The Human Rights Dictatorship – Coming Soon!

In February 2020, my first book “The Human Rights Dictatorship: Socialism, Global Solidarity and Revolution in East Germany” will be coming out with Cambridge University Press. You can pre-order The Human Rights Dictatorship on Amazon now!

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The cover art is a photo by Sibylle Bergemann (1941-2010) from her series Das Denkmal on the construction of the Marx-Engels Monument that is still in downtown Berlin. © Estate Sibylle Bergemann, OSTKREUZ; Courtesy Loock Galerie, Berlin.


The Eastern Bloc, the Cold War and International Drug Trafficking

Points: The Blog of the Alcohol & Drugs History Society

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is the final in the two-part series from Dr. Ned Richardson-Little on drug use in East Germany during the Communist period. Richardson-Little is a Freigeist Fellow at the University of Erfurt, Germany, where he is currently leading a major research project on the history of “deviant globalization” in modern Germany. Originally from Canada, he studied at McGill University and received his PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has previously worked at the University of Exeter (UK). If you’re interested in learning more about the sources in this post, contact Richardson-Little at

Screenshot 2019-08-22 at 8.08.12 AM Dr. Ned Richardson-Little

One of the staples of Eastern Bloc propaganda was the notion that socialism produced a drug-free society. Under capitalism, young people were driven to narcotics due to the emptiness of consumerism and the despair of exploitation; under socialism there was no such need for escape. To some extent, this propaganda was…

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Reefer Madness Behind the Iron Curtain

Points: The Blog of the Alcohol & Drugs History Society

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from guest writer Dr. Ned Richardson-Little, and it begins a two-week special series on drug use in East Germany during the Communist period. Richardson-Little is a Freigeist Fellow at the University of Erfurt, Germany, where he is currently leading a major research project on the history of “deviant globalization” in modern Germany. Originally from Canada, he studied at McGill University and received his PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has previously worked at the University of Exeter (UK). If you’re interested in learning more about the sources in this post, contact Richardson-Little at

Screenshot 2019-08-22 at 8.08.12 AM Dr. Ned Richardson-Little

In Junky, William S. Burrough’s 1953 memoir of his experiences as a heroin user, he captures the paranoia of the early Cold War in America in a conversation about drugs:

“Tell me,” I said, “exactly what is the tie-up between narcotics and Communism?”

“You know the answer…

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Call for Papers: Entangling Histories of International Trafficking July 9-10, 2020

Location: Erfurt, Germany

Date: July 9-10, 2020

Application deadline: September 30, 2019

At the beginning of the 21st century, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime oversaw a complex network of international conventions that aimed to combat narcotics smuggling and the illicit trade in arms, and human trafficking for purposes of exploitation. Today, law enforcement organizations argue that these three fields are fundamentally linked together by transnational organized crime to support their demands for global police cooperation. At the beginning of the century however, when activists and diplomats first created prohibition regimes aimed at addressing these issues, they understood them as distinctly separate problems, each requiring radically different solutions. In the early 20th century, international drug control initially stemmed from lobbying by missionaries concerned about widespread addiction in China due to legal traffic in opium. Controls on small arms were sparked by imperial fears that unrestricted trade could destabilize colonial rule. ‘White slavery’ was seen as a radically new problem, distinct from other forms of forced labour, in which individual pimps lured European girls and women abroad to exploiting their sexual labor for profit.

This conference aims to answer the question: How did the trafficking in humans, arms and narcotics become entangled over the long 20th century – in terms of actual illicit flows of people, guns and drugs, but also in terms of public perceptions and prohibition regimes?

The conference is looking for papers that will address themes including:

  • When and how were networks of trafficking between these fields actually interconnected?
  • How did global events such as the World Wars, Decolonization, or the collapse of State Socialism act as catalysts for the entangled proliferation of trafficking or prohibition across these fields? What were the local effects of these macro-events?
  • How did regional and global legal systems linking these fields interact with local norms and practices of law enforcement and prohibition?
  • Under what circumstances have these fields been linked together or separated by different actors and institutions including civil society activists and NGOS, the media, academics, bureaucrats, politicians, police, diplomats, clergy, medical authorities and global legal frameworks?
  • How have moral panics in one area been used to legitimize prohibition campaigns against other types of cross border movement and traffic?
  • How have demands for and opposition against state nationalization/regulation or for liberalization and decriminalization been interconnected between these fields?
  • How have ideas about race, class and gender linked these fields together?
  • What role has money laundering and other forms of illicit finance acted to link these fields together both by criminalized actors and control regimes?
  • How did the interconnection of these illicit flows intersect with broader economic and political trends, including globalization, free trade and neoliberalism?

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Special Issue is online: Revisiting State Socialist Approaches to International Criminal and Humanitarian Law

Our special issue of the Journal of the History of International Law on “Revisiting State Socialist Approaches to International Criminal and Humanitarian Law” is now online!

Everything is paywalled so if you can’t get access, get in touch and I’ll try to find a way get you a copy.

Here is the table of contents:

Raluca Grosescu & Ned Richardson-Little  Revisiting State Socialist Approaches to International Criminal and Humanitarian Law: An Introduction

Giovanni Mantilla The Protagonism of the USSR and Socialist States in the Revision of International Humanitarian Law

Sonja Dolinsek and Philippa Hetherington Socialist Internationalism and Decolonizing Moralities in the UN Anti-Trafficking Regime, 1947–1954

Raluca Grosescu State Socialist Endeavours for the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to International Crimes: Historical Roots and Current Implications

Ned Richardson-Little The Drug War in a Land Without Drugs: East Germany and the Socialist Embrace of International Narcotics Law

Tamás Hoffmann Crimes against the People – a Sui Generis Socialist International Crime?



Genocide in the Best Country in the World

Red Dress Project

Art installation inspired by Métis artist Jaime Black at Seaforth Peace Park, Vancouver. Edna Winti (3.October 2016)

The end of Canada would be nothing less than the end of a dream. The end of a country that has made us the envy of the world. Canada is not just any country. It is unique. It is the best country in the world.

-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, 1995

A few years ago, when the federal election was underway and “Canadian Values” suddenly became the cultural battlefield, it struck me how much this vision of the good Canada was strangely without a coherent history. There is no great unifying revolution or rebellion or political struggle that moves the story from a collection of resource-extraction colonies working for a global empire to a post-national multicultural paradise. Modern Canada sort of emerges from the ether as a fully formed entity, while the unfortunate parts of the Old Canada disappeared: the Chinese Exclusion Act, Duplessis Orphans, the policy of sending Jews fleeing Europe in the 1930s back to their certain deaths at the hands of the Nazis. All of that is another era somehow irrelevant to ours today. It’s what occurred in Canada, and committed by the Canadian state, but Canada did not do it. It is now history. It is past.

The problem is that the Old Canada never really went away, it just receded into the background for the majority. The Canadian government doesn’t issue small-pox blankets, actively try to starve native populations, or forcibly relocate them like during the 60s Scoop. It no longer takes children from parents to put them in institutions to forcibly wipe out Native culture. That was all long ago in history. The last residential school closed in 1996. I was thirteen.

Robert Pickton started murdering women in 1983. The same year I was born. He was only arrested when I was 19 and sitting at university learning about how Natives were trying to rebrand to get more money out of the Canadian government. He was charged with killing 26 women, but he likely killed many more. Many of his victims were aboriginal women. One of the reasons he could get away with killing so many for so long was that police didn’t really care that native women went missing. When the news broke, it was sad, it was a tragedy.

What does it mean when you live in a state which cares so little for your welfare that a serial killer can operate for nearly two decades with impunity because he targets the right demographic? What does it mean if when he is caught, no one is really sure if he’s the only one because so many other Native women are missing? At what point does neglect become intent?

The National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls found that there are “serious reasons to believe that Canada’s past and current policies, omissions, and actions towards First Nations Peoples, Inuit and Métis amount to genocide, in breach of Canada’s international obligations, triggering its responsibility under international law.”

Of course, the debate in the media has mostly centered around the appropriateness of the word genocide. It was quickly declared to be unfair – not incorrect from a legal standpoint mind you – but impolite and uncivil, even hurtful. One more chapter in Natives playing word games for money (our money) and trying to make us feel bad for things we didn’t do. I didn’t hand out smallpox blankets or drag children from their families or put a bag of gas in the hand of an Innu child. How are we expected to have reconciliation with this sort of discourse?

Because it’s not our tragedy. These things don’t happen in Canada. They happen over there – far away where people are different. Where they don’t have Canadian Values. They don’t happen in the Best Country in the World.


The summer camp I went to in middle Ontario didn’t have any First Nations kids, but we spent plenty of time play acting as Indians. The image of native life was one of idyllic primitivism, coexistence with nature, rugged masculine skills. We competed against each other as members of opposing “tribes.” We wore loincloths made from beach towels and clotheslines. Some figured out ways to make mohawks with paint. In my last year as a camper, I was elected chief, which meant for the last competition it was my job to make a fire faster than the chief of the other tribe. We lost.

The founder of the camp was originally from Czechoslovakia and only after moving to Germany did I discover that my image of Native Canadian life owed more to the dime novels of Karl May – a long-dead German writer who never came to North America – than they did to any kind of lived reality. May wrote about a German engineer, Old Shatterhand, who moved to the American West and became friends with Winnetou – a classic noble savage. His Natives were the essence of how Germans romanticized the simplicity of the pre-modern North America and his work has been beloved for decades. It’s rare that an author has fans in both Albert Einstein and Adolf Hitler. The most recent TV adaptation came out in 2016 with Winnetou played by an Albanian.


By the end of the 1990s, it was a matter of political faith in Canada that it was the best country in the world. Jean Chrétien made a point of mentioning it in basically every speech. This was no mere American jingoism, it was fact. The United Nations had said so. Well, not really, he was paraphrasing, but he believed it. It was a nice thing to think at the end of a decade during which Quebec had nearly separated and sliced the country in two. Our national nightmare was over. Order had been restored and with it came greatness. The low-key Canadian version that wasn’t too great (can’t be like the Yanks). The kind you of greatness conveyed by a Heritage Minute or winning at the World Juniors in hockey.

But through the 90s, there was always the other plotline moving along in the background, throwing up bouts of cognitive dissonance. I didn’t really understand the Oka Crisis when it happened, aside from knowing there were soldiers on one side and natives on the other. That was happening in Quebec (a strangely foreign part of the country where people were always agitated about all things political, not like civil Ontario). Like the conflict in Yugoslavia, it was something about race (or ethnicity?) or boundaries and there was something about a golf course. I was 7 and it was something I knew was important but beyond my realm of comprehension.

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Call for Papers: Africa and the Cold War III

I’m co-organizing a conference to be held in Erfurt in September 2020 on Africa and the Cold War. It is the third conference in a series organized by Uni Erfurt and the University of Mekelle and this time we are joined by the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa University and the University of Western Bohemia in Pilsen.

In general “we will examine a series of themes centring on geopolitics, the creation and contestation of borders, the establishment of international norms, environmental questions, and the transnational flow of people, ideas, and illicit goods. We aim to discuss the overlapping alignments and realignments on the global, regional, and local level, taking into account the superpowers, other external states, and African governments, but also non-state actors including international organisations such as the UN and Organisation of African Unity (OAU), international NGOs, opposition groups, and members of the civil society.”

You can read more about the event here: Africa and the Cold War III

New Article: Revisiting State Socialist Approaches to International Criminal and Humanitarian Law: An Introduction

A sneak preview of the introduction to a collection on state socialism and international law that I wrote with Raluca Grosescu is now available online from the Journal of the History of International Law. The complete collection should be available in a few weeks [Is now online!]


This introductory essay provides an overview of the scholarship on state socialist engagements with international criminal and humanitarian law, arguing for a closer scrutiny of the socialist world’s role in shaping these fields of law. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the historiography on post-1945 international law-making has been generally dominated by a post-1989 sense of Western triumphalism over socialism, where the Soviet Union and its allies have been presented as obstructionists of liberal progress. A wave of neo-Marxist scholarship has more recently sought to recover socialist legal contributions to international law, without however fully addressing them in the context of Cold War political conflict and of gross human rights violations committed within the Socialist Bloc. In contrast, this collection provides a balanced understanding of the socialist engagements with international criminal and humanitarian law, looking at the realpolitik agendas of state socialist countries while acknowledging their progressive contributions to the post-war international legal order.

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Course Syllabus in Progress: 20th Century Global History: International Crime and International Law

I’m currently putting the finishing touches on a new Masters-level course on the history of international crime and international law that I will be teaching next semester. Comments or feedback are welcome!

The course description is:

“This course will examine the parallel rise of global international criminal networks and international legal systems to combat transnational illicit activity in the 20th century. Themes would include human trafficking, forced labour, narcotics, and money laundering alongside the international reform activism and diplomatic initiatives to create global legal responses to these issues. The course would encompass global and transnational historical methodology and develop students historiographical understanding of the interplay between black markets, social movements, and international relations.”

Session 1: International Law and International Crime as History

Session 2: How International is International Law?

  • Martti Koskenniemi, “Histories of International law: Dealing with Eurocentrism,” Rechtsgeschichte (2011).

Session 3: Globalization and Illicit Markets

  • Gilman et. al., Deviant Globalization: Black Market Economy in the 21st Century (2011).

Session 4: Global Systems (1) – Prohibition Regimes

  • Ethan A. Nadelmann, “Global Prohibition Regimes: The Evolution of Norms in International Society,” International Organization 44, no. 4 (1990).

Session 5: Global Systems (2) – Neo-Medievalism

  • Jörg Friedrichs, “The Neomedieval Renaissance: Global Governance and International Law in the New Middle Ages,” in Governance and International Legal Theory, eds. Dekker and Werner.

Session 6: Organized Crime as History

  • Cyrille Fijnaut, “Searching for Organized Crime in History,” in The Oxford Handbook of Organized Crime, ed. Letizia Paoli.
  • Edward Kleemans, “Criminal Organization and Transnational Crime,” in Histories of International Crime, ed. Gerben Bruinsma (2015).

Session 7: Migration (1) – White Slavery

  • Julia Laite, “Traffickers and Pimps in the Era of White Slavery,” Past and Present (2017)

 Session 8: Migration (2) – Human Trafficking

  • Marlou Schrover, “History of Slavery, Human Smuggling and Trafficking 1860–2010,” in Histories of International Crime, ed. Gerben Bruinsma (2015).

Session 9: Narcotics Trafficking (1) – Interwar Europe

  • Alan A. Block, “European Drug Traffic and Traffickers between the Wars: The Policy of Suppression and Its Consequences,” Journal of Social History 23, no. 2 (1989).

Session 10: Narcotics Trafficking (2) – Global South

  • Giovanni Molano Cruz, “A View from the South: The Global Creation of the War on Drugs,” Contexto Internacional 39, no. 3 (2017).

Session 10: Narcotics Trafficking (3) – Global Trade

  • Chantal Thomas, “Disciplining globalization: international law, illegal trade, and the case of narcotics,” Michigan Journal of International Law (2002).

Session 11: International Finance (1) – Counterfeiting

  • David Petrucelli, “Banknotes from the Underground: Counterfeiting and the International Order in Interwar Europe,” Journal of Contemporary History (2015).

Session 12: International Finance (2) – Offshore Money

  • Vanessa Ogle, “Archipelago Capitalism: Tax Havens, Offshore Money, and the State, 1950s–1970s,” The American Historical Review 122, no. 5 (2017).

Session 13: International Terrorism (1) – Assassinations

  • Ben Saul, “The Legal Response of the League of Nations to Terrorism,” Journal of International Criminal Justice 4, no. 1 (2006).

Session 14: International Terrorism (2) – Hijacking

  • Joseph Slaughter, “Hijacking Human Rights: Neoliberalism, the New Historiography, and the End of the Third World,” Human Rights Quarterly 40 (2018).