Posts filed under 'Politicians'

1793: Francois de Laverdy, former Controller-General

Add comment November 24th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1793, Clément Charles François de Laverdy, Marquis of Gambais and the ancien regime‘s former Controller-General of Finances, was guillotined in Paris.

“Un financier erudit,” Laverdy (English Wikipedia entry | French) was a member of the Paris Parlement and a scholar who at one point unearthed previously unknown manuscripts about the trial of Joan of Arc — but became a bit overmatched when political machinations situated him at Louis XV’s treasury.

A physiocrat, Laverdy made a go in the 1760s at liberalizing the grain trade by authorizing via a July 1764 edict the free export of grain, then reaped the whirlwind when grain prices spiked. In the 1760s, the whirlwind just meant losing his job: by the 1790s, the loss was very much more dear.

Laverdy labored in a pre-industrial kingdom, at a time when the field of economics still lay in its infancy. Nevertheless, he is a recognizably modern character, both in his principles and his disposition, as Steven L. Kaplan describes him in Bread, Politics and Political Economy in the Reign of Louis XV:

Laverdy correctly believed that traditional attitudes toward subsistence constituted the single greatest barrier to change. But, like many self-consciously enlightened ministers and reformers, he neither understood nor sympathized with it. Diffusing light, to be sure, was no easy matter; since all men were not equally equipped to seize the truth, often it was necessary to force them to accept it. To re-educate the public, Laverdy saw no alternative to brutal and relentless reconditioning.

Impetuously, the people believed that their right to subsist took precedence over all the rights prescribed by natural law as the basis of social organization. They assumed that it was the solemn duty of the state to intervene when necessary to guarantee their subsistence without regard for so-called natural rights. Such views, in Laverdy’s estimation, were erroneous and pernicious; they misconceived the role of the government and its relation to the citizenry and did violence to the soundest principles of political economy. In a word, they were irrational; the Controller-General refused a dialogue with unreason. “The people,” he lamented, “hardly used their reason in matters of subsistence.” …

To combat and discredit this mentality, Laverdy chose to belittle and insult it with all the sophistry of progressive thinking. It consisted of nothing more than a crazy quilt of “prejudices.” “Prejudice” was one of the harshest epithets in the political vocabulary of the Enlightenment; it acquired added force when accompanied by Laverdy’s favorite metaphors, light and sight. Their prejudices “blinded the people,” not only to the “veritable principles of things,” but also to “their true interests.” (A decade later, in similar fashion, Turgot explained popular resistance to his liberal program on the grounds that the people are “too little enlightened on their real interests.”) In letter after letter, the Controller-General railed against the “old prejudices which still subsist against liberty of the grain trade.” He hated “ignorance” and “prejudice” en philosophe for the “obstacles … always contrary to all sorts of good [which they] opposed to progress.” …

Only a tough, unbending stance would produce results. “By stiffening against the prejudices of the people,” he predicted, “they will gradually weaken and we will succeed in accustoming them to a bien,” though, he conceded, “they will continue to misjudge [it] for still some time to come.” Misjudging it, however, was one thing, and actively opposing it, quite another. The threat of bludgeoning them into submission was the only real incentive the Controller-General offered the people to embrace the liberal program.

The bread riots that afflicted the remainder of his term he could not but ascribe to this unreason; proceeding from the certainty that his policies were objectively correct, “Laverdy claimed that grain was abundant and prices moderate” and riots “could only have resulted from ‘the prejudice which exists against the liberty of the grain trade.'”

Or, as a liberal journal serenely put it, the riots “are not and cannot be the effect of real need” because in a regime of liberty, “the dearth that the enraged minds fear, or feign to fear, is manifestly impossible.” …

Two assumptions, in Laverdy’s view, seemed to have emboldened the people. First, that they could riot with “impunity,” an expectation encouraged by many police authorities — those at Rouen, for example — who fail to put down popular movements swiftly and mercilessly and who in some instances even seem to sympathize with the insurgents. Second, “the persuasion which the populace of the cities ordinarily shares that the fear of the riots which it might excite will force the King to modify the laws which established liberty.” Nothing was “more essential,” according to the Controller-General, than to “destroy” these aberrant opinions.

To dispel the idea that consumers could riot without risk, Laverdy instructed and exhorted the police after every episode to repress with dispatch and pitilessness. Repeatedly, he asked for “a few examples of severity,” which would serve not only to “contain the people,” but also to “destroy those prejudices” which motivated them, presumably by revealing the futility of following their lead. If the repression were to be delayed, the didactic advantages would be lost. “Nothing is more important,” Laverdy wrote Joly de Fleury in reference to a riot which took place in the fall of 1766, “than to accelerate the procedures instituted against the principal authors … examples in such circumstances are of the greatest necessity and when they are deferred, they do not produce nearly the same effect.” … Impatient with “the slowness of the official inquiries, the appeals, the forms to which the [ordinary] tribunals are subjected,” the Controller-General considered resuscitating a draconian repressive law which had been used before to bypass local jurisdictions …

Soft sentences annoyed Laverdy as much as dilatory ones. Even as he urged the police to show rigor in the streets and marketplaces, so he goaded prosecutors to demand heavy penalties and judges to pronounce them. He followed cases eagerly in all their details, made his expectations clearly known, and bristled with indignation when the results displeased him. In the wake of a massive riot at Troyes, for example, in which the police had failed to deal harshly with the insurgents, Laverdy pressed for a stern judicial reckoning. He was satisfied to learn that the royal procurator and the rapporteur would ask the death penalty for three of the putative leaders and stringent punishment for the others. In anticipation of such a verdict and a hostile popular reaction, extra brigades were sent to reinforce the constabulary. To virtually everyone’s surprise, the presidial rendered a stunningly mild provisional sentence which could lead to the release of all the prisoners in three months. The Controller-General angrily denounced the verdict and demanded an explanation; “the excesses to which the people have given themselves in this circumstance,” he wrote, “require a much more severe punishment.”

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,History,Intellectuals,Politicians,Power,Public Executions

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1989: Rohana Wijeweera

Add comment November 13th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1989, Sri Lankan Marxist revolutionary Rohana Wijeweera was — by at least some accounts, properly disputed by the authorities — summarily executed

Moscow-educated at Lumumba University, Wijeweera showed his leftist bona fides by forming a splinter party breaking with the Ceylon Communist Party.

Wijeweera wasn’t there to do the People’s Front of Judea thing; his still-extant Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) party aimed straight at revolution.

An abortive 1971 rising landed Wijeweera a long prison sentence, but he was amnestied in time to run a distant third in Sri Lanka’s 1982 presidential election.

The JVP — which increasingly also verged towards Sinhalese nationalism — then proceeded foment a second and much more vigorous rebellion that ran from 1987 to 1989 which was suppressed in the usual ways. There’d be no prison amnesty for Rohana Wijeweera this time.

Officially, Wijeweera’s death in captivity is attributed to crossfire during an ambush shootout with his partisans. Sure. Here’s what Sri Lankan General (and later M.P.) Sarath Munasinghe had to say about Wijeweera’s end:

The time was 11.30pm [on November 12, 1989]. We reached the premises of HQ ‘Operation Combine’. There were many officers of other services too. We were conducted to the conference table where Rohana Wijeweera was seated. I was given a chair just opposite Wijeweera across the table. I commenced having a conversation with him. Mr Ernie Wijesuriya, director, National Intelligence Bureau, his deputy and some others were present. I spoke to Rohana Wijeweera at length.

Whenever I questioned him in English, he answered in Sinhalese. In fact, he asked me whether I knew the Russian language. I replied in the negative. Rohana Wijeweera told me that his second language was Russian. He told me all about his personal life, initially at Bandarawela and later at Ulapane in Kandy. He was reluctant to talk about the activities of the JVP.

While this discussion was going on, the ‘Operation Combine’ commander was with his deputy in the adjoining room, which was his office. Just past midnight, the deputy Defense Minister General Ranjan Wijeratne walked in and sat at the head of the conference table. Gen Wijeratne asked few questions, but Rohana Wijeweera did not respond. Gen. Wijeratne joined the ‘Operation Combine’ commander in his office. We continued with our conversation. We had many cups of plain tea (dark tea), while talking. I made a request to Rohana Wijeweera to advise his membership to refrain from violence. He agreed after persuasion. So we managed to record his words and also his picture in still camera.

After some time, a well-known Superintendent of Police arrived at the HQ Operation Combine. As the police officer walked in, he held Rohana Wijeweera’s hair from the rear and gave two taps on Wijeweera’s cheek. Wijeweera looked back, and having identified the officer said, ‘I knew it had to be a person like you’. The police officer joined the Minister and Operation Combined Commander. We continued with our conversation. Wijeweera related a few interesting stories. One day, a group of JVP activists had visited the residence of Nimal Kirthisri Attanayake [Rohana Wijeweera] at Ulapane. They demanded money for their movement. Wijeweera responded quickly by giving Rs 100. The youngsters did not have a clue about their leader. Wijeweera was full of smiles when he divulged this story.

The time was around 3.45am on 13 November 1989. I was informed to conclude the questioning and to take Rohana Wijeweera downstairs. Together we walked downstairs and were close to each other. Wijeweera held my hand and said, ‘I am very happy I met you even at the last moment. I may not live any longer. Please convey my message to my wife’. Rohana Wijeweera’s message contained five important points. They were all very personal matters concerning his family.

Moments later, Wijeweera was blindfolded and helped into the rear seat of a green Pajero. Two people sat on either side of Wijeweera. There were others at the rear of the vehicle. Just then a senior police officer arrived near the vehicle. I politely rejected his invitation to join them. The Pajero took off. I joined Col Lionel Balagalle standing near the main entrance of the Operation Combine HQ building. We were having a brief chat when a senior officer came downstairs to get into his car. We greeted him. He was in a very good mood. But the atmosphere changed all of a sudden. A military police officer appeared in front of us. The senior officer blasted him for not accompanying Wijeweera and party. The military officer dashed towards his vehicle and sped away. The senior officer departed. We also went home thinking of a good sleep.

Late in the morning I was busy getting Wijeweera’s photograph printed. No one would recognise Wijeweera without his beard. So I had to seek help and add the beard to Wijeweera’s photograph. It was done very well. Late in the afternoon there was a press conference at the Joint Operation Command. Minister Ranjan Wijeratne briefed the press. ‘Wijeweera and HB Herath [another JVP leader] had been taken to a house just outside Colombo, where the JVP had hidden part of their treasure. While the search was in progress, Herath pulled out a pistol and shot Wijeweera dead’. The minister went on to give more details. Subsequent to the killing of Wijeweera, violence by the JVP ceased gradually and there was peace in the country, except in the north and east. [i.e., the zone of the entirely separate Tamil Tigers insurgency -ed.]

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,History,No Formal Charge,Politicians,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Sri Lanka,Summary Executions,Terrorists,Wartime Executions

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1660: John Carew, regicide

Add comment October 15th, 2018 Headsman

This morning Mr. Carew was hanged and quartered at Charing Cross; but his quarters, by a great favour, are not to be hanged up.

Diary of Samuel Pepys, October 15, 1660

John Carew, one of the 59 Parliamentarians to sign the death warrant of King Charles I, was executed on this date in 1660 for regicide. He was the second regicide upon the gallows in a week of bloodshed, following the October 13 butchery of Major General Thomas Harrison.

According to the Memoirs of Edmund Ludlow, Carew

was a gentleman of an ancient family in the county of Cornwall, educated in one of the universities, and at the inns of court. He had a plentiful estate, and being chosen to serve in the great parliament, he was elected into the council of state, and employed in many important affairs; in which he shewed great ability. He found the same usage from the court as major-general Harrison had done, being frequently interrupted, and counsel denied, though earnestly desired by him, in that point of law touching the authority by which he had acted: when he saw that all he could say was to no purpose, he frankly acknowledged, that he sat in the high court of justice, and had signed two warrants, one for summoning the court in order to the king’s trial, and another for his execution. Upon this, the court, who were well acquainted with the disposition of the jury, permitting him to speak, he said, That in the year 1640, a parliament was called according to the laws and constitution of this nation: That some differences arising between the king and that parliament, the king withdrew his person from them; upon which the lords and commons declared — Here the court being conscious, that their cobweb coverings were not sufficient to keep the light of those truths he was going to produce, contrary to the liberty they had promised, interrupted him, under colour that what he was about to say, tended not only to justify the action for which he was accused, but to cast a ball of division among those who were present. But Mr. Carew going on to say, The lords and commons by their declaration — Judge Foster interrupted him again, and told him, he endeavoured to revive those differences which he hoped were laid asleep, and that he did so to blow the trumpet of sedition; demanding, if he had ever heard, or could produce an act of parliament made by the commons alone? To this he would have answered, but was not permitted to finish what he began to say, or hardly any one thing he endeaoured to speak in his defence during the whole trial; Mr. Arthur Annesley particularly charging him with the exclusion of the members in the year 1648, of which number he had been one; to which he only replied, That it seemed strange to find a man who sat as a judge on the bench, to give evidence as a witness in the court. These irregular proceedings, unbecoming a court of judicature, obliged Mr. Carew to address himself to the jury, leaving them to judge of the legality of his trial; and appealing to their consciences, whether he had been permitted to make his defence. But they, who were not to be diverted from the resolutions they had taken, without any regard to the manner of his trial, declared him guilty as he was accused.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Notable for their Victims,Politicians,Public Executions,Treason

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1796: Claude Javogues

Add comment October 10th, 2018 Headsman

French Revolutionary Claude Javogues was shot on this date in 1796.

The son of an ancien regime royal castellan, the barrister Javogues would have the opportunity in the revolutionary Convention to vote the death of the old man’s boss, and he did not miss his chance.

Pour préserver les âmes pusillanimes de l’amour de la tyrannie, je vote pour la mort dans les vingt-quatre heures. (“To preserve pusillanimous souls from the love of tyranny, I vote for death within twenty-four hours.”)

The guy wasn’t above getting his own hands dirty in the bloody work of revolution, either, and ran his own local revolutionary terror in his home town of Feurs. (A Chapel of the Martyrs in Feurs pays homage to the 80 victims of Javogues’s Terror.) Even so, he had his own brush with the Committee of Public Safety and stood in some danger for a time of being one of the children devoured by the revolution.

Instead, it was the subsequent Thermidorean Reaction that did for Javogues when he was suspected of complicity in the radicals’ Conspiracy of Equals.

He had the distinction in parting to be shot by a firing detail commanded by one Leopold Hugo — eventually (come 1802) the father of one Victor Hugo.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Politicians,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot

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1442: Nguyen Trai

Add comment September 19th, 2018 Headsman

On this date* in 1442, Vietnamese writer, commander, and politician Nguyen Trai died for regicide.

The Confucian scholar (English Wikipedia entry | the far more detailed Vietnamese) was already a patriotic hero for taking to the hills in the successful rebellion that had expelled the occupation of the Chinese Ming dynasty some years before.

This philosopher of irregular war was famed for the very contemporary-sounding aphorism “better to conquer hearts than citadels”;** five centuries on, the great general of another era’s Vietnamese liberation struggle would credit Nguyen Trai’s “attacks on the minds, i.e. propaganda work among the enemy, persuading the enemy to surrender in many cities.”

A literal warrior-poet, Trai bequeathed the ages a corpus of beautiful musings to go with his martial axioms.

To A Friend

My fate naturally has many twists and sharp turns,
So in everything I trust in the wisdom of God.
I still have my tongue — believe me, I am able to talk,
Even though I’m still poor and, as we know, pathetic.
Never to return, the past flies too quickly and the time is short,
But, wandering in this cold room, the night is far too long.
I’ve been reading books for ten years, but I’m poor from clothes to bone
From eating only vegetables and sitting without a cushion.

But the very sharpest turn in his fate was the last one, when the Vietnamese sovereign, healthy and young and passing through the area, paid a courtesy call on the 60-something statesman — and shockingly turned up dead in the morning, thrusting the kingdom into turmoil since his heir was an infant. We have seen in these pages that inhabiting the mere vicinity of an unexpected royal death can be an extremely dangerous situation; so it was for Trai, no matter his former heroism or his poignant verse.

Perhaps his situation as the favored royal advisor had cultivated the envy of rival courtiers who suddenly found themselves in a position to vent their pique; or, maybe it was nothing but tunnel vision where the situation of being the most proximate initial suspect would transmute into an irresistibly self-reinforcing certainty. Or could this celestial household really have been involved in regicide? It’s one of the most famous mysteries in Vietnam’s history.

The man’s contemporaries came to their conclusion almost instantly. Barely six weeks after the emperor’s unexpected death, Nguyen Trai was put to death — and not only he but his wife, Nguyen Thi Lo and all their kin. It’s one of history’s most notorious incidents of the execution of nine relations — the most severe collective punishment to be found in China and Vietnam, wherein anyone closely related to an arch-traitor could be destroyed in a family extermination.

Twenty years later, Emperor Le Thanh Tong formally exonerated the man of the charge, a verdict that has been endorsed by a posterity that honors Nguyen Trai as a national hero.

* We’re translating the date from the Vietnamese lunisolar calendar, a perilous venture. I’m well outside my expertise here but sources I can find are unanimous on this date and Vietnamese calendar converters such as this one appear to agree.

** Another great Nguyen Trai-ism for guerrilla war: “Like the ocean which supports a ship but can also overturn it, so the people can support the throne or sink it.”

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Guerrillas,History,Intellectuals,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Politicians,Power,Soldiers,Treason,Vietnam,Wrongful Executions

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1682: Ivan Khovansky

Add comment September 17th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1682, the boyar Ivan Andreyevich Khovansky went from being the power behind the throne to one of the skulls under it.

A veteran military commander, Khovansky (English Wikipedia entry | Russian) became a key figure in the months after the death of Tsar Feodor III of Russia. This perilous political moment left the throne in the hands of two underage half-brothers overseen by a female regent.

With benefit of hindsight we know that 10-year-old (in 1682) Peter will emerge from this troika to become the mighty Tsar Peter the Great. In 1682, it was anybody’s guess whether any of these dubious prospective autocrats might survive at all.

Peter in particular had cause to fear for his life in May 1682 when the Streltsy, a hereditary guard of Moscow musketeers, bloodily rebelled in favor of his co-heir’s privileges and against his own, rampaging through the Kremlin murdering princes in Peter’s circle. And at the head of these furies stood Khovansky.

Many years later, Peter would revenge himself upon the Streltsy for this horror but in the moment it carried the day, incidentally also carrying Khovansky to a preeminent position in the state.

But he was pitted almost immediately against his erstwhile patron and ally, the regent Sophia Alekseyevna.

Even though the Streltsy rebellion had been conducted on Sophia’s behalf, she could see as well as the next tsar the perils of embracing these latter-day praetorians‘ authority to remake the government by force … and the Streltsy made sure to remind her of it almost immediately when the “Old Believer” movement that predominated among its ranks started raising complaints about Sophia’s religious accommodations.*

Fearing an overmighty nobleman at the head of a treasonable host — and Khovansky has been suspected by both his contemporaries and posterity of coveting the regency for himself — Sophia and the young co-tsars briefly fled Moscow “because we could not tolerate the many offences, unlawful and gross actions and violations committed by criminals and traitors.” Meanwhile she maneuvered adroitly to isolate him politically and had the boyar Duma vote his attainder.

His fate was sealed by the discovery of an anonymous (probably fabricated) letter of denunciation. On 17 September, her own name day, Sophia succeeded in luring Ivan Khovansky and his son Ivan to the royal summer residence at Vozdvizhenskoe outside Moscow. The charges against them centred on their ‘evil designs upon the health and authority of the great sovereigns’ which involved no less than plotting to use the strel’tsy to kill the tsars, Tsaritsa Natalia, Sophia and the patriarch, then to raise rebellion all over Moscow and snatch the throne. The lesser charges included association with ‘accursed schismatics’, embezzlement, dereliction of military duty, and insulting the boyars. The charges were full of inconsistencies and illogicalities, but their sheer weight sealed the Khovanskys’ fate and Prince Ivan and his son were beheaded on the spot … The strel’tsy were forced to swear an oath of loyalty based on a set of conditions, the final clause of which threatened death to anyone who ‘speaks approvingly of the deeds of late, or boasts of committing murder or makes up phrases inciting rebellion as before, or stirs up people to commit criminal acts.’ (Source)

He’s the subject of the Mussorgsky opera Khovanshchina.

* Old Believers wanted a rollback of religious reforms decreed in recent years; Sophia said no dice. Once Peter the Great took over, Sophia and Old Believers alike would end up in the same boat.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Nobility,Politicians,Power,Russia,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Treason

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1869: An Dehai, beloved eunuch

1 comment September 12th, 2018 Headsman

The imperial eunuch An Dehai was beheaded in Jinan on this date in 1869.

He was so much the favorite that it’s been clained that the redoubtable Empress Dowager Cixi had outright fallen in love with the courtier.

This was a circumstance destined to sharpen both An’s confidence in his position, and the blades of the inevitable enemies within the Forbidden City who were keen to be rid of him.

In 1869, the eunuch was dispatched to Nanjing as Cixi’s envoy to arrange the wedding gowns for the marriage of her son, the titular boy-emperor in whose name Cixi wielded power. On this trip, Cixi openly flaunted the protocol requiring eunuchs keep themselves inconspicuous, and also allegedly used the occasion to feather his bed with a bit of opportunistic extortion.

This, at any rate, was the report that an imperial governor relayed back to Prince Gong, who had once helped Cixi seize power in the state but had now become her rival. Gong got a quorum of the Grand Council to sign off on An’s execution while Cixi was off at the opera. She was so bereaved to discover his fate that she had his belongings lovingly gathered up for permanent safekeeping.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,China,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Politicians,Power

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1937: Alexander Shlyapnikov, Workers’ Opposition leader

Add comment September 2nd, 2018 Headsman

September 2 was the execution date during the purge year of 1937 for Old Bolshevik trade unionist Alexander Shlyapnikov.

The metalworker Shlyapnikov was a man who came by his revolutionary politics right from the shop floor. At the age of 10 he left school to work in a foundry, “having learnt to read and write. School was no mother to me, and it was not the teachers who educated me … the teachers were young and very rude, and they often meted out justice to their young charges with their fists. Even during these years, life taught me that there is no justice in this world.” (Source) Born to an Old Believer family, his fervor for justice had an initial religious bent, but after moving from provincial Murom to St. Petersburg/Petrograd* he discarded godliness and became a labor militant of sufficient stature to start turning up on blacklists before he was out of his teens.

During the political chill following Russia’s failed 1905 revolution, the oft-arrested Shliapikov worked abroad in western Europe — by now both a master of his difficult craft, and a Bolshevik who had led an armed rising in his hometown of Murom. Here he became socially and politically close with Lenin and all the brand-name Communist exiles, as well as with European labor unions and left parties.

He also shuttled to and from Russia coordinating the movement’s internal and external actors; he’s left us a memoir of the political maneuvers and adventurous border-crossings of these years. Thanks to this role, Shliapnikov was the most senior Bolshevik on the scene in Petrograd when the February Revolution broke out; he was immediately a key figure in the Petrograd Soviet, and was the Bolshevik state’s first Commissar for Labor.

As the newborn USSR solidified in form and function, Shlyapnikov nursed growing concerns about its distance from — and tendency to run roughshod over — actual workers. He soon became a leading voice for the Workers’ Opposition** around 1919 to 1921. Where the Bolsheviks held that theirs was an ascendant workers’ polity that had subsumed mere guilds, Shlyapnikov insisted on the trade unions as distinct from the Soviet state and the Communist party — “a syndicalist deviation” in Lenin’s charge. The Workers’ Opposition was prescient in its critique of the once-utopian project’s creeping bureaucratizm, with real workers’ material interests, dissenting perspectives, and local idiosyncracies giving way everywhere to the center’s policy orthodoxy dictated through “apparatuses of power … located practically in hands alien to the interests of the working class.” (Source)

Although prominent in its day, the Workers’ Opposition viewpoint was not destined to carry forward into Soviet theory or practice. After bread shortages drove workers and sailors at Kronstadt into a rebellion that the Bolsheviks crushed in 1921, the Workers’ Opposition tendency was quashed within the party. Shlyapnikov thereafter held second-rate posts, and was several times investigated by the Communist Party for “factionalism,” finally being expelled under Stalin in 1933.†

He was favored with a 2016 biography by Barbara C. Allen, Alexander Shlyapnikov, 1885-1937: Life of an Old Bolshevik (review). Allen discussed Shlyapnikov in an interview with the indispensable Sean’s Russia Blog podcast, here. We yield to Allen’s description of Shlyapnikov’s demise among the purging of Old Bolsheviks following the Kirov affair — tragic, banal, and heroic in his plain refusal to gratify his persecutors with any manner of confession or groveling.

In April 1937 he was accused according to article 58-8 and 58-11 of the RSFSR law code of having led a counterrevolutionary group called the Workers’ Opposition, of having linked up with the ‘counterrevolutionary Trotskyist-Zinovievist terrorist bloc’ and of having ‘tried to conclude a bloc with Ruth Fischer for joint struggle against the policy and measures of the Comintern.’ It alleged that he advocated ‘individual terror’ and that groups he directed in Omsk, Rostov-on-Don, Kiev, Odessa, Baku, Kharkov and Moscow had ‘prepared and tried to realise the murder of comrade Stalin.’ Acknowledging that Shlyapnikov did not confess his guilt, the accusation established it through the testimony of Zinoviev, Safarov, Vardin and others. It recommended that the Military Collegium of the USSR Supreme Court should try him and apply the 1 December 1934 law. Applying to cases of terrorist acts, this law ordered the immediate execution of capital-punishment sentences, with no appeals.

The USSR Supreme Court Military Collegium met on 2 September 1937 in closed session to sentence Shlyapnikov, who appeared before the court in a two-hour long session. Refusing to admit his guilt, he also detailed his objections to others’ testimony against him. Given the last word, Shlyapnikov declared that he was ‘not hostile towards soviet power.’ Perhaps as a last ironic remark, he confessed guilt only to ‘a liberal attitude towards those around him.’ Nevertheless, the court on the same day found him guilty under article 58, paragraphs 8 and 11, of having led ‘an anti-Soviet terrorist organisation, the so-called “Workers’ Opposition,”‘ which carried out ‘counterrevolutionary activity directed towards the topping of soviet power.’ He was convicted of having been in contact with ‘leaders of Trotskyist-Zinovievist and Right-Bukharinist terrorist organisations’ and of having ordered members of his ‘anti-Soviet organisation’ to carry out ‘terrorist acts’ against party and government leaders. Then the Military Collegium sentenced him to ‘the highest measure of punishment — execution by shooting with confiscation of all personal property.’ Below this was pencilled: ‘the sentence was carried out on that day in Moscow.’ Despite ‘eyewitness’ tales that he survived for years longer, either abroad or under a false name in the Gulag, documents attest to the fact that shortly after his 1937 execution, Alexander Shlyapnikov’s body was cremated and buried in Donskoy cemetery in a common grave.

* Peter the Great‘s jewel was still St. Petersburg when Shlyapnikov arrived there in the last years of the 19th century; it was renamed Petrograd in 1914 and carried that name during the events of the 1917 revolutions and thereafter. It became Leningrad in 1926, a name that stuck for the remainder of the Soviet era.

** Alexandra Kollontai was also a noteworthy Workers’ Opposition exponent; her apologia makes for sad reading considering the Soviet state’s coming vector towards sclerotic authoritarianism.

† Stalin’s ideological mediocrity is commonplace observation but perhaps its signal instance occurred upon his arrival to revolutionary Petrograd before Lenin: where Shlyapnikov was refusing to entangle the Bolsheviks with the Provisional Government (post-February revolution, pre-October revolution), Stalin insisted on a more moderate and cooperative attitude. When Lenin arrived shortly thereafter, his April Theses famously re-set Bolshevik policy in Shlyapnikov’s more intransigent direction — a defeat to which Stalin owed the Bolshevik conquest of power and his own eventual opportunity to execute men like Shlyapnikov.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Politicians,Power,Revolutionaries,Russia,Shot,Treason,USSR

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1816: Joaquim Camacho

Add comment August 31st, 2018 Headsman

On the last of August in 1816, the Colombian statesman Joaquin Camacho was executed as a traitor to Spain.

Blind and paralyzed, he had to be carried to his firing squad in his chair, this lawyer-turned-journalist decorated the 1810-1816 “Foolish Fatherland” era of present-day Colombia, when New Granada declared independence from a Spain bogged down by the Napoleonic Wars.

In fact, multiple regions and municipalities within New Grenada each began declaring their own sovereignty in 1810. The July 20, 1810, declaration by Bogota — then and now the capital city — is still commemorated as Colombia’s Independence Day.

And Camacho (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish) was right in the middle of it.

On the morning of July 20, in a maneuver intentionally staged to coax the Spanish authorities into showing their backsides to New Granada’s patriots, Camacho presented himself to the viceroy to request the calling of a council in Bogota — a request he would (and did) certainly refuse. Elsewhere in the iconic “Flower Vase Incident,” Camacho’s comrades solicited of a wealthy royalist merchant the use of his ornamental flower vase to welcome the arrival of a noted fellow-traveler. They too were predictably refused, and escalated the expected affront into a fistfight and thence to a riot in the market. The backlash against these indignities gave cover to proclaim the independence of Bogota — with Camacho among the signatories of the declaration at a public meeting that evening.

During the exciting years that followed, Camacho served in the Congress of the United Provinces of New Granada and for a few months in 1814-1815 as one of a triumvirate collectively exercising the office of president.

All such offices were swept away by the Spanish reconquest of New Granada under Pablo Morillo, who lived up to his chilling nickname “El Pacificador”. Camacho was among numerous separatist and revolutionary leaders put to death to control New Granada, several of whom we have already encountered in these annals. It worked … for all of three years, until Simon Bolivar accomplished permanently what Camacho et al and died in seeking.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Colombia,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Heads of State,History,Lawyers,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Shot,Spain,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1936: Melquiades Alvarez, a liberal in a revolutionary time

1 comment August 22nd, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1936, the Spanish politician Melquíades Álvarez was shot by the Republicans.

A centrist who disdained “two equally despicable fanaticisms … red fanaticism and black bigotry,” Alvarez (English Wikipedia entry | the more comprehensive Spanish) fell into the chasm torn by the Spanish Civil War.

The Gijon-born former barrister noted for his oratory had been in public life as a liberal back to the last years of the 19th century and in 1912 co-founded the Reform or Reformist Party. Although sympathetic to the democratic aspirations of the Republican movement, the Reform Party was cool to forcing a confrontation with Spain’s monarchy. He was briefly president of the Congress of Deputies before the military coup of Primo de Rivera. Alvarez opposed Primo, judiciously.

I recalled many years ago going to see another vacillating Liberal, the unfortunate Melquiades Alvarez, after he had ventured to criticise Primo at a public dinner. He was shivering in a travelling rug waiting to be arrested while he told with pride that he had made his speech in such guarded, euphemistic and even allegorical terms that no one would have been quite sure what he meant. He vacillated to the end and now the militia have shot him in the Carcel Modelo.

V.S. Pritchett

By the onset of the Republic in the 1930s, Alvarez’s institutionalism and anti-Marxism had his political tendency drifting rightwards in a revolutionary era, to the extent of actually joining the conservative coalition known as CEDA. Alvarez would surely have said that the Republic left him; a liberal to a fault, he even in these years defended the son of Primo de Rivera when this founder of the fascist Falange was arrested for conspiring to overthrow the Republic.

So the start of General Francisco Franco’s rebellion in 1936 found Alvarez in Madrid as a center-right parliamentarian — right in the path of a sharp political repression immediately leveled by the Republicans against perceived internal enemies. Alvarez and other right-leaning politicians were arrested in early August. Many, like Alvarez, were eventually shot by Republican militias after the barest of legal proceedings.

“You kill a man who only did you good,” Alvarez spat at his executioners before they opened up on him. “You slaughter in the worst way any idea of freedom and democracy, you pack of cowards and scoundrels!” (Quote translated from this Spanish-language pdf account of Alvarez’s last days.)


In this 1917 cartoon, Alvarez, a key political player during Spain’s crisis and near-revolution that year, swaps the caps of monarchism and republicanism in an “illusion” … for “everything remains the same”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Lawyers,Politicians,Power,Shot,Spain,Wartime Executions

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