The Paranoia of Tyrants Past and Present

By: Brent Parrish

Maximilien Robespierre

Maximilien Robespierre (1758 – 1794)

Back in 2013, I posted what I thought was an excellent BBC documentary released in 2009 on Maximilien de Robespierre and the French Revolution. Unfortunately, the video didn’t stay up on YouTube for very long. I couldn’t find the full documentary anywhere. As a matter of fact, I tried to see if I could locate a DVD of the original BBC documentary, but I could not. I was only able to find excerpts from the documentary. Fortunately, I just discovered a video of the full documentary. I updated my original post with the new video, which can be viewed here.

Anyone who has visited this blog on a regular basis knows that I post quite a bit on the subject of communism, socialism, and Marxism in general. I have always considered the French Revolution of 1789 as one of the first communist revolutions. A while back I watched a documentary that showed a display honoring the French Revolution located in a East German (DDR) government building  prior to the reunification of Germany in 1990. Obviously the East German communist government was rather enamored with the French Revolution.

The second Roman emperor, Tiberius.

The second Roman emperor, Tiberius.

One common thread in Marxist insurrections and revolutions is the fact that revolutionaries and radicals often eat their own. It seems the one thing communist rulers should fear above all else is not so much the counter-revolution or the popular uprising, but rather being destroyed by their own.

Their are numerous examples of this phenomenon. Just prior to Vladimir I. Lenin’s rather untimely death, Lenin expressed consternation over the possibility that Josef Stalin would become the leader of the Bolshevik revolution, considering him a brash and dangerous man. It would not surprise me at all if Stalin did indeed poison Lenin. This is a controversy that will not go away. But Stalin had absolutely no qualms about destroying anyone who got in his way. As a matter of fact, Stalin would even liquidate people who posed no threat to him at all, just to instill fear in those around him, lest they should entertain any “bright ideas” about usurping his power.

For example, once Stalin had consolidated his power as “supreme leader” of the Soviet state, he set about eliminating anyone he believed to be a threat to his own power. Some of these people included the original luminaries and leaders of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, such as Sergey Kirov, Leon Trotsky, Lev Kamenev, Grigory Zinoviev, Nikolai Bukharin, Karl Radek, Grigory Ordzhonikidze, etc. They were all executed under orders from Josef “Koba” Stalin.

Propaganda poster of Chairman Mao during the Cultural Revolution (1966 - 1976)

Propaganda poster of Chairman Mao during the Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976)

If we look at China under the reign of Chairman Mao, we see a similar pattern. It was Mao Zedong that ordered the Chinese revolutionary youth movement (i.e. Red Guards) to attack Party officials–which the Red Guards did with great zeal and reckless abandon–that Mao considered too “bourgeois” during the infamous Cultural Revolution. When the Red Guards had outlived their usefulness to Chairman Mao, they were shipped off to camps in far-flung regions of China for “reeducation.”

A mere month following the death of Mao Zedong, there was the trial of the Gang of Four, which consisted of Jiang Qing,  Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan and Wang Hongwen. They were blamed for the excesses and societal chaos that resulted from the Cultural Revolution. Jiang Qing and Zhang Chunqiao were sentenced to death, but their sentences were later commuted to life imprisonment. Wang Hongwen and Yao Wenyuan were sentenced to life and twenty years in prison, respectively.

After Nikita Khruschev succeeded Josef Stalin as leader of the Soviet Union, Khruschev sent shockwaves through the ranks of the Central Committee, in 1956, when he denounced the crimes and excesses of Josef Stalin, and the “cult of personality” that surrounded him.

Fast-forward to the Cuban revolution. Cuban journalist Alberto Müller claims Fidel Castro turned his back on Che Guevara when Che found himself cornered in a failed attempt to foment a Marxist insurrection in Bolivia, in 1967.

Via Fox News Latino:

Müller said there was a guerrilla unit in Havana ready to deploy and rescue Guevara, but “Fidel never authorized the mission,” abandoning the guerrilla leader to his fate.


Guevara criticized Moscow, accusing the USSR, without mentioning it by name, of being “accomplices of U.S. imperialist exploitation,” just when the Cuban leader was about to conclude agreements on military cooperation with the Kremlin.

The estrangement between Guevara and Castro increased over time, and deepened when the Cuban leader, without consulting the Argentine-born guerrilla, decided to withdraw Cuban fighters from the Congo, leading to the mission in Bolivia that Müller describes as an “induced suicide.”

The glaring irony in all of this is the fact that Stalin, Mao and Che are still heralded as heroes of the socialist revolution in their respective countries, despite the fact that they were, in effect, denounced by the very revolutionary leaders they had aligned themselves with.

Camille Demoulins

Camille Demoulins

The pattern was present during the French Revolution of 1789. It was Maximilien de Robespierre who sent one of the French Revolution’s leading figures, and the first president of the Committee of Public Safety, Georges Danton, to the guillotine. Additionally, Robespierre also sent his childhood friend, Camille Demoulins, to the guillotine as well.

Roman historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus

Roman historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus

Camille Demoulins was a Jacobin journalist who seemed to have raised the ire of Robespierre after publishing an article in the third issue of his newspaper Le Vieux Cordelier. Demoulins’s article presented a classical translation from Tacitus, quoting passages from The Reign of Tiberius. While Demoulins never calls out Robespierre by name in Le Vieux Cordelier No. 3, it was generally understood who Demoulins was referring to: Robespierre. What is particularly compelling about Demoulins’s piece is its timeless quality regarding the paranoid nature of tyrants throughout human history. As the tyrant’s crimes and abuses pile up, their paranoia increases in a commensurate manner.  Anyone and everyone becomes “suspect.”

Louis Antoine de Saint-Just

Louis Antoine de Saint-Just

Below you will find some select passages from Camille Demoulins’s article as it appeared in the third issue of Le Vieux Cordelier on 25 Frimaire (15 December 1793). The excerpt ties into the BBC documentary (around the 1:05:00 min. mark), when Louis Antoine de Saint-Just informs Robespierre about Demoulins’s article. It is fascinating to compare the similarities of the tyrannical emperors of Roman antiquity to the tyrants of today.


“Crime of counter-revolution: for Libon Drusus to have asked the fortune-tellers if he would one day possess great riches. Crime of counter-revolution: for journalist Cremutius Cordus to have called Brutus and Cassius the last of the Romans. Crime of counter-revolution: for one of the descendants of Cassius to have in his house a portrait of his ancestor. Crime of counter-revolution: for Mamercus Scaurus to have written a tragedy with a verse which could be given two meanings. Crime of counter-revolution: for Torquatus Silanus’s spending. Crime of counter-revolution: for Petreius to have had a dream about Claudius. Crime of counter-revolution: against Appius Silanus, as Cladius’s wife had a dream about him. Crime of counter-revolution: against Pomponius, because a friend of Sejanus sought refuge in one of his country houses. Crime of counter-revolution:  to have gone to the cloakroom without emptying the pockets, and to keep in the jacket a royal-sided coin; this was a lack of respect to the sacred figure of tyrants. Crime of counter-revolution: to complain of hard times as this was to attack the government. Crime of counter-revolution: not to invoke the divine genius of Caligula. For having neglected these, a great number of citizens were torn apart, condemned to the mines or to the beasts, even having the middle of their bodies sawn through. Crime of counter-revolution: for the mother of the consul Fusius Geminus to have cried at the death of her son.

“It was necessary to show joy at the death of a friend, a parent, in order not to risk exposing oneself death. Under Nero, those close to many whom he had had killed went to give thanks to the gods: they were enlightened. At the very least it was necessary to seem contented, open and calm. People feared that fear itself made one guilty.

“And all offends the tyrant. Was a citizen popular? then a rival of the prince, who could stir up civil war. Studia civium in se verteret et si multi idem audeant, bellum esse. Suspect.

“Were you, conversely, against popularity? And did you keep yourself by your fireside? This withdrawn life made you singled out, made you noticed. Quantô metu occultior, tantô famæ adeptus. Suspect.

“Were you rich? There was a serious danger that the people would be corrupted by your generosity. Auri vim atque opes Plauti principi infensas. Suspect.

“Were you poor? how so? great emperor, you must watch those men more closely. There is no-one more enterprising that he who has nothing. Syllam inopem, undè pracipuam audaciam. Suspect.

“Had you a solemn nature, given to melancholy or neglect? your affliction must be that public affairs were going well. Hominum bonis publicis maestum. Suspect.

“If on the contrary, a citizen gave himself to good times and surfeits; he only rejoiced because the emperor’s attack of gout had luckily come to nothing; it is necessary to remind him that his Majesty is still in the full strength of his age. Reddendam quo intempestiva licentia mœstam et funebrem noctem quâ sentiat vivere Vitellium et imperare. Suspect.

“Was he virtuous and austere in his morals? fine! a new Brutus, who, masquerading as a Jacobin in his paleness and wig, censures the agreeable and well-presented court [the underlined passage may not be an accurate translation]. Gliscere œmulos Brutorum vultûs rigidi et tristis quo tibi lasciviam exproberent. Suspect.

“Was he a philosopher, orator or poet? he freely admits to having more fame than those who govern! Can one suffer more attention to be paid to an author, living on the fourth floor, than the emperor in his burnt-out lodgings? Virginium et Rufum claritudo nominis. Suspect.

“Finally, had he acquired a reputation in war? he was only more dangerous due to his talent. There are more options with an inept general. If he were a traitor, he could not persuade an army to the enemy’s side, without at least one rebelling. But a strong officer, if a traitor, would not lose a single one. The best way would be to get rid of them; at least you could spare yourself the trouble of promptly dismissing them from the army. Multâ militari famâ metum fecerat. Suspect.

“A citizen could believe that it was not too bad, if a grandson or ally of Augustus: but then he could have pretensions of someday being emperor. Nobilem et quod tunc spectaretur è Cœsarum posteris! Suspect.

The more things hope and change, the more they stay the same.

About Brent Parrish

Author, blogger, editor, researcher, graphic artist, software engineer, carpenter, woodworker, guitar shredder and a strict constitutionalist. Member of the Watcher's Council and the Qatar Awareness Campaign. I believe in individual rights, limited government, fiscal responsibility and a strong defense. ONE WORD: FREEDOM!
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