So, they set off to remain themselves, leaving their dead in the shell-strewn sands and in Heaven, and to remain honorable. For them, all but honor was lost. And the honor of a fisherman is to be a “toiler of the sea,” as in Victor Hugo’s famous novel. The people, now fleeing back to Paris, channeled by German troops, in the delusional peace of the armistice, were willing to live lives without honor. In June 1940, the Resistance and the Free French were yet to come. The first to join De Gaulle were a clan of hundred Briton fishermen from the Isle of Sein.

The Ostenders’ only respect, as they regroup, mourn their dead, pray for the living, and prepare to depart is reserved to their rustic counterparts, those peasants in wooden clogs pushing their exhausted cattle ahead of them, back to their far away farms soon to be plundered by the Germans, then plowed and razed by Anglo-American bombings.

The Ostenders did not conform to any coded expectations that would reassure the villagers, and neighboring Rochelais, of their moral rectitude. The Ostenders turned the tables—they showed how not to be a refugee. They set themselves apart. Indeed, as they set sail, the armistice Demarcation line comes into effect, a divide that would soon turn this region into a no-go military zone, in addition to the main split between the harshly occupied North and the vassal “free” South basking, for another two short years, in the meridional sunshine sung by Charles Trenet.

The Ostenders had swallowed bitter tears in the winds and frosts of Newfoundland, humiliated by their king’s surrender. They are now restoring their honor, not of a vainglorious military kind but of a deeply civic and organic communal virtue.

Redeeming Honor

The wake—in both senses, funereal and nautical—of the trawlers powering up in a yellow mist toward England drew the Ostenders’ very own demarcation line, between being and existing. So doing, they were also drawing another demarcation line, between the rhetoric of good feelings about “refugees,” contrived to ennoble those who give refuge and find moral reward in it, and the nobility of the fugitives or the expelled who act to restore for themselves honor and self-respect.

The final sentences of Le clan des Ostendais sum up the metaphysical meaning of the escape. “We are there, aren’t we?” replies Omer to his wife and matriarch Maria’s interrogation, half-question, half-puzzlement: “England?” Omer says this, if one pays attention to his words beyond the idiomatic turn of phrase: that “there,” that place, “is it not” or “is it?” Is this landing a stage in a journey of self-respect and the organic preservation of who we are? Omer adds: “Lord, I’ve done what you would have me do”—that is, my natural community has held, and will hold, here or there, so long as we remain ourselves. Honor is our place.

This gives an entire new meaning to the cliché of cosmopolites and soccer players (not that we expect these morons to know about it), ubi bene, ibi patria: where my honor exists (honor being the “bene,” the true summum bonum), there is my homeland. England is merely a stage emerging from a yellow mist. It is a harbor; it is no more than that. For when one’s autochthony has been lost, when the ancestral ground has caved in, when the natural ruler has surrendered, then existing in honor replaces it all.

Le clan des Ostandais carries a powerful lesson about virtue among refugees, and the inner life of organic fortitude whose roots are deep, autochthonous, if one cares about them.

Recently, in a village of the French Pyrenees, the local mayor welcomed a motley group of refugees from the Ukraine. One woman was reported as saying she would go back when the moment is right, hardly expressing any gratitude. How this moment will come, she has no idea. There is no honor and no virtue in her reply. The pained mayor turned then to a family and explained that integration may not be easy: “France is a very old country.” The father, surrounded by his wife and two teenagers, a boy and a girl, replied: “We are learning French, we want to belong to our new motherland.” It is unlikely the rural mayor or the Ukrainian father knew that French kings, otherwise proud of their Frankish names, were the first European dynasts, in the 11th century, to adopt the outlandish “Philippe” as a royal name, which endured till the last monarch. It is owed to Anne of Kiev, queen-regent of the Franks, mother of Philippe the First. Honor is indeed organic, or it is not, among refugees. It may, or may not, rekindle roots a thousand years later. Whether those who welcome refugees in France today have a sense of organic honor, and a will to exist, is another matter.

French philosopher and essayist Philippe-Joseph Salazar writes on rhetoric as philosophy of power. Laureate of the Prix Bristol des Lumières in 2015 for his book on jihad (translated as, Words are Weapons. Inside ISIS’s Rhetoric of Terror, Yale UP). In 2022, the international community of rhetoricians honoured him with a Festschrift, The Incomprehensible: The Critical Rhetoric of Philippe-Joseph Salazar. He holds a Distinguished Professorship in Rhetoric and Humane Letters in the Law Faculty of the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

A much different version of this text appeared first, in French, at Les Influences.

Featured: Three Fishermen Pulling a Boat, by Peder Severin Krøyer; painted in 1885.

Cultural Ethnocentrism, Cultural Relativism and Cultural Pluralism

We note in the present discussions the effectiveness of a trilemma between whose options it would be necessary to choose (whoever contests cultural relativism will be classified as ethnocentrist or as pluralist, etc.), we denounce what could be the source of this trilemma, and we propose a fourth way through which we can free ourselves from the system of disjunctions noted.

1. The Increase in Immigration Resuscitates the Debate between Relativism and Ethnocentrism.

In recent years, and as a result of the increase of immigrants from the so-called “third world” to the various countries of Europe, the debates between cultural relativists or integrationists and the “intolerant” who demand the adaptation of the immigrant to the culture of the host country have resurfaced with great virulence. And this is without prejudice to the fact that “adaptation” requires, on the part of the one who must adapt, to get rid of institutions considered as “signs of identity” of the culture of origin (for example: the chador, the burqa, polygamy, clitoral ablation, circumcision, the lip disc, voodoo, the institution of visiting husbands, the penalty of stoning or mutilation, vendetta, etc.).

The accusations that the defenders of cultural relativism, or the defenders of pluralism, direct against those who do not share their points of view, are usually channeled through something they consider to be the most terrible denunciation: “ethnocentrism.” To be accused of ethnocentrism is as much, practically, as to be accused of being intolerant, intransigent, archaic, racist, violator of human rights, “puppet of the most conservative right wing”, and ignorant of the ABC of modern Anthropology, characterized ad hoc precisely as a discipline constituted from the perspective of pluralism or cultural relativism.

And, in fact, Anthropology, as a scientific discipline, began in the 19th century (Edward Burnett Tylor, Lewis Henry Morgan, etc.), not to mention its precedents (Joseph François Lafiteau, Charles de Brosses, etc.), recognizing the plurality of cultures (understood as “cultural spheres”); a plurality that seemed to be linked to the comparative methods characteristic of the new discipline.

Cultural pluralism, at the stage of anthropological evolutionism (Morgan, Friedrich Engels) often seemed compatible with the postulate of a possible confluence of the various cultural spheres in a universal Civilization. A postulate that many considered as concealing a cultural monism, and even an ethnocentrism of European sign, given that “Civilization” was generally conceived in the image and likeness of “European Culture,” which also found in this ideology the justification of colonialism (colonialism, understood as the only way through which the cultures of the present, situated in the epoch of savagery or barbarism, could reach, without the need for centuries or millennia to elapse, the superior stage of European civilization).

In the anthropological schools after “evolutionism,” for example, in the functionalist schools (represented by Bronislaw Malinowski) and later, in some variables of structuralism (represented by Claude Levi-Strauss), cultural pluralism gradually slid towards a radical relativism: each cultural sphere would have its own internal structure (emic), which would be impossible to understand from the outside (etic). Therefore, with Levi-Strauss, it could be said: “Savage is he who calls another savage.” In this way, cultural relativism began to be associated with a “modern spirit” (which some would interpret Pascalianly as an esprit de finesse), the spirit of understanding, of tolerance, of respect for the “other” and for his “sensibility,” which is opposed to the esprit géométrique, rigid, intolerant, “imperialist,” blind to everything that does not presuppose universal evidence, above any individual or group sensibility.

2. We are not Faced not with Alternatives, but with Disjunctions: The Trilemma.

The most serious aspect of the matter is that these three attitudes or philosophies of culture, which we designate as cultural monism (“ethnocentrism,” for their adversaries), relativism and cultural pluralism, are not presented as mere alternatives, but as disjunctions among which we must choose. From where does the disjunctive disposition of these three ways of understanding the relations that cultural spheres can supposedly maintain among themselves derive?

Undoubtedly, in our opinion, from the very concept of “cultural sphere,” understood as a relatively closed totality (a “complex whole,” in the attributive sense), self-sufficient, without prejudice to the benefits and influences that it may receive from the remaining cultural spheres that constitute the distributive whole or totality of culture, understood as a cultural sphere. As a paradigm of the concept of “cultural sphere,” in this sense, one could consider each of those “superorganisms” that Oswald Spengler precisely called “cultures.”

However, perhaps the best way to show to what extent the scheme of cultural spheres is alive and active today, even among people who do not even use this denomination, is to analyze the expression “signs of identity,” so often used by politicians, journalists, intellectuals or radio broadcasters to refer to what they consider “their own culture.” Because the innocent formula—”signs of identity”—in reality only makes sense in terms of a presupposed cultural sphere; that is to say, of a sphere whose identity (of a substantial nature) is presupposed, and of which the “sign of identity” considered would turn out to be a mere indication. Thus, the sardana would be a sign of identity of a supposed Catalan culture or cultural sphere, and the aurresku would be a sign of identity of a supposed Basque culture or cultural sphere. What is equivalent to say that the importance, the meaning, the scope, etc., of the sardana (or that of the aurresku) cannot be grasped by itself, not even by the similarities that it can maintain with institutions of other cultural spheres, but by what it has of revelation, indication or sign of a presupposed identity, which is applied precisely to the culture of reference, and not to the sign of identity in itself, in its material supposition.

Now, by placing the various cultural spheres on a plane of confrontation, in terms of value, consistency, dignity, originality, etc., it is possible to give a “logical reason” for the system of (disjunctive) alternatives that we have established; for this system has to do with the system of quantifiers of predicate logic, linked to the {1, 0} values of truth:

(1) Either we assert that, among the various cultural spheres of the distributive whole of cultures, only one cultural sphere can be considered as supporting authentic values; that is, that there is only one cultural sphere that deserves to be considered as authentic or true culture (the other cultural spheres would be reflections, de-generations, or mere appearances or phenomena of the “true culture”).

(2) Or we affirm that all cultural spheres are of equal value, as cultures that find their meaning precisely in the concavity of their own sphere: “All cultures are equal,” we read on a huge plaque installed in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.

And this statement is developed in two other dichotomous versions (since equality does not imply connectedness):

(2A) “All cultures are equal,” except in a regime of disjunction, of separation, even of “megaric” incommensurability (which can reach the situation of incompatibility). It is evident that the formula of this option is equivalent to the opposite formula: “All cultures are unequal,” without being able to speak of logical contradiction, because the postulated equality refers in some cases to equality in dignity, in rights, etc., of the spheres that, however, are considered unequal in contents or in numerical or substantial identity.

(2B) “All cultures are equal,” except without the need to presuppose between them a regime of separation; on the contrary, postulating the possibility and convenience of a coexistence or juxtaposition of men belonging to the various cultures (this was the scheme that Americo Castro used to describe the supposed coexistence, under Ferdinand III the Saint, of the three religions—Jews, Moors and Christians—which today it is customary to translate as the coexistence between “the three cultures”).

Option (1) is that of cultural monism (which from the other options will be perceived as ethnocentrism); option (2A) is that of cultural relativism; and option (2B) is that of cultural pluralism or multiculturalism. It would seem that a choice must be made among these three options.

3. Critical Illustrations of each of the Members of the Trilemma

Cultural monism (practically ethnocentrism, if we leave aside, for the moment, the attempts to create a “universal culture” obtained by recasting all cultural spheres) is certainly, without needing to be called in this way, the most traditional perspective, without prejudice to the interpretations of Protagoras’ principle of homomensura—”man is the measure of all things”—as a man shaped by each culture (in the sense of cultural relativism). However, cultural monism can be presented and “justified” from two quite different sources:

The first wants to remain in the realm of facts, i.e., outside of value judgments. If it is only possible to speak of one cultural sphere of reference, of which all the others were reflections or even degenerations, it is because all the cultural spheres that really exist on earth would have been originated by an original culture, and would be like pulsations of that mother culture, identified with the Egyptian culture. Such was, as is well known, the monistic vision of culture defended by the school of so-called radical diffusionism, of Sir Grafton Elliot Smith, or of William James Perry (The Children of the Sun, 1923).

The second does not hesitate to vindicate cultural monism, even ethnocentrism, but in the name, not of realities that are perhaps only demonstrated by science fiction, but in the name of values, no longer past but future, that are imposed from a given cultural sphere on those who identify with it. For Pericles or Plato, the values of the “paideia” (or Greek culture) were the only values that could oppose the barbarian peoples; for the Spaniards who entered America, Christian values (which were not only religious values, but also moral, ethical, ceremonial, political, artistic), were usually seen as the only values that should prevail over the barbarian gods, inspired by the devil; for most Western scientists and engineers (and not only those of the positivist era), the values of “Western culture” (which include both scientific values and democratic values) are the only values that can be accepted and that must be offered to other peoples; within this same perspective Richard Rorty has recently defended the need to assume the “ethnocentric” position in everything that concerns the values of truth and other criteria proper to our culture.

Now then, cultural monism, as ethnocentrism, is difficult to defend today, and many of the arguments of relativism and multiculturalism can serve to reduce it to its fair limits. But neither do we consider cultural relativism defensible, insofar as it faces the evidence of the superiority of some “cultures” over others, in the technological, scientific and even political fields. What about the option of cultural integrationism? If it is interpreted as a mere coexistence or juxtaposition of different peoples or religions, it seems obvious to us that such an option is, in reality, empty, rather a wish, of an irenistic nature. It cannot be said that social groups with different cultures coexist, or that they coexist, even peacefully, unless some remain in their ghettos, in the face of those who hold the dominant positions. Effective integration will only be apparent (an integration by juxtaposition), until the social groups in the dominated position either reach dominant positions or get rid of their institutions incompatible with those of the host society. This is what happened with Moors, Jews and Christians in medieval Seville: the myth of coexistence put into circulation by Américo Castro is being challenged in our days (Antonio Domínguez Ortiz, Francisco Rodríguez Adrados, Serafín Fanjul García).

4. The Myth of the Cultural Spheres as the Source of the Trilemma

But how could we reject each of the three options of the trilemma (monism, relativism, pluralism) without rejecting the trilemma itself? For it is evident that once we have accepted the trilemma (in our case, the bifurcated dilemma), we would have no choice but to embrace one of its options. It is evident that, once the trilemma has been accepted by a critic, if he rules out that the author he criticizes is a relativist or pluralist, he will have to launch against him the dreaded accusation of ethnocentrism.

It is therefore a question, for my part, of going back further behind the trilemma, that is to say, it is a question of denouncing the assumption on which the trilemma is running at full speed in our days, without journalists, intellectuals, politicians and radio broadcasters, but also historians, sociologists and anthropologists, being aware of it.

And this assumption is that of cultural spheres, understood as substantive entities that offer the researcher very diverse “signs of identity” of their substance (of what else?); of a substance that is supposed to come from the most arcane times and that pretends to maintain its identity, considered as the supreme and sacred value. But there are no cultural spheres in that sense. Cultural spheres are only ideological constructions, purely and simply myths.

This will allow us to add a fourth option to the system of the three options, (1) (2A) (2B), which we have established on the basis of the assumption of cultural spheres: that not one or all cultural spheres can be taken as subjects or supports of value, not one.

And if there are no cultural spheres as entities endowed with a substantive identity (idiographic, numerical, delimited in the distributive whole), then the options, or the very concepts of ethnocentrism, cultural relativism and pluralism of cultural spheres dissolve. Cultural spheres are not entities endowed with a substantial identity of their own; at most, they are phenomenal entities, delimited perhaps over the centuries (when not invented ad hoc by groups, peoples or nations in search of a state), by isolation from other phenomenal spheres, or by a mixture of some of them. And by this we mean that the diagnoses (or accusations) of ethnocentrism, relativism or pluralism, are impossible diagnoses or accusations, if we keep to a scientific or philosophical terrain. They are diagnoses or accusations that can only be maintained in the doxographical terrain of confused and obscure opinions about the ideological nebulae that are formed at a given juncture. Can possession or diabolical obsession be admitted, in the scientific terrain, as a psychological or psychiatric diagnosis? But, according to our thesis, the diagnosis of ethnocentrism or relativism, in the field of anthropology, does not go further than the diagnosis of diabolical possession or diabolical obsession, in the field of psychiatry.

5. Reduction of Substantive Cultural Spheres to Phenomenal Cultural Spheres.

There are no cultural spheres endowed with a substantive identity. These spheres only have a phenomenal identity, enough to begin to organize the relevant ethnographic and ethnological descriptions.

Phenomenal identities, because their unity is resolved in a system, conglomerate or concatenation, whether of cultural traits (patterns, institutions, elements) but also natural (racial, for example) or tertiogenic (such as the Pythagorean relations of the right triangle, which are neither natural nor cultural, and this is said in the face of dualists who continue to consider as a fundamental principle that of the distinction in the Universe between Nature and Culture, perhaps a last pulsation of the ancient distinction between Matter and Spirit).

Now then, the reduction of cultural spheres, endowed with substantial identity, to the condition of cultural spheres endowed with phenomenal unity, should not be confused with the reduction of the theory of cultural spheres to one of the aggregationist theories of culture (to the theory of cultural mosaics, for example). The key to the latter theories can be found in a process of “substantivation of the parts” (of traits, patterns, elements) confronted with the process of “substantivation of the complex whole” that leads to the substantive cultural sphere.

But the substantivization of the parts would also be gratuitous—a cultural sphere is not the result of the aggregation of supposedly pre-existing cultural elements (which some call memes). Cultural elements or features are figures that are shaped from the phenomenal totalities themselves, and precisely at the moment when these are decomposed or broken down into formal parts in the very process of cultural shock. Nor did eyes, or foreheads, as Empedocles thought, pre-exist the animals that could have been formed from the union of those “solitary limbs” that would have given rise, first, to hideous monsters that adaptation to the environment would have had to polish little by little. A femur bone does not precede the vertebrate organism; but once formed it can be extracted from the animal, becoming a figure, element, value or countervalue of the organic factory. The elements, traits, cultural institutions—are not prior to the phenomenal cultural spheres, but can be taken apart, transported and incorporated, with eventual deformations, into other cultural spheres, either as elements with the capacity of integration with other parts of their own, or as elements with the capacity to dissolve the phenomenal whole constituted by a given cultural sphere. And all this without prejudice to the fact that the incorporation of an element or trait from a given cultural sphere into another is not always “clean,” since it will almost always drag along other elements, splinters or traits from the cultural sphere of origin.

6. There is no Conflict of Cultures, but neither is there Integration of Cultures or Cultural Relativism.

According to what we have said, therefore, it is not possible to speak of conflicts of cultures, or of conflicts of civilizations; nor is it possible to speak of integration or expansion of cultures. All these expressions would have to be restated in terms of conflicts of cultural elements, or of integration, or of diffusion of cultural elements or traits. Therefore, whoever considers a cultural element (let us take the democratic system, for example) as universal cannot be accused of ethnocentrism. Even less can anyone be accused of ethnocentrism (or of cultural monism) who recognizes and defends the universality of the Pythagorean theorem, as a detached element, no longer of Greek culture, but of all culture, as a structure valid for all cultures, above any relativism.

Niembro, March 23, 2002

Gustavo Bueno Martínez (1924-2016) was a foremost Spanish philosopher who has had a deep influence among thinkers of tradition. This article comes courtesy of El Catoblepas.

Featured: Still life with musical instruments on a laid table, by Pieter Claesz; painted in 1623.